The instant she advanced, Felt directed her gaze to the left as she pitched her body to the right.
Throwing her opponent off balance with her misleading gaze, Felt dived in the opposite direction. Felt wouldn’t need to use these sorts of tricks against just anyone, but from what she’d experienced thus far, she absolutely needed such tricks against highly skilled fellows.
And this especially applied to the opponent before her, she would not hesitate in the slightest to throw everything she had at him.
Felt’s little trick caused the young man whose eyes seemed to contain the skies themselves to purse his lips. Seeing this out of the corner of her eye, a smile of satisfaction manifested at the edges of Felt’s mouth as she advanced.
She would make it, she had done it, she had won, she had broken through, such phrases assuring her of her victory continually flashed through her mind.
Trampling the red carpet, she immediately dashed forward to make this assurance a reality―
The man she thought she had outwitted and left behind suddenly appeared before her, causing her to scream.
The next instant, with her eyes still widened, a light impact to her legs swept her off her feet and sent her small body flying upwards with unexpected speed and force. This impact that seemed to cause heaven and earth to turn over made Felt imagine the sight of herself slamming into the floor. But no matter how long she waited, the collision she expected never came.
This was only natural. The reason being―
“Are you alright? I hope you have not bitten your tongue or anything of the sort.”
The red-haired young man whose blue eyes were staring at her from up close. There was hardly any distance at all between their faces. They were so close they could feel each other’s breaths.
This too was only natural, for Felt was at present in the young man’s arms. To put it in simpler terms, he was carrying her.
Realizing what kind of situation she was in, Felt’s mood immediately worsened. Narrowing her eyes in dissatisfaction and biting her lip with displeasure, she growled angrily which caused the young man to lower his brow and smile bitterly.
“Your present attitude would suggest that your tongue is quite alright.”
“Hmph! Thank you so much for worrying about me. Thanks to the sense of defeat you so elegantly carved into me, I haven’t sustained the slightest injury. Damn it! What a cheap trick, acting like I managed to take you by surprise.”
Ignoring the fact that she was using cheap tricks herself, Felt crossed her arms and turned her face away from him. The young man maintained his bitter smile in response to this unfriendly attitude of hers,
“No, I do apologize if I have caused you to misunderstand. Your distraction this time was magnificent. However, moving in the opposite direction of one’s gaze is a rather standard tactic in itself, due to which…”
“Don’t just advise me so leisurely! Let me tell you, this is a serious match between you and me! You’re gonna regret it if you take me too lightly, Reinhard!”
Saying this, Felt thrust her finger into the man ― Reinhard Van Astrea’s face which was right before her as she boldly displayed what a sore loser she was.
This little contest between Felt and Reinhard had been going on for about a month now.
―Ever since that incident at the loot house in the slums, Felt had been living a life of confinement, robbed of her free will ever since Reinhard captured her.
However, it was not so constrained a life as these words would suggest, she was not cuffed and could freely change her clothes, she could eat as she pleased and take her baths whenever, speaking in practical terms her environment was rather hospitable. Even Felt thought that if she no longer had any attachments to the outside, perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad to just indulge in this life to the fullest.
But she did have such attachments. Reasons she had to be outside and not here.
“That’s why I’m going to sneak past you and bid farewell to this mansion. Once I do that, you can no longer chase after me. Surely you haven’t forgotten.”
“Of course not. Therefore, I too shall endeavor to keep a watchful eye on you.”
Reinhard’s response to Felt’s caustic words was no exaggeration, his declaration was entirely sincere.
In truth, Felt had already tried to escape Reinhard’s mansion countless times over this past month, and he had foiled her attempts every single time. To attempt to count how many times this had occurred would be a fool’s errand.
It wasn’t as if she was always aiming for a direct confrontation with Reinhard. She would in fact use any means necessary to avoid him such as aiming for when he was going out, or going to bed.
“But despite that you somehow always show up right when I try to escape… You damned monster.”
“Even I find such a manner of speaking hurtful. In addition, please allow me to explain one other thing. It would seem that you believe that I used an underhanded trick just now, but that is a misunderstanding.”
