Pascal swung his legs to the side of the bed as he sat up straight on its edge. He pushed against the comforter with his left hand while Kaede held onto his right arm. His bad leg trembled slightly as he stood up against the bedside. He shifted his body mass away from his recovering limbs, which caused his posture to tilt left. However, the young lord pushed too far as he swiveled to turn.
He almost lost his balance and fell back onto the bed. It was only thanks to his familiar that he did not.
“Ughhh. Pascal, you’re heavy.” Kaede complained as she struggled to hold onto his arm. Her awkward grip made it difficult for her to apply her meager strength, as the upper arm that she held onto was almost at the same height as the petite girl’s forehead.
This should be mindlessly simple yet somehow I am getting it wrong! Pascal scowled as he berated himself in thought.
He readjusted his balance and returned himself to stand upright once more. His right arm wrapped around his familiar’s head to rest against her far-side shoulder. It honestly didn’t give him much leverage, as Kaede was so short that her shoulders were essentially an armrest for him. Nevertheless, it was better than nothing as he limped to the bottom of the bed. There, he leaned his back against the pole of the four-poster bed as he straightened his uniform.
“Kaede, I think it would work better if you would just bring me a shoulder harness.” Pascal commented dryly. “I can enchant it with the Levitation spell to hold me up — just like what General Wiktor wore back in Nordkreuz after his leg was crushed.”
“You’re not supposed to cast any spells this week, remember?” Kaede reminded him of the healers’ orders. “It could further strain and damage your nerves while they’re still recovering.”
After all, a mage’s nervous system was their primary means of routing mana and shaping magic. Therefore, it made sense that Pascal — whose arms and legs had been seriously damaged — should hold back on spellcasting in the interim.
“I’ll ask about it later, if someone else could help make a levitation harness for you. But in the meantime, please just hold on to me.” Kaede forced a smile to her lips as she spoke in a soft, encouraging voice.
Nevertheless, the girl was not able to completely hide her grimace as she pressed one hand against the side of her waist. Kaede was only halfway through her menstrual period. And although her stomach cramps lessened over time, it was still a noticeable source of discomfort for her throughout the week.
“Perceval said he was busy this morning. However, you should still have your morning walk.” Kaede added. “Not only is it important for your physical recovery. It also helps set a positive mood for the day.”
Pascal sighed as he hadn’t felt ‘positive’ ever since he woke up after the Battle of Glywysing. Not even Kaede’s joy after being recognized and promoted helped brighten his day. The young lord couldn’t fathom how some ‘clear air and sunlight’ could help raise his spirits as Perceval claimed. Nevertheless, Pascal did want to get better and return to work as soon as possible. Loafing around indoors certainly wasn’t going to help bring about that outcome.
“Alright.” He acquiesced. “Just make sure you hold steady as we leave the castle. The stairs down are rather steep.”
“Of course I’ll keep you steady.” Kaede nodded as she pumped one of her small fists. Her large, rose-quartz eyes filled with determination. Though Pascal had a nagging feeling that she was trying to convince herself as much as him.
The Landgrave wrapped his recovering right arm around her neck once more and limped out of the room. He had to take short steps with his right leg as it still lacked the strength to bear his full weight for more than a second at a time.
Things weren’t as bad as three days ago when his blindfold was first taken off. Back then, his right leg would crumble as soon as his entire body mass settled upon it without support. However, what improvements he did observe in his physical condition came at a snail’s pace that was far too slow for him. It made Pascal wonder just how long it would take before he could walk and run like before… IF he would ever walk and run like before.
Pascal scanned the hallway with his good eye as they left the room. He was still getting used to wearing an eyepatch and having zero peripheral vision to his right. It felt weird to sense Kaede walking adjacent to him, yet his eyesight couldn’t register her at all unless he turned his entire head. This created an uncomfortably wide ‘blind spot’ for a man who had trained himself to stay alert to his surroundings at all times.
And whatever results from my legs, my eyes are certainly not going to recover. The young man scowled.
