“Huh? But we should tidy up the presents…”
Gilliana responded with a troubled expression, and observing the situation, Hiss swiftly used magic to stack the boxes up to the ceiling, creating more space to move.
“…We can clean up the rest tomorrow, Gilliana. Let’s go.”
Vernon, who had been observing, promptly took Gilliana, who seemed oblivious, and hurriedly left the accommodation.
As they departed, Lucia addressed the child, who anxiously clutched her own clothes.
“Nia, everything eventually gets dirty.”
“…No. Annie touch it, become bad.”
Lucia let out a hollow laugh, both startled and amused by the child’s statement, knowing that one day she would become a saint.
“That’s not true. Nothing in this world becomes unusable just because you touch it.”
‘On the contrary, it might be revived.’
Upon hearing Lucia’s words, Nia, who had been avoiding eye contact, lifted her head.
However, as if recalling something, she murmured in a barely audible voice.
“…Gloves… Gloves got dirty.”
“So dirty… can’t be used…”
Lucia raised an eyebrow in confusion at Nia’s perplexing words.
Once again, the child standing before her wore a somber expression, as if she had made a grave mistake.
Staring at that face for a moment, memories flashed through Lucia’s mind of the child gazing at the gloves on the first day she arrived.
‘…Ah, I see.’
First, it was the bathroom and the floor, and now it’s the gloves.
What could possibly be occupying her young mind? And what kind of scars are etched there?
Unconsciously, Lucia gently stroked the head of the child, who bore wounds deeper and more painful than before regression.
Startled by Lucia’s touch, Nia instinctively stepped back.
Observing the child’s rejection, Lucia withdrew her hand, feeling a sense of emptiness.
Then she pondered.
Lucia had no definitive solution to prevent the child from considering herself dirty.
However, one thing was clear: if she continued to dismiss the child’s concerns, she could easily foresee the outcome.
Although it may seem like self-blame for now, if this feeling persists, it will develop into a heart that cannot trust anyone, inevitably leading to a solitary existence.
Just like Lucia herself.
Having walked that path personally, she knew better than anyone that such a life does not bring happiness. So she made a decision.
Even if the child had to return to the orphanage due to her oppressive demeanor, there was something she desperately wanted to convey.
“Nia, bring me the gloves.”
Nia was taken aback by Lucia’s determined tone and her small shoulders trembled.
Then, with little energy, she cautiously extended the gloves, whose owner didn’t even know their whereabouts, towards Lucia.
The gloves were covered in small feathers tangled and stained with bird droppings, reminiscent of Nia’s condition at that time.
Lucia, who had been silently gazing at the gloves, first made her way to the bathroom and filled the sink with warm water.
She then tossed a high-quality soap into the water and vigorously stirred it.
However, the water only turned cloudy, and no foam appeared, unlike the piles of laundry, she had seen in places where maids gathered.
‘Is the soap a different kind…? Or is it due to the lack of people?’
“Nia, can you come here and lend me a hand?”
Nia, who had been standing at a distance, hesitated at the request, but slowly approached.
“Come closer and help me stir. No matter how much I stir, no bubbles are forming.”
Nia, whether due to Lucia’s commanding tone or a sense of returning the favor, cautiously approached, tightly closing her eyes, and placed her hands in the soapy water, stirring it along with the sink.
Gradually, although not as much as Lucia remembered, small bubbles started to form in the sink.
“That’s right. Shall we do it together now?”
When Lucia handed her one of the gloves, Nia blinked her round eyes and took them.
Following Lucia’s lead, she submerged the glove in the soapy water and swirled her hands around.
After a few rubs, the glove, which had been marred with numerous stains, quickly shed the foreign substances.
Lucia had never performed household chores before, but she was surprised to find a sense of satisfaction in completing this task.
As she looked at the gloves gradually regaining their original color, she straightened her hunched back and noticed Nia’s gloves in her line of sight.
She was astonished.
Nia, displaying a degree of focus, was fervently moving her hands with her small mouth tightly shut, causing her gloves to already reveal their original color.
Driven by an unexpected competitive spirit against a mere five-year-old, Lucia began to meticulously rub with a serious expression, as if wielding a sword.
As their passionate endeavor continued,
Nia, with a triumphant smile adorning her lively cheeks, extended the cleaned gloves to Lucia.
Lucia had been defeated.
Although she nodded in response to the excited child, she couldn’t help but feel a bit disheartened as she observed the glove Nia held, which had become even cleaner than her own.
But that wasn’t the most important thing at the moment.
She gathered herself and reminded herself of her initial intention.
“Smell this, Nia.”
At Lucia’s words, Nia tilted her head and cautiously sniffed the damp gloves.
“What does it smell like?”
“It smells… water, flowers. I like it…!”
It couldn’t be bad. After all, it was the soap used by the royal family.
Unbeknownst to them, they had essentially immersed a week’s worth of a commoner’s meals into the water.
Unaware of this fact, Lucia leaned closer to Nia’s radiant face.
The sudden approach startled the child, and she almost toppled off the stool. Lucia caught her and said,
“You, too, smell nice.”
Despite Lucia’s words, the child shook her head as if it couldn’t be true and hid her captured wrist behind her.
Lucia averted her gaze from the child and calmly removed the final stain from the gloves as she continued speaking.
