“I didn’t expect to see you here…”

Kael frowned slightly as if he couldn’t believe it, blurring his words.
Although Kael was someone who didn’t easily show his emotions on his face, seeing a young lady appear in the battlegrounds while dressed as a man and approaching a mercenary was an exception.

Adeline was also very surprised.
Her already big eyes were getting bigger while looking at Kael.

The battlegrounds were not a place where high-ranking nobles like Kael and Adeline could go in and out easily.
No one who could recognize Adeline just by looking at her face ever came here, and until now, no one had ever guessed her identity.
However, Kael appeared in this place, and they even ran into each other while approaching a mercenary whom no one was interested in.

How could this have happened? Even though it was happening right now, it was an unbelievable coincidence.

‘No.
Calm down, Adeline Tien.
Maybe it can be an opportunity.’

Adeline quickly organized her thoughts.
A young lady who comes to the battlegrounds, and on top of that, dressed as a man.
In terms of a prospective bride, she was a very poor one.
Perhaps because of this ridiculous situation, the Grand Duke would stop talking nonsense about the marriage contract and stop paying attention to Adeline.

“I didn’t know you had a hobby like this.”
“Are you referring to my attire, or to the fact that I came here?”
“Both.”

Adeline pretended to be as calm and self-possessed as possible.

“It’s a place I come to often.”
“Often?”
“Yes.”

Kael frowned slightly at the fact that she came to the battlegrounds often.
It was a very good sign for Adeline.

‘Good.
It’s going to work.’

Adeline’s hands clenched in anticipation that she might achieve her purpose.
Now that she saw the possibility, it was time to push it.

“Are you saying that you come here often to look for mercenaries?”
“Yes.
It’s my longtime hobby.
Speaking of which, I’m the one who talked first to this mercenary here.
I hope you will follow the order.”
“I didn’t know that mercenary auctions had become first-come, first-served.”
“Unfortunately, I’m not an auction participant.
I’m just trying to have a conversation with this mercenary, so I want you to keep your manners.”

Kael’s face crumpled slightly once more.
When Adeline, who had not missed that expression, was about to open her mouth to shoot at him more, Kael spoke first.

“A conversation.
Then, I want you to have a conversation with me first before talking to that mercenary.”
“What?”
“He didn’t get anyone’s attention except mine.
But why did you choose him?”

“Eyes that read the opponent’s movements accurately cannot be obtained by training.
However, that mercenary has those eyes.”

Adeline answered, not hesitating the slightest.
She was thinking of bragging and shooting back.

“Ordinary people will only see the strength and skill of that mercenary.
Which, truth be told, is not enough.
He actually lost the match.”
“…”
“But that insufficiency is filled with his eyes.
The swords only crashed two or three times, and he immediately discovered his opponent’s habits and weaknesses.
He also predicted his next move.”
“…”
“The lack of strength and skill can be solved with time and effort, but those eyes are a talent that not everyone can have.”

After she finished speaking, Adeline caught her breath for a moment.
She directly told him everything she saw and felt without any restraint, and she was confident that this would make Kael terrified.

[Lady Adeline.
Don’t forget.
No man can stand women who are smug and pretend to be smart.
So if you want to find a better husband, just smile beautifully without speaking.]

The ladies at numerous social gatherings and parties all said the same thing.
Adeline disagreed with it every time she heard it, but for today, it was quite helpful advice.

‘… What is it? Why does it look like his eyes are glowing again?’

However, contrary to Adeline’s expectations, Kael did not look terrified at all.
Rather, his eyes were glowing like when Adeline spoke sharply in the garden of the imperial palace on the day of the ball.

‘That’s not a good sign… Alright.
Let’s use all our cards.’

Although she was trying to lose Kael’s attention somehow, he was instead getting more interested in her.
That couldn’t be.

Adeline took a deep breath so as not to let it show and opened her mouth again.

“Your Grace said you would give him five times more whatever I offered him.
But even if you say that, you won’t be able to hire that mercenary.”

The gaze that had been staring at Kael the whole time turned to the mercenary who had been standing there with a blank face.

“You’re a candidate for the Holy Knights, aren’t you?”
“How did you… Yes, that’s correct.
I participated in the competition because I wanted to check my skills during training.”

The mercenary was startled and revealed the necklace he was hiding in his chest.
The pendant with the emblem of light glistened.
His necklace was a token of his status as a candidate who was training to join the Holy Knights.

“As you know, the candidates for the Holy Knights who are under training cannot be hired by anyone.
Until the training is over, that is.”
“…”
“So even if you offer five times, no, five hundred times more, you won’t be able to get him.”

Adeline turned to the mercenary and gave him a small wooden plaque engraved with a golden lion.

“How much training do you have left?”
“I have one year left.”

“If your goals change when you have to make a choice at the end of your training, go to the Fidel Knights.”

The recommendation was given, so her business was done.
Adeline walked past the mercenary in big strides and paused in front of Kael.

“I’m done with my business.
Well, then.”

Holding the tip of her hat, Adeline bowed her head slightly to say goodbye.

It was a decent blow at Kael.
Adeline grinned, confident in the success of her strategy.
Unfortunately, her hunch was not right.

Kael was staring at Adeline, who was far away, with an expression that showed twice as much interest as before.
While even smiling faintly, which was something that wasn’t easy to see coming from him.

 

***

 

‘I’m sure he’s very prideful.
He must be annoyed and will now stop paying attention to me, right? Coming here today was a good thing.’

Adeline praised herself for coming to the battlegrounds today and stepped forward with a proud gait.

