* * *
The three children found themselves leaving the kitchen in the middle of the night to go stargazing. They walked along a lengthy corridor, and as they approached the main hall, a tense atmosphere hung in the air.
‘It’s strange. It should be a time when it’s as quiet as a mouse.’
Izeline thought, turning to look at the other two. While Robert wore an anxious expression, Michael’s eyes shimmered with curious anticipation, eager to witness what was unfolding. The voices grew clearer as they continued walking.
“…What could be happening at this hour…”
“…Even if he can’t come—”
The voices belonged to the butler, Heint, and the Duke of Brioche.
Robert’s face paled as he recognized the voices.
Why would the Duke be present when he should be in the Capital? The Duke’s visit to this rural mansion could only mean one thing—it must be connected to him, the sole heir of the Duke of Armanty.
The Duke’s voice continued.
“Summon Oren immediately.”
“But it’s not an appropriate time…”
“He has disrupted my plans! Bring him before me immediately!”
Heint, his body drenched in cold sweat, bowed his head. Although he was unaware of Oren’s background, he knew that Oren was a knight of the esteemed Ignite Order, so he wasn’t certain if causing a disturbance at this hour was suitable.
Nonetheless, he had no choice.
Pushed forward as if compelled, Heint began ascending the grand staircase.
“What brings you here?”
Suddenly, the Duke spoke.
The moonlight slowly revealed the recipient of those words, whose face was hidden in the darkness as the clouds shifted. Izeline, who had been eavesdropping behind a pillar, widened her eyes in surprise. Michael and Robert shared the same reaction.
It was their teacher, yet his appearance was unfamiliar.
Oren, who had shed his mischievous demeanor, stared down at the Duke with a chilling gaze.
Already furious and having rushed here on horseback, Brioche’s anger intensified at Oren’s audacity. Even if he had come down and displayed proper etiquette, it wouldn’t have been enough. Oren defiantly tilted his head with arrogance.
The Duke’s hazel eyes shot an icy glance at him.
“I have something to discuss with you personally. That’s why I came down myself.”
“Ah, is it about the letter you wrote and sent?”
With that, Oren grasped the railing with one hand and gracefully leaped down from a height of three floors.
He landed almost flawlessly, causing Brioche to uncomfortably clear his throat. He acknowledged Oren’s skill. Karif had deemed him worthy, after all, so he wouldn’t interfere with the lessons. However, there was one problem he couldn’t ignore.
“I told you to stop.”
The Duke’s words carried force. The contents of the letter to him had already served as warnings on several occasions. Still, Oren stood his ground, unwavering.
“I can’t do that. Your son’s talent is too precious to be wasted.”
As expected, it seemed that Robert’s actions had caused the problem. Izeline glanced looked at Robert, her eyes trembling. He was filled with anxiety, fearing that his swordsmanship training would be halted.
“Robert, do you enjoy sword training?”
“Yeah. It’s fun and challenging.”
Robert’s voice, confessing shyly, echoed in her ears.
As she peered beyond the pillar with a worried heart, she could see Brioche vehemently opposed Oren’s decision to include Robert in the training, which had been unilaterally decided by Oren.
“I won’t say it twice. Immediately stop Robert’s sword training!”
He was genuinely angry. Despite the fact that he despised his son, who suffered from Krug’s disease, he couldn’t let go of the only hope he had. Yet, the person he had sent to teach Izeline was urging him to fulfill his son’s request.
“A patient with Krug’s disease should not engage in strenuous exercise!”
“Isn’t that just an unsubstantiated rumor?”
“Are you a doctor? He’s my son! I have the right to decide as I please!”
“My lord, he is not an object.”
Oren’s words carried a hint of bitterness. He grimaced and added that he had no say in the matter.
“Are you suggesting that I dismiss my disciple without hesitation?”
Brioche clenched his teeth. He had anticipated that they wouldn’t see eye to eye, but Oren truly had a knack for raising his blood pressure.
When he first received the report about Robert’s sword training, he found it hard to believe. The image of the boy who always hunched his shoulders and had a gloomy face actively training outside was not easily conjured in his mind.
However, after confirming with Heint that the report was true, he promptly sent a letter to Oren.
Unfortunately, he didn’t receive a reply. Instead, he received a report from Heint that the training was resuming.
Already burdened with various matters in the political world, Brioche patiently sent several more warning letters, though he never received a response. In his anger, he decided to make time in his busy schedule and visit the mansion. He had just arrived a short while ago.
“If Robert’s condition worsens, I won’t stand idly by.”
“It’s a bit unfair. Krug is an incurable disease, so what can I do?”
Brioche’s face contorted with anger as he skillfully evaded the issue.
Oren spoke again.
“Besides, there’s also a contract.”
He was referring to the promise Brioche made with Izeline regarding Robert’s lifespan. Izeline, who had been watching in suspense, became dumbfounded.
Brioche wanted him to dismiss his disciple right now? He was the one who was supposed to be responsible for Robert’s training, but if Krug progresses due to intense exercise, the blame would all be on Master…?
