The young Raphael was someone consumed by seething anger, shattered self-esteem, and an uncontrollable well of evil and rage. Left for dead, he clawed his way back to life, determined to rise above his circumstances. In time, he transformed into the hero of the nation, unafraid to bare his fangs in the face of his enemies.
“Where did you hide it?”
“My father’s remains; where did you hide them?”
“Haha, is that all you want?”
And so, in that moment, Raphael exposed his vulnerability.
“The remains, ahh, yes. The remains of my brother.”
“If you obediently follow my orders, I might remember where I put them.”
The emperor, reveling in his power, seized the opportunity to assert his dominance. With a cruel smile, he fastened a leash around the hero’s neck, reducing him to nothing more than a subservient dog made to lick his boots. Everyone turned away. They told him to bear with it. Raphael, his spirit crushed, pleaded and begged, hoping that surrendering to the emperor’s demands would grant him his freedom.
‘What I really wanted was to be free….’
He wanted to turn away, but he couldn’t. By forsaking his father’s remains, he would be renouncing the very essence of his being—the lineage, pride, and beliefs that flowed through his veins. Then, under what pretext could he plunge the blades of revenge into his enemy’s throat?
‘How long do I have to repeat this tiresome cycle?’ Raphael mused, his voice tinged with self-deprecation.
Suddenly, his gaze wandered to the window, where he caught sight of pink hair scampering through the garden.
‘Why is he so eager to go in that direction…?’
Ah, that direction led to his bedroom.
When the realization washed over him, it gradually quelled the boiling anger that had no discernible cause inside him. A wave of longing surged within him. He yearned to press his cheek—soft and as white as flour dough, imbued with a sweet fragrance—against his chest and release a cry.
“The emperor must be expecting you to refuse the marriage proposal.”
“Well, isn’t that natural?”
“However, declining such an offer will not go without consequences. The emperor plans to dispatch the Black Dragon Knights to the south as a pretext for your refusal, Your Highness.”
The attendants continued their discussion, calculating various possibilities.
“What if we try to persuade the Fourth Princess? Make her refuse the marriage proposal.”
“That doesn’t sound like a bad idea…”
“It’s useless. The Fourth Princess wouldn’t dare refuse the emperor’s command. She has a weak and passive temperament, incapable of resisting orders.”
“Sigh, the situation’s unfortunate.”
At this rate, despite knowing it was a trap, their lord would once again succumb to the emperor’s influence. However, not a single person could tell him to give up on the remains of his father.
It was the only reason the young boy had come back to life from the depths of hell, and it was the driving force behind his existence.
“Why do I find those eyes unpleasant?”
“Should I pluck out your eyes and plant them in the backyard?”
The attendants, who had been gazing at Raphael with pity-filled eyes, coughed awkwardly and hastily averted their gaze.
They were adept at reading the atmosphere.
As Raphael muttered curses under his breath, the attendants desperately sought ways to survive.
“Ahem, I seem to have forgotten to turn off the stove in the kitchen. I shall take my leave,” one quickly excused themselves.
“Come to think of it, today is the expected due date for my dog to give birth. I should attend to her,” another offered as their reason for departure.
“I received an urgent signal from the bathroom after two weeks. It seems to be an emergency… I should go,” a third stammered.
Raphael cracked his knuckles, his lips contorting into a sinister(?) expression. Soon, desperate screams reverberated through the grand hall, yet, as always, peace settled upon the scene.
* * *
The sun descended, casting a reddish hue across the evening sky. A weary mushroom, exhausted from training, slowly made its way across the training field.
“Ha, my life…”
Just walking on flat ground caused groans to escape involuntarily, a testament to how much the trainees had been mistreated. However, compared to the impending disasters that lay ahead, this hellish training seemed insignificant.
“I heard that white lilies in the market now are already scarce.”
“If it’s white lilies…”
“They symbolize the princess. It means there will be a royal marriage soon.”
These conversations took place just as the Summer Night Festival was about to start. The Grand Duke, determined to prevent the royal marriage, would enter the palace and come face to face with numerous dignitaries and nobles attending the festival. And in this precarious situation, she, a small and precious mushroom, would be right there by his side.
As the Duke wandered through the palace, she had to trail behind the Duke, akin to goldfish and their droppings!
It was an emergency.
