Opening the lid to his flask of water, Leo continued with his questioning.
“You’ve decided to visit the lake tomorrow with his grace.”
“And you’ve come to me to brag about it”
When Irina gave an energetic exclamation accompanied with a bright smile, Leo’s gaze dropped.
Finding his reaction funny, Irina giggled to herself.
“Well, that’s one reason why I’m here, but it’s also because my mood lifts a little whenever I see the knights swing their swords.”
“Is that so?”
Irina nodded before returning to the original topic of their conversation.
They were talking about the lake.
“Have you ever been there, Lord Leo?”
After downing half of his flask, Leo shook his head. His brown hair swayed along with its movements.
“This is my first time in the capital. Still, I’ve heard about the lake outside the capital a couple of times before.”
With her curiosity piqued, Irina leaned her body closer to Leo.
“I’ve heard from the servants who come from the capital that it is a beautiful place.”
Hm, Leo hummed as he wiped the water from his mouth.
“It’s not too far from the capital so it is a nice place for frequent visits. There’s a lot of things to see there so I heard that it would take some time to look around.”
“There is a forest right behind the lake and there’s a trail that snakes into it.”
With her eyes glistening more and more, Irina listened with rapt attention as Leo dug into his memory to find what more he could say about it.
“It is a popular spot so many, both aristocrats and commoners, would often visit there.”
“I see. Thank you, Lord Leo.”
After hearing from Leo, Irina thanked him.
‘So, the lake is both huge and beautiful.’
Although she had never seen a lake before.
So far, the largest body of water Irina had ever encountered was the stream trickling behind the slums.
Of course, she knew what a lake looked like through paintings.
Still, they must not compare to what she would see in person.
‘And the duke would be coming with me.’
Yesterday, they had met after barely seeing each other for a while and had promised to go on an outing tomorrow.
That alone made Irina want to cheer for joy.
“What’s going on, what are you lot talking about?”
Delphia inserted herself between the two.
Seeing the sweat dotting her skin and how she was using a cloth to dry her blue hair that had grown slightly longer now, she must have come from the training hall.
“Miss Irina was telling me about how she’s going to the lake tomorrow.”
Delphia looked at Irina as though to confirm if he was speaking the truth before Irina nodded in response.
“I promised to go with the duke yesterday.”
“To the lake?”
After dropping the cloth she was holding on her seat, Delphia clapped her hands together.
Leo smoothly handed her the flask of water that had been by his side before speaking.
“I think you and I will be accompanying them as guards.”
After drinking the water she was handed, Delphia smiled.
“That’s great news for us. Does that mean we get to skip training tomorrow?”
“And we also get to visit the lake, wow. Oh my goodness, what great luck! Miss Irina, it has been nearly 10 years since I’ve last been on a trip.”
“It’s been 10 years?”
“Yes. I used to visit the lake often when I was younger but after I joined the war I never visited again.”
Closing her eyes, Delphia grinned.
“There was a lake back in the Winfried fief but it was nothing impressive.”
Delphia let out a sigh.
“There were some bodies floating on its water and since when has lakewater been red?”
Hearing Delphia’s grumbles, Irina’s eyes widened.
To her knowledge, Delphia was not that old. Because she should only be three to four years older than her at most.
“Dame Delphia, if you entered the war 10 years ago, does that mean you’ve been fighting in it since you were an early teen?”
Delphia replied casually.
“I think I was… Fourteen or thirteen? I think that was when I arrived at the Winfried Duchy? How old were you?”
“I was a little older. About fifteen.”
“Oh my god.”
All colour was sucked out of Irina’s face.
“Both of you were too young to take part in the war.”
“Oh, you have nothing to worry about, Miss Irina.”
Delphia waved her hands and smiled.
“We were special cases and we never did anything dangerous when we started out!”
“You must have confused her when you told her that you joined the war then. When we joined the ranks, we were more like probationary knights.”
Noticing how worried Irina looked, he interjected Delphia. Delphia then continued.
“That’s right! Rather than being thrown onto the battlefield immediately, it felt more like I was adjusting to the whole situation. I would clean swords, repair armours and patrol villagers with some of my senior knights.”
“Yes, because the war was dragging on, they were getting desperate for extra hands. That was how they got so many children from vassal houses working there.”
Irina let out a short sigh at the realisation that they hadn’t been placed in situations as dangerous as she imagined.
‘Still, isn’t it too much?’
To think they were calling for 14, 15 year olds to help in the war?
“Correct, we weren’t placed in that much danger.”
Suddenly, someone else interrupted their conversation.