Then, just as Pascal brooded about his pessimistic recovery, he lost focus on his steps. He forgot to stiffen his right leg before shifting his weight over. The limb wobbled beneath him and almost sent him tumbling into one of the small statues that decorated the guest hallway.
Once again, it was his familiar that stopped him from doing so. Kaede pressed one of her thin arms against Pascal’s chest in a struggle to hold him upright. It gave him the necessary time to readjust his balance and stand back straight. Nevertheless, even a short moment made the short girl exhale with exertion.
It was a reminder just how weak Kaede really was in her base condition — when she wasn’t using his magic to boost her physical attributes. Between her meager strength and her lack of height, she made for a rather poor physical attendant to help with his recovery.
“You have to focus whenever you put weight on your right leg.” Kaede reminded him in her wispy voice. “Remember what Perceval said? After all the Regeneration spells, your right leg is almost a new limb. It doesn’t have any of the muscle memory that you previously established over years of use. So you need to concentrate on its muscles until you re-establish that.”
“Yes, Mother.” Pascal retorted in a sarcastic voice before his tone grew more terse: “I do not need another nagging lecture.”
The two of them made it to a door that connected the guest hallway to one of the citadel’s turrets. Kaede had to use both of her hands to push open the heavy, mahogany door before they could go inside. The stone turret was considerably colder than the guest wing, as the cross-shaped arrow slits were not covered and exposed the stairway to the frosty air outside.
A steep, spiral staircase with tall, stone steps descended down to the castle wing’s side entrance. The turns were counterclockwise as they went downwards, which left the widest steps to the right where they hugged the outer walls of the stairway.
“Here, let me hold onto your left arm while you brace against the wall with your right.” Kaede commented as she ducked under Pascal’s arm and moved to his left side.
Pascal did as she suggested before he took his first step down the stairs. He had to be careful to always use his left leg to step down first before bringing along his right. It took him two minutes to move down just one floor as he had to take every step with care. Whereas before, he could have quickly shuffled down the stairs in twenty seconds without even paying attention to where he was going.
How did something as simple as walking become so complicated? Pascal griped in his thoughts as he sighed.
Refusing to leave without any improvements, Pascal decided to challenge himself as he quickened his steps. Instead of halting his momentum with each step down and establishing a solid footing, he began to leverage his movement — stepping out with his left leg as soon as his right foot caught up.
“Pascal, wait… slow down!” Kaede cautioned as she noticed his increased pace.
Nevertheless, Pascal pushed forward for several more steps. Then he reached out with his left before his right leg had achieved a solid footing. His right limb stiffened prematurely and rammed into the stone step with far more force than necessary. Pain shot up his joints as his still-recovering limb wobbled and gave way beneath him.
Pascal lurched forward as his mind shouted in warning. He was about to fall down the steep stairs and Kaede was in no place to stop him. The young man reached out and braced his right arm against the outer wall while tilting his entire body in that direction. His biceps flared in pain, but he was at last able to arrest his downward momentum before he reached the point of no return.
I could have tumbled down the rest of the stairs and seriously injured myself! The Landgrave realized as he expelled a breath that he had been inadvertently holding.
“Pascal!” His familiar berated as she rushed in front of him and helped push his slanted body back upright. “Don’t rush down the stairs! That was dangerous!”
“Shut up.” Pascal retorted in frustration. “That would have been fine if you had just kept up with me!”
Kaede’s lips twitched as she stared at him with an annoyed look. Pascal could feel her irritation rise from their empathic bond. Yet, as the seconds passed by in silence, her retort never came. Instead, Kaede had suppressed her initial reaction with an inward, bitter frown — her frustration with how poorly she performed at the task grew beneath his blame.
It left Pascal with a growing sense of guilt as he regretted leveling such an unfair accusation. Yes, he was technically correct when he pointed out it was her who fell behind. However, he also knew that she was only trying to get him to slow down, while he was the one actively taking risks.
