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Completed ― Leah Flores’s Devotion – I May Be a Mob Knight, but in This Life I Will Definitely Protect Duke William with All My Might!

Chapter 1: Apparently, I have been reborn

A carriage is coming from the other side of the street, which is crowded with people for the inaugural parade of The Crown Prince, with the sound of a high band.

The young boy waving from his sumptuous and elegant white carriage… I was shocked as if I had been hit on the head when I saw the smile of The Crown Prince Finlay.

Memories flowed into me at once, raging through me like a torrent.

My friends from the orphanage who had secretly brought me to the parade said,

“Hey, what’s the matter? you look pale.”

But I didn’t have time to respond.

My intuition tells me, as I am tossed around in the muddy waters of memory.

… this is the world of [You and The White Rose], the manga I loved in a past life.

[You and The White Rose].

It’s the manga I was obsessed with in a previous life.

The main character is a girl named Charlotte Michelle.

She has the special ability to “talk to animals”. and uses her special abilities to solve various problems.

The main character Charlotte enters The Royal Academy as a special student, where she meets two young men.

Finlay Martinez, the Crown Prince, a genius, and William Moore, a thoughtful Duke’s son.

The Crown Prince Finlay and Duke William, who were originally good friends, happen to see Charlotte talking to an animal while walking in the White Rose garden.

Finlay and William kindly approach Charlotte, who is not made uncomfortable by the fact that she can “talk to animals,” and the three gradually get to know each other.

At first, Prince Finlay and Duke William are only interested in Charlotte’s special abilities, but they are attracted to Charlotte’s positive personality and soon fall in love with her.

Charlotte is torn between two men and gradually she finds herself drawn to the free-spirited Prince Finlay.

While this love affair is underway, behind the scenes there is a rise in the number of magical beasts and the rise of an anti-royalist faction.

Prince Finlay is sent to the Ancient Forest to repair the damage caused by the increasing number of magical beasts since he graduated from the school, and William is appointed Duke, but the anti-royalists make a surprise attack there.

William covers The Crown Prince Finlay from the anti-royalist faction and confronts the army, but is seriously wounded, and by the time Finlay returns after destroying the magical beast’s origin, it is too late.

He later died without treatment.

Charlotte and Finlay are saddened.

“I will avenge him!” Charlotte is on a mission and, with the help of the animals, uncovers the anti-royalist nobles who launched the surprise attack.

And after successfully avenging his death, they were married amidst a profusion of white roses in memory of William.

With the white rose on William’s grave, they became king and queen with new determination and established a long and peaceful kingdom.

The End.

But this is by no means a happy ending.

In my past life, I favored William-sama.

When William-sama died in the story [You and the White Rose], I was so shocked that I fell unconscious for a while.

When the anti-royalists took him by surprise.

“I can’t leave you behind ‼”

William-sama quietly told The Crown Prince Finlay,

“You should live. For the sake of your country and for the sake of Miss Charlotte.”

After sending Finlay ahead with these words, William-sama faced the enemy, scolding his trembling legs.

After being carried to his own castle, badly wounded, The Crown Prince Finlay clung to him, weeping, and said,

“I told you to live for your country and for Lady Charlotte, But that is half a lie. I just wanted you to… live for your precious friend, Finlay. That’s all.”

William-sama smiled despite his dazed state and said to Charlotte, who stood crying beside The Crown Prince Finlay,

“I love you. I wish you and Finlay all the best.”

William-sama closed his eyelids and never woke up again,

I read the story over and over again.

Over and over, with the impossible hope that if I read it again, the story would change.

And each time I felt despair.

William-sama will never come back.

William-sama, who had a sensitive heart, who was thoughtful, who always tried to be kind and righteous as a lord and as a man, will never wake up.

I was so shocked that I slept for days, and when I wandered outside in a daze, I was hit by a truck and I died.

And now…

I have been reborn in the world of [You and The White Rose].

A six-year-old orphan, a complete mob. As Leah Flores.

TL: Lol stanning hit her so hard god send Truck-kun.

Chapter 2: Determination

After returning from the parade in a daze.

I was contemplating over the thin soup with a few beans in it and the dry bread for supper while everyone in the orphanage was yapping.

Your unkempt and damaged flaxen hair and dark green eyes… My face, familiar to me since I came into this world, is reflected in the soup with few ingredients.

If this is the world of [You and the White Rose], what are the chances of the story progressing as in the manga?

Maybe the protagonist Charlotte doesn’t have the ability to hear animals.

Maybe The Crown Prince Finlay won’t befriend William-sama.

Maybe William-sama… could escape death without doing anything.

This world is not fiction.

It is real.

Things don’t always go the way they’re portrayed in the manga.

… I tried to believe that.

(If things had gone the way they were indicated, and William-sama had died…)

The thought of that sent a shiver down my spine slightly.

William-sama was the hope of life for me in my previous life.

Your words, your way of living, your hurtful but harsh, sometimes just and sometimes gentle way of living, gave me a reason to live even though I lived every day as if I were dead.

Some people said, “It’s just a manga, isn’t it?” but to me it wasn’t.

You were undeniably alive in my heart.

You could die again.

I idly finished my dinner, got ready, and lay down on the hard bed.

As I lay quietly in the darkness, I began to feel a little more at ease.

I may not be able to do much… Maybe it’s a sign that my memories of my past life have come back.

It is not yet decided that William-sama will die.

What can we do to increase William-sama’s chances of survival?

…William-sama was mortally wounded in an anti-royalist attack.

Destroy the anti-royalists?

…No, I don’t have that power.

Learn medicine to heal his wounds?

…From what I read in the manga, even the best doctors in the country can’t help him. By the time he gets wounded, it’s probably already too late.

And an orphan like me can’t afford that kind of tuition.

At least I could be a shield for William-sama…

Then it hit me.

(Yes… If I could become William-sama’s bodyguard, I might be able to protect William-sama directly…!!)

That seemed like a good idea.

Knighthood is open to everyone from royalty to nobility to commoners, and no matter how low your status is, you can take up as much as you want depending on your abilities.

(But unfortunately, the Order are not recruiting women.)

I’m trying to figure out what to do.

(… Yeah. I guess I’ll just have to lie about my gender.)

Once that’s decided, it’s a simple thing.

I think I have to be eight years old to take the entrance exam.

I’m six years old now, so it’s two years from now.

In the meantime, I will train myself to the best of my ability.

With this resolution, I silently close my eyelids.

I clench my fists.

(William-sama, I will protect you. Even if it costs me my life.)

Chapter 3: To the Order

The summer I turned 8 years old.

I have finally arrived in the territory of the Moore Duchy, where William-sama is, after tightly grasping the barely enough travel expenses I had earned through hard labor for two years.

This territory, located along the coast, is rich in seafood and is known for its lively trade using ships.

It is also close to the capital city and has many prosperous towns.

The training facility of the knights I will be taking the entrance examination for is located on a prime spot with a good view due to security reasons, so I could see the beautiful sea from the hill road leading to the facility.

I turned around to look at the sea and gasped at its radiance.

“Wow…!”

I had never seen the sea in this life, and the level of transparency of this sea that boasted a level of beauty that I had never even seen in my previous life left me mesmerized.

After gazing at the sea for a while, I tightly clenched my fist.

(From now on, I’m not “she”. I’m “he”. In order to protect William-sama, “he” will live as a man, not a woman.)

I turned my heel from the sea as if cutting off my lingering feelings and began climbing the hill road again to head to the facility.

“Hello. I’ve come to take the entrance examination to join the Order.”

I approached a man who seemed to be a watchman knight and spoke to him, and he slowly turned his head towards me.

“Oh, hello. What’s your name?”

“My name is Leah Flores.”

“Leah Flores… I see.”

As he muttered, he quickly wrote something down with his pen.

“Okay, your name is recorded. You can go through.”

He says so and quickly opens the door to the side.

“Just go straight and wait inside the building at the end of the path.”

The watchman knight said only that, without even a forced smile, and pointed ahead.

“Thank you very much.”

“Yes, have a good day.”

I entered the building that was told to me, there were young boys older than me standing in a narrow space.

I also line up in the same way.

(I wonder what kind of test will be given to us. The young boys here are older than me and all of them are boys with good physique. I may lose in a strength contest.)

I’m feeling a little anxious, but I keep it hidden and wait for a while.

A knight who seems to be the examiner entered the training facility.

The test officer glanced at us with a tense face. Then,

“Hey, I kept you waiting! All of you here, permission to join the knight squad is granted!” …That’s all!”

He made the announcement with a loud voice that seemed to penetrate the eardrum.

The inside of the training facility became quiet as if water was poured, but soon a confusion spread.

One of the boys involuntarily spoke in a voice.

“Excuse me … Can I ask a question …?”

The examiner narrowed his eyes at the question.

“Permission to speak.”

The boy timidly said.

“I came here to take the test, but what does it mean to have permission to join the squad without doing anything?”

The boys in the training facility nodded to each other as he said the most natural.

The examiner probably anticipated such a question and opened his mouth without moving his eyebrows.

“There is no need for a test. The training of the Duke of Moore’s knight squad is the toughest in the country. When the training begins, apprentice knights who cannot keep up will quit one after another. That’s about it … this is expected, but …”

When the test officer looked around at us,

“Half of these people will be gone in a week. And by the end of a year, it would be good if 20 percent of them are still here. That’s usually every year.”

He said those words…

The boys looked at each other.

“I’ll guide you to the dormitory! All line up!”

At the command of the knight, we straighten our backs in a panic.

Night, in the dormitory.

I sighed long while lying on the bed.

(Somehow, I was able to join the squad)

I am relieved to be able to become a member of the knight squad, even as an apprentice, since I could have been turned away if my gender was revealed.

(Surely, the strict training will begin tomorrow. Will I be able to endure it?)

I stare at the moonlight leaking through the curtain gap.

(… endure. No matter how much I suffer, I will survive in this knight squad and become a shield for William-sama. That’s what I decided)

I quietly close my eyes.

I didn’t dream.

Chapter 4: The Boy with Chestnut Hair

The training of the knight squad was extreme.

We ran to the point of breathlessness, were mercilessly pounded in striking practice, were awakened with water on our faces if we fainted, and slept like mud with aching bodies at night.

The training facility after training was full of corpses.

As expected, the knight apprentices one after another decreased.

One day, on the way to the water point to wash dirty clothes after training, something wriggling in the bushes in the back caught my sight.

(…? …what could it be?)

If I looked carefully, I saw a boy with chestnut hair frantically scavenging around the bushes with a desperate face.

(It looks like he’s looking for something…)

It’s already late today, and I have to wash my laundry.

My legs are also wobbly after training.

It’s probably best to pretend I didn’t see it.

… even though I think so.

Once I saw the boy’s tragic expression, I couldn’t ignore it.

“Hello, good evening. What’s wrong?”

When I spoke to him, the boy looked up as if surprised.

“Sorry for suddenly talking to you. But, because you seemed to be in trouble … Did you drop something?”

The boy stared at me as if he were examining me, but then he gave a deceptive grin.

“Yeah, it’s nothing. It’s not a big deal.”

Then he glanced at the laundry basket I was holding in my hand,

“You’re going to the water hole, right? Don’t worry about me and go.”

He said and waved his hand fluttering.

“…if it’s not a big deal, why are you crying?”

When I said that, the boy opened his hazel eyes wide and touched his cheek as if he had just noticed his own tears.

I put the laundry basket on the ground and squatted next to the boy.

“Hey, let’s search together. It will definitely be faster to find something if we search together than if we search alone.”

I spoke to him.

The boy was silent for a while, but eventually whispered,

“…I dropped a present from my fiance.”

“A topaz brooch she gave me saying, [It’s like the color of your eyes].”

Words dripped from the boy’s mouth.

“I used to look at it during tough training sessions, but someone who saw that scene had a wicked idea and snatched the brooch from me.”

“I see.”

“If I tried to take it back, the other person got angry and we ended up fighting, and then he threw it out the window.”

“I see.”

“I rushed over to search for it, but I couldn’t find it. I’m also too tired from training to move well.”

“I see.”

“I’m just…so tired.”

The boy had a terrible complexion, and his eyes were vacant.

“…It’s okay, we’ll definitely find it. Let’s search together.”

As I whispered this, he contorted his face and quietly waved his lashes, shedding tears.

“…Thank you…”

It was difficult to search for the brooch.

We searched not only through the bushes but also on the grass around us, but we couldn’t find it.

(This is going to break my bones…)

I thought this as I stood up and stretched.

I felt like there was something glinting at the edge of my vision, so I approached the shrubbery.

“Ah! Could this be it…?”

A brooch with warmly colored jewels was caught on the shrubbery.

“Hey, is this it?”

I called over to the boy, and as soon as he saw the brooch, he shouted,

“This is it!”

He cheered.

“Great! Then I’ll go now.”

I said this and turned on my heel.

“Ah, wait a minute!”

As I turned at the sound of the boy’s voice, my feet slipped for some reason, probably because I was tired from training.

I tried to catch myself on reflex, but I was unlucky because there was a shrub nearby, and my clothes got caught on it.

I fell at the base of the shrubbery, hearing the unpleasant sound of my clothes tearing.

“Ugh…”

“H-Hey, are you okay…?”

I heard the boy’s worried words as I held onto my aching body and stood up.

I was about to say that I was okay when…

“Ah…?”

I heard the boy’s unintentional, almost surprised voice and his curious gaze, and when I looked down at my own body…

“?!”

When I collapsed earlier, my clothes must have torn dramatically because my neck and chest were exposed.

If I had been wearing clothes, the small bulge would have been small enough to make an excuse like “It’s just muscle.”

However, now that I had no protection from my clothes, my chest, illuminated by the moonlight, was enough evidence to be judged as female.

I quickly covered my chest.

The boy was looking at me like that, but then he asked me,

“I’m sorry if I’m wrong. Are you…a girl?”

You asked me that.

“…Ah…”

I aimlessly wander my gaze, desperately trying to come up with an excuse.

(What should I do? How can I safely get out of this situation?)

My head is spinning and I can’t think clearly.

“…I won’t tell.”

As I lower my head, I lift it at the sound of his voice.

The boy with chestnut hair was staring at me with quiet eyes.

“I won’t tell anyone that you’re a girl.”

As I stare at the boy, unsure of his intention, he whispers to me with conviction.

“I don’t think you’re trying to do something bad. There must be some circumstances…?”

Without thinking, I nod at his words.

“Even though you must be tired from training, you crawled on the ground to search for the brooch with me, a stranger. I don’t believe in repaying kindness with enmity.”

The boy holds out his hand to me.

As I take his hand and stand up, he takes off his shirt and gives it to me.

“For now, wear this. It’s not a great shirt because it’s dirty from training, but it’s better than nothing, right? The shirt in your laundry basket looks even worse…”

Feeling apologetic, I thanked him and put on his shirt.

He watches me do this with a gentle expression.

“I haven’t introduced myself yet. I’m Riley. Riley Morgan. What’s your name?”

“My name is Leah Flores. Just call me Leah.”

“Leah, huh? Nice to meet you, Leah.”

Riley offered his hand and I shook it.

“Well, it’s getting late. As a thank you for helping me search for my brooch, let me help you with your laundry.”

I accepted Riley’s offer and we washed the laundry together.

“Ah, I wish we had magic right now.”

Riley grumbled as he scrubbed the dirt.

“Really. Magic would come in handy.”

“I know magic and superpowers don’t exist in this world, but it’s still fun to think about what we could do if we had them.”

I thought about the protagonist, Charlotte, who could understand the language of animals.

In this world where magic and superpowers don’t exist, her existence is abnormal.

I wonder how she is doing now.

“…Hey, are you listening?”

“What? Sorry, what?”

“You weren’t listening again, were you! The instructor said….”

“Fufufu… Yeah, I figured as much.”

We chat and wash the laundry occasionally.

We became good friends and laughed together on our way home.

Chapter 5: A Helpful Ally

Since then, Riley has quietly helped me out.

When I was changing clothes, he pretended to be nonchalant and hid me so that I couldn’t be seen by others, or kept his rough-skinned companions away from me.

Although it’s not really a thank-you, I also helped Riley escape secretly when he was caught by a troublesome instructor, and when I was on duty as a server, I served him extra portions of his favorite dishes.

As we worked together in this way, we spent more time together and eventually became like close friends who could have easy conversations.

After training was over, as usual I was chatting with Riley, and he asked me with an unusually serious expression,

“Hey, I need to talk to you.”

And then I looked at him.

“What? It’s unusual for you to ask for help.”

As I said this, he hesitated for a moment before starting to speak.

“Well, um… Leah is a girl, right?”

“…I guess so.”

Surprised that he had brought up the fact that I am a woman, which he had never mentioned before, I signaled with my eyes for him to continue.

“Leah wants to hide the fact that she is a woman in the future, right?”

“Yes.”

“Then, I think you need a female ally.

“Female ally?”

Riley fixes his serious expression.

“I don’t know the details, but… won’t it be inconvenient if you don’t have someone you can talk to about things like your body later on?”

Hearing this, I realized for the first time the possibility of that.

I have some understanding of the structure of a woman’s body from my previous life, but I don’t know how to deal with menstruation or how to protect my chest in this world.

(If, without thinking, you spend your days in the knight’s order and suddenly have your first period one day…)

I tremble at the thought of myself, overwhelmed by blood-stained clothes.

The smell of blood brings the Knights together to see what’s happening.

You will be questioned as to why you lied about your gender and if you have anything to hide, and at best you will be expelled and at worst you will be punished.

And then, William-sama is attacked by anti-royalists in a place where I can’t reach…

Such a future came to mind and I shivered involuntarily.

Riley continued speaking as I said, “That’s definitely true.”

“If Leah doesn’t mind, I thought I could introduce you to my Oneesan.”

“Oneesan… Riley’s?”

“Yeah. My family, the Morgan family, is a fairly large merchant family, so I was taught a lot of things from a young age. I think my sister would understand the various things that women go through. Of course, if Leah doesn’t want to, we can just pretend this conversation never happened. So, what do you think…?”

Riley looks at me with a sincere gaze.

I can see in his eyes that he is genuinely worried about me.

“Why, to that extent…”

As I muttered, Riley’s eyes widened.

“Why…”

Scratching his head slightly,

“Well, we’re friends, aren’t we?”

He said and awkwardly laughed.

“So, what do you want to do?”

I nod at the somewhat blunt question that seemed to be hiding embarrassment.

“If Riley is okay with it, I would really appreciate it.”

As I replied, Riley nodded back and said,

“Alright! Leave it to me!”

***

It was on a bright, certain day in the afternoon.

On one of the few days off from the knight’s order, Riley took me to the back entrance of the Morgan merchant family.

Riley rang the bell with a familiar look.

The sound of footsteps could be heard and the opulent door was opened from the inside.

“Welcome back, young master Riley.”

A woman in a maid’s outfit greeted us with a lively appearance.

“Oh, is Neesan in her room?”

“That’s right. Aera? The person behind you is…”

“This is Leah, a knight apprentice like me.”

“I see.. Would you like me to bring tea to your room later?”

“No, that’s fine. We’ll go now.”

Saying that, Riley gave me a look and walked away.

“Riley’s house has maids. That’s amazing!”

“Well. It’s essential for a merchant family to have servants to keep up appearances.

We talked as we climbed the stairs.

Riley stopped in front of a certain door.

“This is Neesan’s room… Poppy! Open up!”

Before Riley could even touch the door knob, the door opened and Riley and I were pulled into the room.

The person who pulled us into the room quickly released her grip on our hands.

It was a girl with a face that was exactly like Riley’s, except with chestnut-colored hair and hazel eyes.

She looked at me intently and said with a friendly smile,

“Well! You must be Leah! I heard about you in a letter from Riley, and I really wanted to meet you! Hey, I want to know more about you!”

As I was looking at the bright-faced girl approaching me with sparkling eyes, Riley pulled the girl away from me.

“Poppy… Leah is in trouble!”

“Ha…!! sorry. It was rude of me to meet you for the first time…”

The girl hung her head.

“Let me introduce myself again. My name is Poppy! I heard about the situation. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me anything!”

As I observe the face of the girl in front of me who is introducing herself with heavy breathing, I can’t help but notice that she looks exactly like Riley… or rather, her face is exactly the same.

“Uh… Riley and Poppy-san really look alike, don’t they?”

“You don’t need the [san] honorific and formal language either! Just call me Poppy!”

“O-Okay…”

“Hey… Poppy, if you get too close, Leah will get into trouble again. Please be moderate… Leah, the reason our faces are the same is because we are twins.”

“Yes, we are twins. So it doesn’t matter which one is the sister and which one is the brother, but when we have to explain our relationship to outsiders, we decided that I am the sister and Riley is the brother.”

As I nod, understanding what Poppy is saying, she brings her face closer to mine.

“Anyway. If it’s okay with you, I’ll be of help. We can communicate through letters, and if you have any questions now, please feel free to ask.”

When Poppy says this, Riley also nods.

“I’m aware that there may be things that are hard to hear when I’m around, so I’ll step out for a bit. Call me when it’s over.”

With that, Riley left the room.

All the knowledge I received from Poppy was useful.

Because Poppy spoke cheerfully and without hesitation, I was able to ask various questions without feeling awkward.

After talking for a while, we charged into Riley’s room with enthusiasm.

He was very surprised and we laughed at the sight.

After that, Riley and Poppy made some tea and we had a pleasant conversation until it became evening.

“Come again. I’ll be waiting!”

As we left the Morgan house, with Poppy seeing us off, we followed the path to the knight’s barracks with Riley.

“Hey, Leah.”

As I turned my face towards Riley, who was watching me curiously,

“Hey, uh… you all right today?”

he had a slightly worried look on his face.

“Poppy can be a bit pushy at times, but that’s also one of her good points… Did you hate it?”

Looking at the worried Riley, I lightly pat his shoulder.

“Not at all! I’m grateful to Riley. Today, I gained two precious friends.”

Riley’s eyes widened at my words, and I patted his shoulder again with a smile.

“Hey, let’s race to the barracks!”

Saying that, I started running.

Feeling the presence of Riley chasing after me in a hurry, I opened my mouth wide and laughed.

Chapter 6: Encounter at the Watering Hole

After finishing the morning training while feeling drowsy, I was eating lunch with Riley when I said,

“Oh… I forgot to give the laundry staff the sweat towel.”

When I said this, Riley looked at me while drinking his squid soup.

“Why don’t you just go give it to the staff now? It’s pretty tough to use the same sweat towel from the morning to the afternoon.”

“I think so too…”

When I checked the wall clock, the lunch break was already half over.

“The laundry staff will probably be withdrawing by this time… I’ll wash this sweat towel myself. See you later, Riley.”

I stuffed the remaining bread into my mouth and stood up.

“Okay, see you at training.”

I lightly waved to Riley, who had called out to me, and quickly left the place.

In the Knight’s Order of the Duke of Moore, there are various positions such as cook, server, and bath attendant,and so on, and their responsibilities rotate every week.

It seems that in other knight’s orders in other territories, they hire servants to do such tasks, but there is no such servant in the Knight’s Order of the Duke of Moore.

It is because they want to cultivate the strength to take care of themselves, such as during expeditions or camping, on a daily basis.

The laundry staff is also one of them, and it is customary to wash sweat towels during the lunch break and clothes after training.

Additionally, it is a rule to wash one’s own laundry if it is not the designated laundry.

As expected, the laundry staff had already withdrawn, and the water place was quiet.

I heard the faint noise of knights from a distance as I fetched water.

When I squeezed the sweat towel tightly in the bucket, the dirt spread out in the clear water I had just drawn.

As I was washing clothes with single-minded concentration, a figure appeared at my side.

I thought it was probably someone from the knight’s order and continued washing the clothes without paying much attention, but when the figure didn’t move, I looked up in surprise.

And as soon as I recognized the person’s face, I was struck with a shock as if the world had stopped.

The figure had sleek, glossy hair, deep sapphire-colored eyes like the sea, and smooth, porcelain-like skin. The gaze from his drooping eyes conveyed a deep intelligence.

Though not flashy, the figure had a refined facial structure that became more captivating the more you looked at it.

Though his face looked younger than what I knew, there was no mistake.

This person was…

“William-sama…”

Without thinking, I whispered his name and he raised his gaze from the bucket and looked towards me.

His eyes were slightly open.

“Do you know who I am?”

Unable to deny it after calling his name, I nodded.

“I don’t often go outside because I’m sickly, so there shouldn’t be many people who know my face within the territory…”

Saying this, William-sama had a suspicious expression.

Hearing this, I inwardly sweat and said,

“…I am just an apprentice, but as a member of Duke Moore’s knight order, I am familiar with the faces of the people from the Duke’s house.”

After looking at me for a moment, William-sama narrowed his eyes and said,

“I see… you are very studious.”

I wondered why William-sama, someone I should be protecting, was here.

I thought I might be dreaming, but no matter how many times I blinked, the scene in front of me didn’t change.

… Apparently, this is real.

William-sama, who wouldn’t have known what I was thinking, turned his gaze back to the bucket and started to speak.

That was when it happened.

“Duke Moore, let’s go to the Knight Commander and hear what he has to say, instead of speaking with such a person.”

A man with a high-pitched voice echoed through the water area.

Surprised, I looked behind William-sama and saw a tall man with a butler-like appearance staring at me with stern eyes.

There were also several other people dressed like servants standing nearby, all looking at the man who had spoken with surprised expressions.

“You must not approach such a dirty person. Duke Moore already has limited time to be outside, so it’s important to use it wisely. You don’t have time to talk to a dirty apprentice who is washing sweaty clothes, do you?”

The man finished speaking and fell silent, snorted.

A sharp silence enveloped the area and the other servants looked at each other with uneasy expressions.

William-sama looked at the servants for a moment, but when they didn’t say anything more, he turned his whole body towards the man.

“…It seems like you have a misunderstanding.”

The man tried to speak, but was struck by William-sama’s strong gaze and inhaled sharply.

“The reason we are able to live our daily lives is thanks to the knights who maintain public order. Whether they are the knight commander or an apprentice knight, their roles may be different, but their efforts to maintain public order do not change… Yes, the person there is covered in dirt. However, that is evidence that he has been training hard.”

William-sama gave me a sidelong glance and shot the man again.

He spoke in a quiet voice.

“Can’t you see his battered body? Does it look dirty to you, covered in wounds, covered in smoke and dirt, going through all that training? Really?”

The man froze for a moment, his face tense, but eventually he bit his lip and lowered his head.

“…Thank you for caring about this weak body of mine. But you just said something you shouldn’t have. I hope you’ll think carefully about what you said later.”

William-sama was looking down at the kneeling butler, but suddenly turned to me.

“Is this sweat towel yours?”

Asked and pressured, I nodded silently.

“I see… It’s heavily soiled. I’m sure you go through grueling training every day. I respect you for being able to endure such harsh training at the same age as me.”

Then he slightly distorted his handsome face and whispered to me,

“Sorry for making you feel uncomfortable.”

And he left the water area with the other servants.

I was standing there in a daze, but the bell for the start of training rang, and I hurried to the training field.

That night, I couldn’t fall asleep even when it was deep into the night.

What I remembered was the sight of William-sama at the water area today.

(William-sama was alive)

I had heard that the heir to the Duke of Moore’s family was named William.

But…

(Was the heir to the Duke of Moore really the William-sama I knew? I wasn’t sure)

However,

William was “him.”

The “him” I knew was definitely alive in this world.

As that fact sank in, my heart was swept up in a wave of joy.

(Glad… I’m glad, I’m glad, I’m glad, I’m glad!!)

My heart was screaming with joy.

(William-sama is alive! He’s definitely alive in this world! He’s alive…!)

I was so happy that I couldn’t help but cover my face with my hands.

Although I couldn’t fall asleep for a while, tossing and turning, my tired body must have wanted rest, because eventually my consciousness sank into darkness.

Chapter 7: Opportunity

“Mmm~! This tea is delicious! It’s especially good to drink in this hot weather.

“These baked goods are also delicious. This shop is a hit, huh… Here, Leah, eat up. You’re the star of the show today.”

“Thank you, I’ll have some.”

I picked up a fox-shaped baked good from the plate that Riley held out.

When I put it in my mouth, the simplicity of the sweetness and the fragrance spread throughout my mouth.

When I looked outside the window, the dense green road trees, unique to summer, were swaying in the wind.

I gazed at the street in front of the shop for a while, but then I heard Poppy’s voice saying,

“I can’t believe it! Winning the knockout tournament! As expected of Leah.”

And I returned my gaze to the two of them.

“Winning isn’t such a big deal. It’s just a sparring match, and only apprentices are participating anyways.”

I scratched my cheek embarrassedly at being praised, Riley chuckled mischievously.

“Don’t be embarrassed! You were even praised by the instructor at the awards ceremony for your above average performance, weren’t you?! A~ah, I thought I did pretty well too.”

As he said this, Riley took a sip of his tea.

He slowly savored it, then looked at me with a nostalgically wistful gaze.

“It’s already been four years since we joined the Order…”

Four years have passed since I joined the knight’s brigade, and I have now turned 12 years old.

Since around the age of 10, my height has steadily increased, and now I am considered tall for my age.

Among those who choose swords as their weapon of choice, I chose a spear. A spear allows me to make up for any lack of reach due to my height. Even in a strength-based fight, I can use the centrifugal force to my advantage if I use it skillfully.

In order to minimize the difference in muscle mass and be able to make appropriate movements with the minimum amount of strength, I have trained to develop my own unique style.

As a result, I managed to win the sparring tournament held for apprentices and become the number one.

“Hey Leah, I’m thinking of leaving the Order soon.”

Upon hearing these words, I couldn’t help but look at Riley.

Poppy had already known about it and did not change her expression.

“…Riley was supposed to inherit the Morgan merchant business someday, right? But I see… I’ll miss you.”

He nodded when I said that.

“I joined the Order to become able to protect myself as a merchant, and it’s been quite a while now. It’s sad for me to leave my fellow knights, but I have to return home and start learning the ways of a merchant in earnest.”

Riley took a sip of his tea.

Poppy looked at him mischievously.

“One of the reasons for leaving the Order is that you can’t see your beloved fiance due to the hectic schedule, right?”

When she teased him with a smile, he almost spat out his tea and coughed.

“Poppy…!”

Riley glared at her angrily, but the one being glared at just picked up a biscuit with a cool expression.

“Isn’t that the case? You went to see her last weekend, didn’t you?”

“…”

He silently affirmed it.

For some reason, I feel like his ears are turning red.

“It can’t be helped… She’s a countess’s daughter, so she has to attend tea parties as part of her job. Since those always fall on my days off from the Order, I just want to see her occasionally when our days off overlap.”

As I watched Riley mumble this, I couldn’t help but feel a little amused. Poppy playfully punched Riley’s shoulder.

“I’m envious of my own little brother! Ah~ I wonder if someone nice will appear for me…”

Poppy let out a sigh and then looked at me.

“Leah, are you going to continue with the Order?”

“Yes, that’s my plan. I’m thinking of taking the recognition exam next. The recognition exam can be taken from the age of 12…”

“It’s so Leah-like to go take the exam as soon as you’re old enough! If you pass the recognition exam, you’ll become a full-fledged knight, not just an apprentice, right? If you pass, let’s get together and celebrate again!”

Poppy said with a smile.

“It’s too soon to tell…”

I couldn’t help but smile wryly.

“A celebration for Leah’s recognition, and a farewell for Riley… hehe, it looks like we’ll be busy!”

Poppy’s smile deepened even further.

Then, as autumn deepened, Riley left the Order to study business at home, and around the same time, I passed the Order’s recognition exam.

The next day, we held a farewell party for Riley with our fellow knights, and celebrated both my recognition as a knight and Riley’s departure.

These friends, who had been supporting me ever since I told them that I wanted to become a knight to guard William-sama, and they were delighted that I had become a full-fledged knight and was one step closer to becoming an escort knight.

As I watched them, I felt a little sad at the thought that

(I might not be able to see these two very often from now on…)

But the two of them, who seemed to have noticed my expression, offered me a promise to stay in touch and I was touched by their strong determination not to let our bond fade.

As winter arrived and the cold wind blew fiercely, I walked down the chilly hallway and headed towards the knight commander’s office in the middle of the garrison.

The knight brigade of the Moore duke’s household can be divided into two main categories.

One is a security force that patrols the city and is contracted to go out in the event of an emergency.

The other is the security force that guards the Duke of Moore’s estate.

Each squad has a commander, but I was summoned this time by the commander of the security force.

I knock on the ostentatious door.

“Excuse me. My name is Leah Flores.”

As I say this and open the door, several young knights have been gathered in the room.

Following their example, I fold my hands behind my back and stretch my spine to wait for the words of the commander of the knight group.

“We’re all here.”

The commander of the knight group, Leo Morris, with a strong muscle, looks around at us who are correcting our posture.

“…I called you guys to decide who to recommend to the guard.”

The security force, which is responsible for protecting the lord, does not take apprentices.

The security force raises a large number of apprentices every year and cultivates the foundation of a knight, and among the knights of the security force, those who are excellent are recommended to become the guard team.

When the commander says this, the young knights in the room are in turmoil.

The knight commander took it by the hand.

“The reason I gathered only young knights is nothing but this. I want to recommend one of you as the first of His Excellency, Duke’s son, William-sama.”

When the commander said that, the young knights who had been stirred up earlier looked at each other with confused expressions.

William-sama has a weak body.

Therefore, he is not able to attend social gatherings very much, and it is rumored that he is coldly treated by the current duke and duchess.

If you become the first bodyguard knight to support William-sama, you must be prepared to share your fate with William-sama.

If William-sama fails as a successor, there is also a danger of being expelled from this territory together.

They probably know that.

The gathered young knights are hesitant to speak.

“Is there anyone among you who wishes to be his excellency’s escort knight?”

The knights fall silent, embarrassed at the commander’s renewed question.

Among them .

“Yes, I do!”

Upon hearing the loud response, the commander narrows his eyes slightly.

“What is your name and affiliation?”

“I am Leah Flores, affiliated with the Seventh Squadron.”

The commander flips through the bundle of papers in his hand and moves his gaze.

“…I see. You won the all-out tournament and passed the qualifying exam recently. You have been recommended by several instructors. You are both age and skill wise unobjectionable, but…”

The Knight Commander gives me a sharp gaze.

“Are you sure this is what you want?”

Feeling the heavy pressure, I nod resolutely.

“Yes. I am ready to be William-sama’s shield and share his fate.”

The commander looks at me for a while, then sees that no other knights are coming forward.

“Fine, do your best… Leah Flores is decided as the first escort knight for the young duke. you are dismissed.”

Chapter 8: In the Duke’s House

I stood in front of a heavy, withered-leaf colored door at the end of a long, wide hallway.

(William-sama is on the other side of this door)

Feeling my heart rise, I swelled with joy.

It had only been a few days since I was decided to be recommended as William-sama’s escort knight.

As soon as I received the notice, I was forced to move immediately to the Duke of Moore’s main residence.

Since I was an orphan, I didn’t have many belongings to begin with, so I was able to move with just one bag.

Although I felt a bit of loneliness at the thought, I reminded myself that [I could go to William-sama’s side faster without the hassle of organizing my belongings].

With my belongings, a few books, a spear that I had treasured since my apprentice days, and a jar of shells that I had collected at the coast on a whim since coming to the Duke Moore’s territory, I arrived at the Duke Moore’s main mansion.

And today is the day that I, as an escort knight, will meet William-sama for the first time.

Wrapped in my brand new escort knight’s attire, I feel a sense of tension standing in front of William-sama’s room.

I knock on the door nervously.

“This is Flores, the newly assigned escort knight for Duke Moore. I request permission to enter.”

Upon asking to enter, a calm voice of a young boy responds,

“Come in.”

I open the door while speaking.

“Excuse me.”

The first thing that caught my eye was a vast number of books that filled the walls.

The large number of books were stacked as if they were consuming the floor.

In the center of the room, the young man who would become my lord was writing on a bundle of papers on his desk, but when he placed the feather pen he was holding on the desk, he turned his sapphire-colored eyes towards me.

“You’re the new knight who was assigned as my first escort, right? May I ask your name again?”

“Yes, my name is Leah Flores, Your Grace Duke Moore.”

I answer and bow.

William-sama looks at me, who has bowed, and furrows his brow slightly.

“… Flores, haven’t you and I met somewhere before? Sorry, I can’t remember where we met, but for some reason, I feel like I’ve seen your face before…”

I was very surprised to hear that.

William-sama and I had only met once, when I was a newly appointed apprentice at a water source.

To remember the face of an apprentice who had only briefly talked to him a long time ago…

(William-sama has an excellent memory)

While rolling my tongue inside my mouth, I opened my mouth to reply to William-sama.

“…Yes, William-sama and I have met. It was a long time ago when I was still an apprentice, at the water source of the garrison of the security forces unit…”

“Ah, I remember. I made you feel uncomfortable at that time.”

While saying that with a pained expression, I shook my head.

“That is not true. That is already in the past.”

“Thank you, Flores.”

He thanks me and slowly stands up.

“Hey, I’m sorry, but can you bring the chair on the side of that bookshelf over here and sit down? I’m going to make some tea now.”

“My Lord ‼ To make a make tea by yourself is… ‼.”

William-sama headed towards the cupboard and said,

“Don’t worry about it. I’m used to making tea.”

He gave a slightly lonely smile.

(William-sama is the son of the Duke. It is “unusual” for a person of his status to serve others himself. And he said he was “used to” it. Why…?)

While I was thinking about this, William-sama said,

“Flores, is one sugar enough?”

William-sama’s word brought me back to my senses.

“… Well.”

Across the desk, as we sat facing each other, William-sama started speaking after seeing me moisten my mouth with tea.

“You came here on the recommendation of the commander of the security forces unit and the instructors, but I have not yet signed the documents regarding your appointment. In other words, you are not yet officially my first escort knight.”

Hearing this made me feel as if the blood had drained from my face.

[I have not yet signed the documents regarding your appointment] means that William-sama himself is refusing my appointment as his escort knight.

(Did I do something to offend William-sama… or is he indirectly saying that he has doubts about my ability…?)

Seeing my pale face, William-sama hesitantly opens his mouth.

“Don’t misunderstand. You are the kind of person who has received recommendations from many senior knights. I’m sure you are a wonderful knight… I don’t have any complaints about you. The reason I haven’t appointed you as my escort knight right away is because there are other reasons.”

“… What are those reasons?”

I asked this in a voice that I couldn’t help but tremble.

“I want you to think carefully before deciding whether you really want to be my first escort knight. For the next week, you will spend it with me as my temporary escort. After one week, I want to ask you again about your intention to become my escort knight or not.”

While I was stunned, William-sama continued.

“Of course, I will make sure that you are not blamed if you decide to resign as an escort knight, and I will personally help you find your next job. Don’t worry, if you want a different job, I won’t let anyone blame you.”

His words gradually sink into my head.

[I want to ask about your intention] While saying this, William-sama’s words seem to be convinced that I will resign as an escort knight after one week.

“Why would I want to…”

Even if I ask this, he just gives a sad smile.

(Why is he saying such a thing? Does he not like me and wants me to resign?… No, that’s not a straightforward way of doing things. Also, I can’t imagine William-sama saying something like this without a reason. There must be a reason. But…)

As I think about William-sama’s words, I become overwhelmed with sad, painful, and unbearable feelings.

([After the one-week trial period, this knight… Leah Flores will “voluntarily” resign from the position of escort knight] It seems that William-sama is seriously considering this. Even though I lied about my gender and vomited blood from training, I have lived until now only to protect you. It is impossible for me, who has lived to openly protect you, to willingly give up the position to do so)

My lips unconsciously tried to speak but eventually remained silent without being able to weave words.

(William-sama doesn’t know how I feel about being here. He doesn’t know how much I think about protecting him, or how much I have endured harsh days just to protect him… I know that wanting to protect William-sama is just my own self-satisfaction. But… even if William-sama doesn’t feel that way, it’s painful for me to be doubted by him.

I close my eyes and take a deep breath.

(It’s painful…)

I grit my teeth.

(Calm down. William-sama and I are almost strangers. I am just one of the many knights. No matter how strongly I wish to protect William-sama, it is something that he does not need to know. What I should say to William-sama now is…)

I quietly open my eyes.

And I look at the face of William-sama sitting in front of me.

“Duke Moore. I have come here with a strong determination to serve you. I cannot decline the appointment as your escort knight.”

I look into the deep, ocean-colored eyes.

“If you want me to reconsider for a week, I will follow your wishes. I will talk to you again in a week about my feelings.”

I said that to William-sama and looked at him intently.

But he still just smiled gently and sadly.

Chapter 9: Discomfort

It has been a few days since I became William-sama’s temporary escort knight.

Hearing the hushed voice and receiving the rude gaze from behind, I sighed, thinking

(again?)

The first discomfort I felt was that William-sama does everything on his own.

From making tea to maintaining the lamp and getting ready, he does most of the tasks that should be done by the servants on his own.

I wondered why and noticed that it was because the servants do not approach William-sama.

The next discomfort was the gaze.

William-sama left the room to go to the library to get a book he wanted, so I moved with him through the hallway.

When we passed by the servants in the hallway, they quickly lowered their heads and let William-sama pass.

The servants, who lowered their heads deeply and remained silent, seemed to be trying to avoid being spoken to by William-sama.

After we passed, I felt a gaze from behind and turned around to see that the servants were whispering while looking at us.

When our eyes met, they panicked and left, but the discomfort from the gaze remained.

The next discomfort was the meal.

When William-sama went to the dining room, the Duke of Moore and his wife had apparently finished their meal and were not in the dining room.

William-sama sat down in a chair without showing any particular concern, even though it was unusual.

The meal was brought, but the soup, main dish, and even the post-meal coffee were cold and did not look like they were meant to be served.

However, William-sama continued to chew the cold food as if he were used to it.

There was no emotion in his eyes.

The servants were far away and did not pay attention to us, but I felt a strange atmosphere from them.

Even if his parents, the Duke and Duchess of Moore, treat him like he don’t exist.

He just sat alone in his room with his book like he was used to it.

William-sama’s eyes were always calm, like a calm sea.

The gradually accumulating sense of discomfort grew into a conviction of suspicions that were beginning to sprout within me.

(I see. William-sama is…)

It is a rainy afternoon, with cold rain falling frequently.

We sat facing each other as if it were a week ago.

William-sama takes a sip of tea.

“…my elder brother was a very well-done person. He especially loved fencing. Once, when I was still young and had fallen ill, my elder brother came to me with a toy sword in hand and said [I’ll cut through the cause of William’s illness!], swinging the sword around.”

William-sama smiles thinly.

“My elder brother was intelligent, full of vitality, charming, and loved by my father, mother, and the servants. Of course, I also loved my elder brother. When he came to my sickroom where I couldn’t even leave the room, he read me picture books.”

Looking as if he is remembering that time, he turned his gaze to the outside of the window.

“When I was seven years old, my brother Theodore passed away. Due to an epidemic.”

The sound of the rain splashing sticks to my ears.

I just stare at him without saying a word.

After putting the cup on the plate, he leaned back deeply in the chair.

