Actually, the hand warmer wasn’t that well made. The right side was okay, but the left one was a bit smaller. A thread had come loose during knitting, but there wasn’t enough time to fix it, so she had hastily finished it.
Lucian examined the gift and let out a little chuckle. “Is this also part of being a wife?”
A strange blush crept up Ariel’s cheeks. “Um, yes.”
He held the gift and made a show of pretending to put his lips on it. His boyish antics felt a bit overly enthusiastic.
“Whatever it is, I like it because it’s from you.”
Ariel sighed in relief. ‘Phew, that’s good.’
She had messed up the big task of giving a gift, but Lucian seemed to appreciate it. With a lighter heart, she asked him, “Lucian, when will you be back next time?”
She had been hoping that he would return soon. After all, he had promised to return a year later on the day after their wedding.
Lucian’s reply was different, however. “In September next year. Things have gotten a bit complicated.”
A disappointed frown formed on Ariel’s face as she asked, “Can’t you come in January?”
Lucian replied, “No.”
Ariel let out a sigh. She wouldn’t be able to spend her birthday with him. She shook her head in disappointment. “Why?”
Lucian understood that her voice was trembling slightly but decided not to comment on it. Instead, he gently held her nose and told her, “Don’t cry this time.”
Ariel sniveled and mumbled back, “I won’t cry. As soon as you leave, I’ll call all my friends, and we’ll play for a long time.”
Lucian wrinkled his brow with a look of concern. “Should I give you a ‘no visitor’ order?”
Ariel stammered, “N-no…”
Lucian, noticing Ariel’s hesitance, grabbed her nose, then lowered his head and kissed her cheek. “An order.”
Ariel asked, puzzled, “What? You want me to be a naughty person?”
“Yeah… you’re too good and innocent.”
Not fully comprehending the strange request, Ariel looked at him with confusion in her eyes.
Lucian continued, “I want you to be a little naughtier when I’m not around.”
Naughtier? Ariel received a puzzling command and gazed at him with bewildered eyes.
“You’re too sweet, so you need to misbehave a bit.”
Ariel was still baffled as he kissed her other cheek. Then he straightened his posture.
Lucian boarded the carriage, and the entourage that had prepared for his departure set off from the ducal mansion.
Ariel waved goodbye, her hand trembling in the cold.
As the carriage drew closer to the outer gate, she slowly lowered her hand.
“I don’t really understand what he means by becoming naughty…” Ariel muttered to herself, her eyes still showing confusion.
Ariel clenched her small fist tightly. ‘I will continue to follow Lucian’s command to change this house.’
During Lucian’s absence, she would work on identifying the issues between her and Mathias and contemplate how to improve their relationship. Watching Lucian move further away, Ariel made a firm commitment.
On the other hand, Lucian, riding in the carriage, leaned his head back, letting out a sigh.
He had been suppressing his emotions since yesterday. While he didn’t think his temperament was particularly harmful to Ariel, he needed to hold back a bit to protect her, a young and fragile wife, inside his house.
He habitually reached for his tie to loosen it but stopped. The image of his little wife, who had been diligently tying her shoelaces, flashed in his mind.
“…I can’t do that.”
Lucian put his hand down and decided it was high time he displayed some patience after a long time.
* * *
After Lucian returned to the academy, Ariel also returned to her daily life.
The only change was that Ariel had been discreetly asking around her close circle of friends, Matthias, and people around Lucian about their relationship. She believed there must be a reason for their strained relationship.
Looking back, she realized that even though it had been a year since she came here, she knew very little about her family. She had first heard about the discord between Matthias and Lucian through Heath, and hadn’t asked anyone about the reasons behind it.
‘Perhaps the reasons for not being able to reconcile are so painful that I hope for their reconciliation,’ Ariel thought.
Ariel, who had a reason for not being able to talk about her family, was very careful and cautious about this matter.
So she decided to ask only the most trustworthy people. Some of Matthias and Lucian’s trusted personnel.
The first person she approached was the head chambermaid, Susan.
