“Ah, an important introduction slipped my mind. My master is lazy, particularly when it comes to indulgence in drinks and succulent meats.”
When Oren looked at me with disbelief, Michael responded with an innocent smile. In any case, it seemed as if the man had devoured a million dragonflies, making him excited.
As Oren’s head bobbed with excitement before moving his gaze towards Robert, his hazel eyes lowered. He thought a shadow would trail the cursed patient—Robert—and he would feel a dark and sinister energy from him. He must’ve been like an untouchable and savage beast, best kept at arm’s length.
However, the child before him appeared entirely ordinary, almost as if he defied the rumors that followed him.
Still, he had already known that Robert was far from ordinary.
Remembering the past incident at the chicken skewer stand, where Oren had seen his power, he finally spoke.
With a sly grin, he approached Robert, bending down to meet his eye level. He then retrieved the fallen button from the ground, placing it into the young child’s hand.
“Here, this is how you accept it.”
If anyone saw, they might genuinely believe that a battle, even a war, was at hand. Robert’s expression became strange.
He was truly a peculiar adult.
However, the strangest of all was himself. Why did this person, who approached him so nonchalantly, not stir discomfort within him? His heart seemed to sink heavily at the words of a man who did not show even the slightest hint of seriousness, so he swatted away Oren’s hand.
Oren, looking awkwardly at the hovering hand for a moment, soon lowered it as though nothing happened before teasingly ruffling Robert’s black hair.
“Hey! What are you doing!”
“You’re adorable, so adorable.”
“While I’m used to seeing the likes of Michael, encountering a genuine kid like you is truly endearing.”
“…Master, what do you think of me?”
Upon being attacked unexpectedly, Michael expressed a sense of injustice on his face. However, Oren, acting as if he hadn’t heard, moved his fingers to hold Robert’s cheeks on both sides.
Robert tried to wriggle free from his grasp, his expression appearing rather comical.
“Welease! Let gwo! (Release that! Let it go!)”
“Hehe! Such a fresh reaction!”
When Oren had pulled the same prank on Michael before, he responded with a soft chuckle and asked.
“Do you like me that much?”
That had drained the fun out of it.
Truly, a child’s response ought to be like this for the desired effect. In the meanwhile, he deftly evaded Robert’s aggressive arm swings and repeatedly held and released his cheeks as he thought so.
Oren, now considerably more confident due to the heightened energy, let out a triumphant laugh.
Seeing Robert being attacked and sulking, Izeline broke into a fit of laughter. How desperate had he been to even beg? It seemed like while watching the bickering, she found herself amused by the child’s misfortune.
There appeared to be a gathering around Robert, acknowledging him one by one—starting with Monica, herself, Oren, and possibly even Michael. Casting aside the prejudiced lens of the ‘Krug Disease,’ the number of people viewing him normally seemed to be growing steadily.
Could this be considered a sign of moving closer to happiness? Izeline felt her heart warm as she posed her master with her first formal question.
“When will we stawt, master?”
At her words, Oren paused his mischievous antics and sat up. With a face that now bore the expression of being truly serious, he set aside Robert, who was currently wiping his cheeks and began to speak lightly.
“Let us start this very day.”
When Izeline asked in bewilderment, he added as though it were obvious.
“We’re already behind schedule.”
…Behind schedule for whom?
Even though she had much to say in the presence of Michael, who obediently followed along as though accustomed to such matters, Izeline chose to remain silent. Most importantly, she was eager to begin her swordsmanship training as soon as possible, an impatience she could hardly contain.
“It’s been too long of a res. My body is getting sluggish.”
“Don’t lie. Do you think I don’t know that you’ve been practicing every day without fail?”
Oren clicked his tongue. He possessed a rather keen eye, and even a casual glance revealed that his disciple was in an exceptional state, a result of consistent and disciplined training.
Michael didn’t vehemently deny but rather retorted.
“But training with you, Master, is different.”
“You’re a brat with a silver tongue.”
As he spoke, Oren moved with measured steps towards the door, swinging it open wide. Had Izeline not asked, the beginning might have remained indefinite. Nevertheless, their master, seemingly in a good mood, initiated the lesson.
With a dazed expression, she quickly followed Michael’s urging to come forward.
At that moment, Oren, who had continued forward without pause, suddenly halted at the doorstep, glancing back.
“Why aren’t you coming?”
In his line of sight stood Robert, standing precariously, his lips gnawed in hesitation. Robert’s bewildered gaze met his, and in response, he awkwardly shifted his eyes.
“Why do you think I should?”
As Oren regarded him curiously, Robert faltered, his lips quivering. Surely, his father had summoned only Izeline to learn swordsmanship, so there was no reason for him to join.
His voice faltered as he muttered.
“I have no role in this.”
“Ah… Krug Disease?”
