Raven nodded toward Melborne, who was returning to his original spot, then slowly looked around the hall.
“Now, does anyone have any questions?”
The nobles kept their mouths shut while glancing around the room.
General Melborne was a cool-headed individual who was respected by everyone. He had expressed his opinion while laying down bare facts, so no one could immediately think of any questions.
But since the matter was regarding an important issue, several people bravely raised their hands. Raven pointed to one of them.
“Yes. Sir Hain.”
“I understand your plan, Your Grace. But I think right now is the time to strengthen the inner workings of the duchy rather than to start such an uncertain business.”
Some nobles nodded their heads in agreement.
“More than anything, the Pendragon Duchy has been well off from generation to generation. Although we faced an unfortunate event and had some small hardships in recent decades, now that we have stood back up, we can…”
Hain closed his mouth at the quiet, but cold-blooded response from Raven. Then, Raven rose from his throne.
Irene and Elena also responded with surprise to Raven’s sudden change of mood. Even Mia opened her large eyes wide while looking up at her brother.
Raven slowly walked down the steps to the floor.
“Is it a small hardship that our mines did not function for more than a decade and our mausoleum was closed? Is it a small hardship that the duchy’s population has been reduced by half? Is it a small hardship that the duchy had to suffer the disgrace of having an engagement broken off? Is all of that, just a small hardship for all of you?”
Luna bit her lips at Raven’s last words, and everyone’s heads fell to the floor.
“Yes, let us call it a small hardship. Let’s say we got through it. But do you want to know something? Do you know what the world calls people like us?”
No one could respond to the frosty voice that was nearing them. Raven spoke in a quiet voice after reaching the middle of the banquet hall.
“Losers. They’re right. Right now, we are losers.”
The shoulders of the nobles trembled simultaneously. But proud knights such as Killian and Isla raised their heads with glaring eyes.
Even though he had just labeled themselves losers, Raven met each and every gaze of the nobles while continuing.
“A winner is nothing more than just a loser who tried one more time, am I wrong?”
One by one, the people in the hall started to lift their heads. When they met the eyes of their lord, which was burning with passion in a deep shade of blue, the nobles felt an unknown sense of pride swelling in their hearts.
“Did you say impossible? Maybe. However, everything was called impossible until someone achieved it. No?”
The more Raven spoke, the stronger their feelings became. Their fists clenched, and their bodies trembled. The hot-tempered knights felt an urge to ride their horses into a battlefield, and as their shoulders shook, it resonated in the sound of metal scraping together.
“Of course, implementing the plan will not guarantee success. But if we do not even try, then that means we have already been defeated before we even started. Is that not so?”
The buzz grew louder and louder. The entire banquet hall grew heated in the atmosphere. And in the middle of the heat, Raven raised his voice in a proclamation.
“I do not want to remain a loser! What say all of you!?”
Killian could no longer hold back his passion and screamed out while banging his chest.
“I do not want to be a loser!”
“I as well…”
Knights raised their voices as if resonating with Killian’s cry.
Boom! Boom! Boom!
The noise grew louder as the knights joined in on the pounding of their chests. Those without armor and the women rolled their feet. Even Elena, Irene, and Mia stomped their feet vigorously under their chairs with flushed cheeks.
Boom! Boom! Boom!
A roar engulfed the whole banquet hall. A cornerstone was steadily built at this moment – the foundation that would allow the Pendragon Duchy to move onward towards the path of the victor.
The banquet continued after that with a lively atmosphere. The knights and the nobles of the Pendragon Duchy showed confidence and bravado as if they had already become the empire’s number one territory. Naturally, conceit could be dangerous, but a little confidence was sometimes the right solution.
Raven knew that the nobles could not fully enjoy themselves with him present, so he tried to sneak away from the party. The hostess, Duchess Elena, was still present. His absence would not matter anyway.
“Brother, where are you going?”
“Huh? Ah, I was just going to get some fresh air before heading back.”
“Lady Lindsay and I will accompany you.”
Irene quickly hurried behind Raven, and Lindsay also carefully approached him. Then Mia, who had been yawning with sleepy eyes, also shook herself awake and grabbed onto Raven’s pants after pattering towards him.
“Yes, go and rest. I will take care of the rest.”
Raven bowed towards Elena’s tender smile.
“I apologize. Then please excuse me.”
The head chamberlain tried to announce the departure of the duchy’s heir, but Raven stopped him by shaking his head and looking at the man with glaring eyes.
The four people escaped the noisy banquet hall with more than ten maids following behind them. The night was cool, and the moon decorated the night sky. When Mia and Irene started trembling slightly, the maids rushed to cover the two girls with shawls made of warm fur.
“Then you two should go rest too.”
Raven cautiously spoke when they arrived at the crossroad that divided his own quarters from his sisters’. It had been months since he had last seen them, so he was sure that Irene was going to veto his words.
“Yes, I will do so! You rest well too, brother!”
“Oh, huh? Ah, yeah.”
Raven became confused by Irene’s words. It was unusual of her to let him off so easily.
‘Strange, she’s not the one to.... Something is… hmm?”
When he lowered his head, he saw Mia Pendragon staring up at him. Her eyes reflected the glistening moonlight, and it sparkled with anticipation. Raven burst out into laughter.
“Do you want to hear adventure stories?”
Mia nodded eagerly as if she had been waiting for him to ask.
“I am sorry, but I did not meet any monsters this time around. Besides, the time is already quite late.”
Mia’s face turned sullen. But Raven was used to it by now, and he smiled and spoke to his sister’s cute appearance.
“Instead, I will call Karuta and Kazzal for you soon, and show you the centaurs from the Ancona Forest. How about that?”