It’s just that he was tired of making so little progress in his recovery. It had literally taken him less time to sort out the military logistics of the entire Empire of Rhin-Lotharingie!
I just want to walk normally again! Is that so much to ask!?
“Let us just continue.” Pascal gruffly added with an audible sigh. He refocused his efforts on taking his next step down, and another, and another.
It took them a total of five minutes before they reached the first floor landing. Kaede pushed open the steel-reinforced door that led to the castle’s courtyard, where one last set of stairs awaited them. The wooden platform they stood on was designed to be disassembled or burnt in the event of a siege — which would prevent attackers from easily using the citadel’s side entrances.
The young lord took a deep breath of the cold, wintry morning air. He looked up to the brilliant blue skies that were partially obscured by clouds. It was a fair weathered day, certainly as good as any to get some physical exercise. Had it not been for his injuries, he might have been interested in restarting his daily exercise regime, which had fallen by the wayside ever since he left Nordkreuz.
Sword practice and a five kilopace run is certainly beyond me at this state.
Pascal frowned as he stiffened his right arm and tightened his right fist. His muscles trembled under stress once again before he relaxed. He might be able to grip utensils properly now, but thrusting an estoc or swinging his swordstaff was still far beyond him.
The young Landgrave sighed once more — it was fast becoming a new habit for him — as he descended down the steep stairs. His process was as methodical as before, with his left leg stepping out first each time to bear the burden of his weight. However, the final step was extraordinarily high, which forced his right leg to carry him for much longer as he slowly lowered himself. His bad leg wobbled during the middle of it and he immediately lost his balance and fell towards the stone-paved courtyard.
“Pascal!” Kaede cried out in surprise as she was in the midst of a step down and lost her footing as well. Rather than holding onto him as his pillar of support, she ended up falling with him onto the hard ground.
Pascal grimaced as he at least managed to twist his body right and land against his good, left arm. His side would no doubt bear a heavy bruise. But the thick, uniform jacket at least protected it from any scrapes.
“Kaede, you’re useless at this!” The young man snapped as he tore his arm away from her and sat back upright.
Pascal barely noticed his familiar flinch. Nor did he pay attention to the sharp, stinging pain that carried over their empathic bond. His frustration had reached a boiling point and he had stopped paying attention to anything else. He had criticized her on instinct and without a second thought, because his only other choice of thought was to reflect upon just how worthless he felt as a man right now.
“And this is just plain ridiculous! How am I supposed to ‘recover’ when I cannot even walk properly!?”
“It’s only been three days.” Kaede tried to look normal as she stood back up, though the lingering hurt from his earlier statement continued to bubble across their bond. The familiar brushed off the dirt from her white pseudo-uniform before offering Pascal a hand. “You’re expecting too much of your body to recover in such a short period.”
The Samaran girl pulled on his right arm as Pascal knelt on his left leg. Even standing back up had become a wobbly, insecure affair. His familiar then led him to a large rock at the edge of the stone-paved courtyard. There, he sat down beneath one of the barren apple trees to take a break.
“Three days is not short.” Pascal complained. “Wars have been won or lost in the span of three crucial days. And I have learned to cast professional grade spells in less than that time.”
Of course, everyone had always been astonished at how quickly he managed to learn spells. But three days was still plenty of time for something as simple as walking.
“Yes, well… I’ve never heard of a genius in physical rehabilitation.” Kaede commented with a dour look. “You’re already putting a lot more weight on your legs today than when you were with Perceval. Since unlike me, he’s actually tall enough to help you bear weight.” She added with exasperation in her own voice. “And sorry for being careless back there. I should have stood steady until you finished stepping down completely.”
No. You should not take what I said seriously. Pascal thought guiltily as he looked back to the stairs. The last step was high enough that Kaede, with her short height, would have had trouble helping him regardless.
Nevertheless, he couldn’t bring himself to say it out loud. He couldn’t bring himself to acknowledge how useless he felt right now, or how dependent he was on others’ help.
