The swirling snowflakes that had caused a commotion gradually subsided after filling the day.
Under a dark sky covered with ashen clouds, dozens of journalists who had been summoned by His Majesty the King walked out of Riccardi Manor in shock.
They rushed through the snow-capped streets, each heading to their respective newspaper offices to report the breaking news.
The crankshaft spun and stamped out letters.
Throughout the night, the completed newspapers were loaded onto carriages and distributed to various locations across the country, including Tobaro, which was about to host the engagement ceremony.
The steward who received the newspaper from the delivery person could not even get through a few seconds before turning deathly pale. His trembling body rushed to the master, who was in a state of disarray.
* * *
William Richard found murdered near Nowak!
Duchess of Meyer, prime suspect
Duchess of Meyer arrested on suspicion of the murder of a tutor
The future of the Three-Fold Alliance shrouded in shock and confusion
Just skimming the headlines of the newspaper was enough. Bianca had to double-check the large font several times, worried that she had misread.
“Father, this… this is… what in the world….”
Clutching the newspaper, Bianca’s whole body trembled. She clenched her fist after a while, shaking her head.
“No, this can’t be. There must be a mistake.”
Enlia looked at her husband for agreement, but his eyes were wide open and he seemed on the brink of collapse. For a moment, even Enlia felt a chill and was scared. He had recently been warned by his personal physician that his heart had grown weak.
She began, a worried tone in her voice, but the words could not continue. From Hannes’ throat erupted a deafening roar.
“Summon Hadius! Right now!”
Ordered by the furious Hannes, the steward headed straight for the Basilion House. However, he couldn’t even enter the main gate and had to turn back. The entrance was blocked and sealed with a royal seal, courtesy of the investigators.
“What? Even Duke Meyer… is a subject of the investigation? And you’re coming back empty-handed?”
Hannes angrily scolded the steward who had returned with nothing.
“The investigators were very firm. Even if it were Your Grace’s orders, it was of no use. His Majesty the King issued the instructions himself.”
The steward’s explanation did not pacify Hannes’ anger. The flames of his rage naturally spread to the King.
Though the King gave him an audience without the usual protocol, Hannes did not hesitate. As someone who had stood by the side of the royal family for hundreds of years, Hannes was uncharacteristically disrespectful, but anyone present would have no choice but to understand his attitude.
“Your Majesty, how can you act like this when the charges are not even certain? You have imprisoned the Duchess of the House of Meyer and the heir of the House, preventing them from even holding an engagement ceremony!”
Hannes, in front of the Duke of Basilion, yelled in a voice that was more aggressive than ever.
“I understand, Hannes. I’m incredibly disappointed as well.”
Josef replied in a manner that seemed troubled.
“But this isn’t just anyone; it’s William Richard, after all. Your old friend and the most powerful member of the royal faction among the nobility. Given the circumstances, I hope you can understand the gravity of the situation.”
Hannes did not back down. Even if he put aside the matter of the internal strife within the Three-Fold Alliance, the Duke had utterly ruined his daughter’s engagement ceremony. It was only natural that Hannes’ eyes turned white.
“Yes, I understand. I am deeply sorry for all this.”
“However, the evidence is quite clear. Who else besides Lady Meyer and Lord Meyer would be capable of such a deed?”
The king suggested to the still unconvinced Duke that he should personally inspect Richards’ corpse and the evidence gathered so far. His intention was for the Duke to understand why he was going to such lengths.
Hannes readily accepted the suggestion, and the investigators led him to the investigation room.
The Grand Duke of Reinen was probably only aware of all this through the newspapers.
He stared into the void vacantly after carefully examining Richards’ gruesome corpse, Head of Meyer’s revolver, and the notes of the contract killer. Eventually, he sank into his chair.
* * *
“The Grand Duke has temporarily withdrawn without any suspicion. Of course, he’s not entirely at ease yet. Rumors are circulating around some of the clubhouses like Villinere that the Grand Duke will soon initiate a rescue operation for Lord and Lady Meyer.”
“That’s what you think?”
Hadius responded calmly. Beyond the window, the winter sky stretched cold and dry.
“What about the aftermath in the Tilia Forest?”
“We’ve fabricated rumors about it centered around the village where Kallia Bern lived. It’s said that their homes were all burned down by a sudden forest fire, and they’ve become wanderers. They’re to receive help from the factory owner Kallia Bern worked for, and then they’re planning to leave for the New Continent.”
To naturally spread these rumors, Grozhang had to personally visit various locations, from the mill closest to the forest to the local tavern.
“How long did you set for the investigation period?”
“If it’s short, a week; if it’s long, ten days. You can stay in Kunt until the matters here are settled without any rush.”
As soon as the conversation ended, Tobias and Pip knocked and entered the room, carrying overcoats and travel bags in their hands.
“We’re prepared, My Lord.”
Tobias helped the Lord put on his coat.
“We’ve left the back door to the garden open, so you can secretly slip out.”
While the false investigation was ongoing, Hadius would reside in Kunt. He planned to inspect the state of steel production and perform preliminary work for iron smelting.
“You should probably hurry.”
