Melborn bowed politely in response to Elena’s words. He stood up and addressed the entire hall.
“The duchess will now speak!”
Elena started talking once the crowd fell into silence.
“I wanted to express my gratitude to all of you for coming to tonight’s banquet. I am sure you all know by now, but there is a reason why I am suddenly hosting a banquet. I wanted to introduce all of you to someone.”
Elena gestured after speaking. Serin, who had been accompanying her, stepped forward.
“Let me introduce her. Lady Serin of the Reiner family, a prominent family of the imperial castle, the one who is set to become the companion of Lord Elkin Isla, King of Valvas.”
The palace filled with exclamations and applause when Serin bowed gracefully.
“She looks very gentle and pure. She will go well with Sir Isla.”
The older nobles nodded approvingly. However, the young people, especially young women, bit their lips or used their handkerchiefs to wipe off their tears.
‘Heuk! But I am prettier…’
‘To think she’s going to monopolize Sir Isla… Uwaah!”
‘But if I show it, I’ll surely be hated by Lord Isla and the duke…”
The girls glanced at Serin with similar thoughts. However, they would never voice their feelings.
However, the recipient of the jealous gazes remained calm as she looked over the hall. Then, her gaze stopped just moments before she returned to her original position. Her gaze was headed towards none other than Lindsay, who was whispering with Mia while patting her stomach. She was seated at the end of the head table.
A strange glow appeared in Serin’s calm eyes, and she stared at Lindsay. She was like a man who accidentally found his ex-lover in the crowd. She silently observed Lindsay with a mixture of surprise and confusion. Suddenly, her eyes shifted down to Lindsay’s stomach. Lindsay was gently caressing it with a joyful expression.
A small ripple appeared in Serin’s eyes.
She whispered in a stutter as if she was hypnotized.
“Pendragon… Alan… His child…”
Her voice was quiet and cold, and it was as if several people were speaking at once. But no one heard her. Her words had been buried in the loud cheers and applause.
Her eyes grew darker as she muttered in a strange, chilling voice. A mixture of longing, hatred and strange affection could be found in her eyes.
“Serin? You can have a seat now.”
Elena called out to her, puzzled that Serin was standing still like a statue. Serin flinched before turning around and sitting down by Elena’s side.
“Is something the matter? You don’t look so good.”
“Not at all. I am just glad that so many people are welcoming me…”
She responded. Her voice had returned to normal.
“I see. If you are still tired, feel free to retire early and get some rest.”
“No, I am fine, duchess.”
Serin shook her head before continuing.
“By the way… Would that happen to be Baroness Conrad?”
“Oh, that is correct. I was going to introduce her to you right away.”
Elena spoke before leading Serin along.
Lindsay stood up and gave her greetings. Elena waved softly, gesturing for her to sit down.
“Lindsay, say hello.”
“Ah! Miss Reiner, it is nice to meet you. I am Lindsay Conrad. I have heard a lot about you. How are you feeling?”
Lindsay greeted her with a worried expression.
“Yes, I am fine now. Thank you for your concern, Baroness Conrad.”
“Ah, it’s nothing…”
Although she replied with a gentle smile, Lindsay felt a little strange. It was because of Serin’s gaze.
‘Weird. Does she know me…?’
It was hard to explain in words, but Lindsay felt a sense of disharmony in Serin’s eyes. What was even stranger was that it was a rather familiar feeling, although they had met for the first time today.
“Have we ever…”
Just as Lindsay started to ask, the hall’s door opened and the chief servant shouted.
“Lord Vincent has arrived!”
The one famous for his nickname, Pendragon’s Raccoon Mask, drew the attention of the crowd as he made his appearance.
“Good evening, Sir Vincent!”
“You have arrived quite early.”
Vincent responded to all the nobles as he crossed the hall, then arrived in front of Elena. He knelt on one knee and greeted her.
“I apologize for being a little late, duchess.”
“I know very well that you have a mountain’s worth of work to get through. You worked the entire day today as well, correct? Rather it should be me who is apologizing for making you come all the way here despite your busy schedule.”
“Not at all.”
Vincent bowed politely before standing up.
He usually enjoyed wearing simple and comfortable clothes like ordinary residents, but today was different. He dressed for the occasion, seeing that the banquet was hosted by the one with the most seniority in the duchy.
His black pants and brown boots contrasted with his white top, which was decorated with thin, gold strings bestowed to knights of the duchy. His outfit was completed with a sky blue cape embroidered with the symbol of the dragon.
“Please have an enjoyable time.”
“Thank you for your consideration.”
After responding to Elena, Vincent looked around before stopping. His gaze was staying in one place.
He narrowed his eyes. It was because of Serin, the young lady who was sitting upright next to Elena.
‘What is it…?’
Vincent’s expression changed. He felt a chill run down his back. He already knew that Serin Reiner had arrived in Conrad Castle after being ambushed. However, he did not have a chance to meet her immediately because he had many urgent matters to deal with. He would see her in the evening anyways.
But it had been a truly long time since he felt such a sensation from someone. He recalled experiencing a similar feeling when he faced the three most powerful and secretive masters of the Twilight Tower a long time ago.
The same was true when he met his lord, Duke Pendragon, and Soldrake for the first time as well. But somehow, he was receiving a similar feeling from a woman he had seen for the first time.
