“Hello, your Royal Highness.”
His shitty attitude held firm today as well.
The Imperial Prince bastard looked at me once but did not even give me the shortest of greetings.
It was not anything shocking, so I simply stood next to Cardinal Boutier and waited for our turn.
The attendant, who was supposed to be checking the list of guests, motioned to the knights without bothering to look down at the list.
Two knights completely dressed in silver armor moved forward, mirroring each other like a Decalcomania pattern, and pushed the large door open.
“His Royal Highness, Prince Cédric, Her Eminence, Cardinal Aurélie, and Prince Jesse Venetiaan now entering!”
I heard the doorknob turn as an attendant loudly announced our arrival.
I started to feel tense again.
I would meet the master of this Empire in about ten or twenty minutes.
I couldn’t help but take a peek at the Imperial Prince and the Cardinal’s clothes.
They were not dressed in formal attire either.
“It’s okay, our little prince. Everybody has a positive interest in you.”
The Cardinal must have noticed my uncertainty as she gently whispered some comforting words into my ear.
The door opened and the wide banquet hall filled my view.
It wasn’t something I could take in with just one glance.
I tried very hard to close my jaw but it was dropping open on its own.
It was also hard to not look all around.
Everything was big and luxurious in the banquet hall, mimicking the style of the Empress Palace.
There were over ten chandeliers hanging from the high ceiling.
The pillars supporting the ceiling on either end of the hall seemed to be made of marble. I could see an orchestra seated to play as well.
The center of the hall was empty, perhaps acting as a dance floor.
The atmosphere and size were completely different from the welcome banquet at the Duhem March.
The entire interior was sparkling with white gold.
“They are all Pair de Riester who have a close or decent relationship to Frédérique.”
The Cardinal whispered and elegantly smiled.
We started walking side by side with the Imperial Prince in front of us.
I could see the nobles getting up to show their respects beyond his clacking shoes.
There were about 200 people.
It was a suffocating number for me, but it definitely seemed like a gathering of a small close confidants for the Empress.
They were seated evenly across three long, wide tables. As expected, the Carrara marble tables and chairs were adorned with luxurious golden decorations.
“Don’t be burdened; think happy thoughts. For example, what you can loot from Frédérique.”
The Imperial Prince quietly called out to the Cardinal.
I knew that she was just saying that to calm me down so I just laughed it off.
We were now at the head of the center table.
The nobles were still bowing deeply without making a peep. The Cardinal added on.
“It’s your birthday soon. Isn’t there anything you want?”
‘It’s almost my birthday?’
My eyes opened wide at this completely unexpected news.
The attendants quickly came over and pulled out our chairs.
The head of the table, which was clearly the Empress’s seat, was empty. The Cardinal’s seat was to the right and the Imperial Prince’s seat was to the left.
I was seated right next to the Cardinal. I was already getting dizzy at the fact that the Empress would be so close.
‘I’m at the same table as the boss. I can’t escape.’
“Will you resume the music?”
The Cardinal leisurely said into the air.
A well-dressed attendant silently bowed and waved his hand.
The orchestra’s beautiful melody immediately surrounded us.
It felt as if we pressed play on a paused playlist.
The nobles all sat down simultaneously. It was so cohesive it looked prearranged.
The hall immediately erupted in a rowdy atmosphere as if it had never been quiet.
I wondered if it had been this lively before we arrived.
“Hello, your Eminence. Your Royal Highness. Prince Jesse.”
I heard a familiar beautiful voice from the other side.
It was the person who was seated next to the Imperial Prince today.
She smiled beautifully. It looked as if she was in the spotlight with her hair gently fluttering.
“That scorpion demonic beast’s name is the Illusion Scorpion. It was the winning sacrifice for the Great Clearance of Demonic Beasts seven years ago. It almost got me good too!”
Marquis François Duhem, who was seated to my right, raised his voice to explain.
There were slightly drunk nobles all around the banquet hall laughing and talking loudly.
It was already past 7, however the Empress showed no signs of showing up.
Christelle was mixing brandy into the Marquis’s stout like a pro.
‘That’s just a bomb……’
“Her Eminence believes that its illusion fog would not have been for killing.”
