Ridrian was about to pull back to put some distance between them when Iona muttered,
“Oh… our emperor is so handsome.” She brought her hand to his face.
He felt her hand warming his skin, and Ridrian thought that maybe the alcohol she had consumed had contributed to it.
Taken aback by the random compliment she drunkenly blurted out, his eyes widened as he froze in place.
“You seem to like the shape of my face, huh”
“Of course!” Iona answered easily, “It suits my liking.
Though I have to admit, it’s not good for the heart sometimes.”
“What I’m saying is that you’re frustratingly handsome.
If you didn’t have such a pretty face, I would have run away a long time ago.”
He didn’t know how to answer that, so he said instead, “….
I suppose that’s a relief.” And he really was relieved by her unexpected words.
He was never the type to care about his appearance, but Iona’s compliment somehow empowered him.
Then abruptly, Iona clutched her forehead with her palms.
“Oh, why do I feel so hot and dizzy” It was already in the middle of summer, added to the fact that she downed alcohol so it’s not at all surprising she’s feeling more hot than usual.
She squirmed and turned atop the sheets and as she grew frustrated, she unfastened the tie to her evening robes and pulled it harshly to the side, revealing her familiar silk pajamas underneath.
She was wearing the one without the sleeves fitting for summertime.
“W-wait!” Ridrian panicked as Iona’s silky smooth shoulders lay exposed before him under the soft gleam of the moonlight.
Ridrian was red on the face, flustered for the first time in a long while, trying to stop Iona from fully taking her robe off.
Even though she was wearing the same eveningwear as last night, there’s just something about her appearance right now that’s making him lose his senses.
“You can’t just take your clothes off….”
Iona frowned at his response, wondering why he was making a big deal out of it.
“But emperor, you, too, always sleep with your top off.”
His mouth parted, unsure what to say nor how to defend himself.
“And doing that was wrong.
So please, don’t take your pajamas off.”
“So you’re admitting your mistakes Well….
So that means you won’t be drinking either, am I right”
Ridrian pondered if he should still play along with her inebriated spiel.
He tilted his head to the side and asked her in curiosity, “Why so”
“Because you, the emperor, drink too much for someone who skips his meals and barely has any sleep! All you do is drink liquor and munch on candies!”
“It doesn’t cause me any issues.”
“What do you mean ‘doesn’t cause you issues’ Even if you are a munchkin, you will still collapse if you keep this up!”
*Munchkin – an overpowered character
What’s a munchkin The emperor thought to himself.
Contrary to what Iona was saying, he couldn’t recall collapsing because of his poor sleeping and eating habits, though there were times when he would be a little more on edge than usual.
Contemplating for a brief while, he realized that Iona wouldn’t like that at all.
He never once contemplated his actions as a tyrant, but here he was.
After expressing her annoyance, Iona cupped Ridrian’s face with both hands and let out a sigh, the strong smell of Borestan leaving her lips.
She dropped her head to her chest and whispered, “I’m worried about you as it is, so why do you have to make me worry even more”
Confused at her remark, Ridrian asked, “…You’re worried about me”
“Of course!” She answered loudly like it was obvious, “I’m always concerned about you, yet you’re always angry, always drinking, and always working to no end!”
So, this is how Iona saw him all this time.
Come to think of it, Ridrian recalled Iona saying she was concerned for him back at the temple.
He didn’t understand why she was concerned for his welfare, when he possessed physical strength greater than any man, who, at the same time, the most skilled fighter there was and had unrelenting power over the kingdom in his hands.
And yet here she was, a small and frail woman with nothing to her name, was worried for him.
Ridrian almost thought it absurd.
“But why are you worried for me Let me remind you that I am the emperor.”
Iona pouted at his stubbornness, “so what The emperor is a person, too.”
Ridrian stared at her wordlessly. Person That’s a first.
People only addressed him as a tyrant, a berserker, a monster, or a lord, never a person, that he himself didn’t even consider himself as a person.
Iona collapsed back to the bed as drowsiness pulled her in its embrace.
She continued to say barely coherent words, however, “Clearly I am weaker than you and I’m always given protection, but I can protect you too even if it’s only for a brief moment— I….” Her words drifted off as she fell asleep, her hands still tightly holding onto his arm.
Seeing this, Ridrian felt himself flush and a little bit dizzy as if he was the one who spent the whole day drinking.
As a tyrant, it was unlike him to be this unsettled and fazed.
Iona’s light-golden hair fluttered from the summer breeze coming from the opened window.
It was tickling his cheeks when he gently pried her hands off him.
Standing, he felt a little bit disappointed in himself when he recalled the words Iona said earlier.
‘Emperor, you drink too much.’ He let her words sink in.
Sighing, he sat back down on the bed and brushed his hand through his hair, “Ugh, what a hassle.” For a short while, he watched Iona as she slept soundly before grabbing a book and moving to the couch.
He guessed he wouldn’t be getting a much-needed sleep tonight.
Flipping the book to where he’d left off, he tried to read but the words didn’t register at all.
A small bedside lamp illuminated the emperor’s chambers dimly, and the sound of Iona’s soft breathing filtered through the quiet night.