Chapter Fifteen: Bound by the Contract

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I carefully navigated my way through the study to once again sit on the chair opposite to Duke Zenos.

I cleared my throat and voiced, "As I was saying I know the whereabouts of the maid who poisoned the Crown Prince's tea."

"And exactly how did you acquire this useful piece of information, Lady Eliza?" Duke Zenos asked.

Well that wasn't really hard. My father, for many years, has been investigating the various assassination attempts carried out to kill the Crown Prince. I eavesdropped on his conversation with Sir Elliot to learn about the details of the recent assassination attempt which was the poisoning of the Crown Prince's tea. Apparently, a palace maid had mixed the poison in his tea but by the time the Royal knights had taken action the maid and all traces of her had vanished. Many suspect that there was the involvement of magic which would narrow down the culprit to either of the three familys, Valerio Dukedom, Xavier Dukedom or the Royal family itself as only these three bloodlines can use magic. However even the Royal family could not point fingers at the two Dukedoms without any evidence due to their rich heritage and power. On the other hand, the Royal family also could not allow internal conflict between its members so my father who is the King's trusted aide has been investigating the matter secretly. Last night he found the whereabouts of the maid and I jotted it down on a piece of paper.

"That is...I can't reveal my source to you," I said unwilling to give out too much information to the Duke.

Duke Zenos questioned with a hint of doubt in his voice, "Then how would I know if the information you have given me is reliable?"

"Please take my word for it. Also, I suggest that you make your decision a bit faster as there is a possibility that while we are spending our time talking, the maid is planning to escape to a safer location," I replied, hastily.

"Has anyone ever told you that you have a knack for negotiating? Fine, I am willing to sign a contract with you," Duke Zenos answered in agreement.

With a sigh of relief, I stated, "Okay, then we should discuss the details of the contract on another day" and added while handing him the piece of paper with the address of the maid written on it, "This is the address." 

"Yes, it would be wise to discuss it at another time after all there are more important matters to deal with at hand," Duke Zenos responded, nodding.

"Well what are we waiting for? We should head out," I said with a tone of impatience.

"We?" Duke Zenos asked in confusion.

"Yes, we. I am also going with you to the maid's hideout," I replied as if I was stating the obvious.

There is no way I will let go of this golden opportunity. Before I time travelled, I was executed for attempting to assassinate the Crown Prince. However, seems like someone was trying to kill the Crown Prince from a very long time ago and there is high chance that this particular person was the one who had aided Raelia in turning me into a scapegoat for their own crimes. No matter how cunning Raelia is, a plan of this magnitude couldn't have been carried out by her alone. I am certain she had an accomplice or worse, she was someone's pawn. Then the entire game would change.

Duke Zenos's loud laughter roused me from my train of thoughts.

"You really are interesting. No noble lady would ever suggest to go to a shabby place like the Abbey," Duke Zenos said whilst continuing to laugh.

The Abbey. It is a place where the poorest of the poor live. The black market, gambling, fighting gangs and many other notorious things are home to the Abbey. It's a place even the Royal family has neglected as it is rotten to the core.

"I am certain you must have realised by now, I am no common noble lady," I said with a smirk.

"That I have. And it's much more interesting that way," Duke Zenos replied. 

"Thank you for the compliment. Now let's head out, shall we?" I asked.

In response he called Reymond who arrived to inform, "The carriage is prepared to depart, My Lord."

Wow, he is fast and efficient. As expected of the Duke's aide.

We exited the study and made our way down the stairs and into the carriage. While we rode through the streets of the Empire, Duke Zenos and I didn't make any conversation initially. However, it was nothing like the ride with Cesar. The silence wasn't awkward but rather it was peaceful. Duke Zenos rested his face on his hand and closed his eyes.

I had never noticed how long and beautiful his eyelashes are. His sharp facial features and how his jet-black hair falls gently on his forehead...everything about him is so perfect. Aside from his cold demeanor, he is quite a catch. 

Lost in admiration, I didn't notice that I was unconsciously gawking at him.

Breaking the peaceful silence, Duke Zenos said, "I can't rest if you stare at me this intensely."

I turned red with embarrassment at his words.

Flustered, I replied, "A-ah I was just-t staring at the intricat-te design on the carria-ge wall behind you-u..."

"Lady Eliza, you are really bad at lying," Duke Zenos stated as he chuckled and continued to say, his expression turning grim "Although, that is good. You will not be able to deceive me."

Taken aback by his serious reply, I didn't know how to reply and ended up staying silent.

Rather than hostility I sense sadness in his reply...like someone who has been deceived by other peoples' lies many times.

The rest of the ride passed away in silence. We arrived at our destination, the Abbey, after a couple of minutes.

As Duke Zenos offered his hand in order to help me out of the carriage, he warned "Stay close to me. This place is dangerous."

I nodded as I took a hold of his hand.

We, quietly and carefully, walked down the rugged streets of the Abbey. I stole glances of my surroundings to see homeless beggars, suspicious men in hats and masks covering their faces and ghostly shadows on the windows of the buildings all around me. After crossing a narrow alleyway, we finally reached the maid's hideout which was a run down, little hut. A strange smell wafted out from it. Duke Zenos welcomed himself into the dingy hut and I followed suit. The stench of blood filled the air and our nostrils immediately as we entered. Duke Zenos and I made a dash towards the source of the smell.

The sight which awaited us was horrifying. I squinted in the dark to get a clearer view of the atrocity in front of me. With my eyes, I traced from the ground which was covered in dried up blood to the lifeless body of Mary, the maid who attempted to assassinate the Crown Prince.

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