A deafening silence that hurts the ears. The stillness that appeared in the night. And the warm breeze gently caresses the cheeks.
Looking up slightly to the south, dark clouds are spreading, swallowing up the flickering stars.
"It might rain for a while," Valerie's father, the Duke of Savignac, muttered to himself as he stroked the back of his beloved horse.
One day south of the capital, in the midst of green fields, in the garden of the Duke of Savignac's main residence.
Even though it was the middle of the night, he was there alone, tying his luggage to the back of his beloved horse and preparing for his journey.
He pulls out his armor, which he has not worn for a long time since his retirement, and puts on his family's great sword, the 'Ogre Killer,' which has been used to defeat many enemies.
Now that he was ready, he pulled the reins of his horse and started to walk toward the gate, when his wife, wearing a robe over her nightgown, quietly walked up to him.
The duke stopped and looked back at his wife.
Then, with a hard look of tragic determination on his face, he said in an admonishing tone.
"...I must do my duty. My loyalty to the royal family must be fulfilled. But at the same time, I cannot betray Her Highness again. Then there is only one path I can take."
Then the woman smiled weakly.
The tip of her nose and her eyes were slightly red. Perhaps it would be impolite to point this out.
"I understand. I'm not here to stop you. Once you've made up your mind, you don't listen. Do you know how long I've been your wife? I am also a Savignac woman."
"If this doesn't work out, the nine families will perish. The name of Savignac will be disgraced and you will all lose your lives"
"Yes, I understand."
When he thinks about it, she and him have been like brother and sister since they were a child.
It wasn't until much later that he became aware of her as a woman.
It was a time when he was living like an empty shell, broken by an ill-fated love.
Looking back, it was this wife who supported him.
It was this woman who knew all his sins, his disappointments, his decisions, and yet supported him desperately.
She was too much for him.
"...I love you. I never thought of you as a replacement for anyone. I've been so happy."
"I was happy too."
The duke smiles to himself.
To think that they have to speak to each other in the past tense.
The duke himself can no longer change anything.
He has lived his life with loyalty to the crown as his supreme value.
He cannot change it.
So it all depends on his son-in-law.
He must bet everything on that unreliable man.
That he will keep his promise.
That's all he can do.
Though he'll have to pay a heavy price, he'll lose his beautiful daughter.
This is a heavy burden to bear.
The duke then pulls a letter from the baggage tied to his horse and stares at it.
It was brought by an elderly man.
The man who claimed to be the butler of Her Highness was not an ordinary man at all, though he had a mild-looking face.
Behind his narrow eyes, which had the look of a good-natured old man, there was a look of greatness that only a man who had killed a man could have.
He handed the letter to his wife and looked into her eyes, and spoke.
"Take this... please have someone deliver this letter to His Highness the Crown Prince. I'm sure His Highness the Crown Prince will not take it the wrong way."
And the duke jumped on his horse.
"Yes, my dear."
He whipped his horse and rode out the gate without looking back.
The wife stands there until the duke is out of sight, then falls to the ground on her knees.
Drops trickle down to the dark ground, and her choking sobs dissolve into the silence.
* * *
It was the third morning since Lucas and his friends had left the fortress.
Valerie's half-brother, the eldest son of the Duke of Savignac, was also on his way to the royal city in secret.
In his pocket there is a letter that the duke left for his wife.
He was heading straight for the palace where the Crown Prince was staying.
At the same time...
"I see it! That carriage! Bon-bon, are you ready?"
"Don't ask me now!"
Near the border between Ternoire and Froinvale, in the dense forest of morning mist, there is a road through the forest called the Black Forest.
There, Lucas and his companions caught sight of a carriage and the horses of the knights under the direct command of the Princess.
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