I can’t show Vanessa my drunken appearance anymore.
Especially if I say something I can’t remember due to heavy intoxication, it could be irreversible.
His likability was already at rock bottom, and if he did that, she might never want to see him again. Karaf sighed and held his forehead.
But then, someone announced at that moment.
“Your Majesty, Lady Vanessa is here.”
Karaf’s complexion instantly brightened, and he unknowingly jumped up from his chair.
As the door opened and Asha gracefully entered, Karaf couldn’t conceal his delight and asked.
“Have you been busy lately? It’s been hard to see you….…”
“Really? It’s only been a few hours, hasn’t it?”
When Asha asked with concern, Karaf fell silent and spoke with a stutter.
“Since you went to the temple…you didn’t come looking for me, so I wondered if you hated me.”
At his words, Asha looked bewildered.
“Didn’t Your Majesty come looking for me?”
“What? Why wouldn’t I come to see the Empress? I really missed you…!”
He blurted out his true feelings, and then his face turned as red as a rose.
Asha’s eyes widened even more.
“What? Your Majesty…always came looking for me first…I thought you would do the same this time…”
Karaf and Asha realized they had misunderstood each other.
In reality, Karaf had always gone to see her whenever he wanted to meet her, no matter how fickle he was.
Not once had Asha visited him first.
Asha then handed him something that she had in her hands, which made Karaf’s eyes widen slightly.
“What is this?”
“It’s a suncatcher that I made myself. Since you gift me with flowers every day, I wanted to gift you sunlight. I even put in a prayer hoping for Your Majesty’s blooming, so I’m sure it will have some effect. Faith is essential for these kinds of things, after all.”
Asha finished speaking and smiled brightly.
Karaf stayed in place for a long time holding the suncatcher speechless.
The accessory was made of a wooden shell adorned with colorful stained glass, gemstones, and pretty seashells, all strung together with a cord.
Whenever the glass and gemstones caught the sunlight, they shimmered and reflected on the ground.
Suncatchers were popular among minority people who collected sunlight.
Since photosynthesis was crucial for the flower’s survival, Asha knew that this was something he truly needed.
Rather than expensive treasures, she chose to give him this.
Minority orphans had been making and selling suncatchers in the market to earn a living since they were young.
Reminiscing about her childhood hobby, Asha had crafted the suncatcher with a joyful heart and hoped that the bright sunlight would shine on him.
But as Karaf remained unresponsive for a while, Asha worriedly peeked at his face.
Various concerns flooded her mind, such as whether he was upset that she had given him a traditional minority accessory, or whether the simple and plain gift was inferior compared to expensive jewels.
In the end, Asha regretted jumping to conclusions too quickly.
She noticed a slight glistening of tears in Karaf’s eyes in the sunlight and asked him in surprise.
“…… Your Majesty?”
Karaf finally realized the state of his face and quickly covered his eyes.
“Ah, the sunlight is too blinding……”
He pretended to wipe his eyes nonchalantly.
Asha felt a twinge of sympathy when she saw how happy he was to receive such a simple gift, despite having access to anything he desired.
“Thank you. I will always keep it with me like a talisman. It’s too precious to hang it in my room for display.”
Karaf affixed the suncatcher to the chest of his uniform with a serious expression.
As the modest suncatcher hung amid his uniform, adorned with various insignia and badges, Asha reached out hastily in embarrassment.
“No, please! Your Majesty’s splendid uniform looks dull because of my simple gift. Please don’t attach it to your clothes!”
“No. This is the most splendid and beautiful accessory I have ever owned. I should wear it on my chest and show it off to all the nobles. This is a gift from Vanessa.”
Asha’s face turned pale as she exclaimed.
“This is unacceptable! How could such a poorly crafted accessory be shown in front of the nobles…?”
Karaf turned to her with a puzzled expression and asked.
“Poorly crafted? Do you really think anyone would dare say such things in front of me?”
As she saw his eyes gleaming with madness, Asha averted her gaze.
In front of him, who was proudly boasting about the gift given by Vanessa, no one would dare to utter such words.
In another sense, Asha felt that she had given him the gift for no reason.
“Well then, I’m off to brag.”
Karaf said cheerfully as he walked out of the room as if he were about to fly away.
Left alone, Asha buried her blushing face in her hands.
* * * * *
As evening fell, Jackal and Sosa made their way to the hall with their luggage, only to find someone already inside.
It was a brown-haired man unable to lift his head.
It was the man from the Nasson clan, who had betrayed Lycaon.
Jackal said, expressionless.
“You seem unharmed.”
The man flinched and shook uncontrollably as if his bones were rattling.
