Namuel pondered over and over again. ---But the more he thought about it, he became dizzier.
"---If I hadn't received the Crobanlock back then..."
He muttered softly and looked at the Crobanlock, but nothing changed. The fruit only shined under the sunlight, as if indifferent.
‘If I hadn't received it then, would my mind be so complicated? No, in the first place... how could I not receive it?’
He asked himself that question several times, but there was no clear answer.
Heaving a long sigh, Namuel rubbed his index finger between his brows. --Ignoring the twinkling blonde hair and glimmering blue eyes that kept popping up, he struggled to think of something else.
"Come to think of it... the Crobanlocks' discovery site overlapped."
‘Not one or two, but three. The Crobanlock that Rainelle-nim found was also hanging from a tree. The Crobanlock I found was in a Griffin’s nest, but there was a high probability that the Griffin pluck it since the monster likes shiny objects, like crows.
‘Last but not least, the Crobanlock that Lady Adriana gave me as a gift. She said it was found hanging from a tree when their people were searching for a bandit within the Count's territory.’
The biggest thing they have in common was that all three have similar environments.
'Is it influenced by the environment? Or is the tree on which Crobanlock was hanging unique?'
‘Lady Adriana said that the Crobanlock was hanging from a golden juniper1. The most abundant tree in the Griffin's habitat is also the golden juniper. I don't know about Rainelle-nim’s Crobanlock... but the possibility that it was on a golden juniper certainly exists.’
'It's well worth investigating.'
‘---So, it would be better to leave the Capital for a while to study Crobanlock. There are also materials that are slowly out of stock... so I also need to collect them.’
‘Although I have to get His Majesty’s permission, it might not be too difficult considering it’s to study Crobanlock. Rainelle-nim’s class... there are more educated than me.’
Thinking so, Namuel rose from his seat.
‘I have to get His Majesty’s permission first, but it’s not a bad idea to prepare in advance.’
*3rd person POV
*knock, knock, knock-*
"Your Majesty, Marquis Namuel has requested an audience."
Karmeut blinked slowly at the sudden report, then he checked the time. ---Recognizing that Rainelle’s class was over, he nodded and allowed it.
"Greetings to you, Your Majesty."
Karmeut greeted back Namuel with a light nod. He then opened his mouth,
"Marquis Namuel, I am well aware of your hard work. ---I want you to tell me how Rainelle’s education is progressing."
In response to the expected reaction, Namuel answered with a small smile,
"Rainelle-nim is a very fast learner. She is very passionate about her studies. I even wanted the apprentice wizards to see and learn from her on that."
At his answer, Karmeut smiled. Seeing that sincere smile, Namuel continued to say while still raising the corner of his mouth.
"Your Majesty seems to be very expressive when it comes to things related to Rainelle-nim."
"...is that so?"
"Yes, it is like that."
Karmeut gave a small grin at his reply. It was a light smile that didn’t fit with the dignity of an emperor. But for some reason, Namuel couldn't take his eyes off that smile.
"So, what is it? There must be a reason why you come here, right...?"
At those words, Namuel straightened his posture. Then he respectfully opened his mouth,
"Your Majesty, please allow me to go to Milburn territory."
Karmeut's eyebrows twitched.
"---You mean you’re handing over Rainelle’s education to someone else?"
"---Yes, that's right."
"The reason is?"
"It's about Crobanlock."
At that, Karmeut nodded his head slightly. Under the silent gesture that told him to keep going, Namuel opened his mouth again,
"I was able to see that there was something in common with the Crobanlock regarding the way it is found. If we proceed and conduct research based on this point, we will be able to secure the Crobanlock stably."
Hearing him, Karmeut fell in thought. ...Crobanlock was a fruit that could awaken the one who ate it. While the risk of death if the awakening failed was very high, but it was clear that the Crobanlock was a very attractive item, so it was difficult to be completely ignored.
Didn't Karmeut himself awaken through Crobanlock? If he hadn't awakened, the person sitting here right now might not have been him, but Luwellin.
The more awakened people, the better. Of course, there was the risk of losing talented people too, but this was the Empire. It was a place with territory and people that could not be compared with other countries.
And even if it wasn’t used to increase the awakened individuals, the value that Crobanlock had was very large. It could easily be known just by looking at people who put Crobanlock up for auction without eating them.
"---Rainelle directly pointed out that she wanted you to teach her."
"I’m aware. Your Majesty had told me personally."
"You still think you should leave?"
"I think research on Crobanlock is just as important. ---Besides, there are many people who are far better than me. Maybe it would be better for Rainelle-nim to learn under such people."
Sharp, shining golden eyes were looking at the wizard. The Emperor, who looked at the man like that for a while, sighed briefly and said:
"...then I think it would be good if you say goodbye to Rainelle."
"---Your Majesty, I think it would be best to leave without saying goodbye."
"Are you disrespecting her?"
Karmeut's gaze grew even fiercer at Namuel's behavior, which he did not understand. In response to his reaction, Namuel gulped inside.
"It’s because Rainelle-nim would think negatively. Theologically speaking, Crobanlock is a fragment of the Black Bird’s eggshell that was scattered on the ground. And since Rainelle-nim is the one who met the Black Bird in person..."
