Chapter 144

“Are they all trustworthy?”

Raven’s attention focused on two people, and even further onto one person in particular. He asked in a quiet voice.

“Most of them. They don’t want the royal family to shake because of their own interests. But why do you ask?”

“There are those among them who would like it if a war broke out.”

“…The merchants.”

Ian noticed where Raven’s gaze was headed towards, then immediately caught on to his words.

“As you know, a war requires money, an incredibly huge amount. And it’s best to get rid of enemies quickly as possible.”

“That’s true, but why are you bringing that up right now? Hmmm, you can’t be…”

Ian blurted out his words after coming to a realization, and Raven nodded in response.

“That’s right, we turn them over to our side, whether they like it or not. And to do that, we need to create a big bang. Something to turn over the richest man in the empire to our side.”

“Are you confident? If you do something wrong, you could mess up everything from the very beginning. You need to at least take care of Count Sagunda while you are in the imperial castle.”

“Leave it to me.”

The two finished their whispered conversation, then entered through the open doors into the room.

“Welcome, Your Highness Ian.”

Everyone stood up from their seats and showed courtesy to Ian.

However, even though they had greeted Ian, their eyes were all on Raven.

“Well, from the looks on your faces, it seems like you were all waiting for this fellow rather than I.”

Ian quickly erased the serious expression from his face and spoke to the nobles with a grin.

“Haha! To be completely honest, I see Your Highness so often so I was a little more interested to see the protagonist of so many incidents.”

A man smiled humbly and bowed politely to Raven.

“Nice to meet you, Your Excellency Duke Pendragon. My name is Ory Smirin, a knight of the emperor.”

“I am Crick Litman. I am a lord over the independent territory of Litman.”

“Hoise Campbell of Greenhorn.”

The nobles fought to make their introductions. Most of them appeared to be in between the mid to late 20s and mid-30s. After returning their introductions, Raven turned his gaze onto the two people who remained.

One of them greeted Raven without hiding his joy at seeing Raven.

“It’s nice to see you again, Your Excellency Duke Pendragon.”

“Lord Elvin, I never thought I would run into you here.”

One of the two people Raven recognized was Iron Elven, the governor-general of Edenfield, the man who stood up to mediate the conflict after Argos killed Morgan Louvre.

For Iron Elven to be attending an event hosted by Ian, he seemed to be a big shot in his own right. Moreover, Viscount Elven was one of the first of Edgel’s nobles who showed a favorable attitude towards Raven at the time.

Even though Raven didn’t easily trust in nobles, he saw Iron a little differently. It would be good to completely win him over today.

“I am sorry to hear that, Your Excellency. Since that day, I was looking forward to seeing you again in the imperial castle.”

“Well, I didn’t know much about Lord Elven at the time, so I never thought I would be able to see you again in the imperial castle. I apologize.”

At Raven’s words, everyone, including Viscount Elven, looked a little surprised.

It was unexpected for Raven to show such an attitude. His fame was second to none in the imperial castle, and he was also the recipient of the emperor’s interest and favor. He was the young duke, the hottest topic all around.

The nobles briefly shared a meaningful gaze with each other.

But Raven’s gaze had moved on to the man standing next to Iron Elven with an expressionless face. It was a man in his mid-thirties who adorned a plan reddish-brown robe, unlike other nobles that had colorful jewelry. His hollow grey eyes were quite impressionable.

In fact, it was a bigger surprise for Raven to see this particular man, even more so than seeing Iron Elven.

The man in the plain clothes became the deciding factor for Raven to decide to initiate his plan right here and right now. Raven’s mind was made up to begin his most important plan during his time in the imperial castle.

“It has been a long time since I last saw you, Dos Giovanni.”

“It is great to see you again in good health, Your Excellency Duke Pendragon.”

Dos Giovanni bowed politely. As a representative of the Giovanni Chamber of Commerce, Dos Giovanni had heavily invested in York Town, the free economic city in the Pendragon Duchy.

