“You think of me as a fool, don’t you? When you received that ridiculous letter, you didn’t consider me either.”
Caitlyn laughed coldly.
“You are my son. Although you have half of the foolish blood of Vance Drake Meyer, you resemble me more. It means that even a shallow ruse like that sees right through me.”
Grozhang was left breathless.
How could she have known? Where did he go wrong?
Jetsen was burned, and the contract killer confessed. Everything seemed perfect. But where did it all go wrong?
Did he rely too much on Jetsen? Was it… a trap?
Grozhang’s blood turned cold.
As if to answer him, Caitlyn continued, “I’ve been using people for a long time. I’m not talking about a mere, bumbling aide but the real deal.”
This can’t be!
Grozhang, unable to control his trembling legs, held onto the armrest of the chair. Who could it be? A real deal?
Tobias? Pip? Or maybe…
The faces of his associates flashed through Grozhang’s mind. All the people he had personally recruited for undercover work. He went to great lengths, even crossing borders to rescue the servants beyond the reach of Duchess Meyer.
And now, to be played like this… damn it!
He had been too naive. Too impatient. He should have been more cautious, not missing the fact that the woman could deceive him.
It was then, in the midst of Grozhang’s confusion and shock, that someone knocked on the door. Without anyone answering, the door swung open.
Caitlyn’s icy gaze turned, but she was speechless when the strange man entered and boldly locked the door without permission.
Hadius’ voice was completely incongruent with the atmosphere.
“I am here with a humble heart. On behalf of the Duchess, I’m pleased to introduce this man to you.”
Caitlyn’s eyes, which had just lost their composure and sharpened, began to show surprise.
“What’s going on? What kind of joke is this, Hadius?”
“Please refrain from the exaggeration, Your Grace. I can’t say how grateful I am to be able to introduce this man to you.”
Caitlyn’s eyes sharpened further.
“What is this…? What are you trying to do, Hadius?”
“Please refrain from such excess, Your Grace. Before all remaining compassion disappears.”
A sudden realization washed over Grozhang.
“Quickly, let’s greet the Duchess.”
When Hadius spoke softly, Hessen stepped forward in front of Caitlyn Meyer.
“Enough of this, Hadius, be reasonable…”
“Call off your pretense, Your Grace, before all the remaining compassion I have is used up.”
Grozhang had a dizzying revelation. His sweaty vision cleared, and after wiping his brow, he turned to face Caitlyn Meyer again. The veil of the foggy haze was lifted, and the truth began to emerge.
One corner of her lips, which had just crookedly lifted, was suddenly seized by a severe convulsion, and the hand clutching the armrest trembled violently.
Yes, perhaps this was an exaggeration. The last act of someone who had no cards left to play.
The heartbeat that had been racing like mad was suddenly restored to normal in an instant.
“Let’s greet the Duchess now.”
When Hadius spoke gently, Hessen, who had been standing in front of Caitlyn Meyer, stepped forward.
“Enough, Hadius, be reasonable…”
The name rang out ominously, and Caitlyn’s eyes turned toward the man.
“No… it’s a lie…”
Caitlyn was agitated and gradually turned pale.
“It’s a lie…”
She kept denying as she stared at her son.
“Don’t lie, Hadius, it can’t be true…”
“You probably won’t believe it.”
Hessen interjected with a smirk.
“I am the boy’s older brother, whether you believe it or not. The one you pitifully killed.”
Caitlyn looked at the stranger, who seemed as if he would strangle her at any moment, then turned back to her son.
“No, this can’t be… Hadius…”
Hadius didn’t respond at all. He just held his arm up, locking the door like an observer from outside.
Caitlyn belatedly realized the situation and was about to scream with all her might. However, Hessen was faster. He quickly gagged her and pulled out a gun.
Caitlyn’s throat produced an animalistic moan, as she couldn’t breathe.
If Hadius had aimed the gun at her, she wouldn’t have been so terrified.
But he said he was Kanoa’s brother.
Really her brother.
The brother of the woman she had hired contract killers to kill…!
“Do you know how long I’ve been waiting for this moment? For the past ten years… how much I wanted to… kill you…”
Caitlyn’s heart plummeted. Only now did the terror of death begin to cast its shadow.
Grozhang watched from the sidelines and was also shocked.
The situation wasn’t what he had planned.
Grozhang blocked his lord’s path. There was only one thought in his mind.
He couldn’t let Hadius Meyer kill his own mother, Caitlyn Meyer. It may have been inevitable for William Richards, but not for Caitlyn Meyer. She was the mother, right?
