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With her face a mess, Countess Clayton, who was being ushered out by servants, lifted her head. Even the maids and escort knights who accompanied her resisted, but none as much as the Countess.
The Countess became enraged as she tried to straighten the hair that flowed down her forehead.
Up until now, with the Empress’s power behind her back, the Countess had been happy to play the role of the Empress’s hands and feet —trampling on those who were weaker than her.
‘But I can’t believe I’m being treated like this now!’
‘Duchess of Cardian!’
Countess Clayton clenched her teeth and peered through the thick latticed door at the Duchy. The carriage they were riding in had already been sent back to the County.
The servants had purposely sent the Countess and her entourage out first, forcing them either to return by walking, or to seek a common carriage at the main road.
The coachman of their original carriage, who was unaware of the situation, believed the words of the duke’s servant and left early.
“What are you doing! Go to the main road and get a carriage!”
One of the escort knights moved quickly in response to Countess Clayton’s irritation.
Two maids and three escort knights accompanied her to the Duke’s mansion. She had brought two maids instead of one, just in case something like this happened…
‘I didn’t expect that girl to be so tough…’
Other than horseback riding, the majority of the high-ranking noblewomen did not participate in sports.
‘But what makes her so strong?’
Her escort knights and maids were all staring at the Countess as she ground her teeth and awaited the carriage. Fortunately, it appeared that the escort knight had quickly caught a carriage.
Few carriages attempted to pass in front of the Duke of Cardian, but the escort knight was able to persuade the coachman by urging him.
“…I brought a carriage.”
“Why are you so slow?”
The Countess, irritated, stood there watching the escort knight step off the carriage. To avoid being slapped, the escort knight quickly opened the carriage door.
“What are you doing?”
The Countess continued to stand outside of the carriage. But, at the sound of her screaming voice, the escort knight began to move. As he bent down in front of the carriage to act as a footstool, the Countess took the hand of the other escort knight and moved.
The Countess then stepped on the escort knight’s back, as if in retaliation for his hesitation.
The Countess climbed into the carriage, followed by her two maids. One of the escort knights was able to fit into the carriage, but the other two could not. The other escort knights were made to sit next to the coachman and behind the carriage.
The carriage rattled off soon after. Inside, the coachman heard one of the maids request a ride to Count Clayton’s mansion.
“Are you sure? However….. because you’ve gone all the way to the cursed duke’s mansion, you’ll have to pay twice as much.”
As the driver spoke slyly, the knight’s eyes widened. After that, the coachman quickly turned his head forward to concentrate on driving the carriage.
The knight, who was relieved that they were finally returning to the County, momentarily felt a prickling discomfort. The sting felt like being pricked by a needle.
“…What possessed you to draw the ire of the Duke of Cardian? It’s a family where monsters act as owners.”
The knight tried to answer, but his body had become loose and drowsy. He tried to call for help urgently, but faltered and grabbed the coachman’s arm, as if he were being supported by him.
“The drug first paralyzes your voice. Then, as time passes, your body hardens.”
The coachman whispered as he drove the carriage slowly.
The other knights, who were situated in the servants’ seats behind the carriage, didn’t seem to notice anything strange. Because the window connecting the driver’s seat was nailed shut and couldn’t be opened, no one on the inside of the carriage would have known what was going on.
“Even those who stood by will not be spared from my master’s wrath.”
The coachman maneuvered the paralyzed escort knight to lean on the seat and turned to look at him.
There was more than one route to Clayton County. There were numerous byways, some of which were highly dangerous.
Even if they had been robbed and killed, people didn’t know.
✦ ✦ ✦
The tragedy of Countess Clayton spread slowly. The Third Empress’s face turned a pale shade of blue when she heard the news.
‘Crazy man! A devil killer…..’
Although there was no evidence, these were obviously the machinations of the Duke of Cardian. Who would it be if not him?
Of course, there were others who wanted to harm the Countess, but the Third Empress was certain that the Duke of Cardian was the one who had actually done it.
Because she had sent the Countess to insult the Duchess of Cardian.
Despite her relationship with the Countess, the Third Empress considered scapegoating her at the earliest opportunity. There were many noble ladies who could fill the role of Countess Clayton.
If this incident became a problem, she planned to portray it as an independent act perpetrated by Countess Clayton, who constantly felt inferior to the Marquis of Montague’s daughter.
‘He is going to kill me! I, the Empress, was the one who sent her!’
The murders of the Countess and her enterouge was nothing but petty and self-centered, but that terrified the Third Empress even more. She was dumbfounded as to how he was capable of such casual cruelty.
She had killed one or two people since becoming Empress, but it was nothing like this.
She thought this matter was insignificant and easy to handle.
If the Duke of Cardian had murdered a baron from the provinces, she would have been informed.
