She’d attended many banquets throughout her life, but this was her first time being the host.
Even her birthday banquets were just excuses for the nobles to interact, so no one truly cared about her.
But at this banquet, her coming-of-age ceremony… she caught everyone’s attention for the first time.
The emperor had sent a skilled maid to tend to her, and Apollonia had spent the whole day being molded under the maid’s experienced hands.
The makeup she’d applied had transformed Apollonia into a beautiful girl with glowing skin and rosy cheeks.
“You should gain some weight,” the maid told her bluntly.
That didn’t matter too much, though.
What she’d created was a masterpiece.
Apollonia wore a snow-white dress that represented purity, embedded with brilliant diamonds that glimmered in the evening sunset.
Her forehead was crowned with a laurel wreath made of finely wrought gold.
All of these only enhanced Apollonia’s beauty.
The moment she entered the banquet hall, she was surrounded by young men bombarding her with requests to dance.
Other girls her age also poured out praise to her beauty and poise.
“Greeting to the Sun of the Empire.” When Apollonia paid her greetings to the emperor, who lazed in his throne at the end of the hall, he looked amazed.
Next to him sat Petra, who gazed at her stiffly, just like always.
Apollonia hadn’t seen either of them since the assassination incident.
But after she’d returned to the Star Palace from showing them her wound, a servant had told her that Petra often met with the emperor.
They must have been plotting something.
She didn’t know what was going on between them, but she doubted Petra would attempt to assassinate her a second time.
News of the incident had blazed through the kingdom like wildfire.
“You’ve become an adult.” The emperor spoke with the face of a caring father, and the queens sitting behind him smiled gleefully.
“It’s all because of the kindness of Your Majesty,” Apollonia replied.
He didn’t seem to notice her sarcasm.
“I have good news for you.
It’s perfect news to announce at today’s banquet.” The emperor smiled again.
“It must be great news if Father says so,” she answered with an excited look on her face.
It was as if they were participating in a battle of wills, and she was confident she wouldn’t lose.
But with what he said next, she could only stare in shock.
“A letter of proposal came for you.” The emperor grinned at her.
“You’ll have to get ready for your engagement soon.”
Petra, who was next to him, smiled contentedly.
The corner of her mouth twitched upwards.
“Proposal… from whom” Apollonia couldn’t control the tremble in her voice.
Luckily, Gaius and Petra assumed it was the excited reaction of a timid girl.
“The Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Bjorn is 23 years old, and he seems to have a personality that matches yours well.
He’ll be visiting the empire in a few months, and that’s when he’ll formally propose to you.
Surely you must’ve expected that.”
“So you’ve already decided”
Petra will help you with the preparation, so do your best.”
What kind of personality would suit her well Bjorn was a rich kingdom whose primary export was weaponry, and it had a thriving business district.
She took a deep breath.
Despite her confusion, she tried to figure out why the engagement had been decided so quickly.
“Congratulations, Your Highness.”
When Petra congratulated her with a forced smile, Apollonia knew.
Her early marriage was the agreement the Emperor and Petra had made.
Petra saw her as a threat, and a letter of proposal had come at just the right time.
“Yes, congratulations, Your Highness.”
The queens behind him tried to flatter Apollonia.
The emperor looked down at her haughtily, as if he wanted her to say thank you quickly, then get out of his sight.
Apollonia thought for a moment, then smiled calmly.
“I’ve heard the prince of Bjorn has a commanding presence, and is a skilled martial artist.”
Of course, she’d never actually heard anything of the sort.
‘Presence’ as a compliment was only ever used when there was nothing else to praise about a man of noble birth, and the martial arts story was just something she’d made up, considering that weapons were Bjorn’s specialty.
Apollonia had no intention of getting married.
But the benefits of this situation were clear.