“You can’t get away with that.”
I’ve been caught.
I squeezed my eyes shut.
In front of me, a scarecrow with thinning hair where strands fell out, a worn-out straw hat, a moldy piece of jerky, and the scenery of the northern region rapidly passed by.
Is… Is this the end of our escape and Leonie’s life?
The words that held onto my fading consciousness were from Deon.
“You can’t escape from the wolf with just that.”
I opened my eyes abruptly.
Deon took the branch from my hand.
He looked at the carefully crafted wood and spoke.
“This wooden sword is poorly made.
It’ll break easily if you strike a sturdy animal with it.
Plus, it’s too long.
What do you expect a beginner to do with a sword that’s as tall as themselves?”
A large shadow fell over his face.
He grabbed the stick and swung it at the tree next to him.
Not only the branch but also the sturdy tree next to it broke.
The strong tree had become brittle.
He angrily threw the branch on the ground.
I saw the useless branch, which was once my hiking stick, with two uneven ends.
He kicked the branch with his shoes.
“No… I mean… “
Deon looked at me with surprise at my startled appearance.
“Weren’t you trying to learn how to use a sword?”
No! That’s right! The lady really wanted to learn.
Right, Leonie? Lady even sharpened branches every day, practicing in the early morning and even hitting trees.”
Suren vigorously nodded in agreement.
I suddenly regained my composure.
“Is that true?”
Deon looked at me, and I followed Suren’s nodding.
“Yes, yes… that’s right.”
“You don’t need to go through the trouble of carving a wooden sword for no reason.
You could just ask for a real sword.
Looks like you got pricked by a thorn.”
He took my hand.
There were small wounds that still hadn’t healed and were red on my palm.
Deon took my hand and went to the training ground nearby.
Then he casually handed me a sword stuck in a sword hanger.
“Hold the sword.”
It was a thin rapier.
The rapier looked like it was made for beginners, with a dull and easily bendable blade.
And most importantly…what was I supposed to do with this?
Goodness gracious, I couldn’t climb a mountain by striking the ground with a rapier.
“Anyway, this won’t be enough to fend off a wolf,” I said curtly.
He responded to my blunt comment, Whatever you wield, it will be stronger than a brittle twig.
Especially the stick you got from the cave.”
He was talking about the stick I used to threaten the wolf.
Who would have thought I could use something that was a matter of life and death like this?
I had no more excuses to refuse.
Without a word, I accepted the rapier he offered me.
Despite being a thin rapier, the weight of the sword was significant.
If this is the weight of a rapier, I wonder if I can even lift a thick sword.
My arm trembled.
In the end, I put the sword down on the ground.
Leonie’s wrists were so thin that she couldn’t even hold a light sword.
“Didn’t you promise me that you will live a long and strong life?”
Seeing the hesitation in swinging the sword, the Duke added.
“Swordsmanship is good for arm exercises.
You said you were lifting dishes at the restaurant last time.
Young Lady seems to have inadequate weapons to protect herself all the time.”
It was a joke-like remark, but he seemed quite serious.
You were lucky to escape from the wolf, but there might not be a next time.”
Reluctantly, I took the sword he offered me again.
It was heavy.
My arm trembled uncontrollably.
I had seen soldiers training beyond my shoulder many times, but I couldn’t even imitate their simple movements.
Every time I moved, the sword swayed in all directions.
Is the sword really that heavy?
He took out a sword from the sword rack.
He skillfully wielded the slender rapier, which he had barely held with both hands, with just one hand.
Her face was flushed.
You’ll get used to it.”
I felt a surge of determination and gripped the sword even harder.
“You’re doing it wrong.
Your center is off.
Hold it here.”
Deon moved my hand on the sword, making it more stable.
But the sword didn’t magically become lighter.
It still shook in my hand, and he came up behind me, wrapping his body around mine.
He took his hand and overlapped it with mine, embracing me.
The heavy blade suddenly felt lighter.
“The vital points of a living creature are usually in the head, chest, and belly.
Like this, just thrust.”
He held the sword upright and jabbed it toward me.
From top to bottom, even lower, he thrust the sword toward the air.
“And if you encounter a liquid demon, you can turn it like this.”
He swiftly turned the sword.
His quick movements twisted my body, and I lost my balance and wobbled.
