Lady Petisson addressed Elise sternly, “Your Highness, it’s time for you to rest. The Duke will be relieved to see you upon his arrival.”
“But he’ll return to the capital by dawn, and shouldn’t you spend more time with me before that?” Genovia cunningly proposed.
Elise, who had remained silent for a while, spoke softly, “Lady Petisson, it’s alright to let Ivetsa take a break.”
“Since it might be challenging for me to meet him tomorrow morning, I’ll spend the evening with Lady Irrien.”
“That’s a splendid idea, Elise!” Genovia happily clapped her hands together. Elise was so startled by the sudden loud sound that she almost dropped her teaspoon.
Observing all of this, Petisson let out a soft sigh that might have been audible.
Even Lady Petisson, who harbored little favor for the princess, found it difficult to witness her discomfort. Genovia Irrien’s presence was undoubtedly burdensome. Despite her efforts not to show it, Elise appeared even more flustered than when Genovia had first arrived in Rotiara a few days ago. It seemed as though Genovia had sapped the life out of her.
If the duke were to return and discover that Genovia Irrien was privy to the princess’s secret, even if he didn’t know the details, things could become quite precarious. Did he know about this and still acted so recklessly?
Nonetheless, Elise quietly directed, “You should leave now as well. Alfred and Sobeul are burning the midnight oil with paperwork, so please look after them too.”
Lady Petisson hesitated. “…Very well. Should you require anything, please do not hesitate to call upon us.”
Elise forced a smile. “Thank you.”
Petisson saw no need to argue when she had suggested it herself. She offered a deep bow.
Elise watched her departing figure from the dining room for a moment. Rezette is returning, she thought. He symbolized peace to her. Tomorrow morning marked exactly ten days since his departure. He was a man who rarely spoke falsehoods. Tomorrow would bring an end to this taxing ordeal and a farewell to the troublesome woman.
As soon as Lady Petisson departed, Elise, with weary eyes, summoned the head chef and observed the woman beside her with a fatigued expression.
“Well then, let’s finish our business,” she muttered wearily.
Genovia had clung to Elise throughout the day, even causing a commotion with Ivetsa who had accompanied her. Finally, she seated herself with a regal bearing and appropriated a precious bottle of cognac from the head chef.
Pouring alcohol into a crystal glass, Genovia spoke mockingly, “There’s no reason not to indulge when there’s no occasion for mourning, right? Bottoms up.”
“I don’t enjoy it,” Elise mumbled.
“Did I say you had a choice, Your Highness?”
A transparent, amber liquid was poured into the crystal glass in front of Elise, its potent aroma stinging her nose. She couldn’t help but feel uneasy.
Elise had never consumed alcohol in her life, let alone seen it. She had been taking medication her entire life, which had kept her far from any alcoholic beverages. Even in the year she reached adulthood, her doctor had consistently cautioned against any alcohol consumption.
Of course, explaining her circumstances to this woman wouldn’t make her more accepting.
“Drink it,” Genovia cheerfully insisted, smiling. “Leave not a drop behind; finish it all.”
Elise sighed and then turned the glass in front of her upside down, emptying its contents into Genovia’s glass. Genovia’s eyes widened in a triangular shape.
“What are you doing?” she demanded.
“You told me to bear a child. Well, it’s better not to recommend this,” Elise retorted.
“Ladies like you can have a drink or two, or even a chest full, and still wake up perfectly fine the next day. But I could actually die.”
Genovia, momentarily rendered speechless, stared at Elise before bursting into laughter.
“You sound so serious; it’s almost like you believe it’s real,” she remarked.
“If you want to verify, be my guest,” Elise dryly muttered as she picked up her glass. However, a swift hand promptly snatched her glass away.
“Threats,” Genovia grumbled as she dismissed Elise without much ceremony. Elise observed as Genovia quickly emptied the glass.
It was hard to discern who was threatening whom. Perhaps the Northern customs regarding etiquette differed from those of the South.
Noticing Elise’s troubled expression, Genovia elaborated, as if to make a point.
“Northern women, in general, are adept at handling their liquor. Rotiara may be a blessed land with mild winters, but in other regions, the winters can be harsh. Alcohol is often used to warm the body. Even in the northernmost parts of Van Yela, people turn to it for survival, you know?”
Elise offered no reply.
“You don’t seem very interested. Well, shall we discuss something more intriguing?” Genovia, her cheeks slightly flushed, rested her chin on her hand. Innocent curiosity sparkled in her green eyes as she fixed her gaze on Elise.
“I have something I’m curious about,” she admitted.
“How affectionate are you with that man?” Another vexing expression crossed her face.