“My surprise was genuine. But what caused that surprise was not your actions, Felt-sama…”
Pausing there, Reinhard turned around, to the hallway’s window that was behind him. Felt who was in his arms also naturally ended up facing it and thus ended up having to confirm what had entered her line of sight.
Thus, in Reinhard’s arms, the sight Felt found before her was―
“― It was the snow.”
The scene of powdery white snow gently dancing down onto the capital.
“It is not as if the capital never sees snowfall, but this is a rather unusual sight, is it not.”
Felt’s eyes were fixed on the sky, and Reinhard who was gazing upon the same sky said this to her in a deeply moved voice. His voice contained no small amount of admiration which caused Felt’s lips to warp.
“What’s with that. Looks like the peerless Sword Saint-sama is getting pretty excited over a bit of snow.”
“I am not so joyful as all that. If the snow were to accumulate to an excessive extent, the capital’s functions would be affected as well. There is also the concern that this is very clearly not a natural phenomenon, however…”
“I do not sense the presence of any malice in this sky. That being the case, I was thinking that at least for now, it would not be so bad to simply think of it as a beautiful snowscape.”
With an expression that looked like a bashful smile, Reinhard explained what he was feeling. Staring at this expression of his, Felt felt as though she was seeing something unusual.
In order to improve her chances of victory in their contest, Felt had spent a lot of time observing him over this past month, a fact she took pride in. Of course, since this was his home, she could on a rather frequent basis see him in a more relaxed state, in both mind and body, than he would be outside, however,
“Wipe that dopey look off your face, damn it.”
Thus, Felt pushed on his cheek with her palm in a rather irritated mood. She then sighed at Reinhard who offered no resistance.
“To begin with, what’s so great about snow anyway. It’s just a pain, ain’t it.”
“Do you not like snow, Felt-sama?”
“It ain’t at the level of like or dislike. You think people like me who live in the slum’s back alleys could possibly be happy about snow?”
Felt hmphed as if disparaging his rather elegant question.
Obviously, life in the slums was lacking in all sorts of ways. In that sort of environment where you weren’t even sure if you would have a roof or walls to sleep in, something like snowfall was simply hell.
“There was even a time when I ate a whole bunch of snow ‘cause I had nothing else to eat, and ended up getting diarrhea because of it.”
“Was that not due to your own lack of discrimination…”
“Oh shut up already, old man Rom got mad at me too, you know! Quit complaining already! Also, just how long are you planning to hold me, put me down already!”
Flailing around wildly, Felt showed her displeasure in an attempt to get away from Reinhard’s chest. Giving in to her stubborn attitude, Reinhard released her onto the floor.
Patting her knees, Felt clicked her tongue loud enough to be sure Reinhard would hear it.
“I’ll acknowledge that I lost today. Even if I tried to escape now, I doubt the outcome would be very pleasant considering how cold it is out there.”
“Understood. I agree that it would be best to leave it at that. After all, it would be unfortunate if you were to fall sick, and also… No, never mind.”
The way he spoke suggested he had something more to say, but Reinhard did not say anything further. She somehow did not feel like interrogating him about it, and so their conversation came to a close.
It would also be irritating if on top of being the loser, she had to spend her time looking at the winner’s face.
Therefore, Felt once again narrowed her eyes at the sight of the snow dancing down outside the window,
“―I hope old man Rom isn’t feeling too cold.”
“And so, I once again failed to escape. I’m seriously losing confidence in my legs here…”
“Oh dear, you must not say such things. You must first of all believe in yourself. Or you will not be able to draw forth your power when it is necessary.”
“Even though you’re saying that sort of thing, you’re still one of the people interfering with my escape, granny…”
In this manner, Felt complained with her jaw on the dining room’s table in response to which the old woman laughed pleasantly.
She was a woman who had aged well and gave off an elegant impression. The reason she looked so dignified despite her plain clothing was most likely because of the sharp beauty her figure possessed as she stood up straight, her back’s posture immaculate.
