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Chapter 8: The place I want to leave (4)

Count Roxen brought mostly essential items like food supplies, daily necessities, and clothing, things one absolutely needs to live.

However, it wasn’t just the essentials. There were also items like cards and books to pass the idle time, and even snacks that, while not quite as good as those at the castle, would surely delight Sirien.

Thanks to this, the siblings forgot they were to stay here for three months, engrossed in treasure hunting within the boxes.

I now had a sword of my own.

It was a familiar shape: a dull gray blade that didn’t reflect light, with a simple, unadorned guard and pommel.

It seemed to embody the idea that a sword’s sole purpose was to be sharp and strong.

While it felt good in hand, it was still a bit too large and heavy for the body of a twelve-year-old boy.

This sword was a relic of my father, Count Berthus.

A knight’s sword might seem meaningful at first glance, but I’m not so sure.

There was no rule that family members had to use the same sword.

My swordsmanship was taught by my father, yet our swords were distinctly different.

Sitting and looking at the sword, I felt a peculiar gaze.

It was Sirien, who had paused, fork midway to her mouth, as she turned to look at me with a happy expression.

“Do you... want some?”

“No, call me when you’re eating the meat you mentioned earlier.”

“Okay!”

I didn’t dislike sweets, but I feared that eating them might earn me a deep-seated grudge from Sirien.

The mere fact she offered it so readily was astonishing enough; Sirien preferred sharing things like cookies, but she had a particular greed for cakes.

It had been days since she had tasted anything sweet, so to her eyes, that sweet roll must have seemed as precious as a cake.

‘Am I causing her concern?’

My father’s death seemed to cast a shadow over their spirits.

While I appreciated their consideration, they needn’t have tiptoed around me.

I was genuinely fine.

Staying there any longer felt like it would only dampen the mood further, so I went upstairs.

Lying on the bed, it took a few minutes before I could start hearing the siblings’ voices again.

Their chatter was like white noise, pleasant to the ear, almost like the chirping of birds.

‘That man wasn’t a bad person.’

I didn’t have many memories to speak of.

Most of my time with my father revolved around the sword—learning theories, training, sparring.

After sparring, we’d gulp down water, cool off with cold water, and then devour meat at the dining hall.

He was a good teacher, but whether he was a good parent, I couldn’t say.

He was a man of few words, and since I had been an orphan in the world before, I had no one to compare him to.

Lost in these thoughts, I heard footsteps.

Tap, tap, tap—light, childlike steps, but not frivolous, climbing the wooden stairs.

It was Sirien, who had come to lie beside me, with bread crumbs on her cheek, bringing us face to face at a surprisingly close distance.

“Razen, want some? I brought a few from downstairs.”

“What is it?”

“Dried apples. Try it, it’s good.”

Sirien didn’t seem to care much for my opinion.

Her hand moved stubbornly towards my mouth, and I had no choice but to accept what was given.

Naturally, it tasted of apple.

“Not crying, huh?”

“Did you come here to tease me?”

Oh no, that came out sharper than I intended.

There was no reason for it. Why did I react so sensitively for no reason?

I felt bad, as if I had dampened her spirits, but Sirien only smiled more brightly.

It was a fresh and beautiful smile.

“No, I came because I thought Razen might cry.”

“I’m not crying.”

“Why?”

“Do I have to cry?”

“Um, I don’t know.”

Our eyes met directly.

Her eyes were a vibrant shade of red.

Contrary to what novels often depict as ominous or dangerous, such descriptions were nonsense.

There couldn’t possibly be a prettier smile in the world.

If the author had seen this, they couldn’t have described it in such terms.

“I’ve been thinking, if something happened to our parents, I’d be so sad. I’d probably cling to Razen and cry my eyes out. I might cry so much that I’d soak your shirt through.”

Sirien moved closer.

The small girl wrapped her arms around me, her chest rising and falling with each breath, her heartbeat softly echoing.

The girl who always clung to me and whined was now patting my back.

I could hear her breathing.

The breath that entered, the thin breath that was exhaled.

Through her breath, I could feel her warm, small body heat.

