The city’s smoke gently ascended, marking the fourth day since the previous sunset. As was customary, pale plumes swirled above the horizon, akin to a trailing comet tail.
Around this time, the knights, including Ruben, regained the privilege of conversing with their master. “A letter has arrived from Rotiara, Your Highness,” Ruben informed with a scroll in hand. Rezette merely shifted his gaze to acknowledge the parchment, gesturing for Ruben to proceed. With haste, Ruben added, “It originates from Her Highness, the Princess. Perhaps it would be wise for you to read it first.”
“Her Highness?” Rezette’s response was delayed as he drew on the cigar clasped between his lips, exhaling a cloud of smoke. Rezette pressed the cigar’s tip with his thumb, extinguishing the flame, and extended his hand. The rolled paper soon unfolded in his grasp.
Upon reading the initial lines, Rezette’s countenance eased somewhat, prompting Ruben and Isaac to exchange a knowing glance. Undoubtedly, any matter involving Her Highness the Princess would demand considerable attention. They speculated whether Rezette was aware of this fact.
However, as Rezette reached the end of the letter, the Duke’s demeanor underwent a sudden transformation.
“Your Highness, has something occurred in Rotiara?” Ruben inquired with a furrowed brow.
“There seems to be someone in Rotiara who secretly stole the tribute they were sending to Opel,” Rezette replied somberly.
“What?” Ruben’s voice quivered as he struggled to digest the revelation.
The memory of a prior incident, where a tax collector in Rotiara had surreptitiously siphoned funds from the farmers, sent shivers down the spines of the knights. Their faces turned ashen as they recollected how the Duke had handled that previous debacle. It seemed as though a turbulent storm of trouble was brewing within the city.
However, that wasn’t the extent of the unsettling news.
“And there’s another matter,” Rezette added, his tone grave.
“What is it?” Isaac inquired, his apprehension evident in his voice.
“We have an uninvited guest.”
“What? Oh, no,” Isaac exclaimed.
Rezette’s displeasure was palpable, and few dared to refer to someone as an unwelcome guest, especially when these “gifts” arrived monthly from his half-brother, the emperor, or…
“The Duke of Irrien… No, are you referring to Lady Genovia?” Ruben questioned.
“Ah, yes. That young lady typically makes her annual visit around this time,” Isaac remarked.
Among the knights of Rotiara, Lady Genovia Irrien’s name was well-known.
Rezette took a long, deliberate drag on his cigar, his stoic demeanor unwavering. He scrutinized the parchment, its neat and orderly handwriting mirroring the owner’s tidiness. A single word at the very top seized his attention.
Elizabeth calmly recounted the events unfolding in Rotiara. Lady Irrien had made her presence felt in the city bearing an imperial edict. It appeared that the thief responsible for pilfering the tribute had taken refuge in Rotiara, prompting the imperative task of unmasking the culprit upon their return.
Curiously, Alfred insisted on appending a message, which Elizabeth dutifully transcribed. It read, “Since I am present here, I earnestly request that you expedite and discreetly resolve this matter. But I don’t understand what they mean.”
Following these words, a few dispassionate lines followed. Rezette lifted his gaze once more and fixated on a single sentence.
Elizabeth is in Rotiara.
Was this a plea to temper cruelty? In that instant, the word “traitor” triggered a vivid recollection from years past.
Rezette’s mind delved into a memory. There had been a parallel incident before, involving a man who had falsely accused others of meddling with production and manipulated the harvest. He had been dealt with in the Duke’s distinctive fashion. Those unfortunate souls sent to collect the tribute that year had witnessed their fate unfold right before the main tower. Thanks to that gruesome display, Rezette had navigated the ensuing tumultuous period with relative ease.
“This time should be quite manageable as well,” he muttered contemplatively.
Nonetheless, it was evident that he harbored reservations about what Elizabeth might encounter. Subjecting a woman who had already escaped the horrors of a battlefield, replete with lifeless bodies, to witness further carnage did not sit well with him. Despite the inconvenience, it seemed prudent to handle the situation at a distance from the castle.
Rezette swiftly absorbed the contents and lowered his gaze to the final sentence.
[I hope you’re okay. Elise.]
This woman was a perpetual supplicant, her heart filled with ceaseless prayers for his safety. There was only one person who harbored such deep concern for the Duke’s well-being—her. A soft chuckle escaped Rezette’s lips, the sound barely audible. His eyes, however, soon fell upon a small note etched beneath the message.
It was a minuscule and somewhat blurred postscript that might have escaped his notice during the initial reading. Curiously, unlike the crisp text above, these strokes bore an uneven quality.
[I hope you come back soon.]
The pungent aroma of his cigar enveloped his throat, lungs, and even his nasal passages, yet remnants of a lingering excitement danced within the depths of his emotions.