A smile had graced Kieran Vale’s lips only moments ago.
But when he put down his teacup, it was gone.
Right now, he was meeting General Bryton and the police inspector from the police department of Ataer as Canillian’s guardian.
There was nothing remotely funny about the circumstances.
“So… Eddie Kirkham recommended my brother, and you suggested to my brother to dress up like a woman.
Is that it”
The idea sounded so entirely insane, even as he said it.
The inspector answered, “Yes.
Eddie Kirkham is from Louvre and the person who drew this map.”
The police inspector was a burly sour-looking man, who clearly had a problem with sweating too much.
Kieran watched him with disconcerting eyes as the sweaty inspector dabbed at his face quickly with a handkerchief.
It didn’t help much.
Without a smile to brighten his face, Kieran looked much like Marquis Gilad.
In fact, one would have thought him an exact copy of the Marquis.
Only a few years ago, the entire town had worried about Kieran’s health.
Now no longer sickly, Kieran spent his days rattling the entire noble society with his aura and looks that were much too disconcertingly a copy of Marquis Vale’s.
A young version of Marquis Vale, some even said.
The only upside to this rather unpleasant situation was that Marquis was not present.
The police inspector thought it was a relief, really.
It was much easier to deal with the young Marquis instead.
He glanced at Bryton briefly.
“The operation proceeded safely.
Isn’t that right, Sir Bryton”
“That’s right,” Bryton paused.
“Although, there was a man who disappeared with Sir Canillian that day.
Do you know who he was Ash-colored hair, wearing fine clothes” Bryton’s voice was lowered several octaves when he asked.
As though it were a secret, what he was saying.
The Duke had warned all of them to stay as far as they could from Canillian that day.
Yet, the foreigner had disappeared with him.
The man had killed seven criminals and judging from the fine high quality clothes he wore, he had to be from a noble family.
If Bryton’s memory served him right, and it did most of the time, there was no noble with ash-coloured hair.
If someone like that had been able to disappear without so much as a trace, then perhaps he was more dangerous than the criminals themselves.
“Why are you looking for him” Kieran was either genuinely curious or taunting the General and the inspector.
Bryton was searching for Ian.
“He killed the 7 citizens of the Empire.
The bullets we found in the corpses did not belong to the empire either.
I need to know who he is.”
“Stop investigating him.
He is a guest of the Royal family.”
“I’ll ask you again.
Where is Eddie Kirkham”
Both the General and inspector swallowed visibly upon hearing that he was the guest of the royal family.
This would put a dent in their investigations, no doubt.
“I expelled Eddie Kirkham.”
Tall and proud, Claude walked into the room followed by a confused attendee.
“It’s been a while, Sir Bryton.
You as well, inspector,” Claude’s voice and presence filled the room.
It paused whatever conversation they had been having, shifting the atmosphere itself.
The inspector coughed once.
Then he finally spoke, “I’m requesting the young Marquis have Sir Canillian attend as a witness.
It’s been almost ten days since they hid.
By now they’re planning on other crimes.
So…” he trailed off.
“I’ll see what I can do.
Two of you may take your leave now,” the Dismissal wasn’t harsh or cold in any way.
Still, the pair still had a lot to say.
They wouldn’t dare with the Duke now present though.
A footman appeared to lead them out.
They did not protest.
Barely a heartbeat later, new tea was served.
Kieran’s gaze did not leave Claude’s stormy face as he dismissed the attendees too.
His visit had been so sudden.
He was sure Claude could feel his gaze boring into his face.
But if he knew the duke at all, Kieran knew he wouldn’t say anything until he was ready.
Kieran took the time to study the elegant space they were in.
The deep colors of the dark carpet unified rather unexpectedly with the blue wallpaper minced well with the splashes of gold all around, he noted dully.
“Nowadays the capital is noisy with your name.
It’s probably bothering Princess Rosina.
There are many younglings that are after the princess’s fiancée.”
“You’re joking, right It’s only Rosina for me.
No one else.”
Claude set down the teacup which he hadn’t drunk from.
Kieran watched a storm of emotions – impatience and confusing, especially – pass across Claude’s face.
The duke was trying hard to hide it all under a relaxed mask.
He wasn’t doing a good job.
“What is going on Young Duke,” Kieran asked his companion is a low voice
At his words, Claude let out a scoff and stared off into nothing.
“I saw a girl that looked like Canillian.
Look exactly like her.”
Kieran had been tapping a meaningless rhythm on the armrest.
Hearing Claude’s words, his hand rose to cover his mouth as he guffawed.
“Is there a lady that can challenge the beauty of Canllian”
“I’m not joking, Kieran.”
“So what did you do”
“I tried to find her.”
“You probably didn’t find her.”
Kieran was done listening to Claude’s nonsensical ramblings.
He got up to his feet, he stood beside a unique hideous statue in the drawing room.
His next words were firm but Claude’s eyes were still staring off into nothing.
“You are mistaken, young Duke.”
He was thinking of giving back the life of a lady to Canillian someday, but right now she wasn’t ready.
No, perhaps it was him that wasn’t ready for that to happen.
Even so, he didn’t think Canillian would do something so dangerous as to dress up like a woman.
Claude finally snapped his gaze back into the present.
“Do you really think so His question wasn’t much of one.
The low tone in which he said it convinced Kieran that the duke was more likely talking to himself or thinking out loud.
“I’m going to go read.
Stopping this meaningless conversation,” he finally said to Kieran who still stood by the ugly statue.
“Are you going to the library There was something I wanted, at the Royal Library of the capital…”
“No,” Claude cut Kieran off before he could go any further.
He took out his gloves.
“Somewhere better,” he said quietly, further confusing Kieran.
“I’m sorry, young Duke sir.”
Claude watched Pepe with unusual displeasure as she gave a low bow to him, looking uneasy.
It was early night.
Claude hadn’t mentioned that he wanted to have dinner together, but he did say he would come to read.
Yet, Canillian was not home.
“Where is he”
“He hasn’t returned.”
“From the Academy”
“Yes, sir,” Pepe continued to look uneasy.
Was his presence really that discomforting
Was Canillian avoiding him Claude thought briefly.
He turned around slowly and left, pressing his lips together in shame and displeasure.
These were similar feelings he felt long ago on the day he kissed a sleeping Canillian.
The feeling was faint now, though.
The Duke thought to himself.
If Canillian had woken up and pushed him away grudgingly….
Would he have stopped
No, he answered himself.
He probably would’ve done something worse.
For sure, this feeling right now wasn’t light curiosity.
What was happening to him
When he saw Canillian, his hand, lips, and feet moved on their own.
Actions – reckless ones – came before thinking like something happened to his head.
Perhaps he had somehow contracted Prince Weise’s disease.
That had to be it.
Else, why did he suddenly not care whether it was a man or a woman
As he got in the car deep in thought, Owen asked from the front.
“Where shall I take you, master”
Claude, staring out the window calmly, answered without thinking.
“To the Academy.
I need to look at the horses.”