Claude heard rustling by the lake and thought it might be Canillian. He moved slowly and carefully to see who was there.
There was a horse tied to a tree and a figure bent over the water washing his face. It was Ian. Claude cursed under his breath.
Ian wiped the water from his chin and scoffed, “I knew it was you from the sound of your horse.”
“What are you doing here?” asked Claude.
“I came to see Canillian, but he is in class. This is a good place to rest. How about you?”
Claude found himself annoyed when Canillian’s name crossed Ian’s lips and he understood why. Instead of answering, he asked, “Why did you come to the Empire, Prince?”
Ian bristled at such a cold question. “To…achieve some things.”
“And have you been successful?”
The glint in Ian’s eye annoyed Claude.
“There are assassins in the neutral territory. Did you know that? Perhaps this is Geore’s way of breaking a truce?”
“Assassins?” Ian shook his head and looked sad. “Did the Duke get hurt?”
“Yes,” Claude replied pointedly.
“I am sorry to hear that. Did you catch the culprit?”
Yes, but he committed suicide.”
“Why do you suspect Geore?”
“No citizen of the Empire went to the north,” replied Claude.
Ian’s face was neutral but he nodded in agreement. “I feel sorry for you, but there is no reason for Geore to send an assassin.”
“If they don’t stop, there will be war,” warned Claude.
“There won’t be any war,” Ian assured. “Geore and Kayan are about to become allies through marriage. My marriage.”
Claude scoffed. Marriage? Allies? Claude had not heard any rumors about a marriage cementing the relationship between Geore and Kayan. What nonsense!
Ian continued, “Young Duke, you’re not curious at all? You didn’t even ask with whom. Aren’t you interested? Or are you simply interested in… that child?”
Ian didn’t even have to mention the child’s name. Claude couldn’t refute him. Wade had said it was love.
Claude was confused. He wasn’t sure in what way he wanted Canillian. Claude caught himself. He looked at Ian and asked, “Who is it? Who is the person?”
Ian laughed disdainfully and said, “It’s a secret. I learned only recently that I have something important to hide.”
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I knew he was a waste of time, Claude thought. He looked at Ian who was lying back with his eyes closed. Claude left without saying goodbye and spurred his horse to break into a run, hoping to clear his aching head.
When class let out, the students streamed towards their living quarters. Claude searched the crowd, but Cannilian was not among them.
Where is he? I must see that child.
“Canillian, I am sorry, but I hope you will not attend the party.”
Lia looked at the Marchioness, whose sudden arrival had turned the entire house upside down. Although Lia had already finished getting dressed for Kieran’s engagement party, she nodded in assent. “Yes, I won’t then.”
“Thank you,” said the Marchioness, noting that the house is tiny and cramped.
Lia saw the Marchioness to her carriage and then removed her jacket mechanically. Pepe took the jacket from her, looking angry.
“I can’t believe it! After we worked so hard to get you made up!”
“I’m sure there was a reason. I’m actually relieved. I’ve been tired recently,” replied Lia.
“You really think ma’am is doing this for your comfort? It’s definitely that she didn’t want you getting all the attention. Why is she like this?”
“Pepe, be careful. You shouldn’t say things like that.”
Even after Lia’s warning, Pepe complained and stomped her feet.
Lia pretended not to be disappointed, but, in fact, she was. The one thing she wanted was to see how amazing Kieran would look at this event.
Lia got changed into comfortable clothing, took the books she had to return, and headed to the library.
With flags waving and citizens dressed up, it seemed that the city itself was in a celebratory mood thanks to the princess’s engagement!
As Lia departed in her carriage, she stared at the people who were lined up to receive food provided by the Palace.
Her carriage rolled through a quiet park and arrived at the royal library. As she left the carriage, young beggars gathered around her, stretching out their hands. Lia quickly handed out coins to them and then ran into the library.
“It’s been a while, sir.”
“I’ve been busy. Are my books overdue?”
“Do not concern yourself. You borrow the most books from the library.”
After returning her books and selecting new ones, Lia sat on a comfortable sofa in a quiet, sunny spot. She welcomed all that the library offered—the joyful coolness, the comfort, and the scent of vintage books.
Thank goodness she didn’t attend the engagement party! She would have felt uneasy there, like walking on a thorny path. The library was so much better! She snuggled in the sofa while hugging a book and closed her eyes. She was too tired to read, but not tired enough to fall asleep. Instead she enjoyed the sounds and scents of people in the library.
Lia stretched sleepily and opened her eyes. Claude, wearing a white uniform, was sitting across from her with his legs crossed and a smile playing on his lips.
“Here you are.”