There was a long silence in the dining hall. Livia couldn’t find the right words to answer Croft. The maids and servants tried to read the air but couldn’t be sure if it was the right time to serve the food.
Finally, after studying Croft, Livia reached a conclusion: He had surely lost his mind. No doubt about it. He’d apologized for being assaulted—unequivocally, a madman whose thought process was unlike that of normal people. She’d expected he would lose his dignity after she hit him a few times and ask her to resign as his etiquette tutor, but it looked as if she hadn’t abused him enough.
“I have no idea what His Highness is saying,” she replied calmly while wondering how to induce him to give up his lessons. “You have nothing to apologize for.”
Her intention was to let this whole incident pass, but Croft understood her words differently. He thought she’d accepted his apology, and he was relieved that she didn’t seem to want to involve her father in their conflict. This wasn’t unacceptable to Croft, although he still didn’t understand how things had turned out this way.
“Good,” he said. “Shall we eat now?”
Livia nodded, and the servants quickly served the food. The two of them ate in silence. She observed his every action, hoping he would fire her if she pointed out his mistakes and nagged him about them. But his table manners were surprisingly good. The way he moved was a bit rough around the edges, but not enough to point out. He finished his food without a sound.
If there was anything to point out, it was the extraordinary amount of food he ate. Livia was shocked when he refilled his plate three times, although as a South Korean in her past life, she didn’t personally see an issue with a big appetite.
When the meal was nearly over, she finally spoke. “Is His Royal Highness familiar with dancing?”
“I have never danced before.”
Her eyes flew wide open. “Pardon? Not even once?”
Croft clucked his tongue at the surprise in her eyes. She must find an imperial prince who didn’t know how to dance fascinating. There was no way for the precious daughter of Duke Blanche, who’d spent her entire life in safety, to know what life was like at the Eastern Frontier. Although Croft was a prince, his life there had been the farthest thing possible from the music, dance, and merriment of the court.
He’d attended balls only a few times—of course he didn’t know how to dance. He refused to go to such gatherings now. Why would I hold a woman’s hand and spin in circles? Even the thought of it made him uncomfortable.
Livia sensed his subtle uneasiness, and her eyes sparkled. If he doesn’t like it, I must teach him to dance. Then the maniac will look for a different tutor.
She looked up with a dazzling smile. “We must begin dance lessons as soon as possible. Today.”
“Do we really need to?”
“There will be many balls to attend once you become emperor, and you will have to organize many banquets for foreign envoys. Our empire will be ridiculed if its emperor does nothing but sit on his throne during balls.”
She acted as if the matter was serious, but it was nonsense. No foreign envoy would dare make fun of the crazy emperor of Luwens. The nobles of the empire would applaud even if he performed the chicken dance in the middle of the ballroom—in fact, such a ridiculous move might make that dance popular, with all the aristocrats following suit.
Livia tipped her head to one side and considered him across the table. Croft would ascend the throne as a bachelor, and many eligible noblewomen would approach him. That’s precisely what happened in the novel. The leading female character, Lilian, was one of them. Being Loved by a Tyrant was about this tyrant’s dangerously passionate love for her.
I couldn’t put the novel down because I was captivated by Lilian’s story, but I quit it midway because I couldn’t relate to the crazy tyrant Croft. I would’ve finished the novel had I known I was going to end up in it.
As Livia recalled her previous life with regret, Croft replied, “All right.”
The way he said it made it obvious that he didn’t want to agree—dancing was a meaningless waste of time—but it was clear that Livia wouldn’t give up easily. However, scaring or opposing her bore no benefit. She might punch him again.
This whole etiquette lesson was a deal with Persilot. Duke Blanche had given Croft the opportunity to ascend the throne under one condition, that Croft make his daughter an empress. If Croft fomented conflict with her, the duke would doubt his sincerity. Things would be different once he became emperor, but for the time being, he needed the duke’s cooperation. With only one week left, Croft had to accept anything she decided to teach him, be it dancing or flower arrangement.
The smiling Livia had no idea what Croft was thinking. She said, “In that case, I will meet you at the grand hall on the first floor in three hours.”
Croft rose and departed, annoyed.
Shortly after the meal, Croft took his sword and headed to the eastern annex where his men were staying to spar, to take his mind off the stressful things that had happened that morning. The three of them headed to the training hall after their post-lunch warm-up.
Malik rushed to Croft. “Captain, I apologize for calling you scum earlier. It was a misunderstanding.”
Right. I’d entirely forgotten about the ridiculous rumors. Croft’s scarlet eyes glimmered dangerously. Although he said nothing, he’d already chosen Malik as his opponent for the day.
Blake noticed and let out a deep sigh, but the simpleminded Malik, who couldn’t read the atmosphere to save his life, rambled on. “I think the women here are too coy. They scream and run away every time I try to talk to them. But you shouldn’t worry, Captain. Duke Blanche’s daughter will eventually reciprocate your feelings.”
Despite his friendliness, Malik’s physical appearance was intimidating. It wasn’t likely that women ran away screaming because they were being coy.
Croft ignored Malik’s misconception. “My feelings?”
“I heard from Blake that you fell in love with the duke’s daughter at first sight. Whew—even if that’s the case, how could you try to kiss her the first time you met? It’s no wonder she slapped you.”
Blake hid behind Chester, who began giggling.
Croft’s scarlet eyes drilled into the half-hidden Blake. Blake wiped the sweat from his forehead and tried to avoid him.
Earlier, Blake had found Malik sniffling in the corner of the garden. From the look of it, he was trying to hide in the rose bushes, although he hadn’t done a very good job. His frame was simply too big. The gardener had beat his chest in desperation, unable to say anything to the giant who was destroying his precious roses, and fled when Malik began crying and making strange noises.
To pacify Malik, Blake told him that Croft had fallen in love with the duke’s daughter at first sight, immediately confessed his feelings, and tried to kiss her. As a result, he said, she slapped him. Blake had thought up this story while imagining what Croft, who had never been in a relationship, could possibly have to have done to “touch” her “by mistake” and “get punched.”
Luckily, Malik had loved this story and stopped crying.
Malik nudged Croft’s ribs. “Did you make up with her?”
Croft reviewed his problematic and dumbfounding day. The giant’s misunderstanding perturbed him, but the prospect of explaining the situation now was even more bothersome.
He stalked away toward the training hall. His first opponent of the day would be Malik—followed by Blake.
Livia waited in the empty hall for more than half an hour, but there was no sign of Croft. She asked Georgette to find where he was and what he was doing. It didn’t take the maid long to report he was sword dancing in the training hall.
Croft didn’t need to learn imperial etiquette. He needed to learn basic manners as a human being.
Livia marched into the training hall where Croft was sparring with Chester. He’d already beaten Malik and Blake. He’d focused especially hard against Chester, who used an unpredictable technique, and he’d forgotten his appointment with Livia.
The only sound that could be heard in the training hall was that of clashing swords. Everyone present was silent as they watched Croft and Chester spar.
Malik’s loud voice broke the silence. “Look.”
Croft and Chester turned their heads in the same direction, their swords still crossed.
As soon as Croft saw Livia sailing toward them with her elegant gait, he remembered the dancing lessons. “Damn it.” He brushed back his wet hair with his hand.
Chester realized what was happening and put his sword away with a giggle. “Were you supposed to meet her?”
“I guess so, but it looks like I’m late.”
“The duke’s daughter seems very angry. Is she going to hit you again?”
Croft wished he could say otherwise, but he couldn’t say anything to his mocking subject. This woman might really hit me. This woman, whose face resembled a dew-covered lily and who walked toward him as if stepping on clouds, might really hit him again.