The unexpected suggestion caught Bern off guard.
“What? Oh, no, thank you, it’s fine.”
“No. You have to get back to the Marquis anyway, don’t you have other plans?”
“Not really, but…….”
“Is it a long way from the mansion to the Marquis of Casper?”
Lucia asked the coachman, leaving a puzzled Bern behind.
“It’s not too far from your home, perhaps another twenty minutes.”
Twenty minutes is never too far. After hearing the answer, Lucia looked at Bern.
“That’s right, I’ll drive you home.”
Hesitantly, Bern nodded.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
As Bern stood up, Sean moved to the coachman’s seat.
The carriage shifted and there was a slight stiffness in the air.
In the awkward space, Bern spoke first.
“Thank you, young lady. You’ve made my journey home much more comfortable.”
“No problem, if you’re going home anyway, you might as well go with me.”
“It’s ungracious of me to think I’ve caused the young lady any inconvenience.”
“If it’s because you’re late, you don’t need to apologize anymore, I’ve already been apologized for.”
Bern stared at Lucia for a moment as she calmly replied, then let out a small laugh. Lucia gave him a puzzled look.
“Hahaha. I apologize if I offended you. For some reason, the more I talk to you, the more different you seem to be from my first impression of you.”
Bern barely held back the laughter that threatened to escape.
“I thought your personality would be like that because you were small and gentle, but I was surprised that you were more easy-going than I thought. I can’t believe you’re younger than me.”
“Is that a complaint?”
“Of course not, I find it all the more attractive.”
The unfamiliarity of his words startled Lucia for a moment, and she touched her ear absently.
As she noticed every time she spoke to him, he had a way with words that made her feel good. It didn’t feel pretentious, so it wasn’t offensive.
Lucia shook off her embarrassment and took a quick look at Bern.
Now that she thought about it, he is pretty good-looking. He was the most polished-looking candidate she’d ever seen, and he had an intelligent, affectionate style.
‘The exact opposite of Herwin.’
Herwin’s piercing eyes gave him a cold impression, and his sword-built body made him more feral than intellectual.
Although there was a flip side to his personality that showed him to be affectionate to those close to him….…
Lucia shook her head as her thoughts naturally shifted from Bern to Herwin.
It was rude to think of another man in the presence of her candidate.
Even if she had stopped thinking about him, the imprint on her mind was not easily removed.
Lucia rubbed her temples, feeling her head grow unnecessarily heavy.
“Are you all right, young lady, you don’t look well.”
Bern gave her a concerned look, and Lucia forced a smile.
“I’m fine, I just got a headache for a moment…….”
“Well, when you get home, make sure you get plenty of rest. Even if it’s summer soon, it’s hard to catch a cold in this weather.”
“Yes, thank you for your concern.”
The swaying motion of the carriage gradually ceased. She glanced out the window and saw an unfamiliar mansion.
“Here we are.”
They had arrived at the Marquis de Casper’s estate. Bern stepped out of the carriage.
“Thank you for taking me here. Please go home safely.”
“Yes, I hope to see you again later.”
Bern bows once more and enters the mansion. Seeing him go, Sean, who had been sitting beside the coachman’s seat, entered the carriage.
Her face was full of excitement as if she had many questions to ask.
“Miss is it a success this time?!”
“Seeing him in the carriage, don’t you think so?”
Sean’s face lit up as she anticipated a negative answer.
“I’m so glad, I was worried that the last one was a weirdo!”
“Yeah, at least he’s nicer than the first three. I was afraid he was as weird as you said.”
She was trying to figure out what to say to John if it was a failure again.
The first three had been bad with some sort of excuse, and she was worried that if she rejected this fourth one, it would be seen as her avoiding him because she didn’t want to marry him.
“Miss, did he also tell you about Mr. Phoenaeus?”
Lucia shook her head quietly.
“No, there hasn’t been any talk about him today, not even the rumors that have been circulating in society.”
“Oh, really, that’s a pass on its own.”
“Why do you seem to like him more than I do?”
“Well, everyone you’ve ever met has talked about it, so isn’t it a pass just for not talking about it? The way I see it, there won’t be many more people like him, Marquis Casper.”
She wasn’t wrong, it was only their first meeting, so he could ask later, but she didn’t think he’d go out of his way to offend her.
‘I think he’d rather apologize if he offended me.’
She could picture him apologizing sincerely.
“You’re right, he’s not a bad guy, and I’d like to keep seeing him if there’s nothing unusual.”
“That’s great to hear, I hope he’s as nice as his first impression.”
Lucia’s words trailed off and she stared blankly at the scenery passing outside the window.
Was she going to get engaged to Bern, get married, and live with him forever?
Lucia’s head depicted a figure believed to be the groom next to her in a white dress and veil.
The face that had once been Herwin’s quickly became Bern’s.
The pounding in her heart slowly subsided until she felt nothing.
This was the most realistic thing she could imagine, even if her heart wasn’t beating.
It was more upsetting than she’d expected, and she closed her eyes.
* * *
The screams of monsters, the shouts of the people, and the creaking of blades all around.
This was the North, and it smelled of blood.
Upon discovering a new group of monsters, the Northern Knights slaughtered them in sight.
Instead of the usual red blood, green, rich blood splashed everywhere.
Spotting the last of the monsters fleeing, Herwin wrapped the red auror around his sword and slashed at it with a single blow.
Watching the monster’s body crumble to the ground, Herwin roughly wiped the blood from his face.
As Herwin roughly wiped the green blood from his blade, the captain of the knights came to his side.
He was one of the knights who had helped him in the past when he was learning swordsmanship.
“Wow, every time I see your auror, I’m in awe. Amazingly, you’ve reached the level of Sword Expert at your age.”
“Eh, I think that’s a bit much praise.”
Herwin smirked at the flattering tone.
“Hahaha, it’s because you’ve made things easier for me. If it weren’t for you, it would have taken longer, and the damage would have been much greater.”
It’s not an empty statement. In fact, since Herwin’s arrival, the slaughter has been faster and the knights have taken less damage.
“Don’t give me too much credit. I’m only here as a knight.”
“Yes, I know, but you’ll be back as Count when you get to the castle, and I’m taking this opportunity to stamp my approval.”
He rubbed his hands together in an exaggerated gesture, purposely lowering himself so that it looked more like a joke. Herwin chuckled and patted him on the back, then headed for a makeshift tent a short distance from the battlefield.
As he appeared, his black hair whipping around him, the men inside stood erect and saluted.
“Greetings to you, Phoenaeus!”
“Enough greetings. Have you found any other hordes of monsters?”
“Yes, we’ve killed all the monsters in this neighborhood, but we’re currently on patrol in case there are any stragglers left.”
Herwin looked at the map on the table. Looking at the distribution of monsters on the map and the records of their slayings, the number of monsters had decreased from when he first joined the group.
“Mr. Phoenaeus, you have a message from the mansion.”
Herwin opened the scroll handed to him by the knight and saw the words to return.
‘I’ve been here for over three weeks already.’
He hadn’t even stopped at the mansion but had gone straight to the battlefield. His parents were right to be disappointed.
Herwin packed his things and borrowed a horse.
“I’m going back now. I’ll leave you behind.”
“Yes! We’ll do our best not to worry you!”
“Master, when you get back, tell everyone about my performance, okay?”
With a small chuckle at the mid-sentence banter, Herwin reined in his horse and headed for the mansion.
When he arrived at the mansion, he saw Scarlett standing at the gate, glaring at him as he drove up.
“Mother, you should be inside, why are you out here?”
“I was afraid I might forget the face of my handsome son.”
Scarlett looked Herwin up and down with a pointed look.
The noble Count was gone, and a raggedy man was standing there.
“What the hell do you look like, I told you to come back to the mansion halfway through!”
“That’s inefficient, I’d rather catch one more monster in the time it takes me to run back and forth to the mansion.”
“Oh, I wonder if you’ll be like your father, I was hoping you wouldn’t be like that.”
Herwin patted Scarlett’s shoulder as she shook her head.
“Henry is the one who looks most like mother, so take comfort in that.”
“It’s not comforting at all.”
Is this what he calls comfort now? Scarlett glanced at Herwin with pity, then raised her eyes at his squirming form.
“Get yourself cleaned up right now!”
No one in this castle could beat Scarlett. Herwin obeyed, handing packs and robes to the servants who followed him.
As he strolled down the hallway, he stopped when he spotted the butler beside him.
“Have there been any letters for me in the meantime?”
“Yes, sir. I’ll have them ready in your room for you to read as soon as you come out of the bath.”
Herwin entered the bathroom with a lighter step. The butler, puzzled by his sudden improvement in mood, hurried downstairs to retrieve his letter.
Herwin entered the room feeling refreshed, cleaned of the grime from the three weeks he had spent sleeping and rolling around outside.
His red eyes sank low as he toweled off his damp hair.
His eyes widened, however, when he saw the letters on the desk.
He hurriedly approached the desk, his face darkening as he examined each letter.
Then, puzzled, he looked at them all over again. But he couldn’t find what he was looking for.
“…… doesn’t have Lucia’s letter?”
Lucia’s letter was not among the many letters.