Pascal had always prided himself in his independence. He had always been able to do just about anything he wanted, either through his intellect and knowledge, or his magical affinity and family resources. Yet right now, the young man couldn’t even walk properly — something even the most impoverished, uneducated peasant could take for granted.
I am worse than a toddler right now. A harsh tone ran through his thoughts.
Realistically speaking, it would be better for Pascal to ask for one of the castle’s male servants to assist him. However, the young lord couldn’t bear the thought of relying on a stranger just to walk. Perceval had at least been a friend as well as a healer. Meanwhile, Kaede was his familiar, which made it only natural for her to help him. But the same cannot be said of others.
“This must be the Holy Father’s punishment for killing so many of my own men.” The Landgrave then muttered out loud, albeit barely, as he reflected upon just how pitiable he must look right now.
“Don’t say that.” Kaede’s rebuttal came immediately this time. “It’s a miracle that you survived. Sure, you made some mistakes.” The Samaran girl frowned as though she fully recognized how poorly the word ‘mistake’ captured the magnitude of his failure. “But you shouldn’t be harsh on yourself just because you miscast one spell in a desperate circumstance.”
“One spell that killed hundreds of my own men and would leave me a cripple for life. I would certainly classify that as more than just ‘some mistake’.” Pascal scolded, though more at himself than at her. “What would my father in heaven think now, to see that he raised a son who butchers his own allies alongside his enemies?”
Pascal couldn’t help think back to yesterday evening, when Perceval helped him walk back through the castle’s hallways and they overheard several soldiers talking:
“How could you not feel a chill when he walks by you? My brother was there, in the aftermath of Glywysing. He told me there was nothing remaining on the land where the Blighted Dusklord had fought — no buildings, no trees, not even grass! That man destroyed everything! It’s like one of those stories they tell you in Church about the Dragon-Demon Wars. Makes you wonder if our future Emperor Consort has some fiendish blood in him like that damned dhampir witch from Weichsel!”
Needless to say, the soldiers’ new nickname for him had stung quite harshly. His late father, the Marshal of Weichsel, had been loved by the men. Yet here was the prodigal son, still on his first major campaign and already seen as a commander who recklessly sacrificed his own troops.
“Pascal, you know as well as I do that accidental friendly fire is a natural part of warfare, be it from miscommunications, unfamiliar weapons, or just the fog of war.” Kaede pointed out. “It was a costly mistake — there’s no doubt about that. But it does nobody any good for you to just ruminate about it.”
“What do you know–!?” Pascal had blurted out before he managed to stop himself. The painful, knowing look from his familiar reminded him of how Kaede herself went through the guilt of accidentally hitting someone on the same side during the Battle of Nordkreuz.
The difference was that Kaede never killed any allies. In fact, according to Major Karen, Kaede saved her life. Meanwhile, Pascal knew that hundreds of families would hear the news of how their future Emperor Consort had callously sacrificed the lives of their husbands and sons.
“I’m just trying to stop your mental bleeding.” Kaede consoled as she laid a gentle arm against his back. “I know it’s painful. But it wasn’t intentional on your part. You would honor their sacrifices far more by seeing that their families are well provided for. And by taking the lesson to heart — to return peace to the land without relying on such means again.”
She’s right about that part. Pascal admitted with another sigh. Empty condolences mean nothing. I should at least put my money where my mouth is.
However, in the meantime, he still had a walk to finish before he could return to his desk and draft papers.
“Let us resume.” Pascal stated as he stood up unsteadily from the rock. “I have rested long enough.”
Kaede merely smiled and nodded as she rose back up and held onto his right arm once more. Perhaps she was hoping that returning to his physical rehabilitation would serve as an effective distraction. However, the reality was that Pascal could not stop his mind from thinking about the faces he saw that day — faces whose death he was responsible for.
