Chapter 1. An Accidental Encounter
“Because of me, Ton…….”
“Ton went to find you earlier, Charlotte, what happened?”
She didn’t feel good when asking that.
Nelia’s expression darkened followed by Charlotte.
“I met Ton…… but…….”
Charlotte couldn’t continue with her words properly, she only licked her dry lips continuously. Nelia spoke calmly as she couldn’t hear her (Charlotte) properly.
“You have to calm down and explain it properly to me. That way, we can go and help Ton if anything happens to him.”
Charlotte closed her eyes for a moment. She seemed to be trying to calm herself, like what Nelia told her.
Then, she opened her eyes again and began to speak.
“I was wandering around the park looking for the necklace, and I ran into a bunch of hooligans. They knew about my necklace. I talked to them, and they will give me the necklace in exchange for me to go with them. When I refused, they tried to threaten me so I would go along with them…….”
Man……. That was really close.
“Ton appeared in the middle of the tussle. Ton had several opponents, but he overpowered the hooligan one after another, and the hooligan somehow managed to take me hostage and threatened me…….”
Nelia nibbled on her lips while listening to Charlotte’s story. Charlotte managed to speak in a trembling voice.
“So, Ton…… demanded that I be released, and in exchange he was taken away by the hooligans.”
“They caught Ton?”
That was weird. What the h*ll are the hooligans trying to do with Ton?
“Yes…… I don’t know the details, but the hooligans talked about the ship which will be departing in the evening……. At first, they said to take and send him to the Southern Continent.”
Is this illega slave trade? Nelia had to try to keep her rationality from drifting away.
“Nelia…… should I tell the government about this and ask for help?”
Charlotte’s eyelashes were trembling slightly when she dropped her gaze.
Nelia settled Charlotte on the carriage chair first when she looked as if going to fall at any moment.
Charlotte on the chair followed by Nelia beside her, who closed the carriage door.
“Charlotte, did you hear anything else from the hooligans?”
“What I heard…….?”
“Yes, please tell me everything.”
Charlotte’s throat bobbed up and down. She seemed to tremble like a little animal being cornered and tried to recall the conversation she heard as much as she could.
“They said that they went to the sea before 9 pm……”
Nelia took out her pocket watch and looked at it. It was already seven o’clock before she knew it. Hiding her impatience, she asked Charlotte.
“And is there anything else?”
“I don’t have much time, so I think we should take a shortcut…….”
“Yes. As they talked, they touched a tree branch tied with a white knpt, and it might be a shortcut mark.”
Even so, Charlotte seemed to have observed quite a lot of things in such a tense situation.
“I don’t remember anything else……”
Nelia said as if comforting Charlotte who was down.
“Charlotte, I will find Ton, you don’t have to be really worried.”
“Isn’t it better to ask someone else for help?”
“If the ship departs at 9 o’clock, Ton will be stuck in another country. There’s no time to ask someone for help right now.”
Nelia naturally thought of the option of going to Duke Hart for help, but the time in the current circumstances was too tight.
It would be too late if they stopped by the duke’s residence first.
“Then, I will come with you. I can’t let you go there on your own, Nelia…….”
“No, it’s easier for me to behave secretly if I move on my own.”
“Instead, there’s something you have to do, Charlotte.”
Nelia told Charlotte with a serious voice.
“Charlotte, go to the duke’s residence and tell His Grace about what happened.”
“His Grace…….? By any chance, wouldn’t it be better to ask the government for help instead?”
“No, he will be much more helpful than the government.”
Charlotte nodded a little.
Nelia asked about the exact location of where Charlotte encountered the hooligans. Charlotte gave the information about the location with as much detail as possible. Nelia almost got out of the carriage with all the information she gathered from Charlotte when Charlotte grabbed the hem of her clothes.
“Wait a minute, Nelia…….”
“What is it?”
Nelia stopped and stared at Charlotte. However, Charlotte remained quiet.
After looking at the sight of Charlotte, Nelia realized what she was worried about.
“Do you want to talk about the pendant necklace?”
Charlotte couldn’t answer, but Nelia seemed to already know the answer.
Charlotte couldn’t talk about the pendant necklace as Ton was taken away because of her, but Nelia knew how precious the necklace was to Charlotte since she read the original plot.
Phew, Nelia released a short breath before saying to Charlotte.
“I’ll find the necklace.”
Charlotte opened her eyes wide.
“When I look for Ton, I’ll make sure to find the necklace as well.”
Nelia was troubled because she sounded as if promising it, but she couldn’t think of anything else except this for reassuring Charlotte.
“No……. You don’t have to mind the necklace.”
She must be joking.
“Actually I’m not really sure, but I will try to find the necklace to the best of my abilities. So please do what I asked you to do.”
“……I understand, Nelia.”
The conversation had to be finished here. There’s not much time.
Nelia, who was about to jump out, stopped while holding the door handle of the carriage door.
“Oh, one more thing.”
Nelia asked Charlotte with eyes fixated at the owner of the boutique who was preparing to close the store from the window.
“What kind of clothes were the bullies wearing?”
Nelia was able to purchase a black robe, which was similar to the hooligans, after begging the owner of the boutique who wanted to close the store.
If she wore a black robe as the sky was getting dark, she wouldn’t be caught easily.
Nelia headed to the park while trying to ease her mind.
