The rain grew stronger.
Her rain-soaked dress was for the winter season, meaning that the wet fabric weighed her down even more.
Rose's every step was taken with her arms locked around the dress, holding it as if in a hug.
After a long time of searching, she called out to Elliot when she couldn't find a place safe from the downpour.
“Is there somewhere to shelter from the rain nearby?”
“There could be.
Maybe a mountain or a cave or something.”
Elliot's answer was uncertain, causing Rose to stop abruptly.
“What do you mean? There could be—does that mean there might not be?”
Elliot also slowed to a stop and turned to Rose.
He raised his hand and ran it through his rain-soaked fringes, exposing his forehead.
“The mountain behind the Imperial Palace is not a place that even the Imperial Family can easily enter.
The area for hunting is also near the entrance to the mountain.
It's the first time I've been to such a deep place.”
Rose's complexion turned pale.
“Then, wouldn't it be better to go back the way we came?!”
“If we go back the way we came, we have to pass the same road where the beast died earlier.
There is no road to go around there, so it is not possible because it is rugged.”
As Elliot turned to move forward, Rose urgently grabbed his sleeve.
“How is the beast being dead a problem? It's dead, yes? It wouldn't be like running after us like it did when it was alive!”
Elliot didn't open his mouth, probably in the middle of choosing an answer that he felt explained his point.
Rolling his eyes, lost in thought, he slightly turned his head to stare at Rose.
She let go of his sleeve as he stared at her wordlessly.
“Why? Did I say something wrong?”
“…Judging by the reaction, it doesn't seem like it was intentional.”
In their current situation, Elliot still had the time to say something incomprehensible, perhaps as if trying to solve a riddle.
When Rose frowned, Elliot took something out of his pocket.
Presented to her was a small bottle the size of a finger.
“What is this?”
Rose looked at it carefully again because it was not unfamiliar.
…I'm sure it's the first time I've seen this, so I'm sure I should be unfamiliar with it, but…
Where have I seen it?
Looking at the bottle with a serious expression, Rose searched back into her memories, but she couldn't recall any particular memory.
Elliot gave her an answer.
“This is a drug that attracts beasts when hunting.”
Elliot's answer brought back memories.
It was the same bottle shown by a young lady sitting at the same table at the tea party held in the greenhouse a while ago.
Rose looked up at Elliot.
“Why are you showing this to me?”
“This scent will still remain in the place where you were, so there will be more predators.”
Rose finally understood why Elliot insisted that they could not go back the way they'd come.
Rose nodded, then paused and tilted her head in question.
“Did you put this on that place?”
It was a rare sight to behold.
He put the bottle in his hand back into his pocket.
“That is what I want to ask.
I picked this up on the spot.”
“What…? That means…”
“I thought you wanted to die, Rose, so you put this on purpose and waited for the beasts to come.”
A corner of Elliot's lips rose into a sneer.
Rose cried out in surprise at the accusation.
“Why would I do that?!”
She shouted as her shoulders shook.
“Wait a moment.
How long has it been there?”
“If it's not you…
then it seems like someone else had put this drug in that area, and unfortunately, you were there.”
Think carefully of who would do such a thing on purpose.”
Rose shook her head at the momentary figure that came to mind.
…I don't know who went to such depths, but it can't be her.
Why would Ilya do such a thing? The two of us are friends.
Rose tried to deny it, but the thoughts and doubts that had popped up were not easily erased.
She looked at Elliot to shake it off.
“Let's go quickly.
The rain is getting stronger.”
Elliot blocked Rose's path with his hand.
What else is wrong this time?
Rose turned her head towards Elliot with displeasure, but she cowered at the unusual look on his face.
Seeing him skimming through the rain with sharp eyes, her shoulders trembled as it seemed like a beast would appear again.
Since the hunting festival was not over, the Imperial Knights would not have reaped their prey.
In other words, Rose and Elliot were in the middle of a wild beast area, where a beast could appear at any moment.
Elliot pulled Rose behind him and drew his sword.
The sharp metal sound of the sword was drowned out by the sound of rain.
Elliot lowered his posture, bending his back, and cautiously put out his foot to hide from the sound of rain hitting his ears.
The mountain was full of dark clouds and had no light.
Elliot stared into the darkness without blinking, even as raindrops stung his eyes.
And before long, he swung his sword towards the darkness that he had been silently watching prior.
Rose watched from behind and covered her mouth with both hands to prevent her screams from escaping.
The sword that cut through the rain and wind struck something in the darkness.
But the sound that came out was not the cry of a beast.
It was the sharp sound of swords clashing against each other.
Elliot panicked and drew back.
I thought it was a beast, but it was a human.
The other party emerged from the darkness.
It was difficult to see his face because he was wearing a winter cloak all the way over his head, but Elliot could tell who he was.
There are few people who can lightly strike the sword of the commander-in-chief of the Imperial Knights and possess excellent swordsmanship skills.
Elliot called out to the other person in a low voice.
As he called himself, Russell lifted the hood that was covering his face.
Even in the dark, Russell's appearance was brilliantly revealed.
You wield the sword so mercilessly towards me.”
