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Chapter 7: The place I want to leave (3)

The siblings approached the carriage with feigned indifference, their spirits secretly soaring.

Despite the unsightly and distressing experiences we shared, it seemed they wanted to maintain their dignity in front of others.

Unaware of their true feelings, Hena and I followed them from behind.

Earlier, a bright smile had adorned Sirien’s face, a sight I hadn’t seen in what felt like forever.

For 17 long days, a shadow seemed to linger over the siblings’ expressions.

‘I hope those shadows never return to their faces.’

The carriage, having ventured into the snowy expanse, came to a halt.

The person who alighted was none other than Count Roxen, accompanied by a number of knights that hadn’t significantly changed, suggesting they were brought in secrecy.

What troubled me was the absence of any familiar faces among them.

It was curious.

I had thought I was acquainted with most of the Duchy’s knights.

Could there be someone I didn’t know?

Their robes were too shabby to reveal any armor, but their vigilant demeanor was unmistakable, indicative of trained individuals.

Perhaps they were from the border guards, pulled in from all directions due to the urgent circumstances.

What was Count Roxen like in the original story?

Despite trying to recall, there was no mention of him.

Everything I knew about Count Roxen came from what I had seen and heard within the Duchy.

This meant there was a high likelihood he was deceased a decade later.

In the original storyline, his position and those of his relatives had been taken over by others.

Although most of the Duke’s relatives met their demise at the hands of a vindictive Sirien, the descendants of Count Roxen were not listed among the victims.

‘Did Sirien, ten years later, not hold a grudge against Count Roxen?’

Nevertheless, the Count Roxen I saw again seemed to have not enjoyed pleasant times.

His face was etched with fatigue, dark circles under his eyes, and his skin looked more sallow than before.

He resembled an office worker worn out from overtime, evoking a sense of sympathy.

“Uncle!”

“I’m sorry, I’ve arrived quite late.”

Sirien approached Count Roxen and embraced him.

The count reciprocated the hug and gently patted her back.

However, his expression was far from relaxed.

“You two must have endured a lot. You shouldn’t be in a place like this... It’s all due to my inadequacies. I’m sorry.”

“Please don’t say such things, Uncle.”

“It’s a relief to see you both healthy. Razen, Hena, your efforts must have contributed to this. I owe you my gratitude.”

“I just did what I had to do!”

“We merely fulfilled our duties.”

Count Roxen offered polite words, but as is often the case, what follows is usually more significant than what precedes.

“So, Uncle, are we returning now?”

“What’s the situation outside?”

“Yes, you must be curious about the outside world. Don’t be too shocked when you hear it.”

Count Roxen spoke gravely.

“There has been a rebellion within our family.”

* * *

The Eilencia family was a founding contributor to the empire, having been there since its inception.

The empire itself did not start as one, hence it boasted a long history.

This meant that the Eilencia lineage was not one of recent origin. At times, they defended the borders from humans, and at others, from demon lords, bestowing upon them rights and powers that seemed excessive for a mere family.

Thus, the term ‘rebellion’ did not seem entirely out of place.

Eilencia was the empire’s greatest shield, making it the most troublesome wall for its enemies.

If only Eilencia could be brought down, the enemies of the empire were ready to offer any reward.

“We have some suspects in mind... but the main instigator is still under investigation. What’s certain is that several of the collateral families have joined forces with Eligor.”

“How dreadful!”

“What about mother and father? Are they safe?”

“The lady has been evacuated to a safe location, and His Grace the Duke is currently leading the family’s forces in a standoff against Eligor.”

The news meant both were safe, bringing relief to the siblings.

That’s when Count Roxen’s gaze turned to me.

“Not everyone was fortunate.”

“Pardon?”

“Razen, I regret to inform you that Count Berthus has fallen in battle. He remained alone at the rear, facing the enemy. He was a model knight.”

The first grievous news Count Roxen delivered was of my father’s death.

