As soon as the new year started, the children enjoyed three consecutive days of New Year’s celebrations.
They opened presents on the first day, went to a festival on the island, and spent the rest of the day playing and having fun.
Lucia and Herwin’s relationship grew even stronger after the holiday.
Lucas, who was wary of Herwin at first, realized that Herwin wasn’t such a bad kid and slowly warmed up to him.
And today, a week after the New Year’s celebration.
The day came when Phoenaeus was scheduled to leave.
Lucas, Lucia, and Herwin sat side by side on the window sill, watching the snow begin to fall.
The snowfall was heavier than expected, delaying their departure time.
“I don’t want to go.”
Herwin muttered, praying for more snow.
“Why? We’re going to your house.”
“……I don’t like it.”
“Is there a reason you don’t want to go home?”
Lucia asked this time, and when he saw the same blank stares on their faces, he didn’t know if he should tell them.
It was the first time he had ever confided in anyone other than his parents.
After much deliberation, Herwin spoke up.
“I was bullied at home.”
“Some crazy persons did something big like that…….”
“I’d go home and I’d have older brothers and sisters who were older than me, and they’d always tell me I looked like a girl, make fun of me for not being a boy, and tell me I should wear dresses instead of pants.”
From the time he was born until he was three years old, Herwin never saw children his age.
Even the vassals who worked at the ducal residence kept their children in the warmer climate of the south.
Eventually, the duke and duchess realized that Herwin was growing up and needed a friend as he grew older.
The children of the vassals were brought to the ducal castle, thinking that since they were two to four years older than Herwin, they would be good horse companions.
Their intentions were good, but their choice was not so good for Herwin.
At the time, even younger than he is now, he was as pretty as a doll.
Even adults mistook him for a girl, so why not children?
At first, the children followed their parents’ advice and tried to be nice to Herwin, but when they realized that he was younger than them and that they could do anything to him, they gradually forgot his identity and began to look down on him.
Eventually, they made fun of his good looks.
The more they teased, the funnier the response came back to them, and their pranks got worse and worse.
Unsure of what to do as he was new to making friends, Herwin continued to tolerate their harassment until he finally told his parents what had happened.
The Duke and Duchess, who thought he had a good relationship with the children, were understandably shocked.
When they heard everything from Herwin, they took action.
He don’t know if the Duke and Duchess called their vassals together and talked to them, or if they reprimanded the children, but to his surprise, the children’s mischief ceased from that day forward.
They were now wary of Herwin and didn’t try to stand out.
However, the incident traumatized Herwin to the point where he hated being called girly and pretty.
Not only that, but he became overly conscious of other people’s words and reacted more strongly than other children to the slightest hint of teasing.
That’s why he was so angry when Lucia called him beautiful.
Herwin didn’t want to face them anymore, even though he knew full well that they couldn’t touch him.
He was more comfortable here than in the north.
‘Because I have Lucas and Lucia.’
He and Lucas, who hadn’t gotten along at first, had become stepsiblings, and Lucia was….…
Herwin glanced over at Lucia, who did not avert her round eyes from his.
For more than ten seconds, Herwin’s face flushed with heat.
He jerked his head away, feeling the heat rising.
‘I can’t look her in the eye.’
For some reason, just looking at Lucia made his heart race and his cheeks feel hot.
“What’s wrong, you stop talking.”
“Brother, I think Herwin is sick again.”
“Huh? Herwin, are you sick?”
“No, I’m fine…….”
Herwin calmed his heart and shook his head.
Lately, he had been stuttering and blushing a lot.
His siblings could only shrug their shoulders at his erratic behavior.
Thump, thump, thump.
“We’re in trouble, Duke!”
“What’s all the fuss about?”
Hail, who had been talking to John, prodded sharply, and the knight who had rushed in stooped.
“A matter is a matter…….
I apologize for the disturbance, Count.”
What on earth is the matter?”
“A horde of monsters has appeared in the north.”
At the mention of the word “monster,” the mood quickly subsided.
Hail scrambled to his feet, his face hardening.
“We’ll talk about this somewhere else.”
He stormed off with the knight.
Scarlett watched him go, muttering in a low voice.
“Monsters… I don’t remember monsters showing up this time of year.”
“Scarlett, are you okay?”
“Well, I think we need to assess the damage first, it’s been quiet for a few years… I don’t think so.
I should go check it out.”
Nervously, Scarlett followed after Hail.
“Monsters? You mean like the scary ones in the books?”
“I guess so.
Herwin, do you know anything about monsters?”
I don’t know much about them either.”
Lucas and Lucia started to speak to Herwin again but were silenced when they saw the seriousness on his face.
Herwin stared at his parents’ departed visit for a long time.
* * *
“I should probably go first.
It looks like the situation is worse than we thought, so you can stay here with the kids for now.”
“…… Honey, we have to be careful.”
Hail hurriedly prepared to go north.
The urgent telegram said that a horde of monsters was rampaging through the north.
