In the days that ensued, they reveled in the exquisite beauty of the Haldis region. They spent their days fishing and strolling amidst the stunning landscape, while their nights were illuminated by a celestial blanket of twinkling stars. As the sun set, they would sit by the tranquil lake, where Kalion would expertly grill their catch of the day, skewered with sweet potatoes and corn. Erna would always devour the most luscious ones, despite the inevitable scorching of her tongue, which prompted her to frantically seek water.
A mutual agreement to refrain from discussing work led to them delving into more personal topics, revealing that there were still many unknown facets to their significant other. When the clamor of conversation eventually subsided, and the stars shone brighter in the inky sky, Erna brewed tea she had purchased from the shop. Although it was the height of summer, the night air by the lakeside was chilly, so they snuggled under light blankets and savored the warm brew.
After savoring the tea, Erna embraced Kalion to ward off the frosty air that penetrated their covers. The mellifluous melody of the forest’s bird song, resonating under the light of the moon and stars, lulled Erna into a trance, causing her eyes to droop before she succumbed to slumber.
“Erna, it’s time for you to rest,” Kalion urged softly.
Erna’s response was a mumbled plea for him to take her away, and she snuggled deeper into his embrace, eliciting a faint smile from Kalion. Seeing Erna in this vulnerable state was a rare sight for him, even in the Grand Duchy. Though she occasionally threw tantrums at Orphe, she always remained in control, always thorough, and only joked within the confines of her position as the grand duke.
Kalion felt a deep sense of contentment knowing that Erna was willing to give up everything and love him unconditionally. It was a love that he cherished, but he also knew that anyone who saw them might think he was getting the better end of the deal.
As he held Erna, who had fallen asleep in his arms, he thought back to the time when he had been poisoned and collapsed. Despite the doctors’ warnings, Erna had stubbornly nursed him back to health, feeding him water and medicine. The bitterness of the poison had been overwhelming, but instead of regret, Erna had shown him compassion and understanding, becoming his rock of support during his time of need.
“She does so much for me,” Kalion thought as he gazed down at Erna’s peaceful sleeping face. “I owe my life to her.”
Kalion covered the dying embers with his foot, extinguishing the last of the campfire’s warmth. It was time to rest now. With Erna in his arms, he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep, grateful for the love that they shared.
* * *
On a sweltering day, Kalion and Erna sought relief in the cool waters of the lake. However, it quickly became apparent that Erna was not a confident swimmer, and clung to Kalion’s arm with a death grip, trembling with fear. Kalion comforted her with soothing words, promising that he would never let her go, and patiently guided her through the basics of swimming.
At first, Erna’s trepidation was palpable, but as she watched Kalion venture out to deeper waters, leaving her to practice in the shallows, she seized the opportunity to cast a secret spell. Hidden from Kalion’s view, she drew a small symbol in the water, and with a flick of her wrist, cast a charm on herself to keep afloat.
With newfound confidence, Erna pretended to swim happily, approaching Kalion from behind and pressing her back against him. “Are you happy to leave me alone?” she teased, enjoying the element of surprise. Kalion was taken aback by the sudden attack, and coughed a few times before a grin lit up his face.
“So, you’re coming out like this….” he murmured, his eyes alight with amusement. In that moment, Erna knew she had to flee.
“Aaaaah!” she screamed, thrashing wildly as she swam for her life. She knew that if Kalion caught her, she would undoubtedly swallow a mouthful of water. But Kalion was quick to follow her lead, chasing her through the water with a playful glint in his eye.
“Erna! Hey!” he called out, but she pretended not to hear him, expertly evading his attempts to catch her.
“…The spell has disappeared,” Kalion muttered to himself, noticing that the magic that had once supported Erna from underneath had vanished without a trace. Yet, to his surprise, Erna continued to swim effortlessly, darting through the lake with newfound grace.
Kalion realized, with a mixture of pride and amusement, that Erna had secretly taught herself to swim.