52 Chapter 51: The Second Wife (3)

"...How's your night duty?"

"........"

Ner could understand what Arwin was asking.

Because she herself, who wasn't directly involved, had once questioned Berg whether he would embrace Arwin.

Back then, Berg had said that he would not force Arwin if she refused.

At the time, Ner had felt somewhat relieved, but now Arwin's question made her heart waver again.

Could this uneasiness stem from the objective fact that her husband might soon be intimate with another woman? Even when framed strictly within social customs, the prospect was unsettling.

So instead of responding, Ner gazed slowly at Arwin with drooping eyes.

The previously vague look of concern on Arwin's face had grown more prominent, completely filling her expression.

Seeing that, Ner felt sudden clarity as if jolted awake from a reverie.

She had been so busy questioning her own feelings that she'd failed to recognize Arwin's worries.

Arwin was also worried about her wedding night, just like her.

After all, Arwin couldn't be completely unaware of the rumors that swirled around the human race. Despite lacking worldly experience, she was undoubtedly knowledgeable. And that might actually have contributed to her accumulating even more misconceptions.

Truthfully, even Ner couldn't tell if the widespread perceptions about the human race were incorrect.

Her only experience with them was with Berg. And he had never wronged her, not even once.

Attempting to brush aside her own anxieties, Arwin ventured a faint smile and softly whispered,

"...Is he as violent and aggressive as people say about them? ...like 'monkey beasts'?"

Just as people derogatorily referred to lizardmen as 'lizard beasts', dragonians as 'dragon beasts', werewolves as 'wolf beasts', and catfolk as 'cat beasts', they disparagingly called the human race 'monkey beasts'.

Hearing her question, Ner couldn't help but see a trace of an innocent girl in Arwin's usually mature demeanor. And knowing those feelings all too well, she felt a sudden urge to alleviate her concerns.

But just as she opened her mouth to speak, she found herself not knowing how to explain.

Her true relationship with Berg had always been a secret to everyone.

No one knew they were only pretending to be a loving couple.

Not even Ner's own family knew this truth.

Ner had been living within Berg's consideration, and she wondered whether she should really share this fact with Arwin.

"..."

Yet, she couldn't just let Arwin stand there, concealing her fears as she gazed out of the window.

They had decided to be honest friends and help each other, and perhaps that was even more reason to be concerned.

...And, to some extent-

"..."

-it might be selfish, but for the time being, while she was still Berg's wife, Ner wished that Berg wouldn't embrace Arwin.

What would happen after she left his side was another story.

She couldn't pinpoint the cause of these feelings, but they seemed to be growing more certain.

Perhaps it was the formal marital bond that was shaking her so deeply.

'Your tail looks beautiful today, too.'

Ner ignored the voice of Berg echoing in her mind.

And then, she offered a carefully considered piece of advice.

"...Among humans... Berg is someone you can easily converse with."

At that, Arwin spoke again without meeting Ner's gaze.

"The real issue right now isn't about communication, is it? Eventually, we'll have to have an intimate—"

"No?"

Ner cut off Arwin.

She wanted to make her point clear to Arwin.

"If you say you don't want to, Berg will understand."

With those words, a moment of silence hung in the air between them.

Ner knew that her statement could be quite shocking.

That was how special Berg's considerate nature was.

"...So, you're saying I don't have to do that if I don't want to?"

Ner nodded to affirm her previous statement.

"And how do you know this?"

When Arwin asked again, Ner just looked at her silently.

Arwin seemed to be gradually understanding Ner's point.

"Wait, have you not been in a 'relationship' with him either?"

"..."

Ner nodded her head silently.

"You're lying. Isn't the vice-captain from the human race? So how?"

Arwin showed even more skepticism.

Ner understood the question lurking behind Arwin's words.

A good-looking and successful human like Berg wouldn't easily compromise.

Hadn't there been numerous women smitten with him, even in Stockpin?

They had all eventually left, discouraged by Berg's aloofness, but Ner knew that was rather a rare thing.

"That's what I was saying. Despite being a human, Berg is quite... understanding. He even assured me that he would wait until... we both felt the same way..."

"...Until you both feel the same way."

Arwin mulled over Ner's words.

"But how do you manage that?"

"?"

"I mean... During the mating season."

"Ah...! That!"

"Isn't the vice-captain just pretending to wait until your mating season?"

Ner felt her face flush, at those words. And clarified a point Arwin didn't know.

"No, that's not it. I...I can control it...! It hasn't been a problem."

"Is that so?"

"It's said that for humans every day is like mating season, so... in comparison to that..."

Arwin nodded.

"Well, that's a relief then."

And then, she let out a slight giggle.

"But even the vice-captain has quite a flowery imagination of love."

"..."

"How can a forced relationship ever turn into a loving one? Are commoners supposed to get excited when they make a connection with nobility?"

"..."

"And what if, in the end, you don't fall in love? Will he change his stance then?"

"He said he would wait, for now."

Ner repeated the words as if making an excuse.

Arwin slowly shook her head.

And then she uttered a phrase that felt familiar, as if she'd heard it before.

"...I can't love the vice-captain."

