It seemed the traveler had also noticed Iril who was standing in his way to the village. The traveler stopped walking and stared at Iril.
“You…You have a pretty nice sword hanging around your waist. You appear to be a swordsman… Is that right?”
“Is that right, sir?”
The traveler kept his silence and Iril crumpled her face. Thinking it could not be helped, she asked respectfully but the traveler still kept his mouth shut. There was no response from the man.
“Well, it is fine. I prefer silence over useless chatter.”
With that, Iril shrugged. She brought her left hand toward the sword she was holding in her right hand and drew the sword slowly from the sheath.
“I do have a suggestion though.”
Cutting through the wind, she drew the sword and spun it once. She aimed the sword at the traveler, who was looking at her and said,
“Actually, it is not a suggestion. I insist. If you want to enter the Romella village, you must get my permission.”
“Ah, don’t worry. I am not asking for money. What I want is…”
She had quite an adorable face but she was using that face to produce a violent look like that of a mountain bandit. She tilted the sword up and down as she explained what she wanted.
“Your swordsmanship skill…Can you show it to me?”
Iril leisurely shrugged her shoulders. The traveler had been silent all this time. Now, he lightly lifted his cape and brought his hand toward the sword on his waist.
“I am sorry but when it comes to the matter of sword, I am not the type who would go easy on someone just because they are a girl. If you take back what you said earlier, I’ll overlook this.”
Using his left hand, he pressed down the hood and hid his face and warned in low voice.
Iril whistled and asked back,
“You’ll overlook this?”
As if she was amused, she asked back about the warning that the traveler had given. She fiddled with the sword handle, opening and closing the fingers on it and asked,
“As I thought, you must be quite confident about your skills?”
Iril tightly grabbed the sword, changed the leisurely attitude in her eyes and warned the man,
“Your sword, please draw it.”
The girl was blocking the way to the village. Her atmosphere had become sharp like a sword’s edge.
The hooded traveler realized the girl was not bluffing, so he drew his sword.
“How far are you willing to go?”
Taking a stance, the traveler asked. Facing the traveler, Iril responded naturally as if she heard the same question many times in the past.
“Until I am satisfied.”
With that as the end of the conversation, Iril charged in toward the traveler.
“That Iril, she is at it again.”
There wasn’t a signal to indicate the start of this swordsmanship competition. People of the Romella village, who were walking around the entrance, muttered and gathered around to watch the duel.
“Is Iril at it again?”
“Who is the one fighting Iril?”
“I don’t know? An outsider?”
The girl appeared to be around 15 to 16 years old, and she was wielding a sword and about to clash swords with a traveler under suspicious getup. However…It seemed the villagers were not worried at all. With relaxed faces, they watched the duel while standing behind the girl.
‘Hm. You are just a little girl… It seems you want to show off your swordsmanship because you learned a lot, but unfortunately, I am…’
Laughing at the audacity of the girl who was daring to fight a duel against him, the man under the hood suddenly raised his sword up.
A vertical cut.
It was the most basic move he had learned. It was a simple vertical swing of the sword where the sword was swung downward. However, to the traveler, it was the move he was most confident about and the move also contributed to him earning the title he had.
Along with energetic shouting, the traveler swung down the sword in powerful swing.
“… Not bad.”
Charging in, the traveler’s sword struck down like lightning to target her head. Iril had her gaze directly fixed at the sword. She lightly mumbled and twisted her head.
It was a close call. The traveler’s sword missed the girl. Iril’s sword was swung from the side and it smoothly made contact with the traveler’s sword.
The traveler helplessly watched his sword missing the target and the girl’s sword clashed with his sword. The traveler’s eyes looked shocked.
In a split second, the traveler watched his sword being pushed to the side by the girl’s sword. Meanwhile, he could hear the girl muttering.
“With this much power…”
Still, as if he was trying to show that he won’t lose in raw strength, the traveler raised his mana. He forced his deflected sword and tilted its angle.
The girl was surprised by the traveler’s strength. She opened her eyes big briefly. She then pulled her sword to the back and changed its angle. With that, she twisted the trajectory of the sword that was coming at her waist.
“As I thought, you do have skill that’s worthy of giving out a warning first…”
It seemed the girl was not confident about a fight of raw strength. She was pushed by the traveler’s sword that came at her from the side. She stepped to the side. She suddenly moved her leg forward, got very close, and pierced into the traveler’s back.
“… You really do have it!”
Her steps were faster than the traveler’s sword swing. She positioned herself behind the traveler in an instant. She used her sword handle to smack her opponent’s elbow.
Due to the shock from the impact on his elbow, he almost dropped his sword. To chase after the girl behind him, he gritted his teeth, turned his body around and swung his sword.
“It seems you have the tenacity as well!”
Having noticed the traveler trying to catch her, she leaned her leg forward to trip him off. The traveler lightly changed the position of his feet in response. Iril seemed entertained by this. She looked like she was having fun.
They were facing each other from the front. Again, the situation looked like there could be another round of sword clash. Iril’s face was littered with sweats. With piercing gaze, she glared at the traveler’s face under the hood.
“Your eyes are worthy as well!”
“I don’t know what you are talking about since the beginning, but!”
The traveler shouted and swung his sword again.
“…this is the end!”
This time, the traveler was bent on getting this girl to surrender. As shown on his cape’s insignia, the traveler started to demonstrate the swordsmanship of Iphalleta House.
