‘No! That’s-…’


That’s-, that’s true.
But I can’t say that she’s right.

‘Ca-Caron, as you know, I’m a bit short on insights.
I think and judge whatever I see…’

‘It was a joke.
Why does it matter the first time we met? We are best friends now.’

Caron, blushing shyly, grabbed my hand again.
And as if she wanted to be confirmed, she opened her mouth again.

‘Right? We’re best friends, right? It’s not just my own misunderstanding, is it?’

No one could say no when they saw Caron’s ecstatic and bright smile.
As I nodded eagerly, Caron smiled broadly and dug in her castella.

 

That was already 3 years ago.

Staring straight ahead without blinking, I peeped at Caron standing next to me. Does she remember what I said? When our eyes met and she smiled softly.

Dozens of men walked in from outside the wide open door.
Applause filled with respect and cheers poured out towards the protagonists of the victory.
Arm in arm with Caron, I moved through the crowd and headed closer to the carpet.

Nezar stood in the lead.
If I was not mistaken, the owner of those cold dark red eyes was undoubtedly him.


“What-, what should I do?!”

Damn it.

Maybe it was because I was emotional more than necessary, but my trembling heart leaked out of my mouth.
The eyes of those around me turned to me questionably for a brief moment, then returned to their initial places one after another.

I was so embarrassed I wanted to die.
In case my face would sell me out, I quickly raised my hand to cover my expression.
If Lockherd had seen me, he would have flipped over and laughed his head off.
That’s how stupid I looked then.

“You look happy, Kate.”

“Pardon?”

“It’s similar the expression you have when you receive a fresh cream cake from a famous dessert shop as a gift.
The point of covering it up with your hand to hide your joy is also the same.”

Sure enough, Caron had heard my shout.
Unlike usual, her speech was slightly blunt.
In response, I shook my head.

“What are you talking about? It was because an insect flew to my face just now.”

“I’ve never seen Kate’s lively face in a banquet hall before.
You’re always a little annoyed by it.”

I was starved for some time, yet I look lively?!


“Maybe it was because of heavy makeup.
I guess it’s worth waking up three hours earlier than usual then.”

“Is that so? Not only your complexion, but also your expression… How should I put it? Should I say it’s like a sunflower in the middle of the day?”

That couldn’t be.
No matter how much I look forward to the reunion with Nezar, my dying complexion couldn’t have looked lively! I felt like my face was burning with embarrassment.

But I was Katrina Ezelot, a woman who had lived without shame for 20 years.
The only shame for me was to go to a tea party dressed in rustic retrograde clothes.
Precisely, my mother made me feel that way.
Anyway, I pretended nothing was wrong and cleared my throat, straightening my back.

“Caron, I’ll just go back for now.”

“I also need to find my father.
Then, we’ll see each other later, Kate.”

After I parted with Caron, I continued to walk with my gaze fixed on the back of Nezar’s head.
Rick, who soon recognised me, shook his head with a sigh when he saw me not minding my manners and was rushing over almost as if running.

“Kate, have you seen your brother’s face? He has gotten very thin in five years.”

My mother put her hand on my shoulder and said.
I awkwardly nodded without saying anything.
In truth, I couldn’t even pay attention to Lockherd because my gaze was glued to Nezar.

“It seems the child has grown to be a wonderful man…Ahem, if you’re a man, shouldn’t you always keep your look stern?”

Father was quite moved, one could easily tell from his expression.
My mother, who looked up at him, clicked her tongue and playfully teased him.

“Says the one who became tearful right the moment Lockherd made his entrance.
And even for a man, it’s okay to cry once in a while.”


“I can’t argue with that.
Still, who would have thought that naughty brat would come back as a war hero! It’s a pity that Eden isn’t here.”

“If so, why didn’t you come back with Eden?”

“You know, when he is into something, he doesn’t even see his parents or brothers.
It’s the same when he was younger.”

The emperor’s congratulatory speech continued despite the noisy background.
Titles and territories were bestowed upon knights who played an active part in the war, and those with particularly high reputations were given great trophies, like the spoils of war.

“I appoint Sir Lockherd Ezelot as the commander of the Second Knights Division of the Imperial Guards and bestow the title of baron.”

I finally saw Lockherd’s face. Dear God, what are all those scars on his neck? The long scar that ran from beneath his ear to the inside of his shirt was more noticeable than the ones on his face.
I bit my lip and stared at Lockherd’s kneeling posture.
He really came back from the war.
And as mother said, he did lose weight.
I struggled to resist the overwhelmed emotions from within.

“I appoint Sir Pancion Entera as the successor to the Duchy of Entera.”

Moments after, a man with dark blond hair and a particularly firm body knelt down on his one knee.
I only glanced at him briefly, but I got the illusion that the thick scent of chrysanthemum flowers was hovering at the tip of my nose.

A long exclamation erupted from the noble ladies as Lockherd and Pancion were put in the same space.

I didn’t know about Lockherd, but that nice side profile of sir Pancion was certainly admirable.
Soft yet clear jawline, and violet eyes with melancholy.
He was a man who seemed like a painting, his beauty always felt surreal to me.

“…Without further ado, let all the knights who participated in the war enjoy a grand festival today!”


Oh, no!

As I heard the string quartet playing, my legs and arms went frozen.
I quickly hid behind Rick as he leisurely took a sip of his drink.
Arguably, it was the fastest movement in my entire life.
How would I be able to express this complicated feeling of dying from wanting to meet them and not wanting to face them all at once?!

“What are you doing hiding behind me, Kate? Brother Lockherd is coming this way.”

“Real-really? How close is he? How far are we?”

“Five steps.
From the way he looks around, he seems to be looking for where we are.”

“What do you think, Rick? If I hide behind you like now, he won’t be able to see me, right?”

“What are you saying? As long as they have eyes, any fool will able to notice.”

If it’s just Lockherd, it should be fine.

I took exactly three deep breaths and came to stand next to Rick with a nonchalant look on my face.
My heart, which had been pounding with tension, calmed down at the thought of seeing Lockherd.

However, contrary to Rick’s words, the number of shadows that actually visited our family was not one.
To be precise, there was one other man with a dazzling aura besides Lockherd.
It was Nezar.

“Father.”

As Lockherd approached with his signature smile, his equally tall father stretched out his arms and pulled him in for a hug.

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