This woman was yet another obstacle to her attempts to escape from Reinhard’s devilish clutches ― She was one half of the old married couple who would impede Felt’s attempts to escape whenever Reinhard wasn’t around. Even though Reinhard called her grandma or whatever, she was clearly no ordinary person considering her movements did not show her age in the slightest.
Regardless, except for when she interfered with her escapes, she was always kind to Felt and the food she made was also exceptionally delicious due to which Felt could not dislike her, and thus their strange acquaintanceship continued.
It was to the extent that on days on which Felt sincerely admitted defeat, they would get together to have tea and snacks like this.
“However, it would be troublesome if the snow were to fall too heavily. I am getting on in years myself so I would end up worrying you and the young master if I were to fall and get hurt.”
“Don’t just decide on your own that I’d be worried… I would be worried, though!”
“Fufu, I am well aware. Because you are a kind child, Felt-sama.”
Saying this, she gently stroked a sullen Felt’s head without reservation. It felt somewhat ticklish, but it also felt rather pleasant, so Felt would not shake her off of anything.
“It would seem that you are not especially fond of snow, Felt-sama.”
“… Did you hear that from Reinhard? It’s not like I particularly like or dislike the weather, you know? It’s more like asking whether it’s easy to live in or hard to live in, isn’t that right?”
“You might be correct. Certainly, clearing up all of this snow is going to be hard for grandpa, that is troublesome indeed.”
“Snow is unexpectedly heavy when it piles up too, gramps’ll have to be careful about his back.”
“Oh dear, I’ll have you know that he is still plenty strong despite his age. In both body and soul.”
With a hand against her mouth, the old lady giggled. Her voice and expression clearly displayed her overflowing love for her husband.
The image of the old man giving it his all shoveling the snow around the mansion naturally manifested in Felt’s mind.
He could not speak, but he was hale and hearty despite his age. As one would expect, this old man was also one of the people impeding her escape, but just like the old lady Felt could not dislike him.
His aura was of the same sort as Rom’s, he was kind and gentle and just seemed like a good person.
― Felt wasn’t very good at dealing with good people. Or more accurately, she felt that good people were taken advantage of by those around them and she couldn’t bear that sort of environment.
The awareness that she herself was depending on Rom would take this even further.
“Come now, you must not click your tongue. It makes you appear to be one of poor character.”
“I had a poor upbringing. So it shouldn’t be a problem to overlook something like clicking…”
“Your upbringing has no bearing on the matter. It is a matter of consideration for the other party. Or do you not mind if the old lady you are speaking to is hurt? Aah, how sad, oh dear, oh dear…”
“Oh, come on! That was my bad! I get it! I won’t do it in front of you anymore!”
Felt panicked as the old lady lowered her head and placed her hands against her eyes.
It was not that she actually thought that she would cry over something like this, but it was often the case that such words of lament came from the heart. Felt knew a lot about the elderly. Old man Rom himself did this sort of thing on a regular basis.
“Man, I’m just no match for you, granny. Have you been toying with people that way for a long time or what.”
“Well, that is not the case. I was terribly hard headed when I was young… To the extent that I myself was put off by it. If it weren’t for grandpa, perhaps I never would have married.”
“Heeh, how unexpected. Have you and gramps been working here long?”
“Do you perhaps mean the Astrea family when you say ‘here’? If so, I have been serving the Astrea family from the day I was born. Because that is the lineage I was born into.”
“Hmm, that seems pretty rough too. Then you probably knew Reinhard back when he was a brat, huh?”
With a sour expression, Felt carefully considered the old lady’s feelings from the bottom of her heart. Felt’s words caused the old lady to raise her eyebrows slightly, after which her expression suddenly changed into a relaxed smile.
“Do you dislike the young master, Felt-sama?”
“I certainly do, what about it?”
“Oh my, fufu.”
She was wondering what she was going to say, this instant response from an exasperated Felt made her giggle.
Felt had never seen this sort of reaction from her before.
“What’s so funny, to make you laugh like that.”
“No, no, I was just surprised. Because it is very rare for the young master to be disliked by anyone.”
“Is that so? Although I get the feeling that if you asked around the slums and back alleys, you’d find any number of people who hate the guy?”
