Chapter 150

“Well, Lord Dante. Why don’t you hear me out first? This isn’t simply for my personal business.”

“What? Ah, is that so?”

Count Dante withdrew his smile at Elena’s calm voice. 

He had forgotten himself due to the joy of seeing Elena after such a long time. Elena Pendragon wasn’t one to make personal requests. 

“Please come this way for now. I have something to show you. And… Please don’t be too surprised.”

“Hmm… All right.”

Count Dante tilted his head at Elena’s confusing words and followed her into the flying carriage. He could not help but wonder why she had spoken such words.

His curiosity was quickly resolved.

“What?”

Even though he had been warned, Count Dante unwittingly tightened his grasp on the pommel of the sword on his waist. The interior of the carriage was larger and wider than it appeared from the outside. It was not overly fancy, but it was neat and practical and looked quite comfortable. 

But there was another reason why Count Dante was startled to the point of reaching for his weapon.

“Keuhm! Hello there.”

It was a giant orc warrior with large fangs jutting out of his lips. It was hard to tell whether the orc was smiling or making a threatening expression at first glance. The orc warrior was none other than Karuta.

“D, duchess, what in the world…”

Since they were riding together in the carriage, the orc warrior was certainly not hostile to the Pendragon Duchy. In addition, Count Dante was quite familiar with orcs.

However, his stammer stemmed from the ferocious appearance of Karuta, which was well beyond that of other regular orcs.

“This is a friend and a guest of the Pendragon Duchy, the head of the Ancona Orc tribe, Mister Karuta. He is accompanying me to the imperial castle.”

“Oh, is that so?”

He did recall hearing rumors about the Pendragon Duchy taking in a group of orcs. Count Dante finally took his hand off his pommel and calmed himself down.

“Nice to meet you, Sir Karuta. I am Valcas Dante, captain of the Order of the Golden Griffons. May the earth god’s blessing be with you.”

Karuta showed astonishment as Count Dante banged his chest twice and thrust out his forearm.

“Kuho? A scarecrow knight who knows the greetings of the orcs? Nice to meet you, Karuta is Karuta. Pendragon is my friend.” 

Karuta laughed with pleasant surprise at Count Dante’s actions and thrust his own arm forward and bumped it against the count’s arm as a manner of greeting. 

“But anyways, Duchess, did you ask me to come into the carriage to introduce me to Mister Karuta?”

Count Dante was a little baffled. Surely the duchess had not gone through all the hassle just to introduce him to an orc warrior? 

Count Dante, as well as his subordinates, were not very afraid of orc warriors. They had even battled against orc warriors on several occasions. 

Therefore, if she had given a prior explanation, it wouldn’t have mattered if Karuta were to come out of the carriage. Sure, they might have been surprised at his extreme size and hideous appearance, but they would have been able to accept it.

“That’s not it. Sir Karuta, could you move to the side a little bit?”

Elena sighed lightly and spoke, and Karuta nodded before moving slightly to the side.

“Huh?”

Count Dante narrowed his eyes.

He saw a pretty girl shivering with a pale expression as if she was experiencing motion sickness. And behind her, someone was on the ground, encaged in a corner that was surrounded by a dense arrangement of thick, iron bars. 

Karuta was so big that he had been covering the two figures until now.

“Who is this lady, and who is that man…?”

Count Dante’s face turned solemn as he finally realized the strangeness of the situation.

*** 

More than a hundred pairs of men and women joined hands to move their feet in a light circle to the fast but lighthearted music.

It was as if hundreds of colorful petals were scattering in an organized matter. The nobles who did not participate in the dance observed the dancers and took in the splendor of the Golden Lion Hall with blissful smiles.

Naturally, the emperor and the empress stood in the middle of the hall.

Even though he had entered his mid-40’s, the emperor’s dance was still powerful and energetic. The empress, who was two years younger, moved her steps in accordance with her husband’s guidance with graceful gestures. 

The older nobles nodded nostalgically with tiny tear droplets in their eyes as they saw the sight again for the first time in many years. 

The elderly nobles still considered themselves to be the emperor’s loyal knights, so watching his youthful energy was enough to touch their hearts. 

However, the younger nobles’ attentions headed elsewhere. The young men and women kept their gazes fixed on the dozens of young nobles who danced around the emperor in a small circle.

They were the pillars that would lead the future of the Aragon Empire. 

The group consisted of Prince Ian, Prince Geoffrey, Princess Ingrid, as well as the other members of the royal family and high-ranking noble families. They danced while exchanging their partners with the music.

Among them, Prince Ian and Duke Pendragon were the recipients of the most attention.

“They truly look wonderful together, don’t you think?”

“I know. Rumor has it that the empress is trying to get them back together…”

The older wives whispered as they watched Duke Pendragon switch his partner and proceed to hold Princess Ingrid’s hands.

“I have heard differently. Apparently, the empress has publicly allowed the princesses of the Golden Rose Palace to seduce Duke Pendragon.”

“Well, Princess Ingrid’s broken an engagement with Duke Pendragon once already, so… I guess it might be a little difficult?”

“Wouldn’t Princess Leah and Princess Elaine be the most likely candidates?”

“Tsk, tsk, to think all of you would be so behind the times.”

“What?”

One woman clicked her tongue, and the rest of the women’s eyes turned towards her. 

The ones who were ahead with the rumors and stories acquired attention, regardless of their standing and status. 

The woman held her nose high and looked around before speaking with a quiet voice.

