As anticipated, the mother and daughter have met today, and they haven’t even properly exchanged their full names yet.
“Sorry, but it would be good if you changed your name. It may be hard to get used to…..”
To ensure she wouldn’t forget the rules established by Lucia, the child pondered over her words multiple times and reflected on her own name.
‘Dirty Annie! Smelly Annie!’
Regardless of how she contemplated it, the memories were far from pleasant.
As if attempting to rid herself of a string of recollections from the orphanage, the child swiftly nodded even before Lucia could complete her sentence.
In truth, the child was resolute in heeding every word that Lucia uttered.
“Okay. Then from now on, your name is…..”
It was then.
Lucia pressed a finger to her lips, gazing at the child intently.
It appeared that Berl had discovered her absence. Feeling irritated, she chose to disregard it.
After some time, the sound of footsteps gradually faded into the distance.
‘Has he finally left?’
Just as Lucia was about to relax with the child, a sound of a window being opened reached her ears.
Instinctively, Lucia reached for her sword, her muscles tensing.
The noise brought back memories of the past when neighboring kingdoms would dispatch assassins to assess the new Sword Master.
As the rustling emanated from the living room, Lucia swiftly unsheathed her sword and aimed it at the man who came into her sight.
Startled, the man raised his hands in surrender and shouted,
“Oh?! Commander! It’s me! Me!”
The face at the tip of her sword was familiar to her.
It belonged to a man of considerable height, sporting pale sky-blue hair and tired, drooping eyes.
Based on his address of her as “commander,” he must have been an old comrade. However, she struggled to recall his youthful visage clearly.
“Eh? Aren’t you going to put down your sword? Just because you haven’t seen me for five years… Vernon. It’s Vernon! Vernon Javier, the Concealer!”
“The Concealer… Vernon?”
Lucia’s memory came rushing back upon hearing Vernon’s nickname.
He was the informant of the Black Knights, known as the third ace, Vernon Javier.
As soon as Lucia was certain of his identity as an ally, she resheathed her sword, putting it away.
“Phew, I thought I was going to need to change my pants.”
Vernon wiped the beads of cold sweat from his forehead, speaking with a hint of cheekiness.
Just then, another individual emerged from behind Vernon.
“Ah? What is this?”
A firm, stern female voice echoed through the room.
With a rough landing, someone leaped out of the same window Vernon had entered through.
Standing before them was a woman of short stature, adorned with fiery red hair, robust muscles, and renowned for her exceptional strength. She was Gilliana Olivia, the second ace of the Black Knights.
“There’s a kid who looks exactly like the commander!?”
Gilliana’s eyes widened, resembling those of a vigilant feline, as she pointed at the child who was concealed in the corner of the living room and exclaimed.
In addition, another person entered the scene.
This time, a boy with hair as white as snow, whose presence resembled sausages strung together, stepped in. He gazed at Lucia and the child with vacant eyes, mumbling quietly,
This boy was a prodigious genius in the realm of manufacturing, sought after even by the esteemed Magic Tower.
He was none other than Hiss, the first ace of the Black Knights.
The three individuals who had appeared out of nowhere strutted around the training camp dormitory, exuding an air of audacity as if they owned the place.
“…You guys. Why are you coming in from everywhere except the door?”
Lucia felt a pang of irritation as they disrupted the serene atmosphere she had been fostering with the child.
Yet, it proved challenging to direct her anger towards them.
“Pff. Just as the vice-commander said, you really sound like an old person.”
Vernon, completely oblivious to the situation, couldn’t contain his laughter and hastily covered his mouth.
“Eh!! That’s true. What the heck happened to our commander in these 5 years? Your speech has aged so much!?”
The raccoon-like Vernon, the boisterous and feline Gilliana, and the enigmatic boy named Hiss.
Though Lucia herself was not renowned for her refined manners, these individuals exceeded even her in their audaciousness.
As she gazed upon these fearless souls, memories of their previous encounter flooded back. Even during her retirement, Lucia found their demeanor somewhat lacking, as their speech carried hints of senility. However, seeing them again now, they remained unchanged.
