The wagon did not stop and barreled straight ahead. As they passed through the streets, she noticed they were heading towards the forest, densely nested with trees in the distance.
The carriage stopped, and Roger got out of the carriage with a no-nonsense gesture. Vivian, who followed, was pleased by the fragrant smell of grass that tickled her nose. Unlike the mansion garden, which felt empty, here there were countless trees that grew beautifully in the sunlight.
Roger stepped forward after instructing the coachman to wait. After they had walked for a while, he stopped in front of a large rock. The rocks nestled in the trees looked quite foreign. Seeing Vivian approach, he rolled up his sleeves.
He pushed the boulder to the side, exposing the veins on his arm. The rock that reached his waist slid to the side more easily than expected. Contemplating whether to help him, Vivian saw something strange covering the ground inside of the opening that was being revealed.
Wiping the dust off his hands, Roger squatted down, grabbed the edge of the foreign object and lifted it up. It was a piece of cloth.
“…What is this?”
When the fabric was removed, a large but shabby wooden trapdoor was revealed. Roger explained briefly as he untied the rope from the hook on the edge of the door.
“It is a hiding place for the people of the West.”
“Yes. To hide from demon attacks.”
The rope was quickly untied by his rough hands. With the rope completely removed, he clasped his hand on the hook and pulled the door up.
The noise of the old door opening echoed through the silent forest. A staircase was revealed in the empty space. Roger looked up at Vivian, who was staring into the gloomy interior as if she had no intention of going in.
“Yesterday, I found out about this place through the guidance of the village people.”
“What is this…? Who made it?”
“The people of this place.”
Vivian asked in amazement.
“Yes. The lord who should’ve protected this land disappeared, and they must have been anxious because they did not know when the demons might attack.”
“How did you find this, Sir Knight?”
“I’ve been to and from the village a few times, and I’ve been able to interact with some of the most influential people here. Originally, we were going to create one, but I was surprised to find out that one already exists.”
She never dreamed that his many visits to the village had such a purpose. Vivian blinked in surprise and then fumbled.
“They told Sir… about this hideout?”
The residents of the Western territories were good-natured people. However, it was clear that their morale was broken and they were infinitely sensitive to the existence of Roger and Vivian due to the demonic beast infestation. The other day, when Vivian was walking around town and asking questions, the townspeople’s gentle smiles soured when she talked about the magical beasts.
It was strange that they told an unfamiliar knight, Roger, of a hideout that was very important to them.
“Of course, they didn’t tell me right away. There was not that much trust.”
He stretched out his legs and stood up, explaining slowly.
“It was raining yesterday and Seng, who visits this place once a week, was stranded. Among the items he had, there was medicine for a village child. The delayed delivery put the child’s life in danger, so we were forced to ride horses. The child was saved thanks to our rushed delivery.”
At the unexpected story, Vivian opened her mouth wide.
She wondered what he had been up to outside of the mansion, but she had no idea it would be something like this. The torrential rain that fell yesterday wasn’t a typical rain shower. But through the harsh rains and winds, he climbed the mountain on horseback. His power was truly terrifying. The person telling the story was insensitive, though.
“Anyway, it seems that some kind of trust has been built up, and after the delivery was finished, they discussed something with each other, and then guided us to this place.”
“Have you been inside?”
“Yes. I was worried about the narrow entrance, but the inside is unexpectedly spacious.”
Vivian nodded. Roger asked if she would like to go inside, pointing into pitch-black darkness without a single ray of light. Vivian frowned and shook her head, fearful of the endless depths. Since Roger went in yesterday, she didn’t need to see it herself.
Without further urging, Roger tied the entrance again with a rope. He didn’t seem to feel the need to show her. It was like he could sense her fear.
“I thought it would be good for you to know the location of this place in case anything happens.”
If there was a place like this, it wouldn’t hurt to know. Vivian nodded her head. Roger put the cloth back over the wooden door and reached out to reach out to pull the boulder back into place. Instead of just watching, Vivian decided to move the rock herself with her powers.
A loud noise echoed through the trees as the rock nestled back into place.
“The entrance to the hideout….”
The rocks were located in the middle of a path that crossed the forest, so it was quite striking. It wasn’t able to blend harmoniously with the surrounding landscape. It was rather unnatural, so it attracted more attention.