“If it were me, I would prefer it if you didn’t avoid me, even if I smelled bad.”
As Lucia squeezed the gloves and shook them off to present them in front of her, the child blinked her large eyes and focused on the gloves that were brought close to her face.
“Once they’re washed like this, they’re clean.”
Lucia couldn’t sugarcoat her words to a child who believed herself to be dirty, telling her it was okay to be dirty.
This was the best approach and consolation she could offer.
After removing the gloves from in front of the surprised Nia, Lucia saw the child, who had been gazing downward at the glove in her hands, move her small lips.
“… I bath today… it’s okay.”
Does sincerity truly resonate?
Nia’s inner monologue reverberated in the silent bathroom.
Then, as if she wanted the person next to her to know, she sneakily glanced at Lucia with her clear golden eyes.
When their eyes met, Lucia nodded her head in agreement. Nia’s small mouth moved in embarrassment, and her bashful cheeks blushed.
Observing the child, Lucia felt a sudden warmth as if her heart sank. She was slightly taken aback.
This unfamiliar feeling was tender and ticklish, a sensation that was almost bittersweet, yet not quite painful.
Perhaps, for Lucia, this was the first experience of truly understanding what it meant to be with someone, beyond merely protecting them from a distance.
Outside the quarters, unnoticed by anyone, Hiss, who had been observing everything, disappeared with an enigmatic expression on his face.
As the clear chirping of dawn birds filled the air, Lucia awoke early from her slumber, startled by the incoming morning light.
The painting on the ceiling, both familiar and unfamiliar, greeted her as she opened her eyes. It depicted the beautiful goddess Ashmir, a constant reminder that she was still in the training dormitory.
The part of the painting that she had shattered with her thrown sword bothered her slightly, but it had become a recurring sight over the past few days.
‘It really wasn’t a dream.’
Lying in bed, Lucia instinctively reached out, but her hand found no sword to grasp.
The sword, which would typically be within her reach, had been placed far away because of the child occupying the single bedroom.
It was now inconvenient for her to loosen up at the training ground, but she suddenly considered that this might be what ordinary life truly felt like.
Perhaps, just by having a child, this place had transformed from a training center into a normal home.
And that thought didn’t stop at her goal of raising the young saint as a normal child; it extended to the notion that Lucia herself had to become ordinary to coexist with her.
But that sentiment didn’t last long.
‘Ordinary… me, what a joke.’
Lucia recalled the word her father had called her when he first met her as an adult.
Decades had passed, so the memory had faded, but that word seemed to be etched into her very bones, impossible to erase.
She let out a weary sigh and attempted to get up when she suddenly felt an unfamiliar warmth on her shoulder.
A bundle of black fur came into Lucia’s view.
“Is it too long…?”
She had noticed before that the child’s small body couldn’t handle her long hair, and as a result, the child’s face was often obscured by the flowing locks.
In that moment, Nia, sensing Lucia’s slight movement, stirred.
The white cheeks that peeked through the veil of hair lightly grazed against Lucia’s shoulder, tickling her.
For a brief moment, she froze.
Lucia, the renowned knight, had never been paralyzed by fear in front of an enemy, but now she carefully observed the child, afraid to disturb her slumber.
Trapped in this position unintentionally, Lucia remained still, her thoughts drifting to the laundry she had done with the child the night before.
‘Housework isn’t something just anyone can do. I thought children wouldn’t sleep long at this age.’
It was still quite early to assume that the child wouldn’t need a morning nap.
But it wasn’t far-fetched to think so.
The child often woke up before Lucia even had a chance to wake her.
Lucia had witnessed the child sleeping peacefully, crying, and even laughing at times. However, even when she laughed, she would always lower her head as if trying to conceal her emotions.
But now, observing the child’s serene sleeping face, Lucia couldn’t help but recall the saying, “A sleeping child is an angel.”
‘Surely the saint is close to being an angel. Among her peers, she might be the closest to an angel.’
As she indulged in these idle musings, a knock came at the bedroom door.
“Commander. Are you awake?” It was Vernon.
Lucia longed to see the child open her eyes, but with a tinge of regret, she carefully rose from the bed and opened the door.
“Quiet. Nia is still asleep.”
“My apologies. I had no choice. There’s a letter you haven’t replied to…”
Vernon handed her a silver envelope while speaking in a hushed tone.
Lately, ever since she declared her parental leave, numerous invitations, and letters had been sent to her quarters, perhaps with the intention to disturb her. But Lucia, who had no interest in such matters and hadn’t paid attention to them for a long time, remained unaffected.
However, if Vernon brought the letter personally and insisted on a reply, it seemed to contain important news.
Lucia opened the received letter.
Inside the luxurious envelope was an elegant seal representing the divisions of black, white, yellow, and red.
“Uh, it appears to be the Knights’ general meeting. You’ll have to attend in person this year.”
Vernon, attempting to appear sympathetic, clasped his hands together in a prayer-like gesture.
The Black Knights were a unique order that strongly disliked revealing their presence at any event.
Among them, Lucia, as the captain, certainly had the strongest aversion to such occasions.
Thus, for the past five years, the vice-commander, Berl, who had at least some rapport with her, had attended the meetings on her behalf. However, this year, Lucia had no excuse of training to avoid it.
In the end, Lucia grumbled and roughly signed the letter.