“My father was a reliable figure who did not shy away from the heavy responsibilities entrusted to him and firmly led our family. He was a faithful friend to all of you and also served as a loyal advisor to the Mesquida royal family. With the loss of this steadfast man, we will suffer for a long time to come.”
Diego recited the eulogy with a dark look in his eyes. But the Duchess was one of the few who would not be fooled by Diego’s mournful performance.
The murderer, who had fled the scene, had been caught quickly, and she hadn’t suspected him in the first place. Duke Berta was a man with many enemies, and there was no reason for Diego to go so far as to kill him at this point. Not with his behaviour so far. Diego had kept the Duke in check, but hadn’t done anything to directly harm him.
But what if he was just waiting for the right time?
Come to think of it, the funeral proceedings are also strange. Duke Berta’s funeral was being conducted at a very fast pace compared to other ceremonies. It’s as if they were worried about someone interrupting.
The Duchess couldn’t help but feel that this was like an arranged death.
“I don’t think tears are the right way to show our condolences for the dead. Let us just think of what he has left us, and remember him for a long time to come.”
Diego continued in a sombre tone.
“I will take care of what he left behind, and you may rest in peace, father.”
“This is not how my husband should have died.”
The Duchess whispered in a daze as Diego finished his eulogy. It wasn’t a loud voice, but it was loud enough that everyone heard it. Some looked sad, but most looked intrigued.
A woman who lost her husband at a young age. What a sad and fascinating story. The tragedy of a beautiful woman was a story that the public had long been eager to hear.
“My husband, why on earth would…….”
The Duchess muttered again in a distraught voice. She had recently been expecting the death of someone close to her, but of course it wasn’t her husband. It was…….
The Duchess ruffled her hair, then turned to Diego. Blending into the crowd, Diego looked at her with impassive eyes that showed no sign of grief for the death of his father. The Duchess suddenly realised what had motivated him to act.
Was the assassin I sent last time not actually dead but instead betrayed me and went into hiding?
The staggering steps brought her closer to Diego, standing in front of the tombstone. Her countenance seemed on the verge of collapsing if left as it was. However, the subsequent actions of the Duchess were too intense to be attributed to the death of the man she had married. Frantically grabbing onto Diego’s body, she shouted.
“Diego, Diego… You knew, didn’t you!”
“Madam, calm down!”
“Someone stop the Duchess!”
The nearby lords rushed to the centre of the commotion, but unlike their quick approach, they were unable to lay a hand on the woman’s body. The Duchess struck herself in the chest with her fist as if she was having trouble breathing. Then she let out a shriek.
“Ah, ugh. If not orchestrated by someone, man who was fine, overnight, why the hell!”
“Madam, there are many eyes watching. Please let go and talk.”
Diego calmed the Duchess with his soothing voice. Estella watched the scene with trepidation. The Duchess seemed to have lost her senses, and in such a state, she was capable of anything.
Diego lowered his head towards the Duchess, bringing himself close to her ear for a moment. However, he quickly released his grip on her shoulder, making it unclear whether it was an intentional gesture or a mistaken movement caused by overlapping actions.
The Duchess stared at Diego with a blank stare, and soon began to swing her fists at him in a haphazard manner. Diego quickly grabbed her wrist to restrain her, but it didn’t stop her from crying out.
“You, you killed my husband, blinded by power, you……!”
“Madam, I know you are shocked, but I am also my father’s child. How can you say such dreadful things?”
Diego said with a sullen expression. Public opinion was not favourable either. The Duchess, seeing the people gossiping, finally closed her mouth. But as if she hadn’t had enough, she ended up grabbing my hair and pulling it back.
The top of her neck was bright red and her breathing was unsteady. The Duchess finally broke down again. In one fell swoop, she fell backwards and was grabbed by the young lords behind her. Her fishnet hat came off and scattered across the floor. Diego picked it up and handed it to the others.
“Take her to the mansion and have her examined by a doctor. After I clean up this place and I’ll come and check on her.”
The duchess, lifted up by one of the young men, made a shabby exit. Everyone could not take their eyes off her back as she left the room. Estella glanced back at Diego alone, who, too, had his eyes on the Duchess. His expression was one of great regret.
As she admired the perfect performance, she suddenly looked away from Diego, realising that she wasn’t the only one staring at him.
