The Morning of Departure

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Preparations for the departure were hectic, as the new semester would begin on the first day of the first month of spring.

When she confided her intention to go to the royal capital to become a knight, her childhood friends all agreed.
They said, “You’re not fit enough to be the wife of a villager.” The few precious female friends had a similar reaction.

She had already said goodbye to the people who had helped her so much and finished most of her packing.
She was told that she would be able to get new things over there, so she only needed to bring the bare necessities.
She put only the things that were important, such as items filled with memories and a knife that she had grown accustomed to using, into her packing bag.

After sorting out most of her belongings, Sheila looked at Felix as she settled down on the carpeted floor.

“Brother, why did you defend me back then?”

Not surprised by the sudden question, Felix shrugged his shoulders in a matter-of-fact way.

“Is it really so strange to respect my sister’s wishes?”

“I know that what I said was something outrageous, too.
Brother, when I do something reckless, you’re usually the one to stop me, aren’t you?”

Only men were knights.

Although not required by law, such a custom had existed in this country for a long time.
Sheila herself knew that aiming for a knight as a woman was nothing but reckless.

Felix stood up and placed his hand on Sheila’s head.
His gentle gray eyes narrowed gently.
Since childhood, she had loved her brother’s loving eyes and the careful way he stroked her hair.

I wanted my precious sister, who was going to spend her life in the village, to know the wider world.
There is no man in this small village who understands your value.
I’m sure your true worth will be proven when you go to the capital….
Besides, I myself thought it was time for the tide.”

“The tide….
Is that related to the fact that brother is from the royal capital?”

Felix blinked his eyes in surprise.
In that beat, his silver eyelashes bounced and shimmered in the light.
There was a refinement in every gesture that set him apart from the crude men of the village, she thought.

You don’t seem to think about anything, but sometimes you get to the point.
What makes you think that?”

“I once saw you and a knight talking in the mountains.”

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That was when her brother was 7 and she was 4.

She saw her brother, who never goes near the mountains except to hunt, wandering off into the back, empty-handed, and secretly followed him.
Felix met up with a young man dressed in a costume she had never seen before.
She didn’t know at the time that he was a knight, but she felt that everything about him was special: his impeccable attire, the refined shape of his uniform, the brilliance of the insignia that adorned his chest.
Everything felt special, and she couldn’t take her eyes off him.

Felix opened his mouth with an impressed look.

“I’m surprised you remember it so well.”

“I’ll always remember things that interest me.
The knight was so cool that day, so I wanted to aim for it too.”

“I see.
I remember that time a rare giant tiger attacked us.”

At that time, the knight had slain a ferocious beast that even the strongest villagers had trouble defeating with a few long swords.
The shock of that moment still lingered in Sheila’s heart.

“Even so, does that mean you were aware from that time on that we weren’t blood-related?”

“It wasn’t something I noticed right away.
I didn’t know what it meant that my brother was meeting with the knight.”

Her brother had been at home for as long as she could remember, and Sheila took him for a brother as a matter of course.
Her parents raised her without separating them.
If it hadn’t been for that incident, Sheila still wouldn’t have doubted her blood relationship.

“Then, as I watched you carefully, I noticed that brother’s mannerisms were too sophisticated and floated above the rest.
Your facial features were also too delicate.
The fact that you’re so popular but didn’t want to get married meant that you’re planning to leave the village sooner or later.”

Her brother monopolized the gaze of every maiden of his age in the village.
The offers of marriage were so numerous that they couldn’t be accommodated on the fingers of both hands.
It wasn’t for the same unfortunate reason as Sheila’s that he hadn’t accepted a wife, even though he was long past the age of adulthood.

Felix had previously confided to the family that he had no intention of marrying anyone.
When our parents heard this, she was struck by the somewhat lonely expression on their faces as they swallowed their objections as if they were holding something back.
Sheila didn’t know what was going on at the time, but she instinctively sensed that her brother had no intention of taking root in this village.

Felix lowered his eyebrows and smiled at Sheila, who was mysteriously silent.

“You hit the nail on the head….
Yes, that’s right.
I had originally planned to leave the mountain when I came of age.”

“When you come of age?”

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“In the village of Denan, you are considered an adult at the age of 15, but in the city, you are a full-fledged adult at 18.
In fact, I had to leave the village for the coming-of-age ceremony in the winter, but….
I just couldn’t stay away.”