Mia’s face bloomed in a beaming smile, and her flushed cheeks and expression reminded Raven of a luminant flower. Raven wondered how Isla would have responded to the deadly cuteness, and stroked Mia’s head.
“Yes, yes. Now then, go on.”
At Raven’s words, Mia suddenly wiped the smile from her face and placed her rabbit doll neatly on her stomach before bowing deeply.
It may have been a sign of courtesy towards the duchy’s master, but Raven found the sight so cute that he almost burst out into another laughter. The maids also bowed towards Raven before following after the two girls, and Raven turned around to head his own way.
“Are you… not going?”
Raven saw Lindsay staring at him with her hands neatly held together and asked awkwardly.
“Well, th, the first lady’s words were to serve Your Grace…”
He had known that something was off the moment Irene left obediently, but to think she would have devised such an evil(?) plan…
He shivered at Irene’s ferocity and carefully looked around. Lindsay’s maids seemed to already be aware of it, as they avoided his gaze. After sighing inwardly, Raven spoke to Lindsay, who was wiggling her fingers.
“Then let us go to the quarters for now.”
Lindsay drew closer to Raven’s side after a shy nod. Raven became flustered by the scent that was carried by the cold night air, but he tried to keep a calm face.
“W, well then…”
He quickened his steps in embarrassment, but Lindsay stuck to his side without faltering.
‘There’s something……. Dangerous today.’
His devoted sister seemed to have put more effort into her evil plan than he had initially thought.
With the maids gone, Raven sat in his room with an awkward expression on his face. Lindsay gently bowed her head and poured warm tea by his side.
“Try it, Your Grace. The duchess personally gave me the tea to serve to you.”
Lindsay’s attitude had changed dramatically from before, and it seemed that she had received etiquette education from Irene and the head maid.
The embarrassment was still present, but she was soft-spoken, and she took extra caution in every one of her gestures.
“Yes, thank you.”
The deep-scented tea tasted great. It was even better than the tea he had been served by Count Seyrod. But he could not just continue to drink tea without saying or doing anything.
“Ehem! Come to think of it, I have not had a chance to talk to you much. Uh… did anything happen while I was away?”
Raven could not think of anything to talk about, so he asked a very general question.
“The duchess and the ladies have been very kind to me. It is a little difficult to memorize the crests, but…”
“That’s the same with me too. Do you know around half of them now?”
There were hundreds of noble families in the empire. They all possessed their own coat of arms, and any nobles were required to be knowledgeable about them. For higher-ranked nobility, such as members of the Pendragon Duchy, they were not required to know the crests of the low-ranked nobles.
But Elena seemed to be teaching Lindsay in the same way she was educated when she grew up in the imperial city. Irene and Mia had also grown up with the same education.
“I, I have memorized all the crests of the noble families near the duchy. But the central area of the empire has so many families…”
“Take it slow.”
Raven spoke to encourage Lindsay. But Lindsay hesitated before bowing her head.
“N, no, I cannot…”
Raven was slightly surprised.
Lindsay was the first person he saw when he opened his eyes as Alan Pendragon. She had slapped him, although it was his own fault, but since then, she had never reacted negatively to his words.
“I… I became a woman of the Pendragon family. I must never cause trouble for the Pendragon family and Your Grace.”
Raven nodded at Lindsay, who still spoke her mind even though she stuttered in embarrassment.
“I am lacking. I am quite lacking. I… I want to stay by your side for a long time. That’s why I want to… That’s why I must work harder.”
Her entire face flushed in a shade of red, but she managed to raise her head. Even though her eyes started to tear up, she had a firm look of determination.
Raven felt strange. He could feel her heart being conveyed through her words. But her following words startled Raven.
“I, I know you do not truly love me. I know you… pitied me and took me in as a concubine. That’s why... that’s why…”
Lindsay bowed her head again.
Raven maintained his silence amongst the awkward, bewildering situation. She was always so timid that he had never thought she would speak this way.
Lindsay looked up.
“So, I will try harder. As much as I want to be by your side… So that you will not feel uncomfortable around me... I want to be a good lady for the Pendragon family.”
Her eyes still glimmered with tears, but she was smiling.
Raven’s heart pulsed. It was certain. Just as he fought with the Valt family and the Pendragon family in his heart, Lindsay also struggled to achieve her own goals. Moreover, her efforts were not only for her own good, but for Raven as well.
“Thank you, Lindsay.”
Raven smiled sincerely and responded. Then, the smile faded from Lindsay’s face. Her long eyelashes quivered, and she closed her eyes quietly.
Only an idiot would not know what her actions meant. He felt his heart pound uncontrollably and pushed his face closer to her. He gulped unknowingly as he stared at her luscious lips, and as the two lips were about to make contact…
Lindsay suddenly opened her eyes.
Lindsay was so startled that fell back and Raven also let out a wild cough. Seeing Raven cough uncontrollably, Lindsay patted him on the back with her face lit up like a ripe apple.
“A, a, are you all right, Your Grace?”
“Ahgh! I, I’m fine.”
Raven barely regained his composure and looked at Lindsay. Recognizing that Raven was asking for answers, Lindsay stammered, her face looking to be on the verge of exploding in embarrassment.
“Ah, L, l, l, Lady Irene said…”
“Ehem! W, what did she say?”
“T, that if Your Grace seemed to be smiling with all his heart…”
“To close my eyes and count to five…”
Raven realized once again as he looked down at Lindsay who had her face buried in her chest. Irene Pendragon’s plans were not only evil, but much, much more thorough than he had thought. On a night of deepening autumn, the first cornerstone of love was laid in a room of Conrad Castle.Previous Chapter Next Chapter