Erna called the name of the sleeping person, but he remained still with his eyes closed. She approached Kalion with cautious steps. Despite her proximity, he did not stir. Wasn’t this a complete disqualification for a knight? Erna jested.
Of course, she was aware that Kalion was equally exhausted from committing all his magic to the pillars. In fact, he would be much more spent than the others because he was originally one of the pillars. Still, seeing him deep asleep despite her presence annoyed Erna. To be exact, she was a little upset that he wasn’t next to her when she regained consciousness. She reached out her hand to his face, wanting to tug at his cheek, and felt the prickle of his beard. Erna decided not to wake him and cupped his face instead.
Usually, Kalion kept himself neat and well-groomed. Even if they shared a bed for a few days, he never forgot to shave in the morning. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to bear himself. Judging by his current appearance, he seemed to have had to let go of his habits for the meantime. Not only has his beard grown out, but the skin around his eyes was dark and hollow and his lips were dry and chapped. Tired would be an understatement to describe him.
Erna cocked her head to the side and surveyed the room. On top of the artifacts she had brought back from the ruins was a mountain of papers. She looked at Kalion again and thought, you’ve been taking care of things yourself since I collapsed.
Over the past three months, the Grand Duchy of Hessenguard and the Council had been extremely busy. Among them, the busiest was Kalion. The work had increased tenfold, but the number of workers had halved. However, Kalion handled everything—not only paperwork, but also the Knights Templar and diplomatic issues—without ever uttering a single complaint.
“It must have been really difficult,” whispered Erna.
Everything that could possibly go wrong seemed to happen since Erna collapsed. First of all was the complete and utter destruction of the armies of the four kingdoms; it was no longer a stretch to use the term ‘annihilation’. As they were pushed back to the border, some died in the process, but surprisingly, many more survived. But surviving didn’t mean they were okay. Many of the injured sustained permanent scars and disabilities.
Erna didn’t particularly feel regretful for the fact. Nobody should feel sorry for a burglar who barged in with the intent to kill just because he was injured. What she was concerned about was Adelaide and Ruben, since they cause the most problems. If members of a royal family died, it could be a tedious diplomatic issue. Surprisingly, however, both survived. When asked what had happened, Orpé had told her to ask Kalion regarding it.
Erna climbed onto his lap and hugged him. Her weakened body ached in doing so, but Erna buried her face in his chest and draped her arms around his waist. I was hoping you’d do this when I woke up. She thought it would be like this when she opened her eyes, just like every morning in the couple’s bedroom. She was expecting a tight embrace from him. But why are you sleeping alone in a place like this?
Kalion slowly opened his eyes. Did he finally feel Erna’s presence? Despite his shabby appearance, his dark blue eyes shone. Erna stared at him, who looked befuddled, and smiled softly without saying a word. Contrary to her expectations, however, Kalion was far from surprised. He watched her intently, but didn’t say a word.
Erna also looked at him quietly at his unexpected inaction. Kalion, who had been staring at her for a long time, slowly raised his hand and tucked the stray strands of her hair behind her ear. His touch was very gentle.
Isn’t he surprised? Erna thought. When he saw me, she assumed he’d jump up and say, “When did you wake up?” When she was feeling embarrassed, Kalion spoke.
“It’s even worse today,” he muttered. Erna doubted her ears, questioning whether she had misheard Kalion. Kalion cupped her cheek with his hand. “It’s really…terrible,” he said.
“What?” Erna asked back, unable to restrain her confusion.
Kalion flinched. He shook his head and held her face in his palms as he sighed. Then he reached across and wrapped his arms around her waist as she sat on his lap. She could feel his heart hammering against her chest. He nuzzled the back of her neck and murmured, “Today… it really looks like you woke up. You’ve never felt so warm and your scent is so vivid. It’s not that I don’t like it… It’s harder to wake up…”
Erna realized Kalion had thought of her as an illusion all this time.