Plaited long hair with white and grey mixed in it, and azure eyes as if reflecting the ocean. Those arranged features really do look like a noble youth’s, and right now they look suspicious. With his robe fluttering in the wind, Celves Sin Ronein approaches me.
I hold the talisman in my hand properly, hiding it from his eyes so he doesn’t notice. Thankfully, it seems like he hasn’t noticed my action. Relieved at that, I look at him to see him sit down beside me, opening the book he held on the table.
「Just what have you come to do here today?」
「Huh? No, um, how should I put it……」
There’s no way I can open up about everything here, so I hesitate. Celves doesn’t ask me anything else, silently reading his magical book.
I stand up as quietly as possible so as not to disturb his reading. I’m about to leave just like that when he calls me to stop, 「Wait.」
「Where are you going?」
「I just thought I shouldn’t bother you, so…」
「Not really, I didn’t say you were bothering me, did I?」
‘Sit down, it’s fine,’ that’s what those azure eyes say. Urged by his gaze, I sit down once again to my original spot. But after that, there is nothing to talk about, and time just passes. A quiet, peaceful time where the only sounds are the breeze, the rustling of leaves, the chirps of songbirds, and the sound of Celves turning the pages.
I glance at him from the side. His skin color hasn’t changed since the last time we met…… No, it’s actually worsened even further. Is he sleeping probably? Is he eating properly? Aggravating my worries, I casually look at where Celves’s hands are.
Celves too, is reading a bulky magical book just like like that man does. Watching that, I can’t help but tilt my head to the side.
Both of Celves’s arms, peeking out from his robe, are wrapped in a white bandage. It crosses over his wrists and seems to be wrapped until his arm. Did he get injured? To get injured from his hands to his arms, and both limbs on top of that – it’s a rather skillful way to get injured.
「What is it?」
He answers just with his voice, not taking his eyes off of the magical book. I suddenly realize it. Everyone can tell that the bandages on both his arms are clearly not something normal. It feels a bit inexcusable for people like me to ask about it just out of curiosity.
Celves raises his head from his magical book, looking dubiously at me since I called out to him but didn’t say anything else. For just a second, I think, ‘What do I do?’ By the time I realize it, my mouth moves by itself.
「……Do men really just prefer young, sweet girls more?」
——Was there really no better question I could ask?
I realize too late the expression on Celves’s face. He looks at me, dumbfounded, and his gaze hurts so much I can’t stand it. I can feel my face getting hot.
「What are you saying all of a sudden?」
His voice is completely baffled to the bottom of his heart. Really.
「I-I’m very sorry. Please forget it.」
My voice shaking, I lower my head. All of this instantly makes the sight of Lunamerie come to mind, so it’s no good. But even so, there must be some other topic besides that. Ah, really, I just want to disappear.
「Things like that are just personal preference.」
Whether he knows I’m secretly writhing in agony on the inside or not, Celves says that bluntly as if spitting it out for some reason, glaring at me.
「Or is it not like that? Do you prefer young men with excellent looks?」
「Huh? Ah, no……. Not really.」
That’s not a very persuasive line, coming from me who has a husband famed to have beauty not even night fairies can match up to. I’m adding one thing to another, but even though he has that white beautiful face, considering his very problematic personality or sharp tongue, there’s no way I could choose him solely based on his looks.
It’s worrying. Because it’s none other than me that will always want to be beside that man because he’s him, no matter how difficult to understand and annoying his personality is, no matter how sharp-tongued he is.
At my answer, Celves’s narrowed eyes slightly relax.
「——Right. It’s just like that.」
「That’s… right, isn’t it. Thank you.」
Watching me as I bow my head, Celves once again looks like he wants to understand further, slightly tilting his head.
「Why did you ask that in the first place?」
This too, is a reasonable question. ‘Um,’ I try to search for the right words, trying to change the subject, but Celves’s gaze won’t allow me to do that. Casting my eyes downwards to escape that gaze of his, I open my mouth just a little.
「……My husband doesn’t talk about these things much. So I wanted to hear your opinion, as a man.」
That’s right. Now that I think about it, that man got engaged to me at a very young age before he was interested in things like that. I never paid much attention to his tastes and preferences for the opposite gender. But now, I realize after so long that I probably should have thought more deeply about it.
I’ve been trying very hard not to feel even slightly embarrassed when I stand beside him. But all that effort may have been misdirected when I don’t even know his likings in the first place. Well, no matter how hard I work now, my current state is extremely horrible with my lack of sleep lately.
I swallow down a sigh about to escape my lips, raise my head to look at Celves once again. His azure eyes are open wide, looking at me.
What happened? The surprise in his eyes is actually surprising me more. I see myself reflected in his azure eyes, tilting my head to the side. Celves’s thin lips tremble.
I can’t help but blink in surprise at that question. It’s too late by the time I realize, ‘Ah. I messed up.’ I carelessly said 『husband』.
「——Yes. More or less.」
「More or less?」
「More or less.」
At the ruminating, suspicious voice, I reply in the same way. Am I smiling properly? My voice has unfortunately become feeble, but I want to at least keep my face proper. But here with no mirror, I myself don’t know what face I’m making now.
My position still hasn’t become fixed yet, it’s far too erratic and unsure, and it really does make me anxious. Even though he’s said so much for me already, I really am such a greedy woman.
