As the sky darkened, two figures arrived at the cottage.
“We’ve made it,” Kalion declared, dismounting his horse and assisting Erna down.
She gazed upon the charming two-story building, its clean white walls adorned with terraced windowsills filled with blooming plants, and a small orange roof. In front of the cottage lay a serene lake, reflecting the rising moon.
Kalion observed Erna’s expression, a hint of concern creasing his brow. Haldis was a prestigious resort in Hessenguard, known for its grand hotels and luxurious villas of the wealthy. Although this cottage was said to be owned by a nobleman, it lacked the ostentatiousness of the other properties they had passed, but its peaceful seclusion made it all the more desirable.
Erna’s sudden frown caused Kalion’s heart to skip a beat. He wondered if she preferred the grandeur of the other villas they had seen on their journey. Cedric, were he present, would have asked why the woman who never blinked an eye when she destroyed her kingdom was now frowning.
“You… ” Erna’s voice trailed off, her words cutting deep into Kalion’s heart.
“Why, why?” he thought, fearing she had wanted a grander and more beautiful place after all.
“Have you been to a place like this all by yourself? How can you have no conscience, human!” she exclaimed, shaking Kalion’s arm in disbelief.
“I could have come with you, but you didn’t even think to bring me! How could you?” she scolded.
“I apologize, I was busy in the capital and didn’t realize what a gem this place was. I should have told you,” Kalion admitted, chin lifted in regret.
He held Erna’s hand and led her inside the cottage, which had been meticulously prepared for their arrival. As they ascended to the second floor, Kalion showed her around, explaining the amenities. When they reached the bedroom in the center of the floor, a cool lake breeze flowed in, inviting them onto the spacious terrace. Though not flashy, it held all the necessary furnishings for their comfort.
“Wow!” Erna gasped, her eyes wide as she ran to the terrace and gazed out at the lake. The view from the second floor was even more stunning than she remembered.
Kalion approached, leaning close to her ear. “Take a bath and relax. I’ll whip up a simple dinner for us,” he said with a soft smile.
Erna’s eyes lit up with delight. “You?” she asked, surprised.
“Who else would it be?” Kalion chuckled, ruffling her hair playfully. “Now go on, relax.”
“Kalion!” Erna protested, her hair now a mess, but Kalion had already made his escape, fleeing down to the lower floor with a laugh.
* * *
Erna sighed, still rubbing her hair dry as she looked out the bathroom window at the shimmering lake. The villa was equipped with all the modern conveniences, including a luxurious bathtub.
“All I need to do is make a few adjustments to the temperature spell, and it will be perfect,” she mused to herself.
Exhausted from their journey, Erna collapsed onto the bed, sinking into the softness of freshly laundered sheets, still infused with Kalion’s scent.
She closed her eyes and let her hand drift over her head. Was this all just a dream? Had she really been clinging to Kalion the entire time? But no, she could feel his presence in her hand, comforting and real.
She didn’t need magic to keep him close, not when she could hold onto him with her own two hands. And so she held onto him, relishing the warmth of his body, the way he moved, and the way he made her feel.
“As I suspected,” she whispered with a smile, “the kind Kalion is the best.” She replayed the image of Kalion in her mind; the rough exterior that he showed to the world, though not unpleasant, couldn’t compare to the gentle and caring man that only she was privileged to see. The tender Kalion was the true essence of who he was, and she cherished this side of him that only she was privileged to witness.
As she was chuckling to herself, lost in her own thoughts, when the sweet aroma of a home-cooked meal wafted up to her. She realized Kalion was in the kitchen, whipping up dinner. The mansion was silent and empty, indicating that he was cooking solo.
Erna’s curiosity piqued, she stood and donned her sweater before making her way down to the kitchen. The scent grew stronger with each step, accompanied by the sizzling sounds of something being fried. When she reached the kitchen, Erna was in awe of the sight before her.
“What have we here?”
Her eyes widened as she took in the table full of ingredients, plates of prepared food, and Kalion himself, cooking away with skill and ease. The fact that he wasn’t just grilling, but actually preparing a meal, was surprising enough. But the real shock was how delicious it all looked.
There was a generous amount of cream in the mushroom soup, a beautifully toasted bread, juicy and flavorful meat, and stir-fried vegetables.
Yum, Erna thought, already imagining the taste.