Breaking off his words, Felix smiled somewhat embarrassed.
It was a sincere smile that he rarely showed to anyone outside of his family.

“So, I have to admit, I was happy that Sheila and I got to go to the royal capital together.”

Sheila smiled happily, too, because she knew he meant what he said.

“I feel reassured when brother is with me, too.”

“I don’t know about that.
I think you’ll be fine with or without me.”

For a while, the sound of two giggling voices echoed through the living room.
After the laughter subsided like a ripple, Sheila opened her mouth with reserve.

Would you prefer I didn’t ask who brother is now?”

Felix’s eyes widened slightly and he slowly made a smile again.

Someday, when the time is right, I will tell you.”

“… Okay.
Then I’ll shut up and follow you.”

“Also, when we go over there, I don’t want them to know we’re siblings.
I want you to get used to calling me ‘Felix’ from now on.”

“Should I not ask about that, too?”

I want to keep out even the smallest amount of disruption.”

Felix, right?”

When she nodded obediently, Felix smiled wryly as if he was in trouble.

You know, you really don’t question things too much.
You’re going to the city, so I’m worried about you.”

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“Because I don’t need to doubt my brother.”

Her clear gaze shoot through Felix, as if she hadn’t the slightest doubt in trusting her brother.
I was supposed to call you Felix,” she muttered to her brother, who gave her another amused smile.

Thank you.
You’re right.
You can trust me completely.
And when you go to the capital, you’ll gradually increase the number of people you can trust.
Make sure you know what you’re doing.
I’ll be happy to see you expand your horizons in this way.”

What Felix said was difficult and Sheila didn’t always understand.
But with her brother’s help, she was able to pave the way to a dream that had almost been cut short.

She wanted to be like the knight who shone so brightly in those days.
With hope in her heart, Sheila nodded her head with a big smile on her face.

◇ ◆ ◇

Finally, the morning of departure arrived.

The farewell was somehow very nonchalant, even though the only daughter was leaving the village for the first time.

“Well, I’m not too worried about you, because I know that you’ll be able to live boldly wherever you go.”

In contrast to Huey, who was horrified, Tania said with a firm attitude.

“Don’t worry.
I swear I will make Sheila happy.”

Felix responded lightly with his usual smile.
Her mother’s eyes became narrowed.

“In a way, that’s what worries me the most.
You should stop making such unfunny jokes.”

As a guardian, I promise to protect her at all costs.”

Tania shook her head at her son’s annoying tendency to make fun of others with every breath he takes.

“Hah… I wonder if it was wrong of me to let a bunch of troublemakers like you go unchecked.
Sheila, don’t get too out of control and cause trouble.”

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“Sheila’s so positive, so it can’t be helped.”

“Felix, you can’t just sit back and relax, you have to stop her, okay?”

Her father muttered sadly, as if he were sulking.
It was safe to say that Sheila’s fate rests on Felix’s shoulders.

“It sounds good to be positive, but it worries me because this kid can only see about as far ahead as the width of her hand.
Her field of vision is too narrow, and she ends up being inattentive.”

“Once she finds a goal, she’ll keep running without looking aside.”

“Yes, that’s right.
I remember when we were hunting a bear and she didn’t come back for a week.”

Huey’s comment suddenly brought about a somber mood.

Memories of the four family members living together came one after another.
Most of them were the days when they worked hard to put an end to a situation that Sheila had caused, and everyone except the person in question sighed tiredly.

Once Sheila left home, the days would be peaceful.
But it was still going to be lonely, because they were a tight-knit family.

I know it’ll be hard for you to catch up with everyone around you, so I won’t ask you to come back every long vacation, but you should show up at least once every few years.
Anyway, as long as you’re both doing well, that’s all that matters.”

Clearly feeling a sign of farewell, Sheila straightened her back.
She looked around the village once.

The houses in the village of Denan, made of red clay and kneaded grass, were shaped like a semi-circle sphere.
Most of the houses had the same style because the neighbors cooperated with each other.
Sheila regrettably took in the sight of what looked like several eggs peeking out of the earth.
For the time being, she would’ve to say goodbye to this familiar scenery.

“Well, I’m off then.”

“Have a good trip.
Do your best.”

She hugged her parents in turn and looked up at them.
There was no anxiety on their faces at all.

Tania gave a broad smile to her daughter, who was so much like her right up to the last moment.

A clear azure sky spread over the departing couple.

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