“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Lili.”
Leaning back on the long couch, Carmen looked at Liarte in her pajamas.
A pale yellow dress and a light yellow robe that Merlin had layered on to keep Liarte from catching a cold.
Carmen forgot what she was going to say and smiled as she looked at Liarte.
“You look like a chick.”
Liarte shook her head, not understanding.
Aaron, sitting next to Carmen, pressed the corners of his lips together, trying to look stern.
The nights were turning chilly.
“My hands are cold, Liarte.”
Michael, holding Liarte’s hand, laughed slowly.
It was a languid look that reflected the satisfaction of being together at night.
She could feel his body heat through their clasped hands.
“Your hands are cold too. If you keep holding on, you’ll lose it.”
Liarte’s whispered reply was sweet.
“I like it just the way it is, I have a high body temperature, and it feels good to be touched by something cool.”
Axe-eyed, Aaron shot Michael a searing glare.
He looked at him like he was a trickster trying to steal his granddaughter.
“What’s wrong, Grandpa?”
Only Aaron’s laid-back demeanor reminded him of Carmen, and he couldn’t bring himself to yell in front of Liarte, who knew nothing.
By nature, Aaron had a fiery temper, and he had never been able to control his anger.
But after hurting Liarte, he learned to control his emotions and be more careful.
‘Does he want candy?’
Misunderstanding Aaron’s demeanor, Liarte peeled off the candy wrapper and held it out.
“Would you like some?”
“Uh, yeah. Thank you.”
Meekly accepting the candy, Aaron whined and ate it.
In the meantime, Liarte questioned Carmen about what he was going to say.
“What did you mean when you said you didn’t want to do it?”
“It’s a minor but important issue,” Carmen, who had forgotten what to say in the pleasant shock of seeing the yellow chick, said.
“Lili, I intend to do a thorough investigation into that woman in the ballroom and Duke Haron.”
“I knew you would.”
Liarte knew that Birce would not leave any stone unturned.
“Liarte, if we investigate and find that they are trying to cause you any harm, we will not let the two of them live.”
Michael paraphrased Carmen’s meaning.
“The same goes for the others. If they try to do you harm, they won’t make it out of the Birrce estate alive.”
“Because you are a Birce now.”
Liarte gave a small nod.
“I hope if only they would have done something so stupid.”
Muttering, Carmen sent a signal to the spies lurking in the shadows.
Even if the Birce were as discreet as they could be about visitors, their investigations were rough at best.
But the Crown Prince, Elheim, and the sudden appearance of the Duke of Haron bothered him.
‘And did they mention Hestel?’
She didn’t appear to be of much rank, judging by her manners.
They were interested in learning how a young lady from a normal background had managed to attend the Duke of Birce’s coming-of-age ceremony.
‘Judging by the reports, she is a painter of considerable skill, if reports can be believed.’
Carmen managed to find Hestel in a pile of forgotten information.
People who held a brush or pencil for a long time have calluses.
Liarte’s fingers were also slightly bruised from painting.
Merlin was upset, and no amount of medicine could make her feel better.
How could a woman with such clean hands be an accomplished painter?
It was something that could have been overlooked, but it bothered him.
Carmen moved the shape of his mouth to add further orders.
‘Find out what she had drawn.’
Somehow, he felt compelled to check.
Early in the morning, the Duke of Haron was strolling through the gardens in front of the Birce Annex.
Hestel carried on talking while oblivious to the dullness that his robes were concealing on his face.
“As for why I chose the color red on that occasion…”
It was annoying to have someone he didn’t recognize talk about her paintings next to him.
But the Duke of Haron’s patience ran deep.
“That’s a very interesting story.”
In the meantime, Duke Haron has been searching for any information he could find to destroy the Crown Prince.
Along the way, he found a few things that were getting in the way.
Unfortunately, there was no proof that the Crown Prince was involved.
‘The Northern City of Siarun’
A fiefdom wiped out overnight by the plague. Believing that the plague was contagious and that those who contracted it would die, the knights of the imperial court blockaded Siarun.
Oddly enough, though, Siarun’s demise hasn’t gotten much attention.
They didn’t even make the papers, as if someone was trying to pressure them.
Hestel went back to her story, unaware that the Duke of Haron had other ideas.
And so it was that the two walked on, each thinking of the other.
Suddenly, Hestel’s face lit up, and she faked a smile.
“I see you’ve been painting here!”
Hestel looked over the water of the pond.
Turning his head, the Duke of Haron saw Liarte standing still on the surface of the water, painting.
It was another chance encounter.
Liarte was here simply because the light and the landscape were beautiful.
She suddenly realized that she wanted to paint the moment when the morning sun reflected on the water.
‘I never thought I’d meet the Duke of Haron.’
Liarte, holding the painting, walked across the water and approached the Duke.
Their conversation was as monotonous as it had been yesterday.
“Would you like to come up?”
The Duke of Haron held out his hand.
Only in hindsight did Hestel realize that Liarte was standing on the water.
Liarte took the outstretched hand and pulled herself to the ground.
She could have climbed alone, but it would have been better to have more contact with the Duke of Haron.
“Were you painting?”
“Yes. The scenery is beautiful.”
Somehow, the two didn’t seem to care about Hestel.
Hestel’s pride was bruised by the realization.
‘Why is he suddenly talking to her?’
Just a moment ago, the Duke of Haron was praising Hestel’s talent.
Suddenly, Hertel’s mind flashed back to the sweet men of her youth.
Men of Birce, but not as she had heard, they were beautiful and gentle.
Moreover, she was offended that even the Duke of Haron was talking to Liarte.
No, in truth, these were all only superficial reasons.
Hestel had never liked Liarte from the start.
“Is that a painting in your hand?”
She needed to get to know Liarte, but there was a misunderstanding.
There were many noble children who learned to paint, but few were truly gifted.
“I love drawing, too.”
“Yes,” Liarte replied simply.
It was an attitude that made Hestel smile in an effortless way.
“Pardon me, but may I see what you’ve drawn?”
The Duke of Haron asked.
He was curious because Liarte’s lines in the sketchbook were quite good.
After being Jen Walker for so long, the Duke of Haron had actually grown quite fond of drawing.
“It’s not very good,” she said, “but it is what it is, if you like.”
Liarte replied, hoping to make the Duke of Haron’s acquaintance.
Hestel thought about laughing at Liarte’s painting, but there was no need.
A painter whose talent was acknowledged by the imperial nobility couldn’t be the same as a Birce hobbyist.
‘I should give her some pointers.’
Liarte’s attitude toward painting would soon change for the better if she were to give her some guidance.
She was only halfway through coloring when she showed them her drawing.
“This is it.”
Her skills have improved since the painting competition, and she used a lot of silver and blue colors, which made it feel different from the red painting.
For a moment, the Duke of Haron let out an exclamation of admiration.
He hadn’t realized it when he looked at the sketch, but she was a person of great skills.
The drawing wasn’t finished, but it was this good.
“Better color sense than the red painting.”
The Duke of Haron’s praise was sincere.
Hestel, her pride bruised, peered over their shoulder at the painting.
At that moment, Hestel’s eyes dilated in shock.
It was just a painting of light on water.
Nevertheless, it was beautiful.
Even Hestel could recognize that this one was superior to the red one.
For a moment, Hestel’s breath caught in her throat as she realized how far she was.
It was then that the Duke of Haron spotted a peculiar mark painted over the waves.
Traces of paint, rather crudely and roughly applied, actually represented light.
It wasn’t hard to recognize what it was since he had been looking for a way to restore the torch for so long.
It was obviously overpainted, though it paled in comparison to the red painting.
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