“… It was the first time I left someone behind.
I promise from now on, no matter what happens, I will not leave you behind.”
We walked side by side for a while.
The sound of snow crunching under our feet could be heard.
After a while, he opened his mouth and spoke.
“I’ve never seen this bracelet before.”
He was looking at the bracelet on my wrist.
“Oh, I made it on the day I first came here.”
She showed him the bracelet.
Because he was tall, she had to stand on tiptoes and lift her arm high to bring it closer to his face.
“Here, it’s the crest of the Duke’s family.”
She showed him a bracelet threaded with small egg-like beads.
“Here, it’s the crest of the Duke’s family.
And these beads underneath are the crest of the Barons, where I was born.
This one was from my earring, and the rest are birthstones of the month I was born in.
I made it myself.”
To be exact, it was not mine, but Leoni’s.
“I’m sorry for using the Duke’s crest without permission.
Noble crests are not supposed to be used lightly unless they are within the family.”
Here, the meaning of a noble family’s crest was especially deep for the upper aristocracy.
Unless one was a member of the family, they couldn’t even use a piece of paper with the crest on it without permission.
The timid Leonie must have made up her mind not to be caught engraving the crest of the Duke
Even though you knew, you still made it.”
He must have thought she didn’t even know the basic etiquette as she reached out to the office.
“I did it because I loved you.”
He stopped walking.
“You didn’t know? I thought you knew.”
Ah… Of course, I don’t love him now.
Come to think of it, what happened to this bracelet after Leonie died?
Was it buried with her in the coffin? Or was it carefully stored in that drawer?
Or was it burned as a relic…
Because of this clueless child, Leonie felt sorry for the pain she had gone through.
How terrible must be the pain of dying by the sword of someone she loved?
Lost in thought, she realized that he had strode forward with big steps.
His ears ahead of me were red.
The Duke born in the north must also feel cold.
I followed quietly, stepping on the footprints he had left behind.
There was nothing particularly special about the relationship with the Duke.
However, it could be said that some additional protection was added to the original contract.
It was only natural given that he almost lost his lifeblood, the driving force of his power.
“Are you feeling any pain?”
One round of blood donation was over.
I touched my wounded neck.
There were red marks left on my neck.
When I touched the swelling, Deon brought a towel soaked in water.
“Does it hurt a lot?”
Deon pulled the string and ordered his servant to bring a hot pack to remove the swelling, instead of signing documents as usual.
He bandaged the wound on my neck rather than nibbling on it as he had just a moment ago.
His behavior was quite different.
“You’ll have a scar.
Your skin is weak.”
If you bite like this, anyone will leave a mark.”
Deon, who had been looking at the wound on my neck for a long time, suddenly lifted his own arm.
Then he bared his teeth and a bit down hard.
His fangs left a red mark on his arm in no time.
I was puzzled by his behavior and asked him why he did that.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m trying to see how much it hurts.”
Huh… I chuckled at his absurd behavior in disbelief.
Well, I suppose researching a less painful way to draw blood would be a good idea.
“Don’t bite it multiple times.
It’s better to finish it in one bite.
It seems to be less painful.”
He bit his own arm again.
There was a self-made scar on his white arm.
It was unbelievable that he, who had returned from the battlefield without a scratch, was now creating wounds on himself.
I pretended to adjust his position and angle as an excuse to playfully touch his chin.
It was partly a joke, but his expression was serious, as if he was really receiving a lesson.
He followed my every move as I turned his chin with a rough touch.
It was fun teasing him.
The problem was that the butler of the house, who came in late with the steam pack, was shocked when he saw that scene and called a doctor.
Deon called me as I turned around to wipe off the blood stains.
“Stay here and rest.”
It was an unexpectedly gentle remark.
He had been disgusted with the idea of putting someone else to bed just a few months ago.
“I’m always tired.”
He laid me down and covered me with a blanket as I was about to return to the guest room.
The warmth of his bedding enveloped my body.
The cushions were soaked with his scent.
But that didn’t stop me from interfering with him.
Instead, I openly took advantage of him.
When he was about to go out for territory scouting, I ordered him to get me some snacks.
“Bring some macarons from the kitchen on your way back.”
“Can’t you just call a servant?”
“Maybe it’s because my lungs from the injury last time haven’t fully healed yet… Every time I take a deep breath to call someone, my chest hurts.”
As I pretended to be breathing heavily, he frowned.
“Call your maid.”
Even as he said that, he had a plate of macarons in his hand on the way.
When I spilled ice cream on the tip of my enamel shoes while eating it…
“Please clean my shoes.”
… I said.
I thought he would refuse such a humiliating request, but Deon sat down without hesitation and took out a handkerchief embroidered with the crest of the ducal family to wipe my shoes.
It was a joke.
Rather, I felt ashamed of myself for stepping out at his reaction.
One day, I found a romance novel at the end of the study, and I got lost in it until late at night.
It was a typical romance novel, but it was fun because it was so familiar.
[Sarina, do you remember what I gave you when I confessed to you before? It was under the magnolia tree.]
