Chapter 110: A Young Man Under Medical Care, Part II
“Well, did something happen?”
While hesitant, Dale explained the situation to his friend and ally. Granted, there was little else he could do – no matter how many times he rolled about, the subject in question had a firms grasp on his mind. If someone wanted to let him vent, then he had little reason to deny them.
“It’s Latina, she…”
“She said that she… Well, how do I put it… She confessed that she… sees me as a man.”
“You’re taking this awfully lightly, aren’t you?”
“I suppose. It’s not that strange of a thing, you know.”
Dale met Gregor’s lackluster reply with a difficult expression, and continued to speak.
“Anyways, that’s all that’s been on my mind, so… I just sort of flew off and came here to cool my head.”
“What are you, a child?”
“I’m not proud of it, alright?”
He himself knew it wasn’t the right thing to do. While he had indeed grown restless and flown off on impulse alone, now that an entire day had gone by, he had cooled off enough to recognise that he was in the wrong. That said, being in low spirits as he was now meant that he couldn’t simply make his way back to Kreuz, so he had opted for heading toward the royal capital as he had planned before.
“I was asked what I wanted to do with her from now on… and I realised that I’ve been avoiding even thinking about it…”
Gregor, seeing that Dale’s story would take some time, called for a maid and ordered her to make them some tea. He himself placed a stool next to the bed and sat down.
“…and that’s when something came to mind.”
Dale’s face scrunched up in another complicated expression.
“About me and Latina, I mean. The two of us… we’re only about a decade apart.”
“A little late to pick up on that, aren’t we?”
“I know it is.”
Really, it was nothing more than basic information that hadn’t been fully comprehended until now.
“See, Latina… she was just so tiny the first time we met. She always sat on my lap and smiled. That must’ve left a major impression on me. But… looking back, it feels like we’re more like siblings with a few years between us. It doesn’t… it’s just not the same difference you’d between a parent and their child…”
“Well… I only met her a couple days ago myself, but… The way you say it makes it sounds like she was like an infant to you. Admittedly, I’m surprised…”
Gregor recalled the way Latina had looked those few days ago, when he had met her for the first time. Her outward appearance still gave the impression that she was rather young, certainly, but despite that resemblance she felt too much like a girl acting like a level-headed adult.
“I know, right? Latina’s cute, isn’t she?”
“Well… She is, true.”
Dale’s expression, which had until now been taut and unchanging, finally loosened a little.
“So I gave it some more thought, and… it’s not that unusual for married couples to have that much difference between them…”
With those words, Dale’s face slipped back into his serious persona.
Kenneth and Rita, the married couple that were both his seniors, were about just as far apart. That kind of difference really only seemed staggering when one was young, but after spending years and years together, it didn’t amount to as much of an issue.
“She was just too little when we first met, I guess. That’s really why I even have that impression of her in the first place, but… Latina, she’s just not a child anymore.”
Dale let out a deep sigh, his eyes darting about.
“I may be her ‘guardian’… But at the same time, as another person, as a man… staying by her side isn’t really something I should be doing, is it?”
“Well… There’d certainly be no shortage of people who’d assume the worst.”
“You’re right. If I’m really supposed to be Latina’s guardian, then I really should have given that some thought…”
As he mulled over how Kenneth had told him to make it clear whether he would accept Latina’s feelings or not, his mind moved to unspoken statement hidden in his words; if he wasn’t going to accept those feelings of hers, then he should be clear about that too.
If he were to stick to the way things were and choose to continue being her guardian and nothing more, then it would likely be necessary to draw a clear line between them. He would have to establish a set ‘distance’ between them before she reached adulthood. He would have to nip their little problem in the bud before she’d be exposed to suspicious whispers from all around her.
He was a man; he could handle whatever vulgar rumours came his way. She, on the other hand, was a young girl. There was no way he would let her suffer through them.
“Latina and me… It’s normal for the two of us to be joined at the hip.”
“If someone were to look at it objectively, I guess… Then I guess it wouldn’t be weird to assume that we’re intimate.”
Even the way he treated her like a child could come off like that, now that he thought about it. Considering that the two of them would slip into the same futon and sleep peacefully without a second thought made it all the clearer; that really wasn’t the way one should treat an independent young girl.
“Well? What do you want to do?”
Throwing a sidelong glance to Gregor as he brought the tea the attendant had prepared to his lips, Dale chose his words carefully.
