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The Archduke of Anata was already on his way to the Capital. Frederick told the Blanchett couple to expect him in around three to four days. He had repeatedly asked them to take care of Leila so she wouldn’t disappear.
Leila stayed in the Blanchett mansion until the Archduke of Anata arrived. It was a satisfactory result for Leila, who wanted to fix her relationship with Chloe.
“Chloe, I’m going to take part in the upcoming hunting contest. I’ll give you all the prey I catch.”
Leila followed Chloe around and constantly tried to have conversations with her. Even though she had been warned by Gerard, she still did whatever she wanted.
“No, you don’t have to.”
Chloe replied coldly.
“Right, Gerard will give his to you.”
Nevertheless, Leila wasn’t easily discouraged and continued to talk.
“Even so, you might become the Lady of the hunting festival if you also accept my prey, right?”
Leila was excited about the hunting festival that was near. Her husband wasn’t here to stop her from participating, so she was excited to get some exercise this time.
However, Chloe cut off her excited friend’s remark harshly.
The Lady of the hunting contest. It was an honor reserved for young and unmarried women. Chloe didn’t want to be the talk of high society for nothing.
Leila chewed her lip at Chloe’s harsh reaction. Then, she raised her voice as if she had an idea.
“Or do you want to join the hunting contest with me? I’ll teach you how to ride a horse and shoot a bow.”
Chloe was uncomfortable with Leila, who kept coming closer despite her efforts to push her away. She thought it was time to hammer in the nail for good.
A knock on the door cut off the serious atmosphere between the two.
When Chloe granted the person on the other side of the door permission, Jane carefully opened the door and walked in.
“My Lady, a merchant from the East is asking for an audience.”
“The East? Do you mean the Ryeo Empire?”
Leila, who was beside her, stepped in while showing interest.
“Yes, he said that he heard the rumor about you collecting art supplies, and asked to have an audience with you. The gatekeepers tried to send him away, but he insisted upon meeting you.”
Chloe asked with raised eyebrows. She hadn’t expressed interest in painting since she got married.
“I’m not interested, just send them away.”
Jane quickly displayed the item in her hand.
“Oh! They also said that if I show the Lady this, you would meet them.”
Chloe picked up the brush in Jane’s hand.
The moment she recognized the brush, she felt as if she couldn’t breathe.
‘Catherine’ was crookedly carved into the paintbrush handle. Chloe ran her thumb slowly over the engraved letters.
She recalled how she had carved these letters into her sister’s brush when she was a child.
–Thanks to you, this brush has become even more precious to me.
She could’ve gotten angry because her sister ruined her favorite brush, but Catherine just overlooked it.
“I-It’s… Where’s the merchant now?”
“Pardon? They’re waiting at the front gate.”
Jane hastily answered upon the sudden change in her Lady’s mood.
“…I’ll be waiting in the parlor, so please bring them in. Hurry.”
Chloe mumbled at Jane and dismissed her.
She squeezed the brush in her hand once again. She thought that she could hear a bit of news about her sister. The sound of her beating heart reverberated in her ears.
“What is it, Chloe?”
Leila asked. She wondered why her friend seemed so anxious.
Chloe sighed, having just remembered Leila’s existence.
“Would you please give me some time alone? As you see, I need to greet a guest.”
“Huh? Can’t I just greet the guest with you?”
Leila wanted to spend more time with her friend.
“Ah… I see.”
However, she had no choice but to comply at Chloe’s firm attitude. She left the parlor with slow steps.
“Nice to meet you.”
Chloe examined the man who greeted her.
Black hair, white skin, a flat expression, and a shirt that buttoned up all the way up his neck. He was someone with a calm and ascetic aura.
“I am Gaon. I’m the manager of a guild in Ryeo.”
He could speak Hernian. The interesting part was that, unlike his awkward pronunciation, his grammar was accurate.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Chloe Blanchett.”
Chloe replaced Hernia’s greeting with a simple welcome. She felt uncomfortable asking someone from the Ryeo Empire to have peace in the arms of the Hernian Empire.
Then, she got straight to the point.
“How did you get this brush?”
Chloe asked while displaying the brush she was holding in her hand.
“That’s my wife’s brush.”
Chloe’s eyes opened wide at his unexpected words.
He said this brush belonged to his wife. Did Catherine sell the brush to him? However, who would have bought such an old brush? Perhaps…
“Yes, it belongs to my wife, Rin.”
