* * *
The autumn night sky shimmered with ethereal beauty, casting its enchanting spell upon Izeline as she lay upon a flat rock nestled in a corner of Souvri mansion’s garden while she gazed at the endless expanse of stars. She searched for constellations with her eyes and spoke to Robert, who was lying next to her.
“You dwid well.”
She said softly.
A faint blush colored Robert’s cheeks.
“… You’we braver than me. You always speak your mind to Father.”
“Robert, you’we even braver. You face even more difficult challenges.”
She recalled the situation a little while ago—the moment when Robert, torn by hesitation, summoned the courage to meet the Duke’s gaze head-on.
“I will overcome it all. The Krug, the swordsmanship training, people’s gazes. Everything.”
Brioche was touched as he witnessed his son, who had always been reserved and gloomy, determined. Robert’s strength had ultimately moved him.
With that memory in mind, Izeline turned her head to steal a glance at him, only to find his eyes already fixed upon her. Her eyes widened seeing it.
Her eyes trembled for a moment. A strange feeling made her heart flutter. It felt as though she had just heard the most sincere gratitude she would ever encounter in her lifetime…
“Hey, I’m here too, you know?”
Someone abruptly interrupted as he pushed his face into their space.
It was Michael.
For some inexplicable reason, he felt like he should give up his seat to Robert, so he settled on the grass beneath a rock. Regardless, he couldn’t bear to be treated as invisible.
Glancing sideways, Robert, who had been scrutinizing him, averted his gaze and curtly muttered.
“M… Thanks, I suppose?”
“Didn’t I help you because I was forced to?”
As he responded, it seemed that Robert’s sincere effort was met with an unkind reply, which caused Robert to frown.
Observing his reaction, Michael grinned mischievously.
“It’s boring to train alone, you know.”
* * *
After the commotion, Oren confidently took charge of Robert as if there were no barriers between them. The training intensity had become unbelievably high. And astonishingly, the villain of this world was able to handle it.
Izeline began to fret.
‘I have no idea what tricks the Duke might have up his sleeve!’
She had trained Robert in swordsmanship to protect him, yet the one she had to protect was much stronger than her. Compared to her, who was still struggling with the basics, swinging her sword up and down, Robert was already capable of dueling Michael.
Thunk! Tap! Thunk! Thunk!
‘How is that possible?’
It seemed as if the author had given Robert an overwhelmingly powerful boost. He could even hold his ground against Michael, who had spent several years honing his swordsmanship. Of course, Robert wasn’t your average four-year-old…
She knew he was a genius capable of piercing even Mithril after all.
Watching the spectacle of Robert’s sword dancing so fast that it was hard to follow with the naked eyes, Izeline was filled with despair. Could she become stronger than that child and protect him?
Just as she felt a chilling sensation on the back of her head, Oren shouted sternly without taking his eyes off the duel. She regained her composure and moved her still sword up and down.
Her cold breath formed a cloud in the chilly air and dispersed.
It was the transitional period between autumn and winter, where the vibrant green of Souvri had transformed into a sea of yellow. The children, aware of the changing season, had donned thicker training clothes in preparation for the coming winter.
‘…I want to take a hot bath as soon as possible.’
Izeline, longing for a hot bath, endured the grueling training and envisioned the sweet time that awaited her. Over the past few months, she had come to accept her lack of talent in swordsmanship. Maybe it was because she was an unmentioned extra that her abilities were simply average.
That being said, she also wasn’t completely helpless as a four-year-old.
Nonetheless, compared to the exceptional genius she trained alongside, she felt like a tremendous fool. If it weren’t for the memories of her past life, the experience would be even more frustrating.
‘I was also average in my past life.’
Throughout her school years, she had consistently ranked between 10th and 20th place in her class—a typical student who studied adequately, socialized with her friends and enjoyed reading novels as a hobby.
‘I may be average, but I am definitely not inadequate.’
Izeline mentally reassured herself, determined to boost her spirits.
She swung her wooden sword vigorously, sweat trickling down her pores. A cold breeze blew from somewhere, bringing away the sweat of her efforts. Thanks to that, it was the perfect temperature for training.
“Oops, sorry, did you want to win?”
