Chapter 9: Monica and the Baron

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The merchant led Monica and her friends to a mid-sized outdoor hut with a sign bearing a chisel and pickaxe. There were four men and one woman grinding, brushing, carving, and shaping large slabs of stone into more manageable bricks. They all appeared to be taking orders from a tall, broad-shouldered man with wavy, dirty blond hair.

"Father? I'm home!"

Everyone stopped what they were doing the moment Monica called out for the tall man's attention. He spent a moment scanning her up and down, and then dropped his chisel and approached her with his arms wide open.

"Monica! It really is you!" he said, simultaneously laughing and sounding like he was going to have the loudest cry of his life. Monica was unable to hold back her own tears as she wrapped her arms around her father for the first time since her disappearance. "My precious little jewel's come back at last! Do you have any idea how long it's been? When I heard that your caravan disappeared on your way up here, I thought that I'd never see you again!"

"I felt the same way when those creepy-masked people took me away," Monica sobbed. "I did my best to fight back, but there was only so much I could do."

Nicolaus released his grip on his daughter for a moment and placed his large hands on her shoulders. "Look at it this way, Monica... You managed to hold on long enough against those monsters that captured you, right? And you fought your way through bandits just to get up here, didn't you? It sounds to me like you've grown plenty strong already!"

Monica wiped the tears from her eyes and tried to laugh. "Yeah...I guess it does, doesn't it?"

"It looks like you've made some new friends along the way, too. And one of them's the emperor's daughter? This must be my lucky day!" The baron laughed out loud, calming down quickly when he saw his employees bowing before Edelgard.

"I appreciate your...fervor, Lord Ochs," said Edelgard. "We are happy that we were able to help you and your daughter reunite after spending so long apart."

"Her Highness and I are in the same class this year," said Monica. "And Father, I'd also like you to meet Ingrid and Leonie. They helped me get situated when I returned to the academy, and we all fought off the bandits together."

Leonie, who hadn't spent as much time dealing with nobles as the rest of the girls, had to be reminded to curtsy before the baron. Ingrid found it easier to do with the skirt in her school uniform, something Leonie lacked.

"Pleased to meet you," said Ingrid.

"We were worried that something might have happened to you," said Leonie, "but it looks like you're doing pretty well for yourself up here."

"It's nice to see you all getting along so nicely," said Nicolaus. "Tell you what...since you ladies went through the trouble of coming up this way, why don't I treat you all to dinner? I'll bet you're tired and hungry from all that traveling and bandit hunting. We can't promise anything fancy, though."

"I don't mind," said Edelgard. "Thank you for your offer."

"I really didn't want the stuff we brought with us to go to waste," said Leonie, "but I can always eat some of it later."

"Very good. We'll meet at the inn around sunset. Got a lot of work to do, you know?"

Nicolaus ordered his employees to get back to work while Monica and her friends returned to the caravan to clean the blood from their weapons. There were only one or two locations they could visit since the villagers of Drachen were wary of allowing any outsiders, even those from high-ranking noble families as Edelgard, to enter their homes. The rain continued to fall, limiting their options for what they could do outside. Monica tried to catch some cool and refreshing rainwater in her hands and wash some of the mud and sweat from her face. It was the least she could do to try to get clean until they could take proper baths later on.

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