“The Duke of Pendragon has already had a bout at the Golden Rose Palace.”

“Had a bout?”

“Yes, yes. Ah, well, I hear he openly insulted the princesses. He also called his concu, no, Baroness Conrad his wife, even going as far to call her his lady.”

The women became flustered and raised their hands to their mouths at the shocking words.

“Oh my…!”

“Isn’t that going a bit too far? Especially with a directly descended princess in the room as well?”

“Ah, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Apparently that concub... that lady is from a maid background. No matter how much he’s into her, who would have thought he would openly embarrass the princesses.”

“He even had a direct hand in the killing of a high lord’s heir, so I guess it’s not that big of a surprise. His arrogance is piercing the skies.”

The story that began with one woman quickly made its way far and wide. Then, the woman who had initiated the story slowly stepped back, discreetly slipping out of the gathering. Afterward, she proceeded to merge into another group of noble wives, then began telling a similar story. 

“Baroness Mariel is doing very well. All the rumors of the capital originate from such women.”

Count Sagunda looked at the whispering groups with a pleased expression.

“I am not sure if that will work.”

As the nearby nobles expressed their concern, Count Sagunda gave a wry smile after bringing a glass of wine to his mouth.

“Hoo-hoo, who cares if it’s true or not. I count it important that such stories circulate throughout the capital. Besides… the main dish hasn't been served yet.”

Count Sagunda’s face was full of confidence as he laid down his glass.

By the end of the dance, the nobles’ favor for Duke Pendragon would have been greatly reduced.

At that moment, some of his powerful allies would bring up the issue with what had happened in Edgel. Many high-ranking nobles would bring doubt and suspicion upon Duke Pendragon for his actions.

High lords were all loyal subjects of the emperor. Thus, punishment towards High Lords and their heirs could only be dished out by the emperor himself. 

Although the incident had taken place in an official competition, to kill a High Lord’s heir was an excessive display of power and an act that could shake the very foundation of the empire’s hierarchy.

“Blood for blood. You should know very well, baby dragon.”

Count Sagunda’s eyes glistened with hostility as he looked at Duke Pendragon, who had no idea about what was about to take place. 

*** 

The last dance was over. 

The nobles bowed towards their partner before turning towards a specific place and applauding. It was a show of courtesy towards the emperor and his wife, the hosts of today’s grand banquet. 

The nobles returned to their own tables after the emperor and the empress lightly waved their hands in return. 

Similar to the scene before the dance, dozens of nobles followed after Raven and Irene.

“Haha! The duke’s dancing skills are comparable to your jokes! I was well amazed.”

“You must be so good at dancing because you are such a master of swordsmanship. Hahaha!”

Both the dancers and the observers joined in the fray and threw in a word of compliment. Although he wanted to leave this awkward situation as soon as possible, Raven endured and shook his head with as much of a soft smile as he could muster.

“You flatter me. I was lucky to not make a fool of myself because I had such a good teacher.”

“Oh, Brother…”

Irene shyly lowered her eyebrows and answered. This caused the young noblemen around her to become dazed.

Of course, no one could have guessed that she was enraptured by her brother’s compliment and was now joyfully singing on the inside. 

As Duke Pendragon and his companions returned to their table, many more people surrounded him compared to before. It seemed to be around a hundred people at a glance.

They were mostly young people and many of them sent expressions of goodwill and interest. It seemed that many people were fond of Lindsay, as she remained unpretentious and naïve even with the rapid rise in her status with Duke Pendragon’s bold declaration. 

Irene’s face brightened at the thought that the Pendragon family had made a successful integration into the imperial society. 

Lindsay also became more relaxed. She answered questions from people around her and even broke into a smile, unlike how she acted previously. 

Leon also looked proud as he stood guard behind the two.

Unfortunately, not everyone could revel in the moment. Killian was tightly captured by the various young knights of the empire, and his placid expression spoke for itself.

Just as Ian and Raven intended, the Pendragon family grew its status and presence in the imperial castle. 

However, Raven made sure to observe the Golden Lion Hall while playing along to the rhythm of the atmosphere, to the flattery and the honeyed words that flowed towards him. Unlike those who flocked towards him, there were some nobles who gazed at him from afar with expressions that were unkind, to say the least. 

It was also possible to guess where the strange atmosphere was originating from. It was Count Sagunda, who had a wry smile and was openly looking towards him.

‘Is it starting?’

Raven noticed Count Sagunda whispering something to the nearby nobles, and a gleam momentarily appeared in his eyes. 

The nobles could be seen walking towards where the emperor was seated after listening to Count Sagunda.

Raven and Ian met their gazes. Ian nodded very subtly, and Raven sensed that the finale of the grand banquet was about to begin.

“Your Majesty the Emperor! As a humble servant of the empire and a servant of your majesty, I, Gillie of the Ayla Territory, would like to say a word.” 

It was a common occurrence for high-ranking nobles to speak loyal words at a grand banquet, so the emperor allowed it with a light nod.

“Lord Ayla, speak your mind.”

“I give my thanks for your vast understanding. It is just that, recently, some of the great pillars of this empire, the great territories, have been subjected to great devastation by a particular individual. This is an insult to the high lords, those who could be considered true knights of your majesty, and there is no way this isn’t also an indirect challenge to your majesty’s dignity as well!”

Gillie Ayla was a relative of Count Sagunda and a man of considerable wealth and power. He shouted with a voice of desperation as if he were vomiting blood.

“……!”

Silence enveloped the entire hall in an instant. 

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