In truth, in the slums which had very many people of self-debasing character, merely being born into the commoners’ district would make one an object of envy. To come from a family of knights, and moreover bear such a celebrated title as ‘Sword Saint’ meant that there would be no end to those who bore jealousy or envy towards him.
“None of them could say it to his face. That is why I am certain I can place my trust in you… Just like I trusted that man with Theresia-sama.”
She couldn’t quite hear what the old lady had whispered towards the end. But when Felt tilted her head, the old lady shook her head, still smiling,
“Oh dear. When I speak with you, I somehow seem to end up thinking back to my past.”
“Your past, how many decades ago was that?”
“Ah, how cruel… About forty years ago, perhaps?”
“That’s more than double my age…”
It wasn’t as much as old man Rom, but she could definitely feel this lady’s age. Unfortunately for Felt, she was a long ways off from broaching the same territory as them. Of course, they must have in their own way had their immature periods just like Felt.
“I was that way too, you know. I was once but a young maiden in love.”
“―? You’re still a maiden in love, aren’t you. When you’re getting along that well with ol’ gramps, are you not aware of it?”
“… Well now.”
The sight of the old lady’s bashful smile with her cheeks slightly flushed made Felt smile as well.
She would occasionally spot the two of them while they were alone, what an intimate couple they were. Felt didn’t have much experience when it came to this sort of thing, but she thought that that was what a loving couple ought to be like.
Having this pointed out, the old lady nodded any number of times as if reflecting on her joy. Her eyes then narrowed and gently stared at Felt.
“Felt-sama, did you know that there exists a special flower that only blooms on snowy days?”
Felt thought that this was an extremely sudden change in topic, but she did not point this out and instead offered a straightforward response, “Yeah?”
A flower that only blooms on snowy days, meaning its composition was rather troublesome.
“Flowers only bloom when they have water and sunlight, don’t they? For one to only bloom on snowy days, why does it grow in such a troublesome manner?”
“Why is that, I wonder. It is a flower so elusive that there is doubt as to whether or not it even really exists. All that is known about it is that it is a flower as white as snow itself.”
“… It kinda feels like you’re talking about something really memorable, doesn’t it?”
She couldn’t imagine that the old lady’s explanation came from some passing memory. The old lady nodded when Felt pointed this out, “Yes.”
“After all, I went looking for it several decades ago. With the then head of the Astrea family and his wife… My former master and grandpa came along too.”
“Hmm, sounds like quite the large scale expedition. So, did you manage to find the flower?”
While smiling faintly, the old lady lowered her brow as she shook her head. Felt accepted this answer as if it was only natural. Had she seen in person, she would not describe it as an elusive flower or whatever.
A white flower that would only display its full glory in the snow, one that might not even really exist.
“There was even a legend going around that if you found it, your wish would come true.”
“A wish, huh.”
“Supposing you were to find it, Felt-sama, what do you suppose you would wish for?”
“I guess I’d have that damned Reinhard punished properly and then run away from the mansion with you. And then you’d make me snacks every day.”
“Oh dear, I could not go on living if I were to be separated from grandpa.”
“Then I’ll bring him along too. Reinhard can probably manage this huge place on his own, anyway.”
Someone like Reinhard could probably somehow manage something even if he were left on his own. Perhaps he would even find it easier to live this way.
Considering how he always had to be worried about his surroundings, taking care not to break anything.
“What about you, granny? If you found that flower right now, what would you wish for?”
“My wish, is it…?”
“It’s not like I’m the only one who has the right to make wishes, right?”
On the contrary, Felt couldn’t bring herself to like the idea of entrusting her wishes to such a supernatural force. If merely wishing actually did anything, there wouldn’t be such a thing as slums in this world.
Wishes would not save anyone. Even if that hope kept them alive.
“If my wish could be fulfilled…”
“If it could be fulfilled?”
“… I wanted to try living together with two close friends of mine, that perhaps.”
“That we would somehow deal with things together. If I could entrust a wish to the past, I would surely wish for something like this…Oh dear. It seems I really am getting old.”
The old lady giggled as she made this joke.
However, to Felt, that fleeting smile of hers somehow seemed to reflect her true feelings.