However, Hadius didn’t bat an eye.
While he coldly observed, Hessen’s face began to fill with madness. The gun barrel was pressed firmly against Caitlyn’s throat.
“Do you know how good of a child Kanoa was, how innocent he was… You knew well, didn’t you?”
The deranged tone contained hints of tears, and the hand holding the gun was trembling, as if it would pull the trigger at any moment.
“He was such a good child. Innocent and good enough to believe in someone like you. Every time he met you, he called you the most generous Duchess in the world. But… for such a good and pitiful child…”
“Ha… ha… ugh!”
Caitlyn stared at her son with an urgent, pleading look, making animal-like sounds through the gag.
Grozhang also pleaded.
Hessen had lost his reason and was trembling to the point where he might accidentally pull the trigger. If that happened, someone would die, and it wouldn’t be just anyone; it would be a son standing by, watching his mother be killed!
“Hessen, please… Put the gun down…”
Grozhang gave up on his lord and approached Hessen.
“This isn’t right. This isn’t how it should be.”
“Aren’t we here to ensure that woman faces the judgment of justice? You’re not seeking blood revenge. We are not criminals.”
Hessen’s eyes filled with red veins, and his face was soaked in sweat. He seemed not to see or hear anything.
For a moment, uncontrollable anger surged from him, coupled with an obscenity. His hand, which had been trembling, tensed up, and the trigger was pulled against his will.
* * *
“Goodness, Emilia, look outside, it’s snowing!”
Emilia looked up. Under the heavy overcast clouds, white snowflakes were dancing down.
“Really? Is it really snowing?”
Emilia took Charlotte’s hand, stretched it out to the window, and every time a cold snowflake touched her face, her eyes sparkled with a bright smile.
“When there’s enough snow, let’s make a snowman later.”
Emilia sat back in her chair in front of the fireplace, continuing her work.
She looked at the stack of diapers she had carefully arranged. Suddenly, a thought came to her, and she picked up the scissors.
She cut the fabric into a square, making sure the edges were neatly folded to prevent fraying. The last step was to choose a thread for the seams. Emilia chose a gray thread that resembled her son’s eye color.
She felt strangely at odds looking at the initials carved on the handkerchief.
Emilia Meyer? It didn’t quite suit her, did it? What about their child?
Charlotte seemed to hear a soft chuckle.
“What’s the matter?”
“Hmm? Oh… It’s nothing, really.”
Emilia neatly folded the handkerchief and placed it in a basket before returning to her sewing.
It was a way to keep her mind occupied, but her mind once again began to fill with thoughts of him.
When will he come? The commander, Maesen, said he would be back today.
“Milord, you don’t need to worry. Despite our negligence that caused Young Lady Bern’s unfortunate situation, everything else is perfect. We’ve planned for a long time, and nothing can go wrong.”
It was an enigmatic response. Yet, Maesen seemed to have said too much, his face stiffened as if he’d revealed too many details.
Emilia rested her hand on her belly.
Don’t worry, baby. Everything will be fine.
* * *
William Richards from before was different. There was no thunderous gunfire, no bullets flying, no puddles of blood rapidly forming on the floor.
The sound of the small, anticlimactic gunshot left everyone in the room bewildered.
Grozhang felt his heart shrink as if a taut string had been suddenly cut.
Astonished and deflated, Grozhang watched as Hadius calmly walked out.
“The gun is empty; I removed the bullets as promised.”
Hessen was frozen in place, and Caitlyn’s body collapsed forward.
“I won’t let the desire for revenge dictate my actions.”
“Grozhang, put the gun away.”
“Yes? Ah… Yes!”
Grozhang finally regained his senses and approached Hessen, taking the gun away. He hid it inside his jacket, as if he were in a daze.
“I didn’t kill my mother. Such cruelty cannot be allowed.”
Hadius spoke calmly as he approached Caitlyn.
“Are you in your right mind?”
Caitlyn was breathing heavily, her face so pale that she might pass out at any moment. To focus her vision that had blurred due to shock, she blinked repeatedly. Hadius’ gaze turned to Hessen.
“I’m sure you’ve had sufficient revenge.”
Hessen had exacted revenge on Caitlyn, and Caitlyn had died there, but only for that moment.
“Listen to me, Mother.”
Caitlyn stared at her son with a vacant look.
“William Richards has died. Jetson, who was following him, is missing. He may have died as well.”
There was no room for surprise. Caitlyn listened to her son in silence, her face as if in a trance.