While the Grand Duke rarely made appearances in social circles, she was somewhat famous. Last time, she had managed to avoid the main palace where the banquet was held, not to mention the battle with assassins had taken place in an empty courtyard at night, sparing her from encountering anyone. But this time would be different.
Charlotte could sense that she would inevitably be discovered.
‘There’s an 80% chance of running into a friend in the palace, a 20% chance of running into my master or sister, and about a 5% chance of running into an enemy.’
The total probability of being caught amounted to 105%!
Therefore, she absolutely had to stick close to the Grand Duke.
‘Should I pretend to be sick after all?’
She had a fever recently, and although she recovered at lightning speed within a week, she wondered if pretending to be sick would be better.
‘Or should I ask Idris for help?’
It didn’t seem like he would be of much help in this matter.
‘And that guy, Ethan… Ah, he’s probably still useless, that lazy guy.’
When would he finally get promoted?
In the end, she concluded that pretending to be sick would be the best course of action.
Before entering the Grand Duke’s main residence, Charlotte did some intense mental preparation. She stared at the torches, allowing their warmth to heat her face, and summoned sad memories to induce a runny nose.
“Why are you so late?”
Upon opening the bedroom door and stepping inside, she caught sight of the Grand Duke sitting on the sofa, his face filled with gloom—his tapping on the armrest abruptly fastened.
“Why does your face look like that?”
“What’s wrong with my face…”
“Stop talking nonsense and come here.”
The Duke, his face becoming annoyed, quickly seized Charlotte’s waist as she approached and pulled her closer to him. His large, firm palm covered her forehead and cheeks.
Initially, she thought he was checking her temperature, but when he continued his touch for an extended period, Charlotte cautiously removed his hand.
“Don’t squeeze the fruit too much, or they’ll get mushy.”
“Is it ripe? No wonder I wanted to bite it.”
She had assumed he was concerned, but he was merely toying with her like a stress ball. What a cruel person. Resting her head against the Duke’s shoulder and releasing a sigh, a sudden weariness had overtaken Charlotte.
‘If it were my sister, she would’ve said, ‘Where does it hurt, my poor Shasha?’ and stay beside me with worry.’
In truth, when she had a fever, she longed for her sister. Whenever she fell ill, her sister would remain by her side, gently patting her chest, changing the damp towel, and singing lullabies until she drifted off to sleep.
‘I want to go home.’
She missed the Bravant Mansion, where she was born and raised, Grace, the maids, and the servants.
Her shoulders slumped as she sniffled, but suddenly, her chin was lifted.
“Why are you like this?”
“Are you really in pain?”
She felt a mix of concern and anxiety in the Grand Duke’s eyes as he looked at her.
‘That can’t be true. He’s the Grand Duke, so there’s no way he would really care about that…’
Charlotte buried her head deeply and murmured softly.
“I miss my family.”
The hand caressing her face paused for a moment. Yet it was a fleeting instant. It paused so quickly that Charlotte barely registered it.
The Grand Duke let out a heavy sigh, breaking the silence.
“Remember this one thing.”
With her face nestled in the Grand Duke’s shoulder, Charlotte listened intently. She thought he might say that the Knights Order were her family or that she could cry as much as she wanted if she felt like it. With that expectation in her mind, tears began to well up in her eyes–
“Don’t get snot on my shirt. It’s disgusting.”
Ah, damn him.
* * *
A few days later, it was the first day of the Summer Night Festival. The grand palace, adorned with an array of flowers and structures, teemed with numerous dignitaries and imperial nobles. Yet, amidst the splendor, something caught people’s attention.
“Who’s that guy wearing a helmet?”
“I don’t know. Don’t stare without reason.”
“Doesn’t it resemble the Black Dragon Knights’ uniform?”
“It must be a mistake. The Duke wouldn’t allow a mere knight to wear it.”
Deep within her heart, Charlotte lamented as she became the center of attention. She had exerted every effort to remain in her dorm. She employed every possible means to avoid being sent to the palace.
Yet, time and again, the Grand Duke’s gaze would fix on her.
“Darling, are you trying to hook up with someone while I’m away?”
“Well, I haven’t been out for long, so who would I know? Besides, I only know Idris and Ethan!”
“…That’s exactly why you have to go with me.”
The Grand Duke forcibly pulled Charlotte, who clung to the entrance of her dorm, and proceeded straight toward the palace. Read ahead here.