The young lord remembered how his Galloglaich bodyguards counter-charged the enemy to buy time for his spell. The ensuing explosion, which wiped out thousands of men and turned kilopaces of ground into scorched wasteland, would have instantly vaporized the three squads who heroically defended his position. Pascal doubted even a speck of dust remained of their bodies in the aftermath. Those men would never even receive a proper burial, let alone…
The Landgrave almost stumbled again as his foot stepped off the stone-paved courtyard and onto a pebbled path. Though this time, Kaede held onto his arm tightly and ensured he didn’t overbalance.
“You’re thinking about that again, aren’t you?” Kaede immediately realized that Pascal was only half-heartedly paying attention to his movements.
“It is difficult not to.” The Landgrave merely responded.
“Would you please focus then?” Kaede remarked. “One bad fall and you could be undoing days of progress.”
“What measly progress I have made.” Pascal answered in bitter sarcasm.
“Could you stop thinking like that?” The Samaran girl’s tone was becoming annoyed. “I just told you that you’ve already made notable progress. Physical rehabilitation is not a quick task with instant results. Injuries as bad as yours can take weeks, even months to fully recover from. What is important is that you stay consistent and focus on your movements.”
“Easy for you to say. You are not the cripple here.” Pascal retorted as he stumbled slightly. His right leg was starting to drag as he felt the fatigue accumulate after only a short walk.
Nevertheless, the young man bore with it as they continued on. It took them five more minutes before Pascal made it through Roazhon Castle’s riverside sally port. A small outcropping of land between the northwestern walls and the Hafren River had been developed into the palace gardens. There were no blooming flowers due to the winter season. Though the small lily ponds and marble statues of Avorica’s past rulers made for a pleasant environment to accompany the natural, riverside scenery.
The Hafren was a wide river over three hundred paces across. Much of the opposing riverbank was lined by Ceredigion’s yew and oak forests. A long bridge had been constructed from a gatehouse just west of Roazhon Castle to the far banks. The structure was largely built from stone, though it had a pair of wooden drawbridges near the center which could be lifted to allow for the passage of ships.
Pascal walked at a slow pace as he watched as a crew of laborers and engineers worked to rebuild the drawbridges. They had likely been burnt by the Avoricans during the siege to cut off access from the western banks. It showed that before Sylviane returned with her army, the Caliphate’s forces had achieved a complete encirclement of the city. Yet, the wooden buildings of the small town on the far banks remained standing, untouched by the ravages of war.
This is nothing like what the Church claimed. Pascal couldn’t help thinking as he returned his eyes to the road before his feet.
The Trinitian Church had always painted the Cataliyan infidels as savage creatures, who raped women and destroyed homes wherever they went. Even the murals of the Black Dragon Castle of Weichsel which depicted the founder, King Ferdinand’s 1st Crusade, had shown the Cataliyans as black and brown men with features that seemed almost demonic.
Sure, the young lord knew that propaganda played a major role in both religious and national narratives. Art was just one of many ways through which people could be ‘trained’ to instinctively hate everything the other side stands for without thinking. However, even the Imperium’s professional soldiers routinely burned down enemy villages and towns when they retreated. After all, war was not just a military conflict, but also an economic one. And while the Trinitian Church decried murder, especially of fellow Trinitians, as a sin, the same did not apply to destroying their homes and livelihoods and leaving them to starve.
Therefore, it rather surprised Pascal to see the settlements outside Roazhon lay unscathed in the aftermath of a siege, however short it might have been. Perceval even mentioned yesterday that he heard the residents who stayed behind in the local villages remained unharmed. Meanwhile, those who fled were already returning in droves. Many were surprised to find their homes unmolested and even their seed stock untouched — which greatly reduced any concerns of famine next year.
Was this General Salim so innocent to the ways of war, or was he simply an honorable individual and excellent logistician? Pascal wondered as he tried to take his mind off the growing ache in his right leg.
It made him wonder if historians with more nuanced narratives might even view Salim as the better man, or at least better than someone who killed their own soldiers like him.
