I woke up abruptly from a feeling of falling.
I was confused. I couldn’t understand what has happened or where I was.
It felt like I escaped from a dark muddy cave. Barely.
I had no strength. I was wet with my own sweat as I laid on the bed. I looked at the ceiling blankly.
It took a while for my mind to start working again. I counted the patterns on the ceiling. By the time I counted to fifteen, I was able to remember bits and pieces.
The last thing I remembered was the emperor holding the cup filled with water. I remembered him whispering to me.
It wouldn’t kill me.
What happened was so bad I found it a little funny. I was about to trust him a little when he did this to me.
I wanted to swear, but I didn’t have the energy. My body felt heavy like a piece of wet cotton. My head felt like it was filled with fog.
I started to get annoyed.
This whole situation was beyond frustrating.
I tried to get up. When I tried to push myself up with my arm, I felt a sudden headache.
It was painful. It felt like someone picked me up and spun me around several times.
I heard someone enter. They must have heard me groan.
I assumed it was either Samantha or one of the sisters, Luis or Elza. I wanted to say something, but my throat was so dry no sound came out of my mouth.
Then suddenly, I heard a voice that made me forget anything.
I was wide awake now. Despite the aches and dizziness, I raised my head. The room spun around me, but I managed to see clearly.
It was the same face I saw right before losing my consciousness.
He was looking down at me with a strange expression. His face looked a little tired.
He helped me sit up. He arranged large cushions behind my back so I can lean back comfortably. His behavior was caring. When I thought about it, his words were always sharp and sometimes hurtful, but he always acted with gentleness.
I tried to swallow, but my throat was too dry, and I had no spit to swallow. It felt sore and sharp.
He seemed confused at my pained expression but quickly figured it out. He poured me a cup of water and handed it to me.
Last time he gave me water, it was in a white ceramic cup. This time, he handed me a silver cup. The water looked clear and cool, but the man holding it couldn’t be trusted.
I looked up at him with clear distrust. He grinned and took a sip from it himself. After I saw him swallow, I raised my hand to accept the cup.
He watched me as I struggled to hold the cup, but because I was so weak, I almost dropped it. He quickly took the cup away from me and got it to my lips.
I was annoyed, but my thirst was greater than my distrust of him. I hated him and this situation, but I drank it desperately with his help. It tasted sweet and cool. I emptied the whole cup quickly.
How long have I been out? As I wondered, he took the cup away and laid me down on the cushions.
How kind my husband was!
I looked at him with all the anger I had. I cleared my throat and tried out my voice. Thanks to the water, I managed to speak although my voice sounded rough.
“How many days had passed?”
That long. I had never been out like this in my life.
This was bad. This was very bad.
I gave him a sarcastic grin and replied, “Congratulations.”
“What did you gain by taking three days away from me?”
He looked at me blankly.
I put on a calm face and remained silent. Was it because he felt guilty? For once, he didn’t make me wait for an answer.
“Two days ago, Marchioness Toruka and a couple of dowager empress’s maids were sent to the dungeon.”
I was a little surprised. Marchioness Toruka was the dowager empress’s principle maid in waiting and also her sister-in-law. The Marchioness’ husband was the dowager empress’s younger brother. The Toruka family was dowager empress’s biggest supporter.
By having me poisoned for three days, the emperor managed to get rid of the dowager empress’s right arm.
If Marchioness Toruka was blamed for this, then it was probably possible to even implicate the dowager empress herself.
I was genuinely impressed.
“Nice job. You did well.”
He didn’t answer me. He looked uncomfortable.
I waited for him to reply. He continued to look at me as if waiting for something. He studied me carefully.
After a few minutes, he finally said to me, “I thought as soon as you opened your eyes, you would scream at me.”
I did consider doing it. I gave him half of the truth.
“I don’t have the strength, and my throat hurts.”
He continued to stare at me as he explained, “Officially, it was Samantha who found you in your bedroom on the floor. She got my doctor on call and he diagnosed that you were poisoned. You and our unborn baby, who didn’t survive.”
What the hell was he talking about? What baby?
I became confused but only for a second. I understood the situation quickly. The emperor had been visiting my chamber almost every day for the past month and a half. Recently, I was sent to an isolated wing to rest for a week.
To the outsiders, it made sense that I got pregnant and the emperor wanted me to take some time off. It was a well-thought-out plan.
On my last day, he handed me a cup of poisoned water. When I lost consciousness, the emperor accused appropriate figures of the murder of our non-existent baby and attempted murder of me, the first wife.
“I see that you worked very efficiently during the last three days.”
He again stayed quiet. The silence felt uncomfortable.
When he finally opened his mouth, he said something I found odd.
“My personal doctor prepared the poison himself. He measured it so the dose puts you to sleep for only a day… I was waiting for you to wake up the next day, but it took much longer. It wasn’t my intention.”
I became confused. His tone was different.
Was he trying to give me an excuse?
When I became speechless, he seemed to get even more anxious.
He continued to explain, “The doctor assured me you would wake up in a day… But you didn’t… I didn’t know what to do when you didn’t wake up.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I just stared at him.
He continued hurriedly, “I trusted him. I trusted his skills and that was why I hired him… I guess I was wrong about him.”
I felt flustered. This was a different Lucretius than I had seen so far.
I asked nervously, “You… you aren’t going to punish him, are you?”
“Hmm? Isn’t that obvious? You are okay, so I won’t execute him, but he still needs to be punished. He won’t lose his life, but a finger perhaps…”
I screamed at him. The emperor’s eyes widened. He looked much younger than his age.
He asked me with genuine curiosity.