Cadel stood there, stunned, and let Lumen leave.
Was it because Lumen couldn’t trust him? Because he could no longer believe what the commander said?
It was all Cadel could do to guess the reason for the breakup with a straight face, and even then, it was hard to accept. He couldn’t admit it.
He acted like he was never going to leave.
After that day, he had no time to speak with Lumen individually. Lumen followed Cadel’s request and worked with Van on the sub-quest, not returning until late in the morning or spending the night outside.
「Congratulations! You have completed the sub-quest ‘Heroic Tales of that Day’!」
「Reputation increased by 1.」
Only the slow-rising system window replaced Lumen’s absence.
* * *
Cadel was busy being Cadel. He’d been soothing Lydon and having him infuse Cadel with mana every day, and now the healer’s diagnosis of a ‘full recovery’ had reached the king’s ears, he had to prepare for the audience.
“Ah, no need for a bath attendant. I’ll wear the clothes myself, so could you leave them there?”
“Then I’ll be waiting outside. If you need anything, feel free to call me.”
As Cadel dismissed the scurrying servants, he heard an irritated groan from the corner of his eye. It was Lydon. Hidden from the servants’ eyes, he slipped out from under the bed and stretched, his face crumpled.
“I’m bored of hiding all the time. It would be so much easier if I could just cast an illusion all over this room.”
“I told you not to waste your energy. I have to get ready to meet the king, so you can hang around outside, just don’t get caught.”
“What about watching Cadel’s bath?”
“Watch it or not is up to you.”
What was the point of watching a man wash up? With a grunt, he unbuttoned his top, and Lydon flew to the window, tongue sticking out.
“That’s it? You don’t mind if I see it?”
“What kind of reaction do you want?”
“When did it get so boring? I’m disappointed, Cadel!”
It was the same old rant. He knew better than anyone that it meant nothing, but Cadel felt an unpleasant sensation as if something was twisting inside of him. And as his mouth curled at the strange sensation, a shrill voice spoke out.
“……Oh. Tired of not having fun? You can’t stand to be around this boring commander? All right, then do as you please. Because one guy after another is the best in the world to act as he pleases!”
Unable to resist the rush of emotion, Cadel flung the top as hard as he could toward the window. Dodging the fluttering garment with ease, Lydon muttered ‘It’s the first time I’ve ever seen an undressed person so unattractive’, and flew away.
The room was quickly deserted. Cadel stared out the window for a moment, biting his lip and clutching his pants. Suddenly, a pang of sadness washed over him. This whole situation was just so unfair.
He did his best.
He fought tooth and nail to advance the story and earn the trust of his subordinates. None of this was easy.
He missed Van. No matter how pathetic he acted, no matter how out of place he was, Van was always there to support him. A comrade from the moment he woke up in this world.
He wanted to be comforted by him, that he hadn’t done anything wrong, it was just not meant to be. Lumen’s decision was inevitable.
Van was the only one who could be said to be in his ‘possession’—
‘No, can I say I possess him?’
In the end, the man Van wanted to be by his side, the man who comforted and supported Van, was not himself. Van wanted the real Cadel Lytos.
As he thought about it, he felt an uncontrollable loneliness. It was the most terrible loneliness he had ever felt in his life.
“……What the hell do I want to do?”
It was a sentiment that didn’t do him any good. Nothing could be solved by emotion. Biting his lip hard, Cadel stripped off the last of his clothes and stepped into the prepared bath.
Even if the connection he felt with Lumen was just an illusion, even if the breakup was due to unavoidable circumstances. It didn’t change what he had to do. For now, that was all he had to think about.
Inhaling and exhaling, Cadel sank fully into the warm water. He hoped it would wash away all his emotions.
* * *
King Danila summoned Cadel to his own office, not the audience room. There were only two guards in sight, and they were both stationed at the door, far from where Cadel was.
“Greetings to Your Majesty King Danila.”
Was this the right way to greet him, or should he kneel? Cadel glanced up, bent slightly, and soon he heard King Danila’s voice.
“Don’t mind it. There’s no one here to criticize your manners, so there’s no need to be formal.”
“Ah…… Thank you.”
Cadel stiffened, and when he looked up, he saw the face of King Danila seated at a long desk. He was an unremarkable middle-aged man, but there was something different about him.
The way he gazed at his opponent, the angle of his face, and the gesture of his hand, all exuded a sense of ease and grace. It was not the same as intimidation and more like dignity. There was a big difference. Intimidation made people feel afraid, while dignity made them feel nervous.
“How long are you going to stand there? The chair in front of you is for sitting.”
His demeanor stiffened reflexively at Danila’s light words. Cadel hurriedly took the seat across from him, despairing that he would have to deal with Danila in such close quarters, but there was nothing he could do to avoid it.
‘Let’s not get carried away. Aren’t we all the same?’
No matter how charismatic a person was, a person was still a person. He had eyes to see, and ears to hear.
Cadel swallowed dryly, trying to shake off the nervousness. From now on, he had to pull himself together.
Do you have any idea why I called you?”
Danila gestured to the teacup in front of him. It was an invitation to drink, but unfortunately, Cadel was not at all tempted. He smiled awkwardly and wiped his sweaty hands on his pants.
