༺ Pursuit (1) ༻
At the entrance of the village.
As Norn waited for Vera and Renee with the horses leashed to his hand, he spoke with a bright face when he saw the pair approaching him in the distance.
“Here you are.”
“Yes, I’m sorry to have kept you waiting.”
“No problem. Oh, this person…”
While conversing, Norn caught a glimpse of Renee hiding behind Vera and unknowingly exclaimed inwardly.
‘There was a reason why Vera had that blank look on his face.’
Indeed, Renee, who Norn was now seeing up close, was more beautiful than anyone he had ever seen. Even though she was young, her innate beauty was already blooming.
Perhaps a few years later Renee will be hailed as the most beautiful person on the continent. He then composed himself and greeted Renee with a smile.
“Nice to meet you, Lady Saint. I’m Sir Norn, a Lieutenant under Sir Vera.”
“Ah yes… Nice to meet you.”
Renee bowed slightly toward the direction where she heard the voice from. She realized a new fact from what he had said.
The word ‘Lieutenant’.
Renee didn’t know much, but she knew that the rank of lieutenant was a prominent position among the Paladin Knights.
‘Sir Knight is a much greater person than I initially thought.’
She couldn’t believe it.
Vera, whom Renee had known, was upright and honest, so she didn’t feel he was suitable for a leadership position.
Renee felt awkward holding Vera’s hand at that moment. Finally, Vera, who had been silent until now, spoke to Renee.
“Both me and Sir Norn together will escort you to the Holy Kingdom. However, you must understand that we can’t move at a leisurely pace because our pursuers are approaching ever closer with each passing moment.”
“We will travel on horses. You will ride together with me.”
The words spoken by Vera made Renee tremble.
“That… I’ve never ridden one before. Would it be all right?”
“That’s fine. It’s my job to handle the reins of the horse, so you just lean on tight.”
“Then let’s get going.”
Renee, who got on the horse following Vera’s guidance, felt that her whole body became stiff from the new sensations that aroused from her first ride.
Her body shook slightly up and down according to the horse’s movement. Her muscles were tense from the lack of support of any tools she would usually use to balance herself and scan the path ahead. It was a phenomenon in which all of these elements were combined that made her uneasy and anxious.
“I won’t fall, will I?”
“You don’t have to worry. Even if you fell off, I would be there to ease your fall.”
After easing her worries, Vera climbed onto the horse with Renee at the front. He fixed her posture and made sure her front was facing his chest.
“You will have to hold on tight, all right? I will be moving fast.”
Renee stretched out her arms to embrace Vera’s waist and leaned her head against his chest.
Renee heard the sound of a heartbeat and felt a burning heat.
She couldn’t distinguish whose heartbeat it was, nor whose body that heat belonged to, only that they were present there for her to feel.
It has been three days since Vera began traveling with Renee.
Usually, that’s all the time it takes to arrive at the Holy Kingdom, but Renee’s physical health and the ongoing hunt of their pursuers have delayed their arrival.
Fortunately, however, they were closing in on the border ahead.
Vera was taking a break beside the horses. He looked up at the sky to gauge the time.
The sun was setting and the azure sky was turning red.
‘We’ll be there in just half a day.’
Reaching the Holy Kingdom isn’t really that difficult. If they just cross the border, their pursuers will be forced to give up.
If I could, I would immediately stop resting and proceed with the journey in haste, but…
‘…If I do that, she won’t be able to hold on.’
Vera glanced at Renee.
She was resting while leaning on a tree, and her complexion was extremely pale. She must be really exhausted.
No matter how much she leaned against Vera, riding on a horse for three days straight takes a tremendous amount of strength. It must have taken a toll on Renee.
After thinking like that for a while, Vera quickly approached Renee’s side and said.
“I think we should rest here tonight.”
“Oh, is that so?”
“Yes, if we leave early tomorrow morning, we should be there by the afternoon.”
Renee nodded at Vera’s words but soon apologized with an awkward look on her face.
“I’m sorry. Is it because of me?”
“There’s nothing to be sorry about. It’s the procession of the Saint, so it’s only natural to match her pace.”
Hearing Vera’s reassuring tone, Renee felt a peculiar tickle in her stomach, which had been frequent these past three days.
Even after riding together in his arms on horseback, getting off, and having this conversation, the sudden feeling was still there even before going to sleep.
Renee felt her face getting flushed red from that constant sensation. She lowered her head and awkwardly spat out an answer.
“Yes! I will leave the rest of the schedule for you to decide!”
Words filled with apprehension. Shortly afterward, a low-pitched voice pierced Renee’s ears.
“All right, I’m about to make dinner. Is there anything you want to eat?”
Her voice cracked. Renee felt her face steaming with heat at her sudden high-pitched voice. Soon she clenched her fists and said.
“Oh, anything is fine.”
“Well then, wait for a while.”
The sound of Vera’s footsteps moved further away from Renee. As soon as she left the village, she could not fathom why she was suddenly acting like a fool. She sighed and fell deep into her thoughts.
‘Was I nervous?’
Was she nervous about leaving behind her hometown she knew from birth and going to an unfamiliar place?
It was plausible.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the reason and conclude that it’s because of Vera… When they chatted in the village, they could do so casually, could they not?