‘It’s the way of speaking. It stands out after all. I have to change it, there’s nothing good about it.’
Despite having regained her youthful days, it proved challenging for Lucia, an elderly woman of over 90 years, to seamlessly adopt the speech patterns of a twenty-something.
Furthermore, Lucia, being nonchalant by nature, had not even noticed her peculiar manner of speaking until this moment.
And then, it occurred.
Out of nowhere, Gilliana swiftly scooped up the child by her armpits and hoisted her up high.
“Hey, isn’t this fun? Little commander?”
The child was being tossed about like a delicate twig caught in a gust of wind.
Her face turned pale, on the verge of fainting, and she remained completely silent.
It was evident to anyone that the child was not enjoying the experience.
Reacting swiftly, Lucia snatched the motionless child from Gilliana’s grasp.
“Huh? Why, commander? Our niece loves this.”
“Tsk, tsk. Gilliana… Making the commander’s child hate you. Unlike me, like this.”
Vernon slyly winked and retrieved a candy from his pocket.
However, his attempt to entice the frozen child with the sweet treat proved futile.
Observing the sorry state of affairs, Lucia shook her head in disappointment and proceeded to assess the condition of the child in her embrace.
The child had slumped, her head hanging helplessly within Lucia’s arms.
As Lucia pressed her ear against the child’s chest, she could discern the steady rhythm of her breathing.
‘…She’s asleep? All of a sudden? Are children of this age like this?’
The energetic Lucia failed to notice that this young 5-year-old had been deprived of food and sleep since the break of dawn.
Even if the child was protected by holy power, a child was still a child.
“For now, I’m going to the bedroom, it would be best if you guys wait here quietly.”
Left alone with Lucia’s warning-like words, they began to tremble.
“Darn, looks like the commander is really angry. What do we do…!”
“Oh no, why the child… Gilliana. Let’s pray for your good luck.”
It was only at that moment, a sense of alarm spread across their faces.
Meanwhile, Lucia took swift steps toward the upstairs bedroom.
As the child was gently placed upon the bed, her long black hair splayed out, emphasizing her heightened exhaustion.
Lucia delicately brushed her hand across the child’s forehead, gauging her temperature.
Thankfully, as a saintess, she appeared resilient, and there were no signs of fever.
In a hasty motion, Lucia swiftly withdrew her hand as the child stirred.
As she turned to depart, the child, who had drifted back to sleep, uttered groggily, “Lucia…”
Startled by the faint utterance, Lucia paused, listening intently.
“Yes, that’s right. Well done. That’s my name,” Lucia reassured the child.
The child murmured while battling heavy eyelids.
Before Lucia could disclose her own name, her mind was suddenly filled with the remembrance of another.
A name she had yearned for her entire life, yet never had the chance to encounter—Ravinia Cluer.
“Your name is Nia,” Lucia pronounced, her voice gentle yet resolute.
“……Nia, Nia,” the child echoed the name derived from Lucia’s mother’s own name, lingering on it for a brief moment before slipping back into slumber.
“So, you’re telling us you have a child, but you can’t reveal anything about the husband?” Vernon’s disbelief was evident in his voice.
It was an idea proposed by the Emperor himself.
In his opinion, it was preferable to claim that Lucia couldn’t disclose such information rather than resorting to excuses involving medicinal herbs repeatedly.
Sitting on the sofa, Lucia nodded, acknowledging their question.
The faces of the Black Knights’ aces glistened with perspiration, a sign of their seriousness.
Soon, Hiss, who was already weak, collapsed to the floor, devoid of strength.
As Hiss fell, Vernon and Gilliana cried out to Lucia with desperate expressions.
Their desperation stemmed from Lucia’s earlier command for them to maintain a horse-riding posture until a stray bee, which had made its way in through the window, departed.
“Hiss, come here. You can take a break now.”
At Lucia’s command, Hiss, who had fallen, opened his eyes and found respite on the plush sofa.
“You cunning fox! Commander! Why only Hiss…!”
“That’s right! We’re all knights, aren’t we!? This is discrimination!”
In response to their indignant outcry, Lucia came up with a clever idea.
