As I stood up and shouted, I was suddenly pushed with force.
The person who pushed me became visible as I looked up. He was a man with a common appearance but emanated an unsettling aura.
“Hey, miss. Do you know where you’ve entered?”
Only then did I survey my surroundings.
The sun hadn’t completely set, yet the alley was dimly lit. The scent of decay mixed with garbage stung my nose.
Suddenly, fear rushed in as I glanced back at where I came from. But that path was even darker, and there were even men with weapons standing there.
A sense of constriction gripped my throat, and just as I swallowed dryly, the voice of the man who had pushed me reached my ears.
“You want your money back? You’re saying that because you’re alive, right?”
The man laughed maliciously and advanced toward me.
Reflexively, I closed my eyes tightly and thought,
‘I’m in trouble.’
* * *
“Your Grace, a coachman has come to see you.”
Leonel put down his quill and raised his head. Upon his signal, the butler opened the door.
The coachman entered, took off his hat, and respectfully bowed his head.
“Your Grace! There’s a big problem.”
Although he had heard from Nelly that she was going to sell the dresses, the coachman hadn’t believed it.
For someone to personally sell the dresses gifted by the Duke was beyond his comprehension. Moreover, people who ran away often had various excuses ready.
“The manager has fled! I just took her to Dames, and she took a huge bag and left!”
Leonel turned his head.
A crystal glass lay shattered at the feet of the rigid Lizzy.
Leonel made an odd sound and placed his gloved hand on the table.
Normally, if a manager fled, there was no significant action taken. At most, they would apprehend the runaway manager and compensate for the monetary loss incurred during their absence.
People within the castle walls were accustomed to managers running away. Everyone was more or less accepting of it. So, the coachman’s urgent report was somewhat unexpected.
Responding to Leonel’s question, Lizzy, who had been clearing the glass shards, raised her head abruptly.
“There’s no way Ms. Nelly would run away!”
“Why do you think that?”
“Ms. Nelly truly cherishes the estate, Your Grace!”
Lizzy eventually burst into tears.
Taken aback by the sudden tears, Arette exchanged a glance with Levance. Levance shrugged lightly.
Then, unable to withstand Arette’s reproachful gaze, he stood up from my seat. Just as he was about to hand a handkerchief to Lizzy, she suddenly sprang forward and clung to Leonel’s leg.
“So, please don’t cut Ms. Nelly’s wrists!”
Leonel looked at Lizzy with a puzzled expression, not understanding what she was saying.
“Hufh. I heard the rumors! They say you catch runaway managers and cut their wrists!”
Leonel stroked his chin and emitted a strange noise. Levance motioned to Lizzy to stop before she overturned Leonel’s table.
“It’s just a rumor, Lizzy. Such barbaric acts aren’t true.”
“Not bad, huh?”
Leonel joked in a lackluster voice.
Levance and Arette knew that he abhorred cruel acts. However, Lizzy, who didn’t know this fact, trembled with a pale face.
Arette shot a brief look at Lizzy and corrected Leonel’s words.
“That’s not true.”
Leonel turned his head. Lizzy was shedding tears as if they were pouring down. Leonel rubbed his forehead and tried to console Lizzy in his way.
“Enough with the tears, it’s just a joke.”
Finally relieved, Lizzy stopped crying with a deep sigh.
Without saying anything else, Leonel raised his head. The coachman was still standing there.
‘It’s bothering me.’
Nelly Pepper was currently gaining the trust of the residents and establishing her position.
There were no signs of embezzlement of documents or money. She hadn’t met anyone suspicious or sent any strange letters. If she were a spy, she wouldn’t have left without any results or preparations. So, Nelly Pepper hadn’t fled.
‘But then why…’
Why did she leave carrying a large bag, and why did he only find out after she was gone? It irritated him to the point of anger.
‘Is it because being on the estate is out of control?’
He furrowed his brows and stood up, putting on his cloak. Levance, who had been comforting Lizzy, cast a questioning glance at Leonel.
“Your Grace, I will send someone to Dames right away.”
“Forget it. I’ll go there myself to take a break.”
“Are you going personally?”
According to the investigation, Nelly had never been to Dames. Except for her recent visit with Leonel to the Braushtete., she hadn’t visited any other places. People tend to look for familiar places first, and since it’s a lively area near the square, it would be best to start searching around there. …If it’s not about her fleeing.
Leonel opened the door to his office without saying a word.
“Lead the way.”
