I was worried that Tirack might take me with him on his way back, but fortunately, he ended up going back alone. He heard Elvin asking me if I needed to rest, so he jumped in agreement, asking me loudly if I was okay.
He told us that he would tell the commander that today was going to be too difficult for me, saying that he would risk his life to say it.
I replied that he should value his life a little more.
He responded that he’d dedicated his first life to his wife, but now that he’s died and come back to life, he had to dedicate it to me to a certain extent.
I said several times that I by no means wanted to be a majority shareholder for his life.
To be honest, I really did want to pretend that I was sick and dive into my barracks, but I couldn’t rule out the possibility that Cabel might come to visit me during my act.
I couldn’t help feeling like I should be grateful and follow along while he’s still asking nicely……
The hike, which had always felt so long that it would never end, was over in an instant today.
We arrived so early that I wondered how it could be done so soon and almost argued that we had to continue walking a bit more.
Lily watched me pitifully, wondering at how I could think it was “already” over.
Then without a word she patted my shoulder sympathetically….. hik, hik.
I was overwhelmed by the despair to come.
But I knew I had to go in the end, and resignedly headed toward Cabel.
The base camp was almost finished getting set up, and Cabel stood behind the camp near the bushes, watching the scene quietly.
Then, as soon as he saw me approaching, he turned and strode toward me with his gaze so fixedly on me that I instinctively backed away, terrified.
In fact, it was such a reflexive reaction that it happened before I could consider how my actions might offend Cabel.
Just as quickly as he’d started, he suddenly stopped walking as if it’d been an illusion.
He stopped moving to the point where I became embarrassed, as he only stared at me.
With an indescribable feeling, I then approached him with a rather awkward smile.
My fear had risen again as soon as Cabel arrived in front of me, but he said only, “why,” and was silent for a long time.
He was staring at me with his usual blunt, lethargic expression, but it was a look that suddenly struck me also as familiar, which I thought was fortunate.
“Is it something to be hidden?”
He narrowed his brow slightly as if he found something unpleasant, and at that moment I fell into serious contemplation.
What does he mean now? What are you talking about hiding? My life? Ah, that’s not it.
If it’s not that, then…
…..Are you asking if we should hide this relationship?
And when asking this question, do you put on such a look of dissatisfaction?
I was so confused, and while I was struck dumb at the question of whether or not what was in front of me was even real, Cabel began to move.
He suddenly began walking off toward the mountain path next to me, and I was left wondering what he was going to do.
But the way he stared at me clearly conveyed the meaning, “follow,” so I decided to go along behind him.
However, even though I’d just finished saying that the hike ended too early and we should walk more, I didn’t think that I’d actually have to climb the mountain again with Cabel right away.
On top of that, I was not only left in despair over the roughness of the path, but also confused by Cabel, who slowed his pace from time to time in front of me.
There was no conversation going back and forth between us.
Still, all of my attention was focused on him.
Do you really like me? That’s why you made a complaint with a discontented look about having to hide the relationship, and now you’re slowing your lead to match my pace? Doubts continued with question upon question.
The mountain was quiet.
As the sun began to set over it, warm colors slowly spread across the sky.
This mixture of colorful light glowing through the leaves was subtle yet intense at points, enough to make me shade my eyes with my hand.
Leaves crunching underfoot could be heard regularly, and those that remained in the trees swayed in the occasional fall breeze, delivering the echo of autumn throughout the mountains.
I objectively admired this beautiful mountain path and noted that it could even be considered a romantic landscape, but I was still completely absorbed by my own questions.
Why are we going deeper and deeper into the mountains? You’re not suddenly going to announce your knowledge of my sins and push me off the mountainside, right?
Then Cabel stopped walking.
My heart almost stopped as well when Cabel lifted some branches, and I unwittingly gasped at the view before us.
The expansive sight was impossibly beautiful.
It was a lake.
It dazzled your eyes as if sunset-colored jewels were scattered over its surface, reflecting the warmth of the sky brightly.
The scene of the setting sun shining over the placid waves was so brilliant that language failed me, and I could only utter exclamations of amazement.
I felt like I’d entered another world, a fairy tale or a fantasy.
The lake faced the end of the mountain path, out of reach from people.
It was so beautiful that I stepped toward it as if possessed.
Even the densely-packed trees surrounding the lake reached toward it, immersing their untrimmed branches in the water.
Twilight continued to approach, expanding slowly over the lake.
“Wow… wow, this is really… So beautiful…”
I turned to Cabel, rambling my admiration.
And Cabel, who I thought would be admiring the lake, was looking at me.
No, it seems he has been looking at me from the moment we arrived here.
Our gazes, entangled in the air, did not break easily.
Dark purple eyes were directed at me, and I looked only at him.
My heart was pounding at the sight of such a beautiful scenery, but when I recognized the existence that was keeping watch over me, I was suddenly enveloped in a strange feeling.
I could feel my heart beating in the quiet space.
Neither fast nor slow, but rather at a deeper intensity, thump thump
And then, something fell over my shoulders.
It was Cabel’s cloak.
