Chapter 136

“It’s an emergency! Open the gate!”

The guards of the Wall of the Lion hurriedly opened the gate when they saw the red flags that the messengers were bearing. 

The two horses stopped after passing through the large gate, which was wide enough for two carriages to pass side-by-side. 

The horses whined with foam at their mouths after galloping for six miles without rest.

“What is going on? If it’s about the Roxan family’s procession, they just entered the palace.”

The soldier quickly saluted and spoke to the rather perplexed captain.

“Yes, Sir Alion! The Pendragon family’s carriage has just arrived. By now, he should have passed the Wall of Glory.”

“Um!”

Baron Alion nodded. He was the head of the guards of the Wall of Lion, and one of the commanders of the Royal Regiment, six 3000-strong units tasked with the imperial castle’s defenses. 

“I had been wondering why a messenger pigeon was flown… I see. I will report directly to His Highness Ian.”

The messenger pigeon would have flown directly to the chief internal, the man who was in charge of the imperial affairs. From there on, the news would be passed on to the emperor, then to the main figures of the imperial castle. 

“Is it finally beginning…?”

Baron Alion was a close aide of Crown Prince Shio, and also one of the few figures who knew the true purposes of Prince Ian. His steps steadily hastened. 

*** 

The White Palace - 200 yards long, 70 yards wide. The floor of the majestic palace was made of polished granite which was carefully ingrained with the crests of the influential noble families of the empire. 

The imperial palace was a place where the main officials of the imperial castle and the high lords greeted the emperor, or where special events were held that the emperor personally attended. To the sides of the imperial palace, there were six smaller palaces which were the workplaces of the imperial officials. The six palaces were quite a bit busier than usual. 

However, the visiting nobles were relatively relaxed compared to the busy lower-level officials. 

“Did you hear? The child dragon just entered the capital.”

“I just received contact. He brought only a few people, without any guards or knights, hmm?”

“Huh! What is he thinking? Does he believe that even here, he can do whatever he wants with his head held high? That his status will let him get away with anything?”

“How would I know? Anyways, let’s observe him carefully.”

A few nobles in extravagant clothing chattered away as they looked at the busy corridor, which was full of busy officials dressed in similar clothing of different colors. 

This was the heart of the great Aragon Empire, home to dozens of royal descendants, and several times as many nobles and knights. 

Even if he was the heir to one of the five duchies of the empire and even if he engaged in several incredulous happenings, he wouldn’t be able to run amok in this place. 

“Even if he has the support of Prince Ian, he’s still nothing.”

“Hmph! Standing on the side of that buffoon prince might be poisonous instead.”

A constant stream of malicious chatter could be heard from the quiet trail that linked the six palaces to the imperial residence. 

But there was another group of nobles, a little distance away from them, that was speaking with stiff expressions while mocking the first group.

“Hmph! What a stupid bunch. How can they be spouting such nonsense when the heir to the Roxan family has arrived at the capital for the first time since his ceremony?”

“I agree. They have not the slightest idea why six of the High Lords’ heirs besides the Roxan family have already entered the capital.”

“That’s not all. Governor-General Count Elven of Edenfield and Governor-General Sagunda of Leus have entered the palace a few days ago as well. Count Martin of Orsen is supposed to arrive soon as well.”

“Huh! All the heads of the powerful families are entering the palace one by one. I think it might be the first time since the incident with Prince Shio…”

“Shh! Sir Yoris, lower your voice.”

Bringing up the topic of the assassination attempt on Prince Shio was a taboo in the imperial castle. It could lead to a bad outcome for whoever brought up the subject.

“Anyways… Shouldn’t we prepare ourselves as well? His Grace Pendragon has entered the palace. I’m sure his majesty might grant an audience right away.”

“Well, there’s always a possibility. But it has been over a year since his majesty has made an official appearance. Even if it’s His Grace Pendragon, it might be the Empress and Prince Ian who…”

A nobleman came running towards the group and interrupted, even though it was considered insolent to act in such a manner in the imperial castle. 

“T, th there’s a huge issue! Sirs, there is a big issue!”

“Tsk! Sir Brown, keep your composure, no need to act so undignified.”

“It’s not the time to be caring about dignity! D, do you know who is here right now?”

“Are you talking about His Grace Pendragon? We were actually just discussing how…”

“It’s not just His Grace Pendragon! Lindegor! The Duke of Lindegor has come personally!”

“W, what?”

Dozens of nobles froze in their place.

Two heads of the five duchies. The duchy under the protection of the White Dragon and the duchy blessed by the angel would face each other in the imperial castle for the first time since its founding.

“T, this isn’t time to be idling around. Let us hurry to the palace!”

“Let us go.”

In an instant, the nobles’ feet moved faster than the officials’ as they headed towards the palace. They all had a hunch that the emperor would make his first public appearance after nearly a year. 

*** 

“We have arrived, Your Grace.”

The carriage stopped and Argos spoke. Raven opened his eyes.

At last, they had finally arrived at the heart of the empire.

“Are you ready?”

“Yes, brother.”

“Yes, Your Grace.”

Irene and Lindsay nodded. They had already taken off the veils earlier on, and their beautiful faces were in full view, their cheeks slightly tinted red.

“Ladies.”

Leon exited first, then held out his hand for Irene and Lindsay. The ladies carefully exited the carriage, then Raven finally exited.

“Attention! Salute!”

Dozens of soldiers standing in formation raised their halberds at the command. They stood in an orderly fashion in the cold air and were adorned with plates crested with the symbol of the golden lion on their left chest.

A stout knight with a blue cape slanting over his shoulder approached Raven.

“I greet the master of Pendragon. I am Retna Alion, commander of the Royal Regiment’s third division.”

