“Ah, the weather is nice.
The sky is so clear.”
“On a day like today, it would be perfect for a picnic.”
“We could pack sandwiches and fruits in a basket and go to the lakeside.
Wouldn’t that be great?”
Even though she attempted to engage in casual conversation, Archen remained steadfast with his gaze transfixed upon the world outside the window.
He sat with an impeccable posture devoid of any movement.
It felt as if she were gazing at a wax doll, motionless and devoid of life.
Despite their physical presence together, an overwhelming sense of solitude enveloped her as though she were navigating the world alone in his presence.
Carinne playfully twirled her hair in frustration.
“Are you not going to say anything until we arrive?”
Archen remained silent with a stern expression, still looking out the window.
It irritated Carinne that he wouldn’t even look at her.
Her heart sank.
‘There’s not much time left until the festival…’
She realized that she had to become friends with Archen before the festival.
Could she add some words to this, judging by his current attitude?
She doubted if it was possible.
She became consumed by thoughts of the festival, despite the uncertainty of whether Archen held the key to the mystery.
Nevertheless, a steadfast belief took hold within her, firmly convincing her that by forging a close friendship, she could unravel the enigmatic secret tied to his death.
It was an ironic twist that the weightier the secret, the stronger the urge to confide in another person.
Despite the absence of any assurance that unraveling the secret would lead to his salvation, Carinne held the conviction that contemplating the issue could be handled when the time was right.
The immediate problem was how to get closer to Archen.
It wasn’t easy to find an opportunity like this where they could be alone together.
To make progress, they had to engage in a conversation.
If they talked about various things, they would naturally become closer.
However, there was a problem she needed to resolve first.
She wondered how to smoothly transition to the topic, but it seemed impossible.
“Is it because of the bet we made yesterday?”
“To be precise, it wasn’t my fault.
The Duke was the one who suggested wagering the land.
I never imagined he would bet such a valuable piece of land, equivalent to one-fifth of the annual budget.
Is it just to show off, or is he always so extravagant?”
She expressed her honest feelings, but Archen didn’t respond.
“The same goes for the Princess.
Is the mine of little value?”
Instead, he asked a sharp question back.
Carinne was left speechless.
“Why did you propose such a bet in the first place?”
‘That… I did it to bring him here!’
She couldn’t bring herself to say it out loud, so she decided to remain silent.
“I can’t understand both of your actions.
Are the mine and the land such easily exchanged items?”
Archen continued, leaving Carinne with nothing to say.
The bet of the mine and the land seemed a bit excessive for a one-time wager.
“But it doesn’t really matter… It doesn’t harm anyone else.”
Carinne tried to justify it.
Although it might seem excessive, it was a mutual agreement between the parties involved.
They hadn’t recklessly gambled away the entirety of the kingdom’s mining rights or staked the entirety of their land, so it should be all right.
On the contrary, when Archen heard her words, he let out a deep sigh, looking exhausted as if dealing with a stubborn child.
“Who do you think will suffer from it?”
His reaction hinted that there was something beyond what was visible.
Then, the conversation topic changed.
Archen disliked someone who caused trouble for others.
“Tell me, is there anyone suffering because of this bet?”
“No, there isn’t.
Who would be impacted?”
As a look of resignation appeared on his face, Carinne’s heart raced.
“Don’t do that, please tell me.
I don’t want anyone to suffer because of me.”
It was a sincere plea.
Finally, it dawned upon him that she truly didn’t know.
As if trying to suppress something in his heart, he took a deep breath and erased the look of resignation from his face.
“You might have been joking, but the people living in the mines and territories will lose their jobs.
No one would want to suddenly become a member of another duchy, so they will all leave their position and move to the land of the duchy they belong to.
Then, those people will have to start everything from scratch in a new place.”
So that was why.
It felt as if she had been hit on the head with a tray.
Carinne had only thought of the mines and territories as valuable assets and hadn’t even considered them as people’s homes.
At the same time, she felt ashamed of herself for not knowing that.
She wasn’t a noblewoman just because she possessed one.
What should she do about this?
She stared at the floor of the carriage, lost in thought as if there was a solution written there.
One fortunate thing was that she was a wealthy lady of the Second Duchy.
There was no problem in this world that money couldn’t solve.
Soon, a bright and wonderful idea came to her.
“I will guarantee a place to live and work for the people of the territories.
Whether they are from the First Duchy or the Second Duchy, it doesn’t matter.”
Even though the best solution would be to cancel the bet, she wouldn’t know if Duke Lucas, who was a nobleman through and through, would readily agree to her words.
So instead of canceling the bet, Carinne made up her mind to take responsibility for the outcome of the bet.
“Since they will have a hard time adjusting to the new territories, I will also provide a settlement allowance separately.
And to prevent any further dissatisfaction, I will personally manage the people of the territories for a while.”
His always steady blue eyes wavered for a moment as Archen’s eyes showed a slightly surprised expression.
“Do you mean it?”
“It’s my doing, so I should take responsibility.”
Carinne responded calmly.