“Now that I think of it, I heard you invested in the Pendragon Duchy, right? How is that going for you, Dos?”

Ian asked nonchalantly, and Dos Giovanni bowed his head.

“Everything is flowing smoothly thanks to His Excellency Duke Pendragon’s consideration, Your Highness.”

“Well, you’re involved, so it must be going well. You’re like a ghost when it comes to smelling money.”

“…….”

Ian’s profound words caused a glimmer to appear in Giovanni’s eyes. But with his head down, no one noticed it.

After tapping Dos Giovanni on the shoulder, Ian sat down and looked around.

“Now, what are you all doing standing up? Have a seat, I think everyone is here.”

The nobles sat down around the three tables that seated four people each. All of their gazes directed towards Ian and Raven.

One was like fire and the other was like ice, but the sight of the two handsome men sitting side by side was quite admirable. The two young men were somehow alike, even though their temperaments seemed completely opposite. Some nobles even smiled unconsciously at the sight.

“Now, stop smiling like that while you look at a man, Lord Campbell. I don’t have that kind of hobby.”

“Huh! What are you saying? I was just thinking that the two of you seem to get along quite well. Also, there seem to be some odd similarities between the two of you as well.”

“Well, that’s a little unpleasant to hear…”

Raven frowned slightly and muttered in a quiet voice.

However, the nobles burst into laughter at his thoughtless remark.

“Hahaha! I heard that Duke Pendragon is always quiet and serious, but I guess you can’t trust all the rumors.”

“I agree! You may be the only one who could joke about such matters in the entire imperial castle, Your Excellency.”

“What? That’s putting me in a bad mood now…”

“Hahahaha!”

Ian spoke with a heavily frowned face, and the laughter grew louder.

‘This is good.’

Raven rejoiced inwardly as the atmosphere improved unexpectedly. It was a little strange that they burst out into laughter at nothing, but the end result was what mattered. The mood became quite comfortable.

Ian waited for a moment for the nobles’ laughter to abate, then spoke while looking around.

“Come on, let’s stop with the pleasantries and get down to the topic.”

Ian gestured towards the maids, and they carefully exited the room after bowing. Soon, the doors were closed, and only Raven, Ian, and the nobles remained inside the room.

Ian opened his mouth and broke the silence in the midst of the subdued atmosphere.

“Everyone already knows my personality, so I won’t beat around the bush. I’ll say it straight up, I can’t say that all of you here are my people, and I don’t want to make it that way either.”

“…..!”

The aristocrats jerked slightly at Ian’s words and shared gazes with each other.

Wasn’t this a meeting for them to get acquainted with Duke Pendragon?

“But all of you are loyal to the royal family, not me. Whether the reason behind it is to retain your power or keep your family safe, what’s important to me is that all of you work for the good of the empire and the royal family.”

Ian’s way of approaching the issue was peculiar, befitting his nickname “buffoon prince.” Perhaps that was why some people looked a little uncomfortable, but nevertheless, everyone kept their attention focused on Ian.

“And this very man, Duke Pendragon, is in the same situation as all of you.”

The nobles’ gazes gathered at Raven.

“Some may have complaints, but Duke Pendragon is not loyal to the emperor, nor I. He only has one interest, the development and stability of the Pendragon Duchy. That’s why you are loyal to the royal family of Aragon. Am I wrong, Duke Pendragon?”

Raven slowly nodded with numerous eyes on him.

“As you say.”

“Mm…”

Most of the nobles frowned.

They could understand the sudden change in the topics because Ian was never easy to predict. However, even though the Pendragon Duchy was an independent force, it did not look good for him to easily agree with Ian’s words.

To interpret it further, didn’t Duke Pendragon’s words signify that the Pendragon Duchy could immediately join hands with other forces as long as it benefited them?

Noticing their thoughts, Raven looked at the nobles coldly and spoke.