The traveler gritted his teeth and swung his sword. Meanwhile, he confirmed that the girl was breaking into a sweat but still had the leisurely look on her face. He unconsciously thought,
‘I’m being stopped?’
The traveler thought it was just luck when the girl bounced off the first attack with such a narrow margin. However, the second, third and even at the seventh attack, the girl’s sword deflected them all with narrow margins. Watching her swordsmanship, the traveler was certain now.
‘… I am being stopped.’
The ninth move, which was his best technique, was also deflected by the girl. Watching the girl doing all this, the traveler took off his hood.
“You, what are you?”
With the hidden face under the hood now revealed, Iril put her sword away in the sheath and asked back.
“What is your name?”
The traveler didn’t have an answer. To be precise, the young man didn’t have an answer. Iril shrugged and introduced herself first.
“My name is Iril. I don’t have a family name.”
The young man with Iphalleta cape was crumpling his face. After the girl introduced herself, the young man muttered in a low voice,
It seemed she didn’t hear the man because he said it in such a small voice. Iril placed her hand at her ear and leaned her head toward the man. The young man said his name in a louder voice.
“Ryan Fin Iphalle… No. I don’t have a family name either.”
* * *
The Reitri Merchant Group’s carriages were split into two groups and they were crossing the desert.
“Thanks to Ian, I get to go to Rainfield during winter. I sure have it good. Really good.”
Inside the carriage, Nainiae was practicing her knitting. She glanced at Riley who was complaining while sitting next to her. She touched her face around her eye.
“I am sorry, Young Master… If I could use my eye, this would not have happened.”
Nainiae had used her right eye when they abducted the Priestess. Since then, Nainiae explained that it would take some time before she could use the eye again.
“It’s fine. It is not like this is your fault. It is just… I’ll have Ian take responsibility for this.”
Don’t pester me… Please just leave me be… Riley had complained all the time to Ian. However, he had always cared about Ian. Having noticed this, Nainiae smiled quietly and continued knitting.
‘I feel jealous of Mr. Ian.’
She was feeling jealous of Ian who must have served Riley for almost 20 years. She felt a gaze on her, so she turned to look.
“What is it?”
Rorona was sitting next to her and she was the owner of the piercing gaze that was glaring at Nainiae.
“No, it is just… I was just thinking you changed a lot.”
Nainiae stopped her knitting and started to look disappointed.
“As I thought, did I change a lot? Is it beyond recognition?”
Having noticed the disappointed look on Nainiae’s face, Rorona quickly shook her head and corrected herself.
“I don’t mean in a bad way! I mean in a good way! Good! You are blindingly different. It is to the point I am jealous as a woman.”
“In a good way?”
Nainiae felt around her face. She was conscious about the side that used to have the scars. Nainiae muttered,
“I am not sure, I don’t think much has chang…”
“Doesn’t Young Master like it?”
Having heard the question, she casually moved her eye to look at Riley. He was still complaining about Ian. Nainiae shook her head as if she was not certain and turned to look at Rorona.
“I’m not sure? I don’t think the change to my face was the reason why he was happy… Why do you ask?”
Nainiae’s face was full of question marks. Rorona shook her head. She looked like she was giving up. Rorona said,
“I asked for no particular reason.”
“… Young Master is…”
Based on the look on Rorona’s face, Nainiae figured out what Rorona was trying to say. Nainiae said as she started knitting again,
“Young Master is not the kind of person who judges others by their appearances. So, he treats me the same now…like he did when I had scars on my face.”
With mysterious and complicated expression on her face, Nainiae explained Riley’s good point. It looked like Rorona had decided that there was no need to hear more answers about this. Instead, Rorona lightly touched Nainiae’s shoulder to give a quiet encouragement to Nainiae.
‘Is that why?’
Because Riley had been treating her same regardless of the scars on her face… Rorona thought that must be the reason why Nainiae had that look on her face. Rorona smiled lightly.
The carriage was running along fine. Now, she felt the carriage slowing down. The bodies of the people inside the carriage leaned a little and returned. Rorona looked outside the window and said,
“I think the carriage stopped?”
The scenery outside was not moving, so Riley pulled out his upper body through the window to the outside.
He shouted at Reitri who was driving the carriage and asked why they stopped.
“Did something happen?”
Reitri casually turned his head from the driver’s seat and pointed to the front with his finger. Reitri responded,
“Let’s rest here for a bit before traveling again. The next village is pretty far from here. We need to switch horses too.”
Reitri said he could not keep on using the same horses that they had been using since the desert. He got down from the driver’s seat and stated another reason for why they had stopped.
“Of all villages near the Karuta Desert, this village is the biggest one. Mr. Ian could have visited this place. There is also a good chance that he might be staying here at the moment.”
Having heard Reitri’s explanation, Riley rolled his eyes and found letters at the village’s entrance, which read “Romella.” It looked like Riley was convinced of the plan.
“I see. It would be best for us to rest here before we head out to Rainfield. That Ian… he sure made things bothersome for me…”
Riley was grinding his teeth while thinking about Ian’s face. Reitri smiled awkwardly and said that they should be able to get some information even in the worst case scenario.
“All right. Let’s think of this as fishing.”
Riley decided to go with Reitri’s idea. He got out of the carriage. Riley was about to stretch and yawn. However…
He felt a strange sensation in his palm. Riley hardened his face.