Regardless, the Landgrave never had a chance to meet his enemy. And what little he knew largely came from the expansive knowledge of Major Hans Ostergalen, his capable intelligence officer. However, judging from the information he had read regarding the Caliphate’s disorganized retreat from Roazhon, Pascal could also deduce that Salim was most likely dead. After all, a commander whose attention to detail impressed even him could not have led such a sloppy retreat.
With Kaede’s assistance, the young lord finally reached the river. The two of them walked onto a stone platform that had been built at the water’s edge and sat down upon a marble bench facing the river. Pascal clenched his jaw as he refused to groan while a burning ache spread throughout his right leg. He straightened and allowed it to rest while Kaede knelt down beside him to give his muscles a massage.
Perceval had shown her two days ago on how to give a proper leg massage. And Kaede had been kneading Pascal’s muscles every night since. Nevertheless, the familiar wasn’t particularly good at it, as she rather lacked the strong fingers and grip necessary to knead knotted muscles.
“Have you considered using the Elemental Body of Earth rune?” Pascal commented. It was one of the eight spells in Pascal’s standard defensive array, which he also loaded into the familiar runes inscribed onto Kaede’s arms.
“No. I don’t want to accidentally crush your legs.” Kaede remarked as she moved her hands from his calves up to his thighs. “That spell gives far too much strength for me to apply with finesse. It’s like going from little girl to Olympic weightlifter in the blink of an eye. I realize that my hands are never going to make me a good masseuse. But it’s better than nothing, right?”
Pascal knew he should be grateful that she was even willing to touch his thighs. Kaede was rather prudish after all. However, given the current mood of his mental state, it was difficult to feel thankful for anything.
The familiar continued for several minutes before she stopped to rest her hands. She then left him for a moment as she departed for the nearby glass pavilion. Her small hands held onto a bucket full of rocks that they had gathered yesterday as she returned.
“Here you go.” Kaede spoke with an encouraging smile once more as she laid the bucket at his feet. “Time to start tossing.”
As someone who grew up beside Cross Lake, Pascal had been a fan of skipping rocks ever since he was a kid. Though the sudden movement required to throw a stone quickly was beyond his arm muscles at the moment, Perceval had encouraged him to start chucking rocks into the nearby water as practice.
Pascal reached down to take a palm-sized stone into his right hand. He twisted his hips and raised it up behind him before tossing it in an overhead arc. His right arm still ached from the strain of his almost-accident on the stairs. A sudden, flaring pain from his muscles made him release the rock prematurely. It fell onto the edge of the platform, just a pace in front of him, before skidding into the water.
That was worse than pathetic. He scowled.
“Try not to rotate your shoulders too much yet and just focus on your arms.” Kaede suggested.
“And how am I supposed to get better if I do not use them!?” Pascal replied scathingly. “I mean this is ridiculous! I cannot walk straight. I cannot balance properly. I get fatigued after a mere short walk. And I cannot even throw a stupid rock, which I have been doing since I was three!”
“I know how frustrating it must feel–” Kaede spoke in a sympathetic tone before Pascal cut her off.
“You do, do you? You think you know how it feels to not even be able to perform the most basic of actions?” He challenged before his frustrations finally boiled over to lash out. “You basically lost your entire arm during the Battle of Gwilen River. Yet within a few days, you were using it again like it had only been a minor inconvenience. So stop pretending like you know what I am going through right now!”
A trickle of regret had entered Pascal’s mind even before he finished speaking. The young lord watched as his familiar took on a sad, pained countenance as she faced him from the riverfront. The genuine, sympathetic care that had filled their empathic bond darkened as a hurt, upsetting sense emerged from Kaede’s end.
Once again, the familiar tried to suppress her reactionary anger. Yet, this only transformed it into a feeling of self-incrimination. Meanwhile, the girl still had a hand pressed against the side of her abdomen, as the period cramps that Kaede hated had yet to completely subside.
“I’m sorry.” Kaede spoke with trembling lips. “I’m only trying to help.”
