A woman’s shrill voice welcomed Bastian warmly as she entered through the large hall filled with customers, “It’s been a while, Bastian.”
Bastian gently turned to face the woman after finishing speaking with some financiers at the party.
The woman approached, a sly scowl on her lips as she questioned, “How do you feel about receiving the news of your friend’s sister’s engagement?” She carried a crystal tumbler of amber brandy, softly swaying in one hand. Although she was being extremely provocative, Bastian appeared unfazed and smiled.
Sandrine de Laviere; the sole child of Duke Laviere, the richest person in Pelia. She was also Lucas’s cousin and had recently became Countess Renault after getting married to Bergro., she continued to go by her maiden name, though and most people had no issue with that decision. In the next year or two, it was anticipated that the Countess Renault, who had been unhappy in her marriage from the beginning. Yet there were rumors circulating the town that she would revert to being the daughter of the Duke of Laviere.
“It’s a true honor for our family,” Bastian replied coolly, enchanting his signature phrase. Sandrine stepped forward, shrugging nonchalantly.
“The Klauswitz clan is deeply appreciative of this recognition. Though, I’m uncertain how it pertains to you.”
“We’re working diligently to expedite the arrival of this momentous occasion,” Sandrine murmured, using a fan to conceal her mouth. Despite her confident demeanor, a hint of worry was evident in her eyes. Her divorce proceedings were proving to be more complicated than she had possibly anticipated.
Bastian gazed upon the unsettling crowd, his head inclined towards Sandrine’s. “I assure you, my dear, I will do everything in my power to preserve our trust,” he said, his tone measured and sincere. “But do not be too confident. Laviere may be my current choice, but as you well know, the landscape of matrimony always changes.”
Sandrine’s eyes narrowed, her voice tinged with suspicion. “Are you trying to threaten me?”
Bastian shook his head, a soft smile playing on his lips. “Nothing of the sort, my dear Countess. Think of it as friendly encouragement, a wish for you to find your own freedom as soon as possible.”
The onlookers watched the exchange with rapt attention, many of them interpreting Bastian’s words as those of a loving partner. His stepmother, however, glared at Sandrine with open disdain, her disdain for the Countess clearly etched on her face.
Sandrine’s face spoke volumes, but she wisely chose to back down without pushing the matter further. Her quick wit and resourcefulness were traits that Bastian greatly admired. “I apologize for any offense I may have caused,” Bastian uttered, taking a sip of brandy.
The interruption caused by an unwelcome guest was quickly forgotten as the conversation resumed its natural steady flow. Bastian expertly steered the conversation towards a variety of topics, including the bond market, a new resort town, and an upcoming polo game. By the time he bid farewell and turned to leave, the earlier disturbance had been completely erased from memory.
Bastian captured the perfect opportunity to head out on the terrace after finishing their conversation. His gaze stopped on the moonlit sea after travelling beyond the exquisite garden and the white sand beach beyond. Before the magical scenery, one might understand why his father, whom he detested, acquired this estate after marrying the daughter of a moneylender.
Bastian leaned against the banister, cigarette in hand, inhaling deep breaths of fresh air. When he gazed upon the pale moon lingering in the night sky, memories of the stunning woman at the casino flooded back to him unlimitedly. Her beautiful eyes, welled up with tears, a blend of reproach, pleading, hostility and fear, shining with a cold and weak light, resembled the moon. Bastian flicked the ashes of his cigarette, the memories of that night got printed in his mind. Even as he tried to shake away the thoughts, his eyes remained fixed on the ethereal moon, a haunting reminder of the past.
He remembered how abruptly the air flow shifted as soon as the woman lifted the veil.
Bastian was unsure of what the group’s breathless stares signified. Even yet, he was unable to pick up the stake that the junk dealer’s grandson had tossed aside because of his final shred of pride.
Everyone will snort if the impoverished duke sells his daughter once more. Her future appeared to have already been determined because there was a strong likelihood that someone with that kind of personality would not be able to break his habit.
“Ah, there you are, Bastian,” a familiar voice interrupted his musings. He turned and found his aunt, Maria.
“Why are you looking out there? This place holds nothing but terrible memories,” she said, wrinkles creasing her forehead as she took the cigarette he offered her.
Bastian gave her a small smile, turning his gaze away from the beach and the forest. Maria took a drag from her cigarette, her eyes fixed on the night sea. The memory of a child, bitten by wild dogs, who had fallen into the sea, popped up in her mind. The teacher had called it an accident that occurred during a hunting class. Maria, who at the time felt like she was being sold off in marriage for her brother’s benefit, had been walking along the beach in despair. It was then that she had found the child, slathered in blood, urged to throw herself into the sea to save him.
Maria leapt into the frigid sea without considering. After a while she found out it was her nephew Bastian. Fortunately, Bastian was conscious, making the rescue much easier. The instructor didn’t show up until after the two of them jointly came out to land.
Why did a well-trained horse suddenly become over excited and go amok?
Where did the dogs come from?
What did the teacher do and where did he go while the kid was bitten and covered in blood?”
Unanswered queries kept coming up one after another, but no additional research was done. The teacher in charge was fired as a result of the terrible accident that happened in the middle of a hunting lesson for failing to provide adequate monitoring.
Maria decided that the nephew she had spared that day should no longer be kept in this home after taking a look at him. She chose to get in touch with Bastian’s mother’s family as a result.
It was a week later that Carl Illis took the child away, but Maria never regretted her decision.
Her nephew, Bastian, needed to live in order to seek revenge.