“Alright then, try switching to posture number two.”
Vernon and Gilliana’s voices resonated in unison, a rare occurrence.
Witnessing their lively exchange for the first time in a while, Lucia let out a deflated sigh.
“……Here I thought our commander had no knowledge of men.”
“Yes, she’s already a mother. The commander is now our senior in life. Ha ha.”
Lucia glared at Vernon and Gilliana, who were sweating profusely yet smirking.
“Ah, I thought that… Ah, ha ha.”
The members, who were on the verge of bantering in the relaxed atmosphere, perspired as they avoided Lucia’s piercing gaze.
“But Commander, how did you raise the child without making a sound? I don’t see a nanny anywhere.”
“Right? Commander, did the child come from somewhere else?”
Despite their playful struggles, their curiosity took precedence, and they resumed exploring the house while maintaining their horse-riding posture.
These shameless individuals seemed to believe that as long as they kept their posture, they could do anything.
However, no matter how much they searched, the training center had nothing more than weapons hanging on the walls, a business-like reception room, and a few meager drawers.
As Lucia had expected, this environment was not suitable for raising a child.
“……Yes. Until now, the child’s father was taking care of her.”
She felt proud as if her agility with lies had improved after the medicinal herbs.
“Okay. Then, shouldn’t you consider getting a nanny? You’re not someone who can raise a child on your own, right?”
This was a concern Lucia had already pondered extensively herself.
However, hearing it from someone else was something she couldn’t easily accept.
As Lucia’s gaze flickered towards Vernon, he swiftly corrected his relaxed posture.
“Cough, cough. No, I mean… it’s challenging. Raising a child by yourself…”
“No. For now, I don’t need a nanny or a maid. What’s so difficult about raising just one small child?”
Lucia’s boastful words even caused Hiss, who had been pretending to be lifeless on the sofa, to shake his head.
“……Commander. I’ve never said this before, but I truly admire you.”
Gilliana’s sudden confession caught everyone off guard. And then…
“But this isn’t right. Are you planning to turn the child into a mess even before sending her to the academy’s kindergarten!?”
It was the first time she had seen it.
Gilliana’s face, usually brimming with energy and vitality, now devoid of laughter.
Following her pointed finger, a pile of dirty dishes was visible, just a day after the maid had stopped coming.
Food ingredients had dried up over time, the bathroom was filled with dirty water, and the floors were stained.
Of course, it hadn’t been long since she rescued the child from the filthy storage room, and this place was meant to be the child’s future residence. Lucia had no intention of cleaning it up herself.
Due to her laid-back nature, she didn’t pay much attention to the dirty environment and planned to leave it as it was for the time being.
If the mess didn’t disappear, there would be no need to come up with further excuses to keep the child here. That would be preferable.
However, it made no sense to raise a child in such a setting.
Cornered by their justified criticism, Lucia couldn’t think of another excuse.
“Sigh, it can’t be helped. Gilliana, how about taking charge of cooking? I will be responsible for taking care of and educating the child.”
“Sounds good. And Hiss can handle the cleaning?”
They solemnly assigned each other roles, as if strategizing for a battle.
Observing them, Lucia wore a bewildered expression that didn’t quite fit the situation.
“You’re all talking nonsense. I won’t allow it. Leave now.”
In response to her cold retort, Vernon pulled out his trump card from his sleeve, as if he had anticipated this reaction.
What Vernon handed over was a piece of paper adorned with luxurious gold leaf.
[You. Have you been left with an exceptionally diligent group? Your members came to me during your absence, claiming they needed rest too, and now my bones ache. It seems like the empire is heading towards ruin since all the skilled knights are taking a break. Take responsibility.]
The writing was rough, evident to anyone who laid eyes on it. The emperor’s seal was stamped at the bottom.
In other words, it was a personal letter from the emperor himself, who typically used his seal like a stamp. How did they manage to persuade the emperor to write this letter personally?
Despite clearly seeing through their cunning intentions, the members grinned and leaned in, their faces innocent like children.
Upon witnessing this, something black and deep within Lucia’s heart began to simmer slowly.