“After my elder brother passed away, my parents’ relationship deteriorated rapidly. My father said to me [You are weak and not suitable as an heir], and my mother began to make a dark face whenever she saw my elder brother’s features in me. My father and mother decided that if I couldn’t overcome my weak body by the time I was 18, they would expel me to the border and adopt a new heir.”

He continues speaking while looking down.

“After that, the servants stopped approaching me. They were afraid of being sent to the border with me by approaching me.”

There was no expression on his face as he continued to speak calmly.

“There were also servants who were friendly with me, but now they are all gone. All that remains are those who look at me with curious eyes.”

As he spoke, William-sama unexpectedly turned his gaze towards me.

“It’s been a week since you became a temporary escort knight…”

He sighs.

“Now, do you understand? … the meaning of being with me.”

Our eyes meet.

“I am not guaranteed to become the next Duke. There is even the possibility of being sent to the border with me. Furthermore, I cannot escape the curious gaze of the servants. You must have experienced this in the past week as well? Just by being with me, I am kept at a distance by the servants and treated as if I don’t exist.”

In the silence that followed, the sound of rain suddenly became loud.

“I’ll ask you again.”

William-sama asked, staring into my eyes as if admonishing me.

“Do you really want to be my escort knight?”

Chapter 10: Together with you

The uninterrupted rain sounds pour between us as the silence sinks in.

…William-sama is a kind person.

Even though it is obvious that it would be better to keep an escort knight by your side for your own safety, he shows me the way to avoid getting hurt, worrying about me, who is no more than a simple knight.

Even so.

“Duke Moore.”

My answer is already decided.

“Please allow me to be your escort knight.”

I say this for a while.

He didn’t react as if he was frozen, but after a few beats he opened his eyes wide in surprise.

He looks at me as if he sees something unbelievable.

“…Didn’t you understand by staying by my side for a week? If you work in this mansion, you will only be isolated with me.”

“That may be true.”

“Like I said earlier, there is no guarantee that I will inherit the dukedom.”

“Yes.”

“Are you really understanding?”

“I understand.”

“I’m in such a weak position I can’t even get the servants to make me tea. I don’t know if I can protect you in case of an emergency.”

William-sama twisted his face as if he remembered something when he muttered this.

Without answering, I put my hand on the top of the stack of paper on William-sama’s desk.

“…When I first came here, Duke Moore was always facing a book and writing something. At first, I didn’t know what you were doing.”

I picked up one of the stacks of paper and flipped through it.

“Methods of managing territories, characteristics of each region, etiquette, finance, calculation, diplomatic issues, medicine, education, poverty…”

The vast amount of traces of study left in the stack of paper.

“Now I understand. What can be done for the people when you become the lord. How can people become wealthy? You were always thinking about it.”

I walked to the bookshelf and pulled out a suitable book.

If I turned the pages, there were writing on every page without any gaps.

The book next to it, and the book next to that one, too.

The books that were densely written showed his relentless efforts and hardships.

I turned to William-sama.

“Your Grace. Do you remember what you said to me when we met at the water area?”

William-sama twitched at my words, but he silently urged me to continue the story without a word.

“You said to me, who was covered in dirt and wounds, that you respect me for enduring harsh training at the same age as me.”

I remember the gaze of William-sama at that time.

“You are not someone who sees the subjects in front of you as mere ‘numbers’, but rather as living ‘people’. You are a rare human being who can respect and honor others beyond social basin.”

William-sama has the qualities to become a great lord.

But whether or not William-sama actually becomes a lord is not very important to me.

At first, I just wanted to help [William-sama, who saved my heart in my previous life].

But now.

You’re a man who works hard for the good of his people.

It’s because you choose to be alone, worrying about a mere knight.

It’s because, like scolding the steward at the water basin, you sincerely face the person in front of you and try to right a wrong.

That’s why I want to protect you.

“You are my lord. I don’t need any other lord.”

I looked straight at William-sama.

“If there is no servant to brew tea, I will brew tea for you.

If being with you leads to isolation, I will gladly accept that isolation.

Please let me know first if you are going to the border. I am used to household chores because I was raised in an orphanage, so I am sure I will be able to help even if I go to the border.”

I plead while hoping my feelings will be conveyed.

“Please, let me be by your side.”

William-sama stayed in place for a while.

And when he leaned back on the chair and exhaled for a long time, covering his face with both hands,

“Oh, dear…”

He smiled weakly with a face as if he had lost strength.

“I didn’t expect to be told such passionate words.”

He remained still for a while, but eventually stood up from the chair and came to me, stopping in front of me.

“It’s my complete defeat.”

He, who was a little shorter than me, looked up at my face.

“Leah Flores. I appoint you as my… William Moore’s first escort knight.”

He declares with a dignified appearance.

And then,

“From now on, take care of me, my knight.”

He smiled as if flowers were blooming.

Chapter 11: Characters

“Is this interesting to you?”

It’s been three days since I officially became William-sama’s knight.

He suddenly said this in the room where the sound of a pen scratching on paper could be heard.

I was unsure of the intention behind the voice that was spoken without looking up from the paper he was writing on, and after a while, I replied,

“…What do you mean by ‘interesting’?”

At that, he finally turned his face towards me.

“I thought you were looking at what I was doing.”

I was slightly flustered by William-sama’s words, who slightly tilted his head and looked this way.

“I’m sorry for disturbing you. I’ll try not to look this way as much as possible from now on.”

As I said that and bowed, William-sama shook his head to the side.

“Ah, I’m not blaming you. I was just wondering if you were interested. I’m currently summarizing the characteristics of each region… Do you like that kind of study?”

In front of him, who asked in a voice that seemed to expect something, I was at a loss for words.

(Is he… expecting me to have a conversation about study? I don’t have any knowledge about that, and in the first place, what I was looking at…)

William-sama tilted his head at my appearance.

I was silent for a while, but unable to bear the curious gaze from my lord, I opened my mouth.

“I wasn’t reading the content… I was looking at the characters.”

“Characters?”

“Yes. I can read and write simple things, but I can’t read difficult words. The characters that His Grace was writing were all unfamiliar words, so it was unusual.”

Upon hearing this, he slightly opened his eyes.

“I see, so it was the characters…”

William-sama muttered in a faint voice, and then asked,

“You said you can read and write simple things, but where did you learn?”

“There were a few picture books at the orphanage where I was, so I learned a little from that. During my time as a knight apprentice, I also learned just enough to not be inconvenient when writing reports in classroom lessons.”

As I answered, he placed his hand on his chin and began to think.

Then, he turned his gaze towards me again and asked,

“Do you want to be able to write characters?”

Although I didn’t understand the intention behind the question, I replied,

“Yes, there is no harm in being able to handle characters.”

With a smile, I said,

“I see… If you don’t mind, would you like to study characters with me?”

Upon hearing this, I was speechless for a while.

“Your Grace and… study characters together?”

I finally managed to repeat the question.

“Yeah. If you don’t mind.”

“Well, I don’t mind, but… Specifically, how do you plan on doing this? My proficiency in characters is not very high. I’m not at a level where I can study with Your Grace…”

As I timidly asked, William-sama deepened his smile even more.

“Flores, do you know about the output study method?”

“…? No, I don’t know.”

“It’s a study method based on the theory that when reviewing something you’ve learned once, you’ll understand it better by teaching it to someone else than studying it on your own.”

“Oh… I see…”

“So in other words, the answer to your question is that I’ll teach you characters.”

“Eh.”

Upon hearing this, I stiffened.

“That’s… just convenient for me, isn’t it…?”

When I say this, he smiles, as pure as an angel’s smile and said,

“Oh come on! By teaching you characters, I’ll gain a deeper understanding of them myself. Just by learning characters from me, I’ll be very helped.”

He continued.

“Flores… won’t you indulge me a little…?”

As he said that and looked up at me, his eyes were so pure that I, who was conflicted about whether it was okay for me to use William-sama’s time, collapsed without hesitation.

“If it’s okay with you!”

As I answered in an upright posture, William-sama happily smiled and laughed from the bottom of his heart.

William-sama was very good at teaching, and he often praised me, saying things like,

“Flores, you can do it so well now. Amazing.”

“Your handwriting has become beautiful again.”

“As expected of Flores. At this rate, you’ll catch up to me soon.”

In addition to characters, he also ended up teaching me various subjects and manners, but at that time, I didn’t know that yet.

Chapter 12: The Visitor

“Yes, it’s perfect. You have a good memory.”

“…what a waste of words.”

Several days have passed since I was taught letters by William-sama.

Since he frequently praises me, even for small things, I am desperately trying not to be swayed each time because I am not used to being praised.

At this time, the one-hour lesson on letters that I receive every day has become a pleasure for me.

“Hey, Will, I’m here to see you!”

However, this pleasantly embarrassing time was interrupted by a sudden visitor who burst into the room.

“I see. So this is William’s escort knight. He’s about the same age as us.”

The boy sitting in the chair turned his young grass-colored eyes towards me, standing by William-sama’s side.

“Finn, “this” would be disrespectful to Flores if you called him that.”

When William-sama spoke to the boy in a tone he seemed to enjoy, the boy narrowed his lips.

“Come on, I can speak in a casual language in front of William. After all, in the palace we have to speak in polite language that we’ll end up hating.”

The boy, who had a slightly sulky face, looked up at me and said with a hearty laugh,

“Hey, you there! Um, what was it again? I forget your name… Anyway, William’s knight! Nice to meet you!”

I know this boy.

He is Finlay, the crown prince, with his golden hair tied loosely at the back of his neck, shining grass-colored eyes like jewels.

In the story of the manga “You and The White Rose,” he appears as a carefree prince and falls in love with the protagonist, Charlotte.

His brilliant face is radiant and his expression is full of vitality.

At this moment, Finlay, the Crown Prince, is chatting brightly with William-sama.

“It’s no surprise that you come without notice, but what brings you here this time?”

William-sama asked Finlay as he elegantly tilted a cup of tea.

“Do I need a reason to meet a friend?”

Finlay asked, giving William-sama a mischievous smile. William-sama smiled back, looking both troubled and happy.

“Your Highness the Crown Prince must not have much free time…”

“Oh, no, I don’t. I’m busy every day and it’s making me dizzy. When I have a little free time, I’m crammed with knowledge, and the noblemen who try to take advantage of every opportunity are annoying.”

The way he drank his tea with a bitter expression was refined enough to be worthy of a prince.

“Well, it’s not exactly a reason, but if I had to say, one reason is that I wanted to come and see the guy there.”

Finlay, the Crown Prince, glanced at me as he said this.

William-sama heard this and looked stunned.

“Flores?”

“I was wondering what kind of change of heart would make you accept someone you’ve rejected every other escort knight candidate before. I came here expecting to see what kind of knight had come, but…”

The Crown Prince exhaled a long breath and said,

“Surprisingly, he’s just an ordinary guy.”

“[Surprisingly ordinary]… What did you think Flores was?”

“Well… I was expecting something like a monstrous guy, a peerless handsome man, or even a superhuman with superpowers.”

As he said this, the Crown Prince chuckled.

“Finn…”

William-sama looked at the Crown Prince, Finlay, with a surprised expression, but in the next moment, Finlay had a serious face, as if his previous laughter was just a lie.

“I’m just joking. I know the reason why William rejected escort knight candidates. Anyway, as far as I’m concerned, I’m glad William has an escort knight by his side… Hey, Will. Why did you decide to have him by your side?”

Finlay, who was staring intently at William-sama, was met with a beautiful smile from William-sama, who said,

“Fufufu… It’s a secret. —By the way, how is Her Highness Princess Sofia doing?”

As the pleasant conversation came to a pause, William-sama suddenly asked Finlay, the Crown Prince, as if he had just remembered something.

“Oh, she’s full of energy. She always follows me around, so it’s a bit annoying.”

Although he said it was annoying, the Crown Prince didn’t look very annoyed as he spoke affectionately about his sister, the princess.

“I think she’s four years old this year, right?”

“Yes. She seems to enjoy gardening and often gives me flowers she received from the gardener. Isn’t she cute?”

William-sama wore a gentle smile as he boasted about his sister, the princess.

“I haven’t visited the palace in a while, so I haven’t seen Princess Sofia either. At four years old, she must be very cute.”

“Yes. My father and mother, as well as the royal household staff, are all captivated by Sofia. Maybe Sofia has the power to attract people from birth.”

The Crown Prince Finlay is completely smitten with his sister princess but he seems to be perfectly calm about it.

William-sama was looking at the Crown Prince with a smile on his face, but suddenly his face turned melancholy.

A momentary glimmer of mistaken vision.

The next moment I recognised the fading, William-sama already had a smile on his face.

After the Crown Prince has left William-sama’s room.

The room was filled with silence, as if after a storm.

William-sama has been quietly flipping through the pages of a book.

I kept looking and hesitating as I tried to speak to him while looking at him.

A momentary shadow passed over William’s face.

I was unable to decide whether or not to ask him about it.

“What’s wrong with you?” a calm voice echoed in the room.

As I came to my senses, I saw William-sama smiling and looking at me.

“You open and close your mouth like a fish… did something happen?”

As I faced the smiling and silent William-sama, I swallowed my saliva with a gulp.

“Well… earlier, when you were talking about Princess Sofia…”

As I began to speak, William silently urged me to continue.

“I had the feeling that his Grace had a worried expression for a moment while he was talking about Her Royal Highness. Was something the matter?”

As I asked him this, William slightly widened his eyes.

We looked at each other for a short while, but eventually William narrowed his eyes comfortably.

“It’s nothing.”

In a soft voice, it was as if I was being warned not to step any further.

“I’m glad you were worried. Flores, thank you.”

While that voice seemed calm, it clearly rejected my question.

I stood there in silence for a while, then said,

“…I am honored to receive your words of gratitude.”

I bowed my head.

Until night fell and the sun set that day, the only sound in the room was the sound of pages turning.

Chapter 13:The Street

“I’d like to go into town for a tour.”

William-sama said on a day when it had snowed in the garden.

“A tour?”

I repeated, and William-sama nodded seriously.

“I’ve hardly ever gone outside before. When nobles go out, it’s generally their assigned escorts from the knights who are in charge of the mansion’s security who accompany them, but no one seems to want to have anything to do with me, so it’s hard to ask for their help.”

He turned his face towards the window and looked out.

“Nobles have to make sure that the people living in their domains have a comfortable life. I don’t know if I’ll ever become a lord, but if there’s even a slight possibility of that happening, then I have a duty to try my best to be a good lord. I want to see what kind of lives the people in my domain are living, what they want…”

His expression was sincerely serious.

As I looked at William’s profile, I thought about what needed to be done to prepare for a tour of the town.

“…Would the day after tomorrow be alright?”

A few seconds later, I made this suggestion, and William-sama turned around in surprise.

“You’ll take me?”

“Yes, your Grace. We can’t leave right away, but if you can give me a couple of days, it should be possible.”

As he listened to my words, he opened his eyes even wider, but eventually his expression relaxed.

“…I thought I’d never be able to go out into the town. I’m very happy. Flores, thank you.”

I made a slight bow to William-sama, and then began making plans in my head for procuring the necessary supplies.

A clear morning.

As I stepped off the horse-drawn carriage at the edge of the busy street and turned around, I held out my hand.

As I gently took the white hand that was offered to me, a boy wearing a hunting cap appeared from the carriage.

As the boy set his feet on the ground too quickly, the carriage raised a cloud of dust and drove away.

I leaned close to the boy’s ear, who was looking around with curiosity.

“Your Grace, it looks unnatural to stare around like that.”

As I whispered, the boy wearing the hunting cap… William-sama looked back in a panic.

“This is a place where carriages pick up passengers, so if we stay here for long, we’ll be in the way of the people who want to ride in the carriages. Let’s move.”

“Understood.”

I walked quickly towards the center of the town, still holding William-sama’s hand.

This town was located slightly inland from the coast, and its bustling main street, lined with various shops, was one of the busiest in the domain.

William had originally wanted to tour the slums, but I convinced him that it would be dangerous on his first tour, so we ended up touring this town, which was busy with people coming and going.

As a former orphan and commoner, I could pass as a perfectly ordinary person no matter how I was viewed, but on the other hand, my lord, even if he tried to disguise his noble background, couldn’t hide the elegance that showed through his actions.

It’s often said that the best place to hide your leaves is in the forest, and in this town with so many people, we managed to avoid standing out…

(If this were a rural town or slum, we would have been immediately recognized as noble.)

Thinking this, I stole a sidelong glance at William-sama.

The boy who does not know my inner feelings is looking at the fruit displayed in front of the store with interest.

“Flores, what is this?”

“It’s a yana fruit. It’s a specialty grown in the suburbs of this town, and you eat it by cutting out the seeds inside, not the flesh on the outside.”

William nodded in appreciation.

“So this is a yana fruit… I read in a book that it is popular among the common people because it is inexpensive, but this is the first time I’ve seen it in person.”

While William-sama was showing appreciation, the owner of the store approached us from the back.

“Hey, young boys. Did you come on a house errand? That yana fruit was freshly picked this morning, it’s super fresh! Won’t you buy one?”

“No, I…”

While trying to refuse the sales pitch from the store owner, William-sama couldn’t take his eyes off the fruit. I picked up one of the fruits lined up on the store counter.

“I’ll have one please. I’ll eat it right away, can you cut it for me?”

“Yes, of course! Thank you for your business!”

After receiving the money from me, the store owner went into the back of the store to cut the fruit. As I watched him go, I felt someone’s gaze on me.

When I looked to the side, William-sama was looking at me in surprise.

“Flores…”

As he muttered and his lips trembled, I tilted my head slightly.

“I thought you might want to try it… Was I mistaken?”

He shook his head lightly.

“It’s true that I wanted to try it… But the money you just paid came out of Flores’ wages, right? That’s not right…”

As he said that, he pursed his lips.

“I carelessly only brought gold coins with me, so I even made Flores pay for the hired carriage earlier. I didn’t know that only nobles or royalty used gold coins. So I was thinking of not using any money this time…”

I peeked at his face as he bit his lip as if blaming himself.

“It’s not surprising that your Grace didn’t know how rare gold coins are for commoners, since it’s your first time coming down to the town dressed as a commoner. Could you think of this as a present from me? It would make me happy.”

William-sama hesitated for a moment, but when I smiled at him, he returned the smile.

“…thank you, Flores.”

Just after William said that, the store owner returned with the yana fruit cut into two pieces.

He also lent us a spoon, so we ate the edible part of the yana fruit in front of the store.

The semi-transparent white fruit was slightly sweet and had a texture like jelly.

While watching William, who was surprised by the texture of the fruit he was eating for the first time, I took another bite.

Then we went to various stores, including a stationery store with a lot of imported items, a clothing store with colorful clothes, and a household goods store.

After purchasing a duck sandwich at a food stall for lunch,

“I’ve never seen a sandwich with so much duck meat stuffed in it. I never have the opportunity to eat sandwiches at the mansion, so this is the first time I’ve seen one like this.”

William-sama was surprised.

As I took a bite of the duck sandwich next to William-sama, who was impressed, the juicy meat juice and sweet sauce spread in my mouth.

Normally, meals for nobles are basically course meals, and if sandwiches are served, they are usually elegant bite-sized ones.

Moreover, the image of sandwiches for nobles is that they are prepared for outings such as picnics, so it is rare for William-sama to have the opportunity to see such a magnificent sandwich.

William-sama seemed to struggle with the unfamiliar way of “taking a bite” at first, but after watching me bite into the duck sandwich and imitating my eating style, he was finally able to eat it well.

It was while we were walking to the town square and strolling around.

This square, which is so popular with citizens and tourists that it can be called the symbol of the town, is crowded with people today as well.

As we walked along the main street, I noticed that William’s pace was unusually slow.

I quietly observed him.

(…William-sama’s breathing seems to be rough)

While thinking that, William-sama stopped in his tracks.

Surprised, I said,

“Your Grace, is something the matter?”

As I spoke, I peeked under his hunting hat.

“…?!.”

When I saw his face, I couldn’t help but stare.

William-sama’s face was unusually white, and cold sweat was running down his face.

His face was filled with agony and deep wrinkles were carved between his well-shaped eyebrows.

It was an unusual sight.

“Your Grace! Are you feeling unwell?!”

As I whispered the question, he weakly smiled.

“I’m sorry, it looks like I had an attack from my chronic illness.”

Even as he said that, he kept smiling as if worried about me, but his pale face made it look painful.

William-sama pressed his chest with his hand as if in pain.

The wave of people that continued to flow relentlessly tried to push us, who had stopped, away.

(If we stay here, we will attract attention. Above all, William-sama cannot rest calmly. We have to move somewhere…)

As I looked around in a hurry, a bench in the distance caught my eye, visible through the gaps between people.

“Excuse me, William-sama.”

I picked up William-sama in a hurry.

“…what… Flores, what are you doing…”

“I apologize for the rudeness.”

I fixed his body with my arm and rushed towards the bench.

A little later.

“Thank you, Flores. You’ve been very helpful.”

William-sama, who had gotten up from the bench, said that and smiled at me.

After William-sama collapsed in the middle of the square, I arrived at the bench and laid him down without a word.

He suffered for a while, but gradually his breathing became calm as he followed my instructions to rest quietly.

Currently, his complexion has also recovered and his health looks somewhat better.

“Still, I didn’t think I would have an attack from my chronic illness in a place like this. I have been careless lately because I haven’t had many attacks.”

William-sama muttered and looked at me.

“I have caused you trouble, Flores.”

From his face, it’s clear that he feels guilty and…

(…sadness?)

“…may I ask why you have such a sad expression?”

Upon hearing this, William-sama touched his face as if he couldn’t help it.

“…I guess it’s written all over my face.”

As he lowers his gaze, his shiny short black hair sways.

“This is how I ended up showing such an unsightly appearance. I thought I wouldn’t be able to be taken outside anymore…It’s pathetic, isn’t it? I’ve even caused trouble for you, my servant, my regret for not being able to go outside comes before feeling sorry for it. As someone standing above, it’s a disgrace.”

He laughs as if mocking himself.

“There have been times before when I insisted on going out and took a servant with me. That servant was always scared. Of course, if I became fragile during the outing, they would have to bear some responsibility. Even this time, I knew that it would be better for you not to go out if I thought about you, but…”

His tightly clenched lips look painful.

“If only this body were healthy…”

With a face like he was enduring something, William-sama tightens his fist.

I can’t bear to watch him like this, so I gently lift his tightly grasped hand with both of my hands.

William-sama looks at me with surprise.

I continue to hold his hand with both hands.

“Your Grace, it is not your fault that the seizure occurred. It is because of the illness. Please don’t blame yourself too much.”

Slowly, with emphasis, I put the words on my tongue while looking him in the eye.

“You say [I can’t be taken out anymore], but that’s not true. If a seizure occurs, it would be better to tidy up a rest area beforehand and then go out.”

“Beforehand… tidy up a rest area…”

Towards him, who looked back at me with a surprised face, I piled on the words.

“However, there is one thing I would like you to promise me before going out.”

I tightly grip his hand.

“Please don’t hide from me if you are not feeling well.”

Upon hearing that, he made a stunned face.

“… That’s all?”

Towards him, who was dazed, I strongly nodded.

“Yes. If I don’t know how much you are suffering, I can’t do anything. Even if I just know, there might be something we can do together?”

Upon saying that, he opened his eyes wide.

With a face showing a mix of surprise, joy, and confusion, he twisted his expression.

“… I promise you. I won’t hide my condition from you… Can you still go out with me from now on?”

When I looked him straight in the eye and nodded,

“Yes. I will go with you.”

William-sama said,

“Thank you.”

And laughed.

While basking in the orange sunset, I walked with William-sama on my back.

William-sama said,

“I can walk now.”

But because his face still looked a little bad, I forcibly pushed through it.

While talking little by little on the way home, the road felt somehow different even though it was the same as the way there.

Feeling the weight of my lord on my back, I headed towards the carriage stop one step at a time.

Chapter 14: Selfish

***

Dear Riley Morgan-sama,

The crocus flowers are blooming beautifully these days.

How are you doing?

The other day when I met Poppy, I was surprised to hear that you were going on a business trip to the neighboring mountain region.

I heard that there are many magical beasts in the mountain region.

Riley is a former friend who has trained in martial arts together in the Order, so I believe that he won’t easily fall into a dangerous situation, but I am still a little worried.

I am looking forward to the day when I can hear about your souvenirs with Poppy.

From your friend, Leah Flores

***

“Flores, do you have anything you like?”

When I blinked at the unexpected question, Master William continued to press the point.

“Like a place you like, or something you have that you like.”

Since the day we went on a tour of the town, William-sama has shown more interest in me, Leah Flores.

Until now, he has tried to be like a good neighbor and has interacted with me, but since the incident the other day, his attitude of trying to recognize me as an individual has become more apparent.

His concern to make our relationship a good one makes me feel uncomfortable, but at the same time, it reminds me of the fact that I don’t have enough substance to answer when asked.

What will happen to me after I have protected William-sama to the best of my ability? If a more capable guard knight appears and I am no longer needed, what should I do when my role is finished?

“…Flores?”

I return to myself with the worried voice of William-sama.

“I’m sorry, was that a difficult question to answer? If it’s hard to say, you don’t have to force yourself.”

“No, that’s not what I meant…”

I try to twist out the answer to the question while turning my head.

“…The sea, I think.”

When asked about my favorite place, what ultimately came to mind was the shining ocean that I saw for the first time when I came to the Duke of Moore’s territory.

“You like the sea. What do you do at the sea?”

“Nothing in particular… I just watch the view and pick up shells. I often go to the sea on days off.”

“I see.”

He placed his hand on his chin and thought for a moment before turning towards me and opening his mouth.

“If it’s okay with you, would you take me to the beach you often go to sometime?”

Feeling my face show a look of confusion, I carefully put my words on my tongue.

“I’m sure there’s nothing that Your Highness would find interesting there.”

William-sama gave a faint smile at my confusion.

“That’s okay.”

His thin, beautifully shaped white fingers traced the open pages of the book.

“I just want to see it.”

I involuntarily nodded my head at the look on his face that I couldn’t read.

Under the cloudy sky where a fine snow is falling lightly.

On this winter sea that feels cold and somehow lonely, a warm wind blows in, giving a faint sense of the arrival of spring.

While watching the white, fine snowflakes fall and disappear on the sand, William-sama and I walked along the coast.

“It’s quiet here, isn’t it?”

Making a sound like “sak, sak,” William-sama walks in front of me.

“Hey Flores. Do you know why there’s no snow on the beach?”

Suddenly asked that, I stop walking.

“…I don’t know.”

Since I couldn’t think of an answer, I honestly replied that and he continued talking while looking out to sea.

“The water of the sea contains salt. Salt has the effect of melting ice. So if there is a small amount of snow, it will melt due to the salt contained in the seawater that has seeped into the sandy beach. That’s why there is no snow on the sandy beach of the sea.”

He looks back and smiles.

“Fufufu. This is the first time I’ve seen this scenery.”

William-sama narrows his eyes and smiles.

“You teach me various things.”

In front of that smile, I opened my mouth.

“Such… I don’t know anything. I don’t even measure up to your knowledge…”

Saying that, William-sama starts talking again while looking out to sea.

“Maybe that’s true. If you hadn’t brought me here, I wouldn’t have known the splendor of the sea. The cold of the wind, the noise of the townspeople, and the deliciousness of the yana fruit. Just having knowledge doesn’t mean anything. You have given my knowledge a flesh and blood experience.”

After saying that, he looks out to sea for a while and then starts walking again.

After walking a little, he squats down.

And picking up something, he holds it up to the sky.

“It’s a pearl shell.”

He looks at it, changing the angle of his hand many times.

Contrary to the roughness on the outside, the inside shone beautifully with a glow like the aurora.

As I stared dazedly at the shells reflecting light in his hand, I was startled by William-sama approaching me.

William-sama took my hand and pressed the pearl shell he was holding into my hand.

“Your Grace…?”

I am confused, not understanding his intention.

“I’m giving it to you.”

He smiled softly at me, who was making a puzzled face.

“Pearl shells look no different from other shells from the outside. However, once you open them up, they reveal their shining inner surface in various colors.”

He tilted his head while smiling at me.

“It’s just like you.”

As I held my breath at those words, his deep sea-like lapis lazuli eyes gazed at me.

“…Those are kind words for someone like me.”

Finally managing to say that with some difficulty, William-sama furrowed his brows as if troubled.

“You have too low of an evaluation of yourself.”

Then, turning his body,

“Well, that’s just my personal opinion, so you don’t have to believe it if you don’t want to. You can do as you like with that shell too.”

Saying only that, he started walking along the coast again, so I hurriedly followed after him, letting my guard down.

That night, as I stared at the pearl shell given to me by William-sama, I was at a loss as to where to put it.

It seems a shame to put it in the same bottle as the other shells, but if I leave it out, it will get dusty.

“…Next time, I’ll buy a container for this pearl shell.”

I muttered to myself and temporarily placed it next to the bottle.

As I looked at the shell reflecting light in seven colors, I remembered the words he said to me at the sea.

[It’s just like you…]

I stare at the pearl oyster and rest my cheek on it.

(I’m not such an extraordinary person now, but will I someday become a person who shines inside like this pearl shell?)

Even as the night grows late, I continue to gaze at the shine of the pearl shell without getting tired.

Chapter 15: Encounter in the Corridor

On a day when the signs of spring were approaching.

“Shall we go see the daffodils in bloom in the garden?”

So said William-sama, so we were moving down the corridor towards the garden.

The long, wide corridor that seemed to demonstrate the power and wealth of the ducal house.

There was no sign of anyone, and only the sound of our footsteps echoed there.

William-sama, who was walking ahead, suddenly turned his gaze towards the window of the corridor.

“…It’s beautiful.”

When I followed his gaze, countless white daffodils were blooming wildly throughout the garden.

William-sama looked at the group of white daffodils for a while with a soft smile, but then said,

“I want to see it up close soon. Let’s hurry.”

and started walking again.

As I tried to follow him, he stopped when he saw a figure approaching from the other end of the corridor.

A beautiful person with rich platinum hair tied up, wearing a pale light purple luxurious dress.

The dress, with multiple layers of thin cloth stacked like musk rose flowers, made the fleeting person even more attractive.

This was the first time I had seen this person since I began serving as a knight. It was Olivia Moore, the duchess, William-sama’s mother.

Leading a group of maids behind her, standing like a single flower, when she saw William-sama, she wore a seductive smile that seemed to dissolve.

Her glossy lips slowly opened.

“Theodore.”

She called him without hesitation, facing William-sama.

William-sama remained motionless for a moment, as if frozen.

After a few seconds, he quietly exhaled and responded in an unexpectedly cheerful voice, “Mother, it’s a nice day today, isn’t it!”

Hearing that, she looked at William-sama and smiled even more.

“Theo, dear Theo. How have you been lately? I’ve been worried because I haven’t seen you recently.”

At first glance, it looks like a heartwarming conversation between a mother and child.

If only her son’s name, woven by Olivia, the Duchess of Moore, was not “Theodore”.

(What’s going on? Theodore was supposed to be the name of William-sama’s older brother… What on earth are they trying to do? Are they trying to deceive William-sama?)

Thinking that and looking at the face of the Duchess, I involuntarily gasped.

Her expression, which I had expected to be one of sarcasm or mockery, was unexpectedly full of kindness, contrary to my expectations.

Her violet eyes, like glass marbles, had no doubt that the person in front of her was “Theodore”.

(This person truly believes that William-sama is his deceased oldest son, “Theodore”)

The fact that this was the case was even more cruel and fearful than I had initially imagined.

And then…

(William-sama’s unusually cheerful voice… If my prediction is correct, William-sama is pretending to be “Older brother Theodore” in order not to stimulate the Duchess)

He has a conversation with her own mother, playing the role of his deceased brother…

(How… miserable…)

As I shake with the cruelty of the scene in front of me, William-sama continues to speak cheerfully.

“I’m sorry to have worried you. I also couldn’t meet Mother and was feeling lonely! Now, unexpectedly being able to meet you makes me very happy!”

“Well! Theo, you’re a genius who makes me happy. A truly cute child! Let’s have a tea party right now…”

The lady gave a burst of laughter, but her face turned troubled as if she had remembered something.

“That’s right, I have business from now on. Really, it’s rude to suddenly summon you like this.”

She said with a sigh.

“Oh, melancholy.”

She said with a seemingly troublesome expression, but suddenly her face lit up.

“That’s right! We can pretend we don’t know about business and have a tea party. Come on, if that’s decided then let’s do it right away…”

“What foolish thing are you saying?”

The lady’s face paled at the suddenly shouted low voice that seemed to belong to a man.

She made a disgusted face and turned back.

“…Bartland.”

The black-haired man called by that name glared sharply at the lady with his dull-colored eyes.

“Even though there are documents that won’t progress without you, you don’t come no matter how long it takes. Even if I send the servants to call you, you send them back. When I came here to look for you out of necessity… to think you’d be selling oil here… I’ll be damned…”

The man had a face like he had crushed a worm, but he pointed to the back of the hallway with his chin towards the Duchess.

“You’re a man who can’t afford it.”

The Duchess muttered expressionlessly.

Then, turning to William-sama, she said, “Theodore, I love you!” and disappeared into the back of the hallway with her maid.

“Father…”

Tall man with a grim face … William-sama involuntarily called out to Duke Bertrand Moore.

The Duke of Moore glanced at William-sama like that.

Cold eyes with no emotion visible.

As if to say [there is no value in speaking to him], the Duke of Moore turned on his heel and left without responding to William-sama’s call.

We who were left in the hallway stood still for a while.

“Flores.”

Suddenly, William-sama called out to me.

“Sorry… Maybe we can appreciate the daffodils another time. I feel like going back to my room.”

Saying that, William-sama slowly walked towards his room.

I bowed in place, and followed William-sama in silence.

Chapter 16: The Past

Upon returning to his room and collapsing into a chair, he didn’t move for a while.

Throwing his limbs out like a doll, his face showed no expression.

I hesitated on whether I should speak to him or not, and if I should, what I should say… In the end, I just stood there, unable to do anything.

I wonder how much time passed.

“…Shall I make you some tea? Flores, would you like one too?”

William-sama slowly stood up and said this.

I blinked at the bright tone that suddenly came from his mouth.

His face seemed to be smiling peacefully, but upon closer inspection, it looked unnatural, as if it was pasted on.

“How much sugar do you put in? I might use more than usual.”

As he said this and turned his body towards the cupboard, I impulsively grabbed his wrist.

“…?… Flores?”

William-sama turned around, looking puzzled.

I didn’t know what to say in front of him.

If I let him go now, William-sama would drink the tea, pretending everything was fine, end the day, and greet me with his usual smile tomorrow morning.

… But I couldn’t let it be.

If I did, I would be plagued by a vague and unsettling anxiety that William-sama would break somewhere I didn’t know about.

As I remained silent, holding onto his wrist, William-sama looked at my face for a while.

“…You are a kind person.”

He quietly murmured this and peered into my eyes.

The light coming through the window reflected off of his lustrous hair.

“Flores, would you like to listen to my old story?”

I looked him in the eye and nodded clearly.

“Since I was young, I was sickly and almost never left my room. My father and mother showed no interest in me and hardly ever visited.

The only people who came to my room were my older brother, Martha the caretaker, and Oscar the gardener who brought flowers. To be honest, I don’t have many memories of my father and mother. It’s really because we hardly saw each other.”

He spoke somewhat sadly.

“That’s right… Father is a strict person. In order to govern the Dukes of Moore that has been passed down through the generations, he values discipline. Mother is the sister of His Majesty the current king and has inherited the royal family’s characteristic platinum hair. I heard that she married here to strengthen the connection between the royal family and the Dukes of Moore.”

He spoke in a matter-of-fact tone and looked distant.

“Older brother Theodore… was a cheerful person. He was as bright and warm as the sun. With his platinum hair that resembled Mother’s, he always had a bright smile and captivated those around him. Mother especially loved him very much and I often saw them having tea parties in the garden… Father, who is strict, seemed to favor him as well, although he would caution him to put effort into not just fencing but also his studies. When he looked at my brother, Father’s eyes were gentle.”

After taking a sip of tea and taking a breath, he started talking again.

“As for me, I stayed in my room all the time because I never knew when I would have an attack. I looked at pictures of foreign landscapes in picture books and imagined myself there, and read adventure stories that stirred my heart. Older brother would visit me and bring me books he thought I would like. When he brought rare treats and said “It’s a secret,” we would secretly eat them together.”

William-sama had a nostalgically wistful expression and smiled slightly.

“I talked to Martha about nothing in particular, sniffed the flowers Oscar brought, and played with my older brother… I was happy. There were a lot of tough times because of my illness, but the days I was able to be with them were even happier.”

“That daily life was disrupted when I was 7 years old. I told you before… Older brother Theodore died of an epidemic.

William-sama’s hand tightened.

“I couldn’t believe it. That gentle, handsome, and strong older brother was gone in an instant.”

William-sama quietly lowered his eyelids.

“At the funeral, Father had furrowed brows. Mother was shaking and crying. I was just dazed and staring at my older brother surrounded by flowers in the coffin. After the funeral, it took me a few days to realize. Older brother would no longer visit my room. I would never see him again.”

Saying this, he trembled his lips.

“Originally, my father and mother, who could not be said to have a good relationship, seemed to be getting worse day by day. One day a few months after my older brother’s funeral, I was called by my father and mother. My father told me, “You are weak and not worthy as an heir,” and said that if I could not overcome my weak body by the age of 18, I would be exiled to the border and welcome a new adopted heir as an heir. He said this was the result of deliberations with my mother.”

William-sama slowly blinks.

“I must have looked terrible. When I returned to the room, the attendant Martha and the gardener Oscar, who happened to be in the room, asked me what was wrong. I … told them everything. Even though I knew what they would think of me when they heard the story, they cared about me.”

He bites his lips as if regretting that time.

“They were enraged. And they were about to tell my father and mother something. I tried to stop them, saying there was no need for that, but they just kept repeating, “William-sama, don’t worry. Please wait in the room.” A seven-year-old child couldn’t stop two adults, and they left the room.”

He bows his head.

His jet-black, wet-feathered hair sways gently.

“I waited for the two of them in the room. I wanted to believe them when they said, “Don’t worry, wait in the room.” … It became evening, night, and even in the morning, the two of them did not come back. Around noon, when I was hungry and left the room, I heard the servants gossiping in the corridor. “It seems that William-sama’s attendant and gardener have been driven out of the mansion.”

He does not raise his face.

“I heard that and headed for my father’s office. When I opened the door and said, “Do you know Martha and Oscar?”, my father looked at me with an indifferent eye as if he were looking at dust fallen in the corridor. He slowly opened his mouth and said to me, “Employees who cannot accept my decision as the head of the duke’s household are worthy of punishment. Dismiss them and send them away from the mansion.”

William-sama tightly grips his hands to the point where the sound almost comes out.

“Even if I begged to cancel the punishment, I was just repeated like a machine, “This is a final decision. There are no such employees in the mansion anymore.” I can’t contact them because I don’t know where they went. I returned to the room in a daze.”

His clenched hands were so painful that when I touched the back of his hand, he relaxed as if in a huff.

“… Flores, thank you.”

I nodded my head loosely to those words and straightened my posture again.

He starts talking again with his eyes lowered.

“After that, the servants began to avoid me. It seemed that rumors were flying around about being dismissed or exiled to the border if they had anything to do with me, so I gradually gave up on having any contact with the servants.”

Taking a deep breath, he leaned back on the chair.

“After a while, I began to study about managing territories and diplomacy. I may not be as good a lord as my older brother, but I thought that I had to try as long as there was a possibility of becoming a lord … I always liked reading, so it didn’t seem too hard to me if I thought of it as an extension of that.”

With a faint smile, William-sama looks at me.

I didn’t feel like laughing because I thought of his hardships, but I returned a slight smile in an effort to soften the atmosphere in William-sama’s room.

“One day, while I was on my way to get a book from the library, I heard my mother’s voice from the other side of the corridor. My mother had been avoiding me since my older brother died because she had a sad face when she saw me, but I felt that the voice coming from the other side of the corridor was so tense that I quietly checked on it.”

William-sama’s eyebrows narrow and he has a severe expression as he looks at me.

“There were my father and mother standing there. My mother was crying and shouting, “Why …?”

As he says that, he distorts his expression as if he refuses to remember, and covers his face with his hand.

Unable to bear seeing him moan in a faint voice,

“Your Grace, please don’t push yourself.”

I called out to him.

He covered his face with his hand for a while, but eventually he lowered his hand and weakly whispered, “No, it’s okay. Thank you.’”

“‘Mother said this. “Why did Theodore have to die? If it were William…” She was crying and yelling like that. Father was silent, but it was clear from his expression that he felt the same way as Mother.”

He continued, looking off into the distance.

“I don’t remember how I returned to my room after hearing that. I came to my senses and found myself sitting in a chair in my room, alone… It’s hard to take in when it’s put into words like that. I realized that I wanted to believe that I was loved by my parents. Even though I knew I wasn’t loved.”

His eyes were empty as he said this.

“It was when I was nine years old. Mother, who had met me, smiled at me as if she was looking at something dear. I was surprised. I also hoped that Mother thought I was dear.”

The face that twisted into a bitter smile seemed to pity his thoughts at the time.

“The illusion was shattered when Mother rushed over to me and called out, “Theodore!” She had come to believe that I was my older brother. She couldn’t accept the reality that my older brother had died.”

His arm, resting on his elbow, weakly droops.

“The moment I denied it, saying, “Mother, I am not Theodore,” she opened her eyes wide and began to scream. I couldn’t bear to see Mother screaming like she was cursing the whole world, so I comforted her like my older brother would. After that, whenever I met Mother, I pretended to be Theodore.”

After saying that, he took a sip of tea.

The tea was cold and there was no steam coming from it.

He returned the cup to the plate and said,

“I think things went pretty much as you imagined after that.”

He concluded.

Chapter 17: A Knight’s Oath

Somewhere along the way, the light coming in through the window had become oblique.

His face, lit by the orange light, takes on an air of sorrow.

“Sometimes I think about what would have happened if I had died instead of my older brother.”

He closes his eyes as if lost in thought.

“I’m sure my older brother would have become a wonderful lord loved by the people of the territory. And Finn too… ”

He begins to speak the nickname of the crown prince, but shakes his head as if regretting calling the absent crown prince by a nickname.

“…originally it was my older brother who was supposed to become close friends with His Highness Finlay, the crown prince. At the crown prince’s 10th birthday, my older brother and the crown prince were supposed to be introduced to each other.”

His voice, like a whisper, echoes through the room.

“I met His Highness Finlay at the ceremony I attended in my older brother’s place. The crown prince was happy, saying, “I’m glad to have a friend of the same age”, and proposed that we call each other by friendly nicknames. He called me a friend and even went out of his way to come to the Duke of Moore’s territory… ”

He slowly opens his eyes.

“I think if it had been my older brother, Finn would have been able to talk more comfortably. I can’t help but keep my distance from him.”

He drops his gaze to the cup of tea.

“Before, you asked me if something had happened when I had a sad expression while talking about Princess Sofia. Remember?”

He smiles wryly.

“I… was jealous. I envied their family who loved and were loved by each other.”

He wears a self-mocking smile as if laughing at his own foolishness.

“A family should show compassion for each other, it says in the book. My older brother, Martha, and Oscar all taught me that a family is something to be valued.”

