43 Chapter 42: The World Tree (2)

After finishing my tasks, I returned home and Ner greeted me.

"You're back?"

"..."

Just by this alone, I felt a sense of stability I hadn't felt in the past.

She may not realize how much this simple greeting helps me.

Clearly, as Hyung said, it seems I needed someone to support me.

"I'm back."

The weariness of the day faded and I finally felt like I could truly rest.

While our relationship wasn't quite that of a married couple, it felt closer than mere friendship.

"Have you eaten?"

I asked Ner. I was busy preparing for an expedition today, so we didn't get to eat together.

Fortunately, Ner nodded and replied,

"I have."

"That's good. With whom?"

"...With Arwin-nim."

"..."

Hearing the unexpected name, I quietly nodded.

It felt more real that another figure was slowly entering our lives.

This married life with Ner wasn't long, but I had just started to get used to it.

The approach of another significant change wasn't very comfortable.

"…Alright. Let's go to bed once I wash up."

Finding nothing else to say, I wrapped up our conversation.

"We have an expedition soon after all."

.

.

.

.

Naturally, we lay on the same bed.

This time too, I took off my shirt.

If Ner really disliked it, I would wear it, but otherwise, I wanted to rest comfortably.

Fortunately, ever since we had slept close together on the narrow bed at the campsite, Ner hadn't asked me to put it back on.

She seemed to have vaguely understood the importance of my rest and respected it.

I put out the lantern with a pinch of my fingers.

-Click

With that, darkness descended in the room.

Both Ner and I closed our eyes on the bed without a word.

Although we felt closer, there still was an undeniable distance between us.

That distance felt a bit more stretched ever since the fact that Arwin would be intervening became clear.

"...Berg?"

In the darkness, Ner whispered.

It had been a while since she had spoken to me in bed.

"Yes."

"So, what's going to happen?"

"About what?"

"...The expedition... You mentioned it."

I took a deep breath, collecting my thoughts.

Indeed, my day had been so busy that I had forgotten to explain it to her.

"We'll leave as soon as we're ready. The elves are in a hurry too. I think we might depart the day after tomorrow."

"...I see."

"..."

A momentary silence followed.

Just as I thought the conversation was over, Ner sought me out from the darkness again.

"Berg?"

"Go ahead."

"...What about your marriage?"

"I think it'll be different from yours. We'll probably finalize it after the conquest."

"...Okay."

Her voice seemed dry, or perhaps a bit drained.

Hearing that tone, I chuckled and teased Ner.

"Why? Are you having second thoughts now?"

"What, what do you mean?"

Ner suddenly sat up in surprise, while I continued to giggle at her excellent reaction.

"I just... I just asked out of curiosity! I already told you my thoughts yesterday..."

Ner seemed to realize my jest and closed her mouth, then flopped back down on the bed, taking a long breath.

"...Haaa."

Her breath tickled my bare upper body.

And just like that, silence enveloped us again.

"..."

"..."

The night deepened and setting aside my brief laughter, I slowly relaxed my body and prepared myself to sleep again.

"...Berg?"

"..."

However, this young noble lady seemed restless tonight, continually calling out to me.

I didn't find this bothersome at all.

In fact, I thought it would be fun if she could bother me like this every day.

"Yes?"

"...Do you think it'll be dangerous?"

"This expedition?"

"...Yes."

"It might be."

"...I see."

Suddenly, something occurred to me.

"Oh, Ner."

I opened my eyes and looked at her.

The yellow glow in Ner's eyes shone brightly.

"Yes?"

"When I go on this expedition, can you cast that spell for me?"

"Spell?"

"I saw it often in the Blackwood territory. The wife places her hand on her husband's back and... what did they say? Shares her 'Ki'? They said it gives a boost in overall energy."

"Oh, that... but it doesn't last long. Its effect diminishes in just half a day."

Ner said, sounding concerned.

"...Isn't that enough for me?"

When I responded with a hint of question, Ner hurriedly added an explanation.

"No, it's not that...wait? Does this mean I'm coming on the expedition too?"

It was only then that I understood her underlying concern.

She must have thought she would be left behind.

...Well that was expected, even among our members, it was uncommon for the wives to join an expedition.

But Ner was different, not just because she was my wife, but because she was a noble.

"It's not common for wives to come along... but you're an exception. Besides, there's nothing for you to do in Stockpin. If you're worried and don't want to come-"

"-No!"

She said with power in her voice.

And to emphasize her sincerity, her tail thumped, lightly hitting the bed.

"...I want to come too."

