“Madam, do you want me to put the mask on you?”
Even though Valia was the host, her mask was nothing special. It was a sky blue mask, one of the 12 kinds Paul prepared. There were no overabundant jewels or feathers on it.
Everyone covered their faces in the masquerade, including the hosts, and it was purely for fun. They mingled with the crowd and enjoyed the banquet. The host would only reveal their appearance around the end of the ball.
It turned out that the person they were talking to excitedly until just now was the host. If the host had enough money to hold a masquerade, their status would naturally be different. Seeing the guests surprised was also an element of tension present in a masquerade.
The maids put the mask on Valia’s face. They carefully fixed it on her head because they were afraid that her well-adorned hair would be messy. Valia left the room after checking her reflection in the full-body mirror once more.
As soon as she went out, she made eye contact with the man waiting outside the door. Valia shut her mouth. So did the other person who saw her. He was having a conversation with Paul, but as soon as he saw Valia, he closed his mouth like a clam.
It was Robin, having been sent by Schuden to escort Valia. After a long time, the noblewoman and young knight had finally reunited. The reason why they felt so awkward was because of nothing else but the small incident in the sunflower field.
Valia cleared her throat.
“…It’s been a long time.”
“…It’s been a while.”
They had not seen each other since that embarrassing incident in the sunflower field. After Schuden’s return from the war, Robin’s mission to escort Valia was naturally dismissed. Since then, Robin had lived all day in the training ground of the duchy to make up for the lack of training. And Valia had never been to the training ground.
Valia looked at Robin despite the awkward atmosphere. He would always either be half-armed or fully-armed, but his outfit was different today. He was wearing a dark gray suit to match the ball and his hair was neatly slicked back. Maybe he would wear a mask before entering the hall.
“Hmm… You look great today, Sir Robin.”
“Oh… I paid more attention to my appearance today, because I have to escort you, Madam… Oh! You’re also beautiful today. You’re much more beautiful than usual!”
“Much more than usual?”
Valia asked back, feeling strange. The maids behind her also had a similar expression. Paul was no exception. Anyone would feel strange to hear that they looked better than usual on the day they came out with a mask.
‘What’s wrong with Sir Robin today? Does he want to be hit with a gauntlet by His Grace?’
All the employees including Paul did not know what had happened between Valia and Robin. So of course, they were not aware of their awkwardness and embarrassment toward one another. The employees only stared at Robin.
Robin realized his slip of tongue only a beat later. He blurted out anything again before he was nervous. He opened his mouth in a hurry.
“Ma, madam. I didn’t mean it like that! You’re always beautiful, but you’re especially beautiful today…!”
“…Is that so? Thank you.”
“No! …Thank you, too.”
The room became quiet after Robin’s slip of the tongue. Robin slightly rolled his eyes and took a deep breath. He had to put aside being embarrassed because he had an important mission today—He had to escort the Madam.
‘I have to escort her to a masquerade at that.’
It was only from the main building to the annex, but even so, Garth castle was not an ordinary castle. Considering the size, it was perfectly all right to say that they were moving from one manor to another manor. Robin began reconsidering his huge dream about high society.
As he was a knight of Garth, it did not take long for him to brace himself. Robin politely held out one hand.
“Then, shall we go? Madam.”
Valia laid her hand gently on Robin like a noblewoman.
“But, Sir Robin, you can’t keep calling me Madam. This is a masquerade.”
“Oh, yes. Then…”
With his heart pounding fast at his first ball, Robin spoke earnestly.
“Shall we go, milady?”
Valia laughed. Robin could see her laugh well as her mask only went down to her nose.
The young knight’s face lit up. Robin smiled and escorted the silvery-gray-eyed noblewoman.
A total of three places were opened to the nobles invited to Garth Castle today—the annex, the yard, and the backyard.
The drawing-rooms usually attached to the annex were decorated with lounges, and the yard and backyard were generously illuminated with magic crystal balls, casting a soft moonlight-like light.
“It’s so crowded.”
“I know. Oh, it’s our turn.”
“Well, I hope we’ll meet again.”
“You don’t even mean it. Just have a good time.”
After waiting for a time, the nobles dispersed under the guidance of the employees. And each entered through different entrances. The nobles’ eyes shone as they lined up behind the employees.
What’s special about masquerades are their entrances. Unlike other banquets, guests were prohibited to enter together just because they came together. Instead, they were required by principle to enter individually through one of the nine total entrances—that of which were partitions raised high to build temporary walls and make up mazes.
Owing to that, a clique that came together in one carriage had to split up before entering. Of course, the time it took to pass through each entrance was also different. And after passing the entrance, the guests would then choose their masks. So it was safe to say that it guaranteed anonymity in its own way.
There were practically no nobles who hated the ambiance. In high society, where one could not help but consider one another’s status, title, personal connections, and rumors, a masquerade was special.