At the moment when I was about to fall forward, he wrapped his arm around my waist and gently held me.
My back touched his solid chest.
I looked up.
His blue eyes, which shone even more brilliantly in the light of dawn, were looking down at me.
I quickly stood up straight.
“It seems like it will take too long.”
I lowered the hand holding the sword handle.
My basic physical strength was not enough.
Will I be able to learn the sword during the remaining time of the year or so?
To that, he responded.
Anyway, I’ll protect you before the moment comes when you raise your sword, so it won’t matter.”
“Still, how fortunate it is.
You misunderstood that I wanted to learn swordsmanship.”
I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but I was unintentionally learning swordsmanship every day.
Insincerely, he knocked on the straw mats set up by the knights of the gymnasium.
Every time the sword was raised, crumbs from the straw fluttered in the sky.
Suren, who was sitting in the snow and watching the scraps flying in the air, opened her mouth.
“As far as I can see, Lady will never be able to escape.”
“Where do you think you’re going with that stamina?”
Well… I agree with that, too.
I stopped swinging my sword and looked around at the haystack.
I lifted the chin that was presumed to be the face of the haystack with my sword.
“Suren, let’s just assume we’re done fighting.
Let’s move this thing.”
“If the Duke asks where the haystack went…say it was torn to shreds by mistake with a rapier.”
“Surely…no way, right?”
That “surely” is correct.
As a long silence followed, Suren’s face twisted.
“Your Highness, please take me with you instead.
Then I’ll think about cooperating.
I came here because I couldn’t get a job at another mansion due to my ethnic features being too pronounced!”
“To take you with me, I’d need two hot stones for warmth.”
I put the sword into the scabbard.
“Is it your wish to freeze to death?”
“Even a young lady who is weaker than me crosses over!”
Well, of course, if I stay here, I’m destined to die.
“Anyway, even if we escape, it’s not going to happen right away.
We’re planning to wait for about a year before starting a rebellion, so don’t worry.”
“Are you waiting for the weather to improve?”
“The weather? I’m waiting for that…and just waiting for the right timing.”
I looked up at the sky.
The first time I looked up at the sky when I came here, it wasn’t this clear.
I must have gotten used to it.
It has been four months since Leoni came to the Duke’s residence.
It’s already been three months since I woke up here.
I wiped away the sweat that was trickling down.
Behind Suren, who was wrapping the hay with a blanket, Deon, Viter, and Edan appeared.
“Who is coming?”
“It must be a birthday procession.”
“Yes, it’s almost the Duke’s birthday.
It’s going to be bigger than last year.
I heard that the Duke’s status has grown even more after winning the last battle.
He’ll soon be recognized as an official prince.
We’re lining up early, you know.”
“… Were there no guests on his birthday originally?”
“They did come… but there were very few.
This is the first time we’ve had so many enemies.
There are also many gifts.
They must all be bribes.”
A cool breeze blew by, and the red hair fluttered and tickled the cheek.
Below the hill, there was a long line of wagons in front of the castle gate.
It was the first long procession I had seen since waking up here.
When I pulled my hair, that was flowing like a curtain, I saw Deon.
He was inspecting the cart that had entered the gate.
When the blanket covering the cart was removed, a colorful object was revealed.
I didn’t look at it for long, but Deon quickly lifted his head and looked at me, as if he had been waiting for me.
For a brief moment, our eyes met.
His gaze was directed toward me.
He called my name.
I approached him as he strode along on long legs.
I shouldn’t reveal the identity of the straw I barely managed to get.
Suren was whimpering behind me, wrapping the straw with a blanket.
Fortunately, it seemed he didn’t notice.
He didn’t pay attention to Suren and looked at me.
“There’s going to be a party soon.
Many outsiders will come.”
“Yes, I heard.
Guests are coming.”
“The employees will be busy preparing for the party.
You are also listed as a participant.”
I nodded my head.
After staring at me for a while, Deon spoke up.
“There probably won’t be anyone asking about your identity, but if anyone does, answer that you’re a member of the pro-Duke faction who entered as a civil servant like Viter.”
And then, he unusually gave me a warning.
“Be careful, Leonie.”
“I got it.
I’ll be careful not to get caught.”
“That’s not what I meant…”
Deon hesitated, opening and closing his lips several times before finally speaking.
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