The view of the park in the evening was completely different. There were no people, and it felt eerie with the only sound she heard was the noise of the grass bugs resonating quietly around her.
Nelia looked around, but the park was too wide and she couldn’t hear the sound of someone’s presence. After walking around the park for a while, Nelia stopped at her spot.
This was because she heard a child’s voice in the middle of the quiet park.
“Thanks to the necklace, we got a big fish.”
“Our share would be far from dropping, right? Then, let’s buy some meat!”
The content of the conversation didn’t match the speaker, who were both children, at all. Nelia lowered her body and approached them slowly.
There were two little boys swimming in the lake. Despite the fact that the lake was deep and the weather was a bit chilly.
Nelia realized once she sensed the familiarity in the boys’ faces which were shone in the moonlight.
The children who were swimming skillfully in the lake were the siblings whom Ton saved during the day.
Contrary to earlier, the siblings were swimming ever so skillfully in the lake.
‘Like I expected.’
Nelia remembered that the older brother seemed to move suspiciously during the urgent moment when they attempted to save his drowning sibling.
When she looked back at him, he put her hands on his back in a haste. It was meant to hide something.
Nelia realized it.
That my brother caught my eye, and my brother slipped Charlotte’s pocket.
Just in time, the brothers who finished swimming came ashore.
When Nelia appeared in front of the siblings, they spotted Nelia and their faces stiffened almost immediately.
“Y, You are…….”
Nelia grabbed the younger one by the nape in an instant.
“It was nice to see you here.”
“L, Let me go!”
“You two stole the pendant necklace, didn’t you?”
The siblings were only exchanging glances with each other quietly.
“If you don’t say anything, I will hand you both over to the authorities.”
Nevertheless, the siblings didn’t answer, their mouths were shut tightly like clams.
“If you were to be handed over to the authorities at such a young age, you would have to live by doing hard labor for the rest of your life…….”
“And it’s not uncommon to die because of doing hard labor.”
Nelia’s lie made the siblings’ faces turn ashen. They seemed like plain children. Seeing that they have been deceived by such an absurd supposition.
“You will only eat one meal a day…….”
“We, we did steal the necklace…….”
If they knew the location of the necklace, they must have also known where Ton had been taken.
The hooligans knew about the necklace, so they were obviously on the same side as this pair of siblings.
“Where is the necklace now?”
“At the headquarters……..”
“Where are you from?”
The older sibling pointed to the mountain connected with the park.
The mountain wasn’t high, but the atmosphere was quite eerie as it was rarely visited by people.
‘Now that I remembered it, Ton said there was a crime guild hideout in the mountain connected with the park.’
The hooligans who took Ton seemed to belong to the crime guild.
“How many people are there in your home base?” “How many people are there in the headquarters?”
“Today is the day when the ship departs, most of the hyungs have gone to the harbor, so there are not many who will be guarding the headquarters right now……..”
“I think there will be a few people there.”
“About 10 people at least……..”
Ten isn’t a small number, but it was a lot less than she expected.
‘I was concerned because he called it headquarters.’
Nelia asked the siblings several more questions before letting go of the child whose neck was gripped by her for a while.
And she said again to the pair of siblings.
“You’d better not go back to your headquarters. The authorities are going to raid your headquarters.”
The siblings opened their eyes widely at Nelia’s lie.
The siblings must have entrusted themselves to the crime guild because they were guaranteed food and a place to sleep.
But it must be confusing to hear that the guild suddenly disappeared.
“If you go to the authorities, young children like you will be provided with bread and a place to sleep. So, you shouldn’t do this anymore.”
Nelia recently learned a lot about the Andrian Empire’s system by reading a lot of books.
Andrian Empire had a high crime rate, and as the first step to reform, she found out that the government was providing free bread to children twice a day. The place to sleep might be poor, but it was written that the facility was at least running.
‘I was feeling sick of the Legend of Sigrid, so I’m glad I read another book for a while to overcome it.’
She didn’t expect to use the information she got from the unnecessary book she read when she felt like seeing something else.
Nelia beckoned to the pair of siblings, they retreated and immediately ran away as fast as they could.
Looking at the back of the siblings who disappeared through the darkness, Nelia took another step forward.
Meanwhile, Charlotte was situated in front of the duke’s residence as per Nelia’s request.
There was no one who guarded the gate as it was late. As soon as she was pondering about how to get in, the main gate opened by itself.
Charlotte watched the strange sight in front of the front gate for a moment, and went inside shortly after collecting her wits.
Charlotte was about to knock on the door after reaching the front door of the main building, but the door was opened by itself as well.
But this time, she didn’t feel like it was magically opened on its own, it was opened quite roughly.
When she sensed a shadow cast over her forehead, Charlotte brought her drooping gaze up.
It was Duke Hart who opened the door.
Charlotte wondered about Duke Hart who opened the door first, but she didn’t ask. He had an unusually cold expression on his face.
“Why did you come back alone?”
His voice was cold, too.
“A, about that………”
Frightened by his changing appearance for a moment, Charlotte gathered her strength inwardly and let her voice out after remembering that the situation was urgent at the moment.
“The butler was taken away……. And Nelia went to save him.”
“…… Nelia went to save Ton?”
Charlotte could barely nod and looked up at the duke.
The eyes of the duke when their eyes met were colder than ever.
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