“After all, it’s not humans that people are trying to avoid, but beasts, right?”
“This is enough to avoid the eyes of a beast who is not rational like a human.”
His words were true.
Beasts didn’t look at the world with the same sharpness as humans, so they wouldn’t care about absurdly placed rocks. Rather, it was between trees, so if all the residents of the territory hid inside, the beasts would never find the entrance. They only preyed on humans when they could hear the beating of their hearts.
“Remember where the entrance to the hideout is. Maybe you can find something here.”
He spoke in a calm tone as he turned away. Vivian stretched, gauging how far it was from here to the entrance of the forest.
* * *
When they returned to the carriage, an unknown figure was standing in front of it. When the stranger saw the two of them approaching, his expression brightened. The pleasure was obviously directed towards Roger.
“Knight. You came to town today!”
The unfamiliar man came closer. Surprised by his approach, Vivian hurriedly pulled up her hood and stepped behind Roger.
The stranger’s twinkling eyes were burdensome, but Roger faced him with a dignified face.
“What’s going on here?”
“I came to pick up some fruit and saw this wagon. While talking to the driver, he said it was the Knight’s carriage, so I waited to say hello!”
There was excessive tension in the man’s voice and gestures.
“I couldn’t properly say thank you because I was busy yesterday.”
He was the brother of the child who was saved thanks to Roger’s haste.
“What I got yesterday is enough.”
Roger waved his hand with an indifferent expression. Rather than not accepting his thanks, it was more that he had no desire to take credit for what he had done. Despite such indifference, the young man could not hide his gratitude.
“Are you okay?”
“Why are you asking that?”
“I wanted to treat you to a meal…”
Roger looked perplexed. He never imagined that he would receive such favor from yesterday’s actions. He turned to look at Vivian, who was quietly listening to their conversation. The man, who had just discovered Vivian, widened his eyes.
“Huh? Who is this?”
Vivian was a little burdened by the sudden attention.
While she was bewildered, Roger answered instead.
“She’s my fiancée.”
She didn’t know that such an imaginary title would come out of his mouth. It wasn’t long before she realized why he announced her as his fiancée. Their engagement was a fake relationship made to blind the nobility of the Capital and the inhabitants of the West. The man in front of her belonged to the West, so he had to be deceived.
‘It’s a surprise…’
Still, she couldn’t stop her heart from beating. It was very heartbreaking for him to tell her that they were about to get married, even though she knew they weren’t.
“Huh. Nice to meet you!”
The man greeted her politely. Vivian politely raised the corners of her lips, concealing her embarrassment. After a brief greeting, the man’s gaze turned to Roger again.
“So, do you have time?”
Roger rolled his eyes and looked at Vivian. He had something to say, but his lips twitched as if what he wanted to say was difficult. Not knowing why he was so hesitant, Vivian tilted her head.
His lips parted very slowly.
Vivian’s eyes, which had been staring intently at his mouth, gradually widened.
‘What did you call me now?’
For a moment she couldn’t understand, and her body stiffened.
Because they were ‘engaged’, he couldn’t call her ‘Lady’ in such a polite way. So, after hesitating, he must have decided to call her by name.
It was a prudent decision in its own right. Even though she knew that, as soon as he called her name, Vivian’s heart sank. The feeling of hearing a name she had only heard in her dreams was very emotional.
When she didn’t respond, Roger spoke the unfamiliar word again. His voice pierced her ear like a dagger, and the soft voice from her dreams overlapped like tinnitus. How could one person’s voice sound so different? It was strange.
Suddenly, she felt a force pressing down on her shoulders. Roger was looking down at her with his eyes full of doubt and concern.
“Are you okay? We don’t have to go.”
When she finally responded, he relaxed his hand on her shoulder. Judging by the atmosphere, it seemed that if Vivian refused, they would return to the mansion without any fuss. It wasn’t just Vivian who noticed. The stranger’s eyes also turned to her. It seemed like he wanted to treat the benefactor who saved his younger brother yesterday.
She didn’t want to disappoint the man’s expectations.
If something urgent happened, someone would come to inform them. Even if there were cracks, it was a bright out, so she was not afraid.
As she nodded, the face of the man, who had been timid and anxious, brightened in an instant.