Duke Despone’s frown deepened as he watched Diane make her way through the sea of nobility.
The nobles’ gazes followed her every move, some murmuring behind their fans, their whispers like the rustling of leaves in the wind.

“Look at how favored she is by His Majesty,” one noblewoman said, a hint of envy in her voice.

“But it’s like a sandcastle, isn’t it? Beauty and love are fleeting,” another chimed in.

“I wonder how the Empress will react to this,” a man said, his voice tinged with curiosity.

“She must be furious that her concubine took off on the first night,” a woman replied, her tone filled with speculation.

“But what can you say about Her Majesty? She’s a little terrifying, isn’t she?” another asked, fear creeping into her voice.

“Well, Diane Poitiers is certainly a more beautiful woman,” a man said, and the nobles chuckled amongst themselves.

Adele watched the scene unfold with a hint of amusement on her face as Diane approached her.
The nobles’ eyes shone with interest as the two women faced each other across the grand staircase.
The musicians too had lowered their bows, their attention fixed on the two women.
Diane bowed her head and bent her knees in a formal gesture.

“Good day, Her Majesty the Empress.
My name is Diane Poitier.” Diane introduced herself with a respectful bow, her head lowered in deference.

Adele smiled sweetly, her beauty like a field of lilies in bloom as she raised her head slightly.
Everyone’s eyes were on the two women, watching their interaction closely.
The Empress responded solemnly, her expression carefully composed.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Lady Poitiers,” she said.

“I worked on the wedding and this banquet; do you like it?” Diane’s question was bold, but she couldn’t help but want to know how the Empress felt about having the Emperor’s mistress at the banquet.
The Empress was met with menacing, glittering gazes from the nobles, but she didn’t respond.
She simply stared at Diane blankly, her face expressionless.
The silence in the dining hall was palpable, and everyone could hear the sound of their own eyelashes as they blinked.

After a moment, the Empress softly lifted her lips and smiled, as if she had never done so before.
“You’ve been through a lot.
I apologize for not being able to wear the banquet gown you had prepared.
I wanted to wear it since it was lovely, but it was too small.
I just couldn’t put it on.”

Only then did the ladies realize that the Empress was dressed in a wedding gown and they exchanged glances among themselves, murmuring in confusion.

“It was produced according to Gottrov’s proportions; apparently, the size standards were different.
We apologize for the inconvenience,” Diane said, her voice tinged with confusion and frustration, after biting her molars hard in response to the nobles’ murmurs.

Suddenly, there was a commotion at the entrance of the hall.
“His Majesty has arrived!” The nobles quickly turned around at the sound of an attendant’s voice echoing through the hall, where even the music had stopped.
The emperor, who had not shown his face until now, stood there with a stern expression, his presence commanding the attention of all in the room.
The nobles stepped back to make way for him as Karl walked towards the throne.
The Empress was seated on the throne, her demeanor calm and collected, giving off the impression that she naturally held power and control, and would not be swayed by the slightest disturbance.

Meanwhile, Diane’s entire body relaxed as she saw Karl.
He was her only hope, her only source of light.
Tears formed in her eyes unintentionally.
The Emperor frowned as he stopped in front of her and her gentle eyes filled with tears.
He then looked back and forth between the Empress and Diane, his expression unreadable, but Adele knew what he was thinking.

“Are you crying?” The Emperor’s voice was low and deep, a hint of concern in his tone as he blocked Diane’s path, shielding her from the Empress’s gaze.

Hidden in the crowd, Lennox smiled, a small smirk playing on his lips as he watched the scene unfold.
The aristocrats’ eyes widened, their expressions filled with intrigue as they looked on.
Adele, too, couldn’t help but let out a small grin, her lips curving upward as she watched the exchange between Karl and Diane.

“Your Majesty,” a thin voice came from behind him.
“I’m truly astounded.
This is a new experience for me.
Should I start crying too?” Adele felt a surge of anger and irritation.
From the start of their marriage, the Emperor seemed determined to belittle her importance and the only person who annoyed her more than Diane Poitier was the Emperor himself.

“What are you doing?” the Emperor asked, his tone sharp.

“That’s what I’d like to know,” Adele replied, trying to compose herself.
“I was just trying to greet her.”

“What kind of greeting made you cry this way?” Karl asked, frowning at Diane’s tears.

“I’m curious as to why she’s crying as well.
She approached me and smiled.
Ask the young lady if you’re curious about why she wanted to say hi,” Adele replied, her voice becoming sharper.

Karl turned to face Diane after hearing Adele’s comments.
Her face was marred by tears and fear.

“I just wanted to greet Her Majesty the Empress,” Diane said, trying to explain her actions, her voice trembling.

The emperor focused his gaze on Diane’s face for a brief moment, which seemed to last an eternity to Adele, who was watching them.
He then turned his gaze to the Empress.
Adele felt like she could strangle the man with her eyes.
The two locked eyes in a heated exchange as the nobility watched on.
The Emperor slowly approached Adele, his gaze fixed on her like a predator stalking its prey and his steps heavy and deliberate.
Adele raised her head to meet his gaze, unwavering.
He looked down at her, his expression unreadable, before turning and taking his seat on the throne.

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