‘How could she.’
The duke couldn’t believe his eyes, so he unfolded the paper again with shaky hands.
It was the right of the immediate family to hold a coming-of-age ceremony.
Except for special cases, there was no case where a direct blood relative had a coming-of-age ceremony in another family.
Even though he knew this, he didn’t feel right in his heart.
“She is having a coming-of-age ceremony in Birce after she left Elhiem, isn’t she?”
To be honest, the Duke didn’t think that Liarte who went to Birce would do well there.
Aaron Birce’s wife died because of Elheim.
It was also unlikely that Birce would have accepted a woman from Elheim who was so close to his enemies.
Until now, that’s what he thought.
‘It’s a big commitment to throw a coming-of-age ceremony.’
So, contrary to what the Duke thought, it seemed like Birce and Liarte had gotten along?
Of course, Birce’s heir was cautious in his treatment of Liarte.
The question became more and more complicated.
‘If nothing else, rumors have spread that he is weaker than before and has been trampled by the Emperor.’
Adding to the fact that the immediate line of the family had held a coming-of-age ceremony in the house of the enemy, the Duke felt he could not handle this alone, so he instructed his knight.
“Bring my sons to my chambers and Aynias!” As Aynias was about to leave, the Duke called for him.
“Come with me to my office. I understand your feelings, but this is not the time for this.”
The knight bowed, then trudged off to fetch Lian and Hwi-Amin.
Some time passed, and four men gathered in the Duke’s office.
Despite sitting in one place, there was now only a sharp tension in the air.
In the midst of it all, the puffy-eyed face of Hwi-Amin was visible.
“I won’t ask you to sit for long.”
He didn’t even feel like asking for tea.
The Duke, with a stiff face, ordered, “All of you, read what is written on that paper.”
In silence, the three sons read the paper the Duke held out to them.
As they read, their faces stiffened.
And when they saw the words that Virgil had proclaimed, as the Duke had done just moments before, their faces had also gone white with paleness.
It was the role of a blood relative to hold a coming-of-age ceremony.
Liarte asked Birce to hold the coming-of-age ceremony for her.
It was no different from the meaning that Elheim wasn’t even her blood relative anymore.
Lian, who had been quiet all this time, spoke coldly, “Is all of this true?”
“Yes. It’s a direct quote from Birce.”
By announcing this, Birce meant that they, too, had accepted Liarte as a member of the family.
Unlike the declining Elheim, Birce was still a wealthy and powerful house.
When everyone was quiet, Lian spoke up, “I will participate in this coming-of-age ceremony.”
In their minds, Liarte was shabby and precarious.
“And I will bring Liarte back.”
They have the same watery eyes, but there was a dark obsession in Lian’s eyes.
“You are right. Then let the Water Awakeners go together. Hwi-Amin, will you come with us?”
“This is our last chance.”
Unlike other coming-of-age ceremonies, there was no list of nobles to visit, no list to keep them out.
It was proof that Birce didn’t care for Liarte.
“This may be our only chance to convince her.”
They hoped it wasn’t too late.
But the Duke and Elheim’s chances had long since ended on the day of execution before returning.
There was nothing they could gain by going to Birce.
At the Crown Prince’s Office, standing before the Crown Prince with her hands clasped together, Hestel was looking smug.
“You wanted to see me?”
Hestel’s life was turned upside down.
Since becoming the owner of the red painting, only good things have continued to happen to Hestel.
The prize in the painting competition was a landscape painting by an old master, and people were impressed that such a great painter had entered the competition anonymously.
The thrilling moment came when she won the first prize.
Hestel’s red painting beat out a number of established artists for the honorable prize.
She remembered the silence that fell over the room as she held up the painting and showed it to him.
After a while, the admiration and appreciation for the brilliant talent poured down like a wave.
“You have the greatest talent of any gemstone I have ever seen.”
Even the aging master couldn’t help but marvel at Hestel’s paintings.
It made her smile just thinking about it. This was Hestel’s place.
Finally, Hestel was back where she belonged, on top.
The idea that the painting belonged to someone else had already been pushed aside.
‘Anyway, they said that he was already a dead man.’