He blinks, as if remembering people who are not present here.

“If a family is something to show compassion for, then I at least tried to love my father and mother in my older brother’s place. But…”

He twists his face in agony and presses his chest as if enduring suffering.

“Every time I try to love my father and mother, my mother’s cries of wanting my older brother to live and me to die, my father’s expression at that time, keep flashing through my mind over and over again.”

He speaks with a bitter expression, and his fingers turn white from gripping his chest tightly.

“It hurts… It hurts, Flores. The more I try to love, the more it hurts… What was I supposed to do? What could I have done?!”

He spewed out the words as if exposing the wound in his heart.

It was a cry from his soul.

“Your Grace.”

When he turns towards me in response to my call, my pained face is reflected in his dull eyes.

“Your Grace…”

I approach him and kneel by his side.

“It’s alright now… it’s alright. You don’t have to force yourself to love just because they are family.”

I speak, hoping that my words will reach him as deeply as possible, while looking into his eyes.

“A family who loves and is loved is surely wonderful. I think it would be wonderful if it were like that.”

The red setting sun shines on his body.

“However, it is also a fact that not all families are like that. One-sided love that does not receive anything in return from the other person is painful and difficult. Your ambition to love your family is a noble and worthy thing, but the consciousness of having to “love” is now tormenting you like a curse.”

His body, dyed red by the bright red light, seemed as if it were covered in blood from the wounds of his heart that he had borne until now, and my chest became painful.

“You have already put in enough effort. It is okay to now free yourself from the curse of being a “loved family” that loves and is loved. It’s okay now.”

Silence envelops the area.

The distant cry of a raven reaches my ears.

“…Is that okay?”

A voice that can hardly be heard unless I listen carefully.

“Is it okay even if I can’t love my family?”

I nod firmly to that voice.

A pearl-like tear dropped from William-sama’s eyes.

“Even if I can’t be like my older brother, is it okay for me to keep living?”

Still kneeling, I nod strongly again.

“Will you…come follow me?”

I smiled at him as he asked in a hushed voice.

“As I said before, “I don’t need any other lords”…I am just a simple knight. I can’t replace your family, but I can be with you.”

As I said this, tears flowed down his cheeks, one after another, from his eyes.

While looking at him, I changed my expression and opened my mouth again.

“Your Grace…please allow me to call you “William-sama”. I am not serving you because you are the duke’s son. It is because…I want to be with no one other than William-sama that I am here.”

I continue my words towards him as he blinks his eyelashes.

“Until now, I have called you “Your Grace Moore” according to etiquette, but if possible, I want to call you by that name…May I have your permission?”

He nods, with the drops rolling down his dignified face.

“…I permit it.”

Upon hearing this, I placed my hand on my chest and lowered my head.

“Thank you for your generosity. I, Leah Flores, swear on this sword to earnestly serve William-sama.”

At the moment William-sama heard my oath, he narrowed his eyebrows and made a laughing expression as if crying.

“Fufu, are you mimicking the ceremony of when knights of old swore their loyalty by using their own weapons as proof? Fufufu…”

He laughed for a while, but eventually opened his well-shaped lips.

“…Can I also call you Leah?”

I have no objections.

“By all means.”

Upon hearing this, he wiped his tears with his fingers and smiled without paying attention to the tears still running down his cheeks.

“Leah. Let’s start over from now on.”

His eyes, illuminated by the sun, were beautifully dazzling as if they were swaying like the sea I had seen before.

Chapter 18: Under the Lilacs

It has been two years since I made a knight’s vow to William-sama, and I and William-sama have become 14 years old.

I’ve grown taller and seem to have become close to the average male height, and thanks to daily morning training, there is little fat and the feminine curves have been reduced. It is difficult to say whether there is a gender difference in the skeleton, but so far no one has pointed it out thanks to the crisp silhouette of the knight’s uniform.

When I was at the puberty stage, I was nervous about my voice breaking, but when I opened the lid, my voice was just a little lower for a woman and higher for a man.

For now, the changes during puberty have passed as I live as a man. [This has greatly reduced the possibility of being recognized as a different gender from my physique and voice] I comforted myself as I patted my chest.

On the other hand, William-sama’s frequency of going out has increased, and as a result, his asthma attacks have gradually decreased, and now they hardly occur at all.

Furthermore, he has increased his outdoor activities, such as riding horses and wielding swords.

The ones who were agitated by this were the household staff.

As William-sama, whom I had been neglecting, became healthier day by day, they panicked, thinking, “Maybe he will become the heir after all”, and began to approach William-sama in a hurry. They are completely cash.

Even to the household staff, William-sama forgives them with a smile, so he is truly a magnanimous person.

I think it would be alright to get rid of the people who come to him, but when William-sama says to me, “They also have a life, so it can’t be helped. Leah, don’t be angry and forgive them,” I can’t help but forgive them. “I am grateful for my lord’s depth of character” is what I think when I look at the household staff these days.

Bright purple lilacs are swaying in the gentle breeze of early summer.

“Ah… what a peaceful jolly…”

Finlay, the Crown Prince, lies on the grass, looking up at the sky listlessly, in contrast to his words.

William-sama looks at the Crown Prince with a worried face.

“Finn, are you alright? … No, of course not. You must be tired.”

William-sama takes care of the Crown Prince kindly.

“Ah… it’s such a hassle… just going to Will’s place, I have to bring a bunch of escorts with me. It’s really annoying to have to go through procedures everywhere I go.”

The Crown Prince mutters grumpily.

“A~ah… it’s such a hassle…”

Recently, it seems that there are people trying to stage a coup against the Martinez royal family, and the palace has been thrown into chaos.

In particular, the security of His Majesty the King, Her Majesty the Queen, His Royal Highness the Crown Prince, and Her Royal Highness Princess Sofia has been strengthened, and it is a hassle to walk within the palace, and when going out, dozens of escorts follow suit.

The Crown Prince, who likes to walk around freely, is already in a grumpy state.

Currently, there is a line of escorts with the Crown Prince a little distance away from the gardens of the Moore Duke’s mansion.

“Sofia is crying… “Why can’t Sofia go out and play with her Oniisama? What’s going on?” … I want to play with Sofia too! But it’s no use, I’m told that it’s not good for a royal to gather and act outside, where it’s easier to be attacked! Ahh~ Sofia~!!”

The Crown Prince rolls around on the grass left and right.

William-sama, who was looking at him pitifully, suddenly asked a question as if he had just realized it.

“Why did you come to see me through all those troublesome procedures? Is there a reason?”

Finlay, the Crown Prince, who had suddenly stood up, yelled with vigor.

“I wanted to talk to you, my friend, because I was feeling depressed! You should understand that much!”

“Huh.”

William-sama was surprised and widened his eyes.

Facing William-sama with a look of shock, Finlay froze on the spot.

“… huh…?”

Silence descended around the two of them as they looked at each other.

A pale yellow butterfly fluttered past between them.

“… I’ll ask just in case.”

The Crown Prince remained expressionless as he opened his mouth.

“What do you think is the reason for me coming to see you…?”

Upon being asked this, William-sama tilted his head and replied,

“As the Crown Prince, to deepen your friendship with me, the son of the Moore Duke’s house…”

The Crown Prince remained expressionless for a while and did not move from the spot.

“Finn…? What’s wrong?”

As soon as William-sama called out to him, he collapsed to the ground and lay down in the shape of a large letter “D”.

“Woooooooowwwwwwwwwwwwwww!!!”

At the sudden scream of the Crown Prince, the escorts with the Crown Prince at the end of the garden rushed over in a frenzy.

However,

“I thought we were close enough that I would come to see you even in a situation where my life was in danger… but I was mistaken for a business friend… Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!”

The Crown Prince stopped in his tracks and looked at each other with the escorts at the cry of the Crown Prince.

“Even though I thought we were close enough that I would come to see you in a situation where my life was in danger… to think that I was considered a business friend by my close friend… Aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!!!”

The Crown Prince, His Royal Highness, sobbed loudly with his magnificent face all smeared.

William-sama looked at him in surprise, but eventually offered him a handkerchief, looking flustered.

“Finn, sorry… wipe your tears…”

Finlay, the Crown Prince, pushed away the handkerchief offered to him and glared at William-sama.

“Shut up… you must have always thought of me as a reception partner… idiot Will… Aaaaaaaahhhhhh!!”

In front of the Crown Prince who sheds tears and says that, William-sama retorted, “That’s not it!”

“I thought Finn came here as the Crown Prince’s role, but I don’t think it’s good enough for me to always look forward to spending time with you… um, that is to say…”

William-sama speaks while gazing around awkwardly.

“I also think Finn is an important friend to me…!”

William-sama, with a determined look, closed his eyes and said so, and the Crown Prince’s tear glands, which were thought to be no more, collapsed even further.

“Waaahhhh!! My fwreeend!!”

As soon as the Crown Prince shouted, he hugged William-sama.

William-sama, hugged, had his eyes turned black and white, but slowly put his hand on the Crown Prince’s back.

“Finn, I’m sorry. Let’s talk a lot from now on too.”

The prince nodded repeatedly with a happy smile at William-sama’s words.

In the evening, after the guards who were with the prince dragged prince Finlay away, saying, “I still want to talk to Will!”, and William-sama said,

“Leah, I had someone who thought of me as a friend too.”

The angelic smile that floated on his face is a secret known only to me.

Chapter 19: The Color of My Eyes

While it was raining steadily, I raised the collar of my coat and hurried to my destination.

The warm rain soaks my clothes thoroughly.

When I opened the door of the stylish cafe, two people with chestnut colored hair seated in the box seats behind turned to look at me.

“Leah, over here!!”

Despite the humid outside, Poppy, who had a bright smile on her face, waved her hand towards me.

Riley, also with a smile, raised his hand lightly.

I approached the box seats where they were waiting, taking off my coat and sitting opposite the two of them.

After ordering coffee from the employee who came to take our order and taking a breath, Riley starts to talk to me.

“Hey, it’s been a while.”

I can’t help but smile at his unchanged smile, even though his face has become tanned and sharp.

“Yes, it really has. You’ve been so busy with business trips that you hardly come home.”

When I say that, he scratches his head and smiles wryly.

Poppy sighs beside him.

“It’s been hard on Father too. Riley has been away on business trips all the time these past two years, and he doesn’t even have time to catch his breath. In these past two years, we have changed so much that we don’t even look like twins anymore.”

While saying this, Poppy stirs the cafe latte, which is the specialty of this shop, with a spoon, but her face is also gradually becoming more mature.

As she has begun to combine her natural cuteness with the calm of an adult, she is growing into an attractive woman.

“Well, Father is good at judging products, but he has high expectations of others…”

While saying this, Riley pacifies Poppy.

“Well, it’s no use complaining about people who aren’t here right now. Riley, tell us about the business trip you took recently. We’ve been looking forward to hearing about your souvenirs.”

Poppy turned to me as if to ask for my agreement, and I nodded my head in affirmation.

“I’d like to hear too. Weren’t you in a territory with mountains stretching out everywhere until recently?”

“Yes. The territory I stayed in on my business trip had mines where jewels were mined, and the city was famous for its jewelry industry. Duke Moore also sells jewels, so if you have the opportunity, you should go see them.”

Riley seems pleased as he talks about the events of his business trip.

For a while, he talks about how to identify jewels and the sparkling jewelry he saw in the city, but then he suddenly lowers his voice.

“…Then something happened.”

“What happened?”

I repeat, and he nods gravely in a low voice.

“A magical beast appeared in the city.”

“Whaat?! A magical beast?”

Poppy exclaims with a startled face, and Riley nods heavily.

In this world, there are things called “magical beasts.” Magical beasts are like natural disasters, and although they have the appearance of beasts, many of them are shrouded in mystery.

Scholars say, “Magical beasts look like living beings, but they are not living beings. They are a kind of natural disaster that suddenly occurs from nature. They appear occasionally and scatter energy around like a storm.” Therefore, it is considered the best response to quickly leave the area if you encounter a magical beast in a forest or other place.

This is because magical beasts can damage the substances around them and absorb the life force of living beings.

It is rare for magical beasts to appear in cities, but when they do appear, the Knight’s Order organizes a subjugation team.

It is speculated that the power source of magical beasts is the “object like a mineral” that is embedded in their bodies, because the mineral gradually becomes smaller and disappears at the same time as the magical beast disappears, but in any case, magical beasts completely disappear without leaving any remains or trace, so the cause has not been revealed.

“I saw a magical beast for the first time. It stood on four legs and its body was like burning flames that couldn’t be seen clearly. The knights of the territory came and faced it, but…”

Riley shakes his shoulders violently.

“Just thinking about facing that monster makes me shudder. I never want to have anything to do with magical beasts again.”

As he says this and sips his drink, Poppy shakes her head with relief.

“Anyway, I’m glad Riley is okay.”

“It must have been tough.”

As Poppy and I express our concern, he nods with a mysterious expression.

“Hey, Leah. Are you okay?”

After chatting about memories for a while, Poppy whispered to me quietly.

“Okay…what do you mean?”

Not understanding what she was asking, I asked for clarification, and Poppy had a serious expression.

“You’ve been living as a man since you enlisted in the Order at the age of 8, and now that you’re 14, are you okay? Is it hard? Do you feel uncomfortable?”

As Poppy asked, Riley also looked at me seriously.

“I was also worried. Isn’t the Order a male-only organization? Are you having any difficulties or feeling troubled?”

Feeling at a loss for an answer as the two of them looked at me so worriedly, I fell silent.

The sense of frustration that grows with each physical change that becomes more feminine. The sadness at not being able to happily accept the growth of my body. The discomfort that comes from using a “he” pronoun that doesn’t feel right and acting like a man.

I have felt a helpless agony in continuously denying that my body is female.

At the same time.

As a woman, no matter what, I am inevitably weaker than men when viewed comprehensively. I came up with my own way of moving to overcome the gender difference in muscle mass, but I don’t know how long it will be effective. While thinking “I don’t want to hate my own gender or body”, I cannot stop fantasizing, “What if I were really a man?”

The pain of not being able to be my true gender as a “woman”, and the contradiction of dreaming of being a “man” instead.

Thinking about it in detail, I turned to the two people in front of me and replied.

“Since I am the first escort knight of William-sama and have been given a single room, I don’t have many problems for now. There are various things I think about, but…”

Gentle lapis lazuli colored eyes come to mind behind my eyelids.

“If being in a position to support William-sama comes with it, then that’s fine.”

Answering without hesitation, the two people look at each other with an indescribable expression.

And at the same time, they sighed and stroked my head.

“Hey, what’s suddenly wrong?”

As I was being stroked and flustered, they stroked my hair even more strongly.

“Leah is determined once she makes up her mind and goes straight for it. I won’t say anything now… but really, if you get tired, tell us.”

“In front of us, you can be yourself. We’re friends, after all, so feel free to rely on us a little.”

With white and black eyes, I nodded to their words.

***

“William-sama, this way please.”

“Oh, sorry. I was so curious I ended up looking at the townscape.”

Another day.

At William-sama’s request, he and I came to a town famous for its jewels in the Moore duke’s territory.

A few days ago.

William-sama was thinking as he faced a letter from Prince Finlay.

According to the letter, “I was feeling down because I was kept in the palace for a long time. I hope you’ll forgive me. But my words that I consider you a close friend are true.” It began with this kind of wording, and it was written that people suspected of being anti-royalists had been safely arrested, that Princess Sofia, who had been in a long semi-confinement, wanted to give a gift because she had accumulated a lot of stress, and that if possible, William-sama wanted to choose a gift together.

William-sama happily sent a reply of approval and asked me, “Is there a good place to choose a gift?”

When I was asked that, I remembered a certain town in the Moore duke’s territory that processes jewels as an industry that I had asked Riley about the other day, and I told him, so we immediately decided to go and see it.

As I walked, I remembered the phrase “people suspected of being anti-royalists were safely arrested” in Prince Finlay’s letter while paying attention to William-sama’s appearance.

In the manga “You and The White Rose,” after Prince Finlay graduated from high school, the anti-royalists gained momentum and secretly worked towards overthrowing the Martinez royal family. According to Prince Finlay’s letter, “the anti-royalists have been arrested,” but if things proceed as they do in the manga, it is unlikely that this big capture would completely eliminate the anti-royalists.

If I knew the names of the noblemen in the anti-royalist faction, I might have been able to cooperate with the investigation and remove the materials of concern. However, the names of the noblemen in the anti-royalist faction were not specifically mentioned in the manga, and even if I had known them, I would have been questioned, “Why do you know such a thing?”

(It’s not going to be easy…)

I was thinking that, but

“Leah, what kind of things would Princess Sofia prefer at her age?”

I came back to myself at William-sama’s question.

It was when we were walking around a corner with open-air shops lined up.

I stopped involuntarily when I saw something.

It was an ear cuff with delicate silver work and a deep lapis lazuli gem and a white pearl that shone in seven colors depending on the angle it was viewed from.

(This gem… it’s just like the color of William-sama’s eyes)

It was only for a moment that I was captivated, but William-sama noticed my state and asked with a curious face,

“What’s wrong?”

“No, it’s nothing.”

Even though I said that on the spot, William-sama seemed to have noticed the jewelry I was captivated by, and narrowed his eyes as he looked at the ear cuff.

“Wow, it’s beautiful. Is it something to wear on your ears? The silver work is very beautiful.”

As William-sama smiled and looked at the ear cuff, a woman who seemed to be the shopkeeper came over.

“Boys, did you like the ear cuff? The pearl used is a small but top-quality beautiful one that was harvested in this Duke Moore’s territory. And that gem is called the [Sea of Wisdom], a gem that changes color from deep blue to pale purple depending on the lighting.”

As the shopkeeper leisurely took the ear cuff in her hand, the color of the embedded gem swayed and wavered.

“The silver work of this ear cuff is also made by a famous craftsman in the Duke Moore’s territory. The work with shells and the sea as motifs matches well with this gem and pearl. Recently, neutral designs are popular. This ear cuff is also a design that does not distinguish between men and women, so it is recommended for men like you boys.”

The shopkeeper, who said that with a smile, offered us the ear cuff.

“You can also try it on. How about it?”

William-sama turned to me with a mischievous smile and whispered,

“Leah, I guess you’ve been curious about it? Why don’t you try it on?”

I hesitated for a moment, but made up my mind and accepted the ear cuff.

When I put it on my ear, I peeked into the mirror prepared in the shop.

(…yeah, it’s a beautiful ear cuff after all)

I thought so as I looked at my own ear.

“This ear cuff is beautiful.”

I said that with a bashful look and turned to William-sama.

William-sama was staring at me, with his eyes wide open.

“…William-sama?”

I called him suspiciously, but there was no response.

“William-sama, William-sama, what’s wrong?”

I shook his body as I called him.

He blinked rapidly and then, before I knew it, he turned pale and covered his face with his hands, crouching down.

When I asked him what was wrong,

“It’s nothing.”

I was puzzled, but at that time the store owner called out to me, so I turned my attention there.

On the way home, I was worried about William-sama’s face looking pale and blue, and I called out to him several times, but he didn’t answer me about the reason.

Chapter 20: William’s POV

In a solemn private room.

As I turn the pages of the book, I secretly watch him, who always guards me every day unchanged.

His back stretches smoothly, a knight’s uniform perfectly fitted without a single gap.

Hair of flaxen color neatly arranged to the length of the collar.

His eyes, deep green like a lake in a forest, are always straight and unwavering.

I returned my gaze to the book and quietly sighed.

I realized that I had fallen in love with him, Leah Flores, when I tried on a sea-themed ear cuff he was handling at the jewelry stand.

I recommended he try it on, saying that the neutral design would suit him well.

In fact, it suited him very well.

The sight of him wearing the jewel the color of my eyes filled my heart and made me happy.

When feelings of [dearness] welled up from the bottom of my heart and enveloped me, I finally questioned the movements of my own heart.

(Dearness…?)

A feeling of wanting to float, of being muddled, of wanting to make the other person mine.

When my thoughts reached the true identity of that feeling, a shock like being hit on the head struck me.

Since when.

Since when have I been holding these feelings for Leah.

Was it when he swore to be a knight towards me in the midst of a burning sunset.

Was it when he freed me from the curse of being a [beloved and loving family].

Was it when he held my hand during a seizure in the town and said, “Let’s go out to the town together again.”

Maybe, I had been in love with Leah much earlier.

Before I knew it, Leah, wearing the ear cuff, was shaking my body while calling my name.

Looking at his face worriedly looking at me, I felt my blood run cold realizing that I had fallen for him with feelings that couldn’t be allowed.

On the way home, Leah kept talking to me worriedly, but to be honest, I don’t remember it very well.

That night, lying in bed, I tried to organize my thoughts.

I’m the heir to a duke’s throne.

If someone other than me becomes the heir, it’s a different story, but if I succeed the Moore duke’s family as it is now, I have the obligation to welcome a lady of noble birth as my wife.

After coming of age, I will welcome my wife without delay and eventually walk through life with the child born. That is the way I should be as a noble.

Even if it is allowed that the wife I reluctantly welcome is a commoner, it will not solve the problem.

Whether Leah is male or female is of no difference to me in terms of being a dear person, but in reality, he is a male and same-sex marriage is not recognized by the law of this country.

(If…if Leah were a woman…)

Thinking to that extent, I was terrified by my own hideous thought process.

(What am I thinking now? You wished he was a woman?)

Feeling sick to my stomach at my own selfishness to deny his gender for my own desires, I tightly closed my eyes.

(First of all, what will Leah’s feelings be? From a position standpoint, if I were to pressure Leah, he would have no choice but to accept. If he were to try to reject my love, he would likely be afraid of losing his job.)

He is devoted to me, but it is not out of love.

It would be a nightmare for a servant to be in love with their lord. Even if he were to reject my love, I have no intention of taking away his job, but if I were in his position, I don’t think I could bear it.

He is an orphan. The thought of him running away from here with nowhere to go as a result of my love for him crossed my mind.

(I shouldn’t have these feelings. I have to bury them.)

But that smile.

His always straightforward gaze.

The way his back straightens up when he stands.

The way his always well-groomed back of the head bounces unexpectedly when I find him asleep in the morning.

His voice calling for me.

The care he shows me at random moments.

As I think about him, everything about him is so dear to me, and every time I try to abandon these feelings, I feel a painful tightness in my chest.

“-sama, William-sama.”

As I came to my senses, my knight was looking at me worriedly.

“It’s good to study hard, but how about taking a break? You’ve been burying your nose in books for a while now… if you’d like, I could make you some tea.”

As he speaks, I smile and reply.

“Sure, I’ll take you up on that. Thanks.”

As I watch Leah’s back head towards the cupboard with a relieved expression, I stare vaguely.

(It’s unlikely that these feelings will come true. But I couldn’t bring myself to erase these feelings no matter what. At least I can try to make sure these feelings don’t show on my face.)

“William-sama, one sugar is enough?”

“I’ll take two today, please.”

As he turns around, I smile and reply.

Chapter 21: The Garden of White Roses

The refreshing morning sun is pouring down on the red leaves of the tree-lined streets.

Standing by the gate of the luxurious and stylish student dormitory, I was watching the people coming and going.

Noble children in white uniforms came out from behind the gate and headed towards the school with what seemed to be their servants.

As I glanced at the scene casually, a voice called out from behind me.

“Leah, thanks for waiting.”

Turning to the voice, I saw my beloved Lord.

The contrast between the new white uniform and the glossy chestnut hair is beautiful. In this past year, his height has grown significantly and now exceeds the average height of men, and his appearance is graceful and elegant. His white skin is still smooth, and his drooping, sapphire-colored eyes are calm like a calm sea today.

“Well then, shall we go to the auditorium where the entrance ceremony will be held?”

He smiled at me and said in a low, calm voice that had changed over the past year. I nodded and followed him as he walked towards the school.

Luke Royal Academy is located in the capital, a place close to the palace where noble children gather.

This prestigious and traditional academy was established by King Luke Martinez, and nobles are required to attend this academy from the ages of 15 to 18.

Despite its age, the academy is well maintained and consists of a series of luxurious buildings, including the school, student dormitories, servant dormitories, and numerous research institutes. Its facilities are varied.

In addition, the faculty is said to have gathered members who are well-known in various academic societies, making it a truly worthy place to be called the peak of learning in the country.

Of course, William-sama, who turned 15, also had to attend the academy.

William-sama, who has become completely healthy, generously demonstrates his compassion to the servants, and even the servants who initially approached him for self-preservation gradually came to respect him from the bottom of their hearts.

As he actively descends into the city to get to know the people and listens to them as Duke William Moore, rather than disguised as a commoner, the people are gradually opening their hearts to William-sama.

The warm farewell from the servants when departing for the academy and the cheerful cheers from the people in the domain are still fresh in my memory.

When William-sama ordered me, “Come to the academy with me,” when the entrance to the academy was approaching, I was overwhelmed with joy.

The number of servants who can be taken to Luke The Royal Academy, no matter how high their status, is only one.

It is hard to express how much being chosen as that one person lifted my spirits up.

After sending William-sama to the entrance of the auditorium, I returned to the secluded place where the servants were waiting.

At the academy, students are required to act separately from the servants in certain situations such as gatherings in the auditorium or during class. This is said to be to promote interaction among the students. However, it is whispered that it is actually a rule established to prevent lazy noble children who rely too much on their servants from appearing.

I lined up with the other servants and straightened my posture.

After a while, the ceremony began and the principal of the academy began a formal speech.

After greeting His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Queen as guests, Prince Finlay, the representative of the new students, went up to the podium.

He has grown to the same height as William-sama and has become more and more handsome as he has gotten older. His low ponytail of golden hair sparkles, and his young grass-colored eyes shine with the vitality of spring buds.

He made a beautiful bow that was worthy of being called a prince, and gave a dignified greeting in response to the congratulations. It seems that His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Queen sitting in the guest seats are looking proud.

The principal went up to the podium again and gave the final words, and the ceremony was over.

“Sigh, it’s over, it’s over.”

“Finn, good work. That was a dignified speech.”

“Right? You could at least compliment me for it.”

“It really was. I think it was a greeting that only Finn could make.”

“…it’s embarrassing when you actually say it.”

William-sama smiled at Prince Finlay, who blushed slightly and scratched his cheek in embarrassment.

Although Prince Finlay looked embarrassed, after a while he straightened his posture.

“By the way, are you free today? Do you want to explore the academy?”

“Explore the academy? Can we just walk around on our own…?”

Prince Finlay gave William-sama a mischievous smile as he hesitated.

“It is not prohibited for new students to walk around the campus. Right, Edward?”

The tall man with tanned hair who was spoken to by Prince Finlay nodded silently to the prince’s words.

Edward, as he was called, was a servant brought to this campus as a knight protector of Prince Finlay. He was a quiet man with tanned hair and dark skin.

“See, even Edward, who is knowledgeable in protocol as a royal knight protector, is nodding.”

“Right… well, then let’s go.”

As William-sama said this with a smile, Prince Finlay laughed and said,

“You have to come with us!!”

As Prince Finlay bravely tried to walk forward, he furrowed his brows upon seeing the entrance to the lecture hall.

“Oh, this is terrible. There are people waiting in ambush.”

“An ambush…?”

William-sama muttered in surprise.

When I looked at the entrance to the lecture hall, I saw that noble girls were loitering there.

“Remember what I said earlier about those people who want to get close to Finn? Finn must be having a hard time.”

Upon hearing this from William-sama, Prince Finlay opened his eyes wide in surprise.

“Don’t you realize? You are being targeted too, y-o-u too!!”

“What?”

Prince Finlay shrugged his shoulders in disbelief as he looked at the wide-eyed William-sama.

“As the heir to a ducal house, you may have been viewed as weak and doubted to be able to succeed. However, upon closer examination, you have proven to be a promising future prince. Look, see how their gazes are fixed on you.”

Upon hearing this, I could see that they were indeed staring at William-sama with lecherous eyes.

“We won’t be able to escape through that entrance… hahaha, I did some research on other exits just in case something like this happened. Let’s sneak out through there.”

Saying this, Prince Finlay smiled and winked as he led William-sama by the hand.

The place we escaped to was a beautiful rose garden filled with white roses in full bloom.

The sweet and fragrant scent of roses filled the air.

“As far as the eye can see, it’s just roses… the white rose hedge is beautiful.”

As William-sama peered at the white roses blooming in the hedge, Prince Finlay nodded as if in amazement.

“The royal rose garden is also splendid, but this is the first time I’ve seen a rose garden with nothing but white roses.”

As they walked through the rose garden, William-sama and Prince Finlay said this.

At that moment, I suddenly felt as if I heard a faint laughter of a young girl and stopped in my tracks.

“…? …What’s wrong, Leah?”

William-sama asked with a curious expression, so I shook my head and said,

“No, it’s nothing.”

However, at the same time, Prince Finlay, who was walking in front of me, also stopped.

“…Will, can you hear something?”

William-sama sharpened his ears upon hearing this.

“…a woman’s voice?”

Prince Finlay shook his head.

“Yes. It’s coming from over there.”

Prince Finlay chuckled and said,

“Maybe it’s someone else who’s escaped like us. Let’s go see who it is.”

He walked quietly in the direction of the voice, taking care to make no noise with his footsteps.

“It might be a student who came to the rose garden to relax. I don’t want to be a bother if we’re disturbing them…”

William-sama followed Prince Finlay with a worried expression on his face.

“It’s over there.”

Upon arriving at that place, Prince Finlay peered into the hedge.

“…?”

Upon seeing the puzzled expression on Prince Finlay’s face, William-sama also peered into the hedge from the other side.

Prince Finlay murmured.

“Who is it…? I’ve never seen a noble like this… surrounded by animals…”

Upon hearing this, I was shocked.

The white rose garden… the voice of a young girl… surrounded by animals…

Upon considering all of this, I peered into the hedge from the other side.

“Ahaha! That tickles!! …It’s no use pushing, I don’t have anything for you guys to eat today.

The girl had long, wavy chestnut hair, wheat-colored skin tanned by the sun, and a face with a thin layer of freckles.

“I’m just in the mood for a chat today. Come on, tell me about yourselves.”

She was surrounded by birds, deer, and foxes, and had gray eyes.

I knew her.

She was Charlotte Michelle.

The protagonist of “You and the White Rose.”

Chapter 22: White bread and little bird

“What? The bakery owner released a new product that I like while I wasn’t there?! If the entrance ceremony was a little later, I would have been able to eat that new bread too…”

The girl surrounded by white roses is listening to the animals’ voices, changing her expression as she twists and turns. Each time she moves, her red-brown, waving hair that reaches down to her waist shakes.

While peeking at her like that, Prince Finlay whispered to William-sama.

“Hey, is she just pretending to be crazy or is she really crazy…what do you think, Will?”

Prince Finlay’s eyes, sparkling as if he had found something interesting, are looking at her with excitement.

“Finn, that’s not a nice way to say it. There are people among animal lovers who enjoy talking to animals, and I’m sure she’s one of them.”

William-sama smiled as if troubled, indulging the prince.

“But Will, doesn’t it seem very natural for her to talk to animals?”

Hearing those words, William-sama narrowed his eyes and looked at the girl.

“…Certainly, she seems to understand the animals’ words.”

“Right? …Hey, why don’t we try talking to her?”

Prince Finlay made the proposal, unable to suppress his curiosity. Seeing the prince’s excited face, William-sama gave a wry smile.

“If Finn really wants to, I won’t stop him, but I can’t agree. Everyone has a side that they don’t want others to see. Maybe she doesn’t want people to see her talking to animals, and that’s why she avoids attention in a place like this. I don’t feel like talking to her.”

Hearing those words, Prince Finlay considered and eventually nodded with a serious face.

“…You’re right, that makes sense. It’s a shame, but we’ll stop talking to her. I don’t have a hobby of embarrassing people.”

The prince said this and stood up.

“We’ve enjoyed the white roses enough, shouldn’t we go to a different place now? This school has many other interesting places.”

William-sama, who had also stood up, smiled.

“Yeah, I’d like to visit different places too. For example, the school library.”

“Then let’s go there.”

As they said this, they began walking.

It was at that moment.

“What? Princess Sofia secretly cut bread into pieces and gave it to the birds this morning? Wow, she gave the white, fluffy bread with a pattern like dice to the little birds…hmm, if you were given bread from the palace all the time, your tongue would get spoiled and you wouldn’t be able to eat regular bread anymore?”

Hearing the girl’s words, Prince Finlay stopped in his tracks.

William-sama turned back to the hedge and said,

“It doesn’t feel very good to be imagined like this about a friend’s actions.”

He frowned.

“…It’s true.”

Prince Finlay muttered.

“What…?”

When William-sama asked for clarification, the prince turned to him.

“It’s true that Sofia scattered bread for the birds as feed this morning. But no one should know about it…”

Hearing this, William-sama’s eyes opened wide.

Without changing his expression, Prince Finlay continued speaking.

“After breakfast, Sofia came to see me and said “I hid the breakfast bread and want to give it to the birds”. I thought it was a strange thing to do to scatter bread for birds, so I secretly came to consult. I had the servants go away with a convenient excuse and watched Sofia scatter bread crumbs in a corner of the garden. That was this morning…the characteristics of the bread match too.”

After saying this much, the prince fell silent.

William-sama, surprised but calm, asked a question.

“Is there a possibility that someone from the servants saw and the girl heard about it from them?”

Prince Finlay shook his head.

“The place where Sofia and I were was a blind spot in the garden. If a servant had gotten close enough to see us, I would have noticed first.”

This time, the two of them couldn’t find words and closed their mouths.

Only the girl’s voice from the other side of the hedge echoed around.

William-sama opened his mouth with a serious expression.

“If she knows the movements of the royal family that no one else knows about, it’s a significant situation. First, inform His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Queen about this.

“No, I will speak directly to that girl now.”

Prince Finlay asserts, blocking William’s voice.

Turning his back on William-sama, who was blinking his eyes, the Crown Prince turned to his escort knight.

“Edward, does it seem like she has weapons?”

Upon hearing those words, his escort knight glances over the hedge.

When his guard knight shakes his head, Prince Finlay nods.

“Edward, wait here. I’ll rely on you in case of an emergency.”

Saying so, he tries to walk towards the girl, but William grabs Prince Finlay’s shoulder.

“Wait Finn. The person has the ability to obtain private information about the royal family. It’s dangerous to approach carelessly. After identifying the person’s identity, observe their actions and see what kind of person they are before making contact.”

Prince Finlay bites his lip.

“Certainly, what Will says is the most reasonable. However…”

The prince directs a sharp gaze towards the girl.

“If anyone is harmed while I am hesitating, what if His Majesty the King or Her Majesty the Queen are exposed to danger? If there is a possibility that Sofia or His Majesty the King or Her Majesty the Queen will be exposed to danger, I cannot leave that girl alone…!!”

Saying so, he jumps out of the hedge.

Upon seeing this, William looks worried, but says,

“Leah, watch the situation. If we are in danger, please jump in. Please.”

I followed after Prince Finlay, who left those words with me.

When they burst out of the hedge, the girl shook her body as if in surprise.

“Who…?”

As she said that and turned around, she recognized the existence of the blue-eyed young man with golden hair and showed a surprised expression.

“Oh, Prince Finlay…?! Why are you here…?!”

Her gray eyes opened wide.

Upon hearing this, Prince Finlay spoke with a stiff expression.

“Do you know me? Then the conversation will be quick… Why do you know Sofia’s movements this morning?”

It was a voice like a sharpened blade.

The girl, who was asked, gasped.

“No way, you heard the voice earlier…?”

As she muttered that, the girl’s eyes revealed caution and fear.

The girl, who was slowly backing away, and Prince Finlay, who was piercing him with a sharp gaze.

A tense atmosphere floats between the two.

“Finn, calm down.”

Under such circumstances, William-sama’s calm but firm voice hit my ears.

William says to Prince Finlay, and smiles at the girl.

“I’m sorry, we surprised you by suddenly appearing. I am William Moore of the Duke of Moore house. I understand your feeling of caution, but please listen to our story.”

After saying those words, William glances at Prince Finlay.

Prince Finlay, upon receiving this, looks surprised and opens his eyes wide, and then makes a face as if he had done something bad.

“…Will, thank you. It seems I was lacking in calmness.”

The prince clears his throat and faces the girl.

“I’m sorry, miss. You probably already know, but my name is Finlay Martinez. I am the prince of this country. Miss, may I ask your name?”

Saying that, he awkwardly smiled at the girl.

The girl, who was not sure of the prince’s intentions, reluctantly revealed her name.

“…Charlotte Michelle.”

Upon hearing this name, William and Prince Finlay tilt their heads. The prince asked Charlotte in a softer tone than before.

“I have never heard of the Michelle family… What is your social class?”

Upon being asked this, she pursed her lips tightly.

“…I am not a noble. I am a commoner.”

“A commoner? …Oh, I see. The special scholarship program?”

William nodded as if he understood.

Here, at Luke Royal Academy, nobles generally attend this educational institution, but occasionally commoners are allowed to enroll as an exception.

This system is called the “special scholarship program.”

Only outstanding commoners who meet various conditions are allowed to enroll in this program.

“Well, may I go now? I’m not free.”

Prince Finlay raises both hands lightly to pacify Charlotte, who is retreating.

“Wait a moment. As far as I can see, miss, you are a new student like us, right? The ceremony should have ended and we should still have some time.”

Saying that, he took a step closer to Charlotte.

“Let’s get to the main point. If you answer honestly, I promise to release you right away.”

The prince’s young grass-colored eyes emit a sharp light.

“It’s the same question as before… Why were you aware of Sofia’s movements?”

Under the prince’s gaze, Charlotte silently looked down without saying a word.

Chapter 23: The Girl’s Abilities

For a while, she closed her mouth and stood there. The animals gathered around her as if to protect her.

As Charlotte stroked the animals that approached her, she lowered her gaze.

“…Even if I tell the truth, I’m sure you won’t believe me.”

Her eyes seemed to contain a mixture of resignation and anxiety.

Seeing her gloomy appearance, Prince Finlay placed his hand on the wrinkles on his brow.

“Damn it…I feel like I’ve become a villain.”

He closed his eyes, massaged the wrinkles on his brow with his finger, and then looked at Charlotte again.

“Don’t make that face…I can’t just let it go. What can I do to get you to talk?”

In response to his words, she shook her shoulder in silence.

At the same time, the small birds perched on Charlotte’s shoulder chirped to encourage her, the deer nuzzled her waist, and the fox threatened the prince.

Charlotte hugged the animals, closed her eyes tightly, and then stood up to face the two young men.

“…You’re not going to let me go until I talk. Okay, I’ll talk. But what I’m about to say must be kept secret from others.”

“…Okay.”

When the prince nodded in response to her determination, the girl took a deep breath as if to gather her resolve.

Then, taking a deep breath, she said,

“I have the ability to communicate with animals. I heard about Princess Sofia’s actions this morning from the birds.”

She said this and looked straight ahead with dignity.

Time passed without anyone speaking a word.

Prince Finlay tried to start talking, but no words came out and he closed his mouth again.

William seemed to be thinking with his hand on his chin, but eventually he opened his mouth to Charlotte.

“…Can you prove here and now that you can communicate with animals?”

“I can’t. There’s no way to prove it.”

The girl with wheat-colored skin answered firmly.

“But this is the truth.”

She confidently declared this as if she were relieved.

“It’s hard to believe…”

Prince Finlay furrowed his brow.

“As I said at the beginning, even if I tell the truth, I’m sure you won’t believe me.”

Upon hearing Charlotte’s words, Prince Finlay let out a groan, but after a moment he turned to face her.

“…For now, let’s believe those words. I’m grateful that you talked to me.”

At the prince’s words, Charlotte’s eyes opened wide.

“You’ll believe me?”

“…On the contrary, is it better not to believe?”

Charlotte shook her head at the prince’s question.

“No way. I just never thought you would believe me.”

She said this as if she were relieved. After a moment of silence, Prince Finlay muttered,

“You didn’t look like you were lying.”

After watching the departing girl’s back, William looked at Prince Finlay with something to say.

Prince Wang sighed and shrugged his shoulders.

“Will, don’t look at me like that. I didn’t just blindly believe what she said.”

William-sama smiled at those words.

“I know. It would have just turned into a stalemate if you had pressed her any further. I think your decision to end the conversation with her peacefully was correct. However…”

William-sama narrowed his eyes and had a serious expression.

“There are a few concerns. If it’s true that she has the extraordinary ability to understand the language of animals, she is a very dangerous person. On the other hand, if she is lying, there is a possibility that she is plotting rebellion against the royal family, which would also make her a dangerous person. In either case, we need to be careful around her. Plus, we made a promise with her, so we can’t tell anyone about this.”

The crown prince nodded and made a face as if he was biting a bitter bug.

“Yes, that’s true. If I break a promise I’ve made once, her trust in me will fall to the ground. Since we don’t know whether she is an ally or an enemy, I want to act cautiously.”

“Yeah… Leah.”

After saying that, William-sama called out to me.

“Thank you for waiting. I’d like you to come over here.”

Hearing those words, I scratched through the hedge and went in front of William-sama. Edward followed behind me.

William-sama suddenly asked me something as if it had just occurred to him.

“Leah, do you think what she said is true?”

Although I hesitated a little, I nodded to his question. William-sama blinked at this.

“Why do you think that?”

There is no reason that I can give. I just know the story of “You and The White Rose”. I don’t know whether it’s really true in this world.

I deeply bowed and replied,

“There is no deep reason that would worry William-sama.”

After sending William-sama to the dormitory, I was thinking about today’s events in my room in the servant’s dormitory.

(I finally reached the timeline of the manga)

I remember Charlotte’s confession.

It seems almost certain that Charlotte has the ability to communicate with animals in this world as well, judging from her appearance.

([You and The White Rose]’s development and how much it is linked to this world is unknown, but no matter what happens, my goal does not change… to protect William-sama. That is my wish)

I open my eyes that I had closed as if meditating.

(“Don’t get stuck in the story of the manga” and lose sight of the essence. I am not an all-powerful being. It’s okay not to try to solve every problem. Focus on protecting William-sama)

As I was thinking so deeply, I slowly stood up and interrupted my thoughts.

“When it comes down to it, being able to move appropriately in times of emergency is a valuable asset. Maybe I’ll go have dinner first.”

The orange light shining through the window illuminates the room. I closed the curtains and headed towards the dining room to eat.”

Chapter 24: Everyday Life at the Academy

As the sky starts to turn white and thin,

I stopped my training and wiped the sweat flowing from my towel.

(It’s about time)

I put away my spear and return to my room.

When I opened the door in the back of my room, a simple shower room greeted me.

(It was really good that the single rooms in the servant dormitory were equipped with shower rooms. If there had only been a shared bath, I would have been at a loss.)

As I think about this, I take a quick shower and wash off the sweat.

As I wipe the moisture off my wet body and change into my knight’s uniform, bright sunlight is coming through the window.

When I check my equipment and clothing and head towards the dining hall, I discover a dark-skinned man silently eating bacon and eggs in a corner of the still sparse dining hall.

“Good morning, Edward-san.”

As I greet him with a tray of breakfast, he, the prince’s royal guard knight, silently nods his head and heads towards me. I pass by him and sit at the table by the window.