“Susan, why aren’t Matthias and Lucian on good terms?”
Ariel asked while Susan was giving her a bath. Susan, who was applying a sponge to the water, stopped moving and leaned her arms on the marble bathtub.
“It seems like our young mistress is curious about that.”
Susan’s voice was as warm as the water, but it also sounded a little sad.
Susan moved her hand to drop a few drops of lavender oil into the bathwater. “In truth, I don’t know much either. The relationship between our lords has not been good for a very long time.”
There was a brief silence, and Susan sighed before answering. “The Duke has disliked the Duke Mathias ever since he was a baby.”
For a moment, Susan seemed to age as she spoke. “Adults don’t know what kind of memories children hold. Our Duke has never mentioned the reasons to anyone.”
“14 years, never once?”
“Yes, sadly, never once.”
Ariel felt like she had hit a wall. If even Susan, who had been around Lucian from the very beginning, didn’t know, then who on earth knew about their strained relationship?
Seeing Ariel’s serious expression, Susan gently kissed her forehead.
The sad expression had disappeared, and Susan continued, “That’s why I’m truly grateful and happy that you’ve come, Young Mistress Ariel. Since you arrived, it feels like the two of them have disliked each other less than before.”
To Ariel, who had never seen the two of them before, the story was unknown. But if it was Susan’s words, then it must be true. She hoped it was true.
Just then, Susan playfully tickled Ariel’s side under the bathwater, causing Ariel to let out a shriek of laughter.
As Susan giggled like a mischievous child, she said, “If you think too much, you might go bald, Young Mistress Ariel.”
“Your hair might start falling out.”
With an eerie tale, Susan gently slid her hands across Ariel’s shoulders, enveloping her in warm and fragrant bathwater. It was a cozy feeling that made Ariel forget about her complicated thoughts.
“Shall we finish washing up and get out?”
Although there were more questions Ariel wanted to ask, she nodded with a smile.
Her inquiry with Susan ended like this.
However, she couldn’t just give up. The next day, Ariel went to see the butler Dalton. Dalton was always by Mathias’ side, so he might know something.
As Ariel visited him for the first time in a while, Dalton pulled a pile of cookies out of the desk drawer and stacked them in front of her.
Ariel resisted the temptation of the cookies and asked, “Dalton, do you happen to know the reason for the discord between Lord Mathias and Lord Lucian?”
Perhaps it was an unexpected question, Dalton looked surprised as he gazed at her.
After a few seconds of silence, he realized and ran his hand over his face. “Oh, I see. You must have wondered about that, Young Mistress Ariel. It’s become so familiar to us that we never thought you’d be curious about it.”
It had been 14 years.
Lucian had despised Mathias from the very beginning, and Mathias had not tried to change their relationship, leaving Lucian to his hatred.
All the people in the mansion had gotten used to their unchanging lords. They had given up on asking questions.
‘Surely both of our lords must have been sworn enemies in a past life.’
Why is it that sworn enemies in a past life become parent and child in the present life?
In any case, the relationship between the two of them was undoubtedly an odd one from the outside.
It wasn’t just Lucian, who rejected his father from infancy. Mathias accepted Lucian as his successor and granted him all the rights to the Lacat’el family but was indifferent.
Of course, Dalton didn’t know the reason behind all of that.
Unable to receive any plausible answers from butler Dalton, Ariel left the office feeling defeated, a handful of cookies in her hand. Passing by, the butler Allen noticed Ariel with the stack of cookies and quickly took them from her, saying, “Oh dear, Madam. You shouldn’t be carrying these yourself.”
Ariel blinked in a daze, locking eyes with Allen. “Allen?”
That’s right; Allen was still here!
Ariel walked up next to him. Looking up at him, she said, “Allen, would you accompany me to my room for a moment?”
“Of course, Madam.”
With a polite escorting gesture, Allen began walking alongside Ariel, and they slowly made their way through the hallway.
“In reality, I wanted to ask Dalton something and, on our way back, about…”
Ariel hesitated. This question always required some courage.
