After I sent official letters to each territory, the news that the Duchess of Blois was bringing wandering cat shapeshifters from all over the country had apparently become a hot topic in social circles. Even if I didn’t want to hear, I could hear how I was being evaluated outside the world through the mouths of various people.
Many people were laughing at my eccentricity. Some called me crazy, while others expressed concern.
Sometimes, I was shaken by thoughts of whether I was doing the right thing, or whether I had taken on too big a task, and what would happen if things didn’t go as planned.
There were times when everything seemed dark. At first, I had a clear conviction and had conducted thorough research before executing the plan. Still, as so many people were mocking and laughing at me, my anxiety grew.
That was just how human hearts were, wasn’t it?
Dimitri held me next to him.
“Don’t worry too much, Rowaine.”
He comforted me upon hearing my sigh.
I felt sorry for showing him my helpless state even though I was the one who had caused all this, but I couldn’t help it.
“I’m worried because it’s the first time I’m undertaking something this big. I’m sorry, Dimitri, for showing such an unreliable side.”
“It’s a skill to take on such a big task for the first time.”
“You’re giving me too much credit. Although what I need right now isn’t sweet words of comfort, but the confidence that things will go according to plan.”
Dimitri stared at me.
“It wasn’t necessarily consolation.”
I pondered what he meant by those words and remembered that he wasn’t someone who spoke without reason, and I was a little surprised.
‘What, did he know it himself?’
A cat that was self-objective.
He sat down at the desk in my office and looked down at me before he opened his mouth again.
“Rowaine, at times, you tend to judge others based on what you want to hear.”
He narrowed his eyes.
“Don’t be so sure you understand everything about a cat’s mind.”
“I said that?”
“Aren’t you acting as if you know everything just by looking at their eyes?”
At that moment, as Dimitri’s pupils dilated significantly, I didn’t miss it and raised my pen to block his attack swiftly.
“I told you to stop playing around.”
When I glared at him, he put down the pen he had been brandishing like a sword onto the desk as if his excitement had waned.
He had been playing a prank on me earlier, swinging the pen at me and poking me in the arm.
As a result, it was incredibly disruptive to my work.
Dimitri stroked his chin and spoke somewhat ruefully.
“You could have taken up martial arts.”
“I’ve been thinking about it for a while. People who are agile enough to stop me are rare.”
I couldn’t help but chuckle when I saw his serious expression. He seemed quite amazed by how I was able to fend repeatedly deflect his playful ambushes every time.
“It’s not that I’m agile. It’s that I’m good at reading Dimitri.”
Seeing him laughing as if that couldn’t be possible, I showed him a hand mirror I had taken out from the desk drawer.
“Dimitri’s pupils dilate and then constrict instantaneously when you’re going to attack. Didn’t you know?”
Then, he examined his pupils in the mirror.
To convince him, I raised my pen and made a sudden stab at his side. Instinctively, while still looking in the mirror, he raised his hand to block my attack.
“See? It’s not just when you’re attacking. It’s when you’re focused in the moment.”
He touched his forehead as if feeling self-conscious.
“I can’t believe I’ve been so obvious.”
Saying so, he glared at me sharply.
“How long have you known about my weaknesses that I didn’t even know about?”
‘All cats are like that.’
I smiled to myself and shrugged my shoulders.
“So, will you stop playing around and get up from my desk?”
When I pushed him away, he reluctantly got up and started to wander around me.
“Don’t even wander around.”
I couldn’t understand why he was so bent on disrupting my work, as though he was afraid someone would say he wasn’t a cat. Eventually, he flopped down on the couch with a bored expression.
“Aren’t you going to go horseback riding today?”
“I still have work to finish.”
“Now Sasha is quite good at dealing with the demon.”
“Dimitri, are you bored?”
He answered firmly as if he had no intention of hiding it.
I glared at him, who had left his own office to come here and was so leisurely wasting his time disturbing me.
“I’m currently busy allocating the budget for accommodating the cat shapeshifters, providing food, and other necessities. Dimitri, why are you so idle? Does Viscount Villefranc also know about this?”
I asked, suspecting that he had probably entrusted his loyal aide with the work and sneaked out.
“I’m the Duke. I’m his superior.”
As he finished his words, he stared at me with the expression of a ruler as if wondering why he should be concerned about his aide’s feelings.
“I’ve seen Viscount Villefranc crying about being behind on work several times.”
