“I wonder how much did I drank? It feels like there’s a hole in my stomach, Ugh.”


My stomach churned, and my head throbbed as if it would split open.
I flipped the blanket over my head to block out the morning light, but it was useless.
Nausea crept in as I recalled what Nicolai said last night.

“If you don’t want to go to the Ice Tower Prison for insulting the Emperor, take the drink.”

“You’ve a peculiar way of making threats.”

“It’s an act of leniency.”

“What are the other options?”

“There are none.
These two are the only choices.”

“Why do you want to drink with me?”

“You don’t need to know the reason.
Just choose between the drink or the prison.”

Unfortunately, the guards had their hands on their sword hilts, and so I had no choice but to accept the champagne glass offered by Nicolai.
Was it because it was top notch champagne? Or was it because I was temporarily possessed by the original Elisabeth, who loves to drink? The champagne was surprisingly delicious. 

“I remember spinning around and even falling over.
I think I threw up after that…”

I wrinkled my nose.
Fortunately, there was no smell of vomit coming from my body.
“Someone must’ve cleaned me up.
How should I thank them?”

“You can start with a word of thanks.”

I turned my head immediately at that familiar low-pitched voice that I had become accustomed to overnight.
Nicolai propped himself up on the spacious bed.
“Your Majesty?!”

T/N: I don’t think the art does the description to Nicolai justice

The silk blanket smoothly slid down, revealing his bare upper body.
His well-defined chest resembled sturdy leather armour, and his finely chiselled abs that seemed to have been meticulously carved with a knife assaulted my eyes.
It was a rare sight to behold, and it sent shivers down my spine and goose bumps breaking out all over my body.

“Why are you here, Your Majesty?”

“Is it unusual for the emperor to be in his own palace?”

I opened my eyes wide and looked around, taking in the grand bed, the crystal chandelier, and the ceiling adorned with magnificent paintings.
My jaw dropped at the opulence that surpassed even the Amsters’ mansion, which was known for its splendour.
It was undeniable that this was the palace, and not just any room, but the emperor’s bedroom.

‘Ah, another cliché? The heroine waking up in an unfamiliar bed and encountering a half-naked handsome man!’

With a trembling hand, I lifted the covers.
Thankfully, I wasn’t completely naked, but it wasn’t enough to put me at ease.
I was wearing a gossamer-thin negligee, similar to the ones in Elisabeth’s dressing room, but they were such racy designs that I never dared to touch them! 

‘Did he really change my clothes? He can’t have done it, right? I mean, there’s got to be more than one maid around here……’  

Rummaging through the memories I rather kept completely erased, a big, strong hand came to mind.
A cautious, almost delicate touch gently caressed me.
Through my hazy vision, I caught sight of cascading black hair and green eyes, flushed cheeks, and sensuous lips that were tightly pressed together and tinged with tension.


“Aah…!” While I was filled with despair, Nicolai smiled, revealing a set of pristine and pearly white teeth.

 “There’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Haven’t we seen enough disgraceful sights of each other?”

“Since when?”

“Since last night until this morning.”

“!”

“It was quite a challenge to change a lady’s clothes, but thanks to me, you managed to sleep well, right?”

Nicolai wore a delighted expression.
If his gaze had been lascivious and greedy, it would’ve sent shivers down my spine.
But instead, his eyes sparkled with pure pleasure.
Although it was somewhat burdensome, yet it presented a striking contrast to the initial impression that exuded an overpowering decadence.

‘Why is he treating me this way?’

It was confusing.
He himself said that he wasn’t charmed by me, so why was he going out of his way to treat me this way? Was it because he believes I’m a woman who couldn’t resist a scoundrel’s charm? But that didn’t seem to be the case.
As my memories of the night came rushing back, I recalled that all he did was take care of me when I was drunk and nothing more.

‘I was the one who drank recklessly and became so drunk that I lost all sense of propriety.
I wanted to live while maintaining dignity and self-control, but not only I stayed out all night, I found myself waking up in bed with a man I had just met!’

I lowered my head in embarrassment at my scandalous behaviour, no different from the original Elisabeth.

Nicolai casually remarked, “There’s no need to feel troubled.
It was me who offered you the drink.
Although I didn’t expect you to get drunk after just three glasses of champagne.”

“……”

“I ordered the carriage to be on standby.
You can go back.”

“Thank you for your consideration, Your Majesty.”

“Be more careful next time.”

The word “next” gripped my heart tightly before releasing its hold.
I wanted to ask what I should be cautious about, but my lips remained sealed.
Suddenly, I felt an enormous sense of embarrassment at the realisation that I was alone in bed with Nicolai.
I traced my lips with my fingertips unconsciously.

‘I had my first kiss with this man last night.’

A fiery blush crept up my cheeks.
The touch of an unfamiliar man remained on my lips like an indelible seal.
The heat and breath remained unchanged, but surprisingly, Nicolai didn’t seem stirred by the unexpected kiss, nor did he take advantage of me while I was inebriated.
Not only that, he told me to be more careful in the future.
As our conversation progressed, the seemingly unbreakable image of a Casanova tyrant started to show a subtle crack.

