In his hands was a bouquet of miniature flowers.
“Uh… all the leaves are gone. It was pretty before, but….” Caville said as he lowered his gaze with a sullen expression.
Anna and Marie were swallowing a smile. Caville was more innocent than children his age.
“But it’s still so pretty. You said it looked prettier before?” Elody asked, accepting the bouquet.
“Yes. It was more beautiful before….”
“Well, it still looks beautiful now. Did you pick these out for me?”
“Yes, because my wife likes pretty things,” Caville responded as a smile crept into Elody’s face.
“Thank you, Caville. They give a gentle aroma too. Would you like to smell it?”
Elody held out the bouquet to Caville, and he inhaled the sweet fragrance.
“It smells good!”
“Doesn’t it?” Elody smiled.
“Yes. It smells just like you, wife.”
Anna and Marie, who stood behind Caville, were surprised to hear such lovely words.
“The lord will become a very romantic husband!” Anna giggled.
“Yes. Caville will grow up to become someone who’s loved by all.” Elody said as she stroked his hair.
Loved… by the princess.
The flowers reminded her of that time.
The earthy wands of the trees, the fresh aroma of wildflowers, the sky which was dappled by the clouds, and Caville’s genuine smile.
“I miss Caville… He’s doing well, right?”
“Of course. I’m sure he’s fine, madame.” Norman replied.
“It must be hard for him….” she worried.
A sigh escaped his lips as he looked towards Elody’s anxious self.
Elody’s days were filled with worries.
And as time went on, Elody became even more anxious.
* * *
Caville was currently struggling on the battlefield.
It took a considerable amount of time just to get past the capital and reach the Catan Mountains.
Eventually, it was time to pass the Dark Forest, the last gateway to the mountains.
“Your Grace, please be careful not to fall off your horse,” Brien said with a tense expression.
The Dark Forest.
The reason for the name was because of the utter blackness of nighttime in the woods.
The bare branches spiked into the sky, its leaves blocking any incoming sunlight.
Even the knights were afraid of the haunting atmosphere.
Because of frequent monster attacks, the Dark Forest was classified as a restricted area, just like the nearby Forest of Death.
The Forest of Death was located near the duchy, and the territory had the fastest shortcut to the mountain range.
Fortunately, this area was much safer than the Forest of Death.
The knights and soldiers could feel the darkness drawing closer and closer, suffocating them as they passed through the thick maze of woodland.
The odd chirps and rustling of the winds see the travellers pivoting to respond; their weapons were drawn. But, despite their anxiety, nothing attacks.
They travel on, slowly growing comfortable with the nearby movements. However, as they thought they’d passed the forest unharmed, a group of monsters suddenly emerged from the trees.
The knights unsheathed their swords as a small battle broke out. Brien guarded Caville, blocking him from harm’s way.
Caville stared at the monster. It was something he’d never seen in his entire life. The monsters that appeared before them were goblins, famous for its greed and ferociousness.
Caville had only heard of goblins from books. They were mythical creatures that had an ugly appearance. Succumbing to fear, Caville hid behind the knights.
He clenched his sword with trembling hands, unable to think, he couldn’t remember anything from the sword lessons he had with Brien.
“My Lord! Stay back!” Brien shouted as he continued killing the goblins in front of him.
Suddenly, a goblin lurched towards Caville with rapid acceleration.
Brien was about to run to the young child to save him, but he soon stopped.
The scene before him surprised himself as his eyes widened in astonishment.
Instead of hiding behind Brien’s back, Caville stood his ground and lifted his sword. The blade flashed as he swung it over the goblin’s head, and blood splattered when he brought it down.
A few moments later, the battle was over. Only a few soldiers suffered minor injuries, so they were able to cross the forest safely.
As soon as they got out of the woods, they immediately headed to camp.
Upon arrival, Caville began to unpack a few of his belongings. Then, he discovered the wounds he had gained from the previous battle.
There was a slight cut on his wrist, right below his gauntlet.
Brien asked in a worried voice, “Are you all right, Your Grace?”
Caville strove to answer back, saying, “I’m alright.”
However, he wasn’t all right at all. He felt sick and uncomfortable; all he wanted to do was cry.
It was a small wound, but he was scared to see his blood. The last time he saw blood was when he still lived in the orphanage.
Caville drew his sword and cleaned the blade, following Brien’s actions.
His blood-stained sword looked disgusting. Caville turned away as his stomach heaved, nostrils filled with the smell of lousy goblin blood.
Brien took something out of his pocket and handed it over to Caville, along with a glass of water.
“This is a painkiller from the duchess. Please eat it first before I take a look at your wounds… but I can call the priest if it hurts too much.”
“It’s all right. The medicine will do.” Caville replied gracefully.
He took the pills from Brien’s hands and swallowed them, along with the water.
Elody made the medicine.
‘I miss my wife…’
If she knew he was hurt, she would have worried a lot and kindly treated his wounds….
Perhaps because he took the medicine that his wife made for him, his longing for Elody grew stronger.
Brien was astounded to see Caville acting so mature. He was able to cope with the situation better than he thought he’d be.
‘He’ll become a brilliant man..’
Brien snorted inwardly whenever the duchess would say, “My baby will grow to be a fine man.”
But to some extent, what she said seemed to be true.
In the eyes of a child, goblins should seem much scarier than devils.
He thought Caville would just cry and keep begging him to go back home…
However, Caville was unexpectedly calm.
