Chapter 1 - Prologue
Lesche chuckled and stroked his hair.
Did Seria Stern really give up the bed for him? As Lesche thought, he couldn’t understand Seria this time either. If they were a normal couple, it would be easier to understand her actions. However, no matter how authoritative a man was, he had to give his wife some consideration.
She didn’t concede anything but she wasn’t the Seria he once knew. Her personality changed. Seria’s strange mind of concessions suddenly extended to Kalis Haneton and the Saintess. Perhaps it was because concession and abandonment seemed to be words in the same category. Suddenly, Lesche felt bad for no reason.
At that moment, Ben, the butler, who had been standing quietly listening, opened his mouth cautiously.
“Are you sure she’s ‘the’ Seria Stern? She seems to be completely different from the one Linon told me about a few years ago.”
Linon had great faith in this loyal and honest butler who had chosen to remain in the manor himself. So a while back when he used to come to the Laurel Manor, Linon would tell him every single story, from the news outside to the scandals in the society. In this quietly dying green manor, such stories were very valuable.
Frowning, Lesche replied, “She’s the same person.”
“She has changed a lot. Did something happen?”
Lesche trailed off as he watched the slow-moving shadows on the walls.
“She fell in love with that man.”
That was what happened.
Martha and Ben stared at each other. They knew instantly that ‘that man’ who Lesche mentioned wasn’t their master, Grand Duke of Berg.
“Oh my God…”
Lesche was at least a head taller than most grown men, but to the people of the manor who were with him from an early age, Lesche was still like a boy. For example, like now.
“When will the sorcerers arrive?”
Ben answered quickly.
“They were supposed to arrive at midnight, but they were delayed due to heavy snow. It looks like they’ll arrive in the morning.”
“Seria might wake up before that.”
“I will try to avoid encountering her to the greatest extent possible. It will not be a wonderful sight for a lady born and raised in the capital.”
“Let her if she wants to see it. She’s not a weak person.”
If there was one thing about Seria that didn’t change, it was her oddly strong personality. Of course, in the past, her speech appeared to be poisonous, and she used to make her servants cry and kicked them out wherever she wanted. Now, though, she was the one who went out in that cold, harsh glacier every day.
“Yes, Your Highness.”
The firewood was burning with a crackling sound. After checking his watch, Lesche lifted a red tapestry that hung on the wall of the first floor hall. There was a hidden space there. As usual, the door was locked.
He pushed the engraving of the half-split Berg pattern ring all the way into the hole in the door.
The elaborate sound of thousands of spirals coming together rang like a clock inside the door. Lesche waited a moment, then opened the door and entered.
The damp smell of the cellar was in the air. A light flickered behind him as he tried to make his way down the not-so-long staircase that stretched into the basement without hesitation.
“Your Highness, it’s very dark.”
It was Martha who spoke. Lesche went down the stairs without saying a word, while Martha seemed to hesitate for a moment, but followed him slowly down the stairs, and at the bottom of the nearly twenty-foot staircase, a large basement revealed. Several statues of angels and demons were carved into the walls, and each carved statue was inlaid with large colored jewels. Even though the dust thickly covered them, anyone even with a weak eyesight could see the details. Because the jewels were so large and rare that they could be used as crowns or jewels for a kingdom.
Of course, Lesche didn’t pay any attention to that. There was only one reason why he came down to the hidden basement of this green manor in the first place.
Where would be the most holy location in a restricted area? The Imperial Seal of the Emperor, the insignia of the High Priest, the heirlooms of the Imperial family and the famous sword of the hero were always enshrined in the same place. It was just in front of the central wall.
Something similar was also enshrined in front of the central wall of this underground basement. It was a box with all sides decorated with strangely shiny glass. The gold frame was adorned with a row of blue and green gems the size of a quail’s egg, indicating they were extremely valuable.
Just as rare gems have names, this glass box also had a heavy name. It was called the Blue Sea Box, a treasure that had long been enshrined in the Laurel Manor. If Berg was a kingdom instead of a grand duchy, this box would have been registered as an unofficial national treasure. It was a treasure that could chant powerful protective magic, but its power came at a price.
