Leo stood alone in the villa’s garden. Iva and Ray were huddled together, hidden among the garden bushes.
They had to wait for his signal, sitting shoulder to shoulder, following Leo’s instructions to appear upon his cue.
Iva watched only Leo’s hand, while Ray, sitting close to Iva, had cheeks flushing, possibly from paying too much attention to her.
“But sir, do you always hide here and then appear?”
“Why must you always appear like this?”
“Ah… Well, my brother always told me to appear this way, so I just always have.”
Ray, who had simply followed orders without ever questioning the reason, rolled his eyes, unsure of how to respond.
“Why… are you laughing?”
“No. I think I understand a little why Mr. Leo tease Mr. Ray so much.”
Although much larger and seemingly capable of taking anyone down, the way he let his guard down, sneakily sneaking peeks, was quite adorable.
It was because of this expression that Leo had teased him so much. A desire to play a trick on him welled up in Iva too.
“It’s not because they’re dangerous subordinates that you have to hide, right?”
“Hmm. Whether to say they’re dangerous or not…”
“What does that mean? Just who are these people that you have to do all this?”
Since they had to hide and couldn’t speak loudly, Iva, feeling more stifled, glanced at Ray. He, withholding any verbal response, silently smiled and gestured toward the villa’s gate.
“They’re here now.”
Gasp, they’re already here?! Iva, tensing up, impulsively grabbed Ray’s hand in front of her.
Regardless of who the subordinates are, the empire’s top warrior is right beside me! If a fight breaks out, I’ll just stick close and hide behind Ray.
Swallowing nervously with the thought of fleeing, she checked towards the gate.
Expecting to see people as tall as the gate, she raised her gaze, but nobody was there. Lowering her sight a bit more, people finally came into view.
“…So, is this why you told me to eat heartily?”
“Yes, even I get tired quickly when I’m with them.”
It was disheartening. When he’d mentioned subordinates, she had naturally imagined a band of unruly adults, but this was unexpected.
“Captain! What lesson will we have today? Please continue reading the novel you read last time!”
“No! You said today we’re going to play a physical game! Right, Captain?”
“Can’t we eat first? I’m hungry!”
It was a group of about ten children, presumably between seven and ten years old. They scampered into the villa, dispersing their energy this way and that, each busily voicing their thoughts.
Oh dear, she should have eaten an extra bowl of breakfast.
“Quiet, quiet! Didn’t I say we won’t start any lesson until you all line up as soon as you enter?”
Leo’s soft yet firm words guided the children into flawlessly forming a line, two by two.
It wasn’t a skill he had acquired overnight.
“Good job, everyone. Today, as I mentioned during our last lesson, we’ll be doing physical activities.”
“Since I’m not very good at running, I’ve invited another teacher to help us out.”
The mention of another teacher had the children scanning the surroundings with eyes full of curiosity.
“Shall we call him out together?”
Hmm? Teacher Bear? Is there someone else besides us? Iva was swiveling her eyes, anticipating someone to emerge from another bush when,
“That’s our cue.”
Only a moment ago, expecting the appearance of hefty subordinates and holding onto Ray’s hand, she abruptly stood up as Ray rose from the bushes.
“Wow! It really is! It’s Teacher Bear!”
The children, spotting Ray, ran towards him with delighted cheers.
“Oh? Who’s the pretty lady?”
“Sister, you’re so pretty! Like a doll.”
The children, who had been joyously rushing over, halted abruptly and stared up at Iva once they noticed her.
“Gasp, she’s holding hands with Teacher Bear! They must be getting married!”
“No, my mom said if you hold hands outside, you’re already a couple!”
“Did Teacher Bear get married?!”
Innocently unable to contain their curiosity, the children bombarded her with questions.
Iva, hastily releasing Ray’s hand, tried to explain.
“Oh, no. I, um…”
The unfamiliar and disconcerted Iva struggled to find the right words.
“Kids, what did I tell you to do when meeting someone new?”
Standing behind them, Leo asked gently, and the children, their eyes widening, lined up in front of Iva.
Then, the child at the front of the line extended their hand, back facing up, towards her.
Gazing blankly for a moment, she realized this was a greeting in Grace and extended her hand in return.
The child tapped Iva’s hand twice with their small fingers and introduced themselves.
“Hello! My name is……!”
“I live in Grace and……!”
After finishing their introduction, the child scooted back, and another stepped forward to continue. Their spirited voices slowly melted Iva’s rigid heart.
“It’s nice to meet all of you. I’m Iva Blanche from the Blanche family in the capital.”
“Wow! Nice to meet you!”
The children welcomed Iva with a round of applause.
“Now kids, let’s welcome Teacher Bear too.”
“Hold on, big bro…!”
“Woaaaah! Let’s climb on!”
To Iva, the children who had calmly introduced themselves transformed into a frenzied mob, charging simultaneously at Ray.
He managed to hold up one or two of them with ease but eventually collapsed under the weight of the continuously charging kids.