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The next day, I asked a lady-in-waiting to pay a visit to Grand Duke Kapmen to see how he was doing.
“What happened yesterday?”
“Grand Duke Kapmen had some trouble with the Emperor. We hadn’t the chance to talk afterwards.”
The lady-in-waiting gave a sympathetic nod before leaving, and I sat at the table to wait for her to report back. Grand Duke Kapmen said yesterday he would return to his room and drink the antidote, so he should be fine by now. I was more worried if he came across Sovieshu again yesterday.
To my surprise, the lady-in-waiting did not return alone, but was accompanied by Grand Duke Kapmen. I went to the parlor room to greet him.
He looked somewhat different than yesterday. He normally wore comfortable, practical outfits, but today his attire was much finer, and his was hair also meticulously combed back, emphasizing his strong jawline. When I looked into his eyes, I noticed they were moist again.
“Are you all right…?”
Kapmen didn’t look well, but I asked him anyway out of politeness. He shook his head and asked for a private conversation. I nodded, and the ladies-in-waiting left as quick as they could. When we were alone, he spoke in a tight voice, as if exhausted from heavy restraint.
“I missed you. I was dying to see you…no, listen.”
Immediately following the humiliating words came an awkward smile. Still, he seemed more in control than yesterday, and I had him seated at a table.
“Is there no antidote?”
In all honesty, while his predicament was amusing, I was far more worried about him. It was my first time seeing that human eyes could be filled with such affection, but Grand Duke Kapmen’s current behavior would look strange to any outside observers. The problem was, he was obligated to keep meeting me for our diplomatic negotiations.
“There is. It didn’t work.”
“Oh…do you have another antidote? The other antidote could be the wrong one.”
I thought would be suspicious if he had the correct antidote in the first place. Instead of answering, however, Grand Duke Kapmen put his hands together and awkwardly stared out the window.
Was this the effect of medicine? He looked quite sheepish.
“Would you like me to cover my face?”
I looked at him anxiously, but he shook his head.
“No. Then I just won’t be able to see your face. It won’t work.”
Did the mean the potion worked even when I’m not in front of him? The potion was influencing his words, but he sounded clear here…what should I do?
In any case, it was hugely embarrassing. The speaker must be experiencing a more hellish feeling.
“It’s not the wrong antidote.”
“Why are you so sure? It wasn’t an antidote for a love potion, was it?”
Why didn’t he answer? Surely…
I looked at him in astonishment, and he pursed his lips.
My eyes widened. Why did Grand Duke Kapmen already have an antidote for that specific drug? He nervously tapped the table with his fingertips before making a confession.
“It was a gift from me.”
“The love potion?”
“…Yes. I didn’t expect its effect to be this powerful.”
My mouth opened in surprise as I processed the information. Grand Duke Kapmen was the anonymous sender of the love potion. I knew the duke was behaving oddly now because of the potion, but he would have been sober when he first sent it to me.
My mind blanked on a suitable response, and when Grand Duke Kapmen spoke it was in a stiff voice.
“It was frustrating.”
“Is this about me, Sovieshu and Rashta?”
I remembered the time when Grand Duke Kapmen had ignored both me and Rashta, then left as if I wasn’t good enough. Grand Duke Kapmen’s shoulders dropped.
“I know it was foolish, but I didn’t like to see you struggling. ”
So the love potion was some kind of consolation? It was hard to tell if he was serious. I stared at him, but he looked away with a frown on his face.
An embarrassed silence cloaked the room, punctuated only by the unusually loud ticking of the clock. Finally, Grand Duke Kapmen heaved a sigh.
“I shouldn’t keep further company with you. I keep becoming interested in you, and I shouldn’t say anything.”
“Are you going to leave now?”
“Can I hold you?”
He stood up from his seat and walked to the door, and I followed him from behind. He half-opened the door, then suddenly turned back.
The wildness in his dark gaze left me stunned.
An oppressive silence reigned, and when I swallowed it was like dry needles in my throat. The look in his eyes were not the same as those of his usual indifference and pity, nor the ones of yesterday’s anxiety.
Laura’s words drifted to the front of my mind: love someone who can love you back with the intensity of a man starved for a hundred years. That was exactly how Grand Duke Kapmen was looking at me.
He raised his hand to cover his eyelids.
“We shouldn’t run into each other until the effects disappear by themselves.”
It seemed that way to me.
The man on his knees had been speaking for quite a while now, but his story didn’t quite enter my ears. He finally said, “My God…” then dissolved into tears. At the sight, I immediately felt pity for him. His situation must have been serious if he came all this way to the audience chamber, out of tens of thousands of people who clamored to step foot in here. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. My heart broke in sympathy, so I gathered the fractured bits of his story in my head and pieced it together. I gave my words of sincere consolation and the man sobbed again.
After the final visitor left, the officials closed the heavy door of the audience chamber.
I sighed and touched my forehead. Few people came to the audience room to give good news. Why not bless a baby? They all came to give unjust, outrageous and sad stories. As a result, it was not easy to concentrate fully on them as I worried about a dozen other problems. Just like today.
I slowly rose from the throne.
“Is your joke over?”
Before I could fully stand up, however, Sovieshu spoke and I lowered myself back into my seat. I gave him a questioning look, and he leaned back on his throne and looked at me with cold eyes.
“On hindsight, I was completely deceived.”
“Grand Duke Kapmen. His face was red—but was it from looking at the Empress?”
“To my eyes, he looked like that when he saw you. No?”
Sovieshu recoiled in disgust, I quickly left my seat this time. Before I exited the audience chamber, I looked back and saw Sovieshu watching me. I kept my expression as smooth as possible when I closed the door.
I turned around, and this time I saw Prince Heinley leaning against a pillar, as if waiting for me. When our eyes met, he smiled quietly and lifted the documents he was holding.
“I came here to talk to you about something. Will that be alright?”
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