However, Vera’s attitude did not change after leaving the village, and if you ought to find the problem, it is only right to figure it out for yourself.
Renee, who had been restlessly making such speculations these past three days, flushed red again at the sudden sensation that came to mind while tapping her leg.
In her mind- No, it was a sensation that surged over her whole body.
The moment they rode together, the heat, the scent, and the sound of heartbeats that pierced her ears, all those sensations that she felt while hugging Vera tightly.
It would be right to describe it as a warm sense of comfort.
Renee felt her stomach tickle once again.
‘After all, a trustworthy adult is different!’
She uttered a simple deduction in her mind.
‘Yes! I’m nervous because I began relying on him without even realizing it!’
She didn’t know his exact age, but it was still clear that he seemed much older than herself based on his voice and the size of his body that she touched.
An unknown environment. An unfamiliar situation.
And because of that, I became anxious and must have subconsciously started relying on Sir Vera. That’s why I feel strange whenever Sir Vera is around.
…Renee concluded as such.
While Renee was immersed in such thoughts, suddenly, a rustling sound pierced her ears.
The sound was getting closer and closer. It’s probably someone’s footsteps.
Renee, who had been nervously thinking about whether Vera had returned.
“Lady Saint, are you alright?”
When she realized that the person who approached was Sir Norn, she relaxed her body.
“Oh, yes, I’m grateful for your consideration.”
“Well, we’ll reach our destination tomorrow, so please hang in there.”
After that short conversation, silence ensued. Renee pursed her lips at the thought that suddenly crossed her mind.
“Well, Sir Norn?”
“Is Sir Vera a high-ranking Paladin Knight? Well, you said that you’re his Lieutenant and all, so…”
A question that came out of nowhere.
Norn, who chuckled slightly, gave an answer.
“I guess you could say that. He is an Apostle who carries the stigma of the ‘Oath,’ it’s a relatively prominent position. Although, it’s below the Saint, since you ought to be treated the same as the Holy Emperor.”
“Well, yes, he is an Apostle.”
Renee felt surprised at the new information she had just heard.
‘… I didn’t know.’
It was natural, of course. Vera had rarely told Renee about himself, so she had no way of knowing.
It would be funny if they assigned the risky task of picking up the Saint to a lowly knight, it would be ridiculous, to say the least.
In the end, it happened because she didn’t realize she was the Saint yet.
Renee, who remembered those moments, nodded lightly and expressed her satisfaction at that answer, and then Norn continued speaking.
However, the following words shocked Renee.
“Isn’t he great? He’s a person who’s willing to go through tribulations at such a young age.”
That phrase made her incredibly flustered for some odd reason.
“Wait, at such a young age…”
“Oh, didn’t he tell you? Vera turned eighteen this year.”
18… Four years apart.
Renee’s thoughts paused at that surprising fact. Her body also stopped moving.
Words that stirred her mind into a spiral.
Renee herself didn’t know why she was reacting like this. All she could do was express her dismay at the strange reaction of her body.
“It was four years ago that Vera came to the Holy Kingdom to become an Apostle… He was the same age as the Saint; I still remember Vera from that time. Despite his young age, he was an incredible swordsman.”
Norn continued reminiscing about Vera, but Renee could not concentrate at all.
At such a young age. 18. Four years apart.
Only those three things drifted into her mind.
“That’s great, isn’t it?”
Her mouth moved without much thought.
Renee suddenly felt her heart beating rapidly.
It was an unknown reaction that she had never experienced in her entire life.
It was a sensation that made her wiggle her fingers because she felt flustered for some reason.
The response made her even more confused because she couldn’t realize the cause.
Then Renee’s expression turned strange.
“Lady Saint, the dinner is ready.”
Vera’s voice echoed through the space.
Vera’s footsteps drew near.
Renee felt that the louder the footsteps that approached her, the greater the beating of her heart sped up.
And still, she didn’t know why.
In the dead of the night, Vera glanced at Renee, who was soundly asleep, and quickly diverted his eyes back to the bonfire.
‘… She seemed nervous.’
Since the start of the journey, her complexion gradually paled in color and it was blatantly apparent at first glance.
Vera’s fist clenched tightly.
Renee is probably nervous because she thought she was lacking.
‘I should have paid more attention to her….’
I couldn’t because I was in a hurry.
There was a reason. The pursuers were closing the distance.
Was it because of the delay? They were nearing bit by bit and are now catching up to the party’s rear.
Fortunately, we haven’t faced them yet, but to keep her out of harm’s way, it would be better to leave right at dawn.
And so, while Vera continued to decipher his thoughts…
Norn greeted him from behind the bushes.
Vera asked while looking at Norn’s approaching figure.
“There was no trace of the Dragonians. But… .”
“Followers of the Night. Is that correct?”
When he answered, Vera, frowned and clicked his tongue.
“We have to leave right away.”
The Followers of the Night were troublesome.
They were powerless during the day. However, they are difficult to deal with during the night.
Vera stood up at the worrying thought and uttered a word to Norn.
“I will wake up the Saint. Prepare to leave.”
After Vera instructed Norn to prepare, he sprinkled some soil over the bonfire to extinguish the flame and heaved a deep sigh.
‘… I thought our journey back to the Holy Kingdom would be easy.’
In the end, We found ourselves in a troublesome situation.
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