“Do you want me to be by your side?” Ruben asked Erna. He’d begun to speak his mind to her.
“As you know,” replied Erna, “I’m worried about the Council and Haband’s army.”
Erna’s concerns were reasonable; however, Ruben hesitated to answer. He couldn’t bring Aether’s soldiers into the castle either. Erna had manipulated him so much that Ruben harbored distrust against his own birthplace. More so, Ruben was unable to recover completely, causing him to be more vigilant. His eyesight seemed to be recuperating, but it didn’t get any better. The condition of his body was even worse. Many times he had attempted to stand by himself, but his legs gave no support.
Ruben became frightened at the possibility of him not recovering. He still didn’t know the culprit behind the poison, but he deemed it likely to be the first prince of Aether.
The first prince has children. In just a few more years, one of his two sons would be old enough to become the grand duke of Hessenguard, just like how Kalion was also sent to Hessenguard at the age of sixteen.
Ruben turned his gaze to Erna, who looked rather blue. Although she looked overcast, it did not completely obscure her beauty. The outline of her petite figure against the sunlight stimulated him, but Ruben knew that her face possessed a charm far more intense than her body. And those eyes, oh, those cold eyes of her. He had promised himself that he’d make her cry beneath him someday.
He found it annoying that Kalion had tasted her first, but he wouldn’t want his nephew have a piece of this woman.
In a few years, the first prince would certainly send one of his sons here, and he’d be the first person they’d deal with. So Ruben had planned to plant his seed in Erna the moment he grasped an opportunity. It didn’t matter if Erna couldn’t bear his children. In fact, it could be an advantage on his part. He could easily bear an heir from another woman, disguising it as Erna’s.
But Erna would be to blame, and he’d weaponize it against her and deprive her of her power as the duchess. She wouldn’t be able to protest all the while committing to her responsibilities as his wife.
Ruben spoke cautiously, “Erna, I have a question for you…”
“What is it?”
“Do I have to bring in Aether’s soldiers?” he asked.
“That’s a strange thing to say. Is there any reason why you can’t bring in your own kingdom’s army?”
Ruben hesitated for a moment.
“The truth is, they may not be friendly with me.”
At last, Ruben confided his worries to Erna. Little did he know the woman in front of him, who he believed was his confidante, was the mastermind, the one responsible for his endless distress. Erna listened quietly, nodding her head as if she sympathized with him.
“But if that’s the case,” she said with a smile, “don’t worry. The protective magic in the Grand Castle is working well, so you won’t get hurt.”
Even with Erna’s assurance, Ruben couldn’t wipe off the obvious worry in his face.
“Then I’m glad…” Ruben sighed. “Somehow, these days, I haven’t been able to sleep well. It seems like there’s been a change in the castle’s magic.”
Erna’s expression hardened at Ruben’s words, but Ruben didn’t notice the slight change.
“I’ve been strengthening the magic, perhaps you felt its effect. You have nothing to worry about.”
“Is that so…” Ruben couldn’t say any more as Erna insisted there was nothing he ought to concern himself with. “Then I will tell our will to the Aether Knights.”
After Ruben finally conceded, Erna left the room, asking those outside if they needed anything. After a while, the servant appointed to attend Ruben wrote down on a piece of paper her master’s requests and delivered it to Erna. As soon as she read its contents, Erna burst into laughter.
Ruben had requested a list of foods that were good for stamina.
“They would be of no use,” Erna muttered as she tossed the paper into the air. It was engulfed in flames in an instant and cascaded to the floor in ashes. Normally, she would’ve burnt it before the fireplace, but Erna couldn’t care less now. In a little while, ashes on the floor wouldn’t be that big of a deal.
Erna went outside. The wall of magic which kept people from entering was still in effect.
Orpé, as well as other wizards and servants in the castle, wondered why Erna had blocked half of the castle. Erna merely reasoned that it was simply a whim of hers.
“You don’t think I would believe that, do you?” Orpé had replied, finding her excuse ridiculous. But she didn’t question Erna any further than that.
“Aren’t you going to ask more?”
“Even if I bombard you with questions, you won’t give an answer. But, Erna, please promise me one thing. Don’t do anything dangerous.”
Erna had laughed at Orpé’s seriousness. “If anyone hears you, they will think I am a child,” she had said.
That was the end of their conversation, and Erna thanked Orpé for not realizing that she hadn’t promised her.
Erna headed for the entrance to the underground, which she had kept a secret from others. After conjuring magic, she disappeared into the steps. After a while, she came face to face with the two pillars again. Cracks had now formed on the once flawless concrete. In a few days they’d be full of it, or worse.