At first, Hestel was more cautious than she was.
She had approached the Duke of Haron and told him that she was the owner of the red painting, but after that, she intended to remain silent.
Inexplicably, word had already spread that Hestel was the owner of the red painting.
“Was it spread by the nobleman who said he couldn’t give me the painter’s contact information back then?”
The word spread too quickly for such a thing.
It was as if someone had intentionally spread the rumor.
If Hestel had been a little wiser, she would have saved herself, but that didn’t happen.
Besides, the Crown Prince’s investigation found that the original owner was dead anyway.
‘Then it doesn’t matter if it isn’t mine, no one will ever know the truth.’
She knew the danger of being found out, so why not just not get caught?
The Crown Prince, after completing some papers at his desk in his office, looked at Hestel.
“You’ve done a good job.”
In the arrogant Crown Prince’s temper, this was high praise.
On the day she realized that he had tricked the Duke of Haron, Hestel ran to the Crown Prince and reported everything that had happened.
For some reason, she also told him that the person the Duke of Haron was looking for the owner of the red painting.
“Thanks to you, I was able to easily bring the Duke of Haron over to my side.”
“I am honored, Your Highness.”
Hestel had already grown impatient.
“After knowing that you are the owner of the red painting, the Duke of Haron will not be able to defy me.”
With a smug grin, the Crown Prince quickly devised a plan.
Everything was coming together nicely.
“So, now I plan to go to Birce and attend the girl’s coming-of-age ceremony. I’m sure I’ve told you many times the real reason I brought you here.”
“Leave it to me, Your Majesty. My brainwashing will never be undone.”
It was a confident reply.
Hestel could not have imagined that the real owner of the red painting was in Birce, the city she was about to visit.
Just then, the door to his office opened.
“Is the Duke here?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
The Crown Prince had every reason to believe that he was in complete control of the Duke of Haron.
He didn’t mince words as he had in the past, and if he displeased him, he could threaten him with the red painting.
‘I see. He’s as easy to win as Birce.’
Except for the fact that the Duke of Haron would never show his bare face, he couldn’t figure out why.
He had seen him in many disguises, but never in his true form. The Crown Prince gave up on that part of the bargain.
“I’m sure you know why I have called you Duke.”
“I don’t know.”
Such was the nature of the Duke of Haron.
“You do realize that the coming-of-age ceremony for Liarte Elhiem is taking place in Birce.”
“It’s such famous news, it’s hard not to know.”
“Good to know, I’m about to take a peacock to that place.”
Count Fedes gave a loud shout.
The Count had always felt uncomfortable whenever he saw the Duke of Haron.
He looked like a man who was outwardly polite but who would plunge a sword into the Crown Prince’s back without a care in the world if the opportunity presented itself.
Worst of all, after the Duke of Haron’s arrival, things between the Prince and Hestel became a little strange.
The whole situation felt unnatural, like poisoned fruit that tasted sweet.
Rumors of the Crown Prince’s acquisition of the Duke of Haron.
Rumors that Hestel was the owner of the red painting.
These were the kinds of rumors that were still regarded as great but would hurt you badly if they turned out to be untrue.
“Birce is an enemy of Your Majesty. Please take someone more trustworthy instead of the Duke.”
“Is the Count jealous of the Duke of Haron again?”
Count Fedes’s words held no weight with the Crown Prince.
As his master led him down the thorny path, the Count rode on.
“It’s not like that.”
“In any case, it doesn’t change my choice to take the duke, so come with me, Duke Haron.”
The Duke of Haron had watched the Crown Prince’s obsession with the former Princess of Elheim from the sidelines.
He didn’t want to see him play tricks on the innocent Princess Elheim.
“I am honored, Your Highness.”
The Duke of Haron replied expressionlessly.
The enemy of the enemy was a collaborator who could hold his hand for a while.
Birce and the Duke of Haron would be able to have an in-depth conversation about the Crown Prince.
So far, the painter the Duke of Haron sought hasn’t been forthcoming.
Where was the true owner of the red painting—the artist who burned the torch?
For now, it was a question to ponder as he traveled to Birce and took down the Crown Prince.