… The night before I left for Jugfena.
I visited Earl Thelesia’s mansion as a courtesy before going to the battlefield. Even I know that I might not be able to see him again.
“I’m sorry for not coming to greet you.”
“No, it’s fine. I should have been there for your entrance ceremony.”
The Earl leaned gently against the couch. He seemed to have a slightly more relaxed expression on his face since his return to the capital. The situation in Kaldia was very bad when he had arrived, so perhaps the man I knew was more stressed than he usually was.
“I heard you weren’t feeling well then.”
“It was only a mild cough, but the people at home were making too much of a fuss, so I took precautions and slept for two days, now I feel better. There’s nothing wrong with me.”
“Is that so? I’m glad that you’re alright.”
“Everyone treats me like I’m a dying old man even though my older brother is still energetically going to the castle every day to work. I don’t understand why they treat me like a dying old man when I live so carefully compared to him.”
When I celebrated my 10th birthday, the Earl began spending more time in the capital. He gave me back the feudal lord title almost at the same time as when I raised a rank, and was now living back at his own mansion.
He had no children to inherit his title, so he still held onto his Earl title, but he rarely attended the House of Lords meetings anymore. While he takes care of his job at the castle’s treasury, which was the basis for his title, he already feels like he’s retired and is probably enjoying the rest of his life in his mansion.
“… Well, whatever. More importantly, how’s life at the academy? You’ve only been there for two days, but there already seems to be little rumours about you everywhere. They say that Earl Kaldia is in His Highness, the Crown Prince’s good books.”
The reason why he still holds more information than the average noble is because nobles of all positions all over the capital still frequently visit him for advice.
As usual, the Earl is a guardian with too much influence for an Earl.
But well… I can’t say much since people also bring me information and ask me for advice. I’m being relied on more and more by other nobles because of my position as an Earl.
I explained everything that happened at the academy to Earl Thelesia.
“… The Crown Prince wants to be your friend, the two Archduke’s… or Eric is especially hostile towards you and the only decent person is Lorenzorell’s heir?”
I nodded at his brief confirmation.
“Yes. I don’t understand why Eric-dono is so hostile towards me, when we’ve only had that kind of conversation. I was hoping to distance myself from His Highness, the Crown Prince, by giving him a bad impression of me… But since we’ll be working together tomorrow, I thought I would need to understand him a little better.
“I haven’t spoken to Grace since the first day, apart from saying hello.”
“I understand Grace-dono’s attitude better. It’s natural if you think about the status of an Archduke and an Earl. Is this the result of an Archduke’s education?”
I didn’t know much about Archduke Dorvadine since he rarely appeared at the House of Lords. He is a key member of the Upper House of Lords as a royal prince, and in my position, he is someone who I would normally not be involved with.
“… Hmm… An Archduke…”
However, Earl Thelesia knew what kind of person Archduke Dorvadine is since he was once a member of the Upper House of Lords. He seemed to be at a loss for words to say as his normally stern expression was particularly grim, which was unusual for him.
I sipped on my tea and waited for him to continue, while thinking about what the Earl was trying to say about the Archduke’s situation.
――― Even though he’s a child, he’s from a prestigious Archduke House ――― and even though he’s an illegitimate child, he’s the son of a royal prince, so his behaviour and conduct were too strange. The way he behaved was too ――― inelegant, and without thought. He is unsuitable to be the Crown Prince’s close aide.
He is the Archduke’s illegitimate son, born from a mistress, but the fact that he can behave like he is Grace’s twin brother means that he has been treated the same as Grace. If that is true, then they should have received the same education.
I think Grace was the only person who didn’t take note of me. I think he has already set his sights on becoming the next Archduke, so he acts as if he doesn’t care about a lowly rising Earl. And I felt that he was right. Aside from Seighart, who is also a noble from a military house, it was strange for the Crown Prince and a son from an Archduke House to exchange more than a greeting with me.
The question lied in the difference between Eric and Grace. If Eric has distanced himself from me as a member of an Archduke House, then Grace must place the same distance between us.
If they did receive different education and were treated differently at home, then the relationship between Eric and Grace would be weird. Why can they behave like twins, despite one being a legitimate child and the other an illegitimate child? Why do they have such contrasting attitudes towards me when they are allowed to behave in such a way?
… I don’t know why I have to stick my nose into another family’s problems, but I know that Eric and I will be travelling to Jugfena tomorrow in the same carriage, and I won’t be able to leave him until he has fulfilled his role. It would be annoying if he abandons his duty because I put him in a bad mood by stepping on a landmine without knowing his circumstances.
“… How much do you know about the Archduke’s wife?”
The Earl finally said after I had finished my tea.
“I’ve heard that Grace-dono’s mother is the legal wife and Eric-dono’s mother is the mistress of the Archduke when he was still in the royal family registry.”
“His mistress, Marlene-dono, was from the Provenzale House… She was from Marquis Zereulterziwizia’s branch house, and his legal wife Otilia-dono, is from Duke Zastin’s house. They joined the Archduke’s house at almost the same time, and also had a child within a year of each other. I don’t know how their relationship was. Marlene-dono rarely left the castle.”
“She’s from the Zereulterziwizia house…”
“She was a princess in her vassal state. Their marriage was intended to deepen the ties between the royal family and the independent Marquis fief, but it seemed to be a roundabout way of doing things, since the Marquis at that time had already spread his allegiance to the nation.”
The independent Marquis fief, located in the mountain ranges of Amon Kraan, is a rather unique piece of land even within the nation. I didn’t know that Eric had such a background. Well, this piece of information isn’t useful unless you think that Eric’s violent temper is a mental disorder that originated from the Zereulterziwizia bloodline.
“Now back to the topic, Marlene-dono, who had such status even though she was the mistress, seemed to have been treated almost the same as Otilia-dono, the legal wife. Eric was treated in a higher position than the second child of the legal wife because of that.”
“‘Was treated’, so does that mean he’s not treated like that anymore?”
“Marlene-dono has been dead for about five years now.”
I stared silently at Earl Theleisa.
“… I wasn’t aware that she had passed away. It seems that little is known about the death of the Archduke’s mistress who was treated the same as the legal wife.”
The things I know about the Archduke and the royal family is common knowledge. If information is leaked from there, then it means that this information should not be known by someone of my status.
“The Archduke kept Marlene-dono’s funeral a private event. He also only told those involved of her death.”
“Does her death have something to do with how Eric-dono is treated?”
“I started hearing about Eric’s bad reputation after Marlene-dono’s funeral. It’s not strange for his personality to get warped after losing his mother and being in a complicated position all by himself.”
… I felt the Earl look at me with indescribable eyes when he said that Eric’s personality had warped.
My personality was already warped before I lost my parents, so Eric’s situation was different from mine.
“Are you saying that you’re unclear of what is going on?”
“Marlene-dono and Otilia-dono were very close, according to what I’ve heard. And Marlene-dono died in an accident… when she broke her neck protecting Eric from falling down the stairs.”
I stopped talking. I didn’t want to hear anymore than that. That was enough.
People in high society already talk about how cold the relationship between Eric and Otilia is.