“It’s all done.”
With a small, satisfied smile, Dana concluded her knitting project. She delicately affixed a tiny pom-pom to finalize the piece, holding up the freshly crafted pair of miniature socks.
“Oh my, they’re incredibly small.”
The socks were scarcely large enough to encase two fingers, their adorable size evoking a chuckle from Dana. Recognizing how swiftly newborns outgrew their attire, she cherished the brief span these socks would serve their purpose. This precious time was not to be squandered.
Following the completion of her current endeavor, Dana had immediate plans to depart for the Hashi Kingdom. Her intent was to support Jin throughout her pregnancy and recovery, with a commitment to stay in the kingdom for at least a year.
Having delegated numerous responsibilities to Enoch, her prolonged absence posed no significant issues. Despite Enoch’s objections to her extended absence, Dana paid little heed to his complaints.
“Milady!” The butler knocked urgently on the door, displaying an uncharacteristic agitation that left Dana perplexed before the closed door.
“Come in,” Dana said.
As the butler entered, his expression bore a weighty solemnity.
“Milady, the Lords have returned, and there are reports of an attack on them.”
“What?” Dana exclaimed in surprise and swiftly rose from her seat. She left her study and descended the stairs unaccompanied. As she reached the landing, Enoch and Arthur, her sons, who had been engaged in conversation in the hall, immediately noticed her and lowered their heads. Dana breathed a sigh of relief upon observing that neither of her sons appeared to be seriously harmed.
“What happened? An attack?” Dana asked urgently.
Enoch replied, “We were suddenly approached by a man in front of the carriage, prompting us to come to a halt. Then, a group of individuals descended upon us from all directions, launching an assault on the carriage. Their weapons resembled clubs, not particularly menacing. They shattered the windows and caused some minor damage to the carriage.”
“I’ve never encountered such ruffians during my entire time in this peaceful town. Who could be responsible for this?” Dana asked, her disbelief palpable.
Enoch and Arthur exchanged a quick, meaningful glance.
“We’ll relocate and discuss this further.”
Dana regarded her two sons alternately, her expression stern, her eyes narrowing slightly. She inferred from Enoch’s response that someone was behind this, although she remained uncertain of their identity.
“Very well. Let’s proceed inside.”
The trio made their way to Dana’s study. Seated across from each other on the sofa, Dana revised her earlier inquiry.
“Could this be the work of the believers?”
Enoch nodded. “Yes, Mother. The attackers claimed it was punishment for the actions of the Arse family, which they believed had incurred God’s wrath.”
Dana’s grip on the armrest tightened, causing wrinkles to form on her forehead as her gaze gradually narrowed. After a moment of heavy silence, she let out a chilling, humorless laugh. Her eyes burned with icy anger as she turned her attention to Arthur.
“You returned home early. Didn’t you mention an important business contract today?” she inquired.
“Yes, Mother,” replied Arthur. “However, the other party requested a few additional days for review and decision-making, so the contract has been postponed.”
“The Benfis Consortium, correct?”
“Benfis… A consortium affiliated with the Prayer Assembly.”
The wealth of the Holy City’s Palace was undeniable. While they lacked taxation rights, the substantial donations they received were a testament to their financial prowess. Most of these contributions were voluntary, but some individuals resorted to bribes in a bid to curry favor with the clergy for various reasons.
The Holy City’s Palace adhered to a principle of expending all donations received within a given year in the subsequent year. In essence, they allocated vast sums towards the upkeep of the palace, salaries for knights and priests, religious ceremonies, and various other expenses.
Engaging in commerce with the Holy City’s Palace alone could yield considerable profits, and indeed, there were such consortia. However, not just anyone could enter into trade with the palace. They selected consortia for this purpose by asserting, “We shall bestow this privilege upon those with unwavering faith.” The criteria for selection remained undisclosed, but the consortia designated as trading partners of the Holy City’s Palace were members of an organization known as the Prayer Assembly.
The alliance that monopolized this privilege wielded tremendous power, making other consortia discreetly observe the Prayer Assembly’s activities with keen interest.
“If the Consortium is indeed behind this, it starts to make sense,” Dana murmured.
A few days prior, the announcement of the cancellation of the Celestial Festival had sent shockwaves through the city. The cancellation itself was not as significant as the underlying reasons behind it. While most of the public joined in the outrage, attributing the blame to Anika Jin for her perceived irresponsibility, some astute individuals sensed an unusual tension between The Holy City’s Palace and the Arse family.
Sang-je’s announcement naturally fueled suspicions. It was unprecedented for Sang-je to publicly lay blame on someone. Moreover, targeting Anika Jin, who wasn’t even in the city, would have been a futile endeavor. Thus, it became clear that this wasn’t an attack solely on Anika Jin but rather a direct assault on the Arse family.
Dana glanced alternately at her two sons and began to speak, her voice laced with determination. “Prepare yourselves. Today may well be just the beginning. Our family will face challenges from all directions.”
“Mother, what could be the motive behind all this?” Arthur inquired.
“The motive may not matter. What matters is the intent to destabilize us. It’s the only way news of our troubles will reach your sister.”
Enoch’s face twisted with disbelief. “Surely, Mother, you’re not suggesting that they orchestrated all of this to lure Jin into the palace?”
“It’s not out of the question. It aligns with Sang-je’s desires.”
Enoch and Arthur clenched their jaws in frustration but harbored no fear in the face of an adversary threatening their family. When it came to those who dared to challenge their family or their loved ones, they possessed an unwavering determination.
“Your father must be concerned. He mentioned he would be late today.”
“I’ll go meet him.”
Dana nodded in approval at Arthur’s swift response.
But it’s strange. Why is Sang-je acting with such urgency? Dana mused.
She had heard the explanation that Sang-je was targeting Jin’s Ramita, but it didn’t quite add up. In the realm of hunting, patience was typically a crucial factor. Capturing elusive prey often required setting invisible traps and gradually closing in from all sides. However, Sang-je was openly declaring his intentions to target her daughter without subtlety.
Could it be because they’ve said Sang-je lost his divine power? she pondered. Setting aside these unanswered questions for the moment, she focused on the immediate tasks at hand. She needed to inspect the household, check on their business contacts, and send messages to the members of the Freedom Assembly.