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5 Wrong Move

 TILLY sneaked out of the palace for the second time that night.

After she met with Kiho in the hidden pavilion a while ago, she went back in the ballroom to assure her father that she hasn't left the banquet. Just like she expected, a knight went to her and informed her that the emperor has requested a private audience with her.

[That was exactly what happened in my previous life. After I went to the emperor's private room, I was formally introduced to Captain Kiho. Then, the moment we went out of the chamber, we were already engaged.]

But she wanted to tweak the event a little.

That was why right now, she was quietly on her way to meet Isabella again. This time, she asked the young maid to bring her second dress- the ash blue floral-embroidered tulle lace long gown that she chose from the catalog.

She wanted to meet Kiho wearing a dress that embodied her current personality: simple yet elegant. Right now, she wasn't as ambitious as she used to be. She thought she could show that to Kiho by wearing a comfortable dress rather than a glamorous one.

For that, she was currently walking quietly on the hidden side of the courtyard.

"Lady Prescott, are you trying to run away from destiny?"

Tilly let out a loud gasp when she heard the voice that she would never forget. She instinctively placed a hand on her chest when she felt her heart jump. Then, fear started to paralyze her system when she realized that she knew very well the person who just talked.

How could she forget the loud and firm voice that sentenced her to death in her past life?

[Emperor Aku Moonchester.]

When her heart started to return to its natural beat, she gracefully turned around.

Just like she expected, Emperor Aku was standing in front of her with a curious look on his immaculately handsome face. But surprisingly, he was alone.

Did he sneak out of the palace, too?

His Majesty wasn't wearing his regal red cape. It looked like he sneaked out by blending with the other nobles because he was wearing a cloak over a normal three-piece crisp suit. He probably used the hood of his cloak to hide his unique silver hair.

[But his good looks and good built are hard to miss. He definitely used some sort of magic to escape from his royal knights. I remember he often did that in the past.]

"Greetings to the one and only moon that embraces our great empire," Tilly politely greeted the emperor with a curtsy and a lowered gaze.

To be honest, she didn't expect the emperor to recognize her. In her past life, she was close with Princess Nia. But before she married Kiho, she didn't have any solo interaction with the emperor. So right now, she was surprised when he called her by her name.

"Rise," Emperor Aku said smoothly.

She looked up into the emperor's red eyes glowing with obvious curiosity. Under the moonlight, his hair and skin looked paler than usual.

[Gosh, did he have to be this handsome?]

But despite the emperor's beauty, she was still a little scared of him.

She couldn't help it because this was the man who sent her to death in her previous life. Until now, she couldn't forget the look of hatred on his face as he watched her get beheaded along with the citizens who came to the plaza to witness her public execution.

[But it's not like I can blame the emperor. I was a bitch who deserved to die then.]

"Lady Prescott, I believe I asked for a private audience with you," Emperor Aku reminded her in a gentle yet firm voice. "You're not running away, are you?"

"I'm not running away, Your Majesty," she said politely. "I'm simply on my way to meet my servant whom I asked to bring my change of clothes."

"Change of clothes?" the emperor asked curiously while scanning her dress with his glowing red eyes. Then, he looked up at her face with confusion. "I think your dress is lovely enough."

"Thank you, Your Majesty," she said before explaining herself. "I want to change into a dress that will show Captain Kiho my true personality."

He seemed impressed by what she said. "You prepared another dress just for Captain Kiho?"

"Yes, Your Majesty."

For some reason, the emperor's face suddenly looked sad. "Oh, Lady Prescott. I think you're too good for that stubborn child."

"Your Majesty, I heard that Captain Kiho is hesitating about our engagement," she said. "But don't worry. I'll do everything in my power to change his mind."

The emperor smiled, obviously pleased by her determination. "The guest room in the palace is too bland. How about we change the location and let you and Kiho meet at the rose garden instead? What do you think, Lady Prescott?"

"I will gladly follow what Your Majesty plans for Captain Kiho and I," she said with a polite smile.

"Then, I shall ask my servants to prepare the rose garden now," the emperor said excitedly. Ah, right. His Majesty loved games, festivities, and anything that looked "fun" to him. "Lady Prescott, you may use the royal parlor to prepare. You can bring your servant to assist you."

"How can I do that, Your Majesty?" she refused politely.

"I insist. I'll ask the royal maids to aid you," His Majesty said. "Lady Prescott, Kiho is like a younger brother to me. I'm grateful to House Prescott for accepting him to be a part of your family. Not all higher nobles would open their doors for a commoner like him. Even though he is very skilled in swordsmanship, I'm afraid that the captain's biggest flaw is his lack of noble roots. I apologize but let me be honest: I chose you because I know that your father needs an heir. I used the prophecy to marry Kiho into a noble family to help him expand his power and influence on the higher society."

"Your Majesty, you don't have to apologize to a lowly subject like me," she said, embarrassed that she had to hear the emperor apologize to her. "I am fully aware that most people would think that my union with Captain Kiho is nothing but a mere political marriage. But I could care less about that. It was my choice to marry the captain."