Deep brown eyes deeply ruffled with sharp light. Raven stretched out his hand while marveling at the courteous, yet dignified militaristic salute. 

“Nice to meet you, Sir Alion.”

“Yes. It is an honor to finally meet Your Grace Pendragon, the sovereign of Pendragon. Your name is known throughout the empire.”

‘Quite a decent man.’

Raven approved of Alion’s attitude as the knight responded with a smile and extended his hand without hesitation.

After finishing the handshake with Raven, Alion slightly turned his head.

The fully revealed beauties of the two ladies were radiant. Irene was like a slender flower blooming in the midst of winter, and Lindsay emanated an innocent, yet mature charm. Alion smiled more brightly and extended his hand with a bow.

“You two must be the eldest lady of the Pendragon family and Baroness Conrad. It is a great pleasure to meet you.”

“Ah… yes, yes. Hello, Sir Alion.”

Lindsay held out her hand with a shy blush on her face. It was the first time she had been greeted by an imperial knight. 

Raven grew fonder of Alion when he saw that the knight had already known about Lindsay. He thought Alion was a valiant and boisterous knight, but it seemed that he was also a man of courtesy and consideration.  

Alion lightly kissed the back of Lindsay’s hand, then reached out his hand towards Irene.

“Lady Pendragon.”

“Nice to meet you, Sir Alion.”

In contrast with Lindsay’s shy reaction, Irene attempted to give her hand in an accustomed manner.

“Hey Retna! What games are you playing at!”

Someone had called out the imperial knight’s name in an arrogant voice. Moreover, instead of addressing the imperial knight by his last name, they called him by his first name, which could be considered rude.

It was a tall, handsome man in a loose shirt. He was surrounded by dozens of slim maids, all of whom were exceptional beauties. He walked towards the group with a sullen face.

When Raven saw the man, a smile hung around his mouth.

However, the handsome man didn’t spare Raven a glance and instead glared at Alion.

“I warned you, didn’t I? Don’t try and make any advances.”

“Heup! It, it’s a misunderstanding, Your Highness.”

“Misunderstanding my ass. Stay back.”

Alion bowed politely with an embarrassed expression, then backed away.

“Hmm! Ehem!”

The handsome man coughed rather awkwardly and reached out his hand towards Irene, who was observing the situation with a rather absurd expression.

“I promised, didn’t I? I’ll personally show you around the imperial castle.”

A bright, gentle smile was hanging around the mouth of Ian Aragon, the most powerful candidate for the position of crown prince of Aragon empire, and the buffoon prince of Royal Batallium.

*** 

The Thistle Palace.

It was a small, but colorful palace that was designated for distinguished nobles to stay in before they had an audience with the emperor or the royal family. The small palace was in a frenzy because a member of the royal family had come out personally to greet the guests. Moreover, it wasn’t just any member, but a direct descendant of the royal family.

“Hurry up! Tea, grab some tea first! What kind of tea does His Grace Pendragon like?”

“Well, he, he said anything would be fine…”

“Anything is not fine! He is the heir to the Pendragon Duchy. He is someone that will become a duke today!”

“Kyahk!”

The maids shriveled their necks like a turtle. The woman who was shouting at them was Baroness Kelly, the one who was in charge of the hundreds of imperial maids. 

Baroness Kelly had spent her childhood together with the empress, and the two were like real sisters. Twenty years ago, she had come to the imperial castle at the empress’ request as the empress’ companion – someone for the empress to chat with.

Her meticulous and fastidious personality made her a feared figure among the maids as well as the officials of the imperial castle.

“My brother really likes any kind of tea, head maid.”

A clear, gentle voice entered the ears of the maids that were preparing all sorts of high-quality tea. 

“Ah…!”

Baroness Kelly and the maids turned towards the direction of the voice, and their eyes widened in surprise.

“I am Irene Pendragon. This is Baroness Conrad.”

“H, hello.”

“Oh my! What brings my dear ladies here?”

Baron Kelly became shocked and hurriedly bent her knees in a curtsy. Dozens of maids mimicked Baroness Kelly’s gesture and politely bowed.

“We greet the baroness and the lady.”

“My brother asked us to help out. I can pick out a tea for now.”

“Ah, His Grace doesn’t like it too hot, so the temperature of the water should be…”

Irene started browsing through the tea leaves that the maids were holding, and Lindsay carefully picked out a potted kettle in an experienced manner. 

“Oh, no, ladies, we can take care of things like these…”

“It’s all right. We are not trying to interfere with your work. It seems like we are going to be here for a while, so it’ll make us feel more comfortable if we can help out.”

Baroness Kelly became speechless when she saw Irene’s smiling face. One might have assumed they would be offended by having their jobs taken away, but that wasn’t the case at all. 

In nearly two decades, it was the first time Baroness Kelly saw such ladies amongst all the nobles that visited the imperial castle. The ladies of the high-ranking families tended to treat the imperial maids quite rudely, just as they treated their own maids. 

But the two ladies in front of her were different. They were the eldest lady and the concubine of a duchy, which made them equals to the royal family. The companions of a soon-to-be duke were acting nonchalant while working alongside maids.

‘Duchess Pendragon has raised you very well.’

As she lived in the imperial castle for a long time, Baroness Kelly was quite familiar with Duchess Elena. She smiled brightly and continued.

“Now, now! Then we will leave the tea to the baroness and the lady. The rest of you can prepare the refreshments. The Roxan family brought along many members, so we will have to prepare a sufficient amount.”

“Yes, head maid.”

The maids answered in one voice and returned to busily preparing for the guests. 

In the midst of such busyness, the maids constantly glanced at Irene and Lindsay and whispered amongst themselves while giving the two girls a friendly look.  

On their first day of arrival at the imperial castle, the two ladies of Pendragon gained a large group of unexpected allies. 

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