It was a thought that had crossed Ner's mind too.

Arwin continued.

"Think about it. How can I have a lifelong relationship with a species that typically lives only about 60 years?"

And then immediately, she apologized to Ner.

"...I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that... but..."

Ner, too, wouldn't live to be a hundred years old.

But knowing the context of Arwin's words, she wasn't particularly offended.

In the end, it was an insurmountable gap that came from the difference in their races.

This wasn't a story limited just to elves and humans; even between the werewolves and humans, there were already too many differences.

So she understood Arwin's point all the more.

"It's okay."

Realizing that Ner wasn't terribly offended, Arwin continued her words.

"For me, the vice-captain doesn't mean much. My dreams... lie beyond him."

Perhaps it was because Ner had been honest. Arwin, too, gradually began to open up.

"...I've suffered in this place for 170 years. Now I want to live for myself, to see the broader world. This marriage is the last hurdle before my own happiness."

"..."

As she listened, Ner felt an odd sense of déjà vu.

Every word Arwin uttered seemed to reflect how she herself had felt a month ago.

Could that be why? ...Memories of her forgotten goals started to resurface.

She had merely whispered to herself that she needed to get away from Berg, yet had prepared nothing for that reality.

That fact suddenly came to Ner's mind.

In the midst of that, Arwin spoke.

"Aren't you the same? As I said before, you didn't enter this marriage willingly."

Ner didn't dispute that. It was an irrefutable truth.

"...Yes."

"Werewolves only love one person, right? You didn't end up with Berg because of love."

"...Yes."

Arwin fell silent, as if a new thought had occurred to her.

Wrinkling her face as if trying to squeeze out a memory, she said,

"Did you once speak of something your grandmother told you...? I seem to remember you mentioning it six years ago. Or am I just imagining things?"

Ner wasn't entirely sure since it was a memory from when she was 15 years old. However, she could infer what Arwin was talking about.

Back then, she was so engrossed in that particular thing, that it might have been a dream she shared with a newfound acquaintance named Arwin.

"...You remember. You're not imagining it. My grandmother had... a prophecy for me."

"A prophecy?"

"It's a prophecy that I have a destined partner."

Ner recalled the prophecy she had kept for a long time. It was something she had momentarily forgotten about recently.

"...If I lose that person, I'll regret it. There will be no one who would love me more than him. He will always... be on my side."

Arwin asked dryly,

"And that person is the vice-captain-"

"-That person was supposed to be a noble."

"..."

Perhaps Ner wanted to imply something to Arwin by stating that fact.

She was subtly acknowledging the possibility that she might one day set out to find that destined partner.

In that case, Arwin would be left behind with Berg.

If she didn't lay it out like this, Arwin might feel betrayed and alone in the future.

"...Are you already in love with this destined partner?"

Arwin asked.

But Ner let out a wry smile.

"No. How can I love someone I haven't even met? But..."

"..."

"I'm just afraid. Because my grandmother said I'd regret it if I let him go."

Arwin gave a slight nod.

"Your grandmother was a... fortune teller?"

"Yes, that was her."

"She was very famous as a fortune teller. If it's her words, they're worth believing."

"..."

"But you're already married, aren't you?"

Arwin struck the core of the matter.

"...Yes, I am."

Ner kept any further plans to herself.

However, Arwin uttered words Ner had not expected... words hard to understand.

"...I hope this married life of yours ends sooner rather than later."

"...?"

Arwin took a deep breath, then let out a sigh equally profound.

A momentary, meaningless silence circled the room.

Following Arwin's gaze, Ner looked out the window again.

As she watched the moon that had begun to rise, her thoughts tangled.

"...I've enjoyed our conversation, Ner. I'm happy to have gotten to know you better."

Arwin quickly wrapped up the discussion.

"It's getting late. You should rest too."

As the sky darkened with time, Ner rose from her seat, following Arwin's lead.

She saw her out.

"Yes, it's been a long day. You should rest as well."

With an awkward farewell that left a lingering unease, they exchanged goodbyes.

Still, there was a feeling of having grown closer, as if they had both discovered something secret about the other.

Whether that was camaraderie or something else entirely, neither could say.

Left alone, Ner looked at the moon.

She used to talk to the moon every day, but recently, those conversations had grown infrequent.

"...Are you looking at the moon too?"

Suddenly, she asked.

And then, she made up her mind.

Ner called over the elven attendants and made a request.

"...Could I get some paper to write something on?"

****

I found myself alone in the quiet streets of the elf village.

Sitting near the World Tree, I let the liquor flow down my throat.

It seemed like only coming here allowed me to sort through my old memories.

'You should see the World Tree, Bell!'

Perhaps it was because those memories were from my naive younger days.

...It was not easy to let them go.

Only now, having come this far, did I manage to let go of one thing at a time, and a thought crossed my mind: how foolish I had been.

I looked up at the moon hanging high in the sky.

The moon was nearly full and bright.

"...Ha."

And then I smiled.

Lately, whenever I look at the moon, I think of Ner.

So it occurred to me that I should go see her.

– – – The End of The Chapter – – –

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