“Why Matthias and Lucian have a bad relationship.”
Allen’s steps faltered abruptly.
Stopping together with Ariel, he looked at her with an intense gaze.
“Are you, by any chance, aware of the answer to that, Allen?”
Allen, who was typically very gentle, but more precisely, gentle only with Ariel in the entire world, turned a shade paler.
He hid his confusion and quietly averted his gaze.
“Madam, it’s just a matter between the two of them. You don’t need to worry about it.”
“…I see, you do know.”
Allen deeply bowed in apology.
“I am the housekeeper who serves the Lacat’el family. The matters between the Lacat’el are something that cannot be disclosed to anyone. Please forgive me.”
Ariel wasn’t angry at all, and there was no need to forgive Allen.
However, his response was somewhat surprising. It felt like he was carefully drawing a clear line.
“Does Allen act like this only when it concerns the identity of the Lacat’el?”
Ariel cocked her head. Was this response also related to his identity?
She raised her head quizzically. If so, did she need to find out the identity to figure out the solution?
Ariel quickly raised Allen, who was still bowing.
“It’s okay, Allen. I won’t push to know something if I’m not supposed to.”
Allen looked up with a remorseful expression. Ariel smiled and playfully bumped her fist against his arm.
“Let’s continue talking while we walk to my room.”
Seeing Allen’s visibly quiet demeanor, Ariel sighed inwardly.
‘I guess it can’t be helped. I’ll have to wait until the opportunity arises.’
* * *
Ariel devoted herself to her magical studies for a month, despite her previous negligence.
While they were at it, Ariel and Heath began reexamining what they had been investigating separately. This time, they were delving into the mystery of the wyvern bone they had found in the Lacat’el mansion’s forest.
Ariel and Heath compiled the information they had gathered so far.
“So, who was the previous landowner of the place where the bone was buried?”
“Several thousand years ago.”
Heath furrowed his brow in astonishment.
“So, you mean this place has been owned by Lacat’el for thousands of years?”
“Yeah. According to the books, it was chosen as the capital’s location by the founder of the Empire, King Alagon, because Lacat’el requested it.”
In fact, it was recorded in history books. When the progenitor of the Empire, King Alagon, was choosing the capital, Lacat’el argued that the capital should be located around their mansion.
Heath rested his chin in his hand, lost in thought. He spoke up.
“Then the person connected to the Ducal House was the one who buried the wyvern bone.”
Ariel briefly considered the possibility that the Lacat’el men could have done such a thing. However, the discovered bone was nothing less than a wyvern’s bone. Ariel had a higher likelihood of it being the other way around.
Indeed, regardless of being Lacat’el, they couldn’t possibly bury the bones of dragon-like creatures in their backyard.
“Heath, it was mentioned in the books that humans can’t capture a wyvern with their own power, right?”
“Yes, it was explicitly written.”
Heath had thoroughly researched rare tomes that mentioned wyverns.
“It stated that wyverns have a natural enemy who can kill them… but there’s no mention of humans. Using magic or their own strength, humans can’t capture creatures like dragon species.”
“What does it mean by a natural enemy…?”
“It was only referred to as a higher-level monster, and there’s no further information.”
Ariel propped up her chin with her hands.
“Hmm… should we ask Bruno?”
At the mention of her grandfather’s name, Heath, who was deep in thought, nearly jumped.
“No! He’ll get mad if he finds out we’re investigating something like this.”
“Because he always tells me not to get involved with the house. There’s something he doesn’t want me to know about this place.”
“Bruno says that?”
Ariel was surprised. This raised an unexpected question.
‘Could it be that even Bruno doesn’t know the mansion’s secret?’
If that were the case, then he might not know the reason behind Matthias and Lucian’s strained relationship either.
Ariel carefully stored Bruno’s name in her mind.
Seeing that Heath was clearly downcast, Ariel sighed internally.
“I guess there’s no other option. We’ll have to wait for the right opportunity.”
* * *
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