“Adeline!”

But soon, Kael’s voice, who had followed Adeline outside, stopped her.

Adeline looked back in surprise.
Was he calling her ‘Adeline’? It was a call that omitted all honorifics, something that was shared between close people.

“Please forgive me.
I thought that if I called you Lady, we would be misunderstood.”
“Ah…”

Adeline recalled her attire while letting out a small sigh.
As she was wearing a black coat for men and her long hair curled up and covered inside her hat, he could not be formal and call her ‘Lady’.

“I have something to ask you.
How did you know the mercenary was a candidate for the Holy Knights? He was hiding his necklace.”
“Because of the pattern in his gloves.
It’s a symbol just for the candidates.
It’s only used internally, so most people outside the church don’t know it.”
“You are also an outsider… Ah.
The Priest.”

Remembering Simeon, Kael nodded as if he understood now.

“Then, I’ll be going now.”

Kael gazed at Adeline’s back until the end as she walked quickly after leaving a goodbye.

‘I didn’t expect her to figure it out that accurately.’

The more he thought about it, the more Adeline’s assessment of the mercenary was surprising.
It was astonishingly accurate and keen.

Adeline was convinced that what happened today would make Kael lose his interest in her, but the result was the opposite.

He thought she wasn’t ordinary from when she spewed up her unpleasant feelings at the ball last time, but the more he knew her, the more interesting she was.

No one could confidently speak back to Kael or comment on their opinions like Adeline.
She was the first woman in his life who didn’t try to seduce him, wasn’t bashful, and spoke to him while looking straight into his blue-grey eyes.

‘… The sound of hoofs.’

While Kael was intrigued by Adeline, he heard a bustling sound of hoofs that felt urgent.
The sound was getting closer and closer.
It seemed as if it would soon pass through the main road that led to the alley where Kael and Adeline were.
However, Adeline was still moving forward, just before stepping out onto the main road.
They would collide if she didn’t stop.
Judging from the sound, it was not going at a speed at which people could see and stop.

Kael immediately went after Adeline.
He had to quickly catch her to stop her.

“Adel…”

As he tried to catch up with Adeline, she suddenly stretched out her arm to stop Kael.
As if to prevent him from going forward and colliding with the horse.

“Please stop.
A horse is coming.
Who is riding a horse so dangerously at this time? They really are thoughtless.”

Adeline spoke in a fairly grim tone, and shortly afterwards, the horse quickly passed in front of where Kael and Adeline were standing.

“It’s fine now.”

Kael stared at Adeline, who was telling him he could go now.
Then, he giggled.

“… Your Grace?”

Adeline’s eyes widened once more, not expecting to see Kael’s smile shining under the subtle moonlight.
Kael made eye contact with Adeline, still not erasing his faint smile.

The situation just now, where a woman smaller than him stretched out her arm to protect him, was extremely new.
She didn’t even think about the fact that Kael had noticed the sound of horseshoes or that he was trying to save her.
It wasn’t enough that she herself stopped, but she was even trying to protect him.
He couldn’t even remember how long it had been since he faced such an amusing sight.

“Ah, I forgot to ask you a favor earlier.”
“A favor?”

While Kael was intrigued, Adeline, who had been keeping her gaze down for a while, looked at him again with a very resolute expression.

“That I came to the battlegrounds today while dressed like this, please keep it a secret.”
“What do I get in return for keeping it a secret? Secrets need to be paid for.”
“You can think of me saving your life just now as payment for that.”

Adeline was very confident.
The eyes that had been embarrassed by Kael’s smile had disappeared without a trace.

The truth is, he knew that a horse was coming, and even though the reason why he quickly approached her was not to step forward but to save Adeline, Kael nodded without saying anything.
It was more fun like this.
Much more.

“Are you going back to the mansion alone?”
“Yes.”
“It must be dangerous, it’s late at night.”
“Not at all.
It’s not the first time I’m walking around at this hour.
And as you can see, I’m a ‘gentleman’ right now.”

As if she knew what Kael was going to say, Adeline emphasized her dressing, showing her willingness to cut it by the roots.

“For Your Grace, I may look like a very weak plant in a greenhouse, but not all plants in a greenhouse are weak.”
“…”
“Just because they come out of the greenhouse, it doesn’t mean all of them will die.”

After saying everything she had to say, Adeline quickly walked out of the alley.

Kael smiled again as he caught sight of her moving away.
He couldn’t help but smile because of Adeline, who didn’t forget to give him one final attacking blow.

“Vero.”
“Yes, my Lord.”

Kael, who barely stopped his smile, summoned his shadow from hiding.

“Escort the young lady without her seeing you until she enters the mansion.”
“The… young lady?”
“Right in front of you.
In the black coat.”

He was taken aback for a moment, but Vero cleared his emotions and followed Adeline, like a loyal subordinate.

“My Lord! Why are you on the other side? You didn’t come out even though it had been a while since the event had ended, so I was worried…”
“Zion.”

At just the right time, Kael’s bookkeeper and right-hand man, Zion, appeared.
He was breathing heavily because he had come running, and his face was pale with anxiety, but Kael didn’t care a bit.

“Find out if Adeline Tien has a fiancé, and in case she does, who it is.
And the list of prospective partners too.”
“You don’t mean a list with all the prospective partners…”
“All of them.
In its entirety.”

While Zion opened his mouth in horror, Kael raised one corner of his mouth and grinned.

Unfortunately, Adeline’s strategy had failed disastrously.
Kael did not lose his interest in her.
Rather, he was even more deeply intrigued.

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