Chapter 1 - Prologue
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As Seria blinked in disbelief, Susan, who was next to her, smiled and said to Lesche,
“I’ve brought Young Lady another coat, just in case.”
“Give it to me.”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
Susan handed the coat to Lesche, who placed it lightly on his arm. Then Seria looked at Lesche. She thought their attire was comparable. He wore a dark blue suit and thigh-high coat.
‘It looks good on him.’
“Let’s go, Seria.”
She put her hand on Lesche’s arm.
The path to the glacier that Stern was inspecting was much closer to the north. It was a place where visibility was not very good because of the dense fog that hung around all year round. Because of that, it was hard to tell when the demons would appear. Seria didn’t know there was another road, because she always went that way.
The other side, the one closer to the territory, near the glacier was much more beautiful than she imagined. She had a vague feeling that if it hadn’t been infamously known as the Tomb of the Demons, it would have been quite famous as a tourist attraction.
Of course, the original story didn’t mention the disappearance of the demons until the conclusion of the story. It may have appeared in the side stories, but she only saw it until the conclusion of the main story.
“What do you have in mind?”
Seria came to her senses when she heard Lesche’s voice. Pointing out the window, she said,
“It’s so beautiful here. I didn’t know it was like this.”
“Is this your first time here?”
“Yes. Why didn’t you show this side to the other Sterns?”
“You are now seeing it.”
“Yes, but there are other Sterns.”
“I’m not interested in any Stern but you.”
“Well, I’m pretty good at my job, right?”
Lesche grinned at Seria’s proud question.
“Yeah, I’d love to live with her forever.”
It sounded like a joke, but somehow it made Seria’s heart throb. She was about to stare at Lesche’s red eyes, but she pretended to look at the glacier and averted her gaze.
Just then, she heard a light tapping sound from the horseman’s seat. A wooden shroud opened, and a person pushed up a small, thick glass skylight and said,
“Your Highness, shall we go further inside? Or would you like to take a look here?”
“Let’s go a little further.”
The shutters closed, and the wheels of the carriage began to roll again. After a while, the carriage stopped and the horseman raised the wooden cover of the carriage again.
It was an outing, but she couldn’t just lay on the floor and enjoy the time like a normal outing. If she did that, she would freeze to death in no time. Perhaps that was why the carriages in Berg territory had a unique design.
The carriage they rode in was one of them. When the wooden covering of the carriage was removed, it was covered completely with glass. By all accounts, the design was devised for appearance.
The price of glass was not cheap in this world, but this kind of carriage was a true symbol of luxury. It was worth the money.
Then a giant, clear lake caught Seria’s eyes.
She sat huddled against the wall of the carriage and looked at the shimmering scales of the water. Normal winter lakes freeze opaque, but this one, perhaps because it was a magical lake, kept its clean surface intact. At first glance, it looked as if it was not frozen at all.
But when she actually put her hand on it, it was frozen. It was not silky smooth or rippling in the wind as if time had stopped. The sunlight reflected off the clear ice and it collapsed beautifully. How could such a huge lake be neither an ocean nor a river? The lake, which took her breath away as it embraced the secrets of the unknown, was just endless and terrifyingly mysterious.
“Can I get off and walk?”
“If you want.”
Lesche opened the carriage door and the horseman hurried to bring the step stool. Luche quickly got out of the carriage. Seria followed him. As she grabbed the parasol in one hand and the handle on the outside wall of the carriage in the other and was about to dismount when she was suddenly grabbed by a strong force at her waist.
It was Lesche. Her heart was pounding as her body was suddenly lifted into the air.
“What, what are you doing?”
“The handle of the carriage is frozen.”
Lesche’s words puzzled the horseman.
“It seems the sudden drop in temperature last night caused it to freeze. I’m sorry, Your Highness, My Lady.”
The horseman hurried to repair the frozen handle, and Seria looked puzzled.
“No. ….Lesche, do you really think I’m going to get frostbite from holding it?”
“No.. Please let me down.”
“Why? We can walk all the way down the lake like this.”
“How is this walking? I’m being carried away like a piece of luggage!”
Lesche smirked. He insisted as if he was playing a prank, and he only put Seria on the floor after she hit him on the shoulder a few times. Somehow, she felt tickled every time she was held by him.
“Your Highness, My Lady.”
The servant who followed in the other carriage handed two warm cups. Seria held a cup with her gloves on. The steam was rising in the air. As soon as she smelled the aroma, she knew. It was the sweet tea she liked. She was sure Susan must have prepared it for her.
“Apparently Susan likes me more than you…”
Lesche looked dumbfounded at the serious words.
