“Your Highness, the Crown Prince, is here.”
“Yes, I wanted to be together before going to the imperial palace.”
Luka smiled instead of answering.
The duke indeed possessed a chilling aura, as described in the original story. But he hadn’t always been that way; the events of twelve years ago had sharpened him. From the moment he lost his wife and daughter, he became a terrible workaholic, and his behavior caused Leah to feel a great sense of loss. At first, she thought he was just like that, but then the maids told her about the vicious rumors.
Ever since the loss of his daughter, the duke has changed.
Even after Leah’s adoption, his attitude remained the same as if he were denying her existence. She felt like she’d been stabbed in the back of the head when she realized that he’d been talking to her as if she were his real daughter but was actually hiding his feelings inside. It was understandable that such a misunderstanding had arisen, Duke had worked until dawn, and the fatigue was evident on his compliant face.
As if sensing my gaze, Duke Rayes looked back at me.
“He… Hello.” I faltered as I came face to face with his ultramarine pupils. His clear eyes widened as they met mine.
“Your eyes are green.”
In the original story, the reason he decided to adopt me was not only because of my physical resemblance to his dead wife, but also because of my eyes. Green eyes were characteristic of the people of the late Duchess’ homeland, the Tranze region in the south. It wasn’t a unique feature, but it was clear that seeing someone with the same features as his late wife, whom he hadn’t seen in a long time, warmed his heart.
I turned to the duke with twinkling eyes.
“Yes. I’ve never met them in person, but I guess my parents are from the Tranze region,” I said with a wide smile, and the duke opened his mouth.
“The Tranze region, you say…”
I wasn’t going to tell him about the old book that was probably hiding somewhere in his study just yet. It would be odd that a child who had just escaped from the orphanage would know about some old book in the duke’s study. I could only count on the original for now.
Of course, whether I became his foster daughter or his biological child here, it didn’t matter. Either way, I would use the duke’s wealth to find information and a cure for my terminal illness.
“You say you’re from the same orphanage as His Highness, then why did you come to the Duchy instead of going with him to the Imperial Palace?”
“Because Luka was tired, and we needed a place to stay for the night, and the Duchy of Rayes is on the route to the Imperial Palace.”
I smiled, casually selling Luka off in front of me. I set my words like this. Furthermore, I didn’t know what the duke was like, and I didn’t know what he would think of me. It was hard to tell him that I came because I thought I was the daughter he was looking for.
So I just threw him a choice. If he held onto me, I would stay. I would leave with Luka to the Imperial Palace if he didn’t.
“We were trusting that the duke, a loyalist of the imperial family, would receive us. Don’t worry, we will leave as soon as tomorrow dawns.”
Luka said at my words, “Leah is right. What you did for me will not be forgotten even after I return to the royal palace.”
“Because we’re leaving tomorrow, you don’t need to make many arrangements; this is enough, Duke.”
I naively reiterated that I was leaving tomorrow, leaving him no choice. There was no way he could easily let go of me, a silver-haired girl like the ones he’d spent twelve years scouring the Empire for, especially one that had eyes that looked just like his wife’s. Nevertheless, I felt a little uneasy.
“Then rest comfortably here. I will be accompanying His Highness to the Imperial Palace tomorrow.”
Taking Luka into the imperial family was a way of saying that he would strike against the first concubine, Lady Jelia, and her sons, who were now the real power in politics. Senia, who brought Luka into the imperial family in the original story, had quite a hard time and was hated by the princes, who were strongly supported by the aristocracy. The Rayes Duchy was one of the founding families but remained neutral, so Duke Rayes’ decision was a bit of a surprise.
‘More than that, don’t you have something to say to me?’
The duke left, leaving instructions to summon a servant if anything was required.
After he left, Luca said,
“Don’t worry too much. The duke obviously paid attention to Leah.”
I sighed heavily at Luka’s comforting words; it was as if he knew what was on my mind.
“It’s not easy, even out of that hellhole.”
Outside the window, darkness was already as deep as Luka’s hair.
* * *
Duke Rayes had been haunted by memories of the past ever since he left the room. Those eyes and the girl’s aura–
“Kane, this child’s name is Ravelia. It sounds like ‘fairy’s blessing.'”
It was because she looked so much like the late duchess. He had met several girls so far. Some of them had gray hair due to a pigment deficiency, and some were actually illegitimate children of the Rayes collateral family. In the direct line, princesses were rare because they inherited the dark elf traits, but in the secondary line, where elf blood had faded, gray-haired girls were born from time to time.
After meeting dozens of them, the duke resigned himself to the fact that his daughter might be dead. Even though he was still searching for her whereabouts.
For such a reason, Leah’s appearance was as much of a shock to him as the return of the crown prince, who had been missing for two years.
“I’m leaving tomorrow.” That was what she said. Leah didn’t know about the famous tragedy that happened in the Rayes Duchy. If she had, wouldn’t she have claimed to be Rayes’ princess like any other child?
The Duke had hoped she would have done so. He wanted to believe that his real daughter had returned. And maybe, just maybe, she really was Ravelia. The youngest daughter he’d been searching for so long. Was it a flaw that she didn’t have Rayes’ silver hair? Would the same people who hailed Rayes as the embodiment of the elves accuse her of being impure? Anyone who tried would never be able to open their mouths again.
‘I’ve finally gone mad.’
The duke rubbed his forehead and looked at the full moon outside the window.
I have to catch that daring child.
It was the only atonement he could make for his dead wife.
He had a sleepless night until dawn, as usual, solitary and painful.
* * *
Luka lay on the sofa in Leah’s room, refusing the head attendant’s offer of a separate room.
Unlike Leah, he had already understood the duke’s heart. The confused way he’d looked at her even before she’d woken up had led Luka to believe that he wouldn’t be able to let her leave in the morning. Still, he was thinking of a better plan B. Taking Leah to the palace, where hidden enemies were flying around, was not a good option.
“Luka, we’re parting ways tomorrow,” Leah said, lying in bed and eating sweets. “So I can’t go to sleep like this!”
She walked to the table with a roulette game she had gotten from the head attendant earlier. On days when Luka couldn’t sleep at the orphanage, Leah would light a candle and play roulette with him all night. It was a newer, fancier version of the one they’d used at the orphanage, but the game still brought back fond memories for both of them.
“If I win again, will it be 1 to 100?” Luka smirked as he spoke playfully.
“No, it’ll be 2 to 99 this time!”
The room was filled with children’s laughter until dawn.
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