“I do not need your attempt at self-gratification right now!” Pascal retorted before he could even stop himself. He could almost feel the painful reverberations in their bond as his accusations slammed into her at full speed.
I really am the worst. He thought as he felt a cold, constriction around his chest.
The young man looked away as even his own conscience was berating him for being a terrible person. He knew perfectly well that Kaede would prefer to be sitting in bed with a hot water bag pressed against her midriff right now. The only reason she was outside in the cold with him was because she wanted to help him recover faster. Yet, all he had expressed in return this morning were ingratitude and blame.
— It felt like his emotional responses had become a runaway cart that he could no longer control.
The Landgrave heard a familiar voice behind him. He was still turning around to face the newcomer when a velvet glove slapped him across the cheek.
“Get a hold of yourself!” Sylviane fumed as she stood in front of his eyes with a fur-lined purple cape wrapped around her shoulders and dress. She held up her offending left hand menacingly in midair, while her right grasped a picnic basket.
“Sylv.” Pascal commented without any familiarity or warmth in his voice. He rubbed his cheek with a sense of complete detachment as his senses remained dull on the right side of his face.
“What are you doing out here?”
“I thought I’d take a break from my meetings and bring you something warm as a snack and company.” The Princess stared at him with an angry gaze. “I didn’t think I’d find you here verbally abusing the girl who saved your life!”
Pascal lowered his gaze to the ground as Sylviane made him realize that he was even worse than ‘the worst’. His mood had sunk so low that he couldn’t even look at Kaede to apologize right now.
“You should not have.” The young man responded in a low voice. “Even I do not like my company right now.”
Sylviane’s expression softened as her irritation towards him transformed into sympathy.
“No. I should not. But I wanted to.” The Princess commented as she walked around the bench and sat down next to him. “Just as you did not need to spend your time with me when I was depressed and in a terrible state. But you did so anyway. Because we’re family.”
“No.” Pascal countered plainly. “I did so because you could not afford to waste more time.”
“Pascal…” Sylviane’s lips twitched with a slightly hurt look in her eyes. She then took a deep sigh and was about to say something else before she suddenly stopped.
The young lord recognized the signs of a private, telepathic conversation taking place before him. But for once, he didn’t even feel the slightest curiosity over what they were saying about him. Nevertheless, the Princess’ side conversation also finished as quickly as it began.
“Pascal, I understand what you’re going through right now.”
The young man was about to retort when his fiancée raised a gloved hand to stop him.
“Well, I don’t completely understand, since every case of depression is somewhat different. But I do have a general sense.” She insisted as her wisteria eyes stared straight into his turquoise gaze. “You feel terrible over your big mistake. You feel worthless with your inability to make up for it. And the battered remnants of your pride want nothing more than to push everyone away until you could somehow undo it all, even though you already know it’s impossible.”
Pascal blinked in surprise as a nagging voice climbed atop the mountain of guilt in his mind and spoke: She’s not wrong.
He knew Sylviane always had a way with words. And if he was being honest with himself, that was more or less what he felt right now. It was why every time one of his muscles failed him, it only further reminded him of his colossal failure and the loathing he felt towards his own misdeed.
“But being left alone is exactly the opposite of what you need right now. You knew this even when I was going through the same!” Sylviane continued as she forced a smile to her lips as her eyes glistened. “So stop building walls that do nothing except cast more gloomy shadows upon yourself. Kaede did not bring you outside only for you to shut your mind in a mental cave! We’re not here to judge you or to pity you. All we want is for you to open the doors and let us in, let us help you!”
“I am sorry, Kaede. Please do not take anything unkind I say seriously this week.” Pascal apologized five minutes later as the three of them sat comfortably in each others’ company on the marble bench.
“It’s nothing. I know you didn’t mean it.” The Samaran girl answered in her kind, wispy voice. “I had a sense of what was troubling you. But… I just lack the eloquence Elder Sister has.”