But Countess Clayton was not an noblewoman with lower status than Baron. She was a part of the Third Empress’s entourage as a lady-in-waiting.
The Duke of Cardian had become a source of fear for the Third Empress. Even if he didn’t know the emperor, he was seen as someone who could easily kill her and her relatives.
‘This is a warning. To me, the members of the imperial family and the aristocrats….’
It was a clear warning from the duke that if anyone touched the duchess in the future, whoever they were, they would meet a bloody end.
Therefore, she must not lose her focus. Her son was thought to have the best chance of becoming Emperor of the three princes.
If they showed that they were discouraged simply because their opponent was the Duke of Cardian, the nobles who currently support Phil might waiver and disassemble themselves in their disappointment.
Did she really capture the monster’s heart? The Empress then thought of the Marquis of Montague, the Duke’s father-in-law. When he learned that he would have to marry his daughter to the monster, he became enraged.
However, the mind of the Marquis of Montague was not fully understood by the Empress. She could not put her faith in him to sway the Duke of Cardian.
✦ ✦ ✦
The death of Countess Clayton threw the social community into chaos, but the Duchy of Cardian remained silent. Celia had a friend, but after her marriage to the Duke of Cardian, she cut off contact with her. Several invitations and greetings were sent to the Duke of Cardian, but they were all from those who had political ties to the Duke of Cardian.
They received a stern warning from the Duke of Cardian, and Celia was not told the bad news. The Duke did this out of necessity to protect her; he was afraid that Celia, who was pigeon-hearted, would hear about it and be scared.
Countess Clayton had slipped on Celia’s mind, and she became worried about Leonis. She had reduced visits to other families and instead sent invitations to visit the Duchy because her worries had not yet been relieved.
Prior to her marriage, Celia had many friends; however, after she became the wife of Duke Cardian, most of them cut ties with her.
Still, some of the ladies remembered Celia and carefully planned to visit her.
Before leaving, she chose a time when Leonis wasn’t at home, drank tea, and chatted for a while.
They were relieved to discover that the young lady, Marquis of Montague, had not changed much following her marriage. Perhaps as a result of this, the number of invitations to Celia gradually increased.
Celia shuffled the list after checking the invitations that had arrived. Her former close friends did not contact her, which was unfortunate, but it was unavoidable.
The majority of them were married to lords and based outside of the capital, and the rumours about the Duke of Cardian were terrifying.
‘What should I do with that image so that, even if I rebel, I can become Emperor?’
He could use fear to control people, but there were limits. After all, an emperor must rule over territory and people.
Even if the curse was lifted, if people still saw him as a cursed murderer, becoming Emperor and ruling the country would be difficult.
‘First….I need to visit the most influential denomination and establish a good personal connection with the Duke of Cardian.’
Like the first Duke of Cardian, Leonis’ father used to rely on the church. He’d made a large donation and called upon all the priests to beg for the curse to be lifted.
However, they were unsuccessful and incurred the Duke’s wrath.
As a result, building a temple in the Duchy of Cardian became more difficult than in other regions. It became the norm to levy high taxes, prohibit land purchases with various justifications, and even interfere with the purchase of materials.
That did not happen in Leonis’ generation, but unlike other high-ranking aristocrats, he did not make annual donations.
‘I don’t know where else…First of all, you have to pay to the Heavenly God Church. Also the divine beast.’
He would have to visit the temple of wanted to sacrifice the divine beast’s heart on the altar. As a result, a situation where people could freely come and go was required.
Furthermore, it would be even better if he could count on the denomination’s support if he revolted later.
Fortunately, the Marquis of Montague was friendly with all of the continent’s denominations. The Montague family produced most of the Holy Knights from the New Church of Heaven, but they also produced Holy Knights and Priestesses from other denominations. As a result, the church regarded Montegue as a successor.
‘Perhaps that’s why the church has high expectations of me. Because I became the Duchess of Cardian. Everyone knows that the Duke of Cardian is a wealthy man.’
Leonis appeared to be ten times wealthier than previously thought based on his budget allocation. Celia realized she hadn’t spent half of her budget for the month and considered how she would spend the remaining half.
It had been a long time since she had paid for her next month’s dresses, as well as the items she needed for the imperial banquet, and she had purchased half a year’s worth of shoes and jewelry. Leonis had purchased it, so she didn’t even have to pay for it.
‘I have some money in my pocket, so should I donate half of what I have? The amount seems to be larger than the prince’s contribution.’
However, the timing of the visit to the temple was a problem.
She didn’t want to go to the temple because the imperial ball was just around the corner and Leonis still seemed to be anxious.
Something seemed to be following her.
‘Fa… Fabian or the Third Prince,’
[TL/N: pigeon-hearted means soft hearted or gentle.]