‘What the hell is going on…?’
Vincent narrowed his eyes.
The orchestra began playing music and the noblemen and women walked out to dance. As the nobles held hands and danced, Vincent’s view of Serin was obscured. He slowly walked out of his seat, feeling the fine hairs on the back of his neck standing on end.
Jody, who was standing a little distance away, greeted Vincent joyfully. Vincent hurriedly grabbed Jody’s arm and whispered.
“Tell me more about the 7th regiment knight who accompanied Lady Serin Reiner.”
Jody quickly grasped something unusual about Vincent's attitude and began to speak quickly. After listening to Jody’s story, Vincent looked around before quickly heading in a certain direction.
“Oh, you came a little bit earlier than I thought. I’m a little surprised.”
Vincent approached and bowed. Kilian greeted him with a bright smile.
“Do you have time?”
“Time? Well, yes, but…”
Killian turned his disappointed gaze toward a group of ladies. But he turned his head like lightning as soon as he saw someone walking towards him from the group.
“Come on, L, let’s go! Of course I can make time for Sir Vincent. Ha. Hahaha…!”
Even the one-egged devil, whom the soldiers of Conrad Castle feared dearly, was helpless in front of his wife. As soon as he saw the young, beautiful, ‘Lady Killian’, he grabbed Vincent’s arm and strode off to an isolated corner of the hall.
“This should be far enough…”
Kilian sighed with relief before coughing awkwardly.
“Ehem! Anyways, what is it?”
“I was just wondering. Is the lady by the duchess’ side Serin Reiner, the one chosen by Lord Isla?”
“Hmm? Yeah, that’s right…”
Killian was rather surprised. Vincent usually had no interest in women.
“I know a little bit from the mail the duchess sent, but tell me everything you know about her.”
Killian took on a serious expression.
This was already the second time after Argos. Someone was having doubts about Serin Reiner. Moreover, it wasn’t just anyone, but Vincent. He might have been the smartest man in the Pendragon Duchy, or rather, the entire empire.
In addition, he usually employed a polite tone when speaking - similar to asking a favor or a request. But he had just asked Killian in a commanding tone.
It meant that matters related to Lady Serin Reiner could be more important than Killian initially thought.
“I’m sure y0ou know more about her family and her personal background than me… From what I heard, she was ambushed by a group of people on her way to the duchy.”
“Yes. The note from the duchess mentioned that also. She was accompanied by Eltuan of Red Moon Valley, and a knight from the 7th regiment, correct? Then they were ambushed.”
“That is right. She does not know what happened exactly because she was inside the carriage, but the 7th regiment knight… Ah, his name was Gus Plain. Anyway, according to Sir Plain, dozens of people, perhaps mercenaries, raided the carriage on a remote forest road. He said it seemed like they had been waiting.”
Vincent narrowed his eyes, and Killian continued.
“Eltuan stepped forward, but they were not normal. None of them were afraid to get stabbed, as if they were hypnotized or something. Eltuan managed to deal with about four of them, but ended up suffering injuries.”
“So Sir Plain was about to help her. But that was when dozens more appeared from the woods. That was when he rode the carriage away to save Miss Reiner. Eventually, he got rid of the pursuers, but he had to abandon the carriage because it was raining a lot and the road was rough. He said they walked for almost 20 days…”
“Hmm, 20 days…”
Vincent murmured while scratching his chin with his left thumb. He had a sharp gaze.
Knowing that it was a habit that appeared when Vincent was concentrating on something, Killian gulped and remained silent. Soon, Vincent raised his eyebrows and took his hand off his chin. Killian hurriedly asked.
“Do you have something?”
Vincent replied with a stiff look.
“Well, what is it? You don’t look so good.”
Vincent spoke in a low voice that only Killian could hear.
“What I am about to tell you is purely speculation.”
“Do you know about the phenomenon that people are calling divine punishment?”
“Naturally. The people of other territories suddenly got sick with a cold or something then suddenly got better, right? What about it?”
Killian spoke with curiosity. He had no idea why Vincent was changing the topic so suddenly. What did that have to do with Serin Reiner?
“I got my intelligence team to look into the phenomenon known as divine punishment. After receiving related information and stories, I found out that there were a few peculiarities.”
The divine punishment itself was a bizarre event. Killian could not understand how Vincent managed to find even more strangeness in an already strange event.
“Yes. Firstly, it never occurred in two villages at the same time. It always hit one town for a few days, then moved on to another town.”
Killian nodded his head. He had heard similar rumors before.
“And the villages where the phenomenon struck were all located near the road. None of the villages or towns located in the mountains or far from the road were impacted by the event.”
“Really? Huh, that’s…”
“What is even weirder is that all the afflicted villages are connected through one road.”
Killian’’s eyes filled with surprise.
“And at the end of that road… lies the Pendragon Duchy.”
Killian’s mouth opened agape.
“So I sent Jody and ordered him to accompany the priests as they performed inspections at Bellint Gate. That was the best we could do at the moment. Perhaps because of that, the divine punishment never reached our duchy. But I heard from Jody a little while ago that…”
“The only people who were unchecked at Bellint Gate today were Miss Serin Reiner and the 7th regiment knight.”