“What’s wrong?” asked Erna, noticing Vanessa staring at her. Vanessa, for her part, smiled warmly and shook her head.
“It’s nothing of consequence,” she said, “Please do sit. As you may have already heard, a letter from Haband has arrived.”
“It’s not only from Haband, it seems,” said Erna, looking at the table. The two letters on the table were sealed with different emblems. With the dragon emblem was from Haband while the other was from Aether, with the emblem of a bear. That means…
Erna grimaced. She heard heavy footsteps behind her in the hallway. The person who had arrived opened the door without so much as a knock, like Erna. There was only one person in the whole of Hessenguard beside Erna who could enter the conference hall without a knock.
“Sir Kalion, you’re also here,” said Vanessa, smiling and bowing.
Erna was not the only one who had changed over the course of ten years. Kalion who made his way in was so tall that it was hard for Vanessa to look at him without tilting her neck a little upward. When he opened the door, his head almost brushed the casing at the top. The little Kalion had grown up to an impressive physique: broad shoulders, thick, sturdy arms and strong chest. He hardly seemed like the little boy who had looked so skinny and starved in danger of dropping dead any second.
“The earthworm is here,” murmured Erna.
Kalion smiled and Vanessa in greeting and turned to her. “Long time no see, pumpkin,” he said, gleefully.
Erna and Kalion sat down at the two ends of the long table which could seat a dozen people at a time. Erna sat at the far left, as far as she could get away from Kalion. He chose the far right, maybe thinking the same. They always did this whenever they had to sit at the same table in the Grand Ducal Castle. It was silently agreed as a rule by the both of them to sit as far away from each other as possible.
Besides the animosity between the two, there was another reason for it. Erna’s room was on the far left in the castle, and Kalion’s on the right. The middle room was the Ducal Couple’s bedroom. The two Grand Dukes, whose seats had been so naturally determined, were now indispensable to Hessenguard.
It had already been ten years since the two became one through marriage and took the position of the Grand Dukes of Hessenguard. With Hessenguard becoming a vassal state of the two kingdoms, the people of Hessenguard had assumed that Haband and Aether would exploit Hessenguard as they pleased. But that didn’t happen.
After they got married, some nobles stayed behind on the pretext of supporting the two. Their heads were filled with the thoughts of intimidating the Hessenguard’s Council and using the names of the new Grand Dukes to siphon off Hessenguard’s resources. But that year, a terrible plague hit Hessenguard’s capital. The whole capital reeked of burning corpses. Even the Grand Ducal Castle could not escape from the clutches of the plague.
When a person died from the plague inside the Castle, Marquess Canavan, who had planned to stick close to Erna for a long time, returned to the kingdom of Haband faster than anyone else. The same had been for Kalion. When the healthiest knight in their group died a few days after collapsing from a high fever, everyone made up excuses to leave the castle. They quickly packed their luggage and returned to the Aether Kingdom.
And now, only Erna and Kalion were left in the Grand Ducal Castle. This became an opportunity for the two to escape from the interference of the two kingdoms. It was a sort of reprieve but still stressful. The people now worried that they would have to wait for another authority figure if something happened to the two. So great care was taken of them. With their oppressors now gone, the two began to change quickly under the care of the unfamiliar but kindhearted people.
These had changed the two of them drastically. Erna had stopped stressful eating and now she was much more organized and level-headed. While Kalion, who couldn’t even drink water properly, ate heartily. They both had changed.