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    Early chapters of this series is currently being re-translated and proofread. So there may be discrepancies regarding character names, titles used, location names.

    Current re-translation status: Chp.1-25.

    The streets of Mereloff were adorned with black ribbons fluttering in the wind, mourning the death of their count. Since word was that he was murdered by a slave, the atmosphere felt more ominous than sorrowful.   

    “It’s my first time hearing a nobleman got stabbed to death by his slave. There’s no clue what happened at all.”

    “I heard the count was about to beat his wife, and the slave tried to stop him which led to the scuffle.”  

    “Wait, where do I start pointing out what’s wrong with that? The count beating his wife? He doted on her like his precious treasure. It seemed the exact opposite.”   

    “That’s why no one knows what really goes on between a married couple.”

    “What about the slave then? Is he dead?”

    “Since there was no separate execution, he probably got summarily judged. Crazy bastard, how could he kill his master?”

    “This is just a rumor floating around but apparently the wife and that slave were intimate.” 

    “Pfft, that’s hilarious! Hahaha!”

    “I’m serious! My friend who works at the estate heard it from his friend there. Otherwise why would a slave protect the lady?”

    “Some friend your friend is. What next, friends with the Emperor too?”

    Whether gathered in groups of three or five, talks never failed to involve the late count, his wife, and the slave Clark. With no official statement from the estate, imaginations ran free.  

    ***  

    Lady Lien had spent whole days unmoving in her dark bedroom, rendered listless by feelings of powerlessness and deprivation.   

    “Milady, shall I bring up a meal?”

    “No, that’s fine.”

    “You skipped dinner last night as well.”  

    “…Simon, isn’t this strange?”

    At the lady’s question, Simon turned her head. Staring vacantly into space, she held her jaw. Simon couldn’t bring herself to deny it. Wasn’t Lady Lien perfectly commanding Mereloff after Sir Zegas’ death and Dive’s imprisonment?   

    However…  

    “Rather than strange, you don’t exactly look happy.”  

    Lady Lien faintly smiled at Simon’s reply.  

    Indeed. That was exactly why it felt strange. Her husband whom she got beaten by day after day was dead, yet her mood remained unsettled. It felt like when she had chopped down her mother’s tree to run away.

    “Has the decision been made to send Dive to Tuloon?”

    “The leader Cheol heading out this time chose Toorlun. It’s the ideal time. He said if you send Dive right away, they’ll depart immediately via carrier pigeon.”

    Lady Lien groped the side table for cigarettes. After her husband died that day, she acquired the severe habit of smoking up to ten per day.  

    “How’s the payment?”

    “A 100-gold advance payment, another 100 gold on commencement.”   

    “Better than I expected. I thought it would exceed 1000.”

    The lady nodded, satisfied. Then exhaled cigarette smoke with a huff, murmuring.  

    “Simon, tell Cheol I accept his offer.”   

    “Yes, Milady.”

    “Except not one but two people will be going.”   

    “Two people?”

    With Lady Lien’s silence, Simon realized the second person was Clark. It was to appoint the overseer Ian had suggested. She desperately wanted to believe it was the best option.  

    ‘Anyway if imperial investigators come, he should avoid them. It’ll be better for him to disappear to Toorlun and take care of Dive, then come back quietly and…’

    Come back and live together?   

    The lady felt like she was walking an obscured path. While the next step ahead was visible, the distant destination remained completely out of sight.  

    “Dive’s servant will remain at the estate?”

    “Yes, Milady.”   

    Getting rid of an abandoned servant was child’s play. The lady lay in bed for a long while, inhaling cigarette smoke.  

    “When does Sir Ian depart for the capital?”  

    “Next week. And he’ll visit today to finalize the contract.”  

    “That was today? How time flies.”   

    “Shall I bring a meal?”

    Though she had lain in bed until the sun nearly set in the afternoon, the lady had been tidying affairs in her own way. From preparing the gratuity promised to Ian to overall budget cuts for the territory, and more.  

    “Is Dive still praying in the annex?”

    “Yes. Well, he seems to live quite a regulated life.”  

    Waking, eating, praying, eating again, praying.  

    It appeared he considered his inability to return home and confinement in the annex itself as an ordeal. He cried out night and day to whatever god he believed in to save him.  

    “Idiotic crap.”  

    She exited the bedroom wearing only a loosely draped robe. The servants roaming the halls pretended not to notice, turning their heads away. With a cigarette between her lips, the lady headed for the underground prison.  

    Creak.  

     

    Though Clark bore clear traces of torture from the knights, the wounds had scabbed over and he looked fairly healthy. Vacantly sitting, Clark recognized the lady as she entered and rose to his feet. Separated by the bars, the two merely stood gazing at each other.  

    “Some time later.”  

    The lady was the first to break the silence.  

    “Go to Hawan with Dive. Then head for Toorlun with Cheol.”  

    “Toorlun…”

    “Do you know where Toorlun is?”

    “Yes, I do.”  

    Meaning he also knew it was an extremely distant location. The lady held back the surge of countless words welling up and remained silent.  

    “In preparation for any future imperial investigation, testimony of Dive’s safe arrival is necessary. So make sure to bring him there and then…”

    Lady Lien laid her palm over Clark’s hands clinging onto the bars. It was the very first contact between them. Swallowing a sigh, she murmured her order.  

    “Return.”  

    Instead of replying, Clark merely smiled. Though the lady told him to come back, he knew what burden it would place on her should he do so. Clark lightly kissed the back of the lady’s hand then took a step back.  

    It was their last moment together.

    ***

    “Won’t the carriage axles buckle?”  