“Well, you two certainly make a better combination than me and Cecylia did.” Pascal thought back to his attempts to bring Sylviane around when she was in a post-hypomania depression.
“And just like when you helped me, we’ll help you work through it this time, together.” Sylviane replied with a kind smile. “And sorry for getting physical.”
“No, I needed that.” Pascal remarked flatly before rubbing both of his cheeks with his fingers. The sensations were noticeably duller on the right side of his face compared to his left. “Just… keep to my right cheek in the future.”
“Is it that bad?” Sylviane quickly caught on before she added: “keep in mind that your cells are still healing. I’m sure it’ll still get better.”
“Though probably not the same as before.” Pascal sighed again.
Even Sylviane wasn’t sure how to respond for a moment after that. The three of them simply stood still before Pascal picked up a smaller rock and tossed it into the water.
“Elder Sister, I think it would be best if Pascal started doing some of the army’s reorganization work, instead of being focused entirely on his recovery.” Kaede brought up next. “It’s too easy to be pessimistic when all his mind is focused on is the past and the present problems. We both know that he is good at it. And this’ll give his mind something productive to focus on, all while helping him return to his normal schedule.”
She really does know me inside and out. Pascal thought.
“Yes, that’s a good idea.” Sylviane nodded in agreement. “General Macdonald has been focused on that since our return to Roazhon. But between integrating communications with General Caradoc’s Army of Ceredigion, absorbing the Migrating Trees into the command hierarchy, and dealing with the supplies and prisoners that we’ve captured from the Caliphate, he’s had his hands more than full. I’m sure that he’ll be happy to have someone else to help.”
The Princess nodded again with a smile that was thankful and reassuring. However, Kaede continued to look concerned, which hinted to Pascal that there was something that Sylviane was concealing. His guess would be that some of the Lotharin leadership also took issue with what he did at Glywysing.
I guess I will find out. Pascal thought as he opted for a simple response. “Of course I will help.”
In the meantime, he watched Kaede pick up the picnic basket Sylviane had brought and placed it on her lap. She opened the wicker basket and pulled back several layers of quilt which served as insulation. Packed within were three glass jars filled with some kind of chowder soup. The familiar passed one of them to Pascal along with a cloth napkin and spoon.
The soup was still steaming hot as she helped him open it. It also smelled faintly of alcohol which surprised him.
“Sorry, they don’t have beer here in Avorica.” Sylviane commented as she referenced Pascal’s favorite beer cheese soup. “I recommended the chef try adding a bit of honey mead to yours. She was rather outraged by the request at first. But honestly, I don’t think it came out badly.”
Pascal tried a spoonful before his face transformed into a frowning scowl. “It is not unpleasant. But it definitely tastes weird. Fermented malt and honey are simply not the same.”
It reminded him of the days when he and the young princess played around on the Nordkreuz estate, and Sylviane had attempted to make a simple pound cake. However, when she couldn’t find any fresh eggs, she decided to substitute milk and butter for it instead. Needless to say, the results were not optimal.
Sylviane had many talents. A sense for cooking ingredients was certainly not one of them.
Still, I guess it is the thought that counts. He reminded himself as he continued to imbibe the strange, seafood-mead chowder.
Meanwhile, Kaede raised her entire jar to her lips and began to drink straight from it. This brought an instant response from the Princess:
The familiar put down the vessel as though she was a child caught with the honey jar. She blinked several times before taking on a sheepish look. “Sorry. Old habit.”
Pascal couldn’t help but feel a tug on the corner of his lips. His familiar’s eating habits may not often be appropriate in public. But in a private setting, the petite girl’s willingness to show her enjoyment did have a certain cute charm to it.
The Landgrave’s gloomy depression hasn’t subsided by a longshot. But for the first time since he woke up after the Battle of Glywysing, he felt like he could see a few rays of the sun reaching him. Things were starting to get better for once, instead of growing worse.
And this time, Pascal felt genuine gratitude for the people who helped save his life, especially the two girls who showed such care for him.Author's Comment
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