Michael casually lifted the corner of his mouth from behind the crossed wooden swords. In contrast, Robert stared at him with a stern face.
With a powerful downward swing, Robert exerted all his strength onto the sword.
The clash of their crossed wooden sword produced a harsh sound of friction.
Oren, who stood with his arms crossed, watched the duel with his eyes sparkling. Even Izeline, who swung her wooden sword vigorously according to the standards of the three men, paused and watched the intense confrontation with her mouth agape.
Robert didn’t expect to defeat Michael for the first time.
Izeline threw her wooden sword to the ground and raised her hands to her mouth, shouting loudly.
“Cheer up, Robert!”
In response to her voice, Robert gritted his teeth. If he just had a little more strength, no, if he was allowed to use mana…!
He squeezed out every ounce of strength he had left. His black hair, drenched in sweat, stuck haphazardly to his forehead.
And through the cold wind, Michael also sweated, grinning as if he was enjoying himself.
Seeing that, Oren felt a strange thrill.
“He had encountered a worthy opponent.”
Oren muttered, making Izeline widen her eyes and look up at her master. Sensing her gaze, he added a few words.
“Geniuses get bored easily.”
What he meant was Michael easily got bored. Many people chased him, but they ended up tearing their ligaments.
Izeline gulped and watched the confrontation between the two. It seemed that Michael was happily accepting Robert, who was improving by leaps and bounds. It was his first time facing an opponent who brought out his full power after all.
“They will be good rivals for each other.”
Oren thought it was a good decision to come down to Souvri.
At that moment, the battle came to an end, and the result was clear.
As Robert’s sword was about to be put away, Michael’s hidden blade twisted strangely in the opposite direction, cutting through the air.
“Another victory today!”
With a close distance between them, Michael’s sword stopped right in front of Robert’s neck. With a bright smile, he extended his hand. Robert, with an angry expression, hesitated before finally shaking it in a fit of anger.
“To the glory of Balkan’s sword.”
Two individuals, exemplifying the knightly demeanor of the empire, sheathed their swords into their scabbards with a smooth motion as if embedding a real blade into a sword belt.
Oren clapped his hands twice, standing in front of the two children.
Sensing that the class was about to end, Izeline quickly picked up the sword she had placed by her side and went to stand next to Robert. Oren smiled proudly, looking at the three disciples standing before him. His gaze shifted towards Michael.
“You’ll have to be on high alert.”
“Hey, what are you talking about? He’s still far from that.”
Robert narrowed his piercing eyes.
“I’ll wait, kiddo.”
Seeing Robert provoking him with the phrase he hated the most, it was clear that he had high expectations. About to shout that he wasn’t a kid, Robert reconsidered and clenched his fist with determination.
He would silence that mouth by overpowering him with his skills.
Fueled by his determination, he controlled his emotions, looking forward to the future.
“That’s all for today’s lesson.”
Izeline’s face brightened at the awaited words. She already felt her body becoming sluggish at the thought of quickly taking a bath.
Hurriedly trying to leave the training ground, she caught sight of Oren looking up at the sky.
“It seems like winter.”
Unintentionally, she raised her head, following his gaze. The scattered clouds seemed to be frozen in the cold, just like something solid.
In response to his murmur, she exhaled a long breath.
Supple, cloud-like breath dispersed.
Watching the disappearing breath, Robert imitated her.
“It’s definitely winter.”
“Make it bigger.”
He opened his mouth wide, using all his lung capacity to exhale a breath.
“Hahaha! It’s enormous!”
When Izeline laughed and enjoyed it, Michael, who had been watching, did something unexpected. He imitated Robert and exhaled an even larger breath. Then, the expressions of the two boys turned fierce as if they were competing with each other.
At that moment, something cold settled on Izeline’s eyelashes, making her blink. When she raised her head, she saw tiny snowflakes falling from the sky.
“Iwt’s the fiwst snow! (It’s the first snow!)”
As she exclaimed in excitement, the others also looked up at the sky. When she extended her arm, a snowflake landed on her small palm and quickly melted away.
Robert swung his arms around, trying to catch snowflakes like her. In the meanwhile, Michael stood still like a statue, closely examining the snow falling into his hands.
Oren looked upon the innocent children with a content gaze.
Truly, it was a heartwarming season.