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After the greetings with Duke-sama concluded, we were directed to our seats. Chairs appeared seemingly out of nowhere, one for each person.

For some reason, Acrod-sama and I ended up on a two-seater sofa. Why?

Next to Duke-sama was the Duchess, or rather Acrod-sama's mother, Lady Pharantine. She had beautiful light brown hair and deep green eyes.

Seated on the adjacent two-seater sofa were Acrod-sama's younger sisters. The one with light brown hair was Lady Dilid, while the one with the same platinum hair as Acrod-sama was Lady Curiel.

While the Duchess casually glanced at me with a social smile, both younger sisters stared at me with keen interest. What's going on?

Not only the younger sisters but also Duke-sama seemed to scrutinize me. He then expressed a slight disappointment.

"Hmm, unexpectedly just an ordinary young lady. I thought Acrod had taken a liking to someone more unconventional."

What were they expecting? I'm just a regular person. No matter how much I love horses, I don't sprout horse ears or have a fluffy tail.

Upon Duke-sama's words, Acrod-sama oddly nodded, appearing quite satisfied.

"It seems so, Father. That's perfectly fine."

What's fine? The Duchess had a scrutinizing, almost suspicious gaze. It felt like she was questioning whether her son had fallen for a strange woman. And, quite frankly, it seemed like I was being judged – thoroughly, by the Duke's family. As if they were evaluating whether I was suitable for Acrod-sama. But wait a moment, I'm not Acrod-sama's lover or a candidate for engagement. I'm just a friend!

Well, if I were to be properly judged, I would undoubtedly be deemed unsuitable as the future Duchess. The Duchess would likely rebuke her son's delusion, and that would be the end of it.

"Well, fine. Let's go see the horses immediately."

As Duke-sama said this, everyone stood up. My family and I followed suit. Once again, Acrod-sama supported me firmly by the waist.

I thought we might step out onto the balcony, but Duke-sama led the way as everyone exited the room. Instead of going up, we descended from a staircase different from the one we had used earlier. It seemed there was a special staircase for VIPs.

We emerged in front of the viewing area. Even the viewing area had seats reserved for VIPs. I didn't know that. Duke-sama, enjoying the refreshing breeze, pointed at the chestnut-colored horse that had just come out.

"That's our horse. His name is Paperold."

It was named after a great general from ancient times. The moment I saw the horse, I forgot about the current situation and location. I rushed towards the railing, gazing intently at Paperold.

Oh... I sighed in admiration. Beautiful.

Indeed, a horse from the Duke's household. A splendid horse with long legs and a slender body. That gentle curve in the belly suggested it might be a mare.

A wise face. Clear eyes. Shiny coat. It was evident that this horse was well-cared for. Lovely!

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Beside me, Acrod-sama spoke, "It's a horse bred by crossing horses purchased from the Northern Kingdom. Its track record so far is five races with two wins. It's a bit mentally fragile, though."

Due to its temperament, it would get passed by other horses just before reaching the goal. However, as I listened, I learned that Paperold had run distances ranging from a thousand to sixteen hundred meters.

"Given its long legs and slender body, it might perform better in longer distances. Short sprints might not be suitable."

I spoke, and Duke-sama, wearing a surprised expression, asked, "Do horses have preferred distances?"

"Well, yes. Horses excelling in short distances have a compact, muscular build, like dogs. Horses like Paperold, with a slender build, are more suited for longer distances."

I inadvertently noticed that behind Duke-sama, his father turned pale, realizing my mistake. Oops.

"I apologize. I spoke out of turn."

"No, it's fine. Hm, I see. Remarkable."

Duke-sama graciously forgave me, so I refocused on the horse. To be visible to the audience, a shepherd walked the horse around. Its walking stance was also beautiful. A clear sign of thorough training.

However, at that moment, I realized something was amiss. Strange.

I thought I might be mistaken, so I carefully observed Paperold's gait once again. No mistake. I looked up at Acrod-sama and shouted.

"Acrod-sama! Please cancel the horse's participation! Something is wrong with its gait! It's injured!"

Even Acrod-sama, who was accustomed to my ways, seemed surprised. "Why?"

While gazing into Acrod-sama's azure eyes, I spoke earnestly, "The horse's walking seems off. It's injured."


Both Acrod-sama and Duke-sama, surprised by my words, hastily called over the trainer in charge of Paperold. There wasn't much time until the race started.