‘Maybe he’s a better person than what was portrayed in the novel.
Maybe Claudia wouldn’t start a revolt if he wasn’t a tyrant? If that’s the case, is it possible to prevent his bad ending without putting him under my control?’

Just when a slight fondness for him blossomed with new hope, Nicolai’s lips curled into a slight smile.

 “Make haste to enter the palace.
I’ll prepare a residence in the rear palace for you.”

“What?”


“Why are you acting like you don’t know? You agreed to the game, didn’t you?”

 “What game?”

Nicolai, his brows furrowed, moved closer.
Faced with his overtly handsome face, my heart began to race uncontrollably.
I thought all my memories of last night had returned, but I was wrong.
I had no idea what he was talking about.

“I will add fraud to the crime of contempt for the Emperor and exterminate everyone associated with the Amsters for being guilty by association1.”

A sharp chill ran through my body.
I knew he meant it, and he also has the power to turn that threat into reality.

‘He’s definitely a tyrant! He’s a tyrant no matter where I look!’

This wasn’t the time for pride or dignity.
Nicolai rubbed his hands together before displaying his villainous nature.

“How could I even dare to think about deceiving you2? It’s because of the alcohol, the footage—I mean, my recollection is hazy!”

“……”

“So, could you tell me what kind of game is it? Pretty please?”

He glared me suspiciously and spoke arrogantly, as if he was doing me a favour.

“Whoever succeeds first in seducing the other person will win the game.”

“Did I suggest a game like that?”

“Very confidently.”

“I can’t believe it!”

“I agreed on the condition that you must enter the palace.”

“Shouldn’t you have refused?”

“Why would I? I’ll get an interesting toy in exchange.”

I get it’s a hierarchical society and all that, but calling someone a toy, isn’t that too much? You think you can control my life for fun? Just as I was about to lose my temper, Nicolai said threateningly, “You vomited on the Emperor’s thigh and made him bathe you.
Did you think it was all for free?”

A dark aura emanated from his entire body.
I knew that if I continued to disobey, I would be executed without a word.
Claudia hadn’t even made an appearance yet.

‘I came to seduce him, but I got screwed over3 instead.’

 I swallowed back tears of regret.
Nicolai extended a piece of high-quality paper, and as soon as I received it, I knew it wasn’t just a simple piece of paper.
It turned out to be a contract, and it some unbelievable unsettling contents.


Nicolai Rob Yevrei and Elisabeth Amster shall live together and seduce each other until the moment of victory or defeat is determined.
  There are no restrictions on seduction methods.
However, violence, drugs, and other acts that violate the Universal Law are strictly prohibited. There are no restrictions on physical contact. The one who captures the other person’s heart first shall be deemed the winner, and the winner can demand anything from the loser. The loser must comply with the winner’s wishes unconditionally and does not have the right to refuse.

Nicolai smiled.
It was no longer a boyish innocent smile.

Nicolai observed Elisabeth’s reaction with delight.

‘Her expression changed from surprise to pale in an instant.
Sometimes she’s outrageously brazen, but cower like a frightened hamster on other times.
But the fact that she’s irresistibly fragrant remains unchanged.’

He needed to determine whether Elisabeth’s sweet fragrance was just a fleeting thing or not.
He was curious about why humans emit scents like cherry blossoms and sweet berries.
He was also curious about the source of the scent.
That was also why he took care of her himself.
To his surprise, Elisabeth’s scent demonstrated an effective and lasting power to dispel the foul stench of the Netherworld Blossom.
Overnight, the lingering traces of the foul stench vanished from every corner of the royal palace where Elisabeth had been, as if it were a lie.
Even the most exquisite perfumes, scented candles, and incense burners could not do this.
She was indeed an incomprehensible and enigmatic woman.
Nicolai absorbed every aspect of Elisabeth with his eyes, as if to suck everything out of her.
 

‘I want this woman badly enough that I’ll resort to a childish game as an excuse.
I must have her in my hands, even if it’s only until the fragrance fades away.’

Apart from that, it was definitely worth having Elisabeth by his side.
For one thing, her expressions and reactions were refreshing.
It went completely against decorum, but he found it delightful.
Was he already intoxicated by her fragrance?

“It’s null and void! It’s evident that the contract was forcibly concluded while I was mentally incapacitated!”

Elisabeth snapped, her temper flaring.
Nicolai shook the contract in his hand, and her tiny fingerprint waved as if offering a greeting.

“Are you trying to weasel out before the ink on your fingerprint even dries?”

“Do you have any proof that I proposed a seduction game?”

“Didn’t you declare that one should either do or die trying? You claimed that the palace is far safer than your own home.”

“……”

“Wasn’t it you who approached me first? While we’re at it, I want to know, why did you try to seduce me?”

“……”

“Did you want to become the empress, as the rumours say? Then starting by being a consort should be enough.
Then why are you so opposed to the idea?”   

