Chapter 3:

Strength Beyond Comprehension

The Wanderblood Princess and Sir Try Hard

Lombardy couldn’t help but sneer at how different his opponent was. A tidy, thin man felt out of place, compared to the burly and seasoned warriors. Commoners striving to bridge the gap of a noble required immense skill and training, of which was usually reflected upon their bodies.

The rippling muscles and unsightly scars that lowly men often prided themselves made Lombardy turn an eye in disgust. He wouldn’t dare come closer than a few feet to them, if only so that they could learn their place with a whack of his weapon. And if such a prize weren’t offered to begin with, there was no way he would have found himself lightly perspiring over such tedious entertainment; seated in a cushy chair, spectating, was more fitting for someone distinguished.

Yet, the man before him drew an even greater ire, to his own surprise.

No, he was still a mere boy. The skin upon his face saw not the slightest bit of scarring, smooth like a hand-picked squire from birth. But the absence of blind reverence reflected in his gaze sullied that perception. Rather, they held a glint of rebellion, like an unruly servant not yet trained by his master. Messy, black hair, like tussled bushes in the wild, draped upon his shoulders and down to the simplistic cloths that wrapped around his body. Appropriate, but not more.

Though covered, one could easily tell that his body had not the sturdiness of a hardened fighter. Baggy robes could not mask one’s height, nor the leanness of the flesh. The wrists that slid out from the sleeves were still thin, almost feminine, surely not what was expected of a warrior vying to be a guardian of a Royal.

That fresh-faced appearance was like a gem wrapped in cheapness, which made him far more infuriating to Lombardy than the muscled, thuggish men around him. It reeked of intention to stand amongst nobility. His swift actions earlier felt almost like a fluke, a one-trick pony holding boldness reserved only for the special.

Lombardy couldn’t stand for such blatant travesty. But taking a quick glance toward Princess Chiffon to fortify his resolve, he drew his toy of a blade forward. The cheap wood he wielded was hardly a suitable punishment, but that could be made up for later. He was a Duke’s son after all! A measure of patience before justice was a small favor to respect traditions, allowing the boy a graceful exit only upon these grounds.

“I am Lombardy, first son of Duke Mascarpone, and future heir of the family. Drawing my attention is no small feat. An exchange of blades, a rare occasion that a commoner such as yourself should pride yourself in, even in defeat!”

“Caramello. I care not for such praises, especially those given with downward gazes. Save me time and draw your sword. We are equals upon this trial, my lord.”

Lombardy’s eyes widened. A simple statement from Caramello had revealed a learned mind. However, pride cast a wool over the noble's eyes, when such a revelation should have produced warning.

Such blatant disrespect! And to return my rhyme with one of his own!

Before the signal for the match was brought down, Lombardy’s sword swept in a horizontal arc, with the intent to cleave Caramello in half. Even holding respect to traditions had its limit, as such a cur with no respect for authority deserved no place within these walls!

But then, a dull clang echoed. A violent tremor rippled through the nerves of Lombardy’s arm. An utter look of shock appeared upon his face as his jaw dropped. The swing of a noble had been repelled by that of a common man!

Not to mention, Caramello himself had been unmoved by the sudden attack, responding with a parry, eyes holding no sense of panic or desperation. Rather, a smile graced his lips, curved like a fox. He moved with a flash of light, as if strength burst out from his body in an instant.

A measure of caution and fear struck Lombardy’s heart. Never had he challenged someone that his strike hadn’t outclassed. A lowly commoner should not have the ability!

For the royalty that spectated this match, it came as no less of a surprise.

The light sipping of tea and the muffled crunching of snacks had completely stopped. Chiffon’s cup hung stiffly inches below her lips, so engrossed by the sudden exchange that a leaf drifting in the wind went unnoticed as it landed in the steaming brew.

The subtle ripples created by the sloshing upon smooth porcelain came from trembling fingers, and from that, nerves pricking all along Chiffon’s back. No words could express the moment. She was enamored, finding herself secretly cheering for the whimper of a wolf draped in silky extravagance. A clever fox had courted his attention, wiping that annoying smug grin just moments ago. This newcomer was a fresh wind blowing through the gardens.

Several more attempts by Lombardy were made, blows swung in juvenile haste like a child swatting at flies. They were unsightly, reeking of crudeness compared to the swift elegance that he received. And each time, a flash of light denied those efforts, causing the face of Lombardy to twist in disbelief. He was being disciplined, eyes firmly upon him and an overbearing aura of dominance.

And as much as Chiffon found it more delicious than her snacks, a sense of bewilderment developed in her stomach, the scene almost too saccharine to be true. How was it possible for a commoner to wield such power, such grace?

“Oh ho! The lad possesses a blessing, a quite beneficial one at that!”

The murmur of amusement from the King caught her attention. Her gaze darted toward the imposing ruler, who had conquered a similar trial in the past. Surely, he would know a variety of disciplines and enchantments that would give, even the common man, such an advantage.

“A blessing, Father? You know of one so strong?”

“Unfortunately, this one eludes my knowledge. But the flashes of divine power, the fluid movements that convey a personal art, it is a gift that equalizes the playing field.”

A power that not even Father has encountered?