    Beric mumbled as he stared at the boxes piled high. They were filled with fragments of Luron, broken off and shaped down to suitable sizes after Ian had blown up quite a few chunks.  

    “There’s only five boxes but they seem heavier than boulders.”

    “I’m planning on securing about ten carriages to distribute the load. How’s it going with the mine cleanup?”  

    Fastening a coat, Ian inquired as he exited. He was more formally dressed than usual in a suit. Since today he was crossing over to Mereloff to wrap up lingering issues involving Dive as well as finalizing the contract.   

    “The manager is still overseeing it. He asked what to do with the dirt and powder.”

    “Tell him to store it all separately.”  

    The magic stone dust that had crumbled away hadn’t lost its innate power either. Saving it bit by bit would surely prove useful later. Ian slyly glanced at Beric and instructed.  

    “Beric, don’t follow me today. Go to the forest instead.”   

    “The forest? Ah, Philea?”

    The intent was for him to meet Ian’s mother, Philea. Ian would soon be departing this place. While he might return someday, the likelihood of that not happening was far greater. From Philea’s position as his sole parent, this could be her final chance.  

    “Right. Let her know I’m leaving. Bring her down with you if she wants.”  

    “Got it. But you’re going to Mereloff alone?”

    “Sir Romandro and my subordinates will accompany me. The ones remaining here will interact often with Lady Lien, so it’s best if they build rapport in advance.”

    Though the time to depart this territory drew near, Ian didn’t feel it at all. Neither completely letting go nor tying up all loose ends perfectly was feasible.  

    “Haa.”  

    Staring at the towering pile of documents, Ian unconsciously sighed. For the territory to operate without issues for a while in his absence, he had to thoroughly review and process those before leaving. Chewing a Gulla seed, Beric silently observed the scene.  

    Knock knock.   

    “Sir Ian, the carriages are ready.”

    “And Sir Romandro?”

    “He’s waiting downstairs.”

    “I’ll head right down.”  

    At Hannah’s summons, Ian hurriedly exited the room. As Hannah also turned to leave, her eyes met Beric’s head-on.  

    “Sir Beric? What’s the matter?”

    “You’re going to Mereloff too?”

    “Yes, we probably won’t be back until late tonight.”  

    For a while now Hannah had been crossing over to Mereloff for various lessons from Lady Lien’s head attendant. While book learning could be done here, she absolutely required someone to teach her basic etiquette and estate management skills properly.  

    “Did something happen?”

    “Nah, it’s nothing much. Just, doesn’t Ian seem more tired lately?”   

    The unexpected remark made Hannah’s eyes grow round. There certainly had been more work than usual these days. Felt like there were several nights in a row he didn’t get to sleep.  

    “You’re right, he does. And he keeps leaving food uneaten.”  

    Hannah furrowed her brow, mulling it over, then clawed at her hair in shock. Despite Beric’s bewildered gaze, she only mumbled to herself.  

    “Oh my gosh! A head attendant’s fundamental virtue is vigilance over her master’s health and comfort! Heavens. Have I been neglecting that?”  

    “…Hannah, you okay?”

    “No matter how busy I am, could I be busier than Sir Ian?! Than me?!”  

    “Whoa, why are you like this. It’s creepy.”  

    “I need to start taking better care of him from tonight’s dinner on! Thank you Sir Beric! I’ll work hard until the day I become a perfect head attendant!”  

    Eyes blazing with fighting spirit, Hannah raised her fist. Beric awkwardly returned her vigor. Then as he watched her dart off swiftly, he flopped down on his back.  

    ‘When they get busy, they definitely start losing it, huh.’

    Before heading out the main gate, Hannah made a beeline straight for the dining hall instead.  

    “Chef Mandar! I’m going to Mereloff but please, please prepare very nutritious dishes starting tomorrow until Sir Ian comes up for meals!”

    “Hannah? What happened all of a sudden?”  

    “Sir Ian seems worn down lately. He looks tired, anyway, pork, duck, beef! You know? I’m heading out!”

    Whoosh!  

    The kitchen was left spinning as if swept by a typhoon. A maid doing the dishes inside cautiously peeked out.  

    “What’s Hannah saying?”  

    “She gotta secure some meat from the village. For Sir Ian’s health.”  

    “Huh? Sir Ian? Is he sick somewhere?”

    “Sir Ian is sick? Where?”  

    Rumors swirled in moments. ‘Ian looks tired’ soon transformed into ‘Ian is sick’ or even ‘is severely ill’. What a servant mentioned while out in the village drove the nail in.  

    “Lately Sir Ian has been overexerting himself so…”

    “Whaaat?!”  

    Stomp stomp stomp!  

    At that moment, in the carriage bound for Mereloff. Ian suddenly couldn’t stand the irritation in his ears.  

    ‘Beric, are you badmouthing me?’  

    He wrinkled his brow for no reason, rubbing his ears. Across from him, Romandro worriedly asked.  

    “What’s the matter?”

    “No, it just feels a bit uncomfortable.”  

    “Oh that’s right. Other things were roughly settled by letter, but there was no decision regarding the count’s funeral.”  

    While the overall schedule was easily aligned, the count’s funeral arrangements still remained undecided. Staring out the window, Ian rubbed his chin. In the distance, Mereloff came into view. The skies were overcast, seeming ready to pour snow at any moment.  

    “They probably intend a quiet service with no one the wiser.”  

    “Huh? No one the wiser?”

    “Just like the lady’s secret wedding. That’s why they waited for winter, no?”  

    A funeral that no one would come to or even know about.

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