The menu for today’s breakfast is a minestrone with plenty of vegetables, bacon and eggs with pepper, and freshly baked baguette. The warm dishes that steam up in this season, when it’s getting cold, are welcome.

I savor the taste while still chewing quickly.

After finishing breakfast, I returned the dishes with thanks and headed towards the student dormitory where William-sama was waiting.

It’s been a month since school started.

Today, another day begins.

The school’s daily schedule can be divided into two main categories.

One is the [morning section] where manners and etiquette, the characteristics of neighboring countries and territories, territory management, and language and history for calculation are cultivated as a noble.

The other is the [afternoon section] where you belong to a research laboratory and study a particular field of study that you want to deepen.

However, at this time for new students, the decision for the research laboratory has not yet been made, so it is common to visit any research laboratory during the afternoon section. And in the spring half a year after enrolling, new students will decide their research laboratory.

It is currently the time for the morning section.

During class, servants cannot accompany their masters, so I was training as a knight in a place where my uniform would not get dirty near the classroom where William-sama was studying.

Looking towards the classroom where William-sama is between training in the garden in the relaxed air exposed to the sun, it seems that class has just ended on a break, and William-sama is holding a textbook and asking the teacher something with a cheerful smile on his usual calm face.

(It must be delightful to be able to talk about studying with other people after always studying alone. William-sama looks happy, which is the most important thing.)

Thinking this, my mouth involuntarily relaxed.

“Oh, Miss Charlotte is in this research laboratory too?”

Just before the afternoon section begins.

Prince Finlay, who came to visit the research laboratory with William-sama, cheerfully called out to a reddish-brown haired girl who was found in the corridor in front of the research laboratory.

Charlotte turns her attention towards us and, looking awkward, bows politely.

“To His Royal Highness Prince Finlay, Duke Moore, and the knights, hello. I have business in the research laboratory next door.”

William-sama is impressed and rests his hand on his jaw upon seeing her.

“…I’m amazed that you’ve learned manners so well in just one month. Even nobles who have been learning manners since childhood sometimes make mistakes, but your manners are perfect.”

“To be complimented by Duke Moore, it was worth the effort. I’m still worried about when I’ll make a mistake.”

Charlotte smiles happily.

From behind her, her classmates called out to her.

The girl’s face with thin freckles shows delight and replies to her classmates, then bows to Prince Finlay and William-sama again.

“Well then, since people are waiting, I’ll be leaving.”

Leaving these words behind, she quickly walks towards her classmates.

Prince Finlay talks to William-sama as he watches her departing back.

“Miss Charlotte is good friends with her classmates. She was clumsy with manners at first, but she’s improved a lot now. Although she was ignored by the nobles at the beginning of enrollment because she was a commoner, she is now admired by both men and women.”

William-sama nods at these words.

“I’m sure it’s because of her personality. We’re not in the same class, so we only see each other during class breaks, but even in those short exchanges, her warm disposition and respect for others is conveyed… Although she needs to be watched as a person of interest, it would be conscience-stricken to continue doubting her.”

William-sama says this and sighs, and Prince Finlay nods as if in agreement.

“…Finn, it’s almost time for the afternoon section to start. We have to go into the research laboratory we’re visiting today.”

“Right. Let’s go.”

The prince and William-sama nod to each other, then go into the research laboratory.

Chapter 25: Behind the School Building

The vivid autumn leaves have fallen and it has become impossible to walk outside without a coat. William took lunch and headed to the school grounds with me.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve had the opportunity to relax like this together. The new semester has been so hectic, and I haven’t had many chances to be alone with Leah besides drop-off and pick-up. Haha, it feels good somehow.”

As William smiled and said this, my heart warmed and I returned his smile.

William deepened his smile and looked forward.

We’re almost there. I hope there aren’t too many people on the benches…”

As he muttered this, William peeked into the school grounds from the shadows of the building…

“…?”

I also peeked out from the side of William’s face, which looked puzzled.

There were several men and women gathered in the school grounds.

“I wonder what’s going on. It looks like they’re surrounding something…”

As the men and women gathered wriggled, something that was surrounded by them came into view.

“Is that…Miss Charlotte?”

Her reddish-brown, undulating hair was certainly Charlotte’s.

If I listened carefully, I could hear the voices of the men and women surrounding her.

“Learn to be ashamed of entering this prestigious school with your plebeian style!”

“It seems that you have ingratiated yourself with a large number of nobles, but I don’t understand the noblemen with whom you get on. Know your place.”

“This is a place where nobles and royal families come to deepen their education. It is not a place for plebeians like you to enter.”

Upon hearing these voices, William’s expression became stern.

“These elected nobles. To surround one person with many others and try to intimidate them is how foolish…”

As he muttered this, William took a step towards them.

“I entered this school through the regular system called the special scholarship program. If you have a problem with my presence, why not appeal directly to the school in a fair and upright manner?”

A decisive counterargument echoed through the air.

William stopped in his tracks at the dignified voice.

Charlotte continued speaking to the nobles surrounding her.

“If you think you are right, why not openly criticize me in front of everyone instead of sneaking around in the back of the school building like this? Why can’t you do that?”

The nobles surrounding her fidgeted as if they were agitated.

“It is ridiculous for you to surround me just because you don’t like me as a plebeian and rain down insults on me. You should take a good, objective look at yourselves.”

The nobles fell silent in the face of her clear eyes.

As I looked around at the situation, Charlotte opened her mouth as if nothing had happened.

“I have to go get lunch now. If there is nothing else, I will take my leave.”

It was at that moment.

“The conversation is not over yet.”

One lady spoke up in an unpleasant voice that did not fit the mood.

“I know. Your mother works as a prostitute, doesn’t she?”

Charlotte stopped moving at those words.

Sensing an opportunity, the nobles sneered at Charlotte.

“Ha, if I were you I wouldn’t be able to show my face outside knowing my mother was a prostitute. And to go to school, what a shameless and thick-skinned act that is.”

“They say children are like their parents, and aren’t you and your mother both disgraceful? Ah, how dirty. Even if you leave this school soon, don’t have a child in your belly during your short time here at school. It would tarnish the dignity of the school.”

Charlotte lowered her face.

“What’s wrong, have you finally realized your place?”

The nobles surrounding her laughed triumphantly.

“…You…understand.”

Charlotte’s auburn hair swayed.

“What? What did you say?”

“What do you guys know?!”

Her loud voice shook the air in the school grounds.

“My mother is the proud mother who raised me to this point!! She worked hard to earn money and raise me while suffering through poverty!! She’s an amazing person!!”

Charlotte glared at the nobles as she raised her face forcefully. Her hand was tightly clenched as if expressing her intense emotions.

“Besides, it’s the nobles and royalty who are in charge of politics that are causing the poor to struggle and women to have no choice but to become prostitutes!! It’s their duty to ensure that the people can live comfortably by organizing social security, but instead they’re just throwing their own incompetence on the shelf and mocking the prostitutes!! That’s just how shameless you all are!!”

“Wh…?!”

The nobles who thought they had won were at a loss for words at Charlotte’s angry shout. But one of them regained their composure and screamed at her with an unpleasant face.

“What did you say?! Say it again!”

Hearing that, Charlotte showed her anger even more.

“I’ll say it as many times as it takes!! You people who mock others’ mothers and don’t even realize your own wrongdoing are disgraceful!!!”

“This bi*tch-!!”

One of the nobles grabbed Charlotte’s hair.

Charlotte’s face twisted in pain as her hair was pulled.

William-sama saw this and approached them quickly, as if he had come to his senses.

“You guys, won’t you stop?!”

William-sama’s voice rang out in the chaotic scene.

The nobles who turned around angrily with hateful looks were surprised when they saw William-sama’s face.

“Lord Duke Moore…?!”

They seemed to be agitated as they retreated.

William-sama glared at them sternly.

“Do you even realize what you’ve done? The violence and insults towards a schoolmate…I can’t overlook this.”

When William-sama said this, they trembled.

However.

“Duke Moore, it’s okay. As long as these people are out of my sight, it’s fine.”

Charlotte says, biting her lip.

She glances at the nobles surrounding her and says,

“Go away. Don’t ever show your face to me again.”

Chapter 26: Her story

After the nobles surrounding Charlotte had hurriedly left, she suddenly turned to look at William-sama, who had been staring at their departure.

“Duke Moore, Sir Knight, thank you very much. If I had been alone, I probably would not have been able to get through it safely.”

Saying that, she smiled.

“Well, let’s just forget about this incident as if I had been bitten by a dog. Ah, I wonder what I’m going to have for lunch today!”

“…Miss Charlotte. If you are concerned about me, I will leave this place immediately. So don’t force a smile like that.”

As William-sama spoke, blocking Charlotte’s voice, she shook her body as if she were agitated.

“Wh-what are you saying? I’m not doing anything forcefully. Not at all…”

A crack appears in Charlotte’s forced smile.

Looking at her like that, William-sama speaks quietly.

“You are a strong person, Miss Charlotte. Even when surrounded by a large number of people, you protected your dignity without flinching.”

His calm voice spins words together.

“But no matter who it is, when surrounded by people with more power and facing malicious intentions, it is natural to feel fear… you were afraid, weren’t you.”

At those words, Charlotte’s fragile smile crumbles.

“…I was scared.”

She grips her hands together, trying to suppress the emotions boiling up from within her.

“When I thought that I might not be able to escape safely, it was so scary that I couldn’t bear it. But more than that.”

She mutters, gritting her teeth.

“It was much more painful to see my mother insulted…!!”

Saying that, she lets a look of frustration show on her face.

***

“This is a smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich. This one is a quiche with bacon, potatoes, and spinach. The drink is just coffee… good, it looks like it’s still warm.”

“Wow! It looks delicious!”

I sneak a peek at Charlotte as I prepare the plates.

It was past noon and William-sama, worried that Charlotte wouldn’t be able to get her lunch in time, invited her to eat lunch with him.

Charlotte, who was shaking with emotion earlier, is now peeking into the basket with sparkling eyes.

In order to give William-sama more of his favorite salmon, I put a lot of sandwiches on his plate and offer it to him, and he looks away, looking embarrassed.

“Thank you, Leah.”

Watching William-sama say that and take the plate, I hand Charlotte a cup of coffee.

“Thank you very much! um…”

Seeing her falter, I open my mouth.

“My name is Leah Flores.”

When I introduce myself, she smiles like a sunflower.

“So it’s Flores-sama!”

“I’m from the same commoner background as you. No need for honorifics.”

After refusing, she hesitated for a moment before smiling deeply and saying,

“Then I’ll call you Flores-san!”

Taking a sip of the slightly warm coffee and taking a breath, she began to speak bit by bit.

“My father was a terrible person. He would shout and hit and kick us every day, and my mother and I were covered in bruises. I don’t even want to call him ‘father’. My mother and I originally lived in a rural area, but to hide from my father, she brought me with her to the edge of the capital.

My mother looked for work in the capital, but she couldn’t find a workplace that would hire her with a small child. My father had most of the money and we couldn’t bring much with us, so our living expenses quickly ran out. When we were desperate and turned to the government for help, but were pitifully turned away and at a loss, my mother finally found a job as a prostitute.”

William-sama listens silently to Charlotte’s quiet voice.

“There were times when my mother came home with red-black hand-shaped bruises on her neck, and times when she returned trembling with a blue face. Our life was tough, but my mother kept saying [if you have time to work, go to church and study. It will definitely be useful in the future], and kept sending me to church.”

“Those words were not from a normal determination. You had a fine mother.”

Charlotte nods at William-sama’s words.

“I studied madly as if I were about to die. When I was researching plants by borrowing the powers of animals, I was approached by this academy about being a special student because my research was recognized for its usefulness. They also promised to find me a job after graduation.”

Charlotte’s voice melts into the quiet atmosphere in the back of the school.

“I was overjoyed and danced. My mother was also very happy to hear the news… I have been protected until now. I will definitely gain strength at this academy and release my mother from a job that would hurt her mind and body.”

As she says that, Charlotte stuffs her cheeks with quiche.

After swallowing it with a munching sound, she looks at William-sama with a serious expression.

“I knew this dish was delicious!” said the person with a relieved face.

William-sama furrowed his brow in thought.

“I had heard that the safety net for people driven into poverty wasn’t functioning, but I didn’t realize it was this bad… this is a problem that both the country and each territory must tackle.”

Upon saying this, he turned seriously towards Charlotte.

“Miss Charlotte, thank you for speaking with me.”

As William-sama said this, the person happily chewing on the dish became flustered.

“I-It’s nothing, I was just speaking without thinking, rather I’m the one who should thank you for listening to me…”

William-sama seemed surprised, and chuckled as if finding her flustered behavior amusing.

“There’s no need to be so formal. We’re classmates, right? If it’s okay with you, I’d like to be friends from now on.”

“Eeh?! Becoming friends with the Duke of Moore is frightening… um, I mean, it’s intimidating, sir.”

Seeing Charlotte become even more flustered, William-sama continued to smile cheerfully.

“Don’t use such formal language with me. Just call me William.”

“Well, even Flores-san might not approve of that, right…?”

Charlotte looked at me as if asking for help, but I said,

“As William-sama wishes.”

Upon hearing this, Charlotte buried her head in her hands.

For a while, she was silent.

“Ah…”

Then,

“Ugh…”

She was groaning, but then she suddenly sat up and said,

“Okay, let’s be friendly with each other as classmates! Actually, I also wanted to talk to William!”

She smiled as she said this.

I watched the scene from the side and thought,

(So it turned out like this.)

I know this development.

Impressed by Charlotte’s dignified appearance surrounded by some radical nobles, William-sama shares lunch with Charlotte.

William-sama is moved by Charlotte’s determination and this incident becomes the trigger for William-sama to fall in love with Charlotte.

As I drink my coffee, I turn my gaze to William-sama, who is happily chatting with Charlotte.

…There must be a faint love in William-sama’s heart for Charlotte now.

However, if the story goes as planned, Charlotte will be married to Prince Finlay. William-sama’s love will never come true.

(I want William-sama to be happy. But I can’t do something that would ruin Charlotte and Prince Finlay’s relationship…)

Thinking such things, I returned to my senses with a start at the worried voices of William-sama and Charlotte, and forced a smile.

Chapter 27: Letters and Herbal Tea

On a certain holiday.

While preparing to go out, I was recalling the events that occurred after my lunch break the other day.

After school on that day, Prince Finlay, who was with William-sama, was surprised when Charlotte spoke affectionately to William-sama by chance.

Although he looked difficult when he heard about the matter, he dispersed that expression after a short time.

And then,

“Miss Charlotte, I really want to get along with you too! Can I call you Charlotte? Please call me Finlay too!!”

He smiled with a friendly smile.

“Oh no, not just the Duke, but also His Royal Highness the Crown Prince, such an awe-inspiring thing…”

Charlotte was terrified, but with the discarded puppy-like gaze of Prince Finlay…

“Is William good…?”

***

After that, they became friends quickly, and now they have many opportunities to talk as three people. It seems that they have different perspectives, and it is a good stimulus to talk about each other’s opinions. The content of their conversations ranges widely, including politics and economic ways of living, fields of study of interest, and even favorite foods.

(I wonder if I should mourn that the events of the real world are proceeding according to the scenario of “You and The White Rose”, or if I should be happy that danger can be easily predicted…)

Thinking about such things, I was surprised at the progress of time by looking at the room clock. I hurriedly dressed and grabbed the key on the desk and quickly left the room.

***

“Haha! Even if you were going to be late, you’re in too much of a hurry! The hem of your shirt is frayed, and your socks are mismatched… pfft… sorry, the more I look, the more I burst out laughing… hahaha haha!! You can’t help but laugh.”

“Pfft, Riley, if you laugh too much, you’ll be rude to Leah. Look, if you look closely, even this outfit has a certain charm… pfft, hahaha!! Ah, no more!! Leah, your sense is the best!! hahaha!!”

With the twins laughing and holding their stomachs in front of me, I struck a fashionable pose with a blank expression.

The twins, seeing this, laughed even more and finally collapsed on the ground next to the store where we were meeting.

“Haha…,haa~a… no more!! Leah, stop making me laugh. I thought I was going to die laughing!!”

“You were trying to stab us in the back with that pose at the end!! Be more reasonable!!”

“What are you talking about?”

I ignore their objections with a clueless face and enjoy my coffee.

Poppy was shaking her shoulders occasionally, but after taking a deep breath and calming down, she picked up a cup of herbal tea. Apparently, this shop’s pride is a colorful herbal tea.

She poured the clear green liquid into her mouth and slowly swallowed it as if tasting it.

“…It has a fresh taste! It may be good for people who seek refreshment.”

Next to her, who has a satisfied face, Riley also drinks the same color of herbal tea.

“Yeah, it’s not bad. I’d like to ask the shopkeeper where he gets this herb.”

While watching them exchange impressions of the herbal tea and taking another sip of coffee, I spoke to them.

“So why did you two come all the way to the capital? Although Duke Moore’s territory is not far from the capital, it’s not a distance that you can come easily. Business purposes?”

When I said that, Riley nodded.

“Yeah, I’m here for business purposes. I came to check out the trendy items in the capital. And Poppy came with me for a house viewing because she’s moving to the capital.”

“Moving to the capital…?”

As I repeated his words, Poppy leaned forward and took my hand in hers.

Her hazel eyes were sparkling.

“Yes, that’s right!! I had always wanted to work in fashion, and this time I was able to become an apprentice to Grace-sama at the Evans clothing store!!”

“What?! At the Evans clothing store?”

I was surprised and involuntarily opened my eyes wide.

The Evans clothing store is a tailor’s shop that is well-known even in the capital. Grace Evans, who runs the Evans clothing store, is a famous designer known throughout the country, and her refined yet innovative designs have captured the hearts of many people.

“Still, why is Poppy, who lives in Duke Moore’s territory, in the capital and able to have contact with Madame Grace?”

When I asked that, Poppy winked with a snap.

“Well… it’s a letter.”

In front of my eyes that blinked, Poppy timidly took out a bundle of paper. It was a stack of envelopes.

“At first, I thought it was no use. I had heard that there were many people who wanted to be apprentices to Madame and… thinking that a girl like me wouldn’t be taken seriously, I sent a small package with my own thoughts on clothing and a clothes that I made as an amateur. But then…”

Ufufu, Poppy smiled dreamily.

“Amazingly, I got a reply from Madame!! I received a letter with her thoughts on my consideration and the clothes I made. I was worried that I might be a bother, but I kept sending Madame my own designs and written considerations. ”

While she had wavy eyes, she pulled out one envelope from among several letters.

“I will never forget the day this letter came. I kept rereading the sentence that said ‘Would you like to be an apprentice?’ I immediately wrote back and said ‘Yes, of course!! I’m happy!!’”

As she said that and laughed, she looked very happy, and I lowered my eyes with a soft feeling.

“That’s really good. I really think so. Congratulations, Poppy.”

When I smiled at Poppy, she returned a smiling grin.

Next to her, Riley made an ambiguous smile as if he couldn’t fully express his happiness.

“Well, do your best, my other half. If you fail and have to return to Duke Moore’s territory, I’ll open my arms and comfort you.”

When Riley said that, Poppy tapped Riley’s shoulder.

“Come on! You’re not being honest. Don’t be so lonely, Riley. We’ll meet again!”

Poppy turned towards me and said,

“From now on, I’ll be living near the capital, specifically near Luke Royal Academy. If you have time, let’s meet up, Leah!”

She said it cheerfully with a smile.”

Chapter 28: The Starry Sky

From the scorching hot day when sweat flows, the summer night where the wind blows a little cooler. I was walking down the street lit by streetlights on my way to the dormitory.

During the day, I was asked by William-sama, “I want to go out at night. Can you come with me?”

William-sama, Charlotte, and Prince Finlay, were assigned to their respective laboratories in the spring without hesitation, and the time was approaching the end of the first year.

As I approached the gate of the dormitory with a grand setting, I called out to the gatekeeper.

“Excuse me, I am Flores, serving under His Grace the Duke William Moore. Could you put me through to William-sama, please?”

The gatekeeper, with a friendly smile, extended his hand and said,

“Please show me your identification.”

I took out my identification from my chest pocket and handed it to the gatekeeper.

The gatekeeper quickly glanced at the identification and nodded, returning it to me.

“I have confirmed. If it is His Grace the Duke Moore, he has been waiting inside the gate for a while now. I will have an attendant call for him, so please wait for a moment.”

Before he finished speaking, the guard behind the gatekeeper disappeared into the gate.

After a while, William-sama walked up.

“Leah, I’m sorry to have you come out at night.”

William-sama smiled and called out to me, shaking my head.

“No, please don’t worry about it. It’s a knight’s honor to be trusted by his lord. Besides… William-sama, were you waiting outside for me? You didn’t have to do that…”

When I said this, William-sama calmly smiled.

“It’s a bit cooler outside the room because of the wind. And wouldn’t you be able to meet me sooner if you were inside the gate?”

Without any further words to add to the smiling William-sama, I nodded silently.

“There’s no point in standing here talking. Let’s go. Follow me.”

Looking at William-sama who started walking, I followed suit.

Climbing up the hill many times.

When I came to the thicket at the back of the hill on the way, William-sama finally stopped.

“I’m sure it’s supposed to be over there …”

Muttering that, he checked the other side through the gaps in the thicket. The animal trail was winding and I couldn’t see ahead.

I became more cautious in the narrow path that seemed too narrow to attack even if an enemy was lurking, but William-sama raised his cane and confidently advanced on the animal trail.

We passed through a narrow path that seemed long and short. My eyes widened at the suddenly open view.

It seemed to be on top of a cliff.

William-sama walked into the back and looked around the cliff.

“I heard about it, but it’s truly beautiful … Leah, come and see.”

At William-sama’s words, I also approached the edge of the cliff.

There were countless lights from houses below the cliff. As far as I could see, a group of shining lights that seemed to scatter stars beyond the horizon. And in the sky, the real stars seemed to be shining with pride.

The moon had already set, and only the stars and the lights of the houses were flashing in the space.

It gave me the illusion that I was swimming among the stars.

For a while, I was fascinated by the lights in front of me and returned to myself with William-sama’s voice.

“… It’s a beautiful view, isn’t it?”

“I was told by a classmate. They said it was a special place even in the capital.”

He turned to me and smiled.

“I wanted to see it with you.”

I was speechless at his happy smile.

Not Charlotte or Prince Finlay, but “him” …

William-sama said he wanted to see this special view with “him”.

I was startled to find that my existence had unexpectedly penetrated deeply into William-sama.

I was well aware that “he” would not be able to stay by William-sama’s side for long. As I get older, it becomes more difficult to pretend to be a different gender.

After protecting William-sama, there will come a time when I will leave his side of my own accord.

I don’t want to be a source of pain in his heart when “he” leaves him. Yes, I don’t want that.

I wondered how big “his” presence in William-sama had become.

(I am just a knight. I am nothing more than one of William-sama’s servants. William-sama is so kind, he probably has feelings for me, a mere knight, just like he does for the other servants. That must be it.)

I tried to convince myself of this.

(But… if, by any chance, William-sama has deeper feelings for me than for other servants? I haven’t even considered such a possibility. I just wanted William-sama to be able to live a happy life, and I didn’t think about what would happen after I was gone. I don’t want to make William-sama sad. What should I do? I don’t know…)

Without finding an answer, I stared at the glittering darkness.

The twinkling in front of my eyes continued to shine brightly, regardless of what was going on in my head.

Chapter 29: Tangled Gaze

As I walked through the campus, I could see cute round fruit peeking out from between the trees colored red and yellow.

I picked up a leaf from the ground and held it up to the sunlight. The brightly colored red leaf was beautiful, and the veins on the leaf entertained my eyes like delicate patterns.

I realized that it was almost time for the lesson to end, and gently returned the fallen leaves to the ground before heading to the classroom where William was.

When I looked in the direction of the classroom from the corner of the hallway, there was a small crowd in front of William’s classroom.

I swam through the crowd as if I were used to it and arrived at the center, where the person surrounded by people reflected my figure in his lapis lazuli eyes and looked relieved.

“Leah…”

I shielded William-sama, who looked relieved, from behind.

“William-sama has plans after this. Please dismiss.”

I raised my voice so that everyone in the room could hear me, but in a volume that would not be disrespectful to the nobles.

The people surrounding William-sama grumbled dissatisfaction, but when they saw that I did not budge an inch, they reluctantly began to move away.

***

This scene was first observed when the new students entered the school this year.

As usual, I went to meet William-sama in the classroom and was astonished to see that he was surrounded by a group of fresh-faced new students… or rather, new students wearing brand new uniforms.

William, who has consistently demonstrated his intelligence and compassionate spirit to people since entering this school, seemed to be the top choice for people who wanted to recruit allies among the nobles. Currently, the nobles who have children in the school, and those who will have children entering the school in the future, are all urging their children to “do whatever it takes to get into Lord Moore’s good graces.”

Furthermore, out of the three major ducal families in the country, only William from the Moore ducal family had children around the age of being enrolled in the school, which also fueled the movement.

The students who knew William’s nature did not try to force themselves on him, but the new students, who had no way of knowing his personality, ended up rushing to the classroom where William was.

Of course, the new students also crowded around Prince Finlay, but he easily escaped from them with his usual finesse. This ended up causing even more new students to flock to William’s side…well, this is a side story.

“Lord Moore, would you like to have tea with me? I’m sure it will be a fun time!”

“Oh, Lord Moore is going out with me to the city. I know the capital well. Don’t you want to go?”

“Rather than that, won’t you try the specialty of my territory? My room is full of rare things.”

They chattered excitedly, and William, surrounded by the new students with glittering eyes, was at a loss as to what to do, unable to reject the new students due to his kind nature.

I also wondered what to do, but seeing William’s distressed expression, I made up my mind and broke through the new students to rescue William.

From then on, the battle between the new students and me began.

One day after school.

I went to greet William earlier than usual, and he was already surrounded by several new students.

(He’s already here at this time…)

As I approached, feeling somewhat impressed, I was stopped by the voice of a noble teenager.

“Lord Moore, won’t you hire my family’s knight as your first escort knight? Our knights in the knight unit are excellent. They will definitely be of service to you.”

The teenager bragged, and William slightly furrowed his brow.

“I’m sorry, but I already have my first escort knight.”

“Do you mean that knight who always interrupts us? Such a knight is not worthy of serving Lord Moore!”

Another teenager raised his voice to block William’s words.

“Is he not a man with a poor appearance? If you are to protect the Duke, a more robust knight would be more appropriate. In addition…”

The teenager lowered his voice.

“I heard that he is an orphan. You never know when he might betray you for money.”

At those words, William’s expression fell.

William looked silently at the noble teenagers, but then he smiled as if pasted on.

“You may not know this, but my knight is quite strong. He’s strong enough to lift me up. And besides…”

William leaned close to them and whispered.

“There’s no way he would ever betray me.”

William, who had looked up, noticed me standing a little way off and brightened his expression.

“Leah!!”

He pushed through the surrounding noble teenagers and came to me.

“You came to meet me, sorry for making you wait. Shall we go?”

As he said this and began to walk, I frantically turned my body to follow him, and cold eyes chased me from behind.

Looking back, the nobles from before glared at me with hateful eyes.

Their gaze continued to entangle me until it was out of their sight, and I shuddered secretly.

Chapter 30: The Attack

On a day when soft sunlight falls,

I noticed something strange on the main street of the town where I came to accompanied William-sama.

(we are being followed.)

Suspicious shadows flicker in and out of view.

I checked behind me to make sure it wasn’t unnatural, and whispered to William-sama, who was walking a little ahead of me.

“William-sama, we’ve been followed since earlier.”

Upon hearing this, William-sama was surprised for a moment and turned around, but then returned his gaze forward after seeing my expression.

“There are probably two to three people.”

I turned my face towards William-sama.

“They may have weapons and intend to attack us. If they do attack, please move to my back calmly.”

I tell him this with a calm demeanor so as not to be noticed by those who are following us, and William-sama nods slightly.

When we reached a place with no one around, the presence of humans approached us from behind, and when I looked back, a short sword was swung towards William-sama.

I catch it with the handle of my spear at the last minute.

At the same time as the loud sound of metal colliding, I knocked the opponent’s short sword away.

“William-sama, behind me.”

I say this and take a step forward, ready to fight.

The people who appeared one after another, holding weapons such as short swords, all had their faces covered with cloth.

(There are…3 people)

I kicked the empty box nearby towards the main street as hard as I could.

“Huh? What the hell is going on?”

I heard a voice from the direction of the main street, but before I could wait for it, the attackers rushed at us.

I quickly deflected the blade heading towards William-sama.

“It came from this back alley…what the?! Who the hell are these guys?! They’re attacking someone?! Someone call the knights! Call the knights!”

I can hear someone frantically shouting on the main street.

It seems that the empty box I kicked earlier has done its job.

The attackers, who seemed agitated by the voice, one after another swung their swords towards William-sama.

I took a fighting stance and swung my spear at them.

I realized a few things after fighting for a while.

(These attackers are not amateurs. Their movements…they’re professionals)

Even when I try to steal the opponent’s attention and strike at a vital point, another person interferes immediately.

Their coordination is the kind of movement that only those accustomed to combat would make.

And I realized one more thing.

(These people…probably don’t have the intention of killing William-sama. At least not towards William-sama. They seem to be deliberately avoiding vital points, as if their goal is to “cause a minor injury”)

I receive a sword strike for what feels like the umpteenth time.

That’s when.

“We are the Order! We received information that suspicious individuals are attacking people here! Surrender immediately and drop your weapons!”

Along with the self-introduction, the knights of the capital rushed into the back alley.

The attackers seemed momentarily confused, but one of them shouted,

“Hey, you guys back off!”

Hearing those words, they ran in the opposite direction from the main street.

Watching the knights chase after the attackers’ backs, I turned towards William-sama.

“William-sama, are you injured?”

“I’m not injured thanks to you protecting me.”

William-sama puts on a faint smile on his face to reassure me.

“How about you?”

“I’m not injured.”

As I answer, I realize that William-sama’s face looks pale.

“William-sama…you’re okay.”

I say that while smiling at William-sama.

“There are no more attackers. Don’t worry.”

William-sama smiles weakly and relaxes his body at those words.

“I’m no match for you…I got scared when I thought that either you or I, or both of us, might fall to the enemy’s wicked blade. It’s okay now.”

As he said that, someone who seemed to be from the knights approached us.

“You are the ones who were victim of this incident, may we ask you about the situation?”

“Yes, of course.”

William-sama nods at those words.

After being questioned about the situation until late that day, I escorted William-sama back to the dormitory.

The attackers were not caught and ultimately, the true intention of the perpetrator remains unknown.

I was in my room at the servant dormitory, lost in thought.

(This attack wasn’t a spontaneous crime. They clearly targeted us)

I close my eyes as if meditating.

(There shouldn’t be any noble forces targeting William-sama. Who could it be…?)

No matter how much I think, I can’t come up with an answer.

(Furthermore, there was no intention to kill William-sama, they just wanted to cause a “minor injury”. Why…?)

The more I think, the more various possibilities come to mind, but none of them feel realistic and they disappear from my head.

Above all…

(This development was not in the “You and The White Rose” scenario)

Am I missing something…?

Something important.

I feel like something unknown is progressing somewhere I don’t know about, and I shuddered alone in my room.

Chapter 31: In a cloudy park

“So.”

Riley taps the bench seat with his finger. There are no children in the park where the cloudy sky and cold wind blow.

“The Duke is locked up in the student dormitory of the academy, right? Hmm, I see…”

As he said that, he sipped an eggnog.

When he tilted the cup with yellowed white liquid, a faint steam rose.

“Yes. Because he has been attacked repeatedly, the knights of the capital have taken the situation seriously and will protect him in the academy until the perpetrator is caught.”

I also took a sip from the cup in my hand as I spoke.

The drink with a fluffy and sweet aroma of cinnamon warms the body from the core in the harsh cold. The warm liquid with the dense flavor of milk and eggs slid down my throat.

After exhaling a sigh of relief at the drink that warms the body from the core in the harsh cold, Riley placed the cup on the bench.

“It was a disaster earlier. Especially because the bakery I went to was sold out of the item I was looking for.”

“Really. The salmon pie there was definitely William-sama’s favorite… I thought I would bring something to change his surroundings a bit because he would get stuffy staying in the dormitory all the time.”

As I said that, I let out a sigh and Riley leaned on the bench.

“Well, don’t get discouraged. Poppy recommended some other shops that use salmon, right? One of them is bound to have something… A~ah, you guys are so lucky. As residents of the capital, you can meet each other anytime you want. I’m the only one left out.”

He suddenly moans in a theatrical voice. I chuckled at the sight.

“I do meet Poppy often, but I also meet you like this when you come to the capital for business.

I took another sip of eggnog.

“But… is Riley okay? I’m happy to talk to Riley, but doesn’t Riley want to spend more time with his fiancee?”

Upon hearing my words, Riley blinks in agitation.

“Riley, you may not have noticed, but lately you’ve been coming to the capital for business way too often. Is it because your fiance just enrolled in the academy this year?”

Riley’s eyes widened at my words. Afterwards, he covers his face with his hat in an ominous manner.

“Don’t procrastinate and just go see her. Your fiance would surely be happy if you went to see her.”

Riley glances at me from under the shadow of his hat.

“Do you really think so?”

“I do.”

As I nod, Riley’s face turns red as if blushing.

For a while, Riley remained silent with a red face, but eventually he opened his mouth again.

“Thank you.”

After saying just that, he fell silent again, but after the silence, he started talking again.

“I really do want to see her… but…”

He turns his head away and speaks grumpily.

“I also wanted to see Leah and Poppy, so don’t misunderstand that.”

After saying that, Riley fell silent again, and I brushed his chestnut-colored hair with energy.

“Wh-the hell?!”

I say to the surprised Riley with a full smile.

“I already figured that out a long time ago!”

“By the way, there seem to be more and more reports of magical beast sightings lately.”

Riley, whose redness has subsided, speaks seriously.

“Magical beast sightings?”

I ask back and Riley nods.

“I hear about it when I go on business trips. Most of the stories are about the forest, but there are also some sightings in the suburbs near the city. It’s kind of creepy.”

As Riley whispers seriously, I feel a chill in my stomach

(Has it come to this?).

There are stages leading up to the increase in magical beasts in the scenario.

First, magical beasts begin to increase in the ancient forest. The ancient forest, which has accumulated energy over hundreds of years, tries to condense that energy in the deepest part of the forest. This accelerates the occurrence of magical beasts that feed on that energy.

Next, magical beasts start appearing all over the place. The energy condensed in the ancient forest affects the entire country.

And in the final stage, the “core” of magical beasts, an energy crystal that is later named, appears in the deepest part of the ancient forest, and an abnormal number of magical beasts are generated centering on the ancient forest.

It is only at that time that it is possible to deal with this problem. The solution to the mass occurrence of magical beasts is to disperse the condensed energy, but there is no way for humans to destroy the core of magical beasts until it appears in a visible form as a crystal. In other words, the problem cannot be solved until the core of magical beasts appears.

The fact that there are more and more reports of magical beast sightings all over the place means that we are definitely approaching the final stage.

(And if it goes as planned in the scenario, that means William-sama’s fate of death is also approaching…)

“…Hey! Leah!!”

I was startled and looked up to see Riley looking worriedly at my face.

“Are you okay? You look pale… Is it because I talked about this kind of thing? I’m sorry.”

Riley apologized and I shook my head.

“No, I was just thinking about something.”

I stood up with my cup in hand.

“It’s time to go. Can you still hang out with me a little more later?”

“Yeah, sure.”

We left the park together.

The sky was still filled with dark clouds.

Chapter 32: Deception Strike

“Excuse me, Duke Moore, if I may.”

As he was walking down the corridor in the academy, a man who seemed like a servant approached William-sama and spoke to him.

“Hm? What is it?”

William-sama stopped.

“The history professor has called for you. Apparently, there is something they want to give you. Originally, it was supposed to be conveyed by my lord, but I was asked to tell you on behalf of the emergency. If it is all right, I will take you to the professor’s location.”

As he spoke, the man politely bowed.

“Oh, I see. Thank you for telling me. But this is a problem. I have business with the linguistics professor later…”

With a troubled look on his face, William-sama was standing next to Finlay, the Crown Prince, and Charlotte, who peeked out from behind William-sama’s shadow.

“Can’t you ask later?”

Charlotte asked the man, who gave a vague smile.

“Well, that is… the professor has business later, so they would like to see you before that. It was okay if it was not Duke Moore himself, so would one of your escort knights be okay?”

The man spoke to William-sama, who looked confused.

I frowned at the man’s words.

“I cannot allow William-sama’s protection to be insufficient. If there are no such concerns, it is up to William-sama’s discretion, but…”

I said that and Finlay, the Crown Prince, spoke up.

“If it’s about an escort, Edward is here. Edward is an excellent knight, so he became the Crown Prince’s escort. It’s out of the question for him to protect us three for a short while.”

Finlay, the Crown Prince, said with a smile.

William-sama was hesitant, but after a short while, he turned to me.

“After all, I cannot ignore the professor’s request… Leah, can you go to the history professor’s office with the person over there?”

Upon receiving those words, I glanced briefly at Edward-san.

Seeing Edward-san nod slightly towards me, I nodded to William-sama.

“As you wish.”

(The linguistics professor’s office is nearby. In addition, the probability of William-sama being attacked in this crowded place is low.)

While I was thinking that, the man who had been watching our conversation approached us.

“In that case, I will guide you.”

There was a smile on the man’s face.

“…This isn’t the direction to the history professor’s office, is it?”

“The item the professor wants to give you is apparently here. We’ll be there soon.”

I expressed my doubt about the direction the man was heading, but he just continued down the corridor as if he didn’t care about my doubts.

When we reached a corner that seemed out of place, the man stopped in front of a certain classroom.

“This is it.”

Following the man who entered the room with a flourish, I also entered the classroom.

(It’s dark…)

As I noticed something strange about the classroom, the sound of the door behind us closing and locking echoed.

Before I had time to be surprised, the lights suddenly turned on.

Several figures with their faces hidden by cloth were writhing in the classroom, and as soon as the lights came on, they attacked all at once.

I received the attack before I could even think.

(Dammit, I’ve been set up…!)

I regret being careless and following a stranger.

(I trusted that it would be safe within the academy. What do they plan to do by separating me from William-sama? I have to quickly reunite with William-sama and protect him…!)

While I was biting my lip, the attackers continued to come one after the other.

I looked around for an escape route while deflecting the enemies’ blows with my spear.

It seems that this classroom is located partially underground, and the windows are in an unusually high place. It is probably out of reach without a ladder.

The entrance that was entered is completely locked. I would like to check if it can be opened from the inside, but it is difficult to approach because there are dozens of armed people who stand blocking the exit.

While all this was happening, I was driven into a corner of the classroom. Seeing the attackers who keep getting up no matter how many times I knock them down makes me feel frustrated.

I hit the enemy’s shin with the handle of my spear and, with my hand on the underside of their leg, twisted it as hard as I could.

“Guh, agghh?!”

The enemy collapsed with an unpleasant feeling of bones breaking.

(Although I didn’t want to if I could help it, I had to take down each person physically and render them incapable of combat)

With the attackers who seemed to be in turmoil at the sight of their fallen companions, I took up my spear again and charged at them.

I wonder how much time has passed.

It feels like only a little time has passed, but it also feels like a long time has passed that makes my head feel distant.

While dodging attacks, I managed to render some of them unable to fight, but I was still outnumbered and overpowered. I was grabbed by many hands and rendered unable to move, and then I was pinned down from behind with my arms crossed behind my back.

I was struck hard in the stomach and vomit spewed out my bile.

Countless blows rained down on my entire body.

When the vomit I spewed out began to mix with blood, a sudden laughter that seemed to belong to a young man echoed across the room. The sound of inappropriate applause and light footsteps approaching came closer.

The ones who had been attacking me retreated in front of me.

Several noble lords and ladies appeared before me, laughing.

“Ahaha! This is truly unsightly!!”

One of the young masters chuckled happily.

“I was surprised when you defeated more than half of the waiting hands in this room, but it’s nothing. The unsightly appearance you are showing now is the result of everything!!”

As I looked at the noble young masters who said this and sneered at me, I swallowed saliva with the taste of blood and opened my mouth.

“…What do you want? Is William-sama unharmed?”

At my words, the young masters made a surprised face and eventually burst out laughing.

“Ahaha! [Is William-sama unharmed]? Tell this guy, it wasn’t His Grace Duke Moore who was targeted, it was you yourself!!”

“What…?”

While I was still stunned, the noble young masters continued to laugh.

“When His Grace Duke Moore was out, we tried to dismiss you as a knight who failed to protect the master because His Grace Duke Moore was injured when you were with him, but it didn’t work due to the mistake of our subordinates. That’s why we resorted to tough measures this time! It’s your fault, because you cling to His Grace Duke Moore and His Grace Duke Moore won’t take the escort knights we recommended!!”

One of the noble young masters kicked my side.

“His Grace Duke Moore is an excellent person. Those around him must be worthy people like him! Guys like you are not worthy of His Grace Duke Moore!!”

The young master says this and stretches my cheek.

At the same time as the sound of impact, my head tilts sharply in the direction where I was slapped.

The young master in front of me grabs my hair and pulls it up, looking at me with a pleased face.

“Ahaha, don’t worry, we won’t kill you… I’ll teach you something good. After everything is over, you’ll have to drink this medicine.”

The young master takes out a bottle with red-purple liquid and smiles slyly.

“This medicine is a drug that makes your memories for a few hours ambiguous. You’ll forget that you even entered this classroom, let alone us being the culprits. You’ll suffer injuries that make you incapable of performing your duties as an escort knight, and be dismissed from the position of escort knight without knowing it. Ahaha!!”

The noble young masters laugh and move away from me.

“We’ll watch from over there in those chairs. See how your body breaks down.”

As the young masters head towards a corner of the classroom, people with their faces hidden by cloth surround me again.

I was stunned as I followed the young masters with unfocused eyes.

(They were trying to injure William-sama to get rid of me… I was trying to protect William-sama, but because of me, William-sama was exposed to danger…)

My dizzy head is confused and my thoughts are not clear.

(Did the scenario change because I was there…? Am I the anomaly in the story…? Was the fact that I overlooked my own existence in the scenario…? Am I…)

The person standing in front of me raises their fist towards me. That fist, illuminated by backlight, burns clearly into my retina.

I just stared blankly at the fist being swung down as if in slow motion.

Chapter 33: The determination to live

The moment when the fist is about to hit me.

The earth-shaking, fierce roar echoes throughout the classroom.

“At the same time, an object that looks like the door of the classroom is blown away and hits the person standing in front of me with force.”

“Gyaa?!.”

The person who was trying to swing a fist at me screams and falls to the ground.

Bright light shines into the dim classroom, and I squint my eyes due to the glare.

In the midst of the dust, Edward-san was standing at the entrance with one leg swung out.

(Could it be… did he kick the door open without the key…?)

As I looked towards the entrance in disbelief, the campus guards rushed into the classroom in an avalanche.

In the midst of the people being captured one after another in the classroom, one of the aristocratic brats at the edge of the classroom shouted.

“What’s going on?! Why are the campus guards…?!.”