This month’s expenses would be a bit high… but she could use Duke Tricia’s money he usually used for gambling.
If, by any chance, Duke Tricia realized that the money had decreased, she could just say that she spent it on clothes and accessories.
As for managing the territory, well, it was difficult to say.
Perhaps, Duke Tricia could do it without her.
“Thank you for telling me.
You pointed out something I hadn’t thought of.”
This was also sincere.
If Archen hadn’t told her, she would’ve heard the complaints of the people of the territory without knowing the reason.
She felt grateful to him for that.
“Do you know? You are the most perfect person I know.
Not only are you good at your job, but your judgment is also excellent.
And more than that, you graduated as the top student from the Academy and have outstanding magic skills.
I feel like I want to give ten mines to Duke Lucas and bring you to our duchy.”
Even though it wasn’t her intention, she ended up praising him sincerely.
That should be enough to wrap things up.
She wondered if she should change the topic and looked at his expression, but he was looking at her with a vacant gaze for some reason.
If the expression earlier was a pure surprise, now there was an inexplicable sadness mixed in his expression.
Even that alone was enough to be bewildering, and Archen slowly lowered his head without giving Carinne a chance to say anything and fell into deep contemplation.
There was an awkward silence for a while.
Carinne fidgeted with her fingers, unable to do anything in front of him, immersed in his own world.
Did she go too far? What should she do now?
It was good that the problem was solved, but for some reason, she made him sad.
Clenching her fist, she parted her lips again.
“By the way, do you have any thoughts about coming to the Second Duchy? I will double your compensation and reduce your working hours by half.”
It was a suggestion to try to change the atmosphere by coaxing him.
If she asked that way, maybe this wouldn’t be too burdensome.
The operation was only halfway through.
She succeeded in dispelling the shadow from his face, but…
“The Second Duchy is called the tomb of the aides.”
…She failed to coax him.
The tomb of the aides… she couldn’t imagine such a nickname.
No wonder no one came even when she issued the announcement.
It was somewhat shocking.
Regardless, she was glad that he seemed to have somewhat regained his usual self.
Carinne spoke nonsense to boost his spirits.
“Ah… but… anyway, if you come to our duchy, I’ll treat you incredibly well.
If Duke Lucas gives you too much work or treats you badly, just pack your bags and come running to the Second Duchy.
There’s no need to feel burdened.
This is an offer not because you’re exceptional but because it’s you.”
‘Does he understand?’
She finished with a lighthearted tone.
While she didn’t expect a response, Carinne thought it would help improve the atmosphere.
Fortunately, the nonsense seemed to have an effect as his complexion brightened.
She breathed a sigh of relief.
‘Phew, that’s a relief.’
He was a more delicate and sensitive person than he appeared.
Well, considering her previous words had somehow made him depressed, it wasn’t surprising.
Still, she was worried that she might make him sad again if she brought up another topic.
Carinne turned her head toward the window without any regrets.
She had to be careful with her words from now on.
At that moment, a graceful voice was heard.
Carinne doubted her own ears.
He gave her a delayed response.
It was surprising enough that he answered, but what was even more surprising was…
‘…Did he smile?’
His red lips curved slightly upwards.
She took a deep breath and looked at him again, and the faint smile remained.
Although it was so faint that it could disappear at any moment, and she couldn’t tell if he was really smiling without looking closely, it was definitely a smile.
‘Oh my… he smiled.’
Archen smiled… and she saw him smile.
She was so happy that she felt like she could shout and run around.
Carinne was so excited that she opened her mouth wide.
She started coughing.
Due to excessive excitement, her saliva went down the wrong way, causing her to cough.
As she pressed her chest with one hand and grabbed her throat with the other, her throat stung, but she felt like her emotions were soaring.
Unfortunately, as she started coughing, the faint smile disappeared.
Archen quickly turned his head towards Carinne.
“Are you okay?”
“Cough, I’m fine, cough.”
Carinne waved her hand, indicating that he shouldn’t worry.
Then, she noticed something.
Though very subtle, there was a hint of concern in his blue eyes.
He was worried about her.
Realizing this, tears welled up in her eyes.
‘Another rare moment…’
“I’m fine now, really.”
The coughing suddenly stopped as abruptly as it had come, and Carinne removed her hand from her throat and gave a slightly sheepish smile.
She momentarily showed a relieved expression, but then he returned to his usual expressionless demeanor.
However, he didn’t appear cold anymore.
He didn’t look sad either; in fact, he seemed somewhat gentle.
Carinne was extremely pleased with this change.
“We’re almost there.
The good things didn’t stop there.
He naturally initiated the conversation as if he had completely forgotten what happened earlier.
She smiled brightly, filled with joy.
‘If it continues like this, we’ll become close friends, right? Maybe not best friends… but at least friends?’
If things continued this way, not only would they become close friends, but she would easily uncover his secrets as well.
Nevertheless, there was something she had to do before that.
“We have arrived.”
The coachman stopped the carriage, and Carinne swiftly entered the palace.
It was time to meet Marta.
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