I quickly spoke. I felt a need to resolve my questions while the Marquis was still coherent.
Christelle, who pushed that bomb of a drink to the Marquis, turned to her left and started feeding Vice Captain Élisabeth pieces of beef from the beef bourguignon dish.
The MC truly was a good person.
There was still a simple splint on the young Countess’s right arm, but she said that it should heal cleanly if she is careful for another week or so.
“That is true. The illusion I saw was sad yet happy at the same time. One of my three younger sisters was bringing home a man to marry.”
The Marquis pretended to cry as he spoke.
‘He has three younger sisters? I didn’t see them in the Duchy.’
“My brother loves his younger siblings very much. He cried for an hour after seeing that illusion.”
“Hervé! How dare you lie in front of these esteemed individuals?! I cried for two hours.”
Captain Hervé Duhem, who was seated to Vice Captain Élisabeth’s left, commented before the Marquis corrected him in a sharp tone.
I laughed because it was so ridiculous.
I thought it would be a dignified and difficult place to be since the Empress was presiding over the victory celebration, but, unexpectedly, it was not that uncomfortable.
There were a lot of familiar faces, likely because they put the people who participated in the Great Clearance near the head of the table.
“That beast’s fog must have just been a way to cause chaos if you saw such a happy occasion. It makes it easier for me to understand her Eminence’s explanation.”
“It’s because you’re a good student, my little prince.”
The Cardinal warmly responded and scooped a bite of her Dauphinoise.
The fragrance of the warm potato tickled my nose.
‘That’s going to be good for sure.’
I nodded my head and reached my hand toward the Cassoulet at the center of the table.
“Since we are already talking about them, your highness…”
The Marquis turned toward me a bit.
“The oldest of my younger sisters is making a celestial covenant next week. Thanks to her Majesty’s heavenly mercy, she is allowed to have the ceremony at the Imperial Temple.”
“I see, congratulations.”
I put a bunch of kidney beans, pheasant meat, and goose meat on my spoon and took a bite.
I then enjoyed how it melted away like gratin in my mouth as I thought about the meaning of a holy covenant.
The official name of a celestial covenant was the Covenant of Paired Stars, the contract that the Riester Imperial family and their collateral line made with priests.
This was where two people vowed in front of the Almighty God that they would become soulmates, officially becoming Religious Partners.
The Imperial family takes influential priests as partners to solidify their religious influence and support while the priest gains wealth, fame, and special privileges by being partnered with a member of the Imperial family.
I read that that was the case, at least in recent history.
I heard that the Marquis’s House of Duhem was part of the Imperial family’s collateral line, so it wasn’t weird that she was making a celestial covenant with a priest.
Empress Frédérique and Cardinal Boutier were connected by a celestial covenant as well.
Of course, the two of them seemed to have had a close friendship since before that.
Contractors of a celestial covenant could supposedly feel each other’s emotions and hear one another’s voices, but…… I had no idea if it was true.
Anyway, that was how it was portrayed in a romance novel being published in the < Biweekly Riester >.
“However, we are lacking a witness. The covenant requires a noble at a minimum of the Marquis level, and two priests at a minimum of the Bishop level.”
The Marquis continued to speak. I nodded my head and scraped every last bit of Cassoulet off my plate.
The talk about the celestial covenant must have been interesting, as Christelle and Vice Captain Élisabeth were looking at us as well.
“If you are available, could you please be that final witness, your highness?”
I blinked a few times.
It wasn’t hard to be a witness if I didn’t have to go out of the Imperial Palace, officiate the ceremony, or be the moderator.
The people involved in the celestial covenant were the two people, not their families or the parish, so there shouldn’t be any later headaches for being the witness.
The House of Duhem was one of the Empress’s close confidants, but the fact that Eunse never mentioned them must mean that they don’t play a big role in QNW.
I turned toward The Cardinal.
I had nothing to lose. If she gave permission, I would do it. If she said no, I would just slack off.
“I think that it would be a good experience for our little prince. I approve.”
She calmly responded.
“Then I am fine with it as well.”
