A Night by the Sea
(Hey, did you see?)
(Yeah, I haven't seen one in this town for a hundred years.)
(They said something about going to Manaan Island.)
(If they're going to Manaan Island, maybe we can go back, too?)
(If the merrow are freed, we'll be able to go back.)
Nico was walking around the garden of the mansion on his hind legs when he heard the brownies muttering among themselves and stopped.
"Oy, little guys. What do you mean by being able to go back?"
(Uwaa. Oh, it's just a cat.)
"I'm not a cat. I'm the fairy doctor's partner."
(Whatever. But if you're a friend of the fairy doctor, tell her to help the merrow.)
"What's happening with the merrow?"
(They've been lamenting all this time. Because the lord of the island doesn't come back.)
(When they grieve, the seas become rough. We used to live on Manaan Island and would travel from there to the mainland, but because of the merrow, we can no longer travel the seas. We haven't seen our relatives for 300 years now.)
"There's terrible. But the only that can save the merrow is the island's lord who hasn't returned, right?"
(Since it deals with humans, a fairy doctor should be able to do something, right?)
"Don't be ridiculous. Well, in any case, I'll tell her about the merrow. In return, I'd like to know more about the thing they're protecting."
(Thing they're protecting? What?)
"They've been taking care of something for the lord who hasn't returned, right?"
(Hmm, that sounds sort of familiar. But we've been away from the island all this time. We don't know much about what's going over there.)
'Hmm,' Nico stroked his whiskers in thought.
"You have relatives over there, right? In that case, I'd like to ask them. I'll let you aboard the ship, so how about going to the island with us?"
(You mean on a human ship? Are we allowed on board?)
The brownies became excited. Even though the charms and wards against evil that had been used in the past were being forgotten, a ship still had to be rowed across the sea--an incomprehensible and frightening territory. Protective charms were placed to keep the fae and other invisible evil creatures that were invisible to the eye away, so they were unable to board a human ship to go to the island.
"I'll arrange it with the fairy doctor for you. In return, please introduce me to your relatives."
They readily agreed on the promise.
All that was left was to find out whether the wee fae on the island had any valuable information about the merrow or not.
"Sheesh, Lydia really isn't afraid of anything," Nico muttered to himself.
She'd never met any merrow up until now, yet she was running headlong into this situation. It was one thing if the person she was travelling with really was the merrow's lord, but what was she planning on doing if she was taking a thief with her?
"Talk about having to watch out for her. Sheesh."
Despite everything, Nico had watched over Lydia since she was born. He wasn't simply passing the days without any worries. In his own way, he's been supporting her from behind the scenes.
"Better still would be if the merrow would just sweep that thief and his followers into the sea."
He then slipped into the residence through a slightly open window.
Edgar sat in a chair unmoving in the room that was only lit by the light of the fire in the fireplace. Unlike the unconcerned light smile he had whenever teasing Lydia, his expression was serious as he considered how to proceed next.
"Master Edgar, you should get some rest," Ermine said as she entered the room.
"Why don't you have a seat, too. Won't you have a drink?"
However Ermine just stood there, and seemed a little uncertain as she opened her mouth. "Um, there's something I wanted to ask you."
He pretty much knew what she wanted to ask from the way she formally phrased her question.
"Ah, about Lydia? You want to know how I managed to bring her after what had happened?"
She frowned looking pained.
"Don't look like that. You know I'm a man that can readily do the most contemptible things."
"......There's no way you are okay about it. You've always been hurt by that."
Edgar sighed softly.
"Don't worry, Ermine. I didn't do anything to Lydia."
"I couldn't. I don't know why," Edgar said feeling rather pathetic, but Ermine was so relieved she almost looked like she was about to cry.
"So, even though Miss Lydia knows we'd been lying to her, she's still going to help us?"
"She has no intention of being an accomplice to thieves. She came along intended to try and convince us that, even with the sword right before us, without the real Blue Knight Earl it would be impossible to obtain the treasured sword." Edgar held his hand to his chin and smiled self-deprecatingly. "Lydia's an interesting girl. She seems like she'll do what I want but doesn't. Despite that, she's incredibly kind, hasn't even the slightest hidden side to her, and only says what she thinks. And on top of that, even if a villain like myself pleads with her, she's unable to abandon them."
Ermine cocked her head to one side as though she couldn't quite imagine that situation.
"I talked a little about the past. ......It's strange, but I think I was curious to see how she might react."
"How did she react?"
"I wonder if she thinks I'm a little strange because my brain's been stolen." Edgar chuckled from the memory. "But she believed something that for her was no doubt more difficult to believe than the existence of the fae. Apparently, she hates lies. Most likely, those mysterious eyes of hers see right through any attempts to gloss things over or any deceptions. But I only have lies. A false name, and a false life. Everything about me is a lie. All I have are lies I'm serious about and those I'm not. And, most likely, she realised that the earnest lies are the true me."
Naming himself the Blue Knight Earl was a desperate but heartfelt lie. And his saying that it was his only hope and that he would as soon die as give up on it was also an earnest lie.
"In that case, you'll tell Lydia everything, won't you?"
"No, I can't do that." That was what he'd been thinking about for the past while on his own. But regardless how much he considered the situation, his conclusion didn't change. To Edgar, Lydia wasn't one of his fellows. Even though she was there of her own free will without having fallen for one of his tricks, it wasn't because she understood what he wanted. It was an undeniable fact that to Lydia, Edgar was a despicable villain.
