“That’s right. The Duchess is beautiful, after all. The Empire’s most beautiful woman has now married the Empire’s most exceptional man. If you truly love the Duchess, then bless the two of them who are a perfect match.”
Lejandro’s face twisted as he looked at Julia, who was mocking him.
“Shut up! Lariana is meant to be with me, not Cain! Me!”
Lejandro acted like a child who had his candy taken away.
“Go out into the streets and ask the Empire’s citizens passing by if the Duchess is a better match for the Duke or for you.”
“I told you to shut up!”
He pushed Julia to the ground. It was the first time she, a princess, had been assaulted by someone. She needed a moment to assess the situation.
Although Lejandro was momentarily surprised by his own direct harm to Julia, it didn’t seem to faze him. He let it go without a care.
Lejandro slammed the wine bottle he was holding onto the ground, and it rolled away on the dirt floor. Julia picked up the glass bottle that her husband had dropped.
“Damn Cain Delacroix! Why? Why does he keep blocking my path?”
It was difficult for her to witness her husband in such a pathetic state.
Her hand tightened around the bottle. She wanted to throw it at her husband’s mouth to shut him up. But she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She had her homeland, Serren, to consider. Julia struggled to control her breathing and calm her heart.
“…It’s not the Duke blocking your path, but rather your own inability to move forward. Have you ever considered that?”
“What the hell are you talking about? Speak in a way I can understand.”
Ah, he truly was a foolish man.
She would have been better off being born a man and marrying Princess Sonia. When Lejandro becomes Emperor, Martessen will surely fall to Davask’s ruin. And Serren, too, will disappear into history like Rindell.
Frustrated by the situation, unable to do anything, Julia lowered her head.
“Julia, summon Jenox. Bring more alcohol.”
Jenox Heliosen will now be called to entertain him, providing lowly jokes about the Duchess of Delacroix, as well as gossip about the Duke of Delacroix and his sister. He won’t take a single step forward, but instead will continue to wander in place.
Julia began to feel that staking the fate of her homeland on her husband was futile.
* * *
At that moment, the nobles of the Princess Sonia faction were in a festive mood. They were all filled with joy, forgetting about the injuries suffered by the Duchess.
Cain had never felt great happiness or a sense of accomplishment throughout his life. The same applied to his recent victory in the hunting competition. Even though he had achieved a hard-fought victory, he felt nothing.
However, there was one thing that bothered him. It was something he couldn’t quite put his finger on, but it left him with an uneasy feeling.
“Indeed, it is Duke Delacroix! To have captured a troll, no less! This is an unprecedented event in the history of the hunting competition.”
“Not only in the history of the hunting competition, but also in the past few hundred years. Haven’t we always regarded stories of capturing a troll as mere legends and folklore?”
“That’s right. That’s right!”
“This is a great victory for our Princess faction.”
“Your Excellency, let me pour you a drink.”
Cain accepted the glass offered by Marquess Verphe. Marquess Verphe, caught up in the excitement, poured the wine and drank first. Then, the other nobles of the Princess faction surrounding them also raised their glasses.
Cain began to feel that the current situation was gradually becoming oppressive. The vague emotions that he couldn’t quite grasp started to take shape.
At the forefront of these emotions was Lariana. Her tearful and pitiful appearance, worrying about him, blocked his entire field of vision before dispersing into thin air.
“I’ve come here to die with you.”
She said it with an expression devoid of any ulterior motive. She was truly a foolish woman, to the point of being naive and foolish.
Such a woman lay unconscious, injured, on the verge of disappearing in the Witch’s Forest just a while ago.
But now, everyone present here celebrated their victory as if nothing had happened.
They all bowed their heads to him, but he knew that they had only used him. All that mattered to them was victory and power.
The one who had genuinely wished for his safety and well-being lay unconscious, lying there.
When Cain placed his hand on her neck, his chest tightened and pained. The indescribable emotions that even he couldn’t understand made his stomach churn.
It was difficult to stay in this place. He wanted to escape, even from countless battlefields and even from demons.
As he rushed out of the banquet and arrived at the mansion, Lariana was still lying on the bed, quietly closing her eyes as if she was asleep.
Jena, who had been dozing off, sensed his presence and stood up from her seat.
“I will take care of the lady. You should go.”
“But would you stay and watch over her all night? Won’t you get tired?”
“Jena Selmon. I wonder who the master is here.”
Jena hesitated for a moment and then left the mansion. Soon, only the two of them remained.
Cain sat down on a comfortable chair. He had been exhausted these past few days. It was as exhausting as being on the battlefield.
