“You were about to depart, Duke, yet I couldn’t even greet you properly.”
“Well…” Duke Agnus sighed deeply at Charles’s unusually solemn demeanor.
“I apologize for turning up without warning at a place like this Duke,” ventured Cox. “But it wouldn’t reflect well on me if I didn’t even see you as you left.”
“That’s all right, Cox.” Duke Agnus turned back to Charles. “Indeed, Rebrecca and Iceline didn’t show their faces before they left. You seem to be feeling a little better now.”
“Ah. Thanks to the Duke, my recovery has come a long way. Please accept my apologies for burdening you.”
“Is it just my mood, or has our tomboy princess suddenly transformed?” Duke Agnus pulled a long face, much to Cox’s vocal amusement.
Not so long ago, Charles was a naive young lady who dashed about with no aim and no restraint. “Mister, Mister!” was one of her signature phrases.
“Your father must be proud of you. What a shame, though… I miss the way you were, somehow…”
“Alrighty, Mister! Wanna just do it like we used to?”
“—Eh!?” Cox yelped when Charles abruptly reverted.
“Haha! That’s my Charles. If you’re thinking of visiting the capital, would you care to join me? Did you know your father is also in Arcadia?”
“Thank you for your kindness, but I believe that would be impossible. Just promise to pay Cox’s family a visit when you return.”
“Such a promise, Princess…” Cox looked troubled.
“I’m not doing it for Cox, I’m doing it for Anna, your beloved.”
“That’s…” Cox sighed and clamped his mouth shut, bringing a cheeky smile to Charles’s lips.
“And… Young Master Joshua?”
What the hell? Joshua panicked when Charles called out to him. Somehow, her approach set him on edge. All the vassals and knights of the Duchy were watching—it would be pretty irritating if they started spreading rumors.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to eat you.” Charles smiled sweetly.
“Huh!” The knights sputtered.
“This is the mark of our family.” Charles grinned and held out her hand to Joshua.
“Pri-Pri-Princess!?” Cox was the first to recognize the object in her hand: a palm-sized, pure gold pendant engraved with a golden owl. The rest of the audience was equally wide-eyed, boggling at the unexpected appearance of the Pontier family crest.
“Why did Princess Charles offer Young Master Joshua such a valuable gift…?”
“Is it possible that Young Master Joshua has a bond with Princess Charles?”
“What a load of nonsense! Princess Charles already has Young Master Babel in her heart!”
“What does it matter? A woman’s heart should sway like a reed. They’re not even dating, so what’s the problem?”
“Ah, says the guy who doesn’t know how a woman’s heart works.”
“What did you say?!”
Joshua’s mood sank. He wanted to showcase his abilities, not lubricate the rumor mill.
“What am I going to do with this?”
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m no snob. It doesn’t mean anything, just…” Charles winked. “I’d like you to consider it an invitation. Please pay our family a visit if you travel to Arcadia.”
“Why should I—” Joshua hesitated because Charles looked like she was about to cry.
“What are you crying over, Princess Charles?”
“I’m sure there’s a reason the lady gave it to him.”
“It’s just an invitation, but Young Master Joshua is a formidable opponent.”
Obviously, Joshua’s superhuman senses heard everything.
This is… The boy was greatly perplexed. If this tomboy actually cries right now, the rumors will spread like wildfire. Everyone will be trying to figure out who I am. No good.
Joshua grimaced. It would take him at least five years to restore his strength to a decent level; all his plans would be foiled, however, by Charles’s shenanigans.
I don’t have to use it if I take it. After all, Arcadia is huge—I won’t see them unless I go looking for them.
“...Okay?” Charles awkwardly extended the pendant towards Joshua again. “Are you going to embarrass me like this? I’m just trying to make amends for my prior indifference—”
“Ah! Okay! I get it!” Joshua grabbed the pendant. A teasing little smile flickered across Charles’s lips, but Joshua was too preoccupied to notice.
“We have a long way to go.” Duke Agnus coughed politely but wore a mischievous little smile. “We’d best leave soon. Charles, may I visit as well?”
“Of course, uncle—no, Duke! You are always welcome.”
“I’ll have to prepare the Heart Kingdom De Bellue in advance! Your father is rumored to be quite the drinker! Hahahahaha!”
“Then I’ll see you again, Princess Tomboy.”
“Stay well, Cox.”
“Duke. I’ll see you next time.”
“Depart!” The Duke spun around.
Duke Agnus eyed Joshua’s back as they departed.
Perhaps you don’t know what it implies for a lady to bestow their family crest to someone.
The Duke’s smile was as bright as the rising sun.
Jaken, head of the Emperor’s intelligence agency, prostrated himself before the Emperor’s throne.
“Your Majesty, we have received new information regarding Duke Agnus, as you ordered.”
“Tell me.” A glimmer of light shone in his dark eyes.
“Duke Aden von Agnus and his second son, Joshua von Agnus, are expected to arrive in the capital in three days. And…”
“The Fourth Prince Kaiser’s recommendation to the Imperial Knights Templar… was declined.”
“What?” Marcus’s eyes popped wide open. “He refused?”
The power of the Imperial Knights could not be overestimated. No noble below a count could take on even a single member. It was no exaggeration to say they were the most powerful military force in the Empire, with the rise of the Imperial family’s power.
Suffice to say, Emperor Marcus believed he was the most powerful man on the entire continent. Joshua, apparently, disagreed. A second son—a bastard, no less. In most families, he would live or die by the eldest son’s grace.
“...Do you believe you can seize your family with just your own strength? I’m disappointed.”
“It didn’t seem that way.”
“I don’t follow.”
“According to Joshua von Agnus’s letter to Prince Kaiser, ‘I don’t need the Prince’s approval. I will obey His Majesty the supreme Emperor’s will in accordance with the laws of the Empire.’”
Emperor Marcus’s eyes slowly opened.
You will obediently carry out my commands? That could only mean one thing—and it was the safest and most straightforward method for an outsider to control the situation with just their own strength.
Only you would be so exceptional.
“Are you going to tear it down? Our Imperial Knights, the Empire’s pride and joy?”
Jaken tried his best not to attract the Emperor’s attention as his madness rattled the court.
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