The empress explained when she saw Samantha and I frown with displeasure, “I need to think of my baby, so I am always very careful.”
In Cransia, it was a clear insult to use silverware during a social meeting, especially when the host was about to serve the food or drink gifted by the guest. It meant the host didn’t trust the guest.
Most people had one or two pieces of silverware for safety and they used them when dining privately. But this!? This was too much. It was one thing to have the edges of a few tableware painted with silver, but it was another matter to have everything made completely from silver.
I knew enough of the Cransian customs to realize that this was an unforgivable insult to me.
Her maids prepared tea as if nothing was wrong. A warm beautiful aroma filled the room, but I still felt cold.
A tulip-shaped silver teacup was placed in front of me. The dowager empress and the other women stared at me with interest. They were curious about how I would react to this offense. Depending on what I did, their attitude towards me would change.
My decision was quick. I didn’t plan on letting them win.
Never let anyone bully you into anything. I learned this from the emperor.
I smiled brightly. I picked up the silver teacup quickly before anyone else and took a sip.
Gulp. I swallowed loudly.
I took a few more sips for show and turned to the dowager empress. She looked baffled. It was rude to eat before your superior, therefore, everyone—including myself—should have waited for the dowager empress to have the first sip.
Before she could criticize me, I explained to her quickly, “There is nothing wrong with the tea. You can relax and drink it now, Your Highness.”
The dowager’s lips showed faint spasms.
A deadly tension filled the room. Everyone—the ladies, Samantha, and the maids—stared at me in shock. I ignored them and smiled.
I knew exactly what my action meant. The dowager empress insulted me by implying that my gift may be harmful. I insulted her right back by drinking before she did. I was also very blunt in pointing out her rudeness towards my gift.
Now, I was the one waiting for her to respond. I wondered how the dowager empress would react.
I kept a bland smile on my face. I didn’t know how, but I managed to pull it off.
The silence was painful, but I knew it had to end at some point. I was sure it probably felt much longer than it actually was.
The dowager empress’s cold glare suddenly turned into a smile. Then, she started to laugh out loud.
The tension broke finally. I almost dropped my cup in shock; thankfully I didn’t.
The dowager empress laughed for a long time before gesturing her maid. The maid handed her the teacup. The dowager empress took a sip herself and nodded.
“You’re right. It has a beautiful aroma and the taste is very smooth.”
As if on cue, the other ladies also picked up their cups.
The room relaxed into mundane conversations as everyone complimented the tea.
The dowager empress looked at me with a mysterious smile. She was older, but her beauty was beyond this world. What a dangerous woman. Her lips were smiling, but her eyes remained cold.
If the emperor was a snake, the dowager empress was a hawk.
She was gawking at me. I was a mouse that just survived the hawk’s claws.
“What an intelligent and thoughtful daughter-in-law you are. I am so happy to have you. You realized my worries and took an initiative to help me feel safer. What a smart child. No wonder the emperor wanted to marry you no matter what.”
It was a compliment wrapped around a deadly thorn. All the women recognized it and looked at me smugly.
The lady, who commented on my gift before, said to me, “I have been excited to finally meet you, Your Highness.”
Samantha whispered to me from behind, “That’s Countess Declare.”
I nodded and replied to her, “I am happy to meet you too, Countess Declare.”
She nodded and said to me smoothly, “Only a few days ago, you were the former emperor’s concubine. Today, you are the new emperor’s wife. Many believe that you must be the most beautiful woman in the kingdom. Now that I see you in person…” Her voice was kind, but her words were like knives directed at me.
Countess Declare didn’t finish her sentence on purpose.
I felt furious. I realize I am not a great beauty, but how rude of her to point it out! It made sense that people would make such an assumption since I supposedly ‘seduced’ two emperors with my beauty. However, in reality, of course, I wasn’t beautiful at all.
The women laughed mockingly at my expense.
Countess Declare sneered at me. I was the woman who married the father and his son. It was a ridiculous situation. Even I had difficulty believing that I truly could be the current emperor’s wife.
Suddenly, I felt hopeful.
If it wasn’t proper for me to be the emperor’s wife, then wouldn’t the emperor let me go since I would be of no use to him?
A clear voice from behind interrupted the situation.
Samantha said to Countess Declare calmly, “Countess, her highness was a candidate to become the former emperor’s concubine, but it didn’t actually happen. Therefore, her highness has every right to become the current emperor’s wife.”
Huh? What was Duchess Gust talking about?
The room buzzed at Samantha’s sudden declaration. Countess Declare narrowed her eyes and asked.
“What lies are you spreading? We all know that two days ago, her highness was officially pronounced as the former emperor’s concubine!”
Many women agreed out loud, but Samantha replied quickly with a confident smile, “According to our law, the marriage is valid only after it is consummated. Since the former emperor passed away even before her highness entered his bedroom, the marriage is invalid. Isn’t that right, Marchioness Toruka?”
Marchioness Toruka was the dowager empress’s principle maid in waiting. The fact that Samantha asked her must have meant Marchioness Toruka’s words carried a great power in this place.
Marchioness Toruka looked around the room uncomfortably before finally answering, “That’s true.”
Samantha smile and stepped back. She looked like a knight who just won a duel. She whispered to me from behind.
“Three generations ago, a similar thing happened in the Toruka family.”
I could understand now. If the same thing happened in her family, Marchioness Toruka had no choice but to agree with Samantha’s logic.
Marchioness Toruka must have been an influential figure. The women accepted her words without question. They didn’t look happy about it, but they still remained quiet.
Samantha whispered to me again, “The dowager empress’ maiden name was Toruka.”
Oh. I nodded.
This meant Marchioness Toruka was a relative of the dowager empress. If they questioned my marriage, they would have no choice but to question the dowager empress’s family history as well.
I now had a clear understanding of this situation. I enjoyed the expensive tea quietly and watched the women talk among themselves.
This was less scary than I expected. It would have been worse if I was meeting the dowager empress alone, so I was thankful.
Now, I thought it was my turn to attack.