Had the cost of hosting one was not so expensive, it would become a mainstream banquet in Gel high society.
Only the hosts could attend the ball without having to go through the entrance. It was a matter of course because they were the house owners.
After glancing at the crowded entrance, Schuden walked past the bustling stream of people. He also covered his face with a sky blue mask to go with the masquerade.
Still, Schuden had received the look from the ladies.
Even if he wore the mask, he could not hide his shining blond hair and outstanding physique. Dressed in close-fitting high-end suits, he stole the attention of many women. And as he was taller than the average man, everyone would look at him at least once.
Schuden was heading to the yard extending toward the annex.
Since anywhere close to the annex, that is, the castle, the yard, or the backyard, would be crowded and buzzing all night, Schuden and Valia had decided to meet at a place far from the annex.
When it came to a good place to meet privately, the couple’s bedroom was the most reasonable and comfortable place, but Valia paid careful attention to holding the ball and festival.
It would be strange if the masters of the house shut themselves in the main building while holding a banquet in the annex. Although it was just Valia that held herself to such standards, Schuden followed without saying much.
“Greetings to Lord Garth.”
“Greetings to Lord Garth.”
Three employees who were guarding the glass greenhouse bowed down. There was no way they could not recognize their master unless he was covered from head to toe.
The guests were restricted from approaching the greenhouse for an hour before the ball. This was where Schuden and Valia were supposed to meet.
He did not choose the greenhouse for a particular reason. Schuden brought it up on impulse after seeing Valia excitedly talking about the fireworks that were scheduled for that night.
He mentioned that the glass greenhouse would not be a bad place to be if she wanted to see the sky.
‘It’s been a while since I’ve been here.’
Schuden thought as he entered. Actually, he had forgotten about the greenhouse until before he spoke to Valia about it. It just popped up in his mind. It was a little far from the annex since it was located in the yard.
This glass greenhouse had been around for a long time and was related to one of the previous Marquess’s hobbies. Schuden had smashed all that the previous Marquess had cared about, all except this one greenhouse.
Schuden did not even tell anyone to take care of it, he just left it. After closing the castle, the gardeners were unable to manage the yard with their current manpower. And so they left the places where Schuden’s orders did not reach.
Schuden prodded into the glass greenhouse; he was not interested in the flowers or ornamental trees that the gardeners had planted.
It took some time to walk inside the greenhouse as it was much wider and larger than any regular greenhouse. This was all according to the taste of the previous Marquess, who preferred only large and fancy things.
After walking along the path, Schuden could see a low staircase laid with white marble. After climbing the five-step stairs, marble of the same color as the stairs was laid around the floor.
Tea tables and chairs were set on top of the floor like paintings.
Schuden laid down the box he had brought on the tea table. And he sat down on the chair with a strange expression. The chair he was sitting on was a chair designed to tilt back comfortably, Schuden could see the sky naturally when he sat down.
Though the tea table and chair seemed to be newly built, the chair’s shape was similar to that of another chair in his memory. Schuden once sat in a chair similar to this when he was a child.
He suddenly remembered the old days.
The only tolerable memory he had in this hell-like castle was the one with Leo in it.
Leo, who was brought to the castle with Schuden, could not live in the main building. The former Marquess Garth, of course, hated to catch Leo in his sights. It was fortunate that he could at least stay at the annex nearby.
After officially receiving the surname of Garth, Schuden was always required to get up before dawn. There was no day off for him. The schedule for the education he had to receive as the heir was tight, so much so that he barely had any room to breathe.
It was not enthusiasm for education out of affection or expectation. If he had to liken it, it was like training a smart beast to suit his preference. The former Marquess Garth did not hesitate to treat Schuden like that.
Schuden followed his orders silently. He did what he was told to do and learned what he was instructed to. He knew that Leo’s life was at stake in everything he did, so he obeyed him soundlessly.
Leo was comparable to a leash for the former Marquess Garth, he was the most effective way to take absolute control of Schuden.
It would always be late at night when Schuden finished eating alone and finished all his schedules. After becoming the heir, Schuden had never slept for more than four hours.
During those days, Schuden had only experienced a single break. Class had ended earlier than usual. It was the first time it had happened.
Schuden went to see Leo.
Around that time, despite having a rough relationship, Schuden would still go to see his one and only brother every day late at night. Even if they met early, they did not have much to talk about.
The two of them went out into the yard dawdling. They just happened to go out.
Of course, walking in the yard was not that fun either. Actually, in the eyes of young Schuden, the garden looked abnormal. Why did it have so many statues? Like the furred animals placed here and there in the main building, the statues were creepy. It was as if a person was standing there and looking at him.
As Schuden and Leo walked away from the sculptures in the yard, they found the glass greenhouse.
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