Cain softly spoke to Lariana, who was unconscious. He reached out his hand towards her. His wife’s cheek was soft and warm. Just touching her cheek was enough to alleviate his fatigue.
“Thanks to you, we won.”
Cain absentmindedly uttered those words and was surprised by himself. What was he saying to someone who was unconscious? Soon, he burst into laughter.
His chest no longer felt tight but tickled instead. His beating heart throbbed as if he could grasp it in his hand.
He couldn’t even understand his own emotions. Amongst the unclear and elusive emotions, there was one thing that was clear. It was relief.
He was relieved. He was truly relieved that Lariana was unharmed.
* * *
In the lavishly decorated study of the Count Heliosen’ townhouse, where no trace of his old, worn-out room could be found. Jenox, wearing glasses, crumpled the documents he had been reviewing and threw them into the roaring fireplace.
“They say the Duchess still had no signs of recovery.”
The feather pen, which had been dancing gracefully, froze in place, and black ink spread across the paper. Jenox moved the pen, folding the ink-stained paper.
“Understood. You may leave.”
As soon as the servant left, he sank deeply into his chair and let out a sigh. It had been two weeks since the hunting competition had ended. While Lariana, who was injured in the Witch’s Forest, suffered no life-threatening injuries, she had not regained consciousness.
Lariana’s injury in the Witch’s Forest was an unforeseen event in his calculations. Only Cain, who had fallen mad due to the witches’ curse, had to be injured or killed by the beasts. The Witch’s Forest was originally the land of the fallen Kingdom of Rindell, where the royal family and nobles of Rindell were proficient in magic and controlled the creatures and giant beasts of the Witch’s Forest.
Lariana’s mother was from the Baron of Alena family in Rindell, so she had no possibility of being harmed by beasts or creatures. On the other hand, if Cain was under the curse of the witch, he had to be attacked and injured or killed by the beasts or creatures. However, Jenox had only accidentally learned of this fact, so he could not determine the truth. He could only speculate.
Jenox clasped his hands together and offered a short prayer to the goddess Vuerin, wishing for Lariana’s well-being. She had to wake up safely. That was the only way he could bring her back. That was the only way they could be together forever.
His father had loved his sister-in-law. Perhaps that was why Count Heliosen had always regarded Jenox with suspicion. He had inherited his father’s blood, who had loved someone he shouldn’t have loved. It was only natural for him to fall in love with Lariana. The precious princess, his cousin. The orphan who had lost his parents found solace in her presence. If he could be by her side, he, too, could become a prince.
Moreover, it was Lariana who had seduced him first. If she hadn’t saved him when he was trapped in the swamp, if her enchanting touch hadn’t reached his body…
The final image of his uncle, who had treated him like his own child, tormented Jenox. He clutched his chest, his chestnut-colored hair in disarray, and suffered in anguish.
He picked up the hip flask from the desk. He had hoped to drink some alcohol, but it was empty, which was disappointing.
Struggling to suppress his emotions, Jenox opened a drawer and took out a thick notebook. The tattered and torn notebook served as both a diary and a chronicle of the fallen kingdom, as well as the key to the remaining secrets of the witches.
The memory of when he first obtained this deceased person’s diary was still vivid.
“Aunt, thank you. For leaving behind such a precious legacy.”
The cover of the diary clearly read ‘Hebe Lariana Alena’—the owner of the diary gave her middle name to Lariana. It was Lariana’s mother diary
* * *
Lariana, lying on the sickbed, was not cared for and nursed by her family, her husband, or her mother-in-law. It was her friend Marina, who had now become Marchioness Deryl.
When news of Lariana’s injury reached Marina, she visited Duke Delacroix’s mansion without delay. From that day on, she never skipped a single day of visiting.
“Lari, I told you not to marry him.”
Marina held Lariana’s hand. She was deeply asleep with a wet towel on her forehead. Marina spoke gently but with a content that was far from gentle. Her rambling to her friend gradually grew louder and turned into anger.
“Lari, that crazy bastard you love won the hunting competition. So get up quickly. Why did he become a hero while you became a dying patient?”
Marina couldn’t contain her anger and spoke resolutely. She had always been displeased with her friend’s marriage.
“All this time, he boasted about being a war hero and acted all high and mighty. But he ended up isolated in the Witch’s Forest, making his wife chase after him? Is he really the best knight of Martessen with his skills? It seems like his reputation was manipulated. Did he manipulate the Duchess to not leave him?” Read ahead here.