The trainer, undoubtedly a well-groomed individual given his association with the Duke's household, had a respectful posture. Perhaps he had noble blood.

"Is there something the matter, Your Excellency?"

Given permission to respond directly to Duke-sama, the trainer spoke. Duke-sama nodded.

"Hmm. The young lady over there says Paperold shouldn't participate due to an injury."

At Duke-sama's words, the trainer subtly moved his eyebrows. However, he replied calmly.

"There is no such issue. Paperold is in good health. I assure you that it will achieve victory for Your Excellency."

Unable to contain myself, I interjected, "That's a lie! Paperold's right hind leg! It's slightly dragging! It's an injury! You should be able to see it!"

The trainer, with gray eyes and a slightly hunched posture, glared at me.

"Excuse me, but who are you?"

"Cranbell Earl's daughter, Ecclesia."

My mere introduction seemed to be enough for him to recognize me.

"Oh, the infamous 'Horse-Loving Lady.'"

Well, I do know quite a few trainers.

The trainer, with an almost expressionless face, directed his words at me.

"I see. Indeed, Paperold's right hind leg seems to be limping. However, that is just muscle soreness. It will heal with some movement."

As soon as the trainer uttered these words, anger surged through me. This man was lying!

"You're calling that muscle soreness!"

A loud bang echoed as I shouted. The trainer jumped, and the attention of the surrounding people focused on me. However, I wasn't in the mood to care about that. While glaring at the trainer with his gray eyes, I continued yelling.

"That's a gait indicating a hoof injury! Certainly not a severe one, but if the horse runs in that condition, it could lead to a more significant injury! What will happen if such a magnificent horse can't run because of a minor injury! It absolutely must not participate!"

The trainer appeared dumbfounded by my outburst. Nevertheless, he didn't acknowledge it. He shook his head.

"...It's not an injury serious enough to cancel the race."

And he locked eyes with me. The trainer stood his ground, not yielding an inch. Something was off.

Paperold's condition was superb. Except for the injury. It showed that this trainer was a skilled rider, raising Paperold sincerely with affection.

Looking at Ghanamont, you could tell that a horse's personality and abilities changed significantly based on the one raising it. By observing Paperold, it was clear that this trainer wasn't a careless person.

However, why was he so stubborn about pushing an injured Paperold?


I realized the reason. Certainly, this trainer wouldn't be able to suggest canceling the race himself.

I changed my approach, turning to Duke-sama and bowing deeply. Both Acrod-sama and Duke-sama looked puzzled. I humbly spoke.

"Your Excellency, could you please listen to my selfish request? Even if it's a minor injury as he says, that horse holds great promise for the future. Forcing it could potentially harm its future."

And I pleaded with Acrod-sama.

"Acrod-sama, please, I implore you to listen to my selfish request."

I emphasized that the cancellation was merely my wish and a selfish one at that. Given my higher status than the trainer, directly appealing to Duke-sama and Acrod-sama would naturally give more weight to my desire than the trainer's opinion.

At first, Duke-sama, stroking his beard in thought, seemed hesitant, but eventually, he nodded.

"Understood. It seems there's no helping your 'selfishness,' Ecclesia. Let's cancel the participation."

...It was phrased a bit annoyingly, but I didn't mind. I spread my skirt and bowed deeply.

"Thank you!"

"Well then, Kevin. It's not your fault. You're carrying out your duties properly. I'll continue to entrust my horses to you."

The trainer's name seemed to be Kevin. With gray hair and gray eyes, he had a hint of a beard. He bowed deeply, his back even more hunched.

"I'm truly grateful for your kind words, Your Excellency."

Relief was evident in Kevin's expression. It seemed he, too, had been concerned about Paperold's injury. He was now relieved that the horse wouldn't be made to run. 

However, he cast a sharp glance at me. I smiled, but he turned away expressionless, walking toward Paperold. Well, he might be trustworthy. I had been looking for a reliable trainer to entrust Ghanamont when participating in races. Maybe I should ask Acrod-sama to mediate.

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"Well, it can't be helped. We need to inform the officials to withdraw from the race. Since the bets have already started, we'll likely have to pay a fine," proclaimed Duke-sama loudly. I could only bow apologetically, but Father, Mother, and my older brother's family wore uncomfortable expressions.

However, Duke-sama seemed remarkably cheerful. Acrod-sama, too, had a warm smile on his handsome face, and even the Duchess, for some reason, nodded with a smile several times.