At that, Karmeut nodded his head slightly. Then he took over and opened his mouth,
"It might seem like you're denying the Black Bird."
"...Okay. I understand what you're thinking."
Slowly sighing, Karmeut looked at Namuel.
---Rainelle’s empress class was also an important issue. But Crobanlock was just as important, or even more important. I’ll give my permission.”
"Thank you, Your Majesty the Emperor."
"When are you going to leave?"
"I'm leaving as soon as I'm ready."
"I see... The Imperial Family will provide full support, so please let me know if you need anything."
"Thank you for your kindness, Your Majesty."
Namuel politely thanked him and withdrew.
Then, as the office door closed, he let out a long sigh without realizing it.
'---Yes, what I said is all true.'
As he struggled to make excuses inwardly, he got startled.
A black bird was flying over the window. Namuel quickly turned his head at the sound of a crow's cry.
Perhaps it was just a passing wild crow, the cawing sound slowly went away as the bird continue to fly across the cold sky.
It was a common sight. ---But Namuel’s heart was beating fast. His heart was pounding like a child caught lying.
“Don't lie. You're just running away, aren't you?”
...He seemed to have heard such an auditory hallucination.
‘No, wouldn’t Rainelle-nim say that if she knew?’
Namuel trembled lightly when he thought of it.
How surprised he was inside when the Emperor told him to meet Rainelle and say goodbye.
‘Of course, I gave a plausible excuse... but I was actually scared to meet her.’
The thought that those clear purple eyes could penetrate his mind did not leave his head. He was afraid that if he say goodbye to Rainelle, his inner heart would pop out.
That was why, although cowardly, he had no choice but to choose the means of running away. He was afraid that he did not even know himself, and he was also afraid that Rainelle would reveal the emotions he was afraid to face.
'...No. I did this because I’m going to study Crobanlock.'
He told that to himself, but he knew very well that it wasn't entirely true. It just seemed like he couldn't even stand if he didn’t tell himself this.
In the end, he learned the fact that he was the one who cowardly run away. And how disappointing his actions might be for Lady Adriana.
As if running away from all the facts, Namuel quickly made his steps. His appearance, at first glance, even seemed desperate.
Weird. Something is weird! It feels like a strange alarm is flashing red in my head!!
"Rainelle-nim? Is something wrong?"
"...I'm sorry, but could we finish a little earlier today? I need to see His Majesty the Emperor..."
"I understand, Rainelle-nim."
After replying politely, I felt full as I watched the old man tidying up the class materials.
This person was a nobleman who entered the class on behalf of Namuel.
What was it? I can't remember his name. --No, I don't have the spare mind to remember.
Karmeut said Namuel took a break, but...
Is that really it?
I couldn’t get it out of my head. To be precise, the behavior of Namuel, who disappeared at just the right moment, was strange.
He got a Crobanlock from Aria, but he disappeared---!!
If he eats it in a place out of my sight and reaches---!!
That, that's terrible!!
A guided missile is fired from an unknown place, and I know the target is Karmeut! Just imagining it is terrifying!!
I couldn't help but be suspicious of the fact that Namuel had gone on vacation because those thoughts kept running through my head.
Gee, if it's a real vacation, I can be relieved...
So let's just check, just check!!
I quickly walked down the corridors of the Imperial Palace, intending to confirm it.
---I wanted to turn into a crow and fly, but if I did, the maids who followed me around would be in trouble. It's better not to cause a ruckus!!
Thinking I will arrive at my destination quickly anyway, I headed to Karmeut's office.
"Rainelle-nim has visited!"
As soon as the guard announced that I had come, the door opened. Upon entering, I saw Karmeut looking at me with a smile on his face.
---Ugh, he looks like he’s shining. That handsomeness and that smile, it's a deadly thing. But he looks so divine!!
I squinted my eyes at the dazzling figure.
--Uh oh. Now is not the time for this! What I need is, is---, confirmation! About Namuel!!
"I didn't bother your work, did I?"
"What are you talking about, Rainelle? If you want, you can bother me."
Saying so, he lightly kissed my cheek. My heart was ticklish, and I burst into a smile at the feeling of being filled with happiness.
“If I had known that, I would have skipped class and come to see you often.”
“If you want to, feel free to do so.”
"...don't say that. If I don't take my classes seriously, Karmeut will be in trouble, right?"
"As I said before, that's nothing."
I grumbled a little inwardly, thinking that nothing had changed.
I am not someone who always has to be protected.
"---Didn't I say that your companion isn't someone you just have to protect?"
"...I don't completely agree with that part, though."
A sigh leaked out of me at Karmeut's stubborn behavior.
---It's good to be there for me, but sometimes this protectiveness feels stuffy. ---Oops! This is not the time for this! Namuel!! Aish! Why do I keep getting distracted?!
"Umm, I'm here to ask Karmeut something."
"Huh? What is it, Rainelle?"
He had a look of disappointment for a moment, but Karmeut quickly asked.
Thinking, ‘---I'll give you a kiss later,’ I opened my mouth.
"Where is Namuel?"
1 Named after its gold growth that emerges in the spring, the gold cone juniper is a lovely evergreen shrub that adds year-round color. Its tightly packed needles stay gold through the summer and fall then change to blue-green in the winter. It grows in a wide range of soils and requires little care.↩