A few hours later—
The match was just around the corner, and the sparring arena began to fill out.
An open match wasn’t common, so most of the knights gathered here today to watch.
Sitting at the upper balcony, Rosetta glanced down at the full crowd delightedly.
To be honest, she didn’t expect that the match would be held in such a wide arena, so she was a bit surprised, but…
‘Well, that’s that.’
The bigger the audience, the more fun the show would be.
“There’s so many people, Sister.”
And sitting next to Rosetta, Alicia spoke in a rather stiff voice.
Her bright eyes, reminiscent of sunlight, trembled faintly.
The original Rosetta and Alicia were far removed from any social activities.
Since they didn’t go out all that much, let alone to such events, she wasn’t used to seeing such a huge crowd.
Rosetta patted Alicia gently on the shoulder to soothe her.
That’s why Maxwell has to do well.”
“Ah, I’m sure he’ll win! Sister was the one who took him in, so I’m sure!”
Giggling at the gentle touch, Alicia responded to Rosetta’s concerns with an enthusiastic nod and a fist pump.
The way Alicia so firmly declared that he’d win made Rosetta laugh out loud.
Besides, why was it that her main reason for believing so much was because ‘Sister took him in’
Alicia’s cheeks flushed pink when Rosetta laughed.
She couldn’t understand why she was so delighted, but in any case, it felt nice to see that her older sister was laughing.
Rosetta laughed for a long time.
Then, wiping a few drops of tears from the corner of her eyes, she stroked Alicia’s long hair.
The upper seats were under shade, but the bright sunlight on this summer day seeped in a little.
The summer sun’s rays went in through a gap and reached Alicia’s brilliant blonde hair, making it shine beautifully.
The strands of her hair that slipped through the fingers looked like gold thread.
“Alicia, what you said is right.”
“Just as you said, Maxwell is someone I took in, so he’ll definitely win.”
At Rosetta’s playful whisper, Alicia nodded with a sparkle in her eyes.
Of course, Rosetta was nowhere near joking about this.
As the time of the match approached, the boisterous atmosphere of the arena slowly quieted down.
Just in time, Damian arrived and took the vacant seat at the upper balcony.
“…You’ve arrived, Brother.”
Damian smiled affectionately at the greetings given to him one after another.
When he made eye contact with Rosetta however, his expression was a bit awkward.
He’s been that way ever since the day of Diana’s revenge.
It’s the first time they’re facing each other properly again ever since they talked in the carriage alone.
‘Or by chance, later.
Don’t regret it.’
Since he heard such words, it’s normal to feel awkward.
Smiling happily, Alicia sat between the two.
Her older brother and older sister.
The two people who were more precious to her than anyone else.
Noticing this, Rosetta smiled and was the first to initiate conversation with Damian.
“Thank you for coming here, Brother.”
As if nothing had happened between the two of them.
“It was a condition that I placed, so of course I have to see it personally.”
Damian also had no intention of bursting Alicia’s bubble of happiness, so he quickly schooled his features and replied to Rosetta.
At the warm exchange of words spoken at either side of her, Alicia smiled once more.
She imagined something as impossible as her older brother and older sister having a good sibling relationship.
Then suddenly, the face of one absent family member popped into her mind.
“Ah, Brother! Where’s Fa…ther”
She asked in a slightly excited voice, but in response, Damian shook his head with a troubled expression.
At the negative response, Alicia’s shoulders drooped.
It would have been nice if their father came today so that the entire family was gathered together.
Damian’s large hand stroked the back of Alicia’s head to comfort her.
Watching the amiable brother and sister, Rosetta leaned on the armrest opposite the direction where Alicia was.
With her body leaning obliquely like this, she glanced sideways at the two other people.
‘…Yeah, that’s it.’
This was the sight she wanted.
With her gone, it was the picturesque sight of a perfect family.
Even if she wasn’t here, Alicia would have family left with her.
This was the suitable environment for a happy female lead.
Rosetta thought about the future as she turned away.
Her expression was nonchalant, but her gaze as she looked in the distance was subdued.
It was a fact that she herself didn’t notice.
Soon enough, it was time for the match.
Cassion and David, who had been waiting in their respective waiting rooms until now, arrived at the arena’s platform.
Resounding exclaims swept through the entire stadium.
It’s been a while since an open match was held.
One competitor was the rising star of the fourth order of the knights, while the other competitor was the main character of all the buzzing rumors going around these days.
Of course, it’s not as if those rumors had been exaggerated.
People didn’t know that however, so they were just looking forward to watching the match.
Such events that break away from the humdrum of everyday life would make anybody’s heart race.
Today’s main characters appeared at both ends of the arena, then stopped in the middle of the stadium.
They both bowed their heads, then they turned to look up at the upper seats.
Damian slowly rose to his feet.
The gentle smile he gave to Alicia and Rosetta earlier was nowhere to be seen.
Right now, the only side of him that could be seen was the cold, level-headed Young Duke of House Valentine.
Moving to the edge of the balcony, he placed both hands on the stone railing and looked at the two men who were bowing their heads in front of him, then his gaze lightly scanned the people who were sitting below at the audience seats of the stadium.