Truly, such a blessing had to be a rarity, a gem hidden in the deepest of caverns, a worth unknown to all but its fewest protectors. Blessings were bestowed to certain people by the Gods, and often, they were passed down the family line. Many common blessings existed, aiding a person’s natural ability to perform certain tasks. Reflexes and vision for the brave, quick wit and calculation for merchantry, tolerance and wisdom for the pious – people possessing such talents made a name for themselves.

Which made this situation all the more peculiar. One of such rarity was difficult to hide, as those around them would hunger for it. Unique power often led to greed, no matter who was involved.

“Father, are you sure that it is not an enchantment instead? For a person to reveal such a hand, under such mild circumstance, would that man not be a fool?”

If a blessing was truly that rare, openly displaying it in public with no allies or persons of notoriety on their behalf, he was liable to be coerced into service. That was truly how much attention it deserved.

“I do not sense the ebb of magic that would indicate an outside source. His power flows from within, from the navel out to the tips of his fingers. That much cannot be falsified by magics. And this tradition is sacred. We must guarantee his liberty.”

Her father’s words were resolute. An enchantment, purchased for a boost of artificial power, gave one only temporary ability, syphoned from a foreign object in one’s possession. A Royal possessing the keenest eye in the kingdom could not be deceived so easily. Chiffon was merely at the gate of such talent, only able to discern that some strange power wrapped around the one called Caramello.

A moment of doubt befell her. Could she have been wrong about her beliefs all this time? Was there actually someone worthy to stand by her side after all? Suddenly, her interest grew by several measures.

“I-Impossible! How-, how are you doing this?!” Lombardy shrieked, face ghostly white. Though his body hadn’t given up, everyone could tell that his spirit had failed him after the first exchange. He was running purely on muscle memory, that of punishing those below him.

Realizing that his opponent was more stubborn than a mule, Caramello sighed. A flurry of movement erupted between the two competitors. It was a sight that even deceived the eyes of Chiffon, who found even the swiftness of dragons to be undaunting.

After all, she had never encountered a person, aside from her father, that could move so fast that afterimages danced out of one’s body. But here it was, that boyish face duplicated, all lunging forward, like ghosts exorcised from one’s body.

But these were no ghosts. Mere apparitions couldn’t swing a wooden blade and replicate the noise of impacts. The flailing of Lombardy’s limbs and the crumpling of his back made it clear that he had been struck, and in several places. Pain caused his weapon to release from his grip, a thin reddish streak staining the pearly white of his shirt. His head turned painfully to one side, nose unfortunately sticking out still.

The match was decided. The unsightly crumpling of a body upon the ground came as a guard yelled out, “Winner, Caramello!” Floundering lips and an absent gaze marred with shame and disbelief gave Chiffon a chill. She knew not whether to be thrilled that Lombardy had been vanquished or in awe at Caramello’s prowess.

“Chiffon, Chiffon, my dear?”

“Y-Yes, Mother!” Chiffon jolted out of her trance, fully expecting to be reprimanded again.

But rather than pain, a gentle stroke of her hair caused her to relax.

“I see that your mood has changed. Finally learning that there is some purpose to these silly traditions?”


Chiffon couldn’t hide anything from her mother. She knew all of her quirks. No wrinkle or blemish could be overlooked upon the thin dress of elegance that Chiffon wore. Any such required far more meticulous ironing and bleaching, the likes that were yet to be caught by her own inexperience.

But as any good mother that understood her daughter, there were times where a moment of self-revelation was rewarded with the gentle touch of encouragement.

“Th-That is… correct, Mother. I understand that one’s blessing is not everything. The world is much wider than that. Which is why a protector with suitable talents can be beneficial.”

Though she said that, Chiffon didn’t want to believe it herself. That her own pursuit had been misguided, shallow. She didn’t want any confirmations that would weaken her lofty goal of standing at the summit without the need of another. To shine brilliantly, not as an accessory dangling upon an arm that held her up, but instead holding her own weight.

But if a person could overthrow such expectations, as Caramello had just done against the son of a Duke, then perhaps, her situation wasn’t quite so bad.

Apparently, the Gods had given them enough surprises for the day, the might of Caramello having vanquished the most surefire of contenders. Chiffon was a bit disappointed at that, unable to experience such a turnaround again. Caramello simply breezed through the rest of the opposition, leaving him as the sole standing victor.

He stepped forward, towards the royal family, his brow barely holding a glint of effort. The unquestionable victor had not displayed his all yet, and that very fact gave Chiffon butterflies. After all, she shunned egregious effort. It was unsightly, lacking in grace, and left a feeling of grime.

For such a man to succeed while looking hardly perturbed, she would likely get along with such a-

“Is this the Princess Chiffon that I place my skills before?” He spoke, a hand gesturing to her. “The rumored Wanderblood Princess that frolics upon the countryside, trampling upon wild beasts that hardly have a chance.”

On second thought, where is my mallet?

Chiffon’s back came off her chair, her perception of him flipping completely around. She knew an insult when she heard one. The way it came off his lips just asked for trouble. Not to mention, that despicable name that a few used to refer to her. Any thoughts of an amicable relationship evaporated like steam from her cup.

But before she could rise, the King gestured to speak, cutting her off.

“Oh? I suppose that you have some purpose in making such a statement. Then, I grant you permission to speak freely. That is the least we can do after displaying such feats of ability. Tell us, young man. What are you asking of the Princess?”

With eyes of determination, enough to stare down even a death sentence, Caramello made his declaration.

“I wish to challenge her to a duel.”