The people who were restraining me also tried to escape from the guards and roughly let go of me.

My body, which had sustained injuries to the point where I could no longer support myself, collapsed and fell due to gravity.

In the midst of all this, a figure approached me.

As that figure approached me with no hesitation, like a bullet, and caught my body just before it collapsed, I looked up at the person’s lapis lazuli eyes with confused eyes.

“Leah, don’t talk.”

If I tried to speak with my uncooperative mouth, blood vomit would spill from the edge of my mouth.

“Don’t force yourself to speak. The doctor will be here soon.”

His manner of speaking was unnaturally calm, and it was clear that he was trying to forcibly calm his own heart in order to reassure me. In fact, his feelings could not be hidden from his face.

“H-How.”

Although it was a short word, I think he understood what I wanted to say. As he lifted my hand, he opened his mouth.

“I was talking to the linguistics professor when the history professor came to visit. The history professor said he had no recollection of calling me. So I searched every nook and cranny of the school… I’m glad I found you. Really, I’m glad.”

As he said this, he tightened his grip on my hand.

Even as I listened to his words, my head was filled with questions that kept spinning around.

(Even though I thought I was protecting him, I ended up being protected by William-sama instead. It’s my fault that William-sama was exposed to danger. And the foreign element in the story… was me)

“Ha, hahaha.”

I couldn’t help but let out a dry, ridiculous laughter.

“It’s a knight’s duty to protect you, but if I’m the one being protected, then I’ll be disqualified as your knight, won’t I?”

The words just spilled out of my mouth.

William-sama’s eyes widened for a moment before his face twisted.

“Don’t… don’t say such sad things like [you’re disqualified as my knight]…”!!

His eyes, which were fixed on me with a painful expression, were turbulent like a stormy sea.

“You told me before that [I don’t need any other lords besides you]. That’s how it is for me too. Even if I have more subordinates in the future, you are the only one who is my dear knight… the only one…!!”

He tightened his grip on my hand even more.

“You are an irreplaceable and important person to me.”

He closed his eyes as if praying and pressed his lips to the back of my hand.

As I witnessed his intense emotional outpouring,

I was surprised to realize that my existence in William-sama was much larger than I had thought.

(I never knew he cared about me this much)

At the same time, I became aware of my own weakness.

(This is no time for weakness… If I’m a foreigner in this story, there’s no turning back now…)

I clenched my lips as if scolding myself for my dependence.

(Until now, I thought it was okay for me to become anything, even if it meant offering my own body, as long as it was for the sake of protecting William-sama…)

As I looked at William-sama’s face, I narrowed my eyes.

(But that’s no longer possible. Now that my existence has deeply penetrated into William-sama, I don’t know how much damage my death would do to William-sama’s spirit. I have to do whatever it takes to survive, in order not to hurt William-sama’s heart)

For that, I have to be strong.

My body, my heart, and my mind.

(Protect. I’ll become stronger than I am now and protect William-sama’s body, William-sama’s heart)

At that moment, loud footsteps approached from the hallway.

“Leah, the doctor has come!!”

William-sama, who was looking towards the entrance, told me.

As I watched William-sama, who was trying his best to smile at me to encourage me, despite suppressing his intense emotions, I made a new resolve.

Chapter 34: Later events

After that, I was transported to the hospital attached to the school.

Although I had a crack in my rib and some internal injuries, it was fortunate that it was not an injury that couldn’t be recovered from.

However, I had a problem that was not insignificant compared to the injury.

After my attending doctor finished the examination, he cleared out the ward before starting treatment.

William-sama hesitated to leave my side until the end, but left the room with a sigh at the doctor’s words, “It’s for the treatment.”

“Well then.”

The doctor, who was short and plump with an unhealthy complexion, turned to me.

“You were almost fractured, and your internal organs are also damaged. In your current state, I think it will be quite painful, so let’s talk while we do the treatment.”

As the doctor approached me with a rustle, he held a medicine in one hand and lifted my clothes.

My skin was black and red, and my body with cuts exposed to the air.

The doctor applied medicine to the affected area and calmly confirmed the facts in a flat tone.

“Are you a woman?”

Hearing those words, I closed my mouth.

(Ah, that’s right. A doctor who knows the structure of the human body should be able to tell my gender just by examining me. But… if I am known to be a woman here, my wish to protect William-sama…)

As I remain silent in despair, the doctor, still facing the affected area with his unhealthy-looking face, opens his mouth again.

“I’m sure you have your reasons, but I need to get a proper answer about your gender. The type and amount of medicine prescribed may differ slightly depending on your gender.”

Stopping his hand applying medicine, he faces me.

“What do you think I did private treatment for? Please answer quickly before the nurse returns on errands. I don’t want to strip off your clothes and confirm your gender either.”

I reluctantly speak to the doctor who flatly states this.

“…You reveal my gender?”

“What’s in it for me to do that?”

Saying this with a look of surprise, he takes out a different bottle of medicine.

“Come on, answer quickly. The next medicine won’t be able to be applied.”

I can’t help but respond to his solely clerical manner.

“I am female…”

“Alright.”

He opens the cap of the bottle and begins to apply the new medicine.

Only the sound of the medicine being applied resounds through the room. And after applying the medicine, the doctor neatly wraps the bandage.

After the treatment is finished, he speaks as he tidies up.

“I won’t reveal your gender. It’s a problem related to the privacy of the patient. But, well…”

The doctor looks this way.

“If you hide your gender, you won’t be able to see a doctor properly. If you’re not feeling well, come see me. As a doctor specializing in compound medicine and poison response, I may be able to help in some cases.”

I blink at those words.

“My name is Logan Turner. If you mention Turner at the National Hospital, you should be able to get through.”

Warm words from a person I just met. A sure kindness and a warm feeling spread to the bottom of my heart.

“…Thank you very much, Dr. Turner.”

I press down on my aching body and bow deeply.

Several days have passed since the treatment.

“What are you reading?”

As I flip through the pages of a book in the sunlit bench, William-sama, who was also reading a book next to me, speaks up.

Since the injury, William-sama has increased the amount of time he sits on the bench and reads to avoid putting a burden on me, who is still not fully recovered.

At first, I stood beside the bench, but after being asked by William-sama to sit next to him, we started sitting together,

“Leah, how about reading something too?”

From this further suggestion, we ended up in our current style.

I lift my gaze from the book and look into William-sama’s eyes. William-sama’s blue eyes, shining in the light, sparkled like a sea where countless fish were jumping.

“It’s a book on strategy.”

“Strategy?”

I smile at William-sama, who looks puzzled.

“There’s no such thing as too much learning for anything.”

As William-sama was about to open his mouth to respond,

“Excuse me.”

The school guard who had come nearby spoke up.

“Your Grace Moore, Knight-Guardian Flores-sama. The principal has called for you. Please come to the principal’s office.”

As we are led to the principal’s office, an unknown, burley middle-aged man is waiting in the room.

“You’re here. Well, first, take a seat.”

The principal, with an imposing but calm voice, strokes his white, long chin beard.

He narrows his eyes as he sees William-sama sitting in the chair and me waiting next to him.

“Knight-guardian boy. You’re injured, so you should sit. Normally, you should wait at your lord’s side, but you are the injured one now. I allow you to sit.”

The principal urges me to sit in the chair next to William-sama.

As he waits for me to sit in that chair, he opens his mouth.

“I asked you two to come here because… it’s about the ones who planned the attack on Flores.”

The principal gives a sidelong glance to a mature man, the strong-looking man turns a stern face towards us.

“I am Thomas, the captain of the royal knights. I have come to talk about the incident this time.”

Captain Thomas took out a bundle of papers that seemed to be documents from his hand.

“I will start by talking about the outline of this incident. Five noble youths invited 17 outsiders into the school and, seeing the opportunity, attacked Moore Duke-sama’s Knight-Guardian. The victim, Leah Flores, counterattacked and disabled nine attackers … um, the more I read, the more I want him in our order.”

William quietly opened his mouth to Thomas, the captain of the knight group, who seemed to be impressed.

“Leah is my knight, so it is impossible. More importantly, what is the continuation of the story?”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

The captain apologized to William-sama and continued his story.

“After that, Leah Flores received beating and kicking, and his rib was cracked and his internal organs were damaged. Also, before this incident, there were several incidents in which suspicious people attacked Duke Moore-sama, and according to the royal knights, those were also caused by the main offenders, the noble youths and the attackers. Knight Flores, is there any mistake in the facts?”

“Yes, there is no mistake.”

When I nod my head, Captain Thomas nods.

“Um… the reason I came to confirm the facts with you two is because of a certain circumstance.”

“A certain circumstance?”

William-sama asks with a puzzled look, and Captain Thomas nods heavily again.

Captain Thomas turns to the principal and asks,

“Is it really okay to tell the facts to them? There is a possibility of receiving a mental shock…”

The principal, with a grim face, says, “The situation is serious. We have no choice.”

The captain, with a stern face, brings his body closer to us and lowers his voice.

“Early this morning, the five young masters suspected to be the main offenders and 17 attackers were found dead in the cell.”

At those words, William-sama and I took a breath.

“The cause of death was bleeding due to the severing of the trachea. The perpetrator has not yet been found. From the vivid skill of escaping after killing all 22 perpetrators of this incident, it is believed that the perpetrator is a group of people and that there are those who have been aided even within the Order.”

He spoke to that point and drew his body back.

“Dead men tell no tales, and we can no longer hear about the perpetrators of this incident. That’s why I came to visit to hear more about the incident. Can you tell me the story?”

There was no mood of saying no, William-sama and I answered yes.

There was a heavy atmosphere in the principal’s office.

On the way back from the principal’s office, I remembered the words that the noble youths said when I was attacked.

[It’s your fault, because you always hang around Duke Moore-sama, we can’t recommend a guard knight to Duke Moore-sama!]

[Duke Moore-sama is a wonderful person. The people around him must be worthy of him! People like you are not worthy of Duke Moore-sama!]

I simply thought that it was their hostility towards me for obstructing their attempt to pressure William-sama.

But…

[Early this morning, young masters suspected to be the main offenders and 17 attackers were found dead in the cell.]

]The cause of death was bleeding due to the severing of the trachea. The perpetrator has not yet been found. From the vivid skill of escaping after killing all 22 perpetrators of this incident, it is believed that the perpetrator is a group of people and that there are those who have been guided even within the knights’ organization.]

The words of Captain Thomas earlier came to mind.

(Were they killed to keep their mouths shut because they were caught and were about to reveal everything…? In other words, there is someone pulling the strings behind the noble youths who were the main offenders in this incident…)

I thought about the possibility while walking.

(If that’s the case, then who in the world is pulling the strings? Someone with enough power to infiltrate a traitor within the Order…?)

“Leah.”

My thoughts were interrupted by William-sama’s voice.

“Yes, William-sama.”

When I replied, he looked at me worriedly.

“Is your injury okay? Even though you said you were treated, it must still be painful. Also, recently, shocking things have been happening… that is…”

As he struggled to speak, trying to comfort me, I smiled.

“I’m fine!”

“Wha-?!.”

I used the elasticity of my body to lift William-sama up. As soon as I did, pain ran through my ribs and I sat down on the ground.

“Whoa?!… Come on, Leah, don’t do crazy things! What if your injuries get worse because you’re trying to reassure me?!”

“I’m sorry…”

I lower my head, feeling dejected, as William-sama scolds me with half-closed eyes.

The sun alone watched our figures.

Chapter 35: To be strong

As I was reading in my room at night, I stopped flipping through the pages of my book at the sound of a bird’s loud cry.

Holding the candlelight I had placed next to me towards the clock, I saw that the clock’s hands were already past midnight.

Unconsciously smoothing out the wrinkles on my forehead, I closed the book.

Leaving the book I was holding on top of the pile of books in the corner of the room, I started preparing for bed.

***

Determined to protect William’s spirit and body, the first thing I did was to visit the school library.

The library of the Royal Academy, which is also known as the crystallization of wisdom in this country, has a variety of books collected.

I borrowed and read books on tactics such as strategy and books on martial arts, as well as books on anatomy.

Until now, I had not used logical calculations to move in battle.

The training in the knight corps was both good and bad in that it was intuitive, and I was trained using intuition and spirit under the guidance of [knock down before being knocked down].

However, looking at the books I borrowed from the school library, I realized how wasteful my previous way of fighting was.

To make the weak points of the human body and the ability to accurately aim at them, effective tactics, and ways to deal with being surrounded my own flesh and blood, I pounded them into my head.

I also carefully studied the tactics of leading troops and the formation of formations that would be necessary in the event of fighting against the anti-royalist faction, every time it got dark.

The next thing I did was to observe the body language of the other warriors.

In this academy where nobles gather, knights on guard duty walk around. There were particularly good opportunities to observe their training during class hours.

I thought that by combining the way of carrying oneself absorbed from others with the way of fighting I had come up with myself, I could acquire better movements.

For example, Edward-san, who is Prince Finlay’s escort knight. He overpowers others with his blessed physique and muscle strength, but that’s not all.

As a result of observation, it was found that he exhibits explosive power by skillfully using techniques to move his center of gravity.

I absorbed that movement as knowledge, crushed it, and by changing it to a movement that suited my body, I acquired a technique that can instantly deal a great deal of damage to the target by using my own body weight.

In this way, by turning the power of other warriors into my own power, I gradually but steadily increased the ways of fighting.

And finally.

I began to explore ways of fighting that made more use of my own possession, the [spear].

There were two reasons why I chose the spear as my weapon during my time as a knight apprentice. The first was that if I were using a spear, even if my height was a problem, it would compensate for the reach. The second was that even if it became a contest of strength, if I could use centrifugal force to my advantage, I could win.

Certainly, those two are advantages of the spear.

But can it really be said that I was fully taking advantage of the good points of the spear?

The spear consists of the [handle] and the blade part [tassel], and can fight by making use of each.

The spear I use is a straight spear. It is suitable for thrusting because it has no decorations or branch blades.

There are many things that can be done, such as thrusting that takes advantage of the weight of the [tassel] and sweeping away, and strangling techniques that make use of the [handle].

As my wounds healed, I reexamined my handling of the spear from the beginning and tried it repeatedly.

Repeatedly, no matter how many times, until the spear moves like a part of my body, smoothly moving its center of gravity.

When my physical wounds had healed, I was training at a location where I could see the botanical garden, and I saw a familiar figure in the botanical garden.

Prince Finlay, walking through the botanical garden with golden hair shining in the spring sun. He stopped in front of a group of white clovers and squatted down to take out a pen and paper and start sketching the white clover.

(Observing plants in the botanical garden… the prince sketching white clover… a joint class with another class… I remember, after this…)

As I stopped my training and looked at prince Finlay, as I expected, a girl approached him.

The girl with reddish-brown hair… Charlotte, squatting next to Finlay, talks to him.

They talked for a while, but Finlay suddenly plucked a white clover flower.

He placed the white flower next to Charlotte’s hair by her ear. The contrast between her reddish-brown hair and the white flower was beautiful.

Charlotte was a little surprised for a moment, but eventually her face, which was lightly sprinkled with freckles the color of wheat, crinkled into a flowery smile.

(I’m an outsider, but the story seems to be going according to the scenario for the most part. However, in this world line, there is an organization with powerful abilities that has killed noble offspring and attackers… I wonder how much is going according to the scenario and how much is different from the scenario…)

I silently watched the “scenario-like” scene where Finlay and Charlotte laughed peacefully for a while.

Chapter 36: After the Kidnapping

“Will, there is something I want to ask you.”

It was after school one day when Finlay, the Crown Prince, approached William with a serious expression. Charlotte, who was standing next to him, looked away as if she knew what he was going to say.

After observing the two of them, William exhaled lightly and said, “Something happened, didn’t it?”

He looked at Finlay and Charlotte with his emerald-colored eyes.

“I’ve noticed that both of you have been tense since the weekend. I was wondering what was going on.”

When William said this, the Crown Prince’s expression softened slightly.

“Haha, as expected, I can’t hide anything from Wil.”

The Crown Prince chuckled softly, but then his face became serious as he began to speak.

“Actually, I was kidnapped over the weekend and thrown in front of a magical beast.”

“…?!.”

William was stunned upon hearing this. He had suspected that something had happened, but he did not expect it to be something of this magnitude.

Meanwhile, I remembered the Crown Prince’s kidnapping incident depicted in the school arc of [You and The White Rose], a story I had read in my previous life.

The Crown Prince’s kidnapping incident in the school arc of [You and The White Rose] is depicted starting from the scene where the Crown Prince is walking through the city.

The carefree Crown Prince often sneaked out of the dormitory and wandered the streets on his own, and on that day, he had disguised himself and come to the city as usual.

As the Crown Prince walked through the streets, he was suddenly struck from behind and sniffed a handkerchief soaked with a sleep-inducing drug, causing him to pass out.

When he woke up next, he was in the midst of a forest. He was being carried by masked and eerie figures, and no matter how much he struggled, he was unable to move his body or limbs.

When they arrived at a location in the forest, the masked figures dropped the Crown Prince on the ground and left.

As he tried to understand his situation by turning his body to the other side, he saw a magical beast standing there. He was terrified at the sight of the flickering, fiery magical beast.

Despite trying to escape, he was unable to move his limbs and could only thrash about helplessly.

He was in a helpless situation where he could not tell anyone about his critical situation.

Even the usually composed Crown Prince must have thought he was doomed.

In the midst of all this, a girl riding a deer appeared before the Crown Prince.

(That girl was Charlotte, right?)

Thinking back to the spread page of [You and The White Rose], I remember the lively figure of Charlotte drawn large.

Charlotte, who heard about the prince’s strange events from the birds, immediately rode a deer and headed for the prince. And she was looking for an opportunity to rescue while grasping the situation from the birds.

Charlotte quickly cut the rope that tied the prince and escaped from the magical beast.

Thus, the prince is saved.

As expected, the outline of the incident spoken by the prince was basically the same as the story of the prince’s kidnapping that I read in [You and The White Rose].”

(I was thinking it was about time, but it was over the weekend …)”

I quietly bite my lips while listening to the story.

“So thanks to Charlotte, I somehow managed to survive. The fact that the royal family was attacked would make the people anxious, so this incident will be kept secret among those involved.”

After the prince said this and concluded the story, William-sama let go of the strength he had been holding on to.

“…Anyway, I’m glad you’re safe.”

William-sama sighs in relief.

“I’m sorry to worry you. I also got scolded by Edward. I guess I was just being careless. If I had been a little more careful …”

William-sama placed his hand on the prince’s shoulder to comfort the prince, who was looking guilty.

“I think it would have been better for you to be more careful as a royal when going out alone, but the ones who tried to harm you are to blame, not you.”

When William-sama said this, Prince Finlay narrowed his eyes.

“Thank you, Will … Thank you, Charlotte. If it weren’t for Charlotte, I would have been in a terrible situation by now.”

“No, the birds deserve the most credit this time. If the birds hadn’t told me, I wouldn’t have noticed the incident. Next time you see the birds, make sure to scatter some top-notch breadcrumbs for them.”

When Charlotte said this playfully, Prince Finlay relaxed his expression.

“I’ll offer a mountain of the best bread in the capital.”

At that moment, the chirping of birds was heard at the right timing, and the three of them looked at each other and laughed out loud.

“So here’s the main topic …”

After laughing for a while, Prince Finlay began to speak with a tense expression again.

“There is a strong theory that this incident was the work of remnants of the anti-royal party. And this has something to do with Will.”

“Me too?”

The prince nods.

“There are reports that the nobles who were responsible for the attack on Will’s escort knight recently are anti-royalists.

Upon hearing this, William-sama opened his eyes wide.

Prince Finlay continues.

“It is highly likely that they tried to bring down Wil’s escort knight and tried to take Wil into the anti-royalist camp by taking away the knight who was at stake for our own breath. Well, it’s still not out of the realm of conjecture.”

A heavy atmosphere settles in the room.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry for my friends and for the fact that Will and Charlotte may be affected by this from now on …!!”

William-sama grabbed one of Prince Finlay’s grief-stricken hands.

“Don’t make that face, Finn. Your problem is my problem. If the anti-royal party is also the enemy of Leah, I have no reason to show mercy. Let’s think about what to do together.”

“Will …”

When the prince whispered William-sama’s name, Charlotte, who was sitting next to him, grabbed the other hand of the prince.

“If I can be of any help, just say so!! It’s for Finlay, my friend, I’ll do my best!!”

“Charlotte …”

After looking astonished at Charlotte, who approached him and said that, Prince Finlay looked at her with loving eyes.

“Thank you, I’m counting on you.”

Looking at Prince Finlay’s narrowed eyes, I realized that,

(The prince is in love with Charlotte.)

This prince kidnapping incident was also an event where the prince falls in love with Charlotte.

He falls in love with Charlotte, who came to rescue him without considering her own danger.

(Certainly, if there were someone who exposed themselves to danger to come and save you in a desperate situation, you might fall in love with them … especially if they were already good friends with you).

While I was thinking about these things, the three of them held hands in the sunset.

Chapter 37: Show Windows

“Oh my! Leah, look at this, the sleeves of this dress are so cute! I wonder if I should try adding sleeves like this with a fluffy silhouette to the design I’m working on next.”

A woman turns around and looks at the many clothes displayed in the store, her amber eyes shining.

“Poppy, if you get too excited like this from the start, you’ll run out of energy. Won’t you be looking around the store in the afternoon too?”

As I speak to her with a wry smile,

“But there are just so many amazing clothes! No matter what, I can’t help getting excited!”

She turned around with an overflowing smile.

There was a clear blue sky with no clouds, and strong sunshine.

Despite the sweltering heat, there was a refreshing crispness, as if somehow sensing the end of summer.

It was perfect weather for walking around clothing stores on a day off.

“Next day off, would you like to go around clothing stores with me?”

Poppy made this request about a week ago.

Apparently, Madam Grace, whom Poppy is an apprentice for, had told her to visit clothing stores in the capital city and increase her repertoire of design ideas.

Poppy had initially intended to go alone, but thought it would be difficult to enter men’s clothing stores alone and so turned to me.

I eagerly accepted the invitation, and here we are now.

“This dress is also great! Of course, the fabric used is excellent, but most importantly, the tailoring is superb. It’s sewn together neatly without any distortion. I wonder how they sew it together…?”

I follow Poppy as she walks around the store, muttering to herself in a good mood.

There are various types of stores lined up on this street full of clothing stores.

As I look around, I notice the mannequin displayed in the show window of a nearby store.

The lustrous, ample fabric. The delicate embroidery. The gems in various colors.

It was a dress store.

I stare absentmindedly at the show window.

“That’s a beautiful dress.”

Poppy came next to me before I knew it and was looking up at the dress show window as well.

“Do you like dresses, Leah?”

Poppy asks me, and I blink my eyes.

“…I’ve never really thought about whether I like them or not.”

I try to think about it, but I still can’t come up with an answer of whether I like or dislike dresses. Besides…

“It’s not really something that has to do with my way of life.”

When I answer like that, Poppy’s eyes widen in surprise.

“I’m living this kind of life, and I probably will continue to live a life unrelated to such appearances for the rest of my life. So, I’m not sure if I like dresses or not.”

As I look at the dresses, I feel Poppy’s gaze on me from the side.

“…For me,.”

After a moment of silence looking up at the show window, Poppy suddenly brings her lips close to my ear.

“It’s not necessarily true that you have no connection to such appearances, I think Leah shouldn’t decide that yet.”

“…Even if I’m a person who is pretending to be something she’s not?”

When I mutter that, she smiles softly.

“Yes, there’s no such thing as an ‘absolute’ in life. Besides, no one knows what will happen 10 or 20 years from now.”

After whispering that, she steps back and winks.

“Regardless, I’d like to try making such a lavish dress at least once. After all, it’s wonderful! Maybe I’ll consider a design drawing next time.”

She smiles brightly.

Unconsciously, I smile back at her smile.

At that moment, I feel like I see a familiar figure passing by in the distance.

(…?)

I turn around in surprise, but there are only people passing by on the street, and there are no familiar figures.

“Leah, what’s wrong?”

In response to Poppy’s curious voice,

“It’s nothing.”

I say, and start walking with her.

Chapter 38: The Man I’ve Been Thinking About (William’s Point of View)

“Come on Will, let’s go out together!”

It was a summer day when Finn suddenly came to my room in the dormitory.

“Finn, I’m flattered by your offer, but today is Leah’s day off. You can’t go out in the city without an escort. You haven’t forgotten about the kidnapping incident the other day, have you?”

When I said that, Finn puffed out his chest.

“Oh, I haven’t forgotten about it! That’s why Edward is coming with us today.”

Finn laughs mischievously.

“It’s no problem even if the number of people under escort increases to two. We’ve been studying hard lately, and even Will must be tired. Let’s go out and change our mood.”

I hesitated for a moment, but before I knew it, I nodded in response to Finn’s smile.

There is a clear blue sky with no clouds and strong sunlight.

There is a refreshingness in the middle of the sultry heat.

“Ugh, it’s hot!”

“Yes, it is. Even though we’re at the end of the season, it’s still summer.”

I walk through the city with Finn and escort knight Edward. That’s when I spotted a familiar figure in the distance.

It was a person with light brown hair.

“Leah…?”

He was standing there in a casual outfit, different from the one he always wears when he stays by my side.

(I can’t believe we’re going out to the same place.)

It’s a feeling of exhilaration to see someone you’re thinking of by chance in the city.

But as soon as I saw the person next to him, my heart froze and my exhilaration was blown away.

A lovely woman with chestnut-colored hair and hazel eyes.

The person standing next to Leah, shaking her glossy hair in the wind, is smiling brightly towards Leah.

The two of them were close to each other, chatting like they were in front of a show window.

“What’s wrong, Will? Did you find something?”

Finn asks me in a curious voice as I stop in my tracks.

“… Hmm? That’s Will’s escort knight? Hahaha, Will’s escort knight can’t keep up with such a cute woman at an encounter like this!”

As Finn speaks to me with a hearty laugh, I feel a pain like my heart is being seized.

(Why didn’t I notice? There might be someone Leah is thinking of.)

The sound of my heart pounding loudly echoes in my ears.

The two people standing in front of the show window look more and more perfect together as I see them.

The woman with chestnut-colored hair whispers something in Leah’s ear. When the woman with chestnut-colored hair smiles, Leah also smiles softly back at her.

The intimacy of their actions makes my heart feel even more painful.

The next moment, Leah looks in our direction, so I hide in the shadow of the building with Finn.

“Wha?! What’s wrong?”

Without responding to Finn’s words, I stand motionless in the shadow of the building. After a while, I peek out of the shadow of the building.

There were no longer two people there.

Feeling a mixture of relief and something indescribable, Finn breaks away from my arm.

And then Finn turns to face me.

“Will, you’ve been weird since a while ago. Your face looks bad too… Do you want to go home?”

At Finn’s puzzled gaze, I shake my head.

“I’m fine. Shall we go on ahead?”

I quickly walk towards the crowded street to leave the spot.

In my head, the scene of the two people cuddling and smiling at each other keeps repeating.

Chapter 39: Revealing

The next day after Poppy and I went on a tour of the clothing stores.

I tilted my head because it seemed to me that William-sama’s atmosphere was somehow different from usual. He seemed to be somewhat absent-minded, he suddenly had a face as if he had thought hard.

I wondered what was going on, but the days continued without any particular cause coming to mind.

While I was on my way to take William-sama to the dormitory after the afternoon session ended.

“…What has Leah been doing on her days off lately?”

William-sama suddenly said that.

When I turned to him, he hurriedly added.

“You know, I heard that you were looking at the sea in the Duke of Moore’s territory, but there is no sea in the capital and I was wondering what you have been doing on your recent days off… I was wondering…”

He started speaking quickly and unexpectedly, his tone gradually slowed down and eventually stopped as if disappearing.

Although I was curious about his appearance, I opened my mouth to answer the question.

“On days off, I mainly do training.”

Yes, lately I have been more focused on training than before.

The attempt to make my own using the movements of other warriors was a continuous struggle for me, who had always been self-taught, but I think I have gradually understood the trick.

I also think that the goal of making better use of the characteristics of the spear has gradually come to me as I swing the spear for many hours every day.

Although it was long, I felt a sense of accomplishment as my abilities gradually improved.

“…Anything else?”

“Huh?”

“What else do you do?”

I blink at William-sama’s words.

“Other than…?”

I can’t help but fall silent because I didn’t think I would be asked what I do other than training.

After thinking for a moment, I speak.

“Maybe meet people.”

As I say this, he stiffens slightly.

“What kind of people?”

I ponder William-sama’s question in my head.

(What kind of people?)

I think of my recently met friend Poppy.

The image of her smiling face and laughter coming to mind.

“Yes… cheerful ones…”

Her sparkling face as she talks about the design of the clothes.

“Working hard towards her dreams.”

A friend who has been by my side since I was a knight apprentice.

“She is a very important person to me.”

I didn’t notice his whisper as I was thinking about her.

“As I thought, the woman with the chestnut-colored hair…”

His voice didn’t reach my ears and disappeared.

I thought William-sama was strange for falling silent, but in the meantime we arrived at the dormitory.

We face each other at the boundary of the gate.

“Then I’ll be excused. Have a good night.”

I say that and lower my head.

Then I turned my heel to leave the dormitory.

However, I felt as if my knight uniform was being pulled and I stopped.

I look, a white man’s hand is grasping the cloth around my waist.

“…William-sama?”

I turned back in surprise and saw that William-sama was looking down.

“Is something the matter?”

If I ask him, he slightly shakes his shoulder.

“Don’t go away.”

Sudden words.

He grips my clothes more strongly.

“Don’t go to anyone but me, I love you…!!”

As if breaking a dam of emotions, he spat out the words.

But then he came to his senses and took his hands off my clothes.

“…I’m sorry… I want you to forget those words. Good night, Leah.”

Saying that, he turns his body and runs into the inside of the dormitory.

The small back of him that remains.

I, who was left on the spot, could only watch his back in a daze.

Chapter 40: Practical Training

A faint sunlight shines through the curtain in the early morning.

The fuzzy head that comes with lack of sleep is filled with the sincere voice of William-sama from yesterday.

(No matter how much I think about it, it doesn’t feel real at all. Why did William-sama do such a thing…?)

As I get up from bed, I begin to think that perhaps everything that happened yesterday in front of the dormitory was just a dream.

(I’m just so tired that I can’t distinguish between dream and reality, it must have been a hallucination)

Thinking this, I open the curtains.

As I reached out my hand to grab my spear to start my morning training, I noticed a small wrinkle etched near the waist of my knight’s uniform.

This wrinkle unmistakably indicates that what happened yesterday was not a dream, and I was unable to move for a while as I stared at it.

(Could that have been a way for William-sama to show his affection through his words?)

I consider this possibility. However, his behavior was too sudden and his voice was too sincere.

The more I think about it, the more the fact that “William-sama confessed his love to me” becomes undeniable, and my head becomes more and more confused.

Before I even know what face to make when I see William-sama, time passes by quickly. And before I know it, it’s time to go meet him, but surprisingly, the problem that has been plaguing my head is resolved without much fuss.

William-sama, who greeted me in the morning, acted as if nothing had happened yesterday, and I did not have the opportunity to mention the events of yesterday.

My lord, who was perfectly behaving as usual.

I was both confused and relieved by this behavior.

(I’m still not caught up with the sudden event in my head. If William-sama wants me to pretend that nothing happened, then I will do so)

Thus, I pretended as if nothing had happened, unaware that this choice would later bring deep regrets.

“I will distribute the materials for the mountain and forestry survey practice. Make sure to check for any missing pages when it arrives.”

The temperature has become somewhat comfortable in autumn, although there is still lingering summer heat.

Those who have entered the third year, including William-sama, are receiving explanations about the mountain and forestry survey practice, which will be implemented immediately after moving up to the third year, from the botany professor.

Since accompanying servants are allowed for this practice, I am also listening to the professor’s story alongside William-sama.

“The mountain and forestry survey practice is a practice with the purpose of acquiring the correct knowledge for vegetation surveys. It is extremely important to have the skills to understand vegetation when returning to one’s own territory. These skills are directly related to the ability to properly manage and use land.”

The professor says this with a serious face as he arranges the materials.

“Also, those in a position of power must survive in any situation. If those in power die and the government collapses, many people will be left in confusion. “Surviving in any situation” is part of the training to have everyone live on their own during the practice using their own strength.”

As I glanced at the students who were buzzing in excitement at this, the professor lightly tapped the podium to call for silence.

“Please be quiet… In the explanation, first let’s start with page 5 of the materials…”

The professor’s detailed explanation continues, and silence returns to the lecture hall.

Only the voice of the professor explaining the materials echoed in the lecture hall.

“Ah… finally finished… It can’t be helped because the practice is accompanied by danger, but the explanation was really too long.”

Finlay, the crown prince, slumped down on the bench and Charlotte chuckled.

“Oh, is that so? Although the story was certainly packed with a lot of information, I was excited to listen. It’s wonderful to be able to go to the mountains and conduct a vegetation survey!”

“Charlotte, that might be because you’re someone who studies botany. I was also tired after listening to the long story…”

William-sama sighed.

Finlay, the crown prince, also nodded in agreement with William-sama’s words.

“I completely agree… Well, but learning how to survive in the mountains is something to look forward to. It’s like a dream or something like that.”

“Hmm… I don’t know if it’s a dream or not, but I was impressed by the idea that we need to survive in any situation for the people. As someone in a position of power, I want to learn how to survive.”

“That’s not what I meant… What Will is saying is very correct, but it’s not like that…”

William-sama tilted his head with a confused face at Finlay, the crown prince, who hung his shoulders in disappointment.

As William-sama kept his head tilted and moved his gaze, our eyes met.

William-sama smiled as he looked at me.

(Forget about that, and just like before… as usual…)

I moved my facial muscles and returned his awkward smile with a smile of my own.

Chapter 41: The Wind and the Handkerchief

In the forest where birds cry “gyaagyaa”. We came to the middle of the mountain for the purpose of the training.

The comfortable, autumnal wind cancels out the strong heat of the sun.

“It’s kind of… just looking at it makes me feel dangerous, Will.”

“Well, I feel like I’m about to get the hang of it…”

Finlay, the prince, looks at William with fearful eyes and doesn’t take his eyes off the machete and wood chips in his hands as he responds to William. Charlotte encourages William, who is like this.

“William, do your best! You have the basics down. Just work on your posture!”

Charlotte, who says this, is loudly making a lot of noise and continuing to split wood at high speed.

“Charlotte is so skilled with the machete…

“Ara, Finlay, for a commoner like me, it’s just natural?”

“Uh… really?”

Finlay, with a good sense, looked uncertain for a while, but eventually he started splitting wood again, without taking his eyes off of William and Charlotte. He may have grasped the knack in this short time, and although it is not as flashy as Charlotte’s technique, he seems to be splitting the wood safely.”

While we watched the peaceful scene of the three of them, Edward and I carried water.

“The stew of pork and vegetables that we made ourselves was delicious. We also studied a lot about the vegetation, it was a completely satisfying day!!”

“All that’s left is to sleep.”

While the three of them talked, looking at the sunset, the tents set up by the students were lined up on a relatively flat part of the mountain.

“Tomorrow we’ll be studying the plants near the swamp, right? Honestly, I’m more interested in fish than the swamp vegetation…”

“Why not observe the vegetation while also looking at the fish? I think the nearby environment is also an important element of the vegetation.”

As Charlotte began to speak, listening to the conversation between William and Finlay, the prince, she glanced at William’s face.

“Oh? William, there’s mud on your face.”

As she said this and took out a handkerchief, approaching William’s face, a gust of wind blew violently and Charlotte’s handkerchief flew high into the sky, away from her hand.

“Aah?!”

The white handkerchief fluttered in the air and then eventually fell, losing altitude, near the edge of the cliff.

Charlotte widened her eyes and brushed back her hair that was blown around by the wind.

“I was a little surprised that such a strong wind was blowing. I’ll go get the handkerchief.”

As Charlotte took a step towards where the handkerchief had fallen, William stopped her.

“I’ll get it. It flew away because you tried to wipe my face. Wait here.”

Saying this, William began walking towards the handkerchief. I followed him from behind.

When we arrived at the edge of the cliff, William picked up the white handkerchief after squatting down.

He lightly tapped the dirt off the handkerchief and then he stood up and tried to return to us.

At that moment.

A crack ran through the ground under William’s feet.

In the blink of an eye, the ground under William’s feet collapsed and he fell, staggering. In the dazzling setting sun, it seemed unusually slow to see him fall with his eyes open.

Charlotte’s scream and the prince’s urgent voice echoed around us.

Without thinking, I stepped towards William and reached out my hand. I grabbed his clothes and pulled him towards me, embracing his upper body as he fell to protect him.

And then, William and I tumbled off the cliff together, tangled up.

Chapter 42: Cave

As I roll down the slope while pounding my whole body, I think that this time will last forever, and then we are thrown to the ground.

“…Uh… Ah… Ugh…”

I groan with pain as I am slammed onto the ground.

Although my consciousness was about to fade for a moment, I somehow managed to keep my consciousness connected in order to check the safety of William-sama in my arms.

“…Ugh, William-sama, are you okay?!”

When I called out to him, he blinked and looked up.

“…I’m somehow okay. It’s thanks to you that I was protected.”

I feel relieved by his response.

As I comfort my painful body and stand up on the spot, I extend my hand towards William-sama.

“William-sama, can you… stand up?”

I ask with anxiety, wondering if he may have broken bones or injuries, but William-sama easily stood up by taking my hand.

We look up at the cliff we just fell from together.

“We seem to have fallen from quite a height. It’s strange that we don’t have serious injuries.”

“Yes, that’s right. As long as we don’t have injuries that hinder the maintenance of life, such as bruises and abrasions, it’s the best.”

“That’s really true. Well…”

William-sama looks around and sighs as he looks up at the top of the cliff again, then turns his face towards me.

“Normally, I think we should try to search for a way to return to everyone, but considering that the sun is already setting, it will be difficult to return to our original place before sunset. It is dangerous to act without visibility at night. I want to find a place where we can safely spend the night before the sun sets, but is that okay for Leah?”

I have no objections to his idea.

When I nod to his opinion, he nods back.

“Okay, then let’s look around. According to the map of this mountain attached to the practice materials, there should be a cave around here. I’m sure it was in this direction…”

William-sama grumbles as he enters the forest.

I follow him, keeping an eye on the wild animals around us.

To our surprise, there was a cave in the place William-sama remembered.

When I praise him, he smiles awkwardly and says,

“I’m glad the map in my memory was accurate.”

The small cave surrounded by the forest had a hole in the entrance that was only waist high.

If we looked inside, it was wide enough for four people to crouch in. It was surprisingly warm when we entered.

“William-sama, please sleep in the back. You may not be able to sleep in this situation, but please try to conserve your strength as much as possible.”

Saying this, I sat at the entrance of the cave, hugging my spear close to me.

“What about Leah?”

Turning towards William-sama’s voice, which sounded curious from the back of the cave, I smiled.

“I’m watching at the entrance. If anything happens, I’ll wake you up, so please rest easy.”

After a short silence, William-sama came over to the entrance.

The moonlight shining through the entrance of the cave illuminates his body.

Then he sits next to me and snuggles up to me.

“William-sama…?”

I ask him with a question about his strange behavior.

Turning his face towards me, he smiles softly.

“It’s relatively warm in the back of the cave, but it will be cold at the entrance. If we share each other’s body heat like this, it won’t be cold.”

He says this and smiles.

His body temperature reminded me of his voice before we entered the dormitory.

[Don’t go to anyone but me, I love you…!!]

A sincere declaration of love.

Those words, “I love you”, were definitely directed at me.

The image of him at that time overlaps with the one next to me now, and my cheeks become hot suddenly.

“What are you thinking in this emergency situation?”

Despite reprimanding myself, my cheeks don’t cool down, and I involuntarily lower my face.

“…If you react like that, I might misunderstand.”

A small mutter that sounded from above my head.

Before I could chew those words in my head, a hand stretched out from the side and gently scooped up my chin.

Our eyes met under the moonlight that was shining through. His shaking iris eyes were gazing at me.

“I thought my love was something that couldn’t be allowed. I thought it was something I had to give up if I wanted to be with you.”

The hand that was holding my chin slides along the contours of my face, stroking my cheek.

“But when I see that face, I can’t help but think that there might still be hope for me… Hey, Leah. Could it be that I don’t even have a little bit of hope?”

His wet-feathered hair rustled in the breeze.

Chapter 43: Night Breeze

I am drawn into his eyes.

Those eyes, filled with sadness, conveyed his feelings for me in a painful way.

(…Seriously, William-sama is in love with me)

When I was looking into those eyes and unconsciously about to respond to William-sama’s feelings,

(Is it really okay?)

The inner me stopped it.

(My feelings are very ambiguous now. Am I just being swayed by William-sama’s sincere feelings?)

I questioned myself.

(Isn’t that very…dishonest to William-sama?)

Thinking so, my head cooled off like I had been doused with cold water.

(Firstly, someone like me is not worthy of William-sama. There must be someone better for William-sama)

I gently remove William-sama’s finger from my cheek and lower my face.

“I am…”

I start to say, but the words get stuck.

(I am about to reject William-sama. That may hurt William-sama. But…)

The cold night wind blows between the two of us.”

(After all, I am not worthy of you)

“I cannot respond to your feelings.”

I said to him in a whisper.

He heard it and said nothing, just remained silent.

After a while, he whispered

“I see…”

Without looking at his face, I held the handle of the spear that I was embracing.

The two of us, not even shifting our bodies, let alone having a conversation.

Only the sound of insects occasionally broke the quiet space as the night piled on.

The next day.

As we were on our way to the place where everyone was staying, we were found by a search party looking for us.

Charlotte and Prince Finlay hugged William-sama with tearful faces.

As I watched this scene, my eyes met with Edward-san, who was standing behind Prince Finlay.

Edward-san did not break his usual expressionless face, but nodded to me as if to comfort me.

I nodded back to him and turned my face back to the three of them.

Charlotte was apologizing over and over, crying,

“I’m sorry for just trying to pick up my handkerchief…!!”

And Prince Finlay was saying,

“I thought it was over…I thought it was over…!!”

While crying loudly.

William-sama gently stroked their heads, comforting them.

In the midst of all this, I almost met William-sama’s eyes.

But just before our eyes met, William-sama turned his face away from me with an indifferent gesture.

I looked at them for a while, but eventually, William-sama’s eyes never met mine.

Chapter 44: The Ballroom

The temperature has become cold enough to feel like it’s seeping into your bones.

At the ballroom, William-sama’s class and Charlotte’s class were practicing dance in a joint session.

I stop my hand from training and look towards the ballroom where they are.

Since the incident in the cave, William-sama has been behaving as usual. However, I noticed that his eyes sometimes harbored a painful emotion when he looked at me.

(If I had honestly faced William-sama as his vassal and told him that “I cannot respond to those feelings” at the point when his feelings were revealed in front of the dormitory, I might have avoided hurting William-sama this much. The result of my putting things off ended up hurting William-sama even more.)

But it’s too late to regret it now.

Until today, I have continued to harbor deep regrets.

During the lesson, it was time to decide on a dance partner, and Charlotte ran up to William-sama.

