“Prepare to leave for Ilugo.”
Upon hearing the emperor’s order, the crowd broke out into whispers. While none dared to say it out loud, everyone in the hall knew the order’s implication.
His Majesty had decreed that an arranged marriage would occur with their most hated enemy: Ilugo. It was a betrothal in name only—in actuality, the arrangement was a death sentence. Perhaps that was even what the emperor wished for.
But even in the face of death, Aristine stood poised with the same elegance she’d exuded when she strode into the hall. She seemed to be in her own world, sheltered from the chaos surrounding her.
The emperor stared at her, dissatisfied with her reaction, then twisted his mouth into a smirk.
“Aren’t you glad, my dear daughter?”
He sounded gentle, but that was only a guise for his venomous words.
“Though you are useless in everything else, the blood flowing through your veins is noble enough for such an arrangement.”
Aristine remained unfazed by the insult. Like a deep and tranquil lake, her eyes were gently lowered, and her crescent-shaped lips remained still.
The emperor snorted.
“I was tired of keeping you around, considering how worthless you are. Good riddance.”
He surveyed the chamber and laughed.
“I can free myself of you and help the country. Why, you’ll even be given an opportunity to prove you’re better than trash. Three birds with one stone, so to speak.”
The crowd tittered with laughter as though they agreed.
Still, Aristine showed no reaction. Her eyes remained lowered, the picture of an obedient daughter.
* * *
A month later, Aristine left for Ilugo.
While some who witnessed her departure lamented her ill fate, Aristine herself was unwavering as she boarded the carriage. Her steadfast attitude made a lasting impression on the rest, who still mocked her.
Then the carriage doors closed, and the curtain fell on the farce.
“Yes, good riddance, Father. Oxygen is wasted on you.”
Aristine’s entire personality changed as though her obedient demeanor had never existed.
She lifted a middle finger in the emperor’s direction, high and strong. Her beaming smile was like that of a newly descended angel.