Castell looked at Elizabeth and requested, “Your Majesty, we should prepare to return to the Royal Capital, as well now. Please begin packing your stuff.”
Elizabeth held up her cup of tea and looked to the south with longing. She let out a long sigh then chuckled and remarked, “How nostalgic. I haven’t been back in so long. Coming here has been the same as having a long vacation. Now that I need to return all of a sudden, I am somewhat reluctant.”
Castell looked at her with a serious look. He responded, “Your Majesty, national affairs are important.”
“I know, I know. But isn’t my vacation coming soon? Uhm, once I return this time and let everyone see my most beloved son, I just need to work for a few more years before I can take care of my son in peace. Seeing Nier truly gives me an odd feeling of intimacy.”
Castell smiled helplessly to himself, since he knew that Alice, who took a big hit a few days ago, might not have calmed down yet, because of this attitude of Her Majesty. This time, Her Majesty wasn’t going to hunt to relax and to entertain herself before focusing on work for another year. She was planning of going to playfully hunt, and then abdicate the throne to look after her son. But perhaps that is why Her Majesty has been really relaxed and happy recently.
It had been a long time since he saw Her Majesty’s relaxed and cheerful smile. Actually, he had not seen it after he turned sixteen. Perhaps Her Majesty didn’t realise how beautiful her smile was.
“However Castell, there’s still one thing I need to clear up.” Elizabeth looked at Castell. She placed her cup of tea down and asked in a serious tone, “How did you deal with the matter last time?”
“I am already investigating it. The merchant really did not recognise His Majesty. His Majesty did not have anything on him to show his identity at the time. He did not have an emblem or a flag. That is why he did not recognise him. I have scolded him for that…”
“That’s not what it’s about.”
Elizabeth cut off Castell with annoyance. She frowned without looking away from him and spoke in a reprimanding tone, “Are you still trying to hide it from me, Castell? You didn’t tell me about it? That horse carriage was transporting firearms, as well as metal for manufacturing firearms. What are you planning hiding that from me? I trusted you, and yet you dared to pull this under my watch? What has stolen your loyalty?”
“I dare not! Please do not suspect me, Your Majesty! I have never thought about doing anything that could harm you! You must trust me! From the moment you saved me, I decided I would give up everything for you! So I beg you, Your Majesty, please do not question my loyalty!”
Castell quickly dropped to his knees and looked up to speak in a shaky voice. He looked at Her Majesty as though he was going to cry. His body quaked with fear and despair. Castell was right. He wasn’t afraid of death, as he had gone through scarier things; however, he was afraid Her Majesty wouldn’t trust him anymore. He was afraid that his goddess would leave him. He considered Her Majesty to be the only source of warmth in this cold dark world. Her Majesty gave him a chance at life and the motivation to continue living.
He lived for Her Majesty. If she suspected him, then what meaning would there be left for him to live? Wouldn’t he be the same as the toy the nobles with twisted fetishes toyed with as he was back then? He became her favoured vassal, because of her. Should he lose credibility, wouldn’t he be the same as Luna?
Elizabeth watched him quake. She sighed, and then softened her tone, “So what exactly happened then? If you’ve scolded them, tell me what exactly happened. If you needed money, I’d reward you with some money. Why did you have to resort to that sort of method?”
Castell looked up at Elizabeth’s black eyes and his lips intensely trembled. His mind was blank as if it had been blasted empty. He wanted to say it. He desperately wanted to speak, but he couldn’t. He respected Her Majesty, and his worship for her is unwavering; but nonetheless, he had another thought on his mind.
If he spoke up about it, Alice would be done for.
He knew that the Empress was Alice’s everything. Alice and he have been colleagues for over a decade. He’s on great terms with her. Moreover, if he reported it, who would Her Majesty put in charge of the Valkyries? While the Valkyries are absolutely loyal, there were none who were as loyal as Alice.
Even Nier left the Valkyries for His Majesty, so who else could be trusted?
Elizabeth didn’t wait for his response. Instead, she interjected with annoyance. She continued, “Go to the back and grab some money in a bit then. Just let me know if you need money. I’ll put the matter aside for now, but I hope that I won’t see those things before me.”
Castell let out a breath of relief. Sinces she didn’t get to the bottom of it, it proved that the Empress still trusted him. His greatest treasure had not yet disappeared…
“But you won’t need to return with me this time.” The Empress stood up and walked over to the edge of the bed to sit down. She looked back at Castell with a hint of disappointment and criticism. She quietly said, “You stay here this time. You don’t need to come with me. Just Alice will do. You stay here and take care of Troy City properly.”
Castell looked at the Empress blankly. His legs which had just regained a bit of strength were glued to the ground again. His sight became hazy. He didn’t even know what to say next and even suspected what he just heard.
“I said you don’t need to return.” The Empress slowly undressed. While looking at Castell, she indifferently said, “Just stay here. Alice and I will return. There’s no point in you coming along this time. I don’t need anyone else to look after me, either. Just stay here to look after your goods and this city.”
“B-But, Your Majesty…”
“You heard what I said, Castell.”
The Empress picked up her sleepwear from the side to wear on then lay down her bed and rolled over. With her back facing Castell she coldly said, “Castell, since you heard what I said, don’t ask again. Castell, just as you punished that merchant, I can’t let you off scot-free, either. I’ll let you stay here to reflect on yourself. You can come back once the hunting event ends.”
“You can leave now. I’m sleeping now.”
Castell knelt on the ground feeling dumbstruck while staring at Elizabeth’s back. His heart ached as though a tsunami was tearing him up inside. He wanted to confess everything. He didn’t want anything else. All he wanted was to stay at Her Majesty’s side. All he had to do was tell her. But he couldn’t make a sound as if his voice had died from despair.
“Valkyries, take Castell out.”
The Empress ordered him to leave without asking him why he was still there. The Valkyries pushed the door open and politely hooked their arms under Castell’s to drag him out of Her Majesty’s room.
‘How long has it been?’
‘How long has it been since this last happened?’
‘Her Majesty said my name so coldly… How long has it been since she mentioned my name in that tone…? The last time she spoke that way, my life almost ended…’
‘Maybe my life is over now…’