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"Being a candidate for His Royal Highness's fiancée is out of the question. It's far too heavy a burden for me, no matter how I think about it. I only hope to support His Royal Highness and his future bride as a loyal subject,"  

Ortansia said in a deliberately loud voice.

The Countess of Dendane in front of her, as well as the people around her, seemed to gulp in surprise at her words.

However, Ortansia felt somewhat refreshed.

'Yes, yes, I know. I hope to be friends with Prince Viktor one day, but... I can't become a queen even by mistake.'

 As a duchess, Ortansia's goal is to support her father and brother.

She wanted to declare that to the Countess of Dendane, and Ortansia's determination would soon be known throughout the social circle.

And that was fine.

"Oh… oh my, is that so...? You are wiser than I thought!" 

Countess Dendane was surprised by Ortánsia's words, but she soon realised that Ortansia could not be a rival for Prince Victor and smiled brightly.

This obvious attitude made Ortansia giggle in her heart.

'You seem more careless than I thought, though… Huh, I must have been pretty clumsy  the first time I was set up by someone so obvious.'

Countess Dendane was completely in a good mood and was once again bragging to those around her.

Watching this scene, Ortansia was about to distance herself from her.

'I don't want to meddle in Prince Victor's choice of queen, but... if possible, I'd rather it's not Countess Dendane'

With this in mind, Ortansia managed to retreat to a less crowded spot.

She breathed a small sigh of relief that she could finally calm down...

It was at that time.


 ...Clap, clap. Ortansia heard a small clapping sound coming from nearby, and she quickly looked up.

She looked up to see a gentleman nearby clapping his hands and smiling at her.

"Well done, Princess of the House of Verite."

Probably the same age as her father.

The gentleman looked amused, yet he was giving her a somewhat testing look.

Ortansia smiled, trying not to show her agitation, and quickly observed the man in front of her.

'I don't recall... at least, this seems to be the first time we've spoken like this'

The costume he wore was definitely first class as far as sewing and texture were concerned, albeit a subdued one.

The quality of the clothes suggested that he was probably a high-ranking nobleman on the same level as Ortansia.

'Any other hints?'

Ortansia, a little impatiently, ran her eyes over the chest area of the man in front of her and caught sight of a shiny necklace.

The sterling silver necklace formed an intricate design that was admirable at first glance.

As soon as she saw the design, Ortansia gasped in surprise.

'That's a family crest! And that family crest is the Duchesse de Linie!'

The family crest was listed in the nobility directory that she had seen many times in Annabelle's lessons.

It is a ducal family with different origins from the four major Ducal families, including the Duke of Verité - in other words, it is a collateral royal bloodline.

The current head of the Duchesse de Linie would be a cousin of the king.

The ages match. This means that this person in front of me is…

"Good day, Your Excellency the Duke of Linie. It is an honour to meet you."

Betting on a chance, Ortansia bowed to the gentleman in front of her with the perfect mannerisms that Annabelle had trained her to use.

He looked at her with amusement and clapped his hands as if he was impressed.

"Ho, as expected. The princess of the Duchesse de Verité seems to be even more intelligent than I had heard. I've been looking forward to the day I can meet you, the daughter of Duke of Verite."

At that reaction, Ortansia was so relieved that she almost lost her strength.

'Ha, thank goodness. It looks like I was right'

The person in front of her was, after all, the Duke of Linie, a member of the collateral royal family..

But why did he suddenly approach Ortansia?

 The Duke of Linie began to speak cheerfully, as if to answer her question.

"I apologise for calling you out of the blue. It's just that I overheard a bit of your conversation with the Countess of Dendane earlier."

"That's embarrassing…"

"No, no, she was definitely trying to make things difficult for you. It's clear from the fire that once she sees you as an enemy, it's going to be tricky. But you did a fine job of brushing aside the firestorm that was raining down towards you."

The Duke of Linie's mouth arced.

Ortansia waited nervously for his next words.

"You would have made a wise queen, I am sure. Don't you like Prince Victor?"

"By no means, not at all. As I told the Countess of Dendane, I do not consider myself fit to be a queen. I respect His Royal Highness Prince Victor as a subject."

When she said this with a smile, the Duke of Linie laughed, as if he found something funny.

Then leaned in towards her.

The Duke of Linie whispered in Ortansia's ear, as she tensed up.

"I would like to speak with you more. If you don't mind, please come to 'our' party. I won't let you regret it. We'll prepare a seat suitable for someone as wise as you."

Having said this, the Duke of Linie put a sheet of invitation in Ortansia's hand.

He then left as if nothing had happened.

 Left behind Ortansia looked down at the invitation she had just been handed with trembling hands.

'Could this possibly be...?'

Is this the breakthrough Ortansia seeks?

Or is it a gateway to ...... ruin?

 Faced with the clue that appeared, Ortansia gulped down a swallow.


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