“…I thought it was prey.
I apologize, Your Majesty.”
“It's alright, because it was the same for me.
But how did the duke get this deep into the forest?”
“Ah! Down there, in the forest…”
Elliot met Rose's gaze and opened his mouth to reply that he was looking for shelter from the rain.
But before he could utter a word, a small figure rushed past him.
Elliot stared at the back of Rose as she ran past him to Russell with her long blonde hair and the hem of her dress flying.
Russell's eyes widened when he caught sight of Rose.
“Your Majesty! You're lost too!”
“Rose? Rose, why are you here?”
I came to the mountain by chance and got lost.
I was looking for a place to hide from the rain with Duke Proud.”
“What? Where did you get hurt? Game still roams this mountain, and you were completely soaked in the rain.”
Russell clicked his tongue as he looked over at Rose, who was drenched in the rain.
He hesitated for a moment as he tried to remove the cloak he was wearing.
A dress that was already wet from the rain would be heavy, but Russell's cloak was even heavier.
“If I put this on, I won't be able to go far, and I'll tip over.”
Rose waved her hands.
I'm more concerned that His Majesty might catch a cold from this cold rain.”
“I'm strong, so I've never caught a cold.
Rather, I'm worried about Rose.
Russell lifted the cloak he was wearing.
It can't be helped that you're already wet, but if you cover yourself under my cloak, you will be able to avoid the rain.
It was Elliot's outstretched arm that stopped Rose, who hesitantly headed toward Russell's arms.
I can't see my fiancée leaving in the arms of another man.”
Russell's narrowed eyes turned to Elliot.
“Then you want to tell Rose to stay in the rain? And you haven't had your engagement ceremony yet, and even that will be canceled.”
“But it hasn't been canceled yet, so we call it the prospective fiancée.
So take that arm away.”
“Duke Proud, what if I don't withdraw my arm at the Duke's will? I don't know exactly where I can get shelter from the rain, but until then, will Rose continue to get wet?”
“Then take off your cloak and hand it over.”
A deep sigh escaped Russell's mouth.
Is this acceptable?”
Russell took off his cloak and placed it over his and Rose's heads.
Although Rose avoided falling into Russell's arms, the two remained close.
After giving a satisfactory answer, Elliot lifted the cloak draped over Russell's arm.
Before Russell could even stop, Elliot tucked himself into the cloak.
“Wait, Duke! What good is this doing? It's too small for the three of us to hide from the rain with a cloak.”
“I might catch a cold if I continue to get caught in the rain.”
“What?! That doesn't even make sense.
Aren't you a person with good stamina even if it rains all day?”
Rose shrugged as she watched the two arguing overhead.
Russell's cloak was large, but not enough to cover the two stout men and the little Rose.
Caught between two tall people, Rose thought vaguely.
…Perhaps the beasts that are said to have been released on the mountain are actually these two.
Thanks to Russell's coat, I've avoided getting any more raindrops on me, but I'm shivering.
I've been exposed to the cold temperature for too long.
Rose couldn't help but let out a small sneeze.
The sound of Rose's small sneeze silenced the two men, who were growling at each other like ferocious beasts.
The silence fell in an instant, and Rose covered her nose and mouth with her hand and rolled her eyes to look at Russell and Elliot alternately.
She awkwardly lowered her hand and pointed forward.
Shall we go?”
Russell and Elliot each supported Rose on either side, moving along with her stride.
A strange energy began to flow between the three, who still couldn't find a place to hide from the rain.
No one said a word as the three people walked, and the rain showed no signs of stopping.
It was Elliot who finally broke through the silence and spoke.
“Your Majesty, do you know a place to seek shelter from the rain?”
I've never been to this side of the mountain, so I don't know, but I looked at the map before climbing the mountain.
If you go in this direction, there will be a cave ahead.”
After walking for some time in the direction Russell pointed, a large cave appeared, just as he had said.
A sigh of relief escaped the three of them at the same time.
The entrance to the cave was quite large.
The rain and wind hit the entrance, but fortunately they were completely sheltered from the rain due to the depth of the cave.
However, the wind was still strong, and a fire could not be lit.
Elliot started a fire with a match he had been carrying with him for emergencies, but the wet branches and wind made it a difficult task to achieve.
He clicked his tongue and threw the match away.
“It couldn't catch fire.
I guess I'll have to find a dry branch or wait for the wind to die down.”
Russell, who had been staring into the darkness of the endless cave, turned at Elliot's report.
There will be no dry branches.
When the wind calms down a bit, I'll tear off a part of my clothes and set them on fire.”
Russell, who had spread the cloak the three of them shared on the floor, looked at Rose.
Her lips had turned blue.
He stepped up to her and put his palm on her cheek.
“Your cheeks are cold, Rose.
Take off your coat.
If you keep wearing wet clothes, your body temperature will drop more and more.”
Rose removed her overcoat.
She may have worn a winter dress, but as she was supposed to be only in the greenhouse, Rose's dress was thin compared to other winter clothes.
Looking at the trembling figure with her arms wrapped around her, Russell took off his inner coat.
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