“If I ever cry like that, I hope Razen would do this for me. It would be really nice to be hugged and patted on the back like this. So, I’ll do it first now. You’re my only knight, after all. I can do this anytime.”

“...”

“It’s okay to cry, and it’s okay not to. I think you should do whatever makes you feel at ease.”

It was strange.

My emotions, which had been calm, suddenly began to churn.

It was because unnecessary memories suddenly surfaced.

Trivial things.

Things that weren’t very significant.

When we crossed swords, when I pushed back my father’s sword with all my strength, he would pretend to be surprised but would lift the corners of his mouth.

The water we drank together tasted better than usual, the water for cooling off felt truly refreshing, and the meat in the dining hall was exceptionally rich and flavorful.

The realization that those insignificant times were now gone struck me.

Drinking water alone, cooling off alone, eating alone, everything seemed just a bit, just a tiny bit less flavorful.

Suddenly, I felt utterly alone in this world.

An unexpected loneliness constricted my breath.

My vision darkened, and I struggled to breathe.

It felt like I couldn’t breathe properly, though I was breathing just fine.

An inexplicable feeling of suffocation overwhelmed me.

It was agonizing, a terrible torment that wouldn’t let me go, like a swamp.

The thing that reached me in my turmoil was a single pat. The gentle touch that had been comforting my back pulled me out of the mire.

When I returned to reality, it wasn’t anything grand.

Just the cozy, worn interior of a cabin.

Regaining my senses, I realized my eyes were hot and wet.

‘Ah. This...’

I had cried.

In front of this girl, smaller than me, I had cried.

Unlike me, who retained memories of the modern era, I had wept in front of this child, who was truly just twelve years old.

It was mortifying beyond measure, but somehow, my heart felt at ease.

At least for today, it seemed unlikely I’d fall into distress again.

***

It seems I fell asleep unknowingly.

When I woke up, I was alone under the covers.

Judging by the slowly setting sun outside, it seemed I had been asleep for at least a couple of hours.

Sirien must have left earlier, as I could hear voices chattering downstairs.

I could easily imagine her covering me with a blanket and quietly descending.

I was scared to leave the comfort of my blanket.

The memory of crying in front of Sirien brought a belated wave of embarrassment.

For me, once a proud young man of Berthus, it was an unbearable shame.

If Sirien used this incident to tease me, I might have drawn my sword to end my own life on the spot.

After all, a knight’s honor was to be upheld...

I wanted to stay hidden under the blanket forever.

But that wasn’t possible.

My steps felt heavy.

“Slept well?”

“Oh, perfect timing. Come down and join us.”

Fortunately, Sirien didn’t tease me.

Seeing her grin as if nothing had happened eased my mind.

By keeping her mouth shut, our kind and benevolent lady had become the savior of my life.

“Were you playing Catch the Thief?”

“Yes. The loser gets a punishment.”

“Oh? What’s the punishment?”

“Singing.”

“Great. I’ll make sure everyone loses their voice.”

As I approached, a spot was quickly made for me.

We sat in a circle: Terion, Hena, me, and then Sirien.

I took the opportunity to shuffle the cards.

Once everyone had their hands, I surveyed their expressions.

Terion couldn’t hide his playful smile.

His lips twitched up in a grin, then he consciously tried to conceal it.

Clearly, he had the joker.

Hena fumbled with her cards in confusion.

It seemed she was not familiar with card games, which made her discomfort obvious.

She must have been dealt a particularly bad hand.

Lastly, Sirien... was a formidable opponent.

In the novel, Sirien was portrayed as harsh and cold, with exceptional political acumen.

An expressionless face, as if frost had settled upon it, giving no hint of her thoughts— a woman like an abyss.

I hadn’t expected her to embody that image, but given her background in psychological warfare and politics, I thought she might at least maintain a solid poker face.

And I wasn’t wrong in that assumption.

It was just different from what I had imagined.

She was smiling the entire time, making it impossible to guess her thoughts.

Was it because she had a good hand? No, that didn’t seem to be the case.

Sirien kept smiling, even when she was losing...

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