Regardless of the fact that Gaon managed a large guild in Ryeo, his opponent was a great noble family in Hernia. He naturally had to use proper honorifics, but he couldn’t speak properly because he wasn’t fluent in Hernian.
However, Chloe had no time to care about his clumsy use of honorifics at that moment.
“Rin? Don’t tell me… You mean Catherine?”
“Catherine from Hernia. That’s right, I’m talking about her.”
Chloe’s eyes watered after hearing news about her sister for the first time in nine years. She was glad her sister was alive, but on the other hand, she couldn’t set her anxiety aside.
“What about her? How is she doing?”
Chloe frantically asked Gaon. There was hate and resentment in one side of her heart, but longing and love were greater than those.
‘Is it right to say that she’s doing well?’
Gaon was briefly unsettled.
“You can see for yourself. My wife wants to meet you.”
Gaon continued in a monotonous voice.
“Rin was reluctant to walk around the Capital of Hernia, so I came here on my own instead. If you follow me, I’ll show you to my wife, who’s currently staying in an inn right now.”
Chloe held in her anger. It was true that she was excited to hear about Catherine. However, it didn’t make sense for her to follow someone she just met today.
“I can’t do that.”
When her emotions lessened, her rational side began to point out problems one by one.
“I can’t leave with you, as your identity has not been confirmed yet.”
The only evidence to believe his words was this old brush. It was ridiculous to follow a stranger whom she didn’t even know properly.
“Instead, we should do it this way.”
Chloe suggested another way to Gaon.
“I will arrange the annex of the mansion to be empty tomorrow. There will be minimal escorts around, so would you come back with Catherine tomorrow?”
Gaon, who was thinking about it for a moment, nodded. He knew his wife was reluctant to show her face, but he thought this would work for them as well.
“Oh, and there was a request from Rin not to notify the other family members yet.”
Gaon, who was about to finish speaking, stated Rin’s request.
Chloe, who was hesitant for a while, nodded after thinking for a moment.
“All right, tell Catherine that we will meet here tomorrow.”
Chloe felt suffocated and couldn’t stop her voice from wavering.
After they finished dinner in the evening, Chloe remained absentminded until tea time.
‘Why did she ask me not to notify our family yet?’
She wondered if it was right to do as her sister asked. Or should she inform her family? Her head became dizzy just thinking about it.
“Chloe, who was it?”
Leila’s cheerful voice drew her out of her mind.
“The man who said he came from the East Empire.”
Leila, who had never seen someone from the Ryeo Empire in her whole life, looked at Chloe curiously.
“I ran into him a moment ago, and he certainly carried a mysterious ambiance due to coming from the East.”
Gerard, who was beside Leila, quietly folded his arms.
“…You see, he was just the owner of a painting store.”
Chloe hurriedly made up an excuse about Gaon. She was still mad with Gerard, but had no intention of hiding this information about Catherine. She actually wanted to tell her husband everything.
However, she couldn’t bring it up when Leila was there.
“Really? I thought you knew something. So, you bought from an Eastern painting merchant?”
“Huh…? I didn’t buy anything from him, I just looked. He brought a painting that I wanted.”
Gerard thought while listening to their conversation.
Someone who had a dark expression on their face when talking about paintings, suddenly brought a painting store owner into the mansion? He wondered why she seemed so flustered.
‘Hm, maybe she’s gaining an interest in it again.’
Gerard blinked slowly and stared at his wife. He wanted to ask her more about it. However, his wife seemed uncomfortable with the topic, so he held back his curiosity.
It was late in the evening. Being left alone with her husband in the bedroom, Chloe wanted to discuss Catherine with him.
“Um, I have something to talk about…”
Chloe continued while brushing her hair. Brushing her hair before bed was one of her old habits. Gerard suddenly offered assistance.
“Would you like me to brush your hair for you, my Lady?”
“Yes, I’d like to brush it for you.”
Chloe stared at Gerard, who was sitting on the bed while staring at her affectionately. Looking at him, she felt affection and hatred simultaneously.
However, she didn’t show it and gave the brush to him.
Gerard patted the bed in front of him. After Chloe sat in front of him, he began to brush her hair carefully.
Gerard thought it was nice because the more he brushed her hair, the thicker he smelled his wife’s scent in the air.
Chloe felt a big and firm hand carefully brush through her hair. The touch made her feel somewhat drowsy.
“So what did you want to talk about, Chloe?”
Chloe slowly opened her mouth. However, she thought briefly about how to start explaining.
However, Chloe failed to continue.
A shrill scream cut through the Blanchett residence in the middle of the night.
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