That seemed to surprise the emperor. "Lady Prescott, perhaps you have feelings for the captain?" Before she had the chance to respond, he raised a hand to stop her from speaking. "Ah, you don't have to answer my question. That was intrusive of me."

She just smiled at him when she realized that before she betrayed Princess Nia in her past life, the emperor had been so kind to her. But when His Majesty found out that she was the person who exposed the princess' secret, he changed.

[I had a good life then but I let my greed ruin me and my relationship with the precious people around me.]

But now, she vowed to treasure every single person in her life.

"I'll go ahead and inform my servants to assist you," the emperor said. "Ah, I have a question though. Have you seen Princess Nia? You're one of her closest friends so I was wondering if you know where she went to. She disappeared after she gave her speech a while ago." He smiled while gently shaking his head. "The princess really hates socializing."

Her heart hurt when she remembered the tragic end of Princess Nia that she caused in her previous life. Because of that, the emperor loathed her so much.

[I have to make it up it to Princess Nia in this lifetime.]

"Her Royal Highness Nia loves to look at the white roses under the moonlight as bright as what we have tonight, Your Majesty," she said to the emperor.

Princess Nia has a private garden where only white roses bloomed. The emperor definitely knew where the garden was because he had it built for the princess when he proposed. In the past, she remembered that Princess Nia would always go and watch the white roses every time she sneaked out of the palace.

"Thank you, Lady Prescott," Emperor Aku said. "Now, I shall summon Kiho and teach him a thing or two about how he should treat a fine lady like you."

Tilly smiled and bowed politely at the emperor. "Thank you for being considerate, Your Majesty."

***

[THE royal maids are so extra.]

Tilly was now sitting on a bench in a garden away from the ballroom. Beside her was a nicely wrapped big box with a white ribbon on it. Two royal knights and two maids brought her there but they left a while ago. They told her that Captain Kiho was on his way.

[His Majesty probably thought that I will confess to Kiho so he asked the knights and the maids to leave us.]

The emperor was surely confident that nothing bad could happen when she was with Kiho. Her ex-husband might have a bad reputation, but the whole empire knew that he was one of the greatest swordsmen the empire had ever produced.

[Anyway, I prefer this kind of peace and quiet.]

While alone, she couldn't help but remember how the royal maids assisted her once she was done changing her dress in the private parlor earlier.

They meticulously applied makeup on her face and fixed her hair by giving her a half up crown braid. Well, it turned out good. When she saw her face in the mirror a while ago, she was quite surprised.

[His Majesty definitely asked the maids to treat me like a royal. This is probably his way of showing me that he supports my "feelings" for Kiho.]

Because of that, she couldn't help but feel guilty.

In the past, she exposed Princess Nia's secret that caused the exile of Her Royal Highness.

And she was about to find out the princess' secret in this lifetime.

In the past, after her engagement with Kiho was officially announced, Princess Nia invited her to a tea party. That was when she discovered the princess' secret. So once her engagement with Kiho was confirmed tonight, she would probably receive the invitation soon.

[I can't turn down the princess' invitation but I have to somehow find a way to avoid discovering her secret.]

"Good evening, Lady Prescott."

Tilly flinched when she heard Kiho's low and cold voice from behind. When she stood up and turned around to face him, she was surprised by what he did.

Without even looking at her face, the captain got down on one knee and lowered his head.

[Okay, what is he up to now...?]

"Lady Prescott, I'm not a noble and I lack proper etiquette," Kiho said in a serious voice. "All I ever learned from childhood was to hold a sword and kill people to live. Before His Majesty officially took me under his wing, I worked as a mercenary during my adolescence. My hands are tainted with blood and even if I inherit your father's title, the high society you belong to will never fully accept me as a duke. I'll just probably be a disgrace to you if you choose to marry me."

Tilly gently bit her lower lip to stop herself from laughing.

[Kiho is speaking a lot, huh? He's really trying so hard to get dumped. Did he really fall in love with the "lady with a crab mallet?"]

"But all of the things I just said were nothing but a lame excuse," Kiho continued. "The truth is I met a lady with a crab mallet and I can't get her out of my mind."

Tilly couldn't help but smile at his confession. [Ah, my husband is smitten.]

"I am not worthy to be your husband, Lady Prescott. Don't marry a man whose heart already belongs to another woman," Kiho continued. "Please break off our engagement, my lady. If you grant me this favor, I'll do anything you want."

"That kind of promise is dangerous, Captain," Tilly scolded him playfully.

Kiho suddenly fell silent and for a few moments, he didn't move.

[Did he freeze or something...?]

He probably recognized her voice. The captain was sharp so he definitely figured out that "Lady Prescott" and the "lady with a crab mallet" were the same person.

[Is he angry?]

She was about to tap his shoulder but stopped when Kiho suddenly looked up at her.

The intensity in his glowing golden orbs made her step back.

To be honest, Kiho rarely got mad at her in the past so she couldn't really remember how he looked when he was angry. But right now, the look on his face was something akin to anger and that scared her a bit.

[Is he angry because he thinks I made a fool out of him?]

Tilly could only pray that she hasn't ruined her second chance.