It was quiet everywhere.
To the point that not one word or breath could even be heard.
The audience was overwhelmed after just one look from that cold, golden gaze.
As the arena was brought to a hush, Damian’s eyes turned to the two main characters once more.
“Today’s swordsmanship match is held for the purpose of choosing the escort knight for Ducal Princess Rosetta Valentine.”
The serious voice echoed throughout the arena.
David and Maxwell answered Damian’s call one after another.
“Your victory or defeat will be determined by either of the two conditions: that one would ‘abstain’ first, or that one would ‘reach the opponent’s vital point’ first.
Do you have any objections”
Damian nodded after hearing the firm answers.
“Then, I look forward to your match.”
After saying these last words, he turned around.
He raised his hand as a signal, then the man next to him blew the horn.
With that, the audience, which had been restrained thus far, let out their cheers that resounded across the arena.
David and Cassion lightly shook hands, then moved about five or six steps away from each other.
At last, a color-bearer stepped in front of the two while carrying a huge flag in his hands.
The more the flag fluttered, the louder the audience’s cheers became.
The two men drew their swords.
It was the start of the match to determine who would be Rosetta’s escort knight.
Each side had no doubt in his mind that he would win.
* * *
“So you didn’t get scared and run away, street rat.”
Chuckling as he spoke, David pointed the tip of his sword at Cassion.
Originally, a rude remark such as this didn’t suit a formal spar at all, but David didn’t hold back since the stands and the arena’s platform were quite far away from each other.
But instead of answering, Cassion just stared back at him and raised an eyebrow.
This, too, grated at David’s nerves.
“You’re looking down at me again”
“Is it required to talk during a match”
One man’s nervous voice was answered by another man’s calm, cold voice.
It even felt as if he was just being forced to answer.
Seeing that the other side was not hiding how troublesome he felt this all was, David let out a smile with gritted teeth, then he nodded.
It felt as if his head was boiling red.
“Fine, I’ll just make it so that you won’t ever be able to speak again.”
Saying this with his molars gnashed together, David jumped straight towards his opponent.
The two swords met in the air, the metal blades screeching out.
Even when David came running with momentum as he slashed his sword forward with more force, Cassion didn’t buckle.
They pushed the other out with similar strength, then backed off with the same timing.
The rest of the match continued in a similar manner.
While sharp eyes looked for gaps in the other’s defenses, and each time they moved forward, a deafening sound would rip the air apart.
On that hot summer day, the sun’s rays descended.
Beads of sweat formed on the foreheads of the two active men.
The clashing swords shrieked out as they pushed each other away.
At a brief standstill, the two took a few steps away, catching their breaths as they looked at each other.
It was an implicit time to rest, a form of gauging the opponent.
David looked at Cassion and inwardly cursed.
Because the match was going on longer than he expected.
His physical strength was on a gradual decline, his back was soaked with sweat, his breathing was rough and his body was aching all over.
Although he hadn’t been hurt anywhere, just the act of countering the other’s sword consumed a lot of energy.
With a clenched jaw, David glanced at his shaking elbow.
‘…That son of a… Is he really just a street rat’
He felt it when his wrist was grabbed by him earlier, but this street rat was quite strong.
Whenever their swords clashed, it was usually David, not the street rat, who was being pushed out.
It was so weird.
Obviously, he didn’t think the same when that street rat first came into the Valentine Duchy’s residence and trained with the rest of the knights.
Besides that, his stance.
Back then, people ridiculed him for his sloppy posture and poor sword techniques.
People would say that it couldn’t be helped since he’s just from the streets.
However, the stance of the person David was facing now had absolutely no gaps.
It wasn’t a very formal stance, but there really were no weak spots.
Whenever he wielded his sword, it felt as if he had mastered perfectly the places where to strike and how much force exactly to apply.
In addition, even though he was sweating so much that it looked like he was rained on, there was no change to the light in his eyes which had been there from the start of the match until now.
That glint was reminiscent of a predator’s eyes as it was hunting for food.
In an instant, if felt like killing intent poured out from him.
David clenched his teeth harder as he firmly tried to keep standing on his trembling legs.
‘You made this much progress in that short period of time Are you serious’
He couldn’t believe it.
No, he didn’t want to believe it.
He experienced it firsthand twice already, but it was the kind of reality that he couldn’t believe.
The longer this match went on, the more he’d get pushed back.
‘Those rumors… There’s no way they’re true.’
With a hardened expression, David gulped dryly.
As he did, he felt his throat burn as hot as fire.
Wait, hold on.
His tightly shut lips curled up.
His brown eyes suddenly showed an unexpected sense of confidence.
David quickly showed that characteristic expression of his, filled with an underhanded, barbarous, unfounded confidence.
Even when he realized just how much stronger of an opponent Cassion was against his expectations.
Even though he was losing.
Despite it all, he still believed that victory was his.
This wasn’t just hot air, a false hope or some speculation.
It was a natural, predetermined result.
‘He’s already been fed the medicine.’
David had already done the proper countermeasures in case the ‘unexpected’ would happen.