[Yeah, I remember, the keepsake.]
Keepsake? What was the keepsake?
Before reading the next part, I wanted to find the underline part, but since the novel was over 1,000 pages long, I couldn’t find where the keepsake appeared.
My eyes kept closing.
Deon, who had been working until dawn, saw me rubbing my eyes and said,
“Go to the bedroom and rest your eyes.”
It’s an important matter…”
“I don’t know what it is, but I’ll take care of it.
Go get some sleep.”
“No, it’s okay.
I have to…”
I tried desperately to keep my eyes open, but my eyelids kept drooping.
In the end, I couldn’t fight the sleep any longer and closed the book.
Then she stumbled over to Deon’s desk.
“Your Highness, I’m so sleepy, I don’t know how many pages I want to read again.
Please find a scene where the main character confesses and put it in a bookmark.”
I left the office like that, not knowing what I had said in a dream.
And late at night, Deon read a romance novel instead of documents and had to hear a voice from Viter who came to get approval.
“I don’t know why the young lady is asking for the position of wife.”
Viter was holding a romance novel with several bookmarks inserted in the middle.
He said, putting the romance novel down in front of my teacup.
“You’re already more intimidating than the Duke.
You have absolute power, young lady.”
His eyes were wide open.
“How many times did the protagonist confess? If they’ve done it about four times unless they’re fools, wouldn’t everyone understand? Isn’t it worth understanding unless he’s an idiot? He wrote a novel every day.
It’s a waste of paper.”
He went on and on about his contempt for the aristocracy’s manners and customs, and the pitifulness of those who interfered with the Lord’s affairs.
Normally, I would have been irritated and listened reluctantly, but I sat quietly and listened to his story of nagging.
Seeing his relieved expression at the end of his words, I felt almost sorry for him.
He was soon to take over the payment of the Duke’s overdue paperwork.
I picked up a wooden stick early in the morning.
It was to test the hiking stick that I made by investing as much as four hours the previous day.
While carving it, a thorn got stuck in my palm.
It was stuck quite deeply, so I spent two hours crying and removing the thorn.
I carefully got up and opened the door.
I was trying to sneak out, lifting my heels and walking quietly, but then I heard a voice from behind.
“Miss Leoni… is that you?”
Suren, who was sleeping in the opposite room, got up and showed signs of recognition.
The door to the servant’s room was open.
“Young lady… Where are you going this late at night?”
Suren asked, rubbing her eyes.
She looked half-asleep and confused, unable to fully open one of her eyes.
Hastily, I hid the stick behind my back.
“Just keep sleeping, Suren.
I’m going to the bathroom.”
Suren, who had been staring at me, asked loudly,
“Yes? Why are you carrying a clipped twig to the bathroom?”
As she looked back and forth between my outfit and the stick in my hand, her eyes gradually became clear.
I had a bad feeling.
She spoke in a cold, icy voice.
“Young Lady… is it today?”
“What, what do you mean?”
“The day of the escape!”
Be quiet, Suren.
That’s not it.”
I hurriedly covered her mouth.
She jerked her head and moved away.
“No way! Wearing thick clothes and carrying a branch in the early morning? That’s not it!”
“I’m telling you it’s not it!”
Actually, it wasn’t entirely wrong to say that it was not an escape, but rather preparing the items for the escape.
“If it’s really not it, take me with you too!”
She kept pushing it away, but Suren followed me, rubbing her sleepy eyes with the clothes she had put on the chair.
We reached the entrance of the mountain.
Taking a deep breath, I put down all the branches I had cut so far.
I swung the carefully trimmed piece of wood next to the tree to make sure there were no thorns left.
After hitting the tree a few times, the top part of the stick I had worked so hard to make broke off with a snap.
The half-broken stick collapsed weakly.
“Miss Leonie, let’s stop and go back.
When will you try again? It’s a waste of time.”
“If you’re not going to help, be quiet, Suren.
Lower your voice, too.
Do you want to get caught?”
“It seems useless, so it is.
The rest will be the same.
The trees in the north are weak because they don’t get proper sunlight.
They’re almost all like that.”
Suren murmured softly from behind.
Ignoring her words, I discarded the broken branch and moved on to another tree, striking it with the piece I had in my hand.
This tree also broke easily and became useless.
After more than ten days of carving, the wood had become useless in just five minutes.
I looked down at the remaining pile of wood.
There was no way to make anything useful with these branches.
To make something sturdy, I would need to find a thick, sturdy tree and carve it down.
But that would take too much time, and how would I even bend the wood?
I can’t be heard.
At this point, it’s not picking up trees, it’s logging.
“Suren, it seems like a failure.
I think I will have to cut down the tree again.”
But after a long time, I could not hear anything behind my back.
“You can’t get away with that.”
I was startled by the sudden voice.
Surely no one was around?
As I turned around, I saw Deon standing with his arms crossed, looking paler than even Suren’s white hair.
Suren, who was standing a few steps away from Deon, lowered her head.
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