“Felt-sama. Just who I was looking for.”
Felt welcomed Reinhard who was approaching her with a grimace. In response to her unpleasant expression, Reinhard maintained his ever present smile,
“I have just returned from clearing the snow out front with grandpa. I do not believe that the ground will freeze over, but do take care not to slip when you leap out of the window.”
“Hey, don’t talk as if it’s a given that I’ll be leaping out the window.”
That was an escape method that had already failed several tens of times. Perhaps she would wait and see and try it again when they least expect it, but now was not the time.
“Well then, it’s actually pretty good timing for me as well now that I’ve run into you. The granny’s laid out some warm drinks in the dining room, so bring grandpa with you.”
“Aah, that is a great help. As expected, even my fingers go numb when I clear out the snow.”
“Eh? Is that so? That’s kinda human, huh.”
As she said this, Felt grabbed Reinhard’s hand and confirmed this shocking fact by holding his cold, red fingers. Perhaps one could say it was obvious, but he was a human with blood flowing through him.
“So, how was the snow? It’d probably be a pain later if there’s a whole lot piling up.”
“― You need not worry. Even if it were to pile up to some extent, I believe it will all melt tomorrow.”
“I see, I see. Doesn’t look like there’s anything to worry about then.”
Dropping Reinhard’s hand, Felt ran past him.
If Reinhard and the old man were heading to the dining room, Felt would return to her room for now. There, she would have to refine her escape plans for tomorrow and onwards―
Felt turned around in response to this call. Gazing into her red eyes, Reinhard hesitated ever so slightly,
“― No, it is nothing. Please stay warm in your room.”
“Right. You can go ahead and catch a cold, though. That’d help me out quite a bit.”
Waving her hand apathetically, Felt turned away from Reinhard and returned to her room.
She felt Reinhard’s gaze behind to the very end, just what was it that he wanted to tell her. Felt wasn’t going to and ask about it, she had no obligation to show that much consideration for his feelings.
But since he worked hard clearing out the snow, she would at least forget about escaping for today.
“― What’s this.”
As she thought this, Felt tilted her head when she spotted a certain something in front of the room allotted to her.
Left out in the hallway, in front of her room, was a single white flower in a small vase. She had never seen it before, but she could tell at a glance who had given it to her.
“That guy, I was wondering what he wanted to say, so this was it.”
Her lips curved as she wondered if this was some form of harassment, but she immediately discarded that thought. Reinhard probably had no intention of harassing her. He probably just found a pretty flower and wanted to share that feeling with her.
Felt sighed at his behavior following his return from clearing out the snow as she picked up the vase.
“But even so, that’s a crazy coincidence, huh. I was just talking to granny about this and here it is, a white flower.”
This flower he went and found somewhere bloomed fleetingly yet beautifully, its petals possessed the power to make even Felt who had no interest in flowers think that it was beautiful.
As expected, she couldn’t bear to throw away such a lovely flower just because Reinhard was the one who gave it to her. She decided that she would place it on her windowsill and leave it at that.
“Maybe it really is that snow flower granny was talking about. If that really is the case…”
Entering her room and placing the vase on the windowsill, Felt made a wish to the white petals.
If this really was the snow flower that could grant wishes―
“― Make it so that granny can see nice dreams with her friends.”
Felt said this with a smile as she touched the flower’s white petals.
―To continue a bit further, the snow that covered the capital on this day melted away and disappeared completely the afternoon of the next day.
Even the white flower in Felt’s room soon withered away, perhaps she had handled it poorly.
However, the morning after the snowfall, granny was unusually cheerful as she welcomed Felt, and her breakfast that day was even grander than usual.
She did not ask why she was in such a good mood. Because Felt had already completely forgotten about the wish she had made to the flower yesterday. ― She merely gazed upon granny’s joy, and gramps who was delighted when he saw this.
Carried by this good mood she once again challenged Reinhard, and once again experienced crushing defeat.
Even the snowfall had not produced any particular change in Felt’s life of confinement ― This was merely one page, a moment of the constrained, flurried life she lived until the royal selection finally began.