The talisman that man gave me is supposed to only have a slight heat to it, but by the time I realize it it’s giving off warmth like a heated stone. I remember his words, 「You’ll know when it responds.」 Is this its response? I want to open my hand and check it right now, but even I know that it would be bad to do that in front of Celves……. Wait. That’s right. If this is the 『response』 that man spoke of. That means.
My body trembles unconsciously. I look at Celves’s face in front of me. Reflected in his azure eyes is my dumbfounded face. The talisman gives off heat in my hand.
What does he think of me, as I stiffen at the thought that comes to my mind? Celves suddenly has a serious expression on his face, looking at me.
「Suzette, if you want, I can——」
Celves starts to say something, but as if interrupting his voice, the green thicket nearby moves. It hadn’t given any signs of moving before, so me and Celves both shake in surprise.
As we do, a person you can tell is tall at a glance emerges from the thicket. I feel my eyes widening at the unexpected person. Indifferent to me, that person spits out a nut they’d been eating, letting out a sigh.
「Aah, finally made it…… Wait, hm?」
My eyes suddenly meet his red-brown eyes. Then, just as that red-brown gaze crosses the gap from me to Celves, a mischievous light enters his eyes.
「Well, if it ain’t Filmina!」
He smiles, as if really saying, 「I found something interesting!」 I know this tall man that has shown up here. Or, rather, there’s no one in the country that doesn’t know him.
Vivid red hair, so short it barely reaches his shoulders, tied into one at the base of his neck. His eyes are reddish-brown as mentioned before, and his face is tough and masculine, with a little bit of roughness to it. If he went down to the land by the castle, he could certainly be popular. The clothes he wear are the sign of the chivalric order of knights; his muscular body can be felt even through his clothes, and one can tell how efficient he is.
His name is Alhelm Lix. Although he’s from commoner origins, he managed to reach the position of the leader of the knights of our country. And then, he defeated the demon king as one of of the party of heroes, one of the saviors of the world.
Our friendship began when we met at my wedding to that man. He’s the very definition of cheerful and openhearted. Far from fearing that ‘black-hair’ man, he doesn’t lose or is discouraged by his sharp tongue, he’s actually a strong man that manages to still tease him.
I also know about his habit of procrastination. ‘That’s probably the reason he’s here now too.’ Thinking that, I stand up from the bench and hurriedly bow.
「It’s been a while since we met, Sir Alhem.」
「Cut the formalities. I told you before I ain’t good at things like that, right?」
「……You haven’t changed at all, have you?」
The leader of the knight laughs at my words, approaching closer here. I step closer to him too, standing in front of him. Looking down at me, he grins broadly.
「Anyway, so you’re havin’ a secret meeting at a place like this, huh? It’d be serious if that guy heard o’ this.」
「A secret meeting?」
A secret meeting. That’s a word that really does remind me of ladies saying things like ‘teehee, oh dear!’ Who’s having a secret meeting, and with who? I can’t help but half-close my eyes. I must be making a very delicate expression. The leader of the knights changes his mischievous smile to a bitter one, clapping my shoulders as he says, 「My bad, my bad.」
「Don’t make that face. If it’s you, that oh so pretty face of his would crumble – it’d be hilarious to see!」
Not knowing what to say, I vaguely smile to end this. They do say it’s a big world, but there probably aren’t many people who can say this to that man. I realize once again that even though that man doesn’t want to bluntly admit it, this leader of the knights is unmistakably one of his friends. That makes me feel happy, but at the same time just a little lonely. That’s when I hear a dumbfounded voice from behind.
I forgot. It had completely slipped my mind when the leader of the knights made his appearance, but Celves is still in the arbor. Following Alhelm’s suspicious gaze as he looks behind me, I timidly turn around to see Celves standing up from the bench, looking here as if he can’t believe it.
From that expression, I understand. That I’ve been caught.
「Sir Celves, I’m……」
「You’re Suzette, right?!」
Celves determinedly approaches me, taking big steps, grabbing both my shoulders and pressing me for an answer before I can finish what I’m saying. I can’t help but raise my voice at how extremely forceful and strong it is. At our not very peaceful exchange, the leader of the knights beside me immediately cuts in between Celves and me.
「Oi, oi, what’re you thinkin’, grabbing a lady outta nowhere like that?」
「Step aside, it’s nothing to do with you!」
「That so? Then I really ain’t leavin’.」
The leader of the knights, smiling boldly as he protects me behind him, and Celves who glares sharply at him. Even though I feel overwhelmed by the critical situation, I still pull at Alhelm’s clothes.
「S-Sir Alhelm, it’s only natural for Sir Celves to be angry. So…… Hot—?!」
The talisman I’d been gripping tightly all this time falls from my hand, rolling on the ground. It got too hot, and I couldn’t hold it anymore. The fallen talisman now shines brightly.
Seeing the shining talisman fall to the ground – namely, the demon’s core – Celves’s eyes widen, as if about to spill over. ‘Why?’ he silently mouths. Then.
A scream gushes out of Celves’s mouth. Dark red smoke rises from Celves’s arms. That color is the same color as the demon’s core, a visceral, disgusting color that makes me get goosebumps.
A crack enters the demon’s core. As if it’s being constricted by the silver threads. The moment I think, ‘Ah,’ that crack spreads over the whole core, and silver light leaks out of the cracks one by one. Before long, the core gets smashed with a ‘thud!’ and silver light dyes the surroundings.