The coachman followed closely behind him. Seeing Leonel step outside, the butler had the carriage prepared.
Leonel was about to get into the carriage but hesitated for a moment.
‘Do I need to go myself?’
Until now, he had never personally gone to capture a runaway manager.
This time was different. He could just wait and assume that it was a misunderstanding caused by the coachman’s mistake. If she didn’t return, he could command Arette to take care of it and pay the price.
‘…I just want to confirm the hypothesis that no one believed. It’s possible that she went to meet someone who is in league with her.’
A weak justification. Even Leonel’s subconscious seemed to resist acknowledging that Nelly Pepper could be a spy.
‘Even if that’s not the case, I still need to capture her to compensate for the damages. It wouldn’t hurt to personally go and confirm whether she’s fleeing or not.’
Adding an afterthought at the end made it sound a bit more reasonable. Leonel nodded his head and got into the carriage.
Arriving at Dames, he went to Braushtete first. But Nelly was nowhere to be seen. He ordered a drink and sat by the window, gazing at the square. Being at a higher vantage point, he thought he might be able to spot Nelly. Just as he finished his thought, he heard a familiar voice.
As he turned his head towards the source of the sound, lo and behold, there was Nelly.
“Are you just standing there?! Catch that kid! She’s a pickpocket!”
After paying and leaving Braushtete immediately, Leonel walked around, looking for Nelly. She was panting as she followed a child into an alley.
‘Roaming around the alleys of a big city without any fear…’
Leonel furrowed his brows and followed Nelly. He pushed through the crowd and eventually arrived at the alley Nelly had disappeared into. However, she was already out of sight. There was a fork in the road ahead. Leonel followed his intuition and ran in that direction.
Then he noticed a group of men gathering and rushing towards something in the distance.
‘I might find her if I follow them.’
When he arrived, Nelly was huddled in a corner. Just as Leonel was about to approach Nelly, someone jumped down from the fence. A mysterious man with his hood pulled low suddenly appeared and swiftly took down the thugs.
Leonel stopped in his tracks, midway towards Nelly. He couldn’t see the man’s face, as it was covered by the hood and the darkness. However, the swift movement and the glimpse of blonde hair visible under the hood were quite familiar.
Why was that guy here? Could it be that the manager was sent as a spy by him? No, it’s too early to conclude. Leonel clenched his fist and concealed himself. Soon, he heard Nelly’s voice. She was shouting at the thugs as they fled.
“Hey, my money! Hey! My money!”
“Are you looking for this?”
“By the heavens! Yes, that’s it! It’s my entire savings. Thank you. Thank you so much!”
“I didn’t say I’m giving it back.”
“You seem to lack tension. But you’ve come quite deep into these alleys.”
“Umm, w-what do you want?”
Nelly’s voice trembled weakly.
Sensing her fear, Leonel revealed himself. He warned Adelhardt as he approached Nelly.
“Let’s not play around too much, Prince Adelhardt.”
* * *
This is strange. Why can I hear Leonel’s voice? Startled, I turned my head, and there was Leonel in the flesh.
Why would the Duke be coming out from here? And the prince? What’s with the prince? As I alternated between glancing at the two, the man addressed as the prince lowered his hood deeply.
“I wonder what brings the esteemed Duke to Dames’ back alleys?”
It seemed like he was subtly mocking. Is there bad blood between that guy and Leonel?
I sneakily turned my head to look at Leonel. His brow was slightly furrowed as if he was uncomfortable.
“Is there something you’d like to say, Prince?”
“Compared to the Duke, who monopolizes the Queen’s attention, I’m just a well-bred lapdog.”
“That’s the point I’m making. Such dark alleyways don’t suit a lapdog. It might suit a stray dog, but…”
The two of them began an absurd and pointless argument, with me stuck in the middle. And the topic was completely irrelevant to me!
Of course, I was completely disregarding them. Whether their relationship was good or bad was none of my concern.
Instead, I wished they’d just return the money pouch to me. I sneaked closer to the prince while trying to gauge their attention. Leonel’s eyes turned towards me from their argument.
I quickly reached out before the prince could notice me, snatched the money pouch, and ran away.
“This is mine, so I’m taking it! Finish your argument and come, Duke! You have to win! Don’t give up!”
Leonel called out to me, but I pretended not to hear and kept running.
Perhaps because I had run just a while ago, I was quickly out of breath. Huffing and puffing as I ran, I heard a loud laughter behind me.
At the same time, something large grabbed onto my back.
“Even a snail would be faster than you.”