Erna was able to keep her composure when they were distances apart, but her heart pounded at every step Vanessa took toward her, with a polite smile painted on her lips. She had always approached her with the same smile, but Erna found that smile ominous now.
Words she had heard from Chenille buzzed in her head.
Dukes and duchesses. Chosen. Murdered.
Erna didn’t think that everything Chenille had said was true. Her face was flushed with excitement when she told Erna the truth of the past. In between parts, her voice occasionally rose and shook emotionally as if she was reliving history.
More often than not, intense emotions cause exaggerations. Erna decided not to believe every word of Chenille’s story. However, it didn’t mean that none of it was the truth.
“Grand Duchess,” greeted Vanessa.
The wizards immediately stood in front of Erna and asked, “What do you want with our Grand Duchess?”
A laugh slipped from Erna, almost forgetting the tension in the atmosphere.
The wizards of the Grand Castle and the members of the Council simultaneously stared at her.
Erna thought she might have been building a sandcastle up until now. She assumed that her efforts to gain the people’s trust and love for ten years had been in vain as present circumstances seemed to be testing them. But now, more than anyone else, her fellow wizards, who had witnessed her themselves being close to Ruben and feeding Aether’s army, were taking her side.
Erna felt her beating heart calm down. She may not have everyone on her side, but at least there were some who took hers. Ten years of hardship and sacrifice were not meaningless at all.
“It’s all right. Can you all move for a second?” Erna said.
Orpé and the other wizards hesitated, but eventually withdrew albeit reluctantly when Erna insisted. Vanessa laughed at their hostile glares.
Erna had thought she would have wanted to slap Vanessa if they met, but today she didn’t feel so; only vague emotions swirled in her heart.
A realization dawned on her, and she let out a bitter laugh. She realized that she was incapable of hating Vanessa.
“Should we leave?”
Kalion’s question crossed her mind again. Now that she thought of it, Kalion must have felt the same thing. Even though he knew everything, he wanted to leave. He did not have the slightest intention to kill Vanessa. Even though Vanessa could have killed both of them.
After the people left, Vanessa spoke first.
“You look tired. How is your health?”
“Thank you for your concern. As you know, I have taken care of a lot of things at today’s meeting.”
It was a friendly conversation, but the way they looked at each other was sharp.
Erna saw Adelaide standing in the distance with some members of the Council.
“I heard that Princess Adelaide has been quite anxious, but you must have comforted her well. I think it’s the first time I’ve seen the royal girl with such a bright expression since she came to Hessenguard,” Erna said.
When the news of Aether’s invasion was announced, Adelaide was distressed and tried to return to Haband. Her usual elegance was replaced with apprehension. As a result, the entire delegation was shaken, and it was said that they had almost packed their luggage to leave Hessenguard.
Even after Erna had returned, Adelaide visited Erna several times and asked permission for the advance of Haband’s army.
Adelaide also brought up a question in the meeting a while ago: Shouldn’t we set up a separate army to search for the missing Grand Duke Kalion and the knights of Hessenguard?
Several members looked at Adelaide.
Erna clenched her teeth.
You’re going to bring in Haband to fight Aether’s army and find Kalion? How much did I really look like a person who would sell my country?
Vanessa noticed Erna’s expression hardening as she looked at her and lowered her head slightly, “Some members were rude during the meeting. I apologize on behalf of you.”
“It happened already. What would be different if you apologized? What should be the root of that rudeness?”
Vanessa’s behavior was making the members of the Council antsy. “I’m sorry, I should have taken better care of myself… I must have shown a lot of my anxiety to them.”
Vanessa didn’t seem to have any intention of denying it.
“You’re anxious… What makes you so anxious?” Erna asked.
Vanessa did not answer Erna’s question, but only smiled vaguely.
“Are you worried that the two archdukes will not be able to handle this matter? Yes, in your eyes, we look like fools—fools who seem too at ease in front of the enemy’s soldiers and fools who can’t even make it way to his home.”
At Erna’s words, Vanessa’s smile disappeared.
“I understand, because you have seen us from the beginning,” Erna added.
She recalled the first time she came to Hessenguard. A strange land in the cold season. A wedding hall where there was not a single laughter. The abandoned young royals.
Vanessa had been the one to raise the couple. In her eyes, it’d be no wonder if she still looked at them as children, unfit for the position of the grand dukes.
“Things you taught me from one to ten. I didn’t know how to do anything right, so I always had to follow and take care of it. But Barnett.”
There was no good in saying this now. However, Erna couldn’t resist and brought up the words she had buried deep in her heart.
“But it’s been ten years,” Erna paused before continuing, “I no longer take your classes.”
Erna and Kalion no longer needed Vanessa’s guidance, having already grown into a great wizard and a strong knight. Even their duty as the grand dukes did not necessarily need Vanessa’s help anymore as they’ve worked hard to learn and master it.
“But you will continue to be anxious. To you, I will forever be the child of that day.”
Erna took a deep breath at her final words to calm her surging emotions and turned around.
Vanessa hurriedly called Erna, but there was no answer from her. She could only stare at Erna’s back as she walked away without looking back. Erna soon disappeared.
“To you, I will forever be the child of that day.”
Erna’s words lingered in Vanessa’s ears. Erna had said it with a smile, but her words pierced Vanessa’s heart like an awl made of cold ice. Vanessa, whose face never revealed her thoughts nor showed any emotions, couldn’t stop her trembling eyes.
What Erna said was the plain truth.
Ever since Erna and Kalion became grand dukes, Vanessa’s schedule became a lot more hectic. She was occupied enough with the Council, but she had to set aside time to take care of the dukes who were incapable of doing anything.
So, it ingrained in her: she must help the clueless grand dukes.
As long as she was breathing, her mission was to facilitate the Council, administer the black hounds, and take responsibility for the grand dukes. And that belief of her remained unchanged to this day. She must do everything she could to protect the two archdukes and Hessenguard as well.
Up until now, Vanessa had never doubted herself, but now she was the first to question herself.
How far must she have to help the archdukes?
No, how far did Erna and Kalion need her help?