"Duke Danzel is not only after the wheat, but also the royal family."

Renato was confused. 

"What do you mean?"

"He wants to adopt a commoner, the new fiancée of Prince Edward, into his household."

"Well, this is a very common practice. Normally, they would have taken her in as a bastard, but they can't do that now, because it's already known that Annette was a tavern girl."

"Even if he made it look like she was an illegitimate child, it would mean that Duke Danzel had a child with a tavern woman. That would definitely be bad for his reputation."

Renato understood that this was why he had adopted her instead.

But the story didn't end there.

"Duke Danzel divorced his former wife eight years ago on the grounds of adultery, and remarried the current one. Her daughter is eight years old."

"That doesn't add up," Renato said.

"If he had a child after his second marriage, the child should be seven years old, considering the period of the pregnancy."

"He must have been having an affair with her before they got married."

"But, who in his right mind would accuse his former wife of adultery and divorce her?"

Renato didn't understand why.

"Among the concubines, it seems that the one who gave birth to a daughter was chosen as the official wife."

"A daughter...? But why...? Ohh... I see what you mean."

As expected, Renato seemed to have realized what James was trying to say.

"He doesn't want her 'new' adoptive daughter to have children with the prince, so when his own daughter is old enough to marry, he would have the royal pair divorced because they couldn't have children, and he would have her official daughter married to the crown prince."

"Right now, Edward is eighteen years old and the daughter of Duke Danzel is eight years old."

"If you put the two of them side by side now, they would be an adult and a child."

"But in another seven years... or even five years, they will be twenty-three and thirteen."

"They're indeed ten years apart, but not too far apart."

"In a political marriage, it is normal to have that much age difference." 

It was after Renato said this that he realized something.

"Wasn't Miss Berkeley already engaged to the prince before Duke Denzel's daughter was even born?"

"After the plague was over, the people needed something cheerful to talk about, so the crown prince's choice of a fiancée was made quickly. Since there were no suitable daughters in Duke Denzel's family, a daughter from a branch of each family was chosen to participate."

"So Edward himself selected Mariabelle."

"This was only possible because the power of Duke Danzel was not as great as it is today."

"If they had held as much power as they do now, the king wouldn't have held the tea party in the first place and would have waited for the birth of Duke Denzel's daughter as a matter of course, and then chosen her as the crown prince's fiancé."

"The crown prince's engagement was announced just in time for the people of the kingdom to finally shed their mourning."

"Edward and Mariabelle's engagement was celebrated throughout the kingdom."

For Duke Danzel, who had risen from the ranks of the eight dukes to become the first duke, the sudden appearance of the Marquisate of Berkeley on the stage must have been an eyesore.

The eight dukes are the three grand dukes and five dukes of the kingdom.

It was unlike the empire, where the grand duke's title was hereditary. The grand duke title of the empire was a one-generation title that was claimed by a direct lineage of royalty, so the three grand dukes weren't always present.

The current king had only one brother of the same blood, so there was only one grand duke.

The deceased king's younger brother has a boy, now eleven years of age, who was born a year before the plague spread, but the child cannot take on the grand duke's title.

He will eventually inherit one of the duke's titles, but until Edward has a son, he has the second rank in the line of succession to the throne, so he remains a member of the grand dukedom.

In the kingdom, only boys born through formal marriage have the right to succeed to the throne, so Edward's younger sister, the princess, doesn't have the right to succeed to the throne.

In the Galleria Empire, the throne is inherited by a girl only when there is no boy, since the firstborn son has priority over the firstborn daughter.

For this reason, the Galleria Empire had several famous empresses.

"Duke Denzel's tyranny is terrible... Are there no decent men in the kingdom?"

"It is customary for the three grand dukes and five dukes, a total of eight dukes, to hold important positions in the kingdom. But ten years ago, a plague killed the heads of all the houses except the Duchy of Danzel," James replied to Renato who seemed to be taken aback, while frowning at the wrinkles between his eyebrows.

Renato was surprised at those words.

Renato knew that the eight ducal houses weren't together, and he also knew that the heads of the houses were all young.

He also knew that some older heads of the family had died of the plague, but the empire was in turmoil at the time, and he had no accurate information.

"Even though the plague was prevalent, wasn't it too many?"

"The royal capital particularly had many of those that became seriously ill. Those with mild symptoms recovered after a slight fever, but those with severe cases developed herpes all over their bodies and died of high fever."

Renato said, "Even in the empire, those that became severely ill showed such symptoms. But none of them were that badly affected."

And besides, the doctor of Renato's fiancé developed a drug to cure the plague.

If it hadn't been for that, the damage would have been much greater.

"Immediately, His Royal Highness, the king's brother, sealed off King's Landing and forbade any movement from the city. His Majesty's family and the queen were evacuated to a remote palace, but His Royal Highness took command at the front and fell ill. The other families had worked with him in the capital, except for Duke Danzel."

"Why was Duke Danzel spared in the plague?

"He had just visited the central countries on a trading trip. When he returned, the capital was already sealed off, but he brought with him a remedy developed in the Republic of Morvia, which ended the plague."

"But that's too good to be a coincidence."

James nodded deeply as Renato placed his hand on his chin.

James sipped his tea, which had cooled a little, in an attempt to quench his thirst again.

"But there was no house that could challenge Duke Danzel, who became the head duke. All the houses had to focus their efforts on rebuilding their territories after the plague. Nevertheless," he continued, "a house with a heart would not let things continue as they were, and they had high hopes for Prince Edward, but His Majesty and Her Royal Highness only pampered the prince, who was their only son... We managed to get a few educators on our hands, but it was hardly a perfect education... So we had to put a lot of pressure on Mariabelle."

James didn't hide his regret.

It was true that he had placed a heavy burden on Mariabelle, even for the sake of the kingdom.

She had responded accordingly, but that was the... result.

"However, Duke Danzel didn't abandon his ambition to become a maternal relative of the king. I knew about it, so I planned to stop it, but I never thought that the prince himself would be the first to see the girl in the tavern. There was no way that Duke Danzel could miss this opportunity."

"So, Prince Edward had voluntarily fallen for Duke Denzel's scheme?" Renato asked irritatingly.

"It's ironic. The crown prince himself has brought about the very disaster we were trying so hard to keep away from him..."

"Ironic, huh...? But I suppose that is fate. Prince Edward has brought about his own doom."

Saying that, Renato grinned.

"I don't really like the word fate," he said.

"That's surprising."

"So what is it about meeting Mariabelle that makes it fate?"

James thought so, but even in this short time, he was getting to know Renato's personality.

There must be more to the story.

"Fate is a road of many paths; of course, there are paths that cannot be changed. But before that, there is always a path that you can choose. The result of the choices we make is our own destiny. Destiny is something you have to take hold of."

Renato's eyes were strong as he assured James.

James smiled.

"Will you keep up the good work and cherish my daughter, too?"

"I swear I will cherish her for the rest of my life."

The men, who had taken the future into their own hands, looked at each other and laughed.