Thearis looked at the scenery flowing outside the carriage and recalled her debutante ball.
She had ridden in a carriage with Jeremian and had become nauseous and pale. Seeing her white face, Jeremian had suggested putting on more makeup.
‘Yes, that’s right.’
That wasn’t all.
He led her to the nobles who were tired and attending the party. She greeted all the high nobles up to the marquis. Finally, he asked if there was a man she liked the most.
Jeremian, who had prepared for her marriage without consulting her right after her debutante ball, left Thearis feeling more burdened by the humiliation of being treated like merchandise that day than by fatigue.
If she hadn’t inherited the dukedom early, she could have been led by him and married someone she didn’t want.
‘Even now, it wasn’t the marriage I wanted.’
At least Isdante gave her a chance to choose.
Thearis leaned against the carriage and closed her eyes. When did she start relying on Isdante like this?
‘Because he’s the legitimate successor of the Navarant duchy.’
The person who inherited the legitimate blood of the Navarant. The person who inherited the power of the divine relic.
‘And he’s also the one who holds my fate in his hands.’
That’s right. Thearis’s fingertips grew cold as she remembered the fact she had been trying to forget.
“I have to hold on.”
If she crumbles here, everything she has done so far will be in vain. Thearis took a deep breath. Without Isdante, she couldn’t have survived in this dukedom.
Exhausted from the weight of it all, she wondered if Isdante truly needed her. While Isdante might have the chance to choose, for Thearis, she had no other choice at all.
‘Just a child.’
The way for her to stay in the Navarant duchy.
‘One life is a means to the end.’
She suddenly shivered from the chill. But she couldn’t give up her greed. The greed not to change her life now.
The desire to live as the Duke of Navarant, just as she had lived until now.
She blamed Isdante even though she didn’t have the courage to speak the truth and back away.
‘It seemed like he didn’t like me meddling with things.’
When she placed her hand on Isdante’s seemingly painful shoulder, she felt it. He had rejected her. The only difference from before was Lord Svena.
‘Could it be you still misunderstand…’
Without realizing it, Thearis clamped her mouth shut at the words that had escaped from her. Just uttering them made her feel dirty. She gripped her dress, her trembling hand going unnoticed.
The fabric crumpled in her hand, but she didn’t pay it any mind. What snapped her out of her momentary daze was the voice of a servant heard from outside.
“We have arrived, Your Grace.”
The carriage stopped in front of the palace where the imperial ball was being held, and the door was opened. The Chief Chamberlain of the Imperial Palace was personally present.
“Welcome to the heart of Hiberus.”
“We will escort you.”
The Chief Chamberlain didn’t seem puzzled at her lack of a partner or anything of the sort, but Thearis continued to follow him.
No one took her hand as she walked, holding her own flowing dress. The sound of nobles whispering could be heard as Thearis walked alone.
“The Duke of Navarant doesn’t have a partner?”
“I’m sure they said today’s event was with a partner.”
“Oh, my. Someone who got married not long ago and doesn’t have a partner!”
The words spoken in sighs were meant to mock her. Thearis listened to those words with averted ears as she walked.
She couldn’t walk fast as the Chief Chamberlain was walking at a slow pace, so she had no choice but to walk while hearing all those words.
‘This must be the Emperor’s intention.’
If not, it would be a matter of coincidence, but it was an impossible occurrence.
‘Nobles are standing in the corridor I happen to pass by? Without entering the ballroom?’
It was nonsense.
Before the ball began, the ballroom leading to the ballroom was a hub of social activity. It was there that various business deals were struck, and feuds between different families were played out.
To give that up and stand in the hallway to whisper mocking words to the Duke.
‘To the point where I can hear everything so clearly?’
Even if there were faults, it was proper to keep one’s mouth shut while walking down the corridor leading to the ballroom. The flaws could be concealed, but it was better to make a scene inside the ballroom where more people would agree with their opinions.
Thearis, who moved with perfect etiquette to the point where the sound of her dress brushing the floor was inaudible, did not bow her head.
‘I haven’t done anything wrong.’
What could she do when her partner was elsewhere? It was impossible to bring someone else.