“I’m assuming…… Your Majesty would like to know more about the incident in Baskin Village.”
“You don’t think I called you here to praise you for your work? I’m not that lacking in virtue.”
“Pardon……? Ah, no, I just……. did what I was supposed to do, so I didn’t have a reward in mind.”
“Every mercenary I’ve ever seen wants to be paid, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. On the contrary, it’s natural, so don’t make a fuss about it.”
Totally playing with people. Cadel was busy gathering his wits, trying not to be swept away by Danila’s skillful rhetoric. No matter what he said earlier, there was something else he wanted. And Cadel already had some idea of what he wanted.
“I hear you led Sir Lumen of the Kingdom of Mainue as ‘temporary commander’ in this battle, and it was quite successful, wasn’t it?”
“Ah…… Yes. He was an excellent swordsman.”
“I did not believe it at first. The Marquis of Dominic has a reputation that extends as far as our neighboring country, and his children are rumored to be brilliant. So it’s hard to believe that the second son of such a family would follow orders in a mercenary corps as a member.”
Lumen had explained to King Danila that his relationship with Cadel was only ‘temporary’.
‘……Well, that’s nice. I don’t have to explain it.’
Now that he knew that the ambiguous Lumen was not bound to the mercenary corps, King Danila’s demands became clearer.
“If it weren’t for Garuel’s detailed testimony, I wouldn’t have believed it until the end. That not only Sir Lumen, but everyone on the battlefield bent to your will……. When I first heard it, I thought, yeah. Your exact opposite. I envisioned the opposite of you. A man with a cool, regal demeanor, a halo of heroism, and a commanding presence on the battlefield.”
“Seeing you in person is beyond my wildest dreams in so many ways.”
Either he was just teasing, or he was saying what he felt. Either way, Cadel’s only option was to ‘laugh awkwardly’.
Danila stared at Cadel, who was staring into his teacup with a cool smile on his face, his gaze softening further.
“I just wanted to say thank you.”
“No, I did what I was supposed to do―”
“It was not something you should have felt obligated to do. Even if you expected something in return, it was too much. What could be more precious than life? So don’t feel pressured and accept my thank.”
“Why say ‘thank you’ when I said ‘thank you’ first?! Does that mean you’re going to take back my words?”
“Pardon? No, it’s not like that…….”
Danila’s eyes widened in surprise, but then he let out a raspy laugh, his shoulders shaking.
“You’re a fun tease! I love the naive. Now, what do you say? Now that we’re in a relaxed mood, tell me what you want.”
“What I want?”
“Sir Lumen has asked me to take great care of you during your stay here. It was a small request for a man of his accomplishments, but he had so many assets that he could be humbled by it. But not you.”
Of course. He had no intention of humbling himself by saying he didn’t want anything from him. But Danila interrupted him before he could ask for anything.
“Name the things a mercenary of unknown origin wouldn’t dare to enjoy. The demon you slayed was called the ‘Demon of Corrosion’. By all accounts, it was a source of evil that could have done great harm to the world to come, so say what you will.”
“Title? Estate? Anything is possible. Of course, I can also offer you a position as an elite knight to escort me.”
What was to come had come. Cadel thought Danila would at least listen to the compensation he wanted and get to the point. In his unconcealable excitement and urgency, Cadel had to feel Danila’s unwelcome humanity.
“I’m flattered that you’ve given me this minute window of opportunity, Your Majesty. However…….”
“My elite knights are not bound by status. ‘Strength’ is the only criterion that divides them. Of course, I’m thinking of giving you a title separately if you want.”
“Your Majesty. My name is Cadel Lytos.”
He wanted to speak about this in a more suitable atmosphere than this. But if he left it any longer, it seemed that Danila would be setting a date for him to join the Knight Order.
Cadel knew from the beginning that Danila’s purpose was to recruit talent. It was a precious magician, who dealt with a powerful demon that appeared in a remote village that he didn’t even care about. A mere mercenary of no consequence, with no background. To Danila, Cadel must have been a pumpkin rolled into a vine.
But neither in the past nor in the present. Cadel had no intention of matching others’ greed.
“I apologize for not telling you beforehand. As you may know, the Lytos family fell from grace in the Osma Empire after committing the felony of ‘attempted assassination of a royal family member’. While the Emperor wished for the destruction of the Lytos, I, the illegitimate son, was fortunate enough to survive. ……I am a fugitive. If the Empire were to learn of my existence, it would bring trouble to you, Your Majesty, so all I ask is that I leave the country quietly, and that is all, Your Majesty.”
Cadel was not a pampered aristocrat controlling an estate in the middle of nowhere. He was a ‘traitor’ to the Empire. If Cadel were to become a knight in the service of the king of a nation, the Emperor would sooner or later recognize the power of ‘Lytos’.
A famous family full of competent magicians in the Empire. As the Lytos was a power that had assisted the Imperial family for a long time, it must be quicker to be exposed. The White Kingdom was one of the Seven Great Powers, but its power was nowhere near that of the Empire.
Danila couldn’t afford a ‘Lytos’.
Just as Danila’s proposal was to Cadel, Cadel was also a card he had no choice but to throw away.