Sosa blinked in surprise at the unexpected situation.
Jackal maintained a stoic expression as he directed his cold gaze toward the group of children.
“Who ordered you to spy on me? Was it the village chief again?”
“Oh no! I’m sorry! We didn’t mean to spy on you……”
Jackal carefully examined each of their faces, his intense gaze causing some of the children to tremble and even cry.
Tears streamed down their faces as they sniffled and wiped their runny noses.
Looking at their worn-out clothes and pitiful expressions, Jackal began to suspect that someone had used these children for spying.
As he frowned slightly, he noticed that some of the children’s faces looked familiar.
“Do you guys know Asha Camelia?”
He asked, prompting the children to look up in surprise and confusion.
“Oh? Do you know our sister Asha?”
Sosa also realized something at that moment and looked at Jackal with wide eyes.
These children were the same children that Asha had cared for when she lived here in the past, who were used in the false disappearance case.
Jackal’s suspicion dissipated and said with a smile.
“Asha talked a lot about you guys.”
“Our sister Asha……?”
As soon as they heard the familiar name, they jumped up and down like a puppy meeting its owner.
“Where is our sister now?”
“She’s at the Imperial Palace. She’s Vanessa now.”
“Oh, right. That’s true….”
Jackal spoke sarcastically, but the children’s faces became slightly gloomy. However, they soon changed their expressions and asked him a question.
“Mister, if someone goes to the palace, can they eat lots of delicious food and wear nice clothes?”
“Of course, Asha is living very comfortably there.”
“That’s a relief……!”
The children exclaimed joyfully and smiled broadly, revealing their missing teeth. Despite their evident struggle to have a proper meal, they showed no signs of the difficult lives they were leading.
As Jackal watched them, he understood why Asha held these children so close to her heart.
After a moment of silence, he asked them.
“But what is happening here?”
“Ah, that…… ”
The children’s faces turned embarrassed, and a loud “gulp” echoed.
The sound was answer enough for Jackal. He turned and gestured for them to follow him inside.
The children hesitated at first, but when Sosa kindly urged them to come in, they followed him like a group of chicks.
They noticed a lot of food on the table and went “Whoa!” exclaiming in admiration.
When Jackal gestured for them to sit down, they eagerly took their seats at the table, their eyes sparkling.
“Are you guys eating well? Asha was very worried about you all.”
When their older sister was worried about them, the children quickly responded with courage.
“Yes! Please tell our sister that we’re okay!”
“That’s right! We can even hunt now! We go to the mountains to catch animals during the day.”
“They are great hunters!”
Sosa smiled and complimented them. The children blinked in surprise, as if it was the first time they had received praise, and then began to boast about themselves more noisily.
Jackal listened quietly and said.
“Stop talking and eat. If you keep talking, the food will get cold.”
He added with a blank expression.
“I can’t stand noisy kids.”
The children felt embarrassed and looked down upon hearing Jackal’s words, and began eating quietly.
Sosa tried to scold Jackal for speaking so harshly, but he simply shrugged it off.
Despite his words, Jackal ate slowly, making sure that the children had enough to eat.
During wartime, he believed that as long as he ate enough to survive, it was sufficient.
To him, this place was no different from a wartime situation. The way the children hurriedly ate made it clear that they were starving.
On days when hunting was unsuccessful, they must have gone without food.
As the children savored the warm and delicious food after a long time, their faces lit up with joy.
Nagy’s face flashed in Jackal’s mind as he calmly looked at the children and said.
“From now on, you can come here and eat with us every day.”
The children asked excitedly with their mouths full of food, and their eyes widened. Food was smeared all over their faces.
“Yes. No matter what, I have to make sure you eat your meals. In exchange, I want each of you to tell me what Asha was doing in the village after every meal. This is a deal. To become a true hunter, you have to know how to negotiate.”
The children shouted with bright faces.
“Yes! Thank you, mister!”
“I’m not a mister.”
Seeing Jackal speak firmly, Sosa laughed silently beside him.
Jackal intended to take care of the children instead of Asha during his stay and train them to be hunters who could live without her.
He knew all too well the feeling of becoming an orphan overnight.
And more than anything, he wanted to know all about Asha’s life here and all the memories she had. He only wanted to know everything about her.
This is how he loves and remembers Asha, even when they were far apart.
After the meal, the children began to share stories about Asha.
“Sister Asha is really bad at knitting! She once made us scarves, but there were holes all over them, so the cold wind kept coming in through them.”
Jackal smiled and chuckled.
Then, a child said, blushing.
“This is a secret, but that scarf is my number one treasure. I’ve never taken it off my neck in winter.”