...It seems that the entire act of my clumsy performance was transparent to everyone in the Duke's family. Well, it's understandable. Suddenly saying, "Please cancel the participation due to my selfish request," after blaming Kevin might have seemed unnatural.

Kevin couldn't say, "The horse can't run in the race because it's injured." That much was certain.

Probably, the decision for Paperold to participate in today's race was made two weeks ago when Acrod-sama invited me to the racecourse. Acrod-sama must have requested Duke-sama to participate in today's race. Well, maybe it was a pretext to invite me to the racecourse, saying, "The Duke's horse will be participating." It's strange that Acrod-sama, who isn't particularly interested in horse racing, knew about the race the Duke's horse would be in. 

Most likely, the decision was made then, and Kevin, who was responsible for Paperold, probably responded that it could participate. The Duke then applied for race participation with the Jockey Club. At that point, it was decided that Duke-sama would visit the Daphnes Racecourse. Duke-sama, a prominent figure in the Empire with a busy schedule, had decided to clear his schedule and come to the racecourse.

Shortly after, however, Paperold got injured, possibly stepping on a pointed stone. It wasn't a severe injury, just a slight disturbance in its gait. However, horse racing is demanding for the horses, and anything could happen. Naturally, Kevin probably wanted to cancel the race.

But the matter was significant. Duke-sama's visit to the racecourse had already been decided. If they canceled the participation, Duke-sama would make a futile trip to the racecourse. In other words, it would bring shame upon him. Kevin, a mere servant of common birth, couldn't afford such a thing. He might get dismissed or, at worst, even face capital punishment if Duke-sama, in his anger (though it might not happen given Duke-sama's personality), took severe action.

Moreover, canceling participation on the day of the race incurred a fine. It would lead to resentment from the spectators as their bets would be invalidated (well, Duke-sama being a prominent figure, no one might dare to complain about gambling). Kevin, a servant of common birth, couldn't possibly say that he wanted to cancel the participation. 

So, I emphasized my "selfish request" and appealed to Duke-sama and Acrod-sama. Well, I probably didn't need to ask a mere viscount's daughter's selfish request, but maybe Acrod-sama, who likely spoke to Duke-sama about my knowledge of horses, believed in my words.

But it seems that Duke-sama and Acrod-sama noticed that I was covering for Kevin and taking responsibility instead. It was fine if they knew, but Duke-sama's delighted expression bothered me. He had a face full of smiles despite being made to take an unnecessary trip due to me and having to pay a substantial fine. What was going on?

Duke-sama looked around at me, and then, without reservation, spoke to the Duchess.

"What do you think, Farrantine? Do you find her flawless?"

The Duchess nodded vigorously.

"Yes. I think she's excellent. She possesses interesting qualities."

And she looked at me with glittering eyes. I felt a chill down my spine.

"I believe she lacks a few things, but she seems to have both guts and courage. I will educate her. It's more important to have rare qualities."

"That's right. The young lady turned out to be much more interesting than I expected. It was worthwhile to have come all the way here."

And Duke-sama, with a full smile, said to Acrod-sama.

"All right, Acrod. I forgive you."

At that moment, Acrod-sama, looking touched, smiled happily and knelt in front of Duke-sama.

"Thank you! Father!"

His voice was incredibly lively. What on earth was going on? What was he forgiving?

Well, I was thinking about such carefree things.

However, Acrod-sama, maintaining a happy smile, approached me, took my right hand, and even though his knees would get dirty, knelt down slowly. He then proceeded to kiss the palm of my hand. A kiss on the palm symbolizes a proposal. I involuntarily froze. This was an undeniable, sincere act of courtship. And it happened in front of my Father, Mother, Acrod-sama's Father, and Mother. Moreover, a large crowd of spectators were witnessing this. There was no way to hide it anymore.

Until this moment, I hadn't believed my older brother's prediction that Acrod-sama was enamored with me, even with all the circumstantial evidence. However, Acrod-sama laid it out in front of me, proving the truth. He demonstrated with his attitude that he loved me.

Then he placed his left hand on his chest, took my hand with his right hand, lifted it to my face, and, with a theatrical attitude, sang-songy tone, and a serious, sincere voice, he delivered the decisive words to me.

"Miss Ecclesia Cranbell, would you be my wife?"

"Huh? No, thank you."

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