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It was true that Celia had returned safely, but because Prince Phil had not yet stepped down as a prince, she refrained from going out on official duties. So Albert, the butler, kept a tight silence on the employees in the duke’s residence.
What he was concerned about were the three workers who had hidden in the duke’s residence.
Spies sent by emperors or princes were common in infiltrating the Duchess of Cardian. Albert was also concerned because an enraged Leonis had punished him.
Most of the three were punished immediately, but one or two were left behind. They were Edna and the other two, and Celia had assigned Albert the task of properly managing them.
He had no idea which faction she belonged to, but Leonis had warned him to keep her out of his way.
Since they couldn’t go in and out of the main building, they worked in outer castles or outbuildings.
Albert, who had been ordered to keep quiet about it, was worried that the Duchess’ business would be heard by them on the day she returned. But the duke said, “Leave it as if it had something to think about.”
“…… Only contact us if you suspect something. That might buy me a few days.”
Leonis’ aides already knew who the spies were. They simply kept them alive because they were still useful.
If someone who had learned the sword or was skilled in martial arts came in as a spy and threatened the duke’s family, he would kill them right away.
Even if they haven’t mastered martial arts, there are plenty of ways to harm people, so he told Albert or her maid, Marie, to make the attendants wary of them.
It was sufficient to give employees the impression that they were being watched or to inform them that there had previously been rumors of theft.
Leonis dispatched someone to the Church of Heaven, requesting that the temple be emptied as he would be visiting at an early hour.
Such requests from high-ranking nobles or members of the imperial family were common at church. The fact that he would visit at such an early hour could be considered polite at Duke Cardian’s residence.
Rumors about the Duchess of Cardian had spread, so it was hoped that Leonis, like the previous duke, would make a large donation and offer prayers at the Church of Heaven.
After the previous duke’s donation was cut off, the temple of Asylus was in financial trouble.
Just as they had hoped, Leonis sent a massive donation to Albert’s side. And it was Celia’s order.
“The denomination must be on our side in the future.”
The denomination would not back them up in their battle against the imperial family, but they would remain silent. Furthermore, once everything was settled, it would be simple to sway public opinion if the Church sided with the Duke of Cardian.
It was time for Celia to wear an outing gown and a black veil. On the surface, it was supposed to look like a person mourning the Duchess’s disappearance or death.
The Duke of Cardian made no mention of the duchess’s disappearance. It was only hinted at and left for speculation.
Now that Prince Phil is in trouble, and she has to hide for the time being. At least until Phil’s current position was dragged down.
Leonis climbed into the carriage as Celia did. He had to hurry because he had requested the unclear time of dawn and morning.
The attendant shut the carriage door, and the carriage quietly passed through the duke’s garden and onto Asylus’ main road.
Perhaps the city’s overall atmosphere was subdued due to the Duchess’s disappearance.
The coachman expertly drove the carriage to the Temple of the God of Heaven on the outskirts of town. Even in the early morning, several carriages came and went to pick up goods at the store, so the sound of the carriages was muffled. Celia peered through a gap in the carriage curtains at the scene.
“…Is it still well-behaved?”
When Leonis asked, Celia closed the window. She kept the egg with her. To be exact, she put it in a ring with a magic pouch again.
She paid attention to Leonis’ insistence that the side be safe and secure.
“Yes. I think he feels comfortable.”
Celia gave the news before putting the egg in, unsure if it understood what she said. She will take him to the temple and show him the statue tomorrow.
The egg, which had always rattled happily in response to Celia’s words, then fell silent.
It wasn’t relatively immobile, but it was pretty well-behaved.
Celia spoke to Leonis, who was in distress.
“The sculpture……Just in case you didn’t know, Leon is offering it. You never know if the curse will be lifted even slightly.”
Nonetheless, Leonis was concerned about what would happen if Celia offered a piece of the hearts by herself. She told him this in person, thinking she had allayed his worries.
Leonis bowed his head as she looked at him anxiously. Celia gently closed her eyes, her lips lightly touching his.
“There’s nothing to be worried about. Everything is going as planned.”
The problem was that the last piece belonged to the emperor. Unlike the prince and princess’ abilities, the emperor’s ability could drive Leonis insane.
It was for this reason that Leonis was most wary of the emperor.
‘If Leonis dies after going insane, the curse will return to the emperor, so he won’t use it until he’s fully driven.’