Moreover, Brien was proud to see him use the sword techniques he had taught. He felt as though he had successfully raised his apprentice well.
* * *
A boy as young as Caville among the soldiers on the battlefield.
One could never take his participation seriously.
There were a few knights who were also young, but Caville was the youngest of them all.
Their unfriendly gaze reminded Caville of the adults who had abused him in the orphanage.
They all looked huge and threatening.
He was so afraid.
Every day, all he thought about was how much he wanted to go back home. Back to Elody, who had always hugged him, smiled at him, and talked to him affectionately without any strings attached.
The nobles would always whisper behind his back. A kid like him, participating in the war as one of the nobles of the empire. They could only see him as a pathetic joke.
“His Majesty, the Emperor, is too much. I can’t believe he’d let a little boy be the commander of the knights.”
“Right! No one would be surprised if he died tomorrow.”
“Is the Emperor purposely trying to lead him to his death? Is His Majesty planning to give the land to Count Borque after the young duke dies?”
“I heard that the Emperor and Count Borque made a secret deal behind his back.”
Caville grasped his heart, doing his best not to be frightened by the noblemen spewing malicious and hateful words towards him.
Sometimes, there were a few people who would try to gain his favor, saying that he reminded them of their son back home.
Unfortunately, most of them ignored Caville.
They snorted and pointed at him, saying, “We brought a dog to the battlefield.”
Or they would click their tongue and say, “Tch! He’s just dead weight! He’d probably die soon!”
‘…I miss my wife.’
He was so sad and afraid that his tears would fall out, but he did his best to put up with it.
Every time his tears were about to fall. He’d remember one of Elody’s words and advice. That way, he’d regain his confidence and strove back up again. He’d be able to raise his head, relax his shoulders, and stare straight into his opponent’s eyes.
“Do not degrade yourself. You are the Duke of Cernois, a brilliant young man who loves and protects the people of the duchy.”
Despite being far away, Caville would sometimes hear Elody’s voice.
He felt as if they were together, even though the distance separated them. He wasn’t as lonely as he was back then.
He didn’t want anyone to belittle him. So Caville tried to keep himself from being ignored by engaging in daily training.
And before going to bed, he would pray earnestly for Elody to appear outside of his dreams.
“Your Grace, please take a rest. You’ll run out of energy at this rate.”
Despite Brien’s worries, Caville didn’t let go of his sword.
Caville devoted himself to keep training even when everyone else was resting.
He was younger than the others, so he felt a need to grow up and develop his skills.
Only then will he be able to go back to Elody.
Repeating the small battles, Caville trembled in his weaknesses.
When he saw the injured knights trying to escort him, his heart felt heavy.
The knights and soldiers of the Duke of Cernoir began to give a more favorable look to the Lord, who, at an early age, took the lead without being daunted.
The same could be said about the vassals who participated in the war.
“Don’t be so impatient. Your Grace is still young. After a few years, you’ll be a much better knight than you are now.”
Caville did not answer Brien’s words.
‘Is that true?’
Caville was suspicious.
No matter how much he thought about it, all he could see was his weak and useless self.
Whenever he thought of that, he’d desperately try to run to Elody and hide in her arms.
But Elody wasn’t there…
Nevertheless, from some point on, a burning desire began to spring up from deep inside his heart.
A desire to become powerful.
He wanted to be strong. Strong enough to protect those he cared about.
So Caville tried even harder.
He trained himself to become a better man than he is now.
But after a while, Caville began to hear weird voices.
‘Caville Cernoir…. ‘
It was a voice that called his name. At first, he thought it was just someone who whispered directly into his ear.
But neither Brien, Solar nor Ren, who were by his side, had ever spoken to him this close.
The contents of the speech, after calling out his name, were indescribably faint.
After a day or two of repeated hallucinations, Caville suddenly began to feel haunted by the voices. Furthermore, Ren’s mean words stimulated his fear.
“You must sleep with a blanket at night, My Lord. There’s a story about ghosts haunting the battlefield.” Ren said, mischievously.
Caville glared at him with unpleasant eyes.
“Don’t play tricks on the duke.”
Brien gave him a harsh scolding, and Ren lowered his head as if he was actually sorry.
“I’m sorry, My Lord… But the rumor is real.”
Caville had heard of it. The story of the soldiers and knights who died in the battle and appeared as ghosts.
Another rumor was that the Urtans killed the priests and mages and took away their mana, thus turning them into ghosts that haunted the enemy camp.
It was a false rumor that no one believed in, but it was still scary to think about at night.
If he had known this sooner, he would have brought the rabbit doll that he got for his birthday.
Do ghosts really exist?
But the auditory hallucination he heard in his ear did not sound like a ghost’s voice.
Rather, it was a strong, powerful voice.
Caville wanted to be strong.
He wanted to be a strong knight who was neither afraid of ghosts nor afraid of hearing odd voices.
As Ren’s words kept coming to his mind, he covered his body with a blanket.
He couldn’t sleep, but he still tried.
However, whenever he closed his eyes, the voice he heard would sound even clearer.
Even the night before, he could not hear the faintest part in his ears clearly unless he closed his eyes.
‘Caville Cernoir, do you want to have more power?’
Caville opened his eyes and instinctively grasped the brooch on his chest.
The sound came from the artifact, which Elody put on his chest.
For any errors and issues contact me through discord: https://discord.gg/Q3dStgu