Lady To Queen - Chapter 24
“I was out riding,” Patrizia answered with an expressionless face. She came out here to escape from her stress, but now the greatest stressor was right in front of her. What a gift of bad luck to be bitten by a horse and to meet the Emperor on the same day. She turned away to leave, when Lucio stopped her.
“Wait,” he said.
Why was he stopping her? She turned to face him and asked him directly, “What is it?”
Oh, right, it was bleeding. She didn’t want to appear weak in front of this man, and so she waved it off casually. “It’s fine.”
“It doesn’t look fine.” Lucio’s expression was stiff, and Patrizia found it hard to read his thoughts. Whether she was hurt or not, she knew he didn’t care—she wasn’t his beloved Rosemond after all.
“It was just a light bite. It’s nothing.”
He stared at her without any response. For a while Patrizia wondered if he heard her or not, but a moment later he got off his horse. She blinked her eyes in surprise when he started walking towards her and she backed away automatically, but it was useless.
“I wonder when the meaning of ‘light’ has changed,” he murmured.
Patrizia turned her eyes away from him, and she heard Lucio give a heavy sigh. She waited for him to go, but he didn’t seem to have the intention of doing anything she wished.
Suddenly, a familiar white handkerchief came into Patrizia’s view. She smiled, pretending that she was not worried. “I see that handkerchief often.”
He wordlessly pulled her hand towards him. She tried to tug it back, but he wouldn’t relinquish her hand.
“It hurts,” complained Patrizia.
Lucio gently loosened his grip, and she watched as he wrapped the white handkerchief around it. He was surprisingly proficient at this.
“You’re good at this,” Patrizia said, before she realized that the words had left her mouth.
“I’ve done it before,” he replied in a low voice.
“Ah…!” Patrizia gasped. He had squeezed her hand the wrong way, sending lightning bolts of pain through her arm.
“Oh…” Lucio noticed her reaction and looked embarrassed. “I’m sorry,” he quickly apologized.
“…It’s alright,” Patrizia said. In fact, she wasn’t alright at all, but she didn’t want to tell him the truth. It was already bad enough that she was caught looking helpless in front of this guy, and she couldn’t appear to look any worse. She managed to bite back the pain as she watched him bandage her trembling hand.
“It’s done,” he announced a little while later. Patrizia carefully withdrew her hand. The area covered by the handkerchief felt hot. She stared at it for a moment, and then spoke.
“You said it was important,” she said worriedly. “Blood doesn’t wash off easily. You didn’t have to do this.”
“Is there not a patient in need in front of me?” Lucio countered.
Patrizia’s mouth closed at the firmness of his tone.
“I’m not heartless enough to turn away when I see an injured person,” he said
She still didn’t find a reply. It was strange—she had no idea what to say. After a few long moments, she finally managed some words.
“I’ll wash it so it’s as clean as possible.”
“That’s enough. Don’t bother with useless things.”
“But I’ll feel bad because I’ll be indebted.” Patrizia sighed. “It’s complicated.”
She wanted to tell him that this complication was all because of him. No one else in this world knew that the source of her misery was him.
“Thank you anyway, Your Majesty.”
“You don’t have to say that. I owe you for last time.”
Did he mean the night of the rain? She blinked as she recalled his expression that time. He looked visibly upset beneath the full moonlight.
Plop plop plop.
At that moment, it started to rain. Apparently, the clear skies had clouded over at some point. Patrizia looked up at the dark sky as rain drops splattered on her cheeks. Great. Of course it started raining now. She must be having a lot of bad luck today.
“Ah…” She gave a gasp as Lucio dragged her to his side. Before she could ask what he was doing, he spoke.
“It’s raining too hard to ride back now. There is a place where we can get out of the rain close by, so let’s go there.”
The Imperial Palace was just a little further away, but the problem was that she couldn’t take her horse there. She had no choice but to obey him.
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They arrived under a big tree. Patrizia’s jaw dropped open, as she had never seen one so massive before. It must be a centuries-old work of grandeur.
“This tree is huge,” she marveled.
“It’s a thousand years old. It’s a tree from the time of the first emperor,” Lucio said.