Seeing such a precious thing, Lesche was not very impressed. He clenched his fist and punched the glossy glass hard. Once. Twice. Three times, there was no crack on the box until red blood oozed from Lesche’s fist.
Just as it always was.
A moment of deep helplessness crossed Lesche’s face. It was from his childhood until now. Hundreds of times he had tried to hit this Blue Sea box, but the only thing that would break was his hand.
Striking it with a sword made of crafted diamonds did not leave any mark on this box. The Grand Duke’s blood was enchanted with magic powerful enough to destroy it.
The Laurel Manor had already reached its limit. The earth would crumble after this season, and the lives bound here would crumble with it.
Lesche was used to his bloody fist, but Martha was worried and took out a bandage from her pocket.
“Don’t let it bleed. Are you aware that you are the Grand Duke of Berg?”
“I’m done here.”
“I’m glad I brought the bandages.”
“You didn’t come here to bring me a bandage, did you?”
“It was just a coincidence.”
Martha’s skill at bandaging was very good. She tied it up in an instant, then backed away and smiled unexpectedly.
She normally smiled often, but this was the first time in her life that she smiled in this underground basement. When Lesche stared at Martha with somewhat surprised eyes, she smiled and said,
“I think Young Lady would think you’ve lost your mind, Your Highness, and she would say so with her blue eyes wide open.”
“How do I know, when we haven’t seen each other in a day.”
“Do you think the Young Lady will react differently?”
“I think it would be similar to …….”
When it came to the Grand Duke of Berg, Martha’s natural instincts seemed to be no exception even this time. Even though he missed her, he hesitated to see her again. Martha spoke softly as if she had read Lesche’s true feelings.
“Now you go and get some rest, Your Highness.”
Before leaving the basement, Lesche stared at the Blue Sea Box for a while. There was a pinch of auburn hair on top of the enchanted box that would nullify any attack. At one time, that hair was full of red blood.
“The hair is still well kept here, Your Highness.”
At Martha’s soft words, Lesche’s expression sank.
It reminded him of Alliot as a boy, tears streaming down his face when Lesche’s half brother taunted Alliot and made him cut his hair to put in the Blue Sea box to show his loyalty. To be the guardian of the Blue Sea Box meant to dedicate the rest of his life to Berg. Because he would be trapped in this green mansion forever.
(*Lesche’s father, the previous Grand Duke, had a son with some woman.)
“If you are really a knight for the Berg family, then put your hair in it.”
Alliot’s hands trembled in silence as the previous Grand Duke of Berg sneered. Martha pushed Alliot away, then knelt on one knee.
“I’ll cut mine in place of him.”
Lesche couldn’t quite remember what Martha’s expression was when she said that, but the previous Grand Duke just kept laughing like a madman at the determined reaction of Martha, the beloved guard of the previous Grand Duchess. No, she was actually crazy back then.
“You had a hard time because of my crazy father, didn’t you?”
“Your Highness, I can’t believe how crazy I was.”
“That’s one way to put it.”
Martha smiled her ritualistic smile again. Actually, sometimes, no, Lesche couldn’t understand her at all.
“Isn’t it time for you to abandon your loyalty to Berg?”
“Not to Berg, but to the Grand Duchess of Berg, Your Highness.”
“I don’t understand that either.”
Martha didn’t reply but kept smiling. Lesche didn’t know what she was thinking as she stood next to him as if watching his predecessor, the Grand Duchess, come to his senses in real time. He turned away.
“I’m going up.”
“Good night, Your Highness.”
Then Ben walked briskly over, holding the bedding in his hands.
“What is it?”
“Even if the Young Lady is sleeping on the sofa, doesn’t she need covers? I’m bringing it to her.”
“That’s enough. You think I don’t have hands.”
Lesche took the bedding from Ben and strode up the stairs. He opened the door to the Grand Duke’s private bedroom and entered, heading for the back. Earlier Seria’s hair was half wet, but now it all dried up. It didn’t seem to bother her a bit, because she was still soundly asleep.
However, there was one thing that really bothered Lesche.
He didn’t know if “bothered” was an accurate word, but it was a thing he couldn’t ignore and go to sleep.