And the damage at the end of the telegram was worse than he’d expected.
There hadn’t been a monster outbreak in six years, so vigilance had been lax, and the number of monsters in the north had far exceeded expectations, so the scale of the damage was growing.
“Count, I’ll ask you to take care of my wife and children for the time being, I will never forget this favor.”
I hope things will calm down as soon as possible.”
“Thank you for your understanding.”
Hail thanked John and said his final goodbyes to his family.
He left a quick kiss on the forehead of Scarlett and Henry in her arms and hugged Herwin tightly.
“Herwin, I need you to take over for Dad and look out for your mom and brother.
Do you understand?”
“Yes, I will protect Mommy and Henry!”
“Okay, my son, thank you.”
Haill hugged Herwin tightly, and then he was off on his way.
* * *
It has been a year and a half since Hail left for the North.
Thinking that he would be done with all the monsters in a month, Hail had been hunting the remaining monsters throughout the north for well over a year now.
The problem was that the monsters had come in the middle of winter, during a heavy snowstorm.
Hail sent word that they were not to return to the north until all the monsters were destroyed.
When Scarlett first received the eagerly awaited letter, she spent the night in tears.
As her stay on the islands stretched into an indefinite period, Scarlett decided to set up her own home.
She had been staying with Agnes and timing her return to the north, but she couldn’t afford to be a nuisance to them any longer.
‘You’re looking for a house? We’re fine, you’ll stay here until we hear from the Duke.’
‘No, I can’t do any more harm, and I have some money he has tied up in the islands, so I’ll see what I can do to get us a place to stay.’
Phoenaeus, you need not do so.
If you leave like this, there is no way I will be able to see the Duke, so please think again.’
John and Julian opposed Scarlett’s move.
With Phoenaeus’ wealth, it would be easy enough to buy a mansion in the Isles, but these were times when every penny counted.
Besides, Scarlett hadn’t slept a wink since the day she’d gotten word that monsters were ravaging the north.
Letting her go like this would surely break her emotionally.
As a friend, Julian couldn’t leave her alone.
They talked for a long time in earnest until Scarlett raised her hands.
‘Thank you so much, Count.
Thank you, Julian.’
Scarlett bowed her head heavily.
She was exhausted, and Mr.
Agnes could only comfort her.
This was how Scarlett, Herwin, and Henry had come to rely on the Agnes family for so many years.
“Lucia, what are you doing there?”
And back to the present, now.
Lucia was out in the park with her family and Herwin.
She was squatting on the grass, watching something when she looked up.
Her short hair, which had been just under her chin, was now down her back.
Lucia, now able to say Herwin’s name correctly, looked at him as he walked toward her, her mouth agape.
“What are you doing out here by yourself?”
“Herwin, look at this, is it an ant?”
“……You’re stuck on something weird again, aren’t you?”
“Nothing like that, I was just watching ants.”
“Don’t lie, a week ago you were catching grasshoppers, then crickets, and yesterday you were picking up cicada shells.
I thought you were looking at an insect dictionary.”
After living together in the same house for over a year, the two became even closer than when they first met, and there was nothing they didn’t know about each other.
As they got to know each other, Herwin realized something about Lucia.
When she gets stuck on something, she doesn’t let go until she’s done.
Everyone has that, but Lucia’s was worse than most.
Once she was hooked, she would collect or collect until she got tired of it, and then she would coldly move on to something else without looking back.
Over the past year and a half, her interests have included collecting teddy bears, observing flowers, and collecting leaves by type, but her current obsession is insects.
If Lucia caught an ant this time, as she had caught a grasshopper a week earlier and brought it back to the mansion, there would be a ruckus.
Herwin led Lucia away before she could cause any trouble and headed for the farther reaches of the estate.
It had been a long time since they’d had a picnic in such nice weather, but there were a lot of people nearby who recognized the Count and Duchess.
Herwin paused at the large crowd.
“Shall we go a little later?”
Lucia replied, excited to see the ants, and turned back to her work.
Herwin shook his head in disapproval but clung to her side.
He glared at Lucia as she watched the ants.
After a while, someone suddenly trampled on the ants as Lucia watched.
Lucia looked up in shock.
It was a grumpy-looking boy who had crushed the ants, and behind him were two other children who seemed to be in his party.
“Are you Phoenaeus?”
The boy said.
Hearing Lucia’s sobbing voice, Herwin looked up, frowning.
“And who are you?”
“In this body, I am Antonio Travin, Earl of Travin!”
He seemed to be one of the nobleman’s scions who had come to play here.
“You, I’ll give you special permission to be my friend!”
Antonio arrogantly pointed at Herwin, who was in a daze.
The dumbfounded Herwin didn’t seem to mind, and Antonio’s men talked with him, telling him he was cool.
The arrogance of Antonio, who had been raised as the prized son of Count Travin, stung.
Not surprising, since no one had ever disrespected him before.
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