I was embarrassed by this sudden act, and I tried to refuse saying I was fine.
But before I knew it, Cabel’s hand came forward and tied the cape tightly.
Wha—what is this? The cape was so long that it covered past my feet.
When Cabel was wearing it, it didn’t seem long at all, but when I put it on, it became like a magician’s robe.
I-is that it dragging on the ground over there…?
Just moments ago I felt a strange weightlessness, being swept away by the beauty of nature….but I was quickly brought back to reality.
I raised my arm, feeling instant shame at the impression I gave off, of a small child playing dress-up like a wizard.
At that moment, Cabel’s laughter fell.
For a moment, I was stunned by what I’d heard.
I was so perplexed that I felt a typhoon warning should’ve been issued.
The short, low laugh lasted only a few seconds, but at such close range I could hear it quite clearly.
“I heard you are sick.”
Cabel quickly suppressed his laughter, pulling the cloak forward a little more and tying it back.
At least now its length didn’t pass my ankles, but rather than feeling pleased, Cabel’s words made me embarrassed again.
…..Did you hear from Tirack that I’m sick? So now you’re wrapping your cape around me like this?
His hands that withdrew from me were so affectionate.
I couldn’t find any words to respond with.
After a moment of silence, Cabel glanced at the lake, so I followed my gaze after his.
He asked in an ordinary tone if I liked the lake, and I, who was bothered by the awkwardness of the silence earlier, answered yes right away.
“Yes! It’s really, really beautiful! It’s so pretty that I thought I was in another world as soon as I saw it.
It’s definitely one of the most beautiful landscapes that I’ve ever seen…”
But I couldn’t finish my sentence.
My initially blurted words ended in a murmur and tightly shut lips, but Cabel didn’t seem to mind.
He was just looking down at me with the same expression he had from the moment I started talking.
As if pleased that he had led me to an unknown, yet special place…
I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but it wasn’t his usual stony expression.
He was looking down at me with softened eyes, and a smile hovering over his lips.
I started to feel guilty, knowing that my voice only sounded so animated because of my eagerness to cover up the awkward moment.
And at that moment, the question that had been circulating in my head since this morning slipped out.
The impulse was so sudden that it popped out of my mouth before I could gather my senses.
“……have you always liked me?”
Despite all my anxiety over acting carefully, I still made such a huge blunder.
I instantly covered my mouth with one hand, but Cabel’s expression was already unfamiliar.
He looked down at me with a slight tilt of his head, and I felt uneasiness at the fact that he still hadn’t said anything.
How can I make up for this mistake? What should I say now to fix this situation?
I was so mortified that I started to say anything that came to mind.
“Oh, well, I mean… I’m a little flustered because you’re suddenly so nice to me.
Bu-u-ut, that doesn’t mean I don’t like it!”
“It’s just that, you don’t usually treat me this kindly….
That is—it doesn’t mean it’s burdensome either!!”
As I looked at him, I was overcome by the question: am I hallucinating? Is it because of the sunset? Its warm colors? Its lengthening shadows? Why, when, how?
Aren’t the tips of Cabel’s ears turning red?
“…It’s because you said you liked me treating you kindly.”
… I’m viewing all of this sincerity in vain, knowing it’ll be because of moments like this that it’ll be my death in the end.
* * * * * * *
Today, we will finally arrive at the villa with the transportation scrolls.
The war itself had ended in such a disconcerting, absurd way that it never really sank in for me that it was over.
But the fact that we’d be arriving at the villa today made my heart pound.
Yet even if we could somehow have the scrolls right away, I’d wait till tomorrow to use them.
But I am still very excited to think of returning to the capital.
And I’m not the only one; the entire camp has been full of energy since daybreak.
The remaining distance to the villa wasn’t far at all.
So today, we planned to start at a leisurely pace, rest a bit upon arrival, and enjoy our last supper together in the evening.
After returning to the capital, we probably won’t see each other until the victory celebration festival, so we decided to have this one last get-together.
Even if we didn’t get to know every single person over this past month and a half, we’ve gotten used to seeing each others’ faces.
And the sad ending of this intimacy had an extra significance to me.
The reason being Cabel, to put it simply.
Though it was unintentional, Cabel accepted that I wanted to hide the “relationship,” and did his best to honor it.
The more I thought about that relationship, the sadder I got.
But I still thought it was fortunate that there hadn’t been a dramatic change on display for everyone to see.
At least, that’s what I’d thought, but…
It wouldn’t seem strange for people in friendly relations to greet each other or ask how one another is doing… but if someone who doesn’t do that at all, suddenly looks for or talks to another even a little bit more… Of course, it’s bound to stand out.
Like how Tirack noticed Cabel suddenly looking backwards for me, and came to the conclusion that I must have made a mistake.
Cabel’s behavior towards me was simple.
He greeted me in the morning, and when I noted the exhaustion on his face and inquired into it, he’d smile for a moment as if happy for my concern, but in the end, he’d answer with his usual tone and relaxed expression.
And he’d greet me in the evening as well….
That was all, but the Nickel Knights looked at me with an expression that couldn’t have been more shocked if they’d been struck by lightning.
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