“Since Prince Ian put it so bluntly, I will as well. The Pendragon Duchy and I cannot live under the same sky as Sagunda.”

“….What?”

The nobles narrowed their eyes at the sudden remark.

However, Ian and Dos Giovanni showed no change of expressions at all.

‘As expected…’

Raven’s eyes shone slightly at the reaction of Dos Giovanni.

Raven was certain that Giovanni already had a rough grasp of the situation, probably due to his status as one of the big players of the empire. They most certainly possessed a vast information network.

“Most of you may know that the sworn ally of my family, the captain of the Ancona Orcs, my knight Isla, and I fought in a duel against Toleo Arangis and his group at the banquet of the governor-general of Leus.”

“Mm….”

Everyone was aware, so they nodded their heads.

“But that is not the end of the story.”

“What… do you mean?”

“On our way back to the villa after the battle, we were attacked by a group. At the time, my younger sister Irene Pendragon and Princess Ingrid were in the carriage as well. Simultaneously, an attack was launched on my villa as well.”

“Heuk!”

The nobles displayed shock and gasped loudly.

“The identity of the attackers was the Armada Bird Mercenaries, and they were instigated by Toleo Arangis.”

“H, how could…”

If his words were true, then it meant that the Arangis Duchy was truly…

“And… Toleo Arangis had another identity as the Dark King of Leus’ black market. He also had a deep connection with Count Sagunda, the governor-general of Leus. Ultimately, Count Sagunda and Toleo Arangis attacked me, and my people.”

“Hmm!?”

“Heuk!”

Sounds of disbelief erupted from all over the place, and some even jumped out of their seats. Looking at the pale faces of the nobles, Raven continued.

“I swear on my name and the honor of the Pendragon family that everything I have said is true. Also, Prince Ian is already aware of this as well. Isn’t that true?”

“That’s right. It’s all true.”

“…..!”

With Ian supporting Raven’s words, even the few remaining nobles who looked towards Raven with suspicion were finally convinced. They sat back down with blank looks on their faces.

“Why are you telling us something this significant only now? This is clearly treason! We need to get Sagunda and the Arangis Duchy right now and…”

“I apologize for telling you this only now, but there was a reason.”

Ian cut off Elven’s words, then gestured at Raven to continue talking. Looking around at the regrouped nobles, Raven continued calmly.

“The reason why Prince Ian and I maintained our silence was because all of this had to do with the assassination attempt on the crown prince.”

“Ah!”

The nobles were struck with another round of shocks.

“Sagunda is only a part of the lizard’s body. Sagunda, the men from Sisak who were involved in the assassination, they are all just tails. When they become a liability, they will be cut off. Prince Ian and I wanted to capture the whole lizard who caused this turbulence in our empire. That’s why we kept it strictly under wraps.”

“Hu… Huh….”

The nobles could only laugh weakly. They were made speechless at the incredulous yet terrifying story.

They were never expecting to hear such an enormous story right before the banquet. They had thought the meeting would be a light-hearted session to become acquainted with Duke Pendragon.

“Then… did you find the lizard’s head? Is the Arangis Duchy the main culprit behind all of this calamity?”

Elven asked carefully. He seemed relatively calm compared to the others.

“Maybe, maybe not. But the only thing we know for sure… is that Duke Arangis himself must know the entire truth.”

“Hm…”

The nobles accepted Raven’s words with somber expressions.

A moment of heavy silence descended. The nobles were lost in their respective thoughts with stiff faces. A moment later, a voice shattered the silence.

“Forgive me for my imprudence, but may I say a word?”

Everyone’s eyes turned to the owner of the voice.

It was Dos Giovanni, who had not spoken a word since Raven brought up the matter. The eyes of the nobles turned a little unpleasant. Although he was one of the best merchants in the empire, the gathering was not a place for a merchant to speak, with a duke and a prince gathered together.

But Raven smiled inwardly. The fish had willingly swam towards the bait, knowing very well that it was bait.

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