People stood around the tombstone, and Estella was positioned at the far right. The other party was on the opposite side, aware of the direction of the gazes. While everyone’s attention was on the Duchess, who was being watched by this unusual figure paying attention to Diego? Estella stared at the stranger with a puzzled look.
‘Who is it?’
It was a woman with long silver hair and eerily transparent blue eyes. She looked a little frightened as she looked at Diego. Her face was pale, but her tightly closed mouth was powerful. Most importantly, she was as beautiful as he was.
As soon as she recognised her, Estella instinctively realised who she was. In fiction, protagonists are often set on a similar level of appearance.
The glimpse of her face was fleeting, and the woman soon pulled on a black hood and quickly moved through the crowd.
‘Is that Adriana?’
The heroine witnessed the murder while hiding in the private prayer room that the Duke of Berta enters. Anyone who witnessed such an event might have been tempted to come out to the funeral to see what the killer did after.
“They said it was going to be a quiet affair. It’s no secret that the Duchess has a fiery temper…….”
The man behind Estella chimed in. She wondered if the silence was for decorum’s sake, or if it was simply because the Duchess was so close by that everyone kept their mouths shut. One of the men nearby spoke up.
“To speak of murder to the next Duke of the family makes me wonder she you knows.”
“Nonsense. Diego would have inherited the title even if he just stayed still.”
“Well, wasn’t it famously said that the Duke of Berta favoured his second son?”
“How dare he overturn his heir when he had the eye of the Marquis of Botry. He had ambitions that Duke Berta could not fulfil.”
It was already a well-known story that Duke Berta had wanted to pass on the title to his second son during his lifetime. However, due to Duke Berta’s reputation for being elusive and cunning in public, there were no people who perceived the relationship between him and Diego solely in a negative light. Duke Berta had never openly acknowledged the discord between them, and Diego was the same. The reason Diego was not suspected was simple: on the surface, Diego had no motive to murder his father.
“Isn’t it ridiculous in the first place that a child born to a courtesan should be the next head of the family?”
The man who shook his head added with a smirk. He didn’t seem to mind that Cedric was right there in the middle of it all. Was he thinking he couldn’t hear him, or was he raising his voice to provoke a reaction?
Estella took Cedric’s hand. Wordlessly, Cedric tightened his grip on Estella’s hand. The men’s voices rose in excitement as Cedric’s shoulders slumped helplessly.
“Seeing the eldest son, whom they regarded as a thorn in their side, inherit the title without any resistance, it seems that the Duchess has lost her composure. I can’t believe she would create such a disturbance at a funeral… This is truly unexpected.”
“I can understand how she might have lost her sanity witnessing the family’s position slip away right before her eyes. It must be a devastating blow for her to see her beloved son reduced to such a state.”
“It seems that even I might question my sanity in such a situation, but regardless, crossing the line into malicious actions is unacceptable.”
It was then that Diego turned his head towards them. The men’s mouths dropped open in unison because the direction of his gaze was so clear. They must have hoped he would pass them by unnoticed, but he walked directly in front of them. Diego said in a polite tone,
“We are here to send my father off. I hope you won’t dishonour the man my father loved.”
There was a simultaneous burst of hollow coughs. One of the men spoke in a condescending tone.
“I apologize if my words were disrespectful towards the lady or the little duke.”
“Yes, I understand.”
Diego nodded in understanding. But he didn’t stop giving them his soft, warning glances. Eventually, everyone apologised briefly, saying, “We were in a hurry, and our thoughts were scattered.”
Diego accepted their greeting and stepped in front of Cedric. Estella reflexively pulled her hand from Cedric’s to hers. She was exhausted by the perfection of his response, which left no room for doubt. Do they not care that Diego never called the Duchess ‘Mother’, or is it because I know the culprit that I’m having these thoughts?
“Cedric, are you okay?”
Diego asked, looking down at Cedric. The judgement of strangers seemed to ruin Cedric’s mood. Cedric replied in a low voice.
Diego looked down at Cedric wordlessly, then turned his attention to Estella.
“Where is Cecilia?”
Everything Diego did seemed like a well-choreographed play. Estella felt a bit repulsed by the fact that she had to go on that stage. Estela paused for a moment before she spoke.
“She didn’t want to go, so I didn’t bring her, I thought it would be too much for a frail young lady.”
“You did well. What can we expect from young children when even the guardians are not in their right minds.”