At that, I said with a smile to tease her,

"...After all, you said stockpin feels suffocating."

"..."

"Anyway, back to the topic. Can you cast that spell? It's not a ritual with any specific meaning, is it?"

I added, In case the spell had a deep romantic implication like a kiss or s*xual intercourse, I wouldn't want to force her into it.

As if confirming my suspicions, Ner hesitantly murmured,

"...It's not something I would do for just anyone. Actually... I only do it for my partner-."

"-Oh? Then never mind-"

"-I'll do it."

Ner firmly interjected.

Then, lowering her voice, she quickly added as if making an excuse,

"...Well, it might look strange if I don't...And it's the expedition you accepted because I asked so…"

I smiled again at her rambling.

'Why is she talking so much when she will willingly do it?'

I assumed it was just a part of her shyness.

"...It might be danger-"

"Thank you."

I interrupted her ongoing justification.

Hearing that, Ner looked into my eyes.

Soon, she swallowed her words and nodded.

A subtle atmosphere settled between us.

It was tickling but a warm feeling.

A sensation I hadn't felt for years, buried deep within my old memories.

Afraid that prolonging this mood might intensify her reluctance, I closed my eyes and turned my head toward the ceiling.

"...Berg?"

Yet again, unsurprisingly, Ner called out to me.

In the end, laughter broke out.

"Why are you laughing?"

I chuckled and explained, "You don't seem to be sleepy tonight, Ner."

She faintly nodded in cool agreement.

"...Yes."

"So, why?"

"Just one more thing."

"Tell me."

But even when I told her to speak, Ner remained silent for a long time.

Wondering if she might have fallen asleep, I opened my eyes to look at her, but the yellow glow of Ner's eyes was still flickering in the darkness.

Her wavering gaze seemed to indicate her internal conflict.

In this darkness, her agitation was even more evident.

"Ask, Ner."

I gently nudged her back, urging her to feel at ease with her question.

Finally, Ner whispered in an almost inaudible voice,

"...Will you embrace Arwin-nim?"

It didn't seem like a question rooted in jealousy or pride, but rather genuine curiosity.

I was not oblivious to what the term 'embrace' symbolized here.

I didn't feel the need to make excuses.

There was no reason to.

It was a given fact.

"Of course."

"..."

Ner closed her mouth and nodded.

I could sense what she was thinking, but I couldn't precisely identify the emotions she was feeling.

Not wanting to come off as barbaric, I added cautiously.

In a way, her question might have come from concerns about Arwin.

"It's a man's duty, so I'm just trying to fulfill it. I won't do it if the other person doesn't like it."

Ner looked at me.

I continued, addressing her,

"Just like with you. Would I ever force myself on my future wife?"

"..."

I then pondered the future for a moment and added.

"I probably won't. And it's not like she is marrying me because she is fond of me."

"..."

Ner slowly nodded in agreement.

Suddenly, I felt a curiosity about why she asked such a question.

I looked at her, opening my mouth to speak.

"..."

However, I didn't end up asking her. Just by looking at Ner's faint expression obscured by the darkness, I could tell that she too didn't know why she posed that question.

"Let's get some sleep now."

I tried to tie up the conversation.

"...Yes."

Ner responded.

"You should prepare for tomorrow as well. If there's anything you need, make sure to pack it."

"Yes, I need to prepare some medicinal herbs."

A smile appeared on my face at her words.

For some reason, her presence felt reassuring.

If anything were to happen to me in the future, she would be there to heal me.

It felt like a partnership.

I soon closed my eyes.

And Ner no longer initiated any more conversation.

.

.

.

.

.

"Let's move out!"

As time passed, Adam Hyung issued the order to march.

The elf elder who visited the village, along with Arwin and their escort troops, joined the procession.

Behind me, squad leaders like Baran, Shawn, and Jackson took their places.

And beside me...

"...Have you been well?"

...Ner, speaking to her horse, was also with us.

I looked at her, gave a slight smile, and turned my head away.

And I looked at the gaze I felt in the corner of my field of vision.

I didn't know since when she had been watching me, but my eyes locked with Arwin's.

"..."

"..."

Arwin was the first to look away.

That cold demeanor of hers was still evident.

It wasn't just because of her piercing eyes that the atmosphere felt icy.

Perhaps if she felt friendly toward me, wouldn't she have shown at least a small smile?

Pushing away these bothersome thoughts, I took up the reins.

"...Let's go."

Then, following the budding prominences, we headed towards the World Tree.

– – – End of Chapter – – –

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