Charlotte spoke to William-sama about something, and William-sama cheerfully nodded and took her hand.

To the sound of three beats, William-sama and Charlotte start dancing the waltz. As the students’ white uniforms turn over and over in the ballroom, Charlotte’s spinning skirt spreads out like petals.

Perhaps as a result of taking dance lessons since enrolling in this school, their steps are light.

It seemed as though they would dance all the way to the end, but Charlotte faltered on a complicated step and stumbled.

In that instant, William-sama naturally caught Charlotte.

Charlotte, who avoided falling, seemed relieved and said something to William-sama.

The next moment, William-sama and Charlotte looked at each other and laughed happily.

(If this were a scenario, this is where William-sama’s faint feelings of love would gain color and he would become aware of his love for Charlotte within himself.)

I gaze dimly at the two people’s smiling faces from outside the ballroom.

(It feels strange that such a wonderful person as William-sama would direct his feelings towards someone like me, a humble knight. It would feel much more fitting to be told that he was paired with a bright woman like Charlotte.)

As I was thinking this far, an idea surfaced in my head.

(That’s right, this is the real world. There is no guarantee that everything will progress as it does in a story. Isn’t it possible that William-sama and Charlotte will be paired, rather than Prince Finlay and Charlotte?)

Like a small seed sprouting, that thought swells and grows.

(Charlotte is a cheerful and warm-hearted person, so she will surely make William-sama happy. Furthermore, in “You and the White Rose,” William-sama longed for Charlotte, so the chances of him being attracted to her are high if he gets to know her well.)

In a short time, my head was filled with that thought.

(I used to hesitate to break up the relationship between Prince Finlay and Charlotte, but I can’t say that anymore if it means making William-sama happy. Besides, it doesn’t seem like Charlotte is attracted to the prince… I still have time. As a way to atone for hurting William-sama, I will do my best to make him and Charlotte a couple. I apologize to His Highness Finlay, but he is the prince of this country after all. There should be other wonderful partners for him.)

I raise my fist in my heart.

(Please wait, William-sama. I will do my best to make you happy.)

Having secretly made this decision, I returned to training and swung my spear.

***

TL: Discussions

Neko-chan: Hey, did you see that? It was so weird.

Potato-tan: Yeah, I couldn’t believe how Leah was acting. It’s clear that she cares about William, but I don’t think it’s right for her to try and push him towards Charlotte.

Neko-chan: I totally agree. Just because Leah thinks William and Charlotte would be a good match, doesn’t mean that’s what William actually wants. People need to make their own decisions about their relationships.

Potato-tan: And it’s not Leah’s place to try and end the potential relationship between Charlotte and Prince Finlay. That’s something Charlotte and Prince Finlay should decide for themselves.

Neko-chan: Exactly. And even if Leah is trying to make amends for hurting William, she can’t just go around making decisions for other people and expecting it to fix everything. It’s not that easy.

Potato-tan: I think Leah needs to take a step back and focus on her own feelings and actions, rather than trying to control the relationships of others. It’s not fair to anyone involved.

Neko-chan: Definitely. Leah needs to remember that it’s not her place to dictate the happiness of others. She needs to let people make their own choices and respect their decisions.

Chapter 45: Red tea and room (William’s Point of View)

“Hey, Will. I may be mistaken, but… haven’t you been acting a bit strange lately?”

Finn said this to me while we were having a casual conversation in his dorm room.

“Strange? In what way?”

When I asked him this, Finn crossed his arms and twisted his neck.

“It’s hard to put into words… but it’s like you’re missing your usual spirit or something?”

Hearing this answer, I was relieved.

Finn has sharp intuition, so he must have noticed something from my behavior, but naturally he wouldn’t know the full details.

“I think it’s just Finn’s imagination… I’ve been feeling cold lately, so maybe I caught a cold without realizing it. I’ll be more careful from now on.”

As I said this, I put on a clueless face and took a sip of tea.

“Hmm…?”

Finn looked uncertain, but then said,

“…Yeah, if Will says so, I guess it must be true. Winter is a time when it’s easy to become physically unwell. Take care of yourself.”

I nodded in agreement.

“I thought you weren’t feeling well recently because you got dumped by a girl or something!! Haha, I never would have thought there would be a woman who could make Will feel down, though!!”

“Buhu?!”

As he tried to lighten the mood with a joke, Finn’s words caused me to almost choke on the tea I was drinking.

“Whoa?!”

Hearing Finn’s cry, I coughed violently.

Unable to catch my breath, I looked at Finn, who opened his eyes wide in surprise.

“Wait, really…?”

After Finn’s mutter, the only sound in the room for a while was my coughing.

“Well, let’s hear what happened.”

“…I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t play dumb.”

After wiping up the spilled tea on the table and sitting back down in the chair, Finn leaned in towards me.

“So, what kind of woman is it? I mean, I assume she’s either someone with seriously skewed values or a complete idiot if she thinks she can capture Will’s heart.”

“Haha, Finn is overestimating me too much.”

I laughed at Finn’s words and thought of Leah.

His flaxen hair, cut to collarbone length, was neatly combed, and his deep green eyes, like a clear lake in the forest, looked straight at me.

He’s always been devoted to me, my knight.

But that person…

“It’s a man, right?”

“Eh?”

“…Oh.”

I accidentally let the words slip out and quickly covered my mouth, but the fact that they had escaped couldn’t be undone.

Finn was stunned for a moment, but then he tightened his face.

“So the person you have feelings for is a man, not a woman?”

Looking at his expression, I decide that there’s no turning back.

It might still be possible to make an excuse and brush it off, but I didn’t want to lie to Finn, my best friend.

I faced him and slowly opened my mouth.

“Yes, he’s a man.”

When I affirm Finn’s words, he widens his grass-green eyes. He’s stiff for a moment, but then he puts a question mark on his face and tilts his head.

“So… you have feelings for a man?”

Feeling discomfort at those words, I blink my eyes.

“Hmm… I don’t think I have feelings for him just because he’s a man. It’s more like, regardless of whether he’s a man or a woman, I love him because he’s that person… I don’t really know since this is the first time I’ve felt this way towards someone…”

When I say this, Finn falls silent.

As he doesn’t show any sign of moving, I call out to him.

“Finn?”

The next moment, he stands up as if he were shot.

“I got it!!”

As I stare in surprise at Finn, who suddenly said that, he turns his face towards me.

“The person is Will’s knight!!”

I’m astonished that he was able to guess the truth.

“How did you…?”

Hearing my mutter, Finn made a triumphant face.

“I remembered that Will’s behavior was strange when he saw the knight’s rendezvous. I thought it was strange because his face was blue, but I guess that was it.”

He was speaking confidently, but then he snapped his mouth shut as if he were startled.

“…I’m sorry, I was talking carelessly and reopened your wounds.”

I smile wryly at Finn, who apologizes with a remorseful face.

“Don’t apologize. You’re just stating the facts.”

After Finn hesitantly glances around with an uneasy look, he tentatively opens his mouth.

“To put it simply, the knight that Will is interested in had a woman he was seeing… well, something like that?”

I nod at Finn’s words.

“Furthermore, after that, I confessed my feelings to him and was clearly rejected. Given this situation, it’s certain that I don’t have any hope, not even in the slightest.”

After saying that, I drink some tea and look at Finn. Finn has both hands covering his face.

For a moment, he remained in that position, but then he sat down on the chair and stretched out both hands towards me, grasping my shoulders tightly.

“Will… There are many people in the world. There are men and women of all types for someone as personally outstanding as you. So don’t look like that!! I’m sure you’ll find someone else!”

He spoke to me with determination and squeezed my shoulders with his hands.

“Finn, thank you. But… I don’t think I can look at anyone other than him right now. Anyway, I need some time to sort out my feelings.”

When I said that, he released his hands from my shoulders and looked down.

“Such a… sad face and yet you laugh…”

His mutter disappears into the quiet room.

The cold tea on the table ripples slightly.

Chapter 46: In the Shadows of Buildings

“William-sama, would you mind walking this way?”

On the cold, windy corridor, I called out to William-sama as he headed towards the laboratory.

“Yeah?”

William-sama turned towards me.

“Okay, but… What’s wrong all of a sudden?”

As I saw his puzzled expression, I tried to keep a straight face.

“I heard that the coral moss is at its best in the garden over here, so I was hoping you could take a look.”

As I said this, William-sama looked in the direction I indicated. He squinted his eyes as he sent his gaze off into the distance.

“Really? I can see the branches are turning red from here. Okay then… following your suggestion, let’s head to the laboratory while admiring the coral moss.”

He smiled and began walking towards the garden.

As he approached the coral moss,

“…Oh? William!!”

A girl’s voice came from between the red branches of the coral moss. A girl peeked out from between them.

“I see you a lot these days. Did you come to see the garden?”

As she said this and approached, William-sama’s eyes flickered and he looked at Charlotte.

“Oh, that’s right. I heard that the coral moss was at its best. I thought we could take a look on the way to the laboratory.”

Upon hearing this, Charlotte smiled.

“That’s great! The coral moss around here is something I take care of. I’m adjusting the fertilizers as part of my research. Please take a look! Would you like a tour?”

William-sama also smiled, drawn in by Charlotte’s bright smile.

“I have to go to the laboratory, so it won’t be for very long, but if Miss Charlotte doesn’t mind, I’d really appreciate it. Could you show me the highlights?”

The two of them walked through the garden together.

I kept watch, trying to be as stealthy as possible while staying a little distance away from them.

Ever since I resolved to do everything in my power to bring William-sama and Charlotte together, I have consistently made efforts like this to bring them together.

As someone who has been observing William-sama’s surroundings for the two years I have been at this school, it is not particularly difficult for me to bring William-sama and Charlotte together under the guise of coincidence.

People tend to have more positive feelings towards someone they see frequently. Indeed, William-sama and Charlotte are having a pleasant conversation.

(If I can bring William-sama and Charlotte a little closer together…)

Thinking this, I kept watch over them.

At that moment, William-sama suddenly looked my way.

Mt gaze meets with lapis lazuli eyes that seem to want to say something.

(…?)

Before I could even think about the meaning behind that gaze, he turned his eyes back to the coral moss.

I continued my work diligently.

Sometimes I would lead William-sama to a place where Charlotte might be, and other times I would bring her favorite raspberry jam cake as a gift.

And when they were talking, I made sure to be as stealthy as possible so as not to disturb them.

They seemed to be getting along even better than before, and my plan seemed to be going smoothly.

“William-sama, the weather is nice today, so how about we walk through the lecture hall on the way?”

One day after class, I made this suggestion and William-sama suddenly fell silent and stopped in his tracks.

“Is something the matter?”

I was curious and tried to get a closer look at William-sama’s face, but he suddenly grabbed my hand.

Without saying a word, he began walking in the opposite direction of the lecture hall.

“…?!..William-sama?!”

Surprised by his sudden actions, I followed him as he was pulling me along, and he stopped in a place where there were no people in the shadows of the building.

I was taken aback by the expression on William-sama’s face as he turned towards me.

There was no mistaking the anger in his eyes.

William-sama quietly opened his mouth.

“Hey, could you stop doing that thing you’ve been doing lately?”

I was silenced by the pressure of his anger, but after a short pause, I asked him a question.

“…What thing?”

At my question, his eyes burned with even more anger, but on the surface, he spoke calmly.

“That thing” is the action you’ve been taking to bring Miss Charlotte and me together.”

I was speechless at his answer.

William-sama saw my expression and continued speaking.

“At first, I couldn’t figure out what was going on. But as time passed, I understood your intentions. You’ve been scheming to bring Miss Charlotte and me together.”

I was caught off guard and lost my voice. William-sama continued speaking.

“You know my feelings, don’t you? Can you understand how I feel about being schemed to be with someone other than the person I have feelings for? When I realized your intentions, I was as miserable as I could be. Hey, did you find it so unpleasant to have my feelings directed towards you? Did you take this action without considering my or Miss Charlotte’s feelings, just because being with me was so distasteful to you?”

His expression was a mix of anger, sadness, and pain.

“I didn’t have that intention…”

When I whispered that unconsciously, he twisted his face.

“Then what was your intention?”

Hearing those words, I fell silent again. It was impossible to explain that I took this action because it was likely that William-sama in this world would also have feelings for Charlotte, based on the fact that the William-sama in [You and The White Rose] had feelings for Charlotte.

My silence was pierced by his eyes.

“Recently, it seems like you’ve been looking at someone else through me. Who exactly are you looking at?”

At those words, I gasped and looked up.

Chapter 47: Palm of the Hand

I was struck by a shock like being struck by lightning at his words.

(I see… I was confusing the real William-sama with the William-sama in the scenario. Although he is living in this world without doubt, I have been confined to the scenario by applying my heart to it and acting on my own.)

The distortion of my own way of understanding that was not visible until now becomes clear.

(“This is the real world, and there is no guarantee that things will proceed exactly as the story goes” while being imprisoned by the image of William-sama in “You and The White Rose” while considering it myself.)

I faced the distortion of my own cognition head on and clenched my lips.

(Certainly, there is a need to act to avoid the fate of William-sama’s death as the scenario proceeds. However, it was wrong to confine living people to the framework of the scenario and determine the movement of their hearts. Moreover, I cannot repent enough for having made such a hurtful imitation of William-sama.)

I looked at William-sama’s face covered in negative emotions because of me.

(Even now, I should face his feelings sincerely.)

Not knowing what to talk about, I felt like I couldn’t stay or stand and opened my mouth.

“William-sama, I’m sorry.”

What came out of my mouth was a word of apology.

Hearing my apology, William-sama took a deep breath to calm himself down.

And when he looked at me next, the color of anger had disappeared from his face, and only sorrow spread across his blue eyes.

“No… I was the one who was wrong.”

He turned his face away from me as if to hide it.

“I didn’t think about your feelings. I’m sorry if it made you feel uncomfortable when I showed you my affection.”

“There is no way I could feel uncomfortable about feelings shown to me by William-sama!!”

As I yelled that, William-sama stared and turned his face towards me.

I continued speaking.

“I thought that I wasn’t worthy of you, who showed me your feelings… that there must be someone better for William-sama.”

Upon confessing my sincere feelings, he replied with a look that said he hadn’t even thought about that.

“Such… you are a wonderful person. You have saved me in pain many times.”

I shook my head at his response.

“I am just an ordinary person. You would have picked yourself up by your own power even if I weren’t here.”

I continued speaking in a whisper as I had said so far.

“My feelings are very ambiguous. Even if I am shown strong feelings, I cannot return the same feelings. What I feel for you now is not love, but a heart of affection.”

It takes courage to expose my ambivalent feelings, but I tell myself that it is necessary to face him and express my honest heart.

William-sama fell silent as if he was considering my words, and eventually slowly opened his mouth.

“So Leah… you don’t have any hatred towards me for showing you my affection?”

“No way!!”

I immediately denied it, and he breathed a sigh of relief.

“I see…”

He muttered and relaxed his face for a moment, but then furrowed his well-shaped eyebrows.

“But you have a heart of friendship with someone you have an engagement with. You must have been troubled when I approached you despite having a predetermined partner.”

I tilted my head towards William-sama, who had a pained expression and closed his lips.

“A heart of friendship with someone you have an engagement with…? I’m sorry, but what do you mean?”

Upon hearing this, he furrowed his eyebrows even more, amplifying his own pain.

“You don’t have to try to deceive me. Did you meet a woman with chestnut-colored hair at the end of summer?”

“Huh.”

My memories go back to the end of summer.

(The end of summer… a woman with chestnut-colored hair…?)

“Ah…?!”

The memory of going around the store with Poppy in the clothing street revived in my mind.

“Th-This is a misunderstanding!! She is a friend, that was not an engagement!”

I insisted as if eating foam, he widened his eyes in surprise.

“What?! Even though you were acting so close together?!”

“Yes. Probably because we were looking at the same thing in the show window, it looked that way.”

William-sama stands still as if stunned by my words.

“It was my misunderstanding…”

And he drops his shoulder strength and puts his hand on his jaw as if thinking.

“In other words, the reason you rejected my confession of love is… because Leah’s self-esteem is low and your feelings towards me are affectionate, rather than because you feel rejection towards me? And also, you don’t have anyone in your heart yet.”

“Is it something like that…? No, I don’t think my self-esteem is low… but in fact, I am not worthy of William-sama…”

As I feel doubt about the conclusion that William-sama has reached, I tilt my head, but when I see him picking up my hand and placing a kiss on my palm, such doubts are blown away from my head.

“…?!.. William-sama, what on earth are you doing?!”

The kiss on the back of the hand that was given to me when I was attacked before and the kiss on the palm that was given to me now have very different meanings. Kissing the back of the hand means [respect], but kissing the palm of the hand means [courtship].

Without paying attention to my agitation, he slowly lifts his face from my palm.

There is no longer any hesitation in his eyes that are looking at me.

“You see, even though I knew that you had someone else, I couldn’t bring myself to give up on you. If it’s true that the reason you rejected my confession is because of such a reason, then there is no longer any reason for me to give up on you.”

William-sama lifts my hand and rubs his cheek against it.

“From now on, I will court you with all my might. Until your affection turns into love.”

He looks at me with a determined expression.

“I’m sure I’ll be able to win your heart.”

After declaring this, William-sama once again places a kiss on my palm.

Chapter 48: A Corner of the Library

The day after William-sama declared.

Although I was still agitated, as half a day passed without any major changes, I gradually regained my calm.

(I was prepared because William-sama said something like that, but the everyday life doesn’t suddenly change like that. After all, William-sama is a calm person…)

After school, nothing happened.

In a quiet corner of the library lined with numerous bookshelves, the sound of turning pages was barely audible.

William-sama, who was facing the materials with a serious expression, had a strand of hair hanging down.

When amber light shone in through the window, William-sama stretched on the chair and took a deep breath.

Then he turned to me after checking the clock.

“Leah, you must have been tired standing by my side for so long. No one is in the library now, so you won’t be blamed if you sit here. Come over here.”

As William-sama pointed to the chair next to him, I hesitated for a moment before sitting in that seat.

As I lowered my hips next to William-sama, the many books he was reading flew into my eyes.

[The role of politics in poverty], [Child poverty], [Regional disparities] …

“This is … about what William-sama is researching?”

When I said that, William-sama nodded.

“Yes, I am researching “the way of policy for correcting the poverty gap of the people”, but today I was particularly focusing on researching child poverty.”

He traced one of the books with his finger.

“There are too many unreasonable and irrational things in the world. Just a little bit of misfortune is enough to swallow people up in the wave of poverty in no time.”

As he spun those words, he smiled at me.

“Fufu, it’s unusual for Leah to ask about my research. Are you interested?”

To William-sama, who said that, I shook my head horizontally.

“Yes. It is the duty of a servant to support the lord’s goals. In order to do that, it is necessary to understand William-sama’s thoughts more … I think I understand your thoughts to some extent, but that is not enough. I was thinking of directly asking William-sama’s intentions when you have time … ”

To my words, he opened his eyes slightly and smiled happily.

“I’m happy that you said that. Yes, I also wanted Leah to understand what I’m trying to do. If you don’t mind, can we talk about it now? I have materials too.”

Seeing me nod, he picked up the materials.

“If I were to talk about it, it would be around here. First of all, the definition of poverty…”

Starting to explain to me in a low voice, William-sama said,

“I’ve picked it out, but roughly speaking, this is what it’s like.”

William-sama placed the materials he had on the table and glanced at the clock.

“There are still things we haven’t talked about, but it’s getting late, so let’s go home soon.”

I stopped him as he tried to tidy up the materials and called out to him.

“Before we go, may I review the materials you showed me again?”

“Huh? Sure, here.”

I received the book from William-sama and reread part of the analysis I couldn’t understand.

As I was reading the materials and the sound of the clock seemed unusually loud, something soft touched my cheek for a moment.

When I realized that it was William-sama’s lips that had left me in a moment like a bird pecking, I turned to him in surprise.

He looked at me with a face that seemed to have succeeded in teasing me.

Somehow regaining my breath, I squeezed out words towards William-sama.

“I thought that William-sama … wouldn’t do something like this by surprise…”

I said that while the shock had not yet subsided, trying to calm my heart.

“I’m sorry. When I saw you working hard, I became fond of you. Do you hate me for doing this?”

“No … that’s not it …”

(That way of saying is cunning. I shouldn’t think that I hate William-sama.)

As I looked at William-sama, thinking about such things, William-sama smiled.

“Ahaha, your thoughts show on your face. Leah, there are times when you think of me as a pure and honest personality, but I am surprisingly cunning and persistent. Especially when it comes to you.”

He looked at me with one hand on his cheek.

“I can’t help it. Because I learned of the possibility that someone may fall in love with you.”

As he said that in a whisper, he smiled beautifully with his lapis lazuli eyes showing some light that was not calm.

Chapter 49: The Flowery Cloudy Opera House

“Leah, there’s a popular stage show going on. Would you like to come with me this time?”

It was a bright spring day when William-sama was asked that.

“A stage show? Of course, I would be happy to join you.”

It was the first time that William-sama had mentioned seeing such a recreational event, and although I found it strange, I immediately nodded.

“So, what are your plans for the day?”

“I was thinking of going to the opera house west of the capital. The performance that has been generating buzz is apparently by a new and talented theater group.”

Upon further inquiry, it turned out to be the opera that had recently been the talk of the school. As it was an opera house for the general public, it was secretly fashionable among the noble children of the school to dress as commoners and go see the opera.

“I see. It’s understandable that William-sama would be interested in that. To ensure that William-sama can enjoy the performance in peace, I will make sure to tighten security.”

As I said that and bowed, William-sama looked surprised for a moment before laughing with an indescribable expression on his face.

“Ahaha… I’m looking forward to that day.”

As I tilted my head at that expression, I nodded in response to his words.

Under a sky with a thin sun and scattered clouds.

William-sama and I had arrived in front of the much-talked-about opera house.

William-sama is also dressed like a commoner today.

He looks more like a commoner than when I first dressed up as one and went to town…

(He’s still too dignified to be a commoner)

As I think this and look at William-sama, the ticket booth comes into view.

We quickly buy tickets and sit in the designated seats.

(There doesn’t seem to be anyone around acting suspicious)

As I check the surroundings, I suddenly notice that William-sama’s cheeks are red and he’s pressing his lips together.

“William-sama, your cheeks are red. Are you feeling hot? Do you want me to take your coat?”

Surprised, I ask this and William-sama glances at me before leaning in and whispering in my ear.

I also lean in towards him.

“It’s okay, I just got embarrassed suddenly when I thought about being alone with Leah.”

His husky voice flows quietly into my ear.

“A… Alone…?!”

Turning towards William-sama as if I had been shot, I see that he’s smiling happily, albeit embarrassed.

“Fufufu, we have been alone together as escort knight and escort target many times before, but if I consciously think that this time’s theater performance is a rendezvous, I get embarrassed… It seems like you thought this time was also an escort, but I’m happy if you revise your understanding because this is a rendezvous, at least in theory.”

He smiles as he says that.

As I faced that smile, I repeatedly opened and closed my mouth as if trying to speak, but I couldn’t even produce a voice and closed my lips.

William-sama, who was watching me with a smile, notices the changing lighting in the venue as it becomes darker and narrows his eyes.

“It looks like it’s about to start. This performance focuses on sword fighting, and it seems like they’ve gathered professional warriors for the fight scenes, so I think you’ll enjoy it, Leah.”

He says this and faces the stage.

I am also drawn to face the performers, and eventually become immersed in the performance.

“That was a powerful stage. It’s understandable why it’s popular.”

“Yes, really… I mean, really…”

Really, it was an amazing stage.

What was amazing was the use of professional warriors for the fight scenes. And the physical actors’ convincing sword fighting.

The sword handling was slightly exaggerated for the stage, but their sharp movements made me involuntarily hold my breath while watching.

(Can we see that swordsman’s footwork on the stage again? It was also amazing how the brown-skinned actress moved her center of gravity…)

I remember the movements on the stage.

“Leah…? Your expression looks serious, almost deadly, but are you okay…?”

I snapped out of my thoughts at William-sama’s concerned voice.

“I’m sorry, I’m fine.”

When I replied, he smiled thinly on his face.

“I’m glad. But… maybe you didn’t like the performance?”

I panicked at his anxious eyes.

“That’s not it!! It was a wonderful stage, the plot was also moving…”

I try to explain to clear up the misunderstanding, changing my tone of voice.

As I desperately pile up words, William-sama eventually couldn’t hold it in and burst out laughing.

“Ahaha!! Leah, you don’t have to be so desperate. It’s enough that you enjoyed the stage.”

He stands up from his seat.

“Well, shall we take a walk around here before we go home?”

He said with a smile.

The front of the opera house was crowded with people, but when we entered a side street it became quiet.

William-sama and I walked through the peaceful streets.

After walking for a while, William-sama stopped in place.

“Hey, Leah.”

He called out to me, interrupting his words.

When I turned around, he had a smile on his face and held out his hand to me.

“Won’t you walk with me, hand in hand?”

I looked suspiciously at the offered hand and was startled.

(His hand is shaking.)

The hand that shook slightly seemed to vividly represent William-sama’s anxiety.

(When he courted me behind a building, when he kissed my cheek in the library, when I think about it, they were all one-sided actions that could have taken place without any response from me. But this time is different. Holding hands will not happen unless I respond)

I looked up and saw William-sama’s expression.

He had a forced smile on his face, but fear could be seen in his eyes.

(He’s afraid. He’s afraid that I’ll reject him again)

I held his hand despite the fear that made his hand shake, because I wanted to convey my feelings to him.

Without knowing whether that action came from my being his servant or something else, I took his hand to stop the shaking.

William-sama looked at me in surprise and stared.

Then he squeezed the linked hands tightly and closed his eyes.

We walked down the empty alley.

His hand was no longer shaking.

Chapter 50: Festivals

“Lately, the atmosphere on campus has been unsettled.

The plants have grown thick, and the green has become dense.

As I look at the restless students from the shade of the trees and say this, William-sama casually opens his mouth.

“It’s because the day of the festival, which only happens once every seven years, is approaching.”

“Festival…?”

I ask, wondering.

“It’s a traditional festival in the capital. In the old days, there was a legend that two people of different social classes who were deeply in love sent lanterns into the sky every day for seven years to confirm their love for each other, and they were able to marry thanks to the blessing of the god of love who was moved by their courage.

He closes the book he was reading, and turns to face me.

“Those two people are said to be the second king and queen. Since then, the capital has continued the tradition of sending lanterns into the sky once every seven years.”

“I see… I didn’t know that.”

As I say this in admiration, he shakes his head.

“It’s not surprising that you don’t know. It’s a festival that only happens once every seven years, so only the people of the capital know about it. Except for certain people.”

“Certain people?”

As I tilt my head at the suggestive words, William-sama smiles.

“People who are thinking of someone, or couples. This festival is a perfect opportunity to express your feelings. Of course, I’m also struggling with how to invite you to the festival… Hey, will you come with me?”

Ever since the two of us went out to the opera house, William-sama has frequently invited me somewhere like this.

It’s meaningless to resist in front of that smile.

As a servant, I don’t have the option to say no, and I just nod in response to William-sama’s question.

(Is it true? Is it only because I’m a servant?)

That inner voice that rises from the depths of my heart is once again shut away by my reason.

***

The sparkling lights, the lively stalls, the couples meeting and greeting.

…somehow I feel out of place and cramped.

In the festive atmosphere of the festival, I feel uncomfortable and William-sama looks at my face as if worried.

“Leah, are you getting drunk? Do you want to take a break somewhere?”

I quickly weave words to clarify William-sama’s misunderstanding as he lowers his eyebrows.

“No, I’m fine. It’s just that I feel overwhelmed by the atmosphere…”

“Ah…because love is revered at this festival, there are many people who are not afraid to show affection in public…it was me who invited you, but to be honest, I feel a little overwhelmed too…”

William-sama bitterly smiles as he avoids looking at the man and woman passionately kissing in the shadows of the shop.

At that moment,

“Ah, that!”

A woman’s voice stopped us.

When we turned around, there was a cute, young girl with a charming appearance standing there.

Her cheeks were red as she looked straight at William-sama.

“Yes? Do you need something from us?”

William-sama asked, and the woman hesitated shyly.

“Well…I, I fell in love at first sight! Please become my lover!”

Her voice was so loud that it made my ears ring.

The surroundings became quiet, and then suddenly erupted.

“Whoa!! Hey, she’s got some balls!”

“Yo, playboy! You have to give a good response, or you’ll be a waste of a man!”

“Best wishes to the new couple!”

Various jeers flew around, and the girl’s cheeks reddened even more.

Just as William-sama, who was flustered and struggling for words, was about to open his mouth,

“Jessica!”

A young man ran up to the girl.

“What are you doing, don’t run off! Let’s go!”

He tried to pull her hand and lead her away.

The people around stopped him.

“Come on now. Don’t be so rude, buddy. That lady just made a once-in-a-lifetime confession to the playboy over there!”

After hearing that, the young man opened his mouth in shock and turned to the girl.

“…You’re kidding, right?”

The girl pressed her bright red cheeks with her hand and lowered her face.

“It’s true, Carter.”

The young man looked stunned for a moment, but then his eyes sharpened and he glared at William-sama.

“I don’t accept it…I don’t accept it…”

He muttered, and then suddenly pointed at William-sama and yelled,

“I’m the one who will be bound to Jessica! I challenge you to a duel!”

The surroundings became quiet again, and then,

“Ohhoo!! A love triangle!”

“This is getting interesting!”

“I’ll bet three copper coins on the playboy!”

“I’ll bet five copper coins on the newcomer!”

The excitement rose even more and irresponsible jeers poured down.

William-sama was dumbfounded by the surroundings that were getting more and more heated, but he quickly regained his senses and tried to speak in a hurry.

“Wait, I’m sorry, but I have no intention of responding to that woman’s feelings…”

But before William-sama could finish his words,

“Oooh!! I won’t hand over Jessica!!”

The young man, who didn’t even hear William-sama’s words, charged towards him while waving his arms.

I quickly stood in front of William-sama and blocked the young man’s fist, and twisted his arm.

“Ow?! Ow, it hurts it hurts it hurts!!”

The young man struggled and flailed about.

“William-sama.”

When I called out to him, William-sama nodded.

William-sama took a step towards the girl.

“To the person who approached me. I’m sorry, but I can’t respond to your feelings.”

He told her with a confident voice.

She shook her eyes and then looked down dejectedly.

I don’t know when it happened, but I let go of the young man’s arm.

William-sama turned on his heel and spoke to me.

“Leah, shall we go?”

I responded to William-sama’s words with a bow and naturally followed him as he walked through the broken crowd and left the place.

Chapter 51: Lantern Light

While walking behind William-sama, I was troubled by a foggy feeling.

William-sama is a handsome man.

It is within the realm of possibility that I would fall in love at first sight, or even receive a confession of love.

Yet…

(My heart is in a state of confusion)

While carrying these feelings that I can’t put into words, I continued to follow William-sama.

Weaving through the crowds and leaving the city, we finally came to a small hill on the outskirts, where his steps stopped.

The surroundings were already dark, and the only light visible was the dimly glowing sign of a store we had just left.

William-sama took a deep breath.

“Phew… I was wondering what would happen.”

Then he turned to me and began to touch my arm gently.

“Hey, are you hurt? You were just lunged at by a strange young man a while ago. I think you’ll be okay because you’re Leah, but…”

Hearing these words, I finally realized that William-sama’s actions were to check for any injuries.

“I’m fine, I don’t have any injuries.”

When I answered, he smiled and whispered,

“That’s good…”

Then he started to stare intently at my arm again.

“What happened? Is there something on my arm?”

When I asked curiously, William-sama opened his mouth with a serious face.

“No, I just thought your flowing movements earlier were beautiful.”

Amidst the faint breeze, he continued,

“It would not be possible to make such movements on a whim without an extraordinary effort.”

Staring at my face, William-sama smiled softly.

“Everything that makes up you has been created through your own efforts. And it feels indescribably beautiful.”

When he put it into words like that,

I felt something inside me change and I blinked my eyes.

(“I want to save William-sama’s life” is a selfish thought that my body is composed of…)

You, who even embrace my selfish thoughts that have nothing to do with your will.

(Even that, you say, is beautiful.)

My actions are covered in ego.

I’m not trying to protect William-sama for his sake. I’m doing it for my own sake.

My peace of mind is only maintained when my precious William is happy.

A one-sided ego of trying to protect him for my own sake. A ugly heart.

Even so, I felt like my ego, which had accumulated since I remembered my past life at the age of 6 and had been rewarded as if my existence had been affirmed by those words.

At that moment,

“Leah, look. The lanterns are rising into the sky.”

I turned around at the whisper from William-sama, who had looked behind me.

In the ultramarine sky, countless warm-colored lanterns were floating up. The lanterns slowly ascend into the sky.

(It’s beautiful. The view with William-sama is like this…)

For some reason, I feel like I’m about to cry and I blink my eyes again.

(If I can protect you close by from now on)

When I wished for the future I would face with William-sama.

(…?)

I had the feeling that something had stuck the corner of my head,

“This is spectacular.”

“Yes, it is, William-sama.”

But before I could grasp what it was, it had disappeared into the back of my head.

Chapter 52: Conscious

After class, William-sama is chatting with his classmates from afar.

I feel a sense of unease start to fill my chest and I look away from William-sama and his classmates.

Recently, I’ve been feeling strange.

Sometimes, I’m overwhelmed with a feeling like sorrow pressing against my chest, and it seems to be particularly noticeable when I’m with William-sama.

No, that’s not quite right. It might be more accurate to say that the feeling becomes particularly noticeable when William-sama is talking to someone.

I don’t know why I’m being overwhelmed with this feeling, and as the seasons pass, William-sama is approaching the end of his final year at the academy.

In the deep autumn.

I’ve come with William-sama to a field of cosmos flowers in the countryside of the capital.

As usual, this trip was also at the invitation of William-sama.

The sight of the endless fields of pale pink cosmos swaying in the wind is truly magnificent and breathtaking.

As we walk among them, William-sama gently entwines his fingers with mine.

I respond by entwining my fingers with his, and William-sama happily smiles softly.

“Leah.”

As William-sama opened his mouth,

“William!!”

A familiar girl’s voice suddenly stopped William-sama.

William-sama turns around in surprise.

“Miss Charlotte and… Finn? And the guard, Edward-san?”

Charlotte and the crown prince Finlay and guard Edward-san appeared. Charlotte smiles sweetly.

“It’s such a coincidence to meet you here, William!!”

“Y-Yeah, I didn’t expect to see you. Why are you here?”

When William-sama says this, Crown Prince Finlay clears his throat.

“Uh, well… we’re actually on a da…”

“I invited him to come with me for my research! It’s great to observe external plants like this and learn so much… Oh? Finlay, were you about to say something? I’m sorry for interrupting.”

“No… it’s fine…”

Crown Prince Finlay droops his shoulders at Charlotte’s words.

It seems that the crown prince is thinking about Charlotte, but it doesn’t seem that his feelings are reaching her at all.

“It’s fine… there’s still a year left… there’s still a year left…”

Crown Prince Finlay muttered to himself, but suddenly he turned his gaze to us.

“Oh? You’re holding hands…”

At that moment, I finally remembered that I was holding hands with William-sama. I quickly let go of my hand and hid it behind my back.

As I was thinking about how to explain myself while sweating,

“No, wait. It’s okay.”

The crown prince raised his bangs and looked at us alternately, then gave us a refreshing smile.

“Yeah, yeah, I understand everything. I’m fine with it.”

Then the crown prince placed his hand on William-sama’s shoulder and said with an even more refreshing smile,

“Good for you, William.”

William-sama tried to say, “No, we’re not in that kind of relationship yet…” but Crown Prince Finlay said,

“Haha, don’t be shy.”

as if he didn’t care at all.

I watched their carefree conversation and again felt a feeling of pressure in my chest.

(…?)

I didn’t know why and pressed my chest.

I felt as if the cause of my unease had reached my throat and I closed my mouth.

“That’s right! We finally met, so why don’t we take a look around here together? I’m sure it’ll be fun!!”

Crown Prince Finlay suddenly becomes flustered at Charlotte’s words.

But when he saw the crown prince who was silent without saying anything,

(This is the usual pattern for our group to go around.)

I was about to step back behind William-sama, when

“Miss Charlotte, I’m sorry, but I want to be with Leah today. Let’s go somewhere else together next time.”

William-sama’s words stopped me.

“Oh, I see. Alright, I understand. It’s a shame, but let’s go out and play somewhere else next time.”

Charlotte said that and waved her hand, saying,

“See you at the academy, William!!”

as she turned around.

Crown Prince Finlay was surprised by the sudden turn of events, but he chased after Charlotte’s back as it disappeared.

“Let’s take a look at the cosmos too. The cosmos over there looks especially beautiful.”

William-sama tries to walk on as if nothing happened.

“Is that okay? You finally got to meet your friends.”

I asked without thinking, and he stopped his feet.

“I do like spending time with my friends, but…”

He turns to me and smiles.

“I want to treasure the time I have with you now.”

He says that and happily smiles.

Looking at his smile, I realized.

(Ah…I love William-sama.)

And then I remembered.

That there is a limit to how long I can stay by his side.

The fog in my chest that I had felt since the festival when William-sama was confessed to by a lady.

(At that time, my love for William-sama had already grown inside me. I was jealous of the girl who openly declared her love for him.)

And the feeling of pressure in my chest that had amplified every time William-sama talked to someone else, resembling sadness.

(I envied those who could be honest with themselves and approach William-sama.)

I am pretending to be a man.

I don’t regret making that choice to protect William-sama. But…

I was deeply pierced by the doubt that William-sama loved me because I was a “him” rather than a “her”.

Whether I am a man or a woman.

Love can be an important factor when it comes to relationships.

If I had not pretended to be a different gender, I might have happily accepted the current situation.

If I had revealed my true gender and he had not loved me for it, I would have resigned myself to that.

To accept William’s love.

I am not even on the same playing field as someone who pretends to be a different gender.

(If I were to reveal that I am a woman and William were to accept me…)

I can only dream of such a thing. However,

(What if, the moment I confessed that I am a woman, the love in William’s eyes disappears?)

William is kind.

He would probably continue to treat me kindly and with an unchanged attitude, saying “Well said.”

But there is no love in his eyes. The longing love he had shown me until now disappears, and he only treats me out of a sense of duty.

Just thinking about that makes a sharp pain run through my chest.

In that case, is it possible for me to continue staying by William’s side as a “him”?

(That’s impossible… wasn’t it clear from the beginning? The time I can stay by William’s side as a male is limited.)

My body is constantly changing to become more feminine.

I was certain that I couldn’t continue deceiving those around me for much longer.

As I became aware of my love for William, various doubts and realities started to invade my mind.

“Leah, the cosmos around here are especially beautiful, as I thought,” he said, walking ahead of me.

His smile, more beautiful than the flowers, tightens my chest.

I tightly grasp his hand and take a deep breath, then approach William step by step.

Chapter 53: Conflicts

After that, I became more afraid of my gender becoming obvious.

(William-sama’s love is directed at the provisional “me.” If the truth of my deception is exposed and William-sama’s love cools…)

Thinking about that made me feel as if my heart was pierced with a blade of ice and I couldn’t breathe.

A few days after strolling through the cosmos field.

William-sama touched my hand in a deserted corridor.

If I were my former self, I would have entwined my hand with his finger.

But when he touched my hand,

(Maybe he would notice my gender from the difference in the texture of my hand)

This thought passed through my mind.

A dry sound, pash.

After hearing that sound, I realized that I had waved off William-sama’s hand.

“I’m sorry! Are you injured?”

While flustered, I called out to William-sama.

Even so, I don’t take his hand. No, I can’t take it.

I’m scared to death that I’ll be noticed by my gender if I have physical contact.

William-sama looked at the hand that was waved off as if in a daze, but eventually he put a smile on his face and looked at me.

“It’s okay. I’m sorry for startling you.”

Saying that, he pretends as if nothing happened.

I watched him with a feeling of helplessness as an unbearable sadness flowed across his face.

Even after that, I continued to avoid physical contact with William-sama.

While noticing that William-sama’s face clouded each time, I let the time pass without even coming up with a plausible excuse.

And the seasons turn, and the winter arrives.

“Leah, I wonder if I did something without noticing that you dislike it.”

In a corner of an empty classroom with no one around, I was finally asked this by William-sama.

I desperately shake my head.

“No! That’s not it, I don’t dislike it…!!”

When I answer like that, he asks further.

“Do you dislike holding hands or physical contact?”

To that question, I firmly fell silent.

(I like holding hands with William-sama. It makes me happy to have our shoulders touch by accident in a sudden moment. However…)

William-sama looked at me in silence for a while, but eventually he gave a faint smile.

“I’m sorry, it seems that I got carried away and went too far. From now on, I’ll be more careful… Don’t worry. I swear that I won’t do anything you dislike.”

He smiles at me as if he’s concerned.

On the surface, it’s a perfect smile. But to me, who has been close to him for a long time, I knew that smile wasn’t genuine.

…It’s because his eyes showed a definite sadness.

Without even knowing the reason, I can’t bring myself to touch the person I love.

Normally, you would try to expose that reason. Or you might give up on that person.

But William-sama didn’t do that.

In fact, he accepted it and tried to find a way to walk together with me.

But how much sadness will that involve? How painful is it to continue to love someone without understanding their heart?

“Let’s go, the afternoon class is about to start… Leah?”

Before I knew it, I was holding onto William-sama’s uniform as he tried to leave the classroom.

“…I, William-sama…!!”

(Should I say it?)

Should I bare everything and entrust myself to him?

I started to open my mouth.

But my lips stopped moving as if they were frozen.

(I’m scared)

My fingertips tremble.

(Even though all I have to do is say “Leah Flores is a woman”, the tremors won’t stop)

Cold sweat ran down my spine.

We looked at each other for a while, but I released my hand from William-sama’s uniform and said,

“…It’s nothing. Let’s go to the laboratory.”

That time ended.

William-sama said nothing.

On the other hand, it seemed that Prince Finlay and Charlotte’s love was progressing smoothly.

Prince Finlay, who had realized “it seems that our relationship won’t progress unless I speak directly”, started to whisper his love to Charlotte, and Charlotte, who had never hated Prince Finlay, smiled and responded without reservation.

I often witnessed this scene beside William-sama.

The way Prince Finlay openly showed his love and Charlotte accepted it without hesitation… seemed dazzlingly beautiful to me, who couldn’t accept my own lies and William-sama’s love.

***

Spring comes, summer comes, and fall approaches.

William-sama and I spent our days outwardly as usual master and servant, but as I repeatedly avoided physical contact, our relationship gradually became strained.

(The cause is all mine. I don’t have the right to mourn our current relationship)

Despite this, “I want to touch William-sama” and “if I touch him, my gender will be revealed” conflicted inside me, and my chest ached.

As William-sama’s graduation from school approached,

I was dazed in my room in the servant’s dormitory, but when I stood up, I slapped my cheeks.

(What are you thinking? Get your head together and protect his heart and body. Don’t think you can save William-sama with such a thing, Leah Flores.)

I renewed my spirit with the stinging pain in my cheeks.

Yes, I can’t afford to be dazed.

