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    Last chapter for this arc!

    By the time Seongjin and his entourage arrived at the Pearl Palace, the sun had already set completely.

    Masain, who had been restlessly waiting as they returned late, hurriedly came out to greet them before the carriage had even stopped.

    “What in the world happened, Your Highness! What did you do to get detained by the Capital Guards?”

    So even if you try to keep things quiet, if you are a former Knight Commander, news still leaks out.

    Seongjin waved his hand in a tired expression.

    “There was a minor misunderstanding with some foreigners. It’s been resolved, so ask Dame Maria for details.”

    “…Eh? Your Highness, I know nothing about…”

    Dame Maria, who had been detained by Masain, looked at Seongjin with a gloomy expression.

    Sorry, Dame Maria.

    Since you don’t know well, you have to shoulder it. Just gloss the incident adequately.

    Perhaps due to the training, his usually sagging shoulders felt heavier as he walked, when he heard a cautious voice from behind.

    “Why did you do that, Your Highness?”

    “…Huh?”

    “Why didn’t you just tell the truth?”

    Turning back, he found Dame Claudia looking at him with a face full of complex emotions.

    She had been quiet all the way, lost in thought. So she was wrestling with such concerns.

    “Come to think of it, you said you studied Brittanian? Were you preparing for overseas studies?”

    “Yes, Your Highness.”

    Claudia had been silent because she couldn’t interject into the prince’s conversation, but she had found his actions utterly incomprehensible and was extremely frustrated.

    In her opinion, Prince Morres actions; standing up to protect the honor of the imperial family was unquestionably commendable.

    Why not just lay bare what those Brittany fools blabbered to the Capital Guards? Then there would be no scathing looks, as if saying, ‘That troublemaker made another mess.’

    Moreover, one could severely punish those arrogant Brittanians for contempt of the imperial family.

    “Is that so? Then you more or less understood.”

    Seongjin scratched his head for a moment.

    “Well, how should I explain? Even if I had said that, the chances of them facing appropriate punishment would not have been high.”

    “What? Why?”

    “It would have ended up like that. Sure, both Delcross and Brittany would have been noisy for a while, but those guys would have been safely extradited back to their homeland under Brittany’s protection. The punishment, if any, would have been swept under the rug.”

    If that had happened, the innocent victim Amelia would be the one suffering from wounds.

    “Rather, I thought it’s better to quietly bury this matter and reap some other benefits.”

    “…Benefits?”

    Yes. He hadn’t wasted his time engaging in futile conversation with young marquis Charles for nothing.

    Seongjin flashed a bitter smile and spoke to Claudia.

    “More than anything,”

    Claudia shuddered for a moment. The prince’s subdued eyes, as he looked straight at her, emitted an unusual pressure that shouldn’t be coming from a boy of his age.

    “What those guys said about Amelia-noonim should never again reach anyone’s lips. I want not a word, not a letter of it to even remain in documents.”

    He didn’t want the scribe to record it or the officials to report it.

    He didn’t want this to become the talk of the whole Guard.

    He didn’t want it documented and sent all the way to Brittany.

    This matter must be as if it never happened.

    “Understand? So forget about today’s events, Dame.”

    Ah. Everything is all for Her Highness the Princess.

    Claudia suddenly realized.

    ‘His Highness wants to avoid having Princess Amelia become the talk of the town, even if it means he himself has to face criticism!’

    Though Claudia may not have been entirely convinced by the prince’s explanation concerning the reaction from Brittany, she at least clearly understood his determination to prevent any further criticism of the princess.

    Come to think of it, Prince Morres didn’t react at all when those people were calling him a piglet. He only demanded a formal apology for the derogatory comments made against the Holy Emperor and the slander against Princess Amelia.

    What selfless familial love this is!

    “Your Highness…”

    Claudia clasped her two hands together and looked at Seongjin with tearful eyes.

    ‘How could he be so thoughtful! The sense of gravity he occasionally shows, which seems beyond his age, was not a misunderstanding after all!’

    The more I know him, the more rewarding it is to serve him!

    I should devote myself to serving him for a long time to come and lay my bones in Pearl Palace.

    Claudia internally made this resolve.

    Of course, Seongjin, having no way to know what she was thinking, simply thought this:

    ‘…Why is she looking at me with such burdensome eyes? Is she hungry all of sudden?’

    [Seongjin, be honest with me. You have no intention of letting them go safely, do you? What;s your ulterior motive?]

    Back in his room preparing for meditation, the Demon King, who had been silent until now, suspiciously started speaking.

    ‘Ulterior motive? What do you take me for? There’s nothing like that.’