It was a man with short brown hair, Lord Leighton, who was also another one of Winfried’s knights.
“His grace was the one placed in danger!”
“What do you mean?”
Delphia tried to stop him but Leighton was already a step ahead.
Leighton boasted his characteristic bright and radiant smile.
“His grace has been fighting as a knight in the war since he was 12 years old… Gargh!”
He ended his sentence with a strange scream. Huffing and puffing, Leo pulled Leighton’s ear.
“You nitwit, follow me.”
“Huh? What did I do wrong? Did I cause another accident again? Arghhh, please spare me, Leo! Leo–!”
Leo dragged Leighton, who was several notches bigger than himself, away and disappeared.
For some reason, after being left alone, Delphia glanced at Irina awkwardly.
“D-don’t worry about whatever he said too much. You know, his grace had been known to be a prodigy since he was a child.”
“Seriously, I heard that people thought he was a swordsman who had trained for at least 10 years when he first picked up the sword. And he was the sole heir to the Winfried Duchy. He couldn’t leave his lands.”
Delphia continued to explain further. But Irina was not convinced.
A prodigy, the sole hair to the Winfried Duchy, for the sake of honour and for the sake of his soldiers’ morale.
‘What does all of that matter?’
For those reasons, they had handed a mere 12-year-old child a sword and pushed him into the battlefield?
‘… A 12-year-old is too young.’
She had no way of finding out how big or how much that 12-year-old had grown.
But there was one thing she was certain of.
He was a child that had to be protected.
When Irina’s expression darkened, Delphia’s eyes began to spin faster.
“Uhm! Oh my god! Why’s there a carriage?”
As she tried to change the subject by listing a number of observations she made of her surroundings, Delphia raised her voice.
Despite Delphia’s efforts, Irina could not easily get over her shock.
“I didn’t hear about any guests visiting! Miss Irina, look there. That carriage! Isn’t it…”
However, when the tone of Delphia’s voice suddenly changed, Irina could not help but to turn her gaze around as well.
“… What is that bastard doing here?”
Staring at the carriage, Delphia looked like she was close to baring her teeth. Even one of her hands was already gripping her sword’s handle.
Until now, Irina had never seen Delphia this agitated.
Even if she was to come across something unexpected, she always just smiled and moved on.
A brown carriage that could be seen in any aristocratic mansion was parked outside.
The only thing that stood out from it was the family crest of snakes and books engraved by its sides.
‘What house is that again?’
Young ladies and lads who were still preparing to enter society would sometimes be asked to memorise the crests and symbols of other houses.
But Irina did not know a single one yet.
“Dame Delphia, who are our visitors?”
Delphia jerked her head back before frowning.
“About that, well. Am I even allowed to tell you this?”
After looking like she was agonising over this issue, Delphia then looked at Irina.
“The owner of the carriage is Viscount Covin Ventlen.”
Delphia swept her hair up in annoyance.
“That bastard is Miss Irina’s uncle.”
‘That little rascal.’
The moment he entered the Winfried Townhouse, Viscount Ventlen found himself unable to control his anger.
No, his rage had been insatiable the instant he found out that the Duke of Winfried had been interfering in his businesses.
That was why he had come to the Winfried Townhouse without giving any prior notice.
As soon as he heard that the Duke of Winfried had been digging him up.
“I won’t be accepting any money for anything I’ve done thus far. I have given up on it all. Just don’t mention my name to the duke in exchange.”
“My apologies, viscount. We would like to end our ties here.”
Because of him, those cowards who had been helping him with his businesses walked away not before all that yapping.
“I’ve heard rumours that the heir to Count Leonid was still alive.”
Moreover, those cronies who had left the Leonid County back then were beginning to return one after the other now that news had spread that the legitimate heir to the Leonid County was alive.
Out of everyone who was returning, Baron Kerryk and his wife, who had almost kicked himself out in the past, sent him a letter to announce that they were returning. If he could be a little dramatic, he thought his heart had dropped when he read the letter.
If he just stood by and watched this happen, he would be pushed out.
At the very least, everything he had touched would be taken away.
‘Where the hell did things go wrong?’
Was it wrong for him to want to be the head of a prestigious house though he was born as the second son?
Was he even the one who killed Azen or Leira?
All he did was toss out an eyesore that was close to dying anyway but the consequences of her return was too much.
‘Don’t children die easily?’
Whether it be a flu, the extreme cold, an upset stomach or a fever.
There were children who would suddenly die in their sleep too.
So, did he have to be tortured so?
Just for saying that she had unfortunately died of a fever?
He was even merciful enough to not choke her to death there and then.