“I think… I think that I want to be together with Latina. For as long as I can. I really can’t stand the idea of Latina becoming someone else’s, either. I think I want her to stay by my side.”
That was probably the simplest answer he could bring himself to make. For those around him, it also seemed nothing more than a simple, clear desire.
He had accepted that fact that he would die one day, and had never found himself wanting anything. But the one being, the one entity that he wished for above all else – that was Latina. Even now, the notion of dying to leave her behind pained him greatly. But if he could manage to accept that as well, then was it possible for him to have her play along with his own selfish whims?
Could he bring her to stay by his side, with that happy smile of hers to heal him?
“If that’s how you feel, then doing just that would be the easiest answer, right?”
With that question, he came to a realisation. The realisation that with her by her side from now on, just a little older, smiling in bliss – just what kind of blissful life that would be. That the feeling of the one to give her that that ‘bliss’ being him and no one else was completely irreplaceable, utterly without substitute.
He had finally realised if the one meant to play a role in her happiness were him, then he wouldn’t mind it at all.
“You know, I… I always thought that I’d end up getting roped into a political marriage…”
Gregor knew of the unique Tislow household. The Tislows were a household that held much more power than the low-ranking nobles within the land of Larhand. A duke’s household, there was no reason to pay them no heed. And for Dale, the next in line to be the head of said household, to wind up in a political marriage with someone who could be of use to his family was hardly out of the question.
While age and appearance were a given, depending on the situation, even joining someone he had only just met in matrimony was subject to that sort of philosophy.
“My own feelings aside, I’d just stay faithful to whoever it was I’d marry. Even if it was someone much younger than Latina, it wouldn’t have mattered.”
“Can’t say it’s rare for a political marriage.”
“It really isn’t.”
He had passed he role of the head’s successor on to his younger brother and managed to escape his chains, but the thought of looking for someone he could marry had never truly crossed his mind.
“That’s why for me, choosing to stay with my precious Latina would be the one choice to make me happy.”
As to why those around him consistently chose to pester him with their worry, he could warrant a guess.
Latina was a demon.
Compared to a human like him, her lifespan was much more prolonged. If he were to find happiness in devoting himself to her own, then the gap between their life spans would become more and more apparent as time went by.
“I’d probably become an old geezer before I even notice…”
The image of him staying by her side as she retained her youth while he only aged, with any thoughts about his own happiness only second to hers, could be visualised by those around him without effort. Of course they’d be worried. Composing himself and ruminating over the issue made him see no other avenue in his future.
“Well, let’s just forget about that for now.”
Dale’s tone had changed. He turned to Gregor, who had been completely taken by surprise, and answered in his usual carefree manner.
“Well, we’ll just cross that bridge when we come to it.”
“Besides, Latina’s still a kid.”
With his hand aloft, Dale began forming a curve of sorts. It was a curve with few waves, barely any ups or downs, and Gregor didn’t bother asking what it was supposed to mean.
“Giving that idea genuine thought can wait until Latina’s a little older, don’t you think?”
Dale had no interest in little girls, none to speak of. That in mind, Dale’s worried smile merged with a wry chuckle.
That was when a knock echoed through the room.
Gregor went to answer the door, and inside came a single female attendant bearing a worried air most unlike someone employed within this mansion. Hearing her soft-spoken report, Gregor’s expression shifted to one of surprise.
Before he could even venture to explain the reason for his surprise to Dale, that very reason marched into the room. Gregor stood at attention, but Dale, still on the bed, had no time to make himself presentable. He attempted to sit upright, but the person in question prevented him with a wave of their hand.
The person Gregor called as such was a white-haired man approaching old age. He possessed refined features, as one might expect of anyone who would be recognised as Gregor’s father. Clearly, he was the type of man who could correct the attitudes of those around him by virtue of his presence alone. That didn’t mean he looked fearsome, by any stretch of the term. If one were to put it into words, it could be said that the impression he gave others was rather one of calm.
Despite that, it was clear that there was much more to him.
He was a man that carried the burdens of Eldestädt family name. This was a man whose political influence was only second to the king himself in this country.
Whatever reasoning someone like that might have to come here to meet him perplexed Dale, but his confusion was blown away in a split second.
As if trying to hide behind the back of His Excellency, a young girl with familiar hair that glowed silver looked at him.
Next time, a direct confrontation.