Chapter 96

The knight was none other than Killian. Killian rushed towards him without a word after spitting on his palms, then rubbing them together, and Vincent only found out later that Killian had only one egg.

Frankly speaking, Vincent could fight on equal grounds with Killian in terms of swordsmanship. But in the midst of the frantic fight, Vincent found out that Killian had served the Pendragon family for the longest time, and that he was the captain of the Dragon Knights. Vincent deliberately lost to him by a narrow margin.

Killian was also not so foolish as to take things too far when the opponent had been sent by his lord, so he accepted Vincent’s defeat and heard him out. Killian became a little upset when he found out that Raven was making fun of him, but Vincent thought differently.

Just as Vincent had spoken truthfully to Alan Pendragon to test his qualities and capabilities, the man had also set up a test for himself. A rolling stone could not uproot a boulder that was embedded in the ground. Therefore, he had to clarify his relationships with the existing figures of the Pendragon Duchy even though his identity had been validated and recommended by Alan Pendragon.

And that was exactly what Alan Pendragon had wanted to test.

That was why Vincent recognized Kilian, a loyal figure who had been an anchor for the Pendragon family for more than ten years through their darker times. Vincent recognized him as the head of the knights, as Vincent’s superior in front of the knights and the soldiers of the Pendragon family.

Ultimately, Killian proved himself as the captain of the Pendragon family’s knights, and Vincent was recognized as a fairly outstanding knight who had matched Killian equally for dozens of strikes in an exchange.

‘If I had beaten Sir Killian, His Grace would have taken that as a rejection to his offer. That was how he gave me a choice.’

Originally, he could have arrived at Conrad Castle around the same time when the family returned from their vacation. However, Vincent traveled from place to place in order to observe the overall atmosphere of the duchy, and when he arrived at the castle, his mind was already half-made up.

Then, as he was fighting Killian in front of the castle, he became quite certain of something. His Grace Pendragon had already guessed that he would not go straight to Conrad Castle and would instead look around the territory.

‘Maybe his scale of thinking is bigger than I thought… Anyways, he is smarter and more cool-headed than I thought.’

With such thoughts, Vincent looked at Elena, who shuddered at the sharpened autumn breeze, but remained standing in her spot until the end. He could hardly think that she was someone who was born in the royal family and had the esteemed status of a duchy’s senior lady.

‘She is the ideal mother. With such a lady, His Grace Pendragon will not follow the wrong path.’

“My lady!”

At that time, a local magistrate ran out of the gate while calling out to Elena.

“What’s wrong?”

“H, his Grace Alan is back! He rode back on a griffon from Bellint Gate.”

“Oh! Alan!”

Elena and Killian’s face lit up.

“I will take care of the rest and clean up! You should head in first, my lady.”

Elena nodded at Killian’s words and entered the gate with Vincent.

“Thank you, thank you.”

“May the goddess’ blessing be with the Pendragon family for eternity…”

The poor were still bowing repeatedly at Elena’s back as they frantically received food.

‘Now that His Grace is back, it’s time to turn them into true subjects of the Pendragon Duchy.’

Vincent’s eyes glowed coldly as he looked towards the people.

***

“Oh, kin of the glorious emperor! The glorious master of the Pendragon territory, the great blessed territory! The one protected under the brilliant wings of the White Dragon, the…”

“That’s enough.”

Raven crossed through the palace, cutting off the loud cries of the servant. It seemed that the servant had learned a few more lines since Raven’s last entrance. The knights and nobles of Conrad Castle, who had been lined up on either side of the palace, bowed down as the guards raised their halberds high into the air.

“Glory to Pendragon! Honor to the White Dragon! We greet our lord!”

Leo and Jodie, who were following behind Raven and Isla, became shocked at the daunting scene. They once again realized that they truly had been accompanied by the heir to a duchy as they journeyed through the wilderness and slept in the wild.

“You have gone through a lot of trouble, Your Grace.”

“It is no big deal. How have you been? You seem a little pale.”

Raven spoke as he climbed onto his throne. General Melborne was dressed in a stiffly ironed black formal.

“Somebody has been bothering me quite a bit. Of course, it’s nothing compared to what you have been through, Your Grace.”

Raven smirked as he noticed that Melborne was talking about Vincent Ron. It appeared that Vincent was more actively involved in the duchy’s affairs than Raven had initially thought.

“Well, we can talk about that a little later…”

Raven’s eyes swept through the palace, then he spoke in a loud voice.

“By how healthy you all look, you all seemed to have been eating and sleeping well while I was suffering out there.”

The nobles chuckled at Raven’s words. Everyone knew of his deeds in Leus and Sisak.

As a result, the Pendragon Duchy’s prestige had increased again, and they were well on their way to climbing back towards their past reputation. As nobles who served under the Pendragon Duchy, they were overjoyed at the fact.

“I am sure that everyone knows about the incident in Sisak, so I will not bother explaining it in detail. But one thing I want to announce is that I have succeeded in securing an important bridgehead for our duchy.”

“Hooo!!”

“Congratulations!”

Raven continued to speak in the midst of the exclamations.

“They are the Ramelda family, who will soon become a lord of territory, independent of Sisak’s High Lord.”

Following Raven’s gaze, all those present turned their eyes onto Leo and Sophia. Even though he had been warned earlier, Leo’s expression became stiff. He stood forward and spoke.

