“It’s him!” Sersiarin trembled with excitement.
“Yes?” Ellen, the Princess’s personal maid, tore her gaze off of the handsome man who had just appeared. “What is it, Princess?” She found that Sersiarin had jumped to her feet and was staring at someone.
“Baron Joshua Sanders?” Prince Kiser, unusually, wore a frown on his face.
“Prince,” Baron Hughes said, “he is the extra captain of the Imperial Knights.”
“Ah! Yes!” Prince Kiser laughed. “You are that talented knight. You will represent our Empire in the next Reinhardt Master battle. By the way…” He cocked his head. “I’ve never seen you around. I mean, I should know because the Imperial Palace is not that big—”
“Unlike the top battalions, the 11th and 12th Battalions are in the outer regions of the Palace,” Baron Hughes supplied. “Further, he has only been deployed on external dispatch operations in the three years since enlisting, so it’s no surprise you’re only seeing him for the first time.”
“Ah, I see.” Prince Kiser stroked his chin. “Anyways, it’s a privilege to meet such a famed person.”
“It is a privilege to meet the reputed Prince Kiser.”
Kiser offered Joshua a shy smile.
“However, what do you mean she already has a partner?”
“Precisely what I said, my Prince. Young Lady Charles accepted my offer of a dance—that’s all there is to it.”
Prince Kiser gave Charles a questioning glance, to which she, somewhat overwhelmed, hastily nodded.
“I mean… Yes, kind of.”
A loud voice arose from the edge of the banquet hall, as if it was waiting for Charles’s answer.
“How conceited, Baron Joshua! How impolite!” Gehog stormed over to the Prince. “My heartfelt greetings. I apologize for the rude interruption.”
“Oh, Gehog! It’s been quite some time!” Prince Kiser’s face radiated genuine happiness. The Crombell family was good friends and strong supporters of the First Prince, hence why he was willing to overlook Gehog’s rudeness.
His greetings done, Gehog rounded on Joshua.
“How dare you steal the spotlight during the Prince’s birthday banquet?”
Joshua just laughed.
“Are you laughing!?”
“I was just worried about the Prince’s hono—”
“What are you talking about?”
“He was pressuring someone else’s partner in front of all these people.” As Joshua outlined the situation, Gehog’s eyes widened with understanding. “Should I be complimenting him, then? If not—”
“Hahh…” Prince Kiser sighed. As Joshua said, other peoples’ opinions were paramount in situations like these. Enough minor rumors could be fatal in the Prince’s battle for succession.
“Lady Charles, were you going to dance with Baron Joshua?”
“Ah…” Princess Charles carefully avoided Prince Kiser’s heavy eyes. “Please accept my apologies; Yes, I will be Baron Joshua’s partner.”
“Ah…” The Prince let out a disappointed sigh.
Joshua stepped over to Gehog and offered him a grin and a pat on the shoulder.
“If you see something rude, then just be content in knowing,” he whispered. “You don’t want to end up like they did that day, do you?”
Gehog’s face flushed. “I—”
“I would not have come for the lady if I knew she was your partner,” the Prince said to Joshua. “Please, accept my apologies.”
“Oh, no. I should apologize for being impolite.”
There was nothing more Prince Kiser could say to him. Who could have guessed it would turn out like this? He sighed.
I don’t usually care, but… “I need a partner for the next banquet,” he said to Charles. “I hope the lady will accept this time.”
“Ah.” Charles blushed briefly. “I’m…”
Prince Kiser briefly gazed into her ruby eyes and then turned around. It seemed to the crowd that his shoulders sagged as he climbed back up the stairs—but maybe it was just their imagination?
“Now, Young Lady. Shall we?” Joshua offered Charles his hand. Charles seemed hesitant but placed her hand over Joshua’s.
“Thank you for your assistance. But don’t misunderstand me.”
Charles’s gloomy voice infected Joshua’s smile, turning it sour.
Despite his height of 185 centimeters, the man was skinny, dreary, sun-worn, and battered. His eyes had dark circles almost down to his cheeks, and the enormous two-handed sword he gripped almost dragged him to the ground.
“I’m finally here.” He shook with emotions as he beheld the Imperial Palace.
He’d been through hell and back in the last five years. The promised goal was met, and the reaper’s grip had been broken.
“How are you going to react when you see me?”
He’s supposed to be at the Prince’s feast right now, from what I’ve heard. For his duty, not as a guest, given his mission, but it didn’t matter.
The man had other things on his mind.
“I haven’t touched a woman in so long because of him, and I’m past the age of marriage. But maybe that guy is having a great dinner party with the ladies.” His clasped hands trembled. “This is treachery. A betrayal of a master to his servants.”
The man was 28 years old; other men might have three or four children by now, but he’d never been in such a relationship. His problems rattled deafeningly in his head.
“God knows what I’m going to do to you after all this time, Master Bastard.” He grit his teeth and advanced on the gate, eyes ablaze.
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