“Did he snitch it to Rowaine? He’s not even a child. Tsk.”
“He wasn’t snitching.”
“His job is to assist me so that I don’t get too busy. That’s why I hired him. If he whines like that to Rowaine, he’s just advertising his worthlessness. Ignore him.”
‘…Poor Viscount Villefranc.’
Seeing how he casually undervalued someone who was both a close friend and a loyal subordinate, I corrected the conversation that had become focused on Viscount Villefranc.
“So, in conclusion, you’re free?”
“It seems like you want to blame me, though it’s Rowaine who made me like this so don’t look at me like that.”
“You’re free because of me?”
“While accommodating the cat seers in Blois, it seems like the world treats this place as if it’s a hotbed of contagion.”
As he said, due to malicious rumors about cats controlling the dream demons, Blois was now associated with the hideout of the cat shapeshifters.
“But what does that have to do with Dimitri being free?”
“Almost all the territories have severed ties with Blois, so there’s significantly less work to oversee.”
He sounded so nonchalant that it didn’t seem like a big deal, but I asked just in case.
“This isn’t a serious situation, is it?”
“Not enough for Rowaine to care.”
“Well, that’s a relief.”
I sighed with relief as I patted my chest.
I got up from my seat and pushed Dimitri, who was sitting on the sofa, by his back and kicked him out of the office.
“Just because Dimitri is free doesn’t mean I’m free, so play by yourself.”
As he stood in front of the door, staring at me with an unreadable expression… why did it look so pitiful?
‘…That person is not a pitiable person.’
I turned my gaze away from him deliberately. Even though it was difficult to shut the door decisively, I managed to do it with my eyes tightly closed.
‘I’ve got a lot of work to do.’
After being kicked out, Dimitri had no choice but to return to his own office. Coincidentally, he crossed paths with Hyle in the hallway, who was carrying a few reports on his way to the office.
“I was wondering whether I should go to Madam Rowaine’s office or come here, but I see that you’re here for some reason.”
As if indicating he saved him the trouble of going to look for him, Dimitri replied with an arched eyebrow.
“That sounds rather arrogant.”
“Your Excellency is sensitive.”
“I’m sure of it now. It’s your insolence.”
As he finished his words, Dimitri raised his fist and struck Hyle’s side forcefully, who gasped and stumbled back a couple of steps.
“Ugh. It’s not that I’m weak, it’s that Your Excellency is strong.”
“Do some training.”
“You mean enduring punishment?”
Soon, Dimitri entered the office with a somewhat improved expression.
‘It’s not that I can be read clearly, but that Rowaine can read me strangely well.’
Even Hyle, who had shared a battlefield with him, didn’t notice changes in his pupils.
‘She’s interested in me, so she knows me that well.’
Dimitri, firmly entrenched in the illusion, hummed as he received the report from his aide.
Seeing him like that, Hyle, standing in front of the desk while rubbing his sore side, reported without any expression of surprise as if he was accustomed to his superior’s mood swings.
“More nobles than expected have cut ties with Blois. Trade is being completely disrupted.”
A while ago, even though he spoke to Rowaine as if it was nothing, in reality, Blois’s economy was in crisis.
As outside merchants had stopped coming and the anxiety of the residents of the territory increased, forcing everyone to confine themselves to their homes, causing commerce within Blois to come to a standstill. In addition, the nobles were dissatisfied with Rowaine’s actions, and trade between the territories was gradually cut off.
Amidst this situation, the elders rushed to protest vehemently as if the time had finally come, saying that Rowaine was bringing down the prestige of Blois.
However, Dimitri remained composed even as he received reports that everything was getting worse.
He gave Hyle orders with a leisurely smile.
“Make a list of the nobles who have cut off trade with us, and keep a separate record of those who have stayed with us until the end. It will be an important criterion for our future actions.”
When he heard that Rowaine had a plan to elevate the status of the cat shapeshifters, he was intrigued that she was attempting things he had never tried before.
It was amazing.
Despite the fact that she was inexperienced in politics, the way she stirred up the entire empire to achieve her goals was extraordinary. Although she seemed to doubt her own abilities, in his view, she was doing exceptionally well. The fact that so many nobles were reacting and taking action was proof of that.
He intended to humiliate those who had disregarded her to kneel under Rowaine’s feet.
So that everyone would look up to her.