Walking gracefully, Thearis stopped in front of the people standing in front of the ballroom. Sensing her presence, one of them moved in her direction.
“Have you come just now?”
It was Isdante.
* * *
Isdante smiled when he heard that Thearis was busy with the preparations for the imperial party.
Her face, which had not looked good for a while, finally brightened up. It was when Isdante, who had been watching Thearis from afar as she called merchants and picked out things, turned around to leave.
“Wouldn’t you like to go?”
If he went, Thearis’s eyes would be filled with fear again.
After seeing her trembling hands, he couldn’t easily approach her. He knew that Thearis came to see him every time, but he deliberately avoided her.
She needed time.
“When exactly is the party?”
“Tomorrow. But, Sir…”
Isdante, who already knew what his loyal aide was going to say, cut him off by calling his name.
‘It must be about when I’ll return to the territory.’
Nervin’s eyes narrowed. He couldn’t understand why Isdante was spending his time here so ineffectively when he wasn’t even being properly received at the duchy.
“No, I have to say it. How long are you going to stay here?”
“That’s none of your concern.”
“But don’t you know? Commander, including the knights, we’re all outsiders here. No matter how much money we spend or time we waste, what does it amount to? They don’t see us as part of the Navarant Duchy!”
“Do you mean the Duke knows nothing? She’s allowing it knowingly? Doesn’t she know that the servants discriminate against the Duke’s knights and ours?”
Isdante couldn’t offer words of comfort to Nervin, who was filled with bitterness. It wasn’t Thearis’s fault, but the fault of the butler.
‘To be exact, it’s the fault of the butler who received Jeremian’s command.’
Jeremian instructed his butler to promote subtle discrimination when Isdante couldn’t properly control the Navarant’s house.
Isdante didn’t tell Thearis about everything that had happened.
He didn’t want to burden Thearis, who was already unstable because of what happened with Dafen. He had known that she would pause every time the male servants passed by, so he had adjusted their movements.
Despite the butler’s opposition, Isdante didn’t back down. That was when the discrimination in the Navarant Duke’s house became worse.
“Things will change after this party.”
He didn’t ask Nervin to wait. But Nervin still understood Isdante’s hidden meaning.
“I hope you will also consider the knights who are waiting.”
Isdante nodded silently. He knew the hardships his subordinates were going through. To solve that, he needed to control the Navarant Duke’s house without revealing Thearis’s identity and that required a lot of tricks.
‘Jeremian especially needs to be dealt with.’
He couldn’t simply kill the Duke’s elder. As Isdante contemplated, he heard someone whispering to him.
[Shall I take care of it for you?]
It was a divine voice. Tempted by the power of purification, Isdante almost gave in but quickly regained his composure.
He must not be swayed by divine power.
Using that power was one thing, but what was more fearful was losing oneself as a human being while intoxicated by divine power.
At least, that’s how Isdante felt.
He hadn’t grown up relying on divine power. He hadn’t been told to accept it unconditionally.
‘That’s why I can remain neutral.’
Even hearing the voice of the divine wouldn’t sway him. The power of the divine was not a blessing for the Navarant Duchy but a disaster.
As humans, they could work hard and reach a certain level, but the noble families with divine power refused to make the effort themselves.
‘How much can a family relying on divine power really achieve?’
To eliminate the side effects, the imperial family, which had tried to control the Tarmenon marquisate, had annihilated the people of the family.
A noble family in the Hiberus Empire had been branded as traitors and disappeared, but no one could refute it because the imperial family possessed divine power.
The Navarant Duchy and the Vane Duchy were no different. That’s why Isdante didn’t trust them.
The only person he could trust was Thearis.
She had grown up in the Navarant but without divine power. Yet, as a Duke, she had excellently led the Navarant duchy.
Even without relying on divine power, Thearis had the qualifications of a duke.
‘That’s why I want her to stay the way she is.’
Even though she couldn’t handle divine power, Thearis was still the Duke of Navarant. She was now, and she would be in the future.
“I will make it so.”
Although Nervin asked the question, Isdante just extended his hand.