    Seongjin felt awkward but feigned ignorance toward the Demon King.

    […Really? You definitely won’t just let it go, will you? Ah! Are you going to have them assassinated? Making them let their guard down only to strike them silently from behind?]

    ‘Are you nuts? If something happens to those guys in Delcross, who do you think will be the first suspect? Huh?’

    If he’s going to backstab them, it’ll be after the festival, it would be when the delegation leaves Delcross!

    [So you will do it eventually?]

    ‘Hmm, well… I didn’t have plans initially.’

    Seongjin shrugged.

    But there are likely candidates who would want to do the deed.

    I wonder if there’ll be any backstabbing left to do later on.

    * * *

    A mansion in the royal capital townhouse.

    The luxurious mansion, where the young marquis Charles is temporarily staying during the festival period, felt unusually icy.

    Before Charles, who had a stern face, the knights with their heads bowed all knelt down in unison.

    “We have committed a crime worthy of death, your grace, Lord Charles.”

    “Please forgive us…”

    “Ha!”

    Coldly smirking, Charle’s expression was nowhere near the childlike one that had been visible when he was with the capital’s guard force.

    “Do you think today’s events will be forgotten if you lot die?”

    At his icy retort, which was like a biting wind, the helmeted leader hesitantly responded.

    “Uh, the compensation you paid at the restaurant today, we will… definitely repay it…”

    “Fine. Let’s see how much of that loss can be covered by your insignificant salaries. But what’s truly important isn’t that.”

    Charles’s voice was now quivering with anger.

    “How dare you, make Ravioli owe a debt to the Imperial Family?”

    “A debt, you say? That, that is…”

    “If it’s not a debt, then what is it!”

    Charles, who had suddenly risen from his seat, yelled loudly in a sharp voice.

    “How dare you humiliate the Imperial Family in the middle of the empire! Humiliate the princess? When every prominent figure on this continent is trying to bring the princess to their nation through marriage! What will happen if you insult the princess! What will happen to the position of our Brittany!”

    Unable to control his anger, Charles even began kicking the knights who were on their knees.

    “If the emperor uses this as an excuse to refuse a marriage proposal from our country, then who will be responsible? If the princess really becomes the queen of Brittany, what will become of Ravioli’s standing! Unless you lot truly intend to throw Ravioli’s honor into the mud!”

    The faces of the kicked knights turned pale as death.

    “It was me who covered up the incident for you! If that’s not a debt, then what is it!”

    With one last kick to a knight’s shoulder, Charles took a moment to catch his breath. In the meantime, the helmet-styled leader quickly attempted to justify himself.

    “Your Grace! This is all a misunderstanding! Didn’t the prince say so earlier?”

    “A misunderstanding? What misunderstanding?”

    “Thus, the prince misunderstood our jokes among ourselves…”

    “Do you really think Prince Morres’ understanding of the Britannian language would allow him to misunderstand? What could he possibly have misunderstood?”

    “…”

    “Did you think I was unaware of your careless and disrespectful conduct all this while?”

    Charles’s eyes turned even colder as he looked down at the knights, whose words had failed them.

    He ordered his butler who was respectfully standing behind him.

    “Jean Jacques, send these men back to Brittany immediately.”

    “…Your Grace!”

    “And report every one of their sins to my father. Confiscate their assets and either lock them in an underground prison or sell them off to work in the mines of Carthago. Make sure they pay for their sins accordingly.”

    The faces of the bowing knights lost all color.

    Having served the ducal House of Ravioli for a long time, they knew well that Charle’s words were not mere threats.

    “Your Grace, please…”

    “Just once, give us a chance to redeem ourselves!”

    Though the knights pleaded and clung to him, they were soon seized by the hands of other knights, upon the butler’s signal, and were dragged out of the room.

    “Your Grace!”

    Charles didn’t even spare them a glance and issued his next order to the butler.

    “Prepare gifts to be sent to the imperial palace, Jean Jacques. For the emperor, Princess Amelia, and Prince Mores! Prepare the most sincere and valuable things possible!”

    “Yes, Your Grace.”

    “And immediately inform all members of our party to exercise caution. While we are staying in Delcross, it’s imperative to keep tight-lipped about the Empire or the Imperial Family. Make sure everyone understands what kind of punishment awaits those who talk carelessly.”

    “Yes, I’ll see to it,” responded the butler, Jean Jacques, as he respectfully bowed his head before exiting the room.

    Eventually, only Charles and a single knight were left in the spacious room. 

    Finally sitting on the sofa, Charles took a deep breath. The rage that had stretched to the tips of his hair began to gradually subside. 

