Ruben desperately racked his foggy head for answers, but he couldn’t figure out which was the truth. Seeing him being quiet for a while, Erna gently placed a hand over Ruben’s.
“Ruben,” she said, “whatever it will be, Hessenguard must be held accountable for the attack. I was supposed to surrender you to Aether to prove our innocence, but the reason I wasn’t able to… I thought it would be difficult to see you again once you return to your kingdom. That’s why I’ve been hesitant.”
Ruben couldn’t do anything but remain silent. Erna patted Ruben’s hand as if showing her understanding.
“For now, you will need to rest. I couldn’t even tend to you properly because I had to keep your condition top secret. So, even if it’s hard, try to rest alone.”
She added, “I’ll cast magic on the door, so do not fret.” Of course, you won’t be able to go out either.
Erna approached Ruben, who was still disoriented, and whispered, “I have a lot of things I want to ask you… Until then, goodbye.”
As Erna was about to leave, Ruben hurriedly grabbed Erna’s wrist.
“What’s the matter?” Erna asked.
“Why, to me… do you speak differently?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“I don’t think you used to talk to me like this…”
Erna clenched her fists from under her sleeves and asked in her usual voice, “Who do you think took care of you all this time?”
To be honest, Orpé had been the one to tend to him with magic so that he wouldn’t die.
At Erna’s question, Ruben muttered as if he was a little thrilled at the fact, “Erna…”
Erna wanted to smack Ruben for calling her name, but she endured it well and whispered to him again, “I thought we’d become quite close, but perhaps I was mistaken.”
Erna stroked Ruben’s head, desperately repeating to herself: This is Kalion, this is Kalion.
“So, get some rest and get better soon, Ruben.”
Erna hugged Ruben slightly. His hot breath poured over Erna’s chest. Erna swore to herself that Kalion should never know of this.
* * *
After returning to her room, Erna hurriedly changed her clothes. Looking at the clock, it was almost ten o’clock.
I wish I could rest a little.
She was already mentally exhausted from dealing with Ruben, and now she had to be in a meeting with the Council.
However, she was satisfied that Ruben seemed to be taking her bait. She had successfully planted seeds of doubt in him, and she was certain those seeds would consume his mind. Soon, he would no longer trust Aether.
Erna went to the dressing room and clothed herself with what had been prepared for her. When Orpé entered just right when Erna was almost finished, she called the maids. The maids immediately took Erna to the front of the dressing table, sat her down, and began to do simple make-up.
“How is the atmosphere in the Council?”
When Erna asked, Orpé, who was standing behind her, replied, “It’s no joke. Everyone has been waiting since dawn. They’re all tense.”
Since it was an emergency meeting, all members seemed to have been waiting since morning. Erna glanced at the maidservants who arranged her hair. They looked a little stiffer than usual.
Even if everything is under Vanessa’s control… Isn’t this an exaggeration?
In the past, Erna did not care much about the history of the Grand Duke Castle. She was busy enough studying magic and dealing with her duties as the Grand Duke. In addition, the Grand Castle was not her home from the beginning nor had she ever learned how to live in a castle, so it was too much for Erna to manage.
Therefore, the responsibility of the Grand Castle was naturally taken over by the Council. From their perspective, it was not necessary, but Vanessa accepted the responsibility without a word, and now it has naturally become the work of the Council.
It’s been a while since I saw Vanessa, thought Erna.
Vanessa was still forbidden to enter the Grand Castle. Parliamentary meetings have not been properly conducted in the ongoing state of emergency. The council members must have been on edge.
Erna glanced at her maids again. In the past, she would have asked if they had anything else they needed whenever their eyes met. But today, she pretended not to see and averted her gaze.
She could tell—that her maids did not like her right now.
It was only natural given her response toward the advancing troops of Aether as the Grand Duchess of Hessenguard. Everyone had expected that Erna would fight against them. If that was too much, she should at least be angry, but she was not. She only revealed her true emotions to Orpé, so she seemed to be friendly towards Aether, which her own people despised. In their eyes, she seemed to be abandoning Hessenguard, along with Kalion.
She did not want to be hated by her own people—people who had placed their trust on her—but what could she do? She needed to do what she had to do in order to protect her kingdom. It broke her heart to see ten years worth of hard work to rebuild Hessenguard crumbling so quickly.
Erna recalled Kalion’s words.
“Should we leave?”
How shaken was Erna at that time. She desperately wanted to leave, to escape. She felt that everything she had lived for was a lie.
What if she had decided to leave then? To be honest, she was confident of making a living wherever she went. If she had her own magic and Kalion’s prowess, wouldn’t they be able to reach the end of the world? She wouldn’t be doing this taxing work, nor would she be receiving cold stares.
After a while, the preparation was finished. Erna left for the meeting with Orpé.
As Erna entered the parliamentary building, the members standing inside bowed their heads slightly to show courtesy. Orphe’s eyes flashed with anger. Anyone could tell that they were bowing their heads a lot less than before.
While she was engraving in her mind the names of the members who displayed impertinent behaviors, Erna’s footsteps suddenly came to a halt.
As soon as Orpé looked beyond Erna, wondering what was going on, a frown formed on her face.
Adelaide was sitting next to Vanessa.
* * *
Kalion woke up to the sound of birdsong—which, in fact, was noise caused by a woodpecker.
When he opened his eyes slightly, he could see the bright sky over the mountains. Although the space within the valley was distorted, fortunately, the day and darkness came the same.
Perhaps because he had fallen asleep thinking about Erna, Kalion realized that he had slept better than he had expected.
About to get up, a piece of wood fell over Kalion’s head. Kalion frowned and picked it up.
At that moment, Kalion’s eyes widened.