As a first step in protecting William-sama, I must prevent “that incident” that will happen on the day of the graduation ceremony.

Chapter 54: Messenger

“The night sky is filled with clouds.

I, alone, descend to the Duke of Moore’s mansion.

I sneak into the mansion through a prepared escape hole, and stealthily walk through the sleeping mansion while being careful of the vigilant knights.

After confirming the presence of several carriages at the intended location, the Duke’s carriage storage, I take out a metal rod from my waist pouch.

I check that there are no people nearby while keeping an eye on the outside.

I hold up the metal rod in front of the carriage and swing it down vigorously towards the wheels.

I have been gradually preparing for something for a while now.

I travel between the capital and the Duke of Moore’s territory, and investigate the number and location of the carriages in the mansion. In addition, I secretly created escape holes to sneak into the mansion on the day of the plan’s execution.

I went to a tool shop in the city with my face hidden and obtained a metal rod.

And on the eve of the graduation ceremony, today.

I destroy the single wheels of all the carriages in the Duke of Moore’s mansion.

Why?

…To prevent the Duke and Duchess of Moore from dying in a carriage accident on the day of the graduation ceremony tomorrow.

“That’s all of them…”

After finishing breaking the single wheels of all the carriages in the mansion, I let out a sigh of relief.

I carefully confirm that all the carriages are in a state where they cannot run and put the metal rod back in my waist pouch.”

“In the scenario, the Duke and Duchess of Moore leave by carriage for official business on the day of William-sama’s graduation ceremony and suffer a fatal accident on the way. The reason why William-sama, who has graduated, will immediately take over as Duke is because of this.

I wanted to stop it in a more peaceful way, but I don’t think the Duke and Duchess of Moore will listen to my opinion as a knight escort for William-sama.

Moreover, if I were to say “please change the route to official business or stay in the mansion for a day without going to official business tomorrow”, it would be full of suspicion.

That’s why I decided to go with this method.

The wheels I damaged can be easily fixed by replacing them, but it takes at least one day to do the work.

Therefore, the carriages in the mansion cannot be used tomorrow, and there will be no accidents.

I sneak out of the mansion while being careful of any noise.

I disguise the entrance to the escape hole so it can’t be seen from the outside, and stand up in place.

Then I look out the window of the room where the Duke and Duchess of Moore are.

The reason why I am trying to save them.

Of course, there is also the feeling of wanting to save lives.

However, the main reason is my self-satisfaction based on my speculation that “it would be better for William-sama’s future to save them”.

William-sama, who has been coldly treated by the Duke and Duchess of Moore, his parents.

He is suffering from the relationship and, in fact, cannot bring himself to abandon his feelings for his parents.

What would happen if the Duke and Duchess of Moore were to die in such a state?

“…Whether to repair the relationship or to break up, if you don’t make the decision yourself, William-sama will surely regret it. For that reason, you must still be alive.”

That faint murmur dissipates into the sound of the wind.

I turn my heel towards the direction where the sky is barely white when I look away from the window of the room.

***

A magnificent venue with glittering chandeliers.

At the graduation ceremony where graduates are talking about the graduates here and there, there were three people talking with glasses in hand.

“We’re finally graduating. It’s been a long time, but it’s been fun.”

The Crown Prince Finlay said with deep emotion.

“Yes, it was a fruitful four years. I made a lot of friends too.”

Charlotte smiled, and William-sama nodded.”

“By the way, Charlotte, you’ve been recruited by several domains including the royal family as a botanist, right? That’s amazing.”

When William-sama praises her, Charlotte looks happy.

“Yes, it’s a wonderful thing!”

“As the royal family, we would be delighted if you could do plant research in the capital. Of course, I’m happy that way too.”

The Crown Prince Finlay interjected, and Charlotte giggled.

“Ara, Finlay, I don’t make decisions based on love. I’m going to look at all the options and go where I can live happily with my mother.”

Upon hearing this, the Crown Prince Finlay pouted.

The three of them had a peaceful conversation, watched by Edward-san and me.

As I stand here, thinking that such a scene may not be seen again, I notice that the movements of the venue staff are unusually busy.

The staff are running around frantically.

Then, as I watch one of the staff quickly approach William-sama, I have a bad feeling.

An indescribable, extremely bad feeling.

“Duke Moore…!!”

The staff member approaches William-sama and speaks to him quietly.

“Yeah? What is it?”

William-sama looks back at him with a curious expression.

The staff member opens his mouth with a tense expression.

“It’s a message! The Duke and Duchess of Moore…!!”

When William-sama hears the staff member’s words to the end, his expression falls.

Chapter 55: Rain

William-sama is not moving, as if he were tied up, in the carriage provided by the academy.

His face was pale, and his lips were tightly pursed.

Meanwhile, I still couldn’t believe the situation.

I remembered the words of the earlier order.

[Message! His Grace the Duke of Moore and the Duchess of Moore are unconscious and critically ill! Please return to the Duke of Moore’s domain immediately!]

(All the carriages in the Duke of Moore’s domain should have been rendered unusable… Is this order a mistake?)

While I was thinking this, the carriage continued on its way.

And we arrived at the hospital near the accident site within the Duke of Moore’s domain.

“Your Grace, this way please.”

As soon as William-sama entered the hospital, a nurse ran over to him.

The nurse led him to a corner room that was a hospital room. The nurse stretched out her hand and opened the door to the room.

At that moment, I stopped in my tracks as I smelled a unique odor in my nasal passages.

(… It smells of mud and blood)

William-sama went into the hospital room as he was led.

Seeing this, I also stepped into the hospital room.

The room was enveloped in a heavy, stuffy atmosphere.

An old man, who seemed to be a doctor, approached William-sama and opened his mouth heavily.

“Your Grace, thank you for coming all this way… I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but I must inform you of a certain fact.”

William-sama said nothing and remained silent.

The old doctor told him.

“His Grace the Duke and the Duchess have passed away. Please confirm.”

William-sama listened to this and still stood silently on the spot.

However, when the doctor started to walk, he slowly moved towards the back of the room.

A large white cloth was spread over a large bed in the back. There were two bulges in the shape of a human being.

The doctor removes the cloth.

There lay two people.

A man with black hair… The Duke of Moore’s face was a muddy color and his arms drooped weakly.

A woman with platinum hair lying next to him… the Duchess of Moore’s originally white skin had become even whiter and there was no color in her cheeks, which were once rosy.

Both people’s eyelids were tightly closed, and blood was oozing from everywhere, and they were covered in mud.

I intuitively understood at a glance.

(These two people are definitely dead)

I realize that their lives are lost and will never return.

“… What was the situation at the time?”

As I muttered without thinking to anyone, a man stepped forward.

On closer inspection, the man was also injured and had bandages wrapped around him in various places.

“This morning, there was an incident where the wheels of the carriage at the Duke of Moore’s mansion were destroyed. The mansion was temporarily in a state of turmoil, and it was decided to cancel today’s official duties, but an old servant remembered that an old carriage was stored in the barn.

(What…?)

I was shocked to hear this.

(There was still a carriage in the barn…?)

The man continued talking without noticing my stunned appearance.

“His Grace the Duke decided to use that carriage to go on official duties. I was entrusted with the messenger today, and I left the mansion around noon. The accident happened when I was about halfway there.”

The messenger man has a dark face.

“At first, I didn’t know what had happened. There was a sudden shock and I was blown away. When I came to, everything was over. I was lucky to fall into a tree by accident, but the two people inside were hit hard on the head…”

The man hung his head as he said this.

I forced out the words.

“… What happened to the other party?”

The doctor opened his mouth to my words.

“The other party’s carriage belonged to a rising merchant family, and they are currently unconscious. We are doing our best, but…”

The doctor closed his mouth at that.

(It’s the same… “You and The White Rose” scenario, everything)

I lost my words and stood there helplessly.

At that time, William-sama quietly approached the two people on the bed.

“… I thought I was prepared to come here, but.”

He knelt beside the bed.

“I still can’t accept it. There’s no way I could accept it.”

His disappearing voice blends with the air in the hospital room.

“I hoped that someday we would understand each other. Even if I wasn’t loved, Father and Mother are for me…”

He stopped talking there.

A dark silence filled the room.

***

The funeral of the Duke and Duchess of Moore was held on a rainy day.

The subjects were each in mourning, and the Crown Prince, who had come as the King’s representative, and nobles from neighboring areas attended the funeral.

William-sama, the chief mourner, solemnly conducted the ceremony.

Since the accident, William-sama has been doing his duties mechanically like a puppet.

Crown Prince Finlay had a pitiful look as he watched William-sama, but as he had come as the King’s representative, he couldn’t personally speak to William-sama.

Eventually, the bodies of the Duke and Duchess’ coffin were buried in the ground.

I saw their corpses overlap with the end of William-sama in “You and the White Rose”.

(I was unable to change anything this time. In the end, the Duke and Duchess passed away.)

Despair crawls up from under my feet .

(No matter what I do, William-sama, just like these two will also…)

A strong feeling of despair that makes me feel like I am collapsing from my knees attacked me.

The ceremony is over, and before I know it, William and I are alone in the graveyard.

The flower bouquet offered at the graveyard is hit by the rain and shoots out water droplets.”

William-sama, holding a black umbrella and wearing mourning clothes, simply stares at the graves of the Duke and Duchess in silence.

“…It’s so sudden.”

He mutters.

“It was the same when my older brother died. People really do die suddenly.”

He turns to look at me.

I can’t see his expression because it’s hidden by the umbrella.

“Leah, you won’t leave me and die, right?”

His voice is flat and has a very strange feeling.

Feeling William-sama’s spirit being driven to the brink, I swallow my saliva with a gulp.

Seeing him like that, my determination passes through my mind.

(My wish is)

When I close my eyes strongly, the determination I swore at that time revives.

(To protect William-sama and make him live happily)

I look intently at William-sama.

(I won’t give up. I won’t lose to despair. As long as William-sama is alive, I will continue to wish for his happiness. No matter what happens, I won’t let despair take away his heart)

“There is no absolute in things. It is easy to say “I won’t die”, but that is not the truth.”

At my words, the hand holding the umbrella tightens with strength.

“I can’t guarantee it. But…I will try my best to live for you. I promise that.”

When I say this, he shakes his shoulders violently.

Then he approaches me, drops the umbrella, and embraces me.

I stiffen my body. However,

“Sorry Leah, just let me hold you for now.”

Hearing his voice trembling, I stop moving.

(Is it more important to maintain his peace of mind now than whether my gender is clearly revealed?)

While offering the umbrella to make sure William-sama doesn’t get wet, I stroke his back with the other hand.

He hugged me tightly as if holding back his emotions, but eventually he wailed as if he were breaking down.

In the rain, we embrace each other.

That warmth is the proof that William-sama is certainly alive.

I rest my head on William-sama’s shoulder and continue to stroke his back.

Chapter 56: Responsibilities

Having completed the funeral as a pallbearer, William-sama was left with the duties of the lordship without any handover.

He searched for necessary documents, conducted diplomacy with surrounding nobles and foreign countries, and ran back and forth to the people of the domain.

Various tasks descended on William, and he worked from early morning to late at night.

I struggled day and night to alleviate some of William’s burden, but I was also overwhelmed by the work of my new role, given to me.

The new role given to me… it was the role of captain of the guard knights.

The head bodyguard knight of the next duke will be appointed as the captain of the Moore ducal guard knights at the same time as the duke is replaced.

This is basically the rule that has been passed down and there are no exceptions.

When I knew this rule, I was happy to be able to defend William, but when I actually found myself in that position, I was dizzy with busyness.

William’s protection, document organization, management and training supervision of the knight brigade… I seriously wish I had more than one of myself.

On this day, I will devote myself to the training of personnel in the knight corps to protect William-sama on the day that is to come.

I give training instructions to the guard knights and start my own training while they are doing it.

“Haa… Haa… Captain Flores…”

(This is no good, the movement is too big. More sharply…)

“Captain Flores! Are you listening?!”

As I was concentrating on my training and raised my face, a man with brown hair, panting, was standing there without my noticing.

He narrowed his hawk-colored eyes, taking deep breaths.

“The… Haa… The training I was told to do… Haa… Everyone has finished it… I can’t… I… I’m at my limit…”

I smiled at him as he repeated rough breathing.

“Thank you for the report, Johnson. It’s about time for lunch break. Shall we have lunch?”

As soon as I said this, he jumped up and was delighted.

“Yahoo! Lunchtime! I’ll let the guys in the knight’s squad know!”

He ran towards the training grounds, shouting with joy.

(What, isn’t he still energetic?)

I watched his back and chuckled wryly.

He, Daniel Johnson, is someone I selected as the vice captain of the guard squad.

Although he has certainly proven himself to be capable, he has not been properly recognized until now due to his background as someone from the slums.

He also has a high level of communication skills, and his timing to discreetly assist his fellow knights during training is just perfect.

That’s why I thought he was a gem and placed him as the vice captain.

In fact, that judgment was correct.

When I couldn’t spare the time to even handle the deployment of the guard squad due to assisting William-sama, Johnson has skillfully taken care of things between me and the knights.

(The training for the guard squad is progressing smoothly. However, there are limits to what can be achieved by only training the guard squad. Considering that there is a possibility of fighting against the anti-royal forces in the near future, it is necessary to cooperate with the peacekeeping squad that is responsible for deploying in case of an emergency. I need to somehow contact the knight captain of the peacekeeping squad and see if we can have regular joint training…)

While I was thinking about this,

“Captain Flores! Let’s go quickly!”

Johnson waved at me from a distance.

“Let’s go, captain!”

“Captain~!”

The other knights also called out to me.

I interrupted my thoughts and turned my feet towards them, and walked slowly towards everyone.

Chapter 57: Sleeping Faces

Standing in front of a heavy door.

This is the front of the office of the Captain of the peacekeeping troops, located in the middle of the garrison.

Overwhelmed by the pressure from the door in front of me, I involuntarily hold my breath. The knight who led me here lightly knocked on the door.

“Sir Maurice, the Captain of the security team has arrived.”

“Come in.”

A dignified voice echoes from inside the door.

As the guide knight opened the door with a creaking sound, a well-built man in his prime looked at us from behind the desk.

“It’s been a while, Flores. No, now it’s Captain Flores, right?”

The Captain of the peacekeeping troops, Leo Maurice, speaks to me in a dignified manner.

I bowed on the spot and opened my mouth to greet him.

“It’s good to see that Captain Maurice is well.”

As I said that, Captain Maurice narrowed his eyes as if reminiscing.

“His Grace, no, his Lordship now. Has it already been seven years since I recommended you as Your Lordship’s first guard knight? Time flies.”

He slowly stands up.

“Come on. Let’s talk in the drawing room.”

Following him, I also started walking towards the back door.

“So. What’s the story, Captain Flores?”

He asked me that as he firmly sat down on the chair. I involuntarily swallow my saliva under the pressure.

(…I must not be afraid. When considering the future, the cooperation of the peacekeeping troops is essential. I must somehow persuade Captain Maurice.)

I put strength into the hand I was holding and began to speak.

“I will speak straightforwardly. Would you consider holding regular joint training sessions between the peacekeeping troops and the security forces?”

A deep wrinkle appeared between Captain Maurice’s eyebrows.

(As I thought, it won’t be easy.)

Just as I thought that,

“Why do we need joint training?”

He asked the most reasonable question.

“When there is an emergency deployment, if the peacekeeping troops and the security team are not coordinated, they will expose the lord to danger. It is a proposal based on the idea that we need to deepen cooperation and prepare for when the time comes.”

“Hmm…”

Knight Commander Maurice strokes his white beard, which is starting to mix in.

“You’re saying that we should divide each knight’s training time and hold joint training?”

“Yes. It will be too late if “we cannot protect the lord” in an emergency situation.”

“Hmm, you’re strongly advocating for it… Almost no situations in which it is necessary to go directly to the lord. Things are going well with the current system. Even so, you think it should be done?”

I clenched my lips at those words.

I want to somehow hold joint training because I know the scenario of “You and The White Rose”.

However, there is no way to explain it.

It’s ridiculous to say that I know the future, no one will believe it.

“…Even if things have been okay so far, there is no guarantee that they will continue to be okay.”

The voice I finally squeezed out sounded extremely rough.

“I don’t want to regret anything in an emergency situation. I want to do everything I can if possible.”

Saying that, I directly looked at Captain Maurice.

“Is the current lord that important to you?”

He murmured softly.

Without hesitation, I nodded at those words.

Captain Maurice looked at me as if to gauge my determination, just as he did seven years ago, but eventually he let out a sigh and relaxed his shoulders.

“[There is no guarantee that things will continue to be okay] is a very reasonable statement… Fine. I will help with the joint training.”

“…Thank you very much!!”

I heard that and deeply bowed my head.

***

“You decided to hold joint training?! Damn… Captain Flores, you’re too stoic…”

Johnson’s eyes roll back as he hears my story upon returning.

“I’m sorry, but this is already a done deal. I’ll ask you to help with the preparations, Johnson.”

When I said that, he looked at me with a resentful expression.

“Captain Flores, am I not being overloaded with various tasks? I’m not as busy as Captain Flores, but I’m about to collapse.”

He taps my shoulder while looking at me intently.

“Yeah, I’m sorry for overloading you with work. Next time, I’ll take you to a place with delicious meat.”

“Huh?!”

He shines his eyes at my words.

“Meat?! Meat?! Captain, I definitely heard it right!!”

He shows his delight openly at the mention of meat.

(He’s easy to handle and grateful, but to be caught by meat like this… I’m worried he’ll be tricked someday.)

I’m suddenly worried about the simplicity of my subordinates.

As if noticing my gaze, he clears his throat and tries to fix his appearance.

“Well, for now, let’s say next time… By the way, Captain.”

“Hmm? What’s up…?”

As I’m confused by Johnson’s sudden serious expression, he approaches me closely.

“I think there’s something strange about my job.”

I hear that and blink my eyes.

“Is there something dissatisfying about your work…? Did something not go according to my plans?”

As I said that, he shakes his head.

“It’s not about not going according to plans… It’s about how to lead, or something, it’s like a handover for the next Captain. What’s going on?”

I close my mouth in response to his question.

Johnson continued to press me.

“It’s as if Captain Flores will disappear in the near future. What are you worrying about?”

I widen my eyes and then put on a smile.

“… Ha ha, Johnson. That’s a misunderstanding.”

I give him a thin smile as I look at him.

“It’s okay. I won’t disappear.”

***

“William-sama, would you like to take a break? I brought some tea.”

At night, I call out from outside the door of the duke’s office. When I open the door while wondering why there is no response, William-sama is sleeping with his head on the desk.

I quietly put the tray of tea on the edge of the desk.

(It’s not surprising, because he’s been working hard lately… I’ll wake him up in a little while and move him to the bedroom.)

Thinking that, I put a blanket on William-sama’s back.

I gaze at his handsome sleeping face illuminated by the lighting.

[It’s as if Captain Flores will disappear in the near future.]

Johnson’s words from earlier in the day came back to my head.

(His words hit the mark. I’m making arrangements so that I can disappear anytime.)

I reach out and trace William-sama’s white, smooth cheek with my finger.

(No matter what, I must protect William-sama, and then… someday I will not be able to hide the fact that I am a woman. I must leave him before that happens.)

I remove my hand from his cheek.

(Even if I can be by William-sama’s side like this for a while, eventually…)

In the flickering light of the candela, I gazed at William-sama’s sleeping face for a while.

Chapter 58: Name calling

As the days flew by, the control within the Duke of Moore’s household knights had been established due to the successful joint training.

News of the simultaneous appearance of magical beasts in various places reached the knights.

When the knights arrived, the houses in the affected area were partially destroyed by the energy waves emitted by the magical beast, and people buried in the rubble or critically injured from having their energy absorbed were seen everywhere. The scene was terrible.

While the knights were conducting rescue operations, another area saw the appearance of a magical beast, causing panic among the people of the country.

The Martinez royal family, with the help of scholars, conducted an urgent investigation into the cause of the situation. And today, a summons was issued to the nobles of the country on behalf of the royal family, indicating the king’s intentions.

In the grandly designed audience chamber,

The leaders of the nobles from all over the country stand shoulder to shoulder in the particularly spacious space, even within the palace.

As for me, I was standing by the seat prepared for the head of the three major ducal families… next to where William-sama was seated.

Under the noisy situation where the nobles were anxious, a loud bell sounded.

“His Majesty the King has arrived!!”

At the announcement of the King’s arrival by an official, the audience chamber fell silent.

Amid the silence, a huge door at the back of the throne opened.

Emerging from the door was His Majesty King Henry, crowned with golden hair, a symbol of the royal family.

Following behind him were Her Majesty Queen Harriet, His Royal Highness Prince Finlay, and Her Royal Highness Princess Sofia.

His Majesty King Henry turned his red coat and sat on the throne, looking at the leaders of the nobles.

“Everyone, it was a great effort to come such a long way.”

At these words, the nobles all kneeled in unison.

The king looked at the nobles and spoke solemnly.

“The purpose of this summons is to inform you that we have found a clue to solving the massive outbreak of magical beasts that have caused panic in our country, and to explain the method.”

The nobles murmur.

“Silence!!”

At the official’s voice, the room regained its calm.

Waiting for the nobles to quiet down, the king began to speak.

“The scholars deciphered ancient documents and found that a similar phenomenon occurred hundreds of years ago. The signs of magical beast outbreaks, the trend of multiple locations… everything matched. And the cause was a crystal called the “magical beast core” that exists in the ancient forest and can be destroyed to stop the outbreak of magical beasts. This is something that the scholars of the country have investigated to the best of their ability, and for which I, as king, am responsible.”

As the king said this, the scholars who were standing by the throne bowed their heads.

“And regarding this solution… Prince Finlay, come here.”

At the king’s words, Prince Finlay stepped forward.

“As the duty of the next king, I will entrust the task of destroying the “magical beast core” to Prince Finlay.”

At this announcement, William-sama gasped.

I, standing next to William-sama, noticed that his expression froze.

The reactions of the nobles are generally positive, with some praising Prince Finlay as the future king and others relieved that the situation has been resolved and the country is safe.

Looking down on them from the throne, the king continued to speak.

“Prince Finlay will be accompanied by the national military and will undertake this mission…”

The king’s voice, which had been ringing loud and clear, suddenly stopped.

The king, who had become unusually silent, covered his face with his hands.

“I can’t…”

The king muttered suddenly.

His Majesty King Henry turns to Prince Finlay.

His face was distorted and covered in pain.

“Oh Finlay, my dear son.”

The voice of the king, who stood up from the throne and walked towards Prince Finlay with heavy steps, was so heart-wrenching that it seemed to tear the hearts of those listening.

“After all, I could never send Finlay to his death.”

The wrinkled hand was stretched out towards Prince Finlay.

Prince Finlay gently took his hand and softly held it.

“Father.”

He smiled at his father, who was sorrowfully sad.

“I will go to the ancient forest. For the people, for the royal family, and for myself.”

Upon hearing this, the king’s face became even more pained, but Queen Harriet hugged his shoulder.

While her eyes were filled with grief, she looked at the king with a dignified expression.

“Your Majesty… this is a necessary trial for Finlay. If he can solve this problem successfully, his position as king will be solidified. Believing and waiting is the only thing we can do.”

The king looked down at the queen’s sad but determined smile.

And when he looked up again, there was no longer the figure of a “father”, but that of a “king” of the country.

“… You must make it back alive.”

At these words, Prince Finlay kneels.

When the king and queen nod, a girl jumps out from behind them.

“Big brother!!”

The girl embraces the prince.

“Sofia…”

The girl called out by Prince Finlay hugged him even tighter.

The prince stroked Sofia’s head.

“Sofia. Let’s play together again when I come back.”

When Prince Finlay said this, Sofia looked up at him with tear-filled eyes.

“Really? Big brother, definitely.”

“Oh, I promise.”

Prince Finlay laughed confidently at the princess, and then raised his voice towards the nobles.

“I, Finlay Martinez, the prince, will undertake this mission!”

That was when he said,

“I would also like to have the lord of the Moore duke family, William Moore, accompany me on this journey.”

A familiar voice struck my earlobes. Amidst the silence of everyone, William-sama looked directly at the king.

“Your majesty, I request permission to join.”

The king glared at William-sama with a look of no hesitation after hearing this.

“William Moore, Duke of Moore. I have heard that you used to be weak. This mission is certainly not a kind one. Are you still going?”

William-sama shook his head without hesitation at the bold question.

“I understand. I have already overcome my weak body. If you want me to prove it, I will solve any problems assigned to me.”

The king glared at William-sama with sharp eyes, but eventually softened his expression.

“Good. I permit you to join.”

William-sama deeply bowed at those words.

“Will…”

Prince Finlay stared at William-sama in surprise.

William-sama returned the gaze straight on.

“As I said before, “Your problem is my problem”.”

William-sama smiled at Prince Finlay.

“Let’s live and return together, Finn.”

That night.

While I was on duty in William-sama’s room in the palace, I was turning my thoughts around.

(He probably knew that this might happen.)

Even though I think that, the anxiety that eats at my chest only increases.

(What if, like with William-sama’s parents, I can’t avoid his fate of death?)

Such thoughts keep swirling around.

Before I knew it, I felt like I would open the door behind me and run to William-sama, yelling for him to withdraw from the mission.

I desperately hold down such feelings.

(It’s impossible for William-sama, who has a personality like that, to abandon Prince Finlay in his desperate situation. Persuasion is impossible. He has also trained his own body and the control of his direct protection squad is going smoothly. The joint training is also proceeding without any problems. All I have to do is do what I have to do.)

Even though I think that, my anxiety doesn’t disappear.

My nights were spent in agony at the vision of losing Master William.

Chapter 59: The Ancient Forest

Under a dull sky symbolizing the severity of the mission to come, the national army led by Prince Finlay and the Moore ducal family knights led by William set out towards the ancient forest.

There is almost no clear map of the sacred ancient forest, and only a dim map and compass recorded in ancient documents are relied upon for the journey.

As we pushed through the undergrowth, it was the third night after we stepped into the ancient forest.

“Hmm…?”

Prince Finlay, who was sitting by the bonfire and looking into the dark depths of the trees, suddenly raised his voice.

William-sama looked at him with a strange expression.

“What’s wrong, Finn?”

When William asked him, Prince Finlay turned towards the bonfire.

“No, I was just surprised to see an animal I’ve never seen before.”

After saying that, he fell silent without any further words. The sound of the bonfire crackling reached the ears.

After a short while, Prince Finlay opened his mouth again.

“Well, since we entered this forest, nothing strange has happened. I mean, it’s good that nothing has happened, but there’s a strange feeling… ”

Upon hearing this, William-sama furrowed his brow.

“Yeah, you’re right. It’s strange how quiet this forest, which is supposed to be the cause of the abnormal increase in magical beasts outside, is. It’s like the calm before the storm. Maybe something is going to happen soon.”

“Well… I just hope this mission goes smoothly without any issues…”

Prince Finlay sighs wryly.

William-sama stared at the bonfire as if lost in thought, but eventually stood up.

“Finn, it’s early tomorrow, so let’s go to sleep. Whether something happens or not, it’s best to get plenty of sleep.”

The prince nods to his words.

“Yeah, you’re right. Let’s try to take care of our physical condition as much as possible so we can reach the “core of the magical beast” as soon as possible. Good night, Will.”

“Good night… Leah, I’m going to sleep too. See you tomorrow.”

William-sama and Prince Finlay disappear into the tent.

I watched them and then opened my mouth.

“Johnson.”

“Yes.”

When I called his name, Johnson silently appeared next to me.

“Tomorrow, I want you to be especially careful and tell the knights to put the guard system on alert.”

“Understood.”

I blink at his smooth response that was almost too smooth.

“… Aren’t you going to ask the reason?”

If I ask him that, Johnson smiles wryly.

“Everyone in the knights knows Knight Captain Flores’s personality and loyalty to Duke William. We trust your words just because they come from the captain.”

After saying that, Johnson turns on his heel to deliver my words.

After watching his back until it disappeared, I looked up at the black, cloud-covered night sky.

(Tomorrow… at noon on the fourth day after entering the forest, there will be an attack by the anti-royal faction, which only I know about)

The thick, black clouds obscure the moon and no light can be seen.

(But I can’t openly tell everyone about it. There is a fear that I will be suspected of being an insider because of how I know such things. If I am suspected, even my orders will not be followed. All I can do is trust in the trust relationship with the knights I have trained and the results of my own training)

I gritted my teeth while looking at the sky.

(I will not let William-sama die, absolutely not)

I looked up at the sky for a while, but then extinguished the bonfire and left the place.

Fourth day, noon.

I, guarding William’s side in the middle of the marching knights, suddenly pointed my spear at the hostility directed at me.

The hostility swells,

“William-sama, it’s coming.”

As soon as I said that,

“Prince Finlay, prepare yourself!!”

Accompanied by such a shout, a chorus of roars rose up from behind the trees in the forest.

Armies poured out one after another from between the trees and attacked us.

“Don’t move! All units fight back according to the training!”

The knights, who were agitated, released their swords and headed towards the enemy following my words.

Although William was dumbfounded, he returned to his senses and began giving calm instructions as he watched the brave knights fight.

William shouted towards Prince Finlay.

“Finn, their target is you! Leave this to me and go ahead!”

When William said that, Prince Finlay, who was stunned by the appearance of the enemy, twisted his face and shouted in a voice that seemed to scream.

“I can’t… I can’t leave you in the middle of a battle like this!”

Looking directly at the prince, William opened his mouth as if to rebuke him.

“You must live. For the sake of the country, and for Miss Charlotte. You are everyone’s hope, please go!”

And William stood in front of Prince Finlay to protect him.

“Go, Finn!”

Prince Finlay didn’t move for a while, but eventually twisted his face and gave orders to the national army.

“National army, advance into the depths of the forest!”

Prince Finlay turned to William.

“Don’t forget the words “let’s live and return together”!”

Shouting, the prince led the national army and ran into the depths of the forest.

Chapter 60: Combat

Deflecting the enemy’s sword with the handle of my spear, I turned around and cut down the opponent who was approaching from behind.

Collapsing my upper body forward and stepping in, I dodged the blade of the approaching enemy and forcefully drove a stone pillar into the enemy’s stomach.

(… Dammit, there are too many of them. But…)

Facing the newly attacking enemy, I swung my spear and jumped back while cutting them down.

(These enemies are not ones that my knight brigade cannot defeat…!)

“Leah, up!”

Responding to William-sama’s voice, I shifted my center of gravity to the right.

Avoiding the enemy who was coming straight down at me from above, aiming for my head, I kicked them away to the side and landed beside William-sama without even looking at the enemy who was sent flying.

“William-sama, are you injured?”

“Thanks to you, I am unharmed… Everyone, do not break formation! It seems that the enemy is not accustomed to fighting in the forest. Be careful not to stray from the formation and fall into a trap!”

The knights of the Moore duke’s family responded to William-sama’s orders.

“Since we have received direct orders from His Excellency, the Duke, we cannot lose! Everyone, stay alert!”

Along with such a war cry, the burly man, Captain Maurice of the peacekeeping force, jumped to the front line.”

“Now… is there anyone who wants to face this old bone, Leo Maurice?!”

Roaring as he cut down enemy after enemy, the trembling blades of the enemies dulled.

Seeing this, the leader of the enemy side raised a shout.

“Come on, don’t be afraid! All we need to do is take the head of the general! Aim for the head of Duke Moore!”

Hearing the leader’s instructions, the enemy army changed direction and headed straight for William-sama.

(These fools underestimated us. Thinking they can touch William-sama and even cut him with a blade…)

Without regard for my own safety, I cut down the enemy who was heading towards me with a whip-like motion. Then, using the handle of my spear, I knocked down two more.

Rotating on one leg, I rained down strikes on the enemies approaching William-sama.

“Hey… Captain Flores, your eyes are really scary… She must have taken it pretty hard that His Excellency the Duke was targeted… Stubble, Stubble.”

“Did you say something, Johnson?”

“H-Huh?! N-Nothing, Captain Flores!”

Johnson stretched his back and saluted me.

Seeing this, an enemy soldier aimed their sword at Johnson.

“Hey, that guy looks weak!”

“Yeah, let’s take him down! First, let’s offer this guy up as a sacrifice!”

Saying this, Johnson sighed as he saw the enemy charging at him.

“Geez, “that guy” and “this guy”… ”

Johnson’s eyes shone.

“I am Daniel Johnson!”

As he ran through with a sword strike, the enemy that was attacking Johnson all collapsed at once.

I looked around.

The unity of the knights was extraordinary, and the knights of the Moore duke’s family were overwhelming the enemy on all fronts.

“Hiiii?! These guys are too strong!”

“There’s no way we can win!”

As enemy soldiers began to shout and run away, one after the other also started running.

The enemy was no longer able to maintain formation and scattered throughout the forest.

“What are you doing, you fools? Fight! Go forward!”

Ignoring the orders, the soldiers disappeared into the depths of the forest. Seeing this, the leader made a bitter face and clicked his tongue.

“Tch… Well, fine.”

The leader gave a meaningful smile.

“In the end, we will win.”

Leaving these words behind, he retreated as well.

“Your Excellency, shall we pursue?”

Captain Maurice asked William-sama, and he shook his head.

“We won’t pursue them deeply. If we follow and get stranded in this forest, our lives will be in danger. Our goal was to defend Finn from the enemy. We have already achieved that goal enough… Rather than pursuing deeply, I want to prioritize the treatment of the injured knights.”

William-sama began giving treatment instructions to the knights.

The enemy retreated, and in front of us was William-sama standing on the ground alive.

(Did we do it…?)

Suddenly, my strength drained.

(Did I protect William-sama…?)

It felt unreal and fluffy.

William-sama runs towards me in such a state.

“Leah, you also need to take care of your injuries.”

When he told me that, I realized that I was bleeding from various parts of my body.

“This is just a scratch.”

“No, Leah, scratches can also become infected, so don’t take them lightly.”

William-sama wiped the scratches on my cheek with a handkerchief.

In the corner of my vision, which was looking dazed at William-sama, I saw something shining brightly.

I pushed William-sama away and slid my body in an instant.

Along with the sound of cutting through the wind, a heat ran through my abdomen, and it instantly turned into pain.

“…!”

As soon as I realized that an arrow had been shot, I threw a spear in the direction it had come from.

“Guaa?!”

A definite hand’s worth.

At the same time, a man who had been pierced by my spear fell from the tree, screaming.

As I watched and tried to treat the arrow that had been stuck, I suddenly felt a sense of confusion as if my head had been filled with mist.

(Poison, huh…)

My strength drains from my body.

As I couldn’t support my own weight and fell backwards, something soft touched my back. I continued to slide down along it.

As I finally fell sideways to the ground, my consciousness was swallowed by darkness.

Chapter 61: Poison (William’s Point of View)

I didn’t know what happened.

I stood there helplessly until Leah’s body lost its strength and leaned against me, collapsing and falling to the ground.

“Leah…?”

Even when I called her name, she lay motionless on the ground.

Looking at his stomach with a stopped head, I finally realized after a few seconds that it was not a shaft growing from his stomach, but an arrow that had pierced her abdomen.

I kneeled next to him like a fool and reached out my hand to her abdomen.

Wishing that this scene was just a dream.

But contrary to my wish, the hard, cold sensation of the arrow touched my palm.

When I moved my hand to the side, I felt as if I had touched something moist with a gurgling sound.

When I looked, my palm was dyed red.

An iron smell spread through my nasal cavity.

“Ah…”

I couldn’t help but let out a voice.

“Ah, ah…”

His pale face, closed eyelids, slumped hands and feet, and abdomen pierced by an arrow.

Although my senses tell me that everything is undeniable reality, my brain rejects understanding it.

Then, someone’s hand touched my shoulder.

“Sir Duke.”

The hand shakes my shoulder strongly.

“Sir Duke, calm down. If you don’t, Captain Flores will die.”

At that voice, I regained myself with a start.

My nonfunctional hearing began to pick up sounds around me.

Next to me, a knight with brown hair appeared out of nowhere, holding my shoulder.

The brown-haired knight, Daniel Johnson, looked at me with serious eyes.

“I understand that you are upset. But we can’t do anything unless Sir Duke, the highest responsible person, gives us instructions. If things continue like this, not only will those who can be saved be saved, but those who can’t be saved will not be saved. Sir Duke, for the sake of saving Captain Flores, calm down.”

The words make me look around.

The knights of the Duke Moore family were looking at me and waiting for my instructions.

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath.

(Calm down, keep your calm. Think about what is necessary to save Leah)

I grabbed my palm covered in Leah’s blood.

(Remember what happened when Leah collapsed.)

I opened my eyes and opened my mouth.

“There is a high possibility that poison was applied to the arrow that Leah was shot with. After removing the arrow, prioritize getting the poison out of his body rather than stopping the bleeding. After that, check the belongings of the collapsed archer and see if there is any poison left.”

I picked Leah up by the shoulder.

His unconscious arm hung down weakly.

“Once the treatment is finished, we will return to the Duke Moore mansion. We don’t know when the bandits will attack again. Don’t let your guard down.”

The knights begin to move in response to my instructions.

Until the treatment of the arrow was finished, I continued to hold Leah’s shoulder.

***

“Hello, I am Turner, affiliated with the National Hospital. Who is the patient?”

The short, plump, and unhealthy-looking doctor spoke as soon as we arrived at the gate of the Duke Moore mansion.

“Hello, Doctor Turner. The patient is over here.”

I showed the minimum amount of politeness and immediately led him to where Leah was.

There is no poison specialist at the Duke Moore mansion.

That’s why I carried Leah to the Duke Moore mansion and sent a fast horse to the capital.

I walked quickly down the hallway with Turner, the doctor from the capital.

I opened the door to the room where Leah was sleeping and ran to him lying on the bed.

“His condition.”

The servant standing next to Leah silently shakes her head. I look at Leah and pick up his hand.

“Leah, a poison specialist has arrived.”

Although I know he is unconscious, I hold Leah’s hand tightly and speak to him.

Then, still holding his hand, I turned to Doctor Turner.

“Doctor Turner, he is the patient…”

I started to speak, but stopped mid-sentence.

“Doctor Turner…?”

There was the figure of the doctor covering his face.

“I see… the captain of the knight brigade of the Duke Moore mansion… I never thought it was that knight…”

Doctor Turner muttered and sighed deeply.

“This is not good…”

I had a bad feeling from his uneasy appearance and asked him.

“What happened? What do you mean by ‘this is not good’?”

Doctor Turner remained silent for a while, but then opened his mouth and asked me something strange.

“Duke Moore, earlier you referred to this knight as ‘he’, is that correct?”

“Y-Yes. What about it.”

When I affirmed this, Doctor Turner twisted his face even more.

“It’s a bother… This has become a very troublesome matter.”

Again, the doctor muttered something and I became increasingly uneasy.

(Could the poison Leah received be such a serious poison?)

Feeling that it would not be moved to treatment soon as a sign, I couldn’t help but speak to the doctor.

“Doctor Turner, I sent the poison in advance by fast horse, but is this poison so difficult to treat?”

When I said those words, Dr. Turner fell silent. After a moment, he opened his mouth heavily.

“Yes, yes. Of course, I analyzed the original solution I received. That poison is a poison that slowly and steadily circulates the body and kills the target. And here is the antitoxin.

Dr. Turner takes out a bottle with a pale liquid.

“If you drink this antitoxin, the poison will be neutralized. It will recover without any sequelae. Normally.”

“Normally…?”

As I make a puzzled face, Dr. Turner continues in a low voice.

“What I did was, I heard that the patient was a knight and let my guard down. I completely forgot the possibility, even though I had met him before.”

“…?… Dr. Turner, I don’t understand what you’ve been talking about all this time. Isn’t it okay to give Leah the antitoxin?”

As I ask him in a whisper, Dr. Turner shakes his head.

“This detoxifying agent is effective for men without any excess or deficiency. However, it does not work for women. This is because the unique body secretions of women hinder the absorption of this detoxifying agent. If you want to detoxify the poison for women this time, you must also take the valuable herbs that only grow in the neighboring country at the same time.”

“W-What are you… saying…?”

The doctor falls silent as my voice trembles.

Dr. Turner looks up at the ceiling, distorting his face.

“I can’t say it in terms of the patient’s privacy… No, but the patient’s life is at stake.”

The doctor turns his face towards us again.

“This antitoxin does not work for the patient. That’s because…”

Dr. Turner glances at Leah.

“The knight there is a woman.”

Chapter 62: Medicinal Herbs (William’s Point of View)

Silence descends as if time has stopped.

I tried to reflect on the words of the doctor in my head, but I couldn’t recognize the voice as words for a while, like when I listen to a series of irregular sounds.

([The knight there is a woman?])

Dr. Turner is looking at me silently.

(Woman… female…? Leah is female, and this person said so just now?)

“Uh…”

A sigh escapes.

“What are you saying…? He’s male.”

When I say that, Dr. Turner quietly replies.

“Can you prove it?”

I open my mouth at those words.

“Such… there’s nothing to prove, Leah and I have been together since we were 12…”

What comes to mind is his neatly dressed knight’s uniform.

“We spent… time…”

Even in the hot summer, the buttons of his knight’s uniform were always fastened to the top.

Come to think of it, I’ve never seen his skin except for his face and hands.

[Is he a man with a poor figure.]

Before Leah was attacked, those words were spoken by a noble son, pointing at Leah.

I don’t think Leah’s body is poor.

However… If I think of him as male, Leah’s body is thin enough to be pointed out by others.

Pachiri, pachiri, the pieces of the puzzle in my head fit together like they’re fitting into place.

Dr. Turner watched me intently, but as he approached Leah and rolled up the cloth around his neck, he relaxed Leah’s collar.

“Look. This is the proof.”

The doctor pointed to Leah’s neck.

The prominent Adam’s apple that should be visible on a man’s throat after the end of puberty is not visible on Leah’s throat.

“This is impossible…”

When I murmur that, Dr. Turner shakes his head sideways.

“It’s the truth… and this detoxification medicine is nothing but water that is no longer useful at this moment.”

I remember the doctor’s earlier words.

[This detoxification medicine will work perfectly on a man. However, it will not work on a woman. The female-specific hormones in the body will interfere with the absorption of this detoxification medicine. If you want to detoxify this poison for a woman, you must also take a rare herb that grows only in the neighboring country at the same time.]

“That’s right, Leah is… if that detoxification medicine doesn’t work, what will happen to Leah…?! That herb that grows only in the neighboring country…”

Dr. Turner lowers his face at my question.

“…The kinu grass, which grows only in the neighboring country, is a very rare item and does not exist in our country. It is a herb that is not easily circulated even in the neighboring country. Even if you go to the neighboring country, it will take at least one month to get the kinu grass. By that time, this patient will already be…”

When I heard that, I felt the ground crumble beneath my feet.

“Such…”

Dr. Turner averts his eyes from me as if to avoid my gaze.

“I’ll do my best, but you should be prepared.”

(Prepared…?)

I look back at Leah.

(Losing Leah, being prepared…?)

Losing Leah.

Like older brother, like father, like mother.

Leah will become a mute corpse.

The doctor in front of me is saying to prepare for that.

Thinking to that extent, the world in front of me went dark.

