“She is stunning,” Eugene finally said.
“Is she?” Marianne replied, casting a glance at the portrait the queen held so carefully.
“Yes. She looks younger than her age. Did you say she was thirty-two?”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
“She’s beautiful! I mean if the portrait correctly resembles her.”
“I don’t think the portrait does her quite the justice, Your Grace.”
Her likeness was exquisite. She couldn’t imagine meeting Moriel in person.
As Eugene examined the portrait thoroughly, Marianne grinned and said, “I think you are more stunning, Your Grace.”
Eugene thought of Jin Anika’s face and slowly nodded. “Yes, I agree.”
She suddenly realized her mistake. She’d praised her own beauty! But Marianne looked as if she was expecting the comment, which made it more awkward for Eugene.
“So, she’s the queen of high society, you said?” Eugene deftly changed the topic.
“Your Grace, she’s just well known in high society. The term ‘Queen’ can only be used by you.”
“Oh, yes. Of course.”
Marianne continually corrected Eugene whenever she faltered. Especially when Eugene made comments related to a sensitive topic such as the hierarchical society of Mahar. Marianne was an able teacher, patient, and wise.
To Eugene, Mahar was a whole new world along with its customs and traditions. Needless to say, she was not used to their culture and hierarchy. She didn’t grow up in a society with such strict social divides. Yes, there were some norms that needed to be observed, but they were quite forgiving.
“You told me I was not interested in high society, right?”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
“Would my lack of interest be one of the reasons the countess was able to make the high society revolve around her?”
“Of course! It is the most important reason. How could the countess distinguish herself if you were there?”
“Clearly she must have eloquence and charm.”
“That becomes a minor feature of the countess in your presence, Your Grace.”
“Even if I don’t say or do anything?”
“Your Grace, you are the only person that can stand beside the king.”
“And also because I am an Anika.”
“That is right, my queen.”
Jin, an Anika and a queen, was almost worshiped by the people. Eugene realized that Jin’s status was higher than she thought.
The word ‘king’ symbolized a much greater thing in Mahar than on Earth. Here, a king was the holy ruler and savior. The throne was passed down solely to blood descendants, therefore a decision made by the gods. A king who hunted Larks and protected the people was crucial to the kingdom and its people.
The person that stood beside this crucial king was the queen, Jin Anika. No wonder people still accepted her as queen even though she was a crazy and wicked woman.
“What was the kingdom like before I became queen? Was high society ruled by the queen?”
Marianne was hesitant to answer. “It has been a long time since a queen took part in high society, Your Grace.”
“Even when the former queen was alive?” Eugene asked, with curiosity.
“Yes… and the former queen is still alive, Your Grace. We are yet to hear her obituary.”
“She is still alive? Well, then where is she?”
“She lives in the Holy City, my queen.”
This time, Marianne’s answers were short. She was usually quite detailed with her answers. Eugene realized this was a very complicated topic and decided not to ask too much about the former queen. If I need to know, then someone will tell me, she thought to suppress her curiosity. Every family has a complicated past, and she knew it wasn’t appropriate to ask too much.
“If a queen has not appeared in high society for a long time, shall I continue to keep my distance? I don’t want to disrupt anything already in order.”
“Your Grace, it is not in order. A state of chaos is merely at bay. If I may, I would like to describe it as a group of hyenas crawling across a meadow without a lion.”
Marianne was gentle, but also tough. Eugene gave a sheepish grin.
What am I supposed to do? Eugene got the feeling that Marianne wanted her to take part in high society. But she was comfortable where she was. Meeting people was already tiring, but high society members? There was bound to be trouble if she associated with them.
No one would criticize her for continuing to do nothing. But she was curious. Where Eugene was from, she had heard of the society for the wealthy, but there, it had nothing to do with her.
In the society of this world, she imagined the tense atmosphere and endless competition between the members. She thought of the powers she had, and the order she would bring just by her appearance.
It sounded fun. It didn’t matter to her that she wasn’t joining for the purest reasons.
“Marianne, I would like to attend their first party when the dry season starts.”
Marianne smiled broadly. “Of course, Your Grace.”
With that, Marianne continued with their session of learning with two other portraits, delivering the relevant details.
In Mahar, drawing and possessing a portrait of another person was perceived as incredibly rude. A man would be accused of sexual offense if he had a portrait of a woman in his possession.