The emperor, who can reverse ‘purification,’ was a source of worry for him. It is said, for example, to be a power capable of worsening the condition of a person poisoned by a mild poison.
As briefly described in the original novel, the emperor used his power to spread a plague throughout the territory to punish the lord for opposing him.
In the world, the emperor’s ability was known only as ‘purification’, so most did not notice. The only ones who noticed this were the Duke of Cardian and others.
The Don Plague spread to several areas and caused enormous damage. At that time, the emperor, Orkan, miraculously appeared in the area and showed off his abilities.
The people praised Orkan for his greatness and God’s blessings. The owner of the place where the plague first appeared and the punishment for the lord who moved it to the surrounding territory was taken for granted.
Except for his second son, who hid his identity and fled into exile in a foreign country, the lord, his family, and his vassals faced a brutal death.
The second son who ran away at that time was Zeppel, who is now working under Leonis. He understood in his head that the emperor’s incitement deceived the people, but it was never forgiven.
“Even if it were reinstated, I would not be a lord. I don’t want it to be reinstated.”
Zeppel said this with a sour face. Even if he later revealed Emperor Orkan’s deceptions to the public, the stigma he and his family faced would not be erased.
Zeppel, who is extremely intelligent, was aware of it.
As a result, Leonis gave him a new name and made him his vassal.
“…… You saved me and gave me the chance to avenge my family, so my purpose is simple.”
It was to restore false power to heaven and establish a new emperor to prevent things like himself from happening again.
For a moment, Leonis had considered swallowing a piece of the divine beast’s heart. It was just a piece of heart that looked like a stone right now, but eating it seemed to give him abilities on par with the emperor.
He wasn’t sure if it would support treason or not…… But then he had an idea.
I had a curse due to that power, and I considered what to do with it.
There was also the pretext of keeping it safe with what was on his body, but there was also concern about what would happen if he became enamored with its power and forgot to lift the curse.
‘Like Celia said, returning it to God as soon as possible is the right thing to do.’
Leonis reflected while looking at Celia, who sat next to her. Celia turned around and smiled, the corners of her eyes curling as if noticing his gaze. He naturally hugged her because she was lovely, but the carriage seemed to have come to a halt.
“……I think we’re already arrived.”
Celia released Leonis’ grip on her waist and lowered her veil. Her black lace veil, which hung down to her waist, completely concealed her pink hair.
Celia and Leonis exchanged glances as they heard a voice outside the carriage. Now it was time for a play.
✦ ✦ ✦
“Welcome, Your Excellency, Duke Cardian……”
The High Priestess greeted Leonis with a nervous smile. Celia stood behind Leonis as his attendant, not beside him like a maid.
Other maids carrying tributes followed, but, like Celia, they covered their faces and hair with a veil.
“Is the chapel empty?”
When he asked directly, the high priest opened his mouth quickly. The donation from Albert, the duchy’s butler, was enormous, far exceeding the amount sent by the imperial family each year.
So he attempted to consult with Hellion, the capital’s high priest, but was told that he couldn’t because Hellion was in a hundred days’ prayer.
‘Anyway, the Duke of Cardian is the defeated north……Nothing is wrong with courting them.’
It was an ancient story about a feud between the imperial family or aristocracy and the church.
The current church was nothing more than a stumbling rock trying to avoid being washed away by the imperial family’s rapids.
Sometimes the church uses its own strength to protect the imperial people or priests, but in the end, they are in a position to borrow the power of the nobles.
The Duke of Cardian was also courteous by avoiding the time when many people came to pray.
When the high priest of Asylus said that, Leonis nodded slowly.
After giving orders to the priest below him, the high priest withdrew to guide the duke to the chapel. It was improper for the high priest to guide him directly.
That could happen only when the emperor, prince, or crown prince came.
Leonis and the high-ranking priest walked together, flanked by attendants and maids carrying offering baskets. The escort knights pursued the procession, forming a crescent shape around it.
‘Something is strange.’
They were perplexed as to why the Duke of Cardian would now come and pray by paying tribute to God.
Because you want your late wife to rest in peace? It was inappropriate for the Duke’s move, as he was widely known as a murderer.
However, the Dukes of Cardian’s eccentricities in the past were incomprehensible. Madness may have a foundation, but there is no reason for it, right?
The high priest shook his head and turned to another building in the church.