    “I can only hope that he’s satisfied with this…”

    He sighed deeply, rubbing his temples, which had been throbbing painfully. 

    One of the spies he had sent to observe the situation in the Imperial Court happened to witness the altercation between the knights and Prince Mores from the beginning and reported the details to Charles.

    Thanks to that, he was able to quickly settle matters at the dining hall and locate the security team.

    From the perspective of the knights who were punished, it was unfortunate.

    They had merely been gossiping as they usually did, unaware that a person proficient in Brittanian happened to be nearby!

    However, it was fortunate for Charles that the incident had not been made public. The Ravioli family’s reputation could have been severely compromised, as negotiations for a secret peacemaking alliance with the Imperial Princess were underway.

    Prince Morres’ quick wits were both a blessing and a curse for Charles in that regard.

    He had understood the situation and tactfully retreated, but not without effectively pressuring Charles.

    When asked about the imperial family’s well-being in a diplomatic way, such a blatant reply was returned:

    —”Is there a reason you’re worrying about us in Brittany? I find it interesting that I’m hearing news about the royal family from an outsider.”

    His review of a currently popular play in Brittany was also noteworthy:

    —”A tragedy results when a family can’t control themselves properly. It’s a story you commonly see, isn’t it? It seems the writer has tapped into the public sentiment well.”

    When Ravioli praised a musician for his excellent fugue compositions, this was the reply:

    —”Repeating the same theme can get tiresome. I don’t particularly enjoy listening to the same thing over and over. I’d rather just get rid of the musician. How about you?”

    Given the hints, Charles couldn’t miss the messages behind these comments.

    ‘I know all the nonsense being said about the Imperial Family. Deal with your internal matters before I intervene. Or else, I’ll personally get rid of you all.’

    Third Prince Morres Klein. 

    Setting aside his quick judgment and fluency in Brittany language, he already stood out solely for his uncommon, age-inappropriate aura. Why then, was such a prince receiving negative reviews from the imperial family?

    “…He must have been hiding his true self all this time.”

    If that was true, then he was a truly frightening individual. 

    Charles’ eyes became dark with silence. 

    From now on, he would ignore all baseless rumors about Prince Morres and focus on establishing a close relationship until the line of succession in the empire was secured.

    Charles had made up his mind.

    Thus, a new friendship was forming, albeit unintentionally and possibly based on misunderstandings, between the two. 

    ◆◆◆

    Late night. The Heretic Tribunal.

    A young priest, who was just about to clock out, discovered a brightly lit prayer room.

    Curious, he opened the door and found a familiar face, praying in a dignified posture.

    “…Brother Hayes?”

    The young priest approached him and asked, “Are you praying at this hour?”

    The middle-aged man named Hayes got up and looked at the young priest with tired eyes.

    He was a man of few words, despite having served in the Heretic Tribunal for a long time, hardly interacting with anyone.

    The young priest had only been dispatched a few days ago and hadn’t really had a chance to converse with Hayes before.

    “What brings you here at this late hour?”

    “I happened to be running late on my way home.”

    “Is that so?”

    Hayes’ gaze briefly touched the elongated stick the young priest was carrying and then shifted away.

    “Ah, you’re the new Brother of the [Seed] I’ve heard about.”

    “…”

    The young priest’s face stiffened.

    Because he hadn’t received any specific information about Hayes from the other brothers, he scrutinized Hayes with a suspicious look for a moment before bowing his head and reciting an old religious chant from a now-forgotten sect.

    He tightly grasped the hilt of the dagger hidden within his robe.

    “Bethella.”

    “Bethella.”

    As the calm reply came from Brother Hayes, the young priest relaxed his face and smiled.

    “So you’re a Brother of the forgotten sect. I am Clemence, recently summoned to the Heretic Tribunal. I haven’t heard about you, are you a member of [Seed]?”

    “Although we’re from the same old sect, consider me as good as dead. I’m not a member of [Seed]. You probably haven’t heard of me because I can’t influence the tasks you’re involved in.”

    “Ah…”

    The young priest, Clemence, bowed his head with a somewhat awkward expression.

    “So you already know about the mission. Would you like to join us? The Bishop said the season of great harvest is coming.”

    However, Hayes slowly shook his head.

    “Didn’t I tell you? I’m as good as dead. All I can do is pray.”

    “You can still share in the joy of the harvest with us.”

    “Thank you for the kind offer. However, my prayers have already been answered.”

    Clemence couldn’t hide his sadness. It was as if he were watching a tree slowly wither and die before his eyes.

    Yet Hayes himself looked almost relieved as he smiled.

    “Now, I am simply waiting quietly for Him to come and command me.”

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