His explanation only served to stun her more. The tree was a thousand-year-old elder, but now it served as shelter from the rain for two people and two horses. Patrizia sat down on its massive roots, and Lucio took the place beside her. She did not stop him.
They both silently watched the raindrops patter on the leaves. Patrizia thought the silence wasn’t so strange, and the clear sound of raindrops falling to the forest floor relieved any awkward tension.
It was Lucio that finally broke the silence.
“The reason you came out here horse-riding today…was it because of the hunting tournament?”
“Yes,” she replied quickly.
“That’s surprising. I didn’t realize you would participate.”
“You must be sad. Lady Phelps can’t take part.”
Lucio’s brow furrowed slightly. “Are you being sarcastic?”
“No. I really am sorry,” Patrizia insisted.
They watched the rain fall for a few more seconds, before Lucio spoke again.
“I didn’t know that you know how to hunt.”
“I’m embarrassed to say so because I’m not that good…I can just shoot a bow.”
“Do you like hunting?” he asked suddenly.
Patrizia replied with a level voice. “No, I don’t really like it. I don’t enjoy killing.” After completing her answer, she felt obligated to ask him the same question as well. “And you, Your Majesty?”
“Not that bad,” he said shortly. His expression was dark, and Patrizia sensed a story, but in the end she did not care. She preferred keeping her distance instead of finding a reason to be sympathetic to him. The more she became close to him, the farther away she would be from her family.
“I heard that the previous emperor enjoyed it, but I guess you take after your mother,” Patrizia said.
Lucio didn’t say anything, and a strained silence hung heavy in the air. Patrizia felt awkward that she was the last one to speak, not him.
She turned her gaze towards her injured hand. The red blood had already stopped seeping through the white handkerchief, and yet, she was somehow under the illusion that she still seemed to be bleeding. She wondered if she could ever clean off this blood stain.
“So…” Lucio said.
“Yes?” asked Patrizia.
She stared at his serious face with a puzzled look. He looked cautious, hesitant.
“The day of the envoys’ visit.”
Ah, that day. Did he mean the time Patrizia hit Rosemond’s cheek? Patrizia gave a small nod. “Tell me,” she said.
“What did Lady Phelps do to you that day?”
Patrizia’s mouth moved but she said nothing. Why was he bringing that up now? She didn’t do any wrong, but it was an uncomfortable topic to touch with him. She couldn’t openly ignore him, however, so she spoke without revealing her feelings as much as possible.
“Why…why do you want to hear?”
“I’m just asking.”
“I think you heard something. Or…is there any other reason?”
“It’s not like that, so you don’t have to be oversensitive. If you don’t want to tell me, you don’t have to.”
“Do you want to hear the truth? Or… a reassuring word?”
“The former,” he answered briefly, and Patrizia bit her lips hard. She looked up at the sky. The rain from the sky was still heavy, and showed no signs of stopping. That meant she had to spend more time with this man than she anticipated.
Patrizia thought for a moment and slowly opened her mouth. “I didn’t want to tell you.”
“You know why,” she continued with a smile. “Even if you listened to me, I didn’t think it would lead to direct punishment for her.”
“…Am I wrong?”
“It depends on the circumstances.”
Patrizia fell silent, then soon spoke again. “Can I interpret that as meaning you will punish her if it’s a serious matter?”
“…We can talk about it.”
She didn’t expect punishment in the first place. She knew it could not be made into a public issue, but she was curious about his reaction to the story.
“You understand that the Christa Empire bans pork,” Patrizia started.
“Baroness Phelps replaced the beef prepared for steak with pork.”
Yes, that was it. Lucio already knew that, but it was shocking to hear it again. He had to admit that his Rosemond and had done a terrible and vile thing. Dangerous actions such as that could lead to diplomatic failure between countries.
Patrizia confronted him. “…Did you already know?”
She was perplexed by his unusual questioning. Did he want to confirm what he already knew? Or was he already aware of her misdeeds in advance?
“You don’t seem surprised,” she said in a nonchalant voice.
“I was surprised.”
Patrizia bit her lip for a moment, then soon asked him a question.
“Now, does my statement have any effect on you?”
He said nothing, but Patrizia sensed intuitively that he was in a state of confusion. She wasn’t sure what it was, but something had struck a chord in him.