Jackal nodded, remembering the rabbit fur scarf Asha had made for him, which he still cherished.
“Sister Asha loves flowers and plants. Whenever we went to the mountains and found a flower whose name we didn’t know, she always wondered what its name was. Oh, and she also taught us how to differentiate herbs.”
“That’s right! She also made us a lot of flower tea! We didn’t know anything about tea, so we thought they were all the same.”
The children giggled uncontrollably.
Jackal’s eyes clouded over.
Listening to their stories, he felt as if Asha was still present in the village, right before his eyes.
He retreated to his room to write a letter to Asha.
He hesitated and lost himself in thought as he wrote about his meeting with the village chief and how the orphans were doing.
Sosa saw him and sneaked up on him.
“Are you writing a letter?”
Jackal lowered his head and shielded the letter with his hand.
Sosa asked jokingly, with a smile.
“Is this a love letter to Asha?”
The mention of a “love letter” made Jackal’s expression grow more serious.
Wondering why he looked like that, Sosa stared at him and Jackal showed him the letter.
“Read it. See if it’s okay.”
Not knowing why he would show him such a personal letter, Sosa swallowed hard and read the letter carefully.
But soon his expression became very dry and empty.
While Jackal seemed uneasy, Sosa had a puzzled expression.
“Is this really…. something to send to Asha? It sounds more like a report”
“……Well, it says ‘Dear Asha’ at the beginning.”
Sosa remarked, looking at the stiff letter in disbelief.
Maybe Jackal is dumber than he thought……
Sosa returned the letter and said firmly.
“You need to rewrite this. It won’t do.”
“Why? I think all the necessary information is in there.”
“What? There’s nothing important in there at all! Asha will be so disappointed if she reads this! You need to include at least one cliché love phrase at the end!”
Jackal’s expression became even more serious.
He knew deep down that there was something wrong with the letter. However, he had never written a love letter before and was unsure how to make it romantic.
Jackal sighed and looked at Sosa.
“Do women really like romantic letters?”
“Yes, they do. It is said that men who write good love letters are attractive. If you write a letter full of love, she will read it over and over again and treasure it.”
With this in mind, Jackal carefully selected his words as he wrote his letter to Asha.
Sosa opened one eye and glanced at him.
“Why are you worrying so much? Just write something as if you sent it to me then. I miss you, my love.”
At the moment when Sosa was skillfully acting, a crumpled wad of parchment flew from the side.
Sosa quickly ran out of the room.
Jackal had already crumpled up several letters and thrown them into the trash can.
I should have written a proper love letter before…….
He thought, realizing that writing a letter to Sosa was different from writing one to someone he truly loved.
With that in mind, he poured his heart and soul into the letter, hoping that Asha would like it.
Soon, Jackal carefully rolled up the letter and tied it with a blue ribbon to Gabe’s hawk leg.
The blue ribbon symbolized him and indicated that the letter was from him.
Meanwhile, Asha sat by the window in the palace, basking in the sunshine as she played with the wooden sculpture that Jackal had given her.
Despite the physical distance between them, their hearts were still close.
Suddenly, in the distance, a hawk appeared, flying toward her while emitting a loud cry.
Asha recognized at a glance that the hawk was Gabe’s, and her eyes widened. The hawk landed on the windowsill and turned its head.
Asha quickly retrieved the letter tied to its leg and began reading it slowly, her heart pounding with excitement.
However, most of the letter contained only information about the mission.
Asha sighed, relieved to hear news about the orphans, but also slightly disappointed that it was all he had written.
Then, she noticed the last part of the letter.
[…This place is deep in the mountains, so all kinds of flowers bloom abundantly. However, the flower I really want to see is not here. Every day, while looking at these flowers, I think of you.
….I love you and I miss you.
– Sheppy, with a flower in its mouth.
To the woman who is more beautiful than any flower.]
At the very end of the letter, pretty dried wildflowers were attached.
Upon reading Jackal’s heartfelt letter, Asha burst into a happy smile.
She couldn’t help but find him absolutely adorable, as she imagined him putting the flowers in his pocket despite being allergic to pollen, and carefully taping them to the edge of the letter with his large, hunched body.
Her heart was pounding, and she felt like she wanted to hug Sheppy tightly and give him kisses on his nose.
No, she wanted to kiss him directly on the lips as she gazed at his flushed face.
As she thought about it, Asha’s face turned red, and she fanned herself with her hand.
She reread the letter several more times before sitting on the windowsill and feeding and watering the hawk, who sat calmly on the window frame, waiting.
She was grateful that the hawk had flown a long way in the middle of the night.
Asha looked up at the night sky, pondering for a while, before finally picking up her pen and beginning to write a reply.