“Of course, Jetson’s body will never be found. His will, in the form of a letter and a note, will be discovered. The note will contain content suggesting that he received orders from Lady Meyer to pursue William Richards, and accidentally killed him, which led to his exposure. The note will also reveal other secret matters, such as the highway robbery and the attempted poisoning of Lord Meyer.”
Caitlyn’s eyes were shot with blood. Her body began to shake. She blinked multiple times to clear her vision. Hadius continued in a dry, almost detached tone, as if reading a newspaper.
“Investigators will arrive shortly.”
“I’ll tell you again: I won’t directly harm my mother.”
Hadius released Caitlyn’s gag. But even after her mouth was freed, she couldn’t even moan.
“Don’t resist and accept your fate. It will lessen your suffering.”
With a groan, she bit her lip but realized something.
She had completely lost. She had been defeated by her son, her heir.
“I’ll arrange for your rescue at the right time. You’ll be replaced with exile or house arrest, something like that. You said you wanted to stay away from society for a while. It won’t be too unfair.”
Caitlyn Meyer trembled all over and stared at her son.
“Of course, you’ll have to wait until I become Lord Meyer. Try to weaken yourself as much as possible by then.”
Then, at that moment, noises from outside grew louder, and the commotion approached. Then, there was a loud knocking on the door.
“Open the door! No, move aside, what’s going on here? Who do they think they are, and where do they think they are?”
Rough scuffling could be heard, and someone knocked on the door repeatedly.
“Open the door! No, don’t! What are you doing? How dare you think this is your place…!”
Amid the chaotic noises, Hadius calmly walked to the door and opened it. People rushed inside, pushing and shoving.
They were the special royal investigators.
* * *
Having left Krambitz behind, Hadius gazed up at the sky. Snowflakes were falling, covering the world like they were dancing down from the heavens. He stood there for a long time in the falling snow.
At that moment, he couldn’t tell if what was weighing down his entire body was fatigue, a sense of liberation, or simply pain.
He looked up at the sky, his face as unyielding as a statue. The snow settled on his frozen features, but the white tracks that resembled tears disappeared into the air in an instant.
Hadius began to walk again, his steps slow and deliberate.
The pure white snow covered everything vile and despicable in the world. It even enveloped the remnants of regret and sorrow, leaving nothing behind.
Yes, now I have nothing left. The only thing remaining is just one.
“Milord, the carriage is ready,” Grozhang said as he approached. Hadius changed his direction.
* * *
The snow had piled up quite a bit outside the window. Charlotte was outside, playing in the snow with Beppy, building a snowman.
Emilia put on her shawl and went outside. The snow was falling silently, making the quiet garden even more serene. She took a deep breath, and the crisp, cold air filled her scorched lungs.
It’s only been two days, but why do I miss him this much? It felt like she was waiting for her husband to return from the battlefield.
Staring at snow-covered branches, Emilia’s head suddenly dropped, and a lump formed in her throat. She couldn’t bear the feeling that was about to burst inside her, so she just stared blankly at the snowflakes falling on her hand, not knowing what to do.
Charlotte finished rolling a snowball and came over and sat next to her.
“What are you doing?”
Charlotte suddenly clapped her hands, “Oh, I remember! We used to do this a lot on the beach, didn’t we?”
Emilia had never seen a star in her life, so she assumed what Charlotte had drawn wasn’t a star but rather an indiscernible series of lines. She smiled and pulled Charlotte’s wrist.
“Let me show you.”
Emilia took Charlotte’s hand and carefully drew an accurate star in the snow.
“And a cloverleaf, too.”
She added a four-leaf clover alongside the star. Charlotte clapped her hands, even though she couldn’t see them clearly. She seemed to like it even though she had no idea what was drawn.
“Now it’s your turn.”
Emilia removed her hand and waited for Charlotte to draw something in the snow. The child drew with enthusiasm and excitedly.
“Look, this is Lord Hadius’ heart.”
Emilia felt her heart race as she gazed at the symbol drawn on the white snow.
“Now, this is also your heart.”
Charlotte whispered so quietly. She made Emilia’s heart, too, even though she hadn’t seen it.
“Now, I hope you both feel the same way.”
As she whispered, the moment was still. The carriage arrived silently and could be seen through the falling white snow.
As always, Brave and Charlotte noticed right away. The dog barked happily, and Charlotte stood up quickly. The carriage stopped, and a gentleman’s boot stepped onto the snowy ground.
Quietly, he approached the small heart symbol that Charlotte had drawn.