The chapter is getting longer, so I will chop it into two parts. But I will only do this for chapters with more than 4-4,5k characters, so don't worry about it. ｡ₓ ू ₒ☆ * ✲୧( ○ ╹v╹ ○ )୨✲ * ☆ ₒ ु ₓ｡
The days before Ekaterina entered the Magic Academy.
After returning from the imperial palace to Duke's residence, Alexei went to the study. There, Viscount Boris Novak, Alexei's subordinate and confidant, greeted him. "Welcome back, Young Lord."
Alexei replied with slight irritation, "Take off the 'Young Lord'."
"Excuse my rudeness, Your Excellency," Novak replied with a nonchalant air. As a fifty-three years old experienced business head, his short black hair had a streak of white. But he was very healthy, which could be clearly seen from his robust body.
Novak was an influential person responsible for managing the territory of Duke Yurinova for many years. He also became Alexei's assistant from the early age of the younger man. He taught him the management of the territory from the fundamentals and supported him, be it in public or private. Alexei could even say that the current him existed thanks to Novak, although he would do so in displeasure. But Alexei didn't conceal his feelings just in front of that man.
"How was the Three Councils Meeting?"
"The usual. Magna was unpleasant."
The Three Councils Meeting was the Imperial Council of the three major dukes of the Yurigrand Empire in front of the emperor.
Alexei was the head of the Yurinovas. Yurinova's territory was in the north, rich in resources such as mines.
Yurisein's territory was located in the south. Facing the sea, it flourished due to the port trade.
Yurimagna's territory was located in the east. It had vast plains and lakes.
Peter the Great, the founder of the Empire, had a younger brother, and all of the Dukes had the same lineage as him. The empire's important position was governed by someone with royal parentage.
The Three Dukes called each other by omitting 'Yuri', so it became "Nova", "Sein", and "Magna".
Alexei handed his cloak to Ivan, his servant, and sat down in the leather chair with a thud.
"He's still complaining that he's the only one with disadvantages. He even shamelessly told us to hand over some of our mines or Sein's ports. I want to ask him why he didn't develop his land even if it's very fertile. Plus, why do I have to pay for the Great Knights' Order that's living idly now just because they already existed at the founding of this nation?"
"I see. But Your Excellency, you sound more displeased than usual."
Alexei's face became stiff. "...He insulted Ekaterina."
Nova's noble lady is sickly. She has never learned anything from a teacher and has never received an invitation from another family. My daughter, Elizabeth, sympathizes with her and tells me she wants to invite her once. I have such a kind daughter!
George, the Duke of Yurimagna, was a thirty-eight years old man with trained big body and clear ambition. His words were aimed at the opportunity to increase his daughter's value to be the next Empress, but it was an insult to Ekaterina, and eventually Yurinova. The younger Alexei had been ignoring the intolerable disrespectful behavior of that man towards him, but he couldn't let this one slide.
"It's been a while since the room temperature lowers."
Alexei, who possessed a powerful magic power with ice attribute, could sometimes produce cold air when he got worked up. However, he had strong self-control and always considered his surroundings. That's why something like this rarely happened outside. If he did it in front of the Emperor, he knew that he would be scolded.
"Duke Sein distracted me, so I could ignore it. That's because he was indifferent with the dispute for the next Empress' seat."
Dmitry, the Duke of Yurisein, was the oldest among them at the age of forty-five. His daughter was all a lot older than the prince, plus they were already married. Furthermore, the current Empress Magdalena was the sister of Dmitry, so it would be unlikely for the next Empress to come from his family. Alexei paid respect to Dmitry, a savvy and warm-hearted, yet clever businessman who made a fortune in the port trades.
"Miss Ekaterina's teachers have sent us a report on her current grades."
"Is that so?"
Upon receiving the documents and taking a quick glance, Alexei smiled broadly.
"With this result, I think she can get on at the academy without any problems. She has worked hard."
"As expected from Your Excellency's younger sister. She never learned history, geography, and magic control, but she has mastered it enough. She's also rather excellent in mathematics."
The corporate slave Rina was a science student, so the subjects for high school first grade were naturally very easy for her. No, it was probably even easier than the subjects of the same grade in her previous life because the mathematics education level was lower here.
Besides, the knowledge of the villainess Ekaterina was unexpectedly enough. She learned manners from her mother's behavior and literature from repeatedly reading the limited books in the villa when she got confined. Combined, they made a solid foundation.
"She told me she learned it from her mother. There's no doubt that Miss Ekaterina is smart, but Mistress was also splendid."
"...She was a bright lady."
Alexei's voice sunk.
The messenger he personally sent to welcome his mother killed her. That memory would haunt him for life.
At her dying moment, she looked at him and called his father's name. In Alexei's memory, his mother never saw him as his son.
"It's the order of the Great Mistress. To kill the Mistress if she would return to the mansion. Even I lost my guard because I didn't think anyone would follow that instruction after the death of the former Duke and his wife. It's not your fault, Your Excellency."
"My sin will never disappear for a lifetime. ...But Ekaterina forgave me."
(Brother is the one who suffered the most. The cruel one is Grandmother. And father too, for not protecting Mother. In reality, Mother should be able to hug Brother since she always wanted to see you.)
Then Ekaterina hugged Alexei as if she was compensating for their mother. ...Alexei couldn't hide his tears that welled up for the first time at that time.
"She's a gentle child."
Alexei, who grew up under his grandmother and was separated from his mother, never experienced being loved.
His father, Alexandr, had a charm and good points that made other people love him. He grew up being pampered by his mother and became a slothful person who was only interested in playing women and gambling. Even after his father and Alexei's grandfather, Sergey, died at the age of fifty-eight and Alexandr had to succeed the position as a duke, he left the territorial management tasks to Novak. All he did was flirting around. Naturally, he wasn't interested in his son as well.
Alexei, whose appearance resembled that of his father, but whose serious personality resembled that of his grandfather, was treated severely by his grandmother. She pushed the responsibility of the work her son hated to her grandson. Shortly after his grandfather died, Alexei began to take some of the tasks on behalf of the lord. At that time, he was just a ten years old boy.
Alexei had grown up into a mature child from that time, but of course, he wished his mother would stay beside him. His sister, who was very similar to his mother, gave him what he had dreamed of at that time.
That's why, he couldn't stop resenting himself, who let her live a bitter life for a long time.
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