Robert flinched at that word. Like Oren had mentioned, to a Krug patient like him, Duke Brioche hadn’t invested in any form of education. After all, why bother with genuine effort for someone who was going to die soon?
However, as if the matter was insignificant, Oren added.
“Then, learn until you die.”
Robert trembled. His legs were stumbling as he watched Oren leave.
* * *
Dressed in training attire provided by the maids, Izeline headed to the practice grounds with Robert.
“It’s a rare occasion to be learning together. It’s amazing.”
Naturally, he still wasn’t entirely sure if he could attend the lessons. He was worried that if his father found out, he might face some mocking.
Had she noticed his uneasy state?
Izeline looked at him gently, soothing his nerves.
“Don’t worry. Robert, you’ll do well.”
“I’ll help you.”
He felt somewhat relieved hearing her words. Unlike him, Izeline was good at interacting with people. At every moment, she would rescue him from his continuous mistakes.
“Let’s go. Let’s do our best!”
When they arrived at the practice grounds, seeing her clenching her fist with determination, Robert nodded in agreement.
Just being with Izeline gave him courage.
Already present in the practice area were Oren and Michael. The two of them had dashed there, standing next to Michael in an orderly manner. As they assumed proper stances, Oren chuckled, commenting that these two had become basic troops.
The lesson began immediately.
After briefly explaining the theory while moving left and right, Oren threw out a question.
“Holding the sword steady is crucial. How should you do that?”
Standing in the center, Izeline raised her hand quickly. She was eager to participate in the lesson and assist Robert.
“It takes a will to hold the sword without twembling.”
However, it wasn’t the correct answer.
When Oren asked if there was another answer, this time, Robert timidly raised his hand. Although it was an incorrect answer, her attitude seemed to set an example.
“Just hold it tightly so it dwoesn’t shake.”
Oren sighed as though he had heard something utterly nonsensical. It was the most pathetic answer he had ever heard. Of course, there had been only Michael as his disciple thus far.
At the sound of that sigh, Robert drooped his head gloomily, but Izeline smiled at him approvingly, which quickly restored his spirits.
“Can anyone offer a slightly more advanced answer?”
Oren gazed at the remaining disciple. As their eyes met, Michael awkwardly laughed as if he knew the right answer.
“But, Master, I already…”
“Don’t worry. I aim for individualized instruction for each student.”
He wanted to ask when such an educational philosophy emerged, considering there was only one disciple. Nevertheless, upon reflection, he realized that training alongside Izeline might indeed be better.
Having reconsidered, Michael answered willingly.
Oren enthusiastically snapped his fingers upon hearing the answer he wanted.
“You need the stamina to hold the sword steady. Willpower alone has its limits. Run five laps around the training ground! Michael, run ten laps! Go!”
While Izeline and Robert were taken aback, Michael replied energetically.
To run five laps with their small frame…
Seeing the huge training ground, she was speechless.
At that moment, Michael began to run with energetic steps, regulating his breath, and somewhere in her memory, Robert’s face appeared, and he followed behind Michael.
Izeline sighed and started moving her legs.
The peaceful Souvri mansion had suddenly transformed into a training ground resembling hell. Robert, who had worried about adapting well to the lesson, was the first to complete five laps, while Michael, who had to complete double that, ten laps, followed suit.
Some time later.
Izeline, her energy drained, collapsed onto the ground during her third lap. Her determination to lead Robert had disappeared long ago.
“I’m going to die…”
She collapsed as though she had fainted, forcing the first day’s training to end with just some warm-up exercises.
Oren, with his tongue clicking, moved the sleeping four-year-old girl to her bed.
* * *
Izeline panted heavily, wiping sweat off her palms.
It had been a few days since the hellish training had begun. Oren adjusted the intensity according to her pitiful stamina. Compared to Michael and Robert, who were digesting the intense training volume, she felt like slime compared to them.
“Rest for five minutes!”
At Oren’s shout, Izeline gratefully plopped down onto the ground, feeling like she was experiencing heaven.
Despite the fact that she had become somewhat accustomed to the routine of running two laps around the training ground every day, moving her body in the midst of a sensation that her lungs would explode remained a struggle.
She accepted the water bottle Michael offered, gulping down the water.
“You’ve improved a lot, Izel.”
With a pretty smile, he sat down beside her as she simply nodded her head. She had never known that cold water could be so sweet.
Still, being able to run two laps around this expansive training ground every day…
It seemed that the stamina she had built up from playing with the children in the forest was coming in handy. Of course, due to her thoughtlessly running around, she had fallen asleep within three seconds of lying on her pillow.
Then, Robert came over with another water bottle, imitating Michael.
…But she wasn’t thirsty anymore.
Izeline was about to decline without thinking when she felt the water bottle being swiftly taken from her hand and exchanged for the one Robert brought.
In the end, she swallowed back her words.