“I am Leo Ramelda, son of Toro’s knight, Derek Ramelda. I have come here today by the grace of His Grace Pendragon.”

“I, I am Sophia, the youngest daughter of the Bresia family.”

Unlike Leo, who talked in a confident voice, Sophia barely managed to whisper her introduction before lowering her head.

She had already realized that even amongst High Lords, there were clear differentiation in status after she had stayed a night at Count Seyrod’s castle. Then, when she saw Conrad Castle, after regaining consciousness from riding a griffon, she was astonished. The size and the grandeur of the castle, as well as the appearance of the soldiers and the knights were on a different level than what she was used to.

“Let us talk about the two people and their friends later.”

“Yes, Your Grace.”

Melborne had already been roughly debriefed by an earlier letter, so he bowed his head. Then, Raven spoke while looking around the palace once more.

“As such, Pendragon has achieved great results externally. On the way back to Conrad Castle, I found that security had improved, and that we had a large influx of people into our territory. However, you sirs, as pillars of Pendragon, should be well aware that many problems are arising as well.”

The faces of the nobles darkened as they noticed what Raven was talking about.

“You will notice the problem just by looking outside the castle walls, even in Lowpool. Thousands, or perhaps even a population nearing that of our territory’s original population, of poor peasants are in my land.”

“……”

The nobles stopped murmuring amongst themselves.

Then, the door to the palace opened.

“Her Grace, the duchess!”

The knights and nobles expressed their courtesy at the shout. Raven also rose from his seat to greet Elena.

“I have returned, Duchess.”

“Oh! Yes, yes! I have already heard all the stories. Thank goodness nothing happened to you. The goddess must have been looking after you.”

Elena returned Raven’s light bow with a hug.

Raven met Vincent’s gaze, who was standing behind Elena with a bow, then guided Elena towards the throne. She sat down in the chair next to the White Dragon Throne and looked around. The atmosphere seemed tense.

“You are holding a palace meeting as soon as you return?”

“Yes, I have been thinking that the massive influx of people into our land could cause some problems. I have also heard that the duchess was personally showing grace to the people outside Lowpool.

“Oh, that’s what it was about. Whew…" Elena sighed.

Raven spoke in a soft voice, “I am sorry that I brought up such a difficult topic right after returning. We can talk about this matter later on.”

Elena smiled at Raven’s consideration for her.

“That sounds wonderful. You must be tired from coming such a long way, I would appreciate it if you listened to your mother today, what do you say?”

“I will do as you wish, Duchess.”

Raven nodded without hesitation at Elena’s warm words. He appreciated her efforts to lighten the mood and lift the heavy atmosphere.

“Thank you. Now! Now that the master of Pendragon is back, what do you all say that we hold a banquet?”

Her words caused the nobles’ faces to lighten up.

“General Melborne, open up the castle gates to let the people of Lowpool participate in the festivities as well. Distribute some wine and lamb for those that are outside of the walls as well.”

“I will obey your orders, my lady.”

General Melborne got busy ordering the servants after gracefully bowing to Elena.

“Why don’t you leave the rest to your subordinates and have a little rest until the banquet is ready? I think you might have a lot to talk to that man as well.”

Raven felt his mother’s consideration and wisdom as he noticed her gaze head towards Vincent.

“I will do that. Then I will see you later, Mother.”

He spoke with sincerity. He no longer felt as awkward as before, addressing her as mother.

“Good, good. I can look after those people.”

“Thank you.”

Elena gave a kind smile while looking back towards Leo, Jody, the rest of the group, even Sophia. Then, Raven signaled to Vincent with his gaze, and left the palace with a following of maids. Vincent silently followed behind.

***

“So, I have heard. You made up your mind.”

After all the maids were sent away, Raven spoke while sitting down in an oval chair in his office, located deep inside the castle.

“You have a mischievous side to you. I was able to experience the skills of the duchy’s knights, thanks to that.”

“Nonsense, you would have held back. I hear he’s regained some of his confidence. Thank you for being thoughtful in all those ways.”

“…...”

As expected, Raven’s message really did contain many meanings. Confirming this, Vincent laughed without answering.

“I heard that you asked the duchess to personally take care of the people outside of Lowpool? I would not think you did that just to win over the hearts of the people, am I right?”

“Why do you think so?”

Raven poured out wine and held it out for Vincent. It could have been considered improper, but Raven thought that a master of the Twilight Tower was deserving as such. Raven answered calmly.

“I thought about it thoroughly, but it did not make sense to give them food only once every five days if the aim was to win over their hearts. I thought it might have been a better strategy to separate those who are able to work and cut down trees to develop farmland. They can work as serfs.”

“It seems you are well aware of these matters. But serfs are only serfs. In the long run, they will not be helpful to the duchy.”

“Why is that?”

Raven had thought that it might have been a good strategy to bestow titles to some knights and send the poor to work under them. So, when Vincent suggested otherwise, he asked candidly.

“Can I be honest with you?”

Vincent’s eyes glowed for a moment before returning to normal. Raven grinned and replied.

“You talk as if you have not been before. Tell me.”

“Your Grace, what do you think the Pendragon Duchy lacks the most compared to the other great territories of the empire?”

“Hm…”

Raven’s eyes settled coldly.

‘It’s starting…’

The time had come to finally determine whether Vincent of the Gray Sunset, a master of the Twilight Tower and the man who would shake the empire’s commerce, would become a loyal vassal of the Pendragon Duchy.

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