Regardless how he might try, the only way for an imposter to obtain the noble sword was through low tricks.
"We'll have Lydia solve the mystery behind the fae verse. After that, we'll continue as originally planned whether the merrow exist or not."
"......Why, my lord?"
"Why? Isn't it obvious? I'm not of the Blue Knight Earl's bloodline and am just a thief. While we need Lydia's help to determine the sword's whereabouts, her work ends there. We have to do whatever it takes to steal away the sword."
He stood and walked towards Ermine.
"Ermine, have you taken that much of a liking to Lydia?"
"She's a young lady who has done nothing wrong. She's very straightforward and walks openly in the light....... I don't want to hurt such a fortunate person."
"I know. I'm not committing crimes because I want to."
"But you've also taken a liking to Miss Lydia, too, haven't you? ......And that's why, even though she found out we're imposters, you try to appeal to her better nature rather than use force, right?"
He smiled suddenly. He narrowed his ash mauve eyes which were a mix between sad blue and cruel red.
"......You give me too much credit."
Edgar noticed the curtain move slightly and turned his attention to it in surprise. A bushy grey tail was poking out from the shadows by the window. It was Lydia's cat. As he thought that, he strode to the window, and before the cat could turn, he firmly grabbed it by the neck.
The cat meowed as though angry.
He wondered if having the cat hear what they'd been talking about would be a problem, but remembering that Lydia said she understood what that cat said, he couldn't help feeling he couldn't simply let it be. Not to mention, certain aspects about it were very human. Even if it was a very foolish thought, Edgar directed his annoyance at Nico. He wanted to make sure he could go through with base and cruel actions. He headed straight towards the fireplace, and tried to throw Nico on the fire as though he were a log.
"Gah. Cut it out. Hey!"
"Master Edgar, what are you doing?!"
Ermine held Edgar as though to try and stop him. Nico managed to escape and jumped onto the top of the mantelpiece.
Edgar looked at Nico from where he'd fallen to the floor with Ermine.
"I was kidding, Nico."
"I don't think so. I won't forget this!"
It seemed like the cat simply disappeared. Most likely it blended in with the darkness.
Edgar sighed and stroked Ermine's short hair as she sat on the floor still hugging him. She looked up at him unhappily.
"You sometimes deliberately try to act like the villain. Almost as though you're trying to get rid of your feelings of gentleness and compassion."
"It's to protect the two of you. Unless I'm cold-blooded, we won't be able to survive."
"Rather than just Raven and me, please care about yourself, too."
Ermine's lips touched him. It lasted only for an instant, but her body was still leaning against Edgar.
"There's no need to apologise."
"My lord, is it not possible to give up on the noble sword?"
He realised that she'd struggled with the idea before saying that. But Edgar thought that Ermine was simply feeling unsure. While he understood how she felt not wanting to make anymore victims, but they couldn't afford to have second thoughts any more.
"It's the only way for us to gain our freedom. If we give up on it, we won't be able to escape from them."
"It may not be possible to obtain in any case. So rather than continue to commit crimes...... Just as I truly want to manage to escape from that person, I can't help feeling that it's also my fate."
"The prince isn't all powerful. You're no longer his manservant, but my valued friend. Forget about the past."
Ermine drew away slightly and frowned frustrated.
"If so, then please make love to me."
Edgar hesitated at the desperate look on her face.
"Please make all of me yours. I'm not wishing to be your lover. I want to know for sure that you are my master. Otherwise, I can't help feeling unsure. Almost as though I will always be chained to the prince."
"You're not a possession. You're no longer a slave. Even without doing something like that, there's no question that I'm your lord."
"Is that so? Do you not consider me tainted because I was the prince's woman?"
"Don't be ridiculous."
"But even though I'm always this close, and even though you know how I feel, you act as though you don't know......"
Edgar pulled Ermine closer to him.
The poor girl. She'd been one of the young and beautiful slaves the prince had obtained. She and her younger brother became dear friends to him, and from the time he came to want to protect them, Edgar swore to change. Despite being so powerless, if there was anything he could do, he wanted to save them.
He wondered if giving her what she wanted was so difficult. He pressed his lips to her white throat, and felt her soft arms wrap themselves around him.
But even as he was trying to make love to her, he couldn't help being aware of the spell inside himself. Just like Ermine was still caught in the prince's bonds, most likely, Edgar too, was likewise bound.
While Edgar had been one of the prince's belongings, his position had been completely unlike that of the other slaves. Because they were trying to make him the substitute for the 'prince' who was the leader of that mysterious organisation.
He was trained one by one that man's tastes, way of thinking, habits and actions. He had to learn everything that man had learned. It included all aspects of various fields of learning, and though he realised that the prince was no ordinary person, Edgar wasn't given the chance to think about that man.
The cruel reality. He was worn down physically and mentally, robbed of the ability to think and felt himself slowly being turned into another person. And felt the terror of slowly forgetting how he'd been originally.
Ermine too, had appeared before Edgar in order to teach him more about the prince. He couldn't believe that they were even trying to train him even in those sorts of propensities. But thanks to that, Edgar came to realise how utterly ludicrous the situation he was in was. What those people were trying to accomplish was too magical in nature.
From there, he convinced Ermine who'd given up all hope to try