There was a nervous moment of silence before the emperor responded.
That is good for me.”
It felt like there was a dark shadow hanging over the emperor.
He looked like he was anticipating so much more, and I couldn’t come through.
Or was it just my guilt making me think that he looked disappointed
The emperor left with his shoulders slumped, leaving me sitting there with my thoughts.
I did not think he would return, but he soon came back in his familiar evening robe.
He ordered the maid to bring a tea that helped with sleeping and in his hand was a glass of water instead of the usual alcohol.
The touch of his hand chilled the water, his power seeping into the liquid.
I entered the bedroom with him and sat down on the bed.
Instead of joining me, the emperor brought a chair into the room and sat down in it.
He swirled the ice water in his hand, contemplating the liquid while deep in thought.
“If there is a trial, I won’t be able to come to you this easily any more,” he said softly
The emperor’s words made me realize the seriousness of the situation.
Right now, I was officially the most important witness of the case against the Marquis Shamalon.
This was why I was still at the palace.
Everyone’s attention would be on me because of the events at the masked ball.
Thanks to that, I couldn’t act as the emperor’s doll anymore.
This had put the emperor in a difficult position.
Did he know this would happen
I felt uncomfortable.
It seemed like it was yesterday when I had wanted to run away from the palace.
But now I couldn’t leave, being worried about the emperor and feeling responsible for him.
I had experienced too much, watching him suffering through nightmares and trauma personally.
It’s not like I’m a concubine so I can’t live in the palace, I thought.
I blushed again.
To think that I would consider that just to stay here!
“What’s wrong, Iona” the emperor asked.
“It’s nothing!” I replied, a little too forcefully
“All right,” the emperor said, taken aback by my reaction.
I quickly changed the subject.
“So, how did you find out about my previous status”
Much to my relief the emperor took the bait.
He sipped his water and answered, “When I saw you reading a book at the temple and thought it was strange.
Ivant’s letters are harder to learn than any other nation’s letters, so a normal slave wouldn’t be able to learn them that easily.
I didn’t know, at the time, that you had something to do with the situation ten years ago.” His golden eyes looked at me, comfort showing in them.
“You’ve been through a lot, Iona.
No, I should call you the daughter of Lesprey now.”
I couldn’t react in that moment.
I didn’t think I’d hear him switch to addressing me as that so soon.
I clenched the hem of my dress in spite of myself.
Please call me whatever is comfortable for you.
Either Iona or Lady Lesprey is fine.”
I was moved by his insistence to address me as an equal.
I had no idea how I had answered, as tears filled my eyes.
It had been ten years since I had heard that name.
After ten years, losing my family, living as a slave, and almost losing my will to live, I couldn’t hide my joy.
The hot tears began to flow down my cheeks.
“Oh my, don’t cry,” the emperor said.
“I didn’t reinstate your name to bring back all of the pain.”
I didn’t know how to explain to him that these were tears of happiness and quickly wiped the moisture away.
I didn’t know the reason for his overwhelming kindness.
I didn’t know how to act around him any more.
How could I ever repay him Being his doll would never be enough.
As fast as I wiped them away, the tears kept streaming down my cheeks.
“I don’t know how I can repay you,” I sobbed.
“I really don’t have anything to give and there isn’t anything I can do for you.”
The kindness I had received wasn’t anything another doll would ever have received from the emperor.
He hugged me and slept with me, like other dolls, but I was still being treated differently for certain.
He smiled softly and gave me his handkerchief, which I accepted.
“You don’t have to do anything.
Just stay in this palace and live comfortably.
That’s the only thing I want from you.”
“Really That’s all”
He did all of this just so that I could stay here and live comfortably There was no way that could be the only reason.
Ridrian would never do something that didn’t meet his own needs, that didn’t fit his personality, or that wasn’t even connected to Riliana.
But even though I was denied the truth, I had already experienced his kindness and warmth.
I had already gotten used to my treatment, that there was no way I deny all of it.
He had saved my life several times, held my hand when I was afraid, and protected me from the memories of a horrible past.
My heart began to pound again.
It felt like it would beat right out of my chest. Perhaps… was all I could think.