“To be honest, I can’t stand that snake of a Sandrine, a divorcee” Maria said with disgust, looking at Bastian with a complex expression. “She hasn’t even succeeded in getting a divorce yet, so what can you even call her a divorcee? Anyway. But I can’t deny the fact that she is the bride with the most advantageous connections for you. If you were to marry Laviere, you would become the greatest threat to your father.”
“Thank you for your understanding, Mrs. Gross,” Bastian said, nodding his head with a mischievous smile that disarmed opponents.
“That doesn’t mean you should ignore other options. Always be prepared for any eventuality,” Maria added, extinguishing her half-smoked cigarette and listing the names of potential brides, along with their family’s reputation, wealth, and the expected dowry. Her investigation was thorough and sincere.
As Maria Gross finished her work and left, a deep silence devoured the terrace. Bastian lit another cigarette and went back to the reception area. He spotted the day’s main character as he neared the hall’s center, adorned with magnificent chandeliers. Franz grinned broadly as he was surrounded by the people who had gathered to congratulate him.
Bastian, observing the event in silence, began to move more slowly. He had a brotherly, welcoming smile.
“Settle down, my dear,” a voice, soft and commanding, broke the heavy silence. The empress let out a deep sigh, her eyes still filled with unyielding anger as she looked at her husband. A crumpled sheet of paper lay between them, a photograph from a newspaper article about the hero of the Battle of Trosa, Captain Klauswitz.
“My soon-to-be-married daughter has been staring at pictures of another man every night, and you think it’s nothing?” she exclaimed.
“As you said, Isabelle will be getting married soon. Her feelings for Bastian Klauswitz won’t change that,” her husband replied calmly.
“Helen had a betrothed too, but she was blinded by her lover Duke of Diessen and ruined that intended marriage,” the empress’ voice shook with anxiety, bordering on fear.
The emperor’s expression grew visibly colder as he silently repeated his sister’s name. The empress then realized her own mistake.
“Apologies. I had no intention of disparaging the imperial family. “
“I am aware, honey.” The emperor’s gradual nod soothed his anxious wife.
The daughter’s carer discovered the photo Isabelle had concealed. Isabelle cried every night she gazed at the tiny picture frame. The nanny opened it and discovered the photo inside the dresser drawer.
The nanny shared the same worries as the empress when she approached them carrying a picture of Bastian Klauseitz and asking what to do in the event that something similar to what happened to princess Helen occurred.
The emperor reassured her that such a thing would never happen, but matter-of-fact, he was well aware it possibly would. Isabelle, with her foolish infatuation, was alarmingly similar to her aunt Helen. Of course, Bastian Klauswitz was a remarkable man and could hardly be compared to the Duke of Diessen, but there was no denying that he could never be a suitable match for the princess, being of humble blood.
“Speaking of Helen, are you planning to abandon Odette?” The empress asked, her gaze fixed on her husband. He frowned in disapproval, but she persisted. “I’ve heard that Duke Diessen has been causing trouble in many ways,” the empress said.
“He’s always been that way, so it’s no surprise,” her husband replied.
“I heard he’s been frequenting the back alley gambling tables. What if something happens to Odette? I may dislike Duke Diessen, but I don’t want to see Helen’s beloved daughter suffer,” a hint of sadness flickered in the empress’ eyes. If there was one weakness to the wise and benevolent empress, loved by the entire empire, it was her tendency to be too soft-hearted. It was solely due to her sympathy that Duke Diessen was still living off an imperial pension.
“Wouldn’t it be preferable to find a compatible spouse for her?”
“What kind of family would desire a wife like that?” he asked the Empress. The emperor shrugged his shoulders in doubt.
Five years had passed since the last time he had seen the young girl, of course during Helen’s burial.
The Emperor had heard stories that they were poor and miserable, but he paid no heed. He just looked after them because of Helen, his sister. Duke Diessen, Helen’s husband, was little more than a target of animosity and disappointment because he had no family.
“Captain Klauswitz. “The empress struggled for several times before whispering a surprising name.
“Klauswitz? Are you sure about Bastian Klauswitz? The emperor asked, appearing ashamed, and pointed to the creased photograph.
“You’re right, despite his modest standing, he is too excellent to be Odette’s husband. Additionally, he is a hero who significantly contributed. If that’s sufficient, I believe he meets the requirements to marry a royal.”
“No one in the world would view such a union as a hero’s reward. I’m not sure if it’s more like a penalty. “The emperor gasped in wonder and laughed.
Bastian Klauswitz, despite his humble bloodline, was the son of one of the wealthiest families in the empire and an honorable soldier. His inheritance would be passed on to his half-brother, born of an aristocratic mother, but that fact was hardly a flaw when considering his own wealth and status.
“Why would a man of Captain Klauswitz’s standing settle for the daughter of the Duke of Diessen?” the emperor wondered aloud.
“Even though they may be in decline, the Diessen family is a prestigious one with a long history. And Odette is also of imperial blood, her lineage is just as good as any lower noblewoman,” the empress replied.
“But my dear,” the emperor began.
“And it would be beneficial for Isabelle as well. If Captain Klauswitz were to marry her cousin, wouldn’t it force Isabelle to clear her head?” the empress spoke with a sense of desperation. The mention of her daughter’s name was enough to shake him, even in front of the emperor’s tough exterior.
“Please, protect Isabelle,” she pleaded, grasping her husband’s hand. “You are the emperor, you have the power to move a naval officer as you please. Don’t you?” the empress’s eyes, filled with tears of selfish motherhood, shone coldly.
Instead of responding, the emperor let out a long sigh. It was a clear notion that the soft-hearted woman title needed to be corrected as soon as possible.