The Marquis became extremely excited and covered his face with both hands after hearing my response.
Captain Duhem thanked me with a bright expression on his face as well.
“For the esteemed royal priest to be the witness, Antoinette would be very happy.”
‘I guess his sister’s name is Antoinette.’
This family was quite dramatic in many ways.
The Marquis’s voice went up a notch.
“Is there anything you would like in return, your highness? I heard that your birthday is on the 31st. I will give you whatever you ask for as a present as long as it is something that this lowly Marquis can do for you!”
“I’m not sure.”
I now learned that May 31st was Prince Jesse’s birthday.
I had not even thought about it, since my birthday is in February.
I felt that there was too much that I did not know about the prince.
I now knew his birthday,but his middle name was still a blank.
‘I’m sure he has one.’
“Your highness, please ask him to send you on vacation.”
Vice Captain Élisabeth gently interjected at that moment. I turned my head toward her.
Christelle and the young Countess were seated next to each other, looking at me with sparkles in their eyes.
I looked away after feeling too awkward but made eye contact with the Imperial Prince this time.
‘This is a really bad seat.’
“I’m sorry, but I don’t think it is the Marquis’s jurisdiction on whether I get to leave the Imperial Palace or not.”
“That is true. But I will make a sincere request to her Majesty if that is what you wish.”
‘Don’t you think that doing that would have the opposite effect instead?’
“No, I don’t think I need a vacation.”
“June in Riester is very hot, your highness. Please think about it carefully.”
Vice Captain Élisabeth smiled brightly and shook the glass of green apple juice in her hand.
‘I’m sure it’s not as hot as the Korean summer where it feels like the asphalt is melting.’
“Vice Captain Élisabeth and I are scheduled to go play up north when the June heat blows in.”
Christelle sounded excited.
I thought that the two of them became really close through the Great Clearance of Demonic Beasts. I guess I was right, since they were already planning their summer vacation together.
In that case, I had even more reason to keep myself hidden away in the Imperial Palace.
“Or maybe you should ask for a palace. You played a big role this time.”
Christelle went ‘oh my, oh my’ and slapped Vice Captain Élisabeth’s back after hearing her quiet comment.
The young Countess peeked toward the Imperial Prince with a mischievous look on her face.
‘What is up with these people?’
“The mustard is quite spicy. I think you would like it, young lady Sarnez.”
I tried to change the topic.
Christelle had a skeptical smile on her face but quickly received the plate of lamb ribs I handed her after hearing that it was spicy.
This MC is mean but at least she should keep my secret.
I didn’t know how much the Empress and the Cardinal knew about the situation, but I had absolutely no reason to admit that I found out the Imperial Prince’s true identity.
“What is it, your Royal Highness?”
I ended up making eye contact with the Imperial Prince who had quite a serious look on his face.
“……Do you really want a palace?”
‘Wait, why is your train of thought off in lala land all by itself?
“Her Majesty is now entering!”
I heard an energetic shout from the direction of the seat with the greatest seniority. The orchestra stopped playing.
The rowdy room instantly froze over.
All of the nobles quickly composed themselves and stood up.
The Cardinal seemed to be the only one here who was relaxed.
I quickly wiped my mouth with a napkin and stood up following the Cardinal. After that……
“Looks like you are all having fun.”
A slightly low and husky voice cut through the silence like an iceboat.
It was not the same direction from which we had come. I raised my head half way to look forward.
The heavy marble wall behind the head seat was slowly opening.
There was a middle-aged woman standing slightly crooked at the center.
‘Who knew that there would be a door there too?’
“As you all know, my son was the winner of the Great Clearance of Demonic Beasts.”
She sounded tired. I could see a long and nimble sword through the gap in her pearl-colored jacket.
She was the only person who could carry a weapon in the Empress Palace.
Her short silver hair sparkled under the light. For some odd reason, I had to manually remind myself to breathe.
“So, keep on drinking. Don’t even think about leaving early tonight.”
Empress Frédérique made that proclamation before glaring like a wasp.
Her sharp cherry-colored eyes pierced right through me.
I got chills on the back of my neck.
‘I guess I’m not making it back before the day is over.’