Of course, Izeline knew that Robert’s condition wouldn’t be influenced by rigorous training. In the original story, he grew up to be one of the strongest swordsmen, so his proficiency in swordsmanship was unquestionable.
‘But the clueless Duke can’t even understand that?’
In her heart, she wanted to retort and argue. But unfortunately, she was now in a position where she could only cheer for Oren to win the argument with his words.
“Your arrogance knows no bounds.”
“If there’s anything wrong with what I said, let me know.”
“You’ve become insolent. I have the power to decide your fate!”
“The same goes for me.”
As Brioche’s eyes widened in surprise, the maids, Heint, and even the three young disciples were dumbfounded.
His remark seemed thoughtless and akin to threatening Duke Armarty, one of the Empire’s pillars. With that statement, Brioche could hold his accountable and sentence him to death. Nevertheless, Oren remained calm and smiled wickedly.
“Of course, it would be wise for us not to provoke each other.”
By leaving him alone, he was proposing that he wouldn’t assassinate the Duke either. Brioche gritted his teeth in frustration. As one of the four strongest knights acknowledged by Karif, it couldn’t be empty words.
Suppressing his anger, Brioche took a step back.
“Robert’s education is under my authority.”
Brioche requested Oren to stop Robert’s sword training, which he claimed as his right. However, it sounded more like a request rather than an assertion of authority. It offended his pride, but Oren responded nonchalantly.
“I don’t even charge a tuition fee for Robert, so teaching him is entirely up to me, isn’t it?”
“In that case, I’ll just find another teacher.”
Oren narrowed his eyes, slightly annoyed. He had come to Souvri to teach Izeline, and the Duke naturally paid him the tuition fee only for her.
The Duke took the lead in the conversation.
“There’s no reason to use you, even though you’ve been recommended by Viscount Karif.”
Oren mumbled in a difficult situation.
“Go back. Give me time to reconsider it.”
In that moment, Oren, who had been replying throughout the argument, suddenly fell silent.
Frustrated, Izeline stomped her feet, hoping someone would help in this heated dispute. Robert seemed to have a dark cloud over his head, questioning whether he could continue learning, while Michael, thinking it was an adult’s fight, let out a quiet sigh.
‘Am I the only one who can step up?’
Clenching her fists, she raised her head and suddenly locked eyes with Oren. Her eyes widened in surprise, but it seemed like he knew from the beginning that the three disciples were eavesdropping on the conversation.
He gave Izeline a pleading look, silently asking for help.
Do something, kid.
It was as if he uttered those words.
Although she had intended to intervene, she hesitated and emerged cautiously from behind the pillar.
As Izeline stepped forward, Robert tried to restrain her by grabbing her clothes. However, when he felt the intense gaze of the Duke, he quickly withdrew his hand. On the other hand, Michael regarded her with a curious expression, silently questioning what she could do to meddle in the adults’ argument.
Her expression conveyed uncertainty.
Under the scrutinizing gaze of everyone present, Izeline took hesitant steps forward and halted in front of Brioche.
Slowly, she spoke up.
“Duke, he’s the only excellent knight available.”
Brioche raised an eyebrow, initially dismissing her comment before lowering it again.
“The cwontwact between the Duke and Viscount Karif regarding sword training swould remain unchanged.”
“Your life is at stake. Think twice before speaking.”
He retorted, glaring fiercely at her and issuing a veiled threat. Still, Izeline didn’t flinch.
“If he cannot surpass the age of eight, I won’t swear loyalty to my mwaster.”
Oren, who had been caught off guard and was bewildered, pointed at himself in disbelief. Izeline scolded him once again.
“Master, you’we also responsible.”
Well, he was about to sell out his disciple earlier.
“No, that’s baseless—”
She interrupted the esteemed Duke’s words and looked up at him.
“I request clemency for Michael, who has accompanied me this far.”
Brioche stared at her with a strange expression. He lowered his head, seemingly succumbing to Izeline’s appeal.
Mentioning Michael was merely an added bonus.
At first glance, it appeared that Brioche had taken full advantage of the deal, but in reality, he was maneuvering the situation to her advantage.
As time passed, the child’s talent became increasingly evident. If she were to enter the political realm in the future, she would wield significant influence.
Contemplating whether he should play along with her teasing, the experienced Brioche lowered his hazel eyes and focused on Michael. The young boy, after meeting Izeline’s gaze, cautiously responded to the pressure he exerted.
“I have also delayed my enrollment….”
He smiled awkwardly and continued.
“The semester has already started.”
Brioche calmly stared at Oren, Izeline, and Michael with a calm gaze. His final destination was Robert, who stood hesitantly next to the pillar. In Robert’s eyes, fixed upon his father, a profound fear was evident.
The sight displeased Brioche, and his gaze involuntarily turned cold.
Playing along was pointless.
The fun had already faded away.
To think that such an incompetent child would be of Armanty’s lineage…
A worthless person, not only afflicted with a terminal illness but also lacking any remarkable skills. As he observed his son, who lacked confidence, Brioche silently enumerated numerous harsh assessments in his mind.
But then, a single word slipped out of Robert’s mouth, causing Brioche’s eyes to widen in surprise.