Hadius turned to the desk to take his pocket watch. While his gaze drifted absentmindedly, he glanced at the bronze sculpture on the desk once more.
It was the same for the nth time.
Grozhang had known that whenever there was a little opening, the owner would cast a glance at the sculpture.
Each time the indifferent gray eyes met the bronze sculpture, Grozhang’s heart felt like it was shattering along with it.
“Have you tried contacting the mayor of Lino?”
At the sudden question, he came to his senses.
The city of Lino was the capital of the Tran Federation.
With the recent widespread economic development policies throughout the Federation, the city mayor of Lino, in particular, had shown significant interest in the steel industry. He had been sending love calls to Meyer, one of the continent’s leading steel companies, consistently.
Every time, he came up with various excuses to decline the mayor’s offers, but the decisive factor might have been his future wife and unborn child.
“I heard that Mayor Louis said you could visit anytime. I’ll personally go visit at an appropriate time after matters here are settled.”
“Yeah, take your time. There’s no rush.”
Hadius Meyer never planned to find his wife again. He didn’t allow anyone to deliver messages or exchange letters.
He had realized the hard way that even this arson case could potentially cause significant trouble if they discovered any minor connecting threads.
When Meyer and Kallia find themselves in danger or if anything unusual happens to the family, that’s the only time Meyer would be allowed to contact her.
After today, no one, including Bianca Reinen, will ever find ‘Meyer’s commoner fiancée.’
On the continent, there would be ‘Elaine Mobe,’ a young widow who had recently settled in Hadel.
An unnoticed sigh floated from somewhere, and Grozhang was pulled out of his thoughts. It was Pip.
“I still don’t understand. Would he really be that fond of the woman? Well, now that a child is on the way, I’m trying to accept it… But…”
He watched as the Lord gazed out the window and realized once again why Hadius had taken an interest in the New Continent.
Hadius Meyer couldn’t endure being called ‘that woman’s husband.’ More than anything, it was likely that he wanted to give his future wife opportunities and freedom. He wanted to gift that to the woman who would become his wife.
No matter how much, he could never bear the thought of the 12th Grand Duke being a commoner’s wife in such a harsh place…
Grozhang couldn’t help but heave a sigh of his own.
Whether the owner knew these feelings or not, Pip’s muttering continued.
“It’s just, sometimes, Duke is exactly like a kid. Do you know he always goes searching for Mori everytime he comes to Sitter? Sometimes…?”
As he raised an eyebrow, Grozhang recalled a thought that had just passed through his mind.
“Wait a moment.”
He rushed to the desk in a hurry and picked something up. It was the bronze sculpture. Seeing Grozhang putting it in the bag, Pip’s eyes widened.
“Quit asking and just put it away properly. When we arrive in Kunt, put it somewhere that stands out to Duke’s eyes even for a moment. Do it if you want your master to be able to catch his breath, even if it’s just for a short while when he arrives.”
Soon, the carriage with Hadius and Pip on board left Basilion House secretly.
Hadius looked out the window.
Each time the snow-laden trees brushed against the car window, a warm wave surged from his chest like a rolling wave.
On the white snowy field, the sight of the small snowman she was holding was still vivid in his mind, blindingly brilliant like the sparkle in her eyes reflecting the brilliant sunlight.
A cold breeze blew, shaking the dry branches. The accumulated snow, along with the clear image of the woman, disappeared in an instant.
Beneath the man’s clenched fist, much was erased and suppressed.
* * *
In the days that followed, Noack found himself plunged into a continuous whirlpool of shock.
At first, the response was mainly disbelief.
Just the fact that Richards had been murdered was shocking enough, but the person responsible for it was none other than his ally, Caitlyn Meyer.
The prevailing public opinion leaned overwhelmingly toward the idea that Meyer had been unjustly accused, trapped in someone else’s scheme.
However, as evidence kept pouring in like peeling an onion, day by day, these beliefs began to waver.
Rumors of conflicts between Caitlyn Meyer and William Richards had been circulating through the clubhouses since the beginning of the year, and as they intensified, new investigative results were announced daily, encouraging new theories and doubts.
The latest suspicion to germinate was the Krambitz Bakery gossip.
It stated that Caitlyn Meyer had been in contact with contract killers through a servant named Jetson for a long time, and after the sudden illness of Grand Duke Meyer, only Jetson had been his caregiver. Rumors of suspicious bottles being found in various parts of the mansion were enough to transform the image of the ‘Mistress of Meyer Steel’ in people’s minds into a ‘villainous criminal.’
Among the various speculations and rumors causing a sensation, the final blow came with Hadius Meyer’s exoneration. Only ten days had passed since the incident was first reported.
People speculated and talked endlessly, hoping that the heir, now freed, would devote his energies first to securing his mother’s release and then to overcoming the turmoil and sustaining an alliance with the Reinens.
However, he was nowhere to be found in the prison where his mother was confined, Richards’ residence, Meyer Steel’s office, or anywhere else for that matter.
The first place the Meyer heir, who had regained his freedom, went was a shabby tavern in a back alley in Nowak.
It marked the beginning of the fall of Meyer.