Elisabeth’s dark eyes shifted.
Observing her small lips, which were pursed like a bird’s beak, it seemed that she couldn’t come up with a suitable excuse.
To Nicolai, Elisabeth’s true motives held little significance.
To him, she was a woman of usefulness and intrigue.
Nothing more, nothing less.
He believes it will continue to be so in the future, but the dynamics between men and women are complex and unpredictable.

“While there may be a stipulation for living together, there isn’t one that requires me to become your consort, is there?”

“If you choose to be a maid, I won’t stop you.
Among noble-born maids, there may be many chores, but that’s none of my concern.”

“I heard that Your Majesty has dozens of consorts.”

“I don’t know the exact number.
If you’re curious, you can enter the rear palace yourself, count them, and let me know.”

Elisabeth’s pretty face contorted.
Nicolai realised that he had been teasing her far too much.
He couldn’t understand why such mean thoughts kept coming to him.
Although he lacked experience with women or love, he was still the emperor of this empire.
Even before ascending the throne, he had learned the art of restraint and patience.
To endure the unbearable, he turned away from his senses and severed his emotions since he couldn’t bear it otherwise.
Somewhere along the way, all the joys and sorrows that humans are capable of feeling became alien to him.
However, he didn’t feel any regrets.
Yet there was one thing that weighed heavily on his mind.
It was the fact that he must pass on the accursed wolf to the Crown Prince, Franz.


‘It’s already been six years since I started raising Finch as my son.
It’s hard to believe that the tiny one who used to be cradled in Lila’s arms is now a ten-year-old.’

Nicolai had many secrets, and one of them was the fact that the Crown Prince wasn’t his biological son.
There were those who doubted Franz’s lineage when they saw his striking golden hair.

Any secrets that escaped his lips would mean destruction.
Franz was someone he had to protect, even at the cost of his own life.
It was because he had promised Lila, who was like a star.

‘This woman might be able to help me and Franz.
She may be our first and last hope.’

Nicolai had no intention of letting Elisabeth go.
It was as if there were no possible means of escape for her once the determined Emperor made up his mind.

“If you really don’t want to, we can terminate the contract.”

“Really?”

Elisabeth’s face lit up immediately in relief, as if she just had a narrow escape.
Nicolai suddenly felt a surge of anger.

“She wept, cried about wanting to live, and that she didn’t want to face the guillotine.
But now she doesn’t remember any of it.’

Last night, Elisabeth sobbed uncontrollably while nestled in Nicolai’s embrace.
Nicolai had no idea how to console or comfort the sobbing woman.
She was like a lost child, wailing helplessly in a strange land.
All he could do was hold her close, providing the only comfort he could offer.
He initially assumed, that Elisabeth was afraid of the consequences of insulting him.
That, however, was not the case.
She was instead gripped by the conviction that she would soon die, and he understood that this terror had apparently tormented her for quite some time.

‘What was there to be afraid of and sad about when she possessed a beauty envied by others and immeasurable wealth?’

Even a person who has everything has days when they would yearn to drown their sorrows in alcohol and tears.
Inexplicable and unexplainable sadness exists within everyone.
Nicolai refrained from making premature assumptions about Elisabeth’s feelings.
He believed doing so was necessary regardless of social standing.

“I hope you take a good look at the termination clause.”

Nicolai flipped over the contract.
Tiny letters were scrawled on the back of the document.
Elisabeth’s eyes rounded like ripe grapes.

“Are you telling me that if I terminate the contract one-sidedly… you would seize all my assets and sell my entire family into slavery?!”

“I assumed you checked before putting down your fingerprint? Not that I mind if you didn’t.”

“You sly bastard!”

“Watch your mouth, lady.
Your man’s the emperor, you know.”

       To be continued…

Translator’s Notes:

1 Refer to the translator’s notes (3) from Chapter 3 to my reasons for not translating 삼족 (three familial exterminations) and 구족 (nine familial exterminations) literally.

2 어느 안전이라고 is a term mainly used in Korean historical dramas and is used to mean ‘how dare say such a thing in front of someone.

3 엿만 먹고 (yeotman-mukgo) ‘엿’ is a traditional Korean taffy, but it’s also phonetically similar to the word 욕(yok) – ‘to curse’.
‘Yeotman-mukgo’ literally translates to ‘eat yeot,’ but obviously it doesn’t mean you’re eating taffy.
For a more detailed explanation, check out Wiktionary entry on the word.
The literal translation for ‘유혹하러 왔다가, 엿만 먹고 가네요’ would go something like ‘I came to seduce, but I ate shit instead.’ But while it’s funny, it doesn’t really fit if I translated it that way, I reckon? 

4 ‘설명할  없고설명되지 않는 슬픔은 누구에게나 있었다.’ The fourth note in the fourth chapter was the wall… how apt.
I struggled trying to word this sentence so it doesn’t feel like it’s just the same thing (redundancy).
In the end, I gave up, made life easy for myself, and just going to trust the readers do get the difference between ‘inexplicable’ and ‘unexplainable.’ (Or would ‘defies explanation’ and ‘remains unspoken’ sound better??)

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