“You just found out about that? I’m sure there’s no one more important to the Green Manor than you.”
“Don’t you regret that you were pushed out by me?”
“I really don’t know what you think of me.”
Seria clasped her teacup and smiled.The weather was cold, but the wind wasn’t blowing, so it was manageable. Perhaps it was the crisp, clean air, she felt as if her mind was being cleansed. A huge frozen lake spread out before her, sparkling. A tranquility that made her feel at ease.
This was what it felt like to be in the winter that everyone loved.
They drank their tea and walked along the lake. There were knights who were following the aristocrats who appeared to be newlyweds. When they recognized Lesche and Seria, they bowed deeply in surprise.
‘They are all newlyweds?’
Suddenly, Seria remembered the shouts of encouragement by the vassals as if they were sales words, intriguing her to go to the glacier with Lesche.
“If you see glaciers often, you’ll fall in love?”
“The vassals told me that.”
Lesche was silent for a moment, then asked a surprising question.
“Do you think you’ll fall in love?”
“I’m a Stern who knows the underside of the glaciers very well, so I don’t fall in love easily.”
Lesche stared at her and sighed lowly. Seria blinked. Why the sudden sigh?
“Lesche? What’s wrong?”
“You are the most difficult person I’ve ever known.”
“Me? No, I’m a very straightforward person.”
Lesche shifted his gaze without reply. Seria had dozens of question marks over her head, because she had no idea why Lesche was like that.
Then she suddenly realized that she was walking with a parasol as if it was a walking stick. Still, the maids had given it to her, and it was a beautiful lacy parasol so she thought it would be right to use it. When she opened the parasol, Lesche looked at her with an unusual look.
“Why do you open the parasol in winter?”
“I’m trying to cheer you up.”
Seria was going to use it alone, but she asked Lesche to walk under the parasol with her. Lesche agreed but the problem was he was too tall.
When she lifted the parasol with all her strength, Lesche clicked his tongue and took the parasol from Seria’s and lifted it up.
“People will laugh when they see it.”
“I think they probably look at the parasol because it’s beautiful.”
“Is this the sort of thing you prefer?”
“Actually, the maids gave it to me, so I just brought it.”
Lesche smiled at the frank confession. It was peaceful.
She could have walked all day looking at the beautiful glaciers, but winter was winter. The further north they went, the frostier her cheeks became, and Lesche stopped her.
“If we walk more, you’ll freeze and pass out again.”
“That was the only time I did.”
“Let’s go back.”
Seria obediently walked back the way she came with Lesche. It was then that the snow started to fall again, and she raised her head. The snowflakes were small and soft falling from the cloudy sky.
She understood why the newlyweds would come out to the glacier. The shimmering scene of this vast lake was not one to be easily forgotten.
“Your Highness, my Lady, you look very cold. Please come in. It’s better to watch from the inside.”
At the suggestion of the horseman who was waiting for them, they climbed back into the carriage. The expensive carriage, with its magic device, was warm. Her frozen hands tickled and she took off her gloves. After she finished drinking a cup of warm tea, Lesche asked,
“Would you like another cup?”
The horseman reached for it, but Lesche’s hand was faster. He held the teapot and gestured with his chin. Seria held out her cup and Lesche poured in the tea. Seria was somewhat surprised. It was a little strange to see a man who was born and raised as the heir of the Grand Duke of Berg would serve tea so well.
“I didn’t think you could do it.”
“When I was at the Academy, I did everything by myself. It was hard to bring servants there.”
Seria took a sip of tea as she listened to Lesche. It felt like a warm, sweet liquid that pooled and flowed through her body.
She was in a peaceful mood. She looked out the window and blinked. After rubbing her eyes once, she called Lesche.
Lesche looked to the side, following Seria’s gaze, and his expression began to harden. He murmured,
The color in the center of the lake had changed to black. Discoloration. Discoloration was a word that had appeared in the original story. Every winter, the frozen lake in Berg would change color irregularly like this. Black.
Sometimes it passed by uneventfully, but there were quite a few times when the demons were out in the open. Therefore, even if he was ordered to return to the capital by imperial decree, Grand Duke Berg had the right to refuse, according to the original story.
In any case, the discoloration meant that Lesche would go to the Capital for one week.
Lesche looked at Seria and said,
“You don’t have to be afraid, Seria. I’ll be there for only a week.”
“I’m not afraid.”
“That’s surprising. You probably will cry your eyes out at the mansion.”
“… You find it amusing to tease me, don’t you?”
“…Too bad we have to leave so early. Let’s have dinner together.”