“I’m really sorry… I sold out Lycaon to save myself…”
“Do you have any idea how many lives were put at risk because of your one life?”
He knelt before them, tears streaming down his face. Jackal stared down at him coldly and asked.
“Is this your own sincere apology, or just following orders from the village chief?”
He raised his head in surprise.
The man raised his head in surprise, tears welling up in his eyes. Jackal continued to speak in his cold tone.
“Did the chief instruct you to ask for forgiveness so you can stay in the village?”
“No…NO! this is truly from my heart..….”
“Do you expect me to believe that the village chief didn’t order you to do it?”
Jackal snorted, causing the man to tremble.
“The chief did ask me to apologize… but even before he did, I had already decided to do so. The day I betrayed Lycaon and returned to the village, my heart was filled with unbearable pain… I survived, but every night I couldn’t sleep peacefully.”
That day, he had run away while wiping away his tears, listening to the screams and clashing sounds of Lycaon and the knights fighting by the lakeside.
He was too afraid to look back, and he didn’t have the courage to face the Lycaons who had died because of him.
Even though he didn’t witness the massacre, every night when he closed his eyes, the scene unfolded before him.
He even saw the ghostly figure of Jackal with bloodshot eyes, staring down at him from his bedside.
Jackal just stared at him as he trembled silently.
The incident had nearly cost the lives of his fellow organization members, and he had also promised Gabe to take revenge on his behalf, so he couldn’t just let this go.
The man struggled to his feet, but his head remained bowed.
Jackal grabbed him by the collar and lifted his face, which was full of tears and snot.
After inspecting his face, Jackal punched him hard in the abdomen.
The man bent over, coughing and clutching his stomach.
“…… A guy in our group who is also from the Nasson clan told me to hit you instead of him.”
Jackal said calmly.
“It’s obvious how that crazy flower man threatened you. Just looking at his red-hot eyes, you must have been scared out of your mind, not to mention the torture.”
The man’s eyes widened at Jackal’s words, which seemed to have hit the nail on the head.
Jackal suspected that he had been tortured as soon as he noticed his unsteady condition.
He also remembered how the man had been wracked with guilt when they met by the lake.
His suffering had been so intense that he had lost all reason to fear and seemed to have reached his limit.
Jackal sighed deeply and spoke.
“If you meet my fellow Lycaons later, look them in the eye and apologize. I don’t deserve an apology as their leader alone. They may take turns hitting you, but that’s none of my concern. You’ll have to deal with it yourself.”
When Jackal showed his intention to end it at this point, the moved man bowed profoundly and spoke.
“I’ll definitely do that if it means I can be forgiven. I’ll do my best to serve you while you’re both here.”
He quickly led the two to his house and gave them the best room.
Jackal and Sosa intentionally unpacked their luggage in the same room.
It was because they were concerned that if they stayed in separate rooms, they might be vulnerable to attack or be unable to communicate effectively in case of an emergency.
Sosa looked at Jackal apologetically.
“If there’s anything that makes you uncomfortable, please let me know, Chief.”
“What if I snore?”
Jackal thought for a moment before answering.
“It’s okay. My nose might also get clogged when I sleep.”
“……It’s not okay at all.”
Jackal was used to having a separate room as an heir when he lived in the minority village. Even after becoming the leader of the Lycaons, he always valued his privacy and used a separate room.
As a member of the Kelpie Clan, Sosa also had a long-standing habit of never sharing a room with the Lycaons when sleeping.
Jackal glanced at Sosa and said.
“Don’t worry. I won’t be that uncomfortable. You have nothing to hide from me.”
As Sosa’s eyes lit up again, Jackal burst into laughter.
“You’re used to seeing me shirtless, aren’t you?”
“Uh…… that’s kinda……”
Sosa rolled his eyes in embarrassment.
“Just kidding. Just don’t look. I don’t like it either.”
When Jackal replied firmly, Sosa sighed.
“Sometimes you joke around so seriously….”
“I feel more at ease when I’m with you. I’m serious. Let’s go grab something to eat.”
They made their way to the communal dining hall of the village with the Nasson man.
However, as soon as they entered, the men who were already eating stopped their spoons simultaneously and stared at them.
All of them were warriors who were training to protect the village.
But from their expressions, it was evident that they didn’t welcome the two of them here.
Jackal looked at them expressionlessly and walked towards the remaining seats.
At the end of the long dining table, two empty seats were left for them.
They felt some kind of pressure as if the seating order had already been predetermined.
As Jackal and Sosa sat facing each other, their faces quickly stiffened.
Only plates were placed on their seats, and not a single utensil was provided.
“…… Is there something wrong?”
As Jackal turned his head, a man sitting at the head of the dining table arrogantly crossed his legs and smirked.