From there, my memory became hazy, and before I knew it, I was walking down the hallway with Dr. Turner towards the gates of the ducal mansion.

“I’ll come again.”

Dr. Turner says that and looks at me with a pained expression.

“I understand your feelings. But if you fall too, it’s all over. Please be sure to get enough sleep and eat properly.”

I nod vaguely at the doctor’s words.

At that time, I realized that as I approached the gate, I could hear loud voices.

As I approached the gate, the voices became louder.

“Oh, Your Grace!”

Just as I was about to reach the gate, Deputy Captain Johnson of the guard ran up to me.

“Your Grace, two civilians have rushed in and are insisting on seeing Captain Flores. We can’t be too rough with them. What should we do?”

When I looked towards the gate, I saw a man and a woman with chestnut hair who seemed to be arguing with the knight who was guarding the gate.

“That’s why! Let us see your captain! We heard that Leah collapsed from poison, let us at least confirm that she’s safe!”

“Just let us see her for a moment, please! Is Leah okay? Just tell us that much!”

As I looked at the man and woman standing in front of the gate, I felt a sense of familiarity with the woman with chestnut hair and narrowed my eyes.

(That’s right, she’s the woman who was with Leah in front of the show window on the clothing street)

As I remembered that, my gaze crossed with the chestnut-haired young man’s hazel eyes.

“…It’s you, you’re His Grace William Moore, aren’t you! We’re not suspicious, we’re Riley Morgan, a merchant, and Poppy Morgan, a tailor in the capital!”

I blink at the desperate appearance of these people.

At that time, Doctor Turner, who was next to me, opened his mouth.

“You people, His Excellency the Duke is not mentally comfortable at the moment. Please do not push him any further.”

Upon the doctor’s voice, their attention turned towards him.

“That outfit… You are a doctor. Please, tell us about Leah’s condition!!”

Doctor Turner stared at them intently, but eventually shook his head.

“There’s no way I can tell you. Is there a doctor who would talk about a patient without regard for who they are?”

‘Such…!!’

They hang their heads in despair.

Doctor Turner turned towards me and bowed.

“Your Excellency, please be strong. I will contact you as soon as I receive information about the kinu grass.”

Saying that, he attempted to get on his carriage, but a young man named Riley Morgan grabbed his clothes.

“The kinu grass is a valuable herb from the neighboring country, right… Is it necessary for Leah’s treatment? What will happen if it’s not there…? Hey, what will happen?!”

“Without the kinu grass, Leah will not be saved.”

Before I knew it, such words were rolling out of my mouth.

“The herb is necessary for Leah’s detoxification. But it is not available.”

My spirit, reaching its limit, spewed words out of its own mouth one after another.

“Prepared to lose Leah…? There’s no way I could do that…! However… there’s no choice left anymore…”

The surroundings fell silent.

“The Captain can’t be saved… Is that really true…?”

When I looked up, startled, everyone there was staring at me.

Deputy Captain Johnson spoke in a trembling voice.

“It’s a lie, right…? It has to be a lie… Hey, Doctor, it’s a lie, right?”

Johnson stumbled towards Doctor Turner.

“Say it’s a lie… Say it’s a lie!!”

Upon that scream, Doctor Turner turned his face away.

A woman named Poppy Morgan, seeing the scene, covered her mouth with her hand, trembling.

When a heavy silence filled the room.

“Let me take care of it.”

A resolute voice echoed in the room.

“What do you mean by ‘let me take care of it’?”

Doctor Turner asked in surprise, and Riley Morgan, who spoke, had a strong light in his eyes.

“I am a merchant. I have my own distribution routes and I also do business with the neighboring country. I also have experience trading in herbs. I will definitely be able to obtain the kinu grass.”

“It should take at least a month to get the kinu grass… There is only about a week left until the poison circulates in the patient’s body. Do you still say it can be done?”

The young man with chestnut-colored hair nods in response to the doctor’s question.

“Yes, I will show you. My best friend’s life is at stake. I will try to do anything, no matter how difficult it is.”

Saying that, he turns towards me.

“Hey, Duke, let me take care of this. I want to save my best friend.”

The young man said that with strong eyes.

Chapter 63: Sunset (William’s Point of View)

“Your Grace, His Royal Highness the Crown Prince, and an old school friend from your academy days are here.”

Sitting next to Leah’s sleeping bed, I turned my face towards the servant’s voice that was heard from the entrance of the room.

“Let them through.”

The servant, who had heard my instructions, bowed and turned on his heel.

Before long, footsteps could be heard from the corridor outside the room.

“Will!!”

My friend, who had burst into the room, hugged me with all his might.

“In such a battle, I left you behind!! I’m…”!!

While listening to Finn’s wet voice, I stroked his head.

“Finn, welcome back. I heard from the messenger that you successfully destroyed “the core of the magical beast”. You did a good job.”

Finn’s hands, which were grasping my back, grew stronger.

At that moment, lighter footsteps approached the room a little more than Finn’s.

“Finlay, please don’t leave me behind. Unlike Finlay, I don’t understand the structure of this mansion…”

As she spoke and appeared, the woman’s soft grey eyes softened as she saw me.

“William, it’s been a long time. Seeing your appearance again makes me relieved.”

I nodded to Miss Charlotte’s words while rubbing Finn’s back.

After Finn calmed down and they sat down in chairs, sniffling through their noses.

Miss Charlotte took the initiative.

“…I knew it, but it doesn’t seem okay.”

I ambiguously smiled at Miss Charlotte’s concerned gaze.

Finn, who was looking at me worriedly, opened his mouth.

“Hey, are you taking in enough nutrition? Your body doesn’t look well.”

“I’m eating properly, it’s okay. More importantly, is it okay for Finn to be here? You’re the one who’s supposed to be leading the parade, aren’t you?”

If asked that, Finn turned towards me to straighten his posture.

“Yes, the people do want a victory parade. However, there is something we have to do before that.”

I understand that statement.

“Clarify the affiliation of the military force that attacked us in the ancient forest and take measures…Is that what you mean?”

When I said that, Finn and Miss Charlotte nodded.

“Now, the country is in a festive mood. Hearing that His Royal Highness Finlay wiped out the disaster-like magical beasts, they are overflowing with joy. But in this country, there are those who attacked Finlay and William like this time… the anti-royalists lurking.

Miss Charlotte’s voice lowers.

“Finlay is using the dark side of the country, and I am working with the animals to proceed with identifying the anti-royalists. However, there is still not enough information. William saw the anti-royalist army face to face in the ancient forest. I want you to tell us what you know.”

I nodded to those words.

“Understood. I’ll talk about what I know.”

By the time I finished talking about the overview, it was the time when the setting sun was shining through the windows of the room.

“I understand the general situation. Thank you, Will.”

“Was the information useful?”

I asked, and Finn groaned.

“Yes. When I connect what I have investigated with Will’s testimony, I have a feeling that the outer shell has become much clearer. But, one more push… something…”

At that time, Miss Charlotte lightly tapped Finn’s shoulder.

“Finlay. I think it’s time we left.”

At those words, Finn’s eyes twinkled.

Miss Charlotte looked at me, ignoring Finn.

“William, you don’t look well. I’m sorry, I made you remember a lot of painful things in the process of talking.”

When Miss Charlotte said that, Finn opened his eyes wide.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t notice. We’ll go home now.”

Finn and Miss Charlotte stand up.

“Will, how about resting today? You really have a terrible face.”

I returned a smile to Finn’s words.

And I shook my head.

“Thank you. But I can’t relax unless I’m next to Leah. I’m scared that something might happen while I’m away.”

“I see…”

Finn bites his lips.

Then they said goodbye and left the room.

In the room where the setting sun shines, I am alone with Leah.

A young man named Riley, who Leah says is her friend, is heading to the neighboring country to search for kinu grass, but I don’t know him well.

I knew that if I went with him, I would only be a burden for collecting herbs.

So I saw off the young man named Riley without going with him, and I felt uncomfortable that I couldn’t do anything for Leah, relying on a stranger.

“Leah, the sunset is red. It’s almost like when you took your knight’s oath.

Even if I mutter that, Leah lying on the bunk bed doesn’t move at all. The deep green eyes, like the lakeside of that forest, are still hidden behind her eyelids.

I put my hand on Leah’s cheek.

“There are so many things I want to ask you. Why did you lie about your gender? When did you start? What was the reason? And I still don’t understand why you wanted to be such a strong guardian knight for me when my body was still weak.”

I stroke her cheek with my palm.

“Come on, open your eyes, Leah.”

My whisper disappears into the air of the room, illuminated by the sunset, without anyone answering it.

Chapter 64: Previous life

Everything was white.

A white mist covered the surroundings, a space with no sky or ground.

Various-sized mirror shards or something like them floated here and there, reflecting my familiar light brown hair and deep green eyes.

I was floating through such a space.

“Where is this…?”

I mutter to no one in particular, but my voice is absorbed into the white mist.

My head is hazy and my thoughts are not clear.

I have no idea how long I have been in this space.

As I drift around, something catches my eye at the edge of my vision.

A mirror shard, clearly larger than the others and about the size of a person, floats nearby.

I float towards it gently.

The large mirror shard seems to be reflecting a place other than here.

A row of telephone poles, a lifeless road, a residential area with the setting sun. A girl with a backpack is walking there.

The girl walks slowly, as if something painful awaits her at the end of this road, her face downcast.

I stare at the girl through the mirror shard.

(This girl is…)

Even my hazy head knows.

(My past self)

At the same time as I think this, memories from my past life come back to me.

***

My parents divorced when I was 11.

I knew it was coming.

The ruined house, the living room with nonstop yelling, my parents glaring at each other every time they faced each other.

So when I heard my parents were getting divorced, I wasn’t surprised.

After the divorce negotiations, I was taken in by my mother.

After living with my mother, she began to show abnormal attachment to me.

She tried to grasp every detail of my personal relationships and rummaged through my room’s trash can to inspect it.

When I played with classmates, my mother would unexpectedly appear and ask intrusive questions, so my classmates gradually stopped approaching me.

“You won’t abandon me, will you?”

That was my mother’s catchphrase.

I left my mother’s side as if to escape when I graduated from high school.

I knew I should be grateful to my mother, who allowed me to go to high school despite my father not paying child support and us having no financial leeway, but I couldn’t bear my mother’s increasingly abnormal attachment.

I ran to a shelter and looked for a job.

I saved up living expenses over several years and went to college using scholarship programs.

College was a paradise.

I juggled studying and working part-time every day, so busy that I was dizzy.

Even so, I was free. There was freedom there.

There was no management of my daily life in increments. No interference in my personal relationships. No impulsive yelling.

Having casual conversations with the person next to me during breaks or eating treats given by kind seniors at my part-time job.

I was incredibly happy with such ordinary days.

I remember that day well.

It was a clear, hot Sunday.

As I was getting ready to go to work while cicadas chirped, the rare doorbell rang.

(Who could it be on a Sunday morning?)

As I tilted my head and opened the door, two police officers in uniform were standing there.

“Excuse me, are you ——?”

As I nodded with confusion, the police officer’s face became stern.

“We have urgent business and asked for your current address at the shelter you used to stay at. I think the content I’m about to tell you will be shocking, but please try to stay calm and listen.”

“Huh…”

The police officer continued speaking to me, who still didn’t fully understand the situation.

“Your mother was taken to the hospital. It is believed to be a suicide attempt, but we are currently investigating. In this case…”

The two police officers continued to speak, but their words passed through my head.

It seems that what my mother had tried to commit suicide was true.

They asked if I had any idea of the cause, but I couldn’t answer.

“In any case, I think you should contact your relatives and others.”

After the two police officers said that and left, I was unable to move from the spot for a while.

I returned to myself with the incoming sound from my part-time job and contacted to take a break on the phone, and headed to the station with my usual backpack.”

I took the train and came to the hospital where my mother was hospitalized without any sense of reality.

If I give my name, I can surprisingly easily pass through the room where my mother is staying.

A clean, sunlit hospital room.

My mother, lying on the hospital bed, seemed like a completely different person from the last time I saw her. Her skin was rough, her hair was frizzy, and her eyes were sunken.

I vaguely looked at my mother’s face, which had become like an old woman’s.

For me, my mother was an absolutely strong person.

A powerful presence that controls me.

However, the mother lying on the bed now looked small.

Very, small.

I don’t know how to express this feeling.

I stood by the side of the bed and looked down at my mother.

At that moment, there was a loud sound of the door opening from the entrance.

“…!!…You’re——?!”

Suddenly called by my name, I turned around and saw a middle-aged man I somehow recognized standing there.

(I’ve met him several times. I’m sure he’s my mother’s younger brother, and my uncle for me…)

As I was thinking that, the man approached me, approached me, and suddenly slapped my cheek.

A burst of sound echoed in the hospital room.

I staggered at the sudden strong shock.

As I looked up at the man in a daze, he looked at me with an angry expression.

“What do you mean by coming now?! Even though you were so loved by my sister, you suddenly disappeared… ”

The man twisted his face and bared his teeth, yelling.

“Don’t you know how shocked your sister was after you were gone?! She was half-crazy and looking for you all over. You even forgot the kindness who raised you… you ingrate!!”

At that moment, a middle-aged woman ran up to the hospital room door.

The woman pushed the man’s shoulder.

“You, calm down!!”

Even when stopped by the woman, the man continued to shout.

“My sister is in a vegetative state and will never wake up again, she’s as good as dead because of you, you murderer.”

The man waved his hand towards me again.

“What happened?!”

A nurse who heard the commotion ran into the hospital room and held the man’s arm.

“Calm down, please calm down!!”

The man glared at me hatefully and shouted.

“Never, never step on this place with those feet again! Get out!!”

Before I knew it, I was huddled in the dark bedroom of my apartment, not even turning on the lights.

“… Mom, you were so small.”

Words spill out bit by bit.

(She was just a human. Though I felt like she’s a monster that would destroy me, Mom was just a human too.)

I realize this obvious fact belatedly.

(Anyway, I thought I would break if I didn’t get away, and I ran away. I don’t think that was wrong. But…)

“I wonder if anything would have changed if I had just faced Mom a little longer…”

Since then,

The joy of freedom has turned into guilt.

Even when I’m laughing, even when I’m eating something delicious, even when I’m dozing off. I can’t shake off the image of my mother, who has become like a stranger.

“The word “murder” seemed to always follow me.

Feeling crushed by guilt, I threw myself into my studies and part-time job as if possessed.

But I was afraid that if I didn’t, I would be consumed by an unimaginable madness.

Even if I became ragged and worn out like a tattered rag, I kept moving, moving, moving… as a result, I collapsed from overwork.

(Why did it come to this?)

As I receive an intravenous drip in the hospital I was taken to, I wonder.

(Was it good that I was born?)

On my way back from the hospital where I received the intravenous drip, I stopped by a convenience store feeling dizzy.

“Welcome.”

The voice of the listless clerk.

I walk aimlessly through the store like a kite with a broken string.

As I stop by the corner where books are displayed, I accidentally see a manga and pick it up.

I flip through the pages of the manga, which is labelled “The Highly Anticipated Latest Issue” on the cover.

In this “highly anticipated latest issue”, the story begins with a scene where a young man called the Duke visits a slum.

The Duke and his entourage, who had visited the slum on official business, were pelted with stones. The perpetrator was a young boy who was not even of age.

The captured boy spat at the Duke.

“You nobles have it good, you’ve never experienced hunger and had to drink mud! You probably just see us as disposable insects. Our lives don’t matter to you at all! If this is life, it would have been better not to be born…”!!

However, the Duke said to him,

“I may have limited power. But I will never give up on ensuring the right to live for all people. That is my role as a lord.”

The young Duke knelt before the boy.

“It’s natural that you don’t trust me. But I will try to make it so that you can live with peace of mind in the near future… There is no meaning to being born. But you know, everyone has the right to be equally happy.”

Saying that, the young Duke extended his hand to the slum boy.

“Customer… customer?”

As I was called and looked up from the manga, the convenience store clerk was standing close by.

“Are you okay…?”

“What is it?”

I responded to the clerk’s concerned voice.

To my surprise, the convenience store clerk’s eyes opened wide.

“What do you mean, “what is it”? … You’re crying so much…”

Upon hearing that, I realized that I was crying uncontrollably.

“I’m sorry, it’s nothing. It’s just…

this is the first time I’ve felt like my life was being blessed since I was born.”

I squeeze out the words with tears streaming down my face.

It didn’t take long before I became infatuated with Duke William Moore from “You and The White Rose”.

As I read “You and The White Rose”, I was sometimes delighted by his heroism, sometimes worried during his pinch, and sometimes felt heartache at his sorrow.

My grey everyday life was given color.

I felt like Duke William Moore had pushed me on the back and said, “It’s okay to be alive.”

The young man called William Moore became my hope for me to live.

His words, his way of living, gave me a reason to live, which was something I had struggled with every day as if I were already dead.

“It’s just a manga,” some people said. But for me, it was not just that.

He was undoubtedly alive in me.

“On that day, I bought the new edition of “You and The White Rose” and went home with a racing heart.

Last time William Moore was in a pinch and I was on tenterhooks until today’s release date.

(I’m sure it’s okay. If he’s managed to cut through various pinch points so far, he’ll definitely be able to…)

Thinking that, I opened the pages.

And he died.

I reread the story over and over again.

As I reread it, I hoped against hope that the story would change and reread it over and over and over again.

And each time, I was filled with despair.

William Moore will never return.

William Moore, who had a sensitive heart, was always thoughtful, and always tried to be kind and correct as a lord and as a person, will never wake up again.

He will never, ever again.

***

Fluffy, fluffy.

Many shards of mirrors float in the white space.

I slowly blinked as I sent my consciousness to the depths of memory.

The mirror shards in front of me, about the size of a person, no longer reflect anything.

At that moment, I felt something strange in my hand, which passed in front of my sight, and looked at the palms of both hands.

My hands, which have handled spears for many years, have changed into hands that seem to have never held a weapon.

Like the hands of “my previous life”…

I look up and see the mirror shards in front of me.

Before I knew it, “my previous self” was staring back at me from the mirror.

If I touch the mirror with a pat, the “me” on the other side will make the same movement.

This is almost like…

“‘I’ve become my previous self’?”

Even the whisper is the voice of “my previous self.”

I look around.

The figure of “my previous self” was reflected in all the countless mirror shards floating around.

(No, I am Leah Flores. I’m not my previous self anymore…)

Thinking that, no matter which mirror I peeped into, the “me” in the mirror remained the same as my previous self.

Then, the “previous self” reflected in the mirror shards opened its mouth.

[Did you think it was convenient to be reborn into the world of “You and The White Rose”? It was all just your own delusion. He’s a character in a manga. And in the manga world of “You and The White Rose”, he died.]

I cover my mouth and sway.

(That’s not… That’s not supposed to be. I am Leah Flores. I was reborn into the world of “You and The White Rose” and became a knight for William-sama…)

My thoughts gradually slowed down and my consciousness gradually disappeared.

The white mist around me becomes thicker.

When I am overcome with a feeling that even I am disappearing,

[Leah, you won’t leave me and die, right?]

Such words resonated in my head.

(…That’s right, it’s not a dream. They definitely existed)

My first ever friend, Riley.

The incredibly cheerful Poppy.

The crown prince Finlay, his knight Edward-san, Charlotte who faced adversity.

The kind Dr. Turner.

Captain Maurice, Johnson, and the good-natured Knights of Duke of Moore.

And…

My lord and dear person, William-sama.

I collapsed from poison while protecting William-sama. I must be on the verge of death now.

The scene I am seeing now is probably an illusion reflected by my weak heart. A hallucination that invites me to death.

But I can’t die.

[I will do my best to live for you. I promise]

I promised him that in the cemetery where it rains frequently.

My physical senses become clear and my consciousness becomes clearer.

When I realized it, I returned to the appearance of Leah Flores, who had familiar ash-colored hair and deep green eyes, in the mirror.

The mist clears and light shines from above.

I shook off the mist and headed towards the light.

Chapter 65: Awakening

I feel a dazzling light through my eyelids.

As my consciousness resurfaces, I gently open my eyes.

As my focus sharpens, I see the ceiling of the guest room in the Duke of Moore’s mansion.

(I feel like I had a very long dream)

As I gaze at the ceiling, I realize that my left hand is wrapped in the warmth of human skin.

As I raise my body and look to the left, I see William-sama, who is still asleep while sitting on a chair beside the bed, holding my hand.

(That’s right… I collapsed from poison, and then…)

As I think back on the events so far, William-sama’s eyelashes tremble slightly.

“Hm…”

William-sama’s eyelids gradually open, and deep cobalt-colored eyes are shone by the morning sun.

He blinked a few times, but as soon as his eyes caught sight of me, they opened wide.

“Leah…?”

A trembling, hoarse voice calls out my name.

“Yes, William-sama.”

As I respond to his call, William-sama’s face contorts as if he is about to cry.

He was silent for a while, holding my hand tightly, but eventually he smiled at me with a smile that was like a mix of tears and laughter.

“Welcome back, Leah.”

A tear runs down his cheek as he says this.

A clear drop falls, sparkling in the sunlight.

William-sama informed Turner, the doctor who stayed at the Duke of Moore’s mansion, that I had awakened and received a medical examination that said there was nothing wrong with my condition. Turner then returned to the capital.

After that, I was told about what happened while I was unconscious by William-sama.

Poppy and Riley came to this mansion.

Finlay, the Crown Prince, and Charlotte wiped out the anti-royalist faction and sent them to prison.

Riley brought the herbs needed for treatment and gave them to me last night, but I didn’t wake up for a while.

“I have to apologize to Poppy and Riley for worrying them.”

As I said that, William-sama nods.

“They introduced themselves as your friends and have been worried about you all this time. When you are able to move, it would be nice to show them a healthy face.”

After these words, both of us stopped talking and silence fell in the room.

I had realized it.

William-sama had found out about my secret that I had been hiding.

And I expected that he would ask me about it from now on.

“…I thought I would lose you.”

William-sama whispers softly.

“While you were asleep, I thought about a lot of things. I thought we had been together since we were 12 years old and knew almost everything about each other, but it seems I was wrong.”

William-sama looks at me.

I feel that there are unexpected emotions in the depths of his quiet eyes, and I return his gaze.

“Leah. Why did you hide the fact that you are a woman and join the Order to become my escort knight… Could you tell me?”

(Finally, this time has come)

I take a deep breath and turn to face William-sama.

Chapter 66: The Ugly Heart

“I knew the future.”

Not knowing what to say, I began speaking like that.

“I didn’t know everything. Even so, I knew some of the future. But it wasn’t a future that I could accept.”

Without noticing that the first person has changed from “he” to “her”, I continue talking.

*TL: sentencing structure can’t be translated to english

“In order to change the future, I lied about my gender and joined the knights. I couldn’t think of any other way. And I became William-sama’s escort knight.”

I fall silent after saying that much.

(What a clumsy explanation.)

I thought that, but I couldn’t think of any more words to add.

(There’s no way I can say “You were destined to die” to William-sama himself.)

William-sama, who had been quietly listening to my story, opened his mouth after seeing that I fell silent.

“That future is…for example, a future where I am harmed?”

I am surprised by those words and look at him.

“How…”

How did he understand?

While staring at me as if he were asking that, William-sama narrows his eyes.

“When I heard that you became my escort knight in order to change the future, the first possibility that came to mind was that one. And from the moment we first met, you’ve only been thinking about protecting me.”

I timidly asked William-sama about his words.

“Can you really believe such a ridiculous story that I can see the future?”

William-sama tilted his head when I said that.

“I can’t think of a reason why you would lie. Since there are people who can talk to animals like Charlotte, it’s not strange that there are people who can see part of the future.”

I blinked upon hearing that.

I didn’t expect him to believe my story so easily.

The situation was progressing so quickly that I began to wonder if this situation, with William-sama alive and in front of me, was just a convenient dream.

William-sama took my hands and placed them on his chest.

“I don’t know anyone other than you who would risk their life to save someone else.”

I could feel a certain rhythm in my fingertips.

His heart was definitely beating.

(He is alive.)

That throbbing was telling me that it was a reality that he was alive.

(William-sama is alive.)

As I realized that this was not a dream, various feelings welled up inside my chest.

“You have always been working hard.”

A sob like a beast’s roar escaped from the corner of my mouth.

As tears of joy welled up, it seemed that the ugliness of my own heart was exposed before me.

The tears kept overflowing and wouldn’t stop.

(No… I wasn’t motivated by such beautiful feelings… I…)

I sobbed like a child and William-sama gently wrapped his hands around me.

“Thank you, Leah.”

(No…!)

As soon as I heard these words of gratitude from William-sama, the words stabbed into my ugly heart.

“Ah, I’m not a beautiful person worthy of being thanked by you like this!”

My scream, driven by passion, flew out of my throat and echoed throughout the room.

“I’m not made of beautiful selflessness, but of ugly selfishness…!”

(Because when I realized that you were alive, the relief that welled up inside me was that my heart was protected by avoiding your death. My actions have always been ego-driven. I’m trying to protect William-sama not for his sake, but for my own heart.)

“I just wanted you, who is my reason for living, to live with me so that I wouldn’t lose my reason for living!”

A cry like a scream of confession.

The strength of William-sama’s hand increased as he listened to my confession.

“… Hearing that, I feel relieved.”

William-sama smiled at me.

“I’m glad that I’m your reason for living. To be able to be your reason for living as long as I live, how happy that must be.”

Tears, thin and blurry, fall from my eyes.

He scooped up those tears.

“My happiness cannot exist without you. If you say that your feelings are ugly, then my feelings must surely be the ugliest in the world.”

William-sama’s gaze directly captures my eyes.

“I want to be with you forever. Leah, will you spend your lifetime with me?”

I was breathless at his words.

Chapter 67: Resolving misunderstandings

“William-sama…”

I can’t believe the words that were just spoken.

“I am a person with a selfish and ugly heart. You say that’s okay…?”

When I asked that, William-sama smiled even more softly.

“I don’t think of you as such a selfish and ugly person, but if you seek me out because of your selfishness, that would be a wish come true for me.”

Hearing that, I was choked up with tears.

I wanted to entrust everything to him, but there was something I couldn’t help but hold onto.

“Besides, I’m not a man…?”

“…huh?”

When I asked another question, William-sama looked at me quizzically.

“William-sama has feelings for ‘Leah Flores,’ a man?”

William-sama was surprised.

After a thoughtful expression, he turned his face towards me again.

“Certainly, Leah Flores, a man, was in front of me until now.”

Hearing those words, my heart froze.

However, William-sama still looked straight at me and repeated his words.

“But your gender is not a significant issue for me. Whether you are male or female, you are you.”

Saying that, William-sama looked at me with a serious gaze.

“I love you. Please give me an affirmative reply.”

In the past, I had thought “if I confessed that I was a woman, would the love in William-sama’s eyes disappear in that moment?”.

He was a kind person, William-sama.

He would probably say well done, and continue to treat me with unchanged consideration.

But, there would be no love in those eyes. The love and longing he had directed towards me until now would disappear, and he would only be with me out of a sense of duty.

I’m sure I couldn’t bear that.

…that’s what I thought.

However, in William-sama’s eyes, which should have known my gender, the unchanged love for me was flickering.

“I…”

I thought that what William-sama wanted was “him,” a man.

I am a worthless person who, for my own selfishness, wished for William-sama’s happiness and, on top of that, lied about my gender.

But, if it was allowed.

If I was allowed to be by William-sama’s side.

“I… I want to be with you…!!”

As soon as I said that, new tears spilled from my eyes.

“Leah…!!”

He called my name and hugged me.

In William-sama’s arms, I rested my forehead against his body. I could feel his warmth.

William-sama kissed my cheek.

On my ear, neck, forehead.

Gentle kisses rain down on me.

“Leah…”

I look up at William-sama’s voice.

As I see his feverish gaze capture my lips, I close my eyes, flustered, to receive him.

At that moment, the sound of a door being opened loudly echoed.

I quickly take some distance from William-sama.

“Will-!! The doctor told me that the guard knight has regained consciousness… Huh?”

William-sama and I turn towards the door.

“I’m sorry, am we interrupting something?”

Under our gaze, Prince Finlay scratched his head awkwardly.

***

TL:

Potato-tan: “Ugh, I can’t believe Prince Finlay would just burst in and ruin the special moment between William and Leah like that. It’s so rude.”

Neko-chan: “I know, right? I totally get why you’re so upset. It must have been super frustrating to have your moment interrupted like that.”

Potato-tan: “Totally. And what’s even worse is that Prince Finlay doesn’t seem to care about how his actions affect others. He just does whatever he wants without thinking about the consequences.”

Chapter 68: Three reports

“Ah… how should I say it, that… sorry…”

As Finlay, the prince, stood awkwardly, Charlotte, who was next to him, let out a sigh.

“Finlay, I said to call out in front of the door before coming in.”

“Well, I didn’t think they’d be flirting so much inside… pst, I didn’t think it would feel so passionate!”

The prince and Charlotte whispered to each other.

It seems they thought we couldn’t hear, but it was perfectly audible.

I could feel my face getting hot with embarrassment.

“Ahem… Finn, Miss Charlotte.”

When William-sama cleared his throat and called out to the two of them, the prince and Charlotte jumped up.

“Wh-What is it, Will!!”

“William, what is it?!”

William-sama chuckled as the two of them turned around friendly at the same time.

“Well, um… Don’t you guys need something?”

When William-sama said that, Prince Finlay had a shocked expression.

“Right, I have something I want to tell Will and the knight over there… is it still okay now?”

Finlay, the prince, looked at us with upturned eyes.

At those words, “is it still okay now,” I was reminded of the situation earlier and my face grew even hotter with embarrassment.

William-sama glanced at me, smiled towards them, and then kissed my temple before turning back to Charlotte and Prince Finlay.

“Yeah, I think I’ll hear you out.”

Upon seeing that, Charlotte muttered,

“Wow, that’s really hot…”

and then spoke to us.

“First report. The treatment of the anti-royal faction has been decided.”

William-sama tensed up at Charlotte’s words.

“…so, what’s the treatment?”

“The nobles who tried to take over for the Martinez royal family after the rebellion will be imprisoned indefinitely after their family is wiped out, and the warriors who attacked Finlay and William will be given a chance for rehabilitation through hard labor. It was really tough to catch them all.”

Charlotte shrugged her shoulders.

Finlay, the prince, praised Charlotte for that.

“If it weren’t for Charlotte’s power, this rebellion by the anti-royal faction wouldn’t have been resolved. I’m really grateful.”

“Come on, Finlay, I was only able to make the decisive move because of Finlay’s rooting.”

They said that and looked at each other sheepishly.

For a while, the two of them looked at each other, but eventually the prince turned towards William-sama as if he had come to his senses.

“Well, anyway… second report! A group of scholars in the country have announced that there won’t be a large number of magical beasts for the next few hundred years!”

Prince Finlay happily announces.

Upon hearing that, William-sama shouted out in joy.

“That’s great! The people of the country will be pleased too.”

Prince Finlay puffed out his chest.

“Hmph, Will and I went through such an ordeal to fulfill our duties. We should at least be able to maintain peace.”

Prince Finlay was pleased with himself, but suddenly tensed up.

“Well, on the flip side, it’s also suggested that there could be a large number of magical beasts appearing hundreds of years from now. As a country, we plan to record the details of this case in writing and pass it down from generation to generation.”

William-sama nodded upon hearing that.

“It’s important to carry this on to the next generation. Let’s pray that the next disaster doesn’t turn into a major situation.”

A solemn atmosphere enveloped the room.

Charlotte’s cheerful voice broke that atmosphere.

“Lastly, the third report! Finlay should probably say this one.”

Charlotte gave Finlay, the prince, a meaningful look.

The prince chuckled and winked at Charlotte.

Then he took out a piece of paper.

“Ah, this is great news!!…but before that, I want to ask you guys something.”

Finlay, the prince, whispered as if he was going to say something secret.

“You guys are together, aren’t you?”

“Together…?!”

I, as a servant, forgot to keep my presence low and shouted out at the unexpected words.

“Ah, Leah and I are together.”

However, William-sama confidently affirmed that.

“Actually, I recently discovered that Leah is a woman. I love Leah whether they are male or female, and now we can get married with a big wedding.”

Prince Finlay nodded repeatedly at William-sama’s answer.

“Yeah, yeah. That’s right. Marriage between people of the same sex is not currently allowed by law. That’s why this… wait, what?! A woman?!”

The prince opened his eyes as wide as they could go and gaped.

Charlotte, standing next to him, also looked surprised.

The stunned prince seemed to snap out of it and hid the paper he was holding behind his back.

“Hahahaha…that’s good, right?! Congratulations! Congratulations! Invite me to the wedding, Will, hahahaha!!”

William-sama had a confused look on his face at the prince’s fake smile.

William-sama moved away from me and approached Prince Finlay.

“Finn, what is that you’re hiding behind your back?”

The prince’s face contorted at the question.

“Ahahaha, what are you talking about?! I don’t understand the meaning of what you’re saying at all!!”

William-sama slowly approached the retreating prince.

They went back and forth for a while, but ultimately William-sama managed to take the document from Finlay, the prince.

William-sama looked through the document.

“A law that allows same-sex marriage…?”

William-sama muttered and gave Prince Finlay a fierce look.

The prince was silent, but eventually he raised his hands to the sides of his head as if to surrender.

“…It has been brought up frequently as a royal palace issue. It’s not for your sake.”

He turned his head away and said that.

“Despite saying that you’re having a hard time dealing with the stubborn officials.”

Charlotte whispers quietly and Prince Finlay starts to panic.

“Charlotte, there’s no need to say something like that now!”

“But it’s true. I also had a hand in writing the opinion paper, so I have the right to say it.”

“Besides, in this situation, if we spill the beans, it’ll be awkward, right?!”

Charlotte and the Crown Prince began to argue noisily, but when William grabbed their shoulders, they looked at him in surprise.

“You two… really…”

William leaned his head down while still holding their shoulders.

Then he looked up slowly, his face contorted with emotion.

“Finn, Miss Charlotte… Thank you. I’m happy to feel your feelings.”

The two were silenced by William’s words.

Eventually, Crown Prince Finlay hugged William’s head.

“Will… be happy.”

Prince Finlay’s words, whispered as if in prayer.

“Absolutely.”

Charlotte’s quiet voice melts into the space like a prayer.

“Ah.”

William nods strongly at the words.

“It’s okay. I’ve never been happier.”

Saying that, William pulled them closer and turned to me with a smile.

Chapter 69: Petals

“I never thought that Leah would be the first of us to get married. I thought that Riley, who has a fiance, would be the first to get married.”

“Yeah. I thought so too.”

I nodded at Poppy’s heartfelt voice.

While we were talking, Poppy skillfully sewed the cloth in front of her.

“Besides, considering that her partner is a Duke, who knows what will happen in the world.”

She snipped the thread with a pair of scissors.

“The temporary sewing is done. You’ll try on several dresses today, so you’ll be busy.”

Poppy stood up and respectfully bowed to me.

“Well, customer. Today I am not your childhood friend but the tailor Poppy Morgan. Let me show you the dress you want, as if by magic. Please put your hand here.”

Poppy held out her hand to me with a clear face, and when I placed my hand on it, she winked.

“I’ve created several prototypes based on the design I drew while listening. I’ll make the best wedding dress for Leah, betting on the prestige of the branch manager of the Evans Fashion Store.”

***

“A~ah, it’s over.”

As I came out of the fitting room looking dejected, Riley was standing there.

“It’s over… it’s over… fitting uses up a lot of physical strength…”

As I said this, out of breath, Riley laughed.

“Haha! The Captain of the Knights is out of shape. Can’t you set an example for your subordinates?”

“Exactly… my appearance doesn’t matter anymore…”

As we had this conversation, Poppy popped her head out from behind me.

“Leah, there’s one more dress. Could you go back to the fitting room?”

“Another dress…?”

As I turned around and looked at Poppy with a completely lifeless face, Riley finally burst out laughing.

“Hahaha! Captain of the Knights, do your best! Your subordinates are all looking forward to seeing you in your best form, aren’t they?”

“Yeah. Everyone seems to be looking forward to my wedding… the pressure is intense…”

“Don’t you think it’s the subordinates who protested when you were exposed and brought before the Military Law Conference because of your gender? You should let them look forward to it that much.”

As I struggle to find words, Poppy and Riley laugh happily.

“Well, anyway. Let’s try on one more dress, customer.”

“Uwaa…”

I am led to the fitting room by Poppy with my shoulder grasped.

Riley waved his hand cheerfully.

And then came the day of the wedding ceremony.

***

“Yeah, it’s perfect. Leah has a tall figure, and although she has muscle, her slender body shape suits this dress well.”

I shivered at Poppy’s words.

The white cloth rustled every time I moved.

This white dress is slender overall.

The upper body cloth that snugly covers the body draws a loose curve and continues down to the lower body. The sleeves are simple and the daringly open back and decollete are covered with a thin lace.

On the skirt part from the side stomach down, a shell-like embroidery is made, and the embroidery in the same color as the dress sparkles depending on the angle.

Maybe because I had worn clothes that completely covered my body so that it would not be clearly known that I was a woman, it is unsettling to wear clothes that show my skin so spectacularly.

“Well, it’s the final finish.”

Poppy takes an ear cuff in her hand.

The ear cuff I bought at a street vendor when I went with William-sama to preview the gift from Princess Sofia.

Fine silver work, a deep blue gem like the sea, and white pearls that shine in seven colors depending on the angle of view are adorned.

(From this deep blue to a pale purple, the jewel called ‘the sea of intelligence’ changes color depending on the amount of light it receives and it looks just like the color of William-sama’s.)

While looking at the earrings, I think about things like that.

Poppy carefully holds up the earrings and puts them in my ears.

Poppy looks up at me.

I, who have never worn a dress before, am hesitant about my appearance and nervously ask her when I feel her gaze.

“…How is it?”

Then, Poppy smiles widely and

“It’s perfect!!”

And he raised her fist to the sky.

“Hey, are you finished preparing?”

At that time, Riley’s voice called out from the shadow of the door.

“The Duke is waiting.”

Upon hearing that, Poppy’s eyes flash.

“Oh my, is it already that time? See you at the venue, Leah.”

Poppy laughs mischievously and leaves the room.

Only I was left in the empty room.

As I looked down at my own body, the door was lightly knocked.

“Leah, it’s me…Can I come in?”

I correct my posture in a hurry upon hearing William-sama’s voice.

“Yes, it’s okay.”

When I say that, the door…makes a sound and opens.

There, William-sama in a white frock coat stood.

William-sama breathed in as he reflected my appearance in his eyes.

Eventually, he relaxed those wide-opened eyes and smiled at me.

“You’re beautiful, Leah. It’s like a dream that you’re my wife.”

Saying that, he walked towards me.

And he looked at my ears again and opened his eyes wide once more.

“These earrings…”

His hand touches my ear.

“I still remember well when I first saw these earrings and realized that I love you. I couldn’t say it then, but now I can…they look good on you.”

After he takes his hand off my ear, he picks up my hand.

“Come on, let’s go. The ceremony is starting.”

I nod to that and started walking with him.

“Whoooaaa! Captain, you’re soooo beautiful!!”

“Waaahh!!”

“Waaahhh!!”

I was bewildered in front of my subordinates who were crying loudly.

“Johnson, no matter what, it’s too much crying…and others too. Captain Maurice, please tell them something…wait, he’s crying too…?!”

I turned around, troubled by the knights who were shedding tears loudly, and saw that Captain Maurice was wiping his eyes.

When it became clear that I was a woman and I was brought to court-martialed, they were the ones who took a stand.

I was on the verge of being stripped of my position and punished.

When it seemed that there was nothing that could be done with just William-sama’s power, they collected signatures and fiercely protested, and I was able to escape punishment and it was decided that I would continue as Knights’ Captain of the Moore duke’s house.

“Just because she’s a woman, what the hell! Captain Flores has been faithfully serving as Knights’ Captain until today. She has achievements, achievements!”

I remember Johnson’s appearance as he came charging into the court-martial while saying that.

When I glanced at William-sama’s direction, I saw that Prince Finlay was crying in front of William-sama.

When William-sama and Prince Finlay, who was being consoled by him, met eyes, they both laugh.

As we looked at each other, a gust of wind suddenly blew.

White petals flew from the bouquet I was holding.

White petals dancing up into the blue sky.

It was as if it was the end of “You and The White Rose”…it reminded me of the scene when Charlotte and Prince Finlay offered a white rose at William-sama’s grave.

(But, everything about that scene was different)

I look around the venue.

Johnson, the knights who are my subordinates, Captain Maurice, Poppy and Riley who are looking at me warmly, Prince Finlay who is crying in front of William-sama, Charlotte who is standing behind him, and Edward-san who is standing on their side.

And, William-sama in a soft white frock coat.

The many people who supported me.

(I am a lucky person)

I grip the bouquet.

As a natural smile overflows, I take out a handkerchief and wiped Johnson’s face who was crying “waaahh waaahh”.

Chapter 70: Devotion of Leah Flores

It was the night one month after we got married.

Invited by William-sama, I was walking on the coast where the moonlight was shining.

The sound of the waves that come and go echoes on the quiet coast.

We stop and look at the path of the moon reflected on the sea.

At that time, William-sama slowly opened his mouth.

“…It seems that women are also candidates for the escort knight to be elected next time for Her Royal Highness Sofia.”

At those words, I blink my eyes.

It was only recently that voices calling for the introduction of female knights from various places have begun to rise.

The occupation of knights, which had only been open to men until now.

Of course, male knights have always been responsible for the protection of female members of the royal family and aristocracy, but they have had the problem of not being able to enter the private rooms of the female subjects they are protecting.

However, since the precedent of a female like me being recognized as the captain of the knights has been established, the voices calling for female knights have become much louder.

“The world is changing. Of course, I have too.”

William-sama looks out to sea.

The moonlight shone on his lustrous hair.

“Since I met you, I have changed. I know the joy of loving and being loved.”

He turns to me.

A light flashes in his eyes.

“I was terrified to think about what an empty life without you would be like. I can’t even imagine a life without you. If you say that I am the reason you live, then you are the happiness of my life.”

He slowly lifts my chin with his hand and turns my face towards him.

“Leah.”

The voice, the gesture, the gaze of William-sama… they are all so gentle.

Feeling the love for him welling up inside me, I placed my hand on his cheek.

William-sama embraces me with his other hand.

“I love you.”

As he whispers this, he looks into my eyes.

“I love you too. Always.”

I also look back at him.

As if it were natural, our lips met.

Only the moon floating in the sky is watching us.

The moonlight reflecting on the sea seems to bless us as it shimmers.

****

Authors Note:

“Well, that’s the story of Knight Leah Flores.

…What? You want to know what happened to the two of them afterwards?

I’m just a humble traveling storyteller.

I don’t know what happened to them because I’ve been traveling around to various countries. But, well…

Duke William Moore later implemented a policy of focusing on education in order to solve the poverty problem. By establishing educational institutions that do not require money, he increased the options for the future of the people and took a step towards improving the poverty problem.

And under him was the figure of a knight who devoted herself to him. That’s right, it’s Knight Leah. She lived happily as a warrior who earned many feats at times, and as Duke William Moore’s beloved at other times. Surely from now on… they will continue to be happy.”

——The end——

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