My mother had passed away shortly after giving birth to me, leaving me without any close kin or siblings. I was now completely alone in this world.

Yet, I didn’t feel particularly saddened.

Count Berthus, my father, was a man detached enough to speak lightly of his own death.

He was not particularly devoted to family life. A stoic man, awkward with emotional expression, but I knew his concern for my future wasn’t devoid of paternal affection.

Knighthood was a profession where death could come at any time, anywhere. He used to say, if the day came when he died, remember not the death itself but how it came.

“Was it honorable?”

“More so than anyone I’ve witnessed.”

“Then that’s enough. It’s befitting of my father. Thank you for delivering the news.”

“Yes. When you return, you’ll be Count Berthus. My condolences once again.”

I bowed my head in thanks to Count Roxen.

And calmly braced myself for the next piece of grievous news.

“And as I mentioned earlier, the situation remains unclear with the main instigator still unidentified. We don’t know who else might be involved in the rebellion. His Grace the Duke is treading on thin ice, proceeding with utmost caution.”

Count Roxen said that upon my return, I would become Count Berthus. Such a qualifier would not be necessary if we could return immediately.

I looked again at Count Roxen’s carriage.

It seemed heavy, evident from the deep ruts left by its wheels on the path it had traveled.

Indeed, there was never meant to be space for us in that carriage from the start.

“I’m truly sorry... but under these circumstances, I cannot bring you along. It took a long time just to make the necessary preparations to return here discreetly. That’s also why I couldn’t keep the ten-day promise.”

“So, we need to stay here longer?”

“Yes. I know it will be tough, but please bear with it a little longer. We are making efforts to get you out of here as soon as the situation allows.”

“Uh... okay, understood.”

As the conversation ended, Count Roxen signaled to his knights.

The knights began unloading various boxes from the carriage into the cabin, likely provisions and essentials for our prolonged stay.

Sirien, her eyes filled with tears, bit back her words as she resentfully watched the knights, yet her gaze ultimately rested on me.

She might unjustly resent them, seeing them as the cause of our extended stay in this cabin.

Yet, just like before, Sirien never threw a tantrum, avoiding actions that would inconvenience everyone.
She swallowed her shadows alone.

Her white hands trembled. It was pitiful to watch, so I took her hand.

“Are you okay?”

“Y-yeah, I’m okay... How about you? Are you okay?”

“Me? What’s there not to be okay about? Oh, are you talking about my father?”

“Yeah.”

“I guess it was just his time to go. That man, he never did take good care of himself. I always thought he’d end up like this someday.”

Who was comforting whom?

Even though she was struggling with the current situation herself, Sirien still looked out for me first.

Her small hands wrapped around mine.

It must have been quite cold outside. Sirien’s hands felt unusually warm today, their gentle heat enveloping mine.

It was as if all the warmth in the world was concentrated in Sirien’s hands, making me unaware of anything but the heat emanating from them.

It was so hot it felt like it might burn, yet it wasn’t painful.

Terion asked,

“I understand the situation. It would have been nice to receive updates if it was going to be delayed like this, but I guess it can’t be helped now.”

“Ah, updates... Yes, I’ll see what can be done about that.”

“Do you have an estimate of how long it might be? Surely, you don’t intend for us to stay here indefinitely.”

Terion’s question was logical and sharp, befitting a noble.

He gently reproached the past while using it as a pretext for his next request, crafting an atmosphere where it seemed natural to get what he wanted, leaving no room for alternatives.

It was the rhetoric of someone accustomed to dealing with people from birth. Had he grown even here?

Count Roxen fell silent for a moment, pondering how much longer we would need to stay.

“Three months. I stake my name on this promise. No matter the delay, I will get you out of here within three months. And I’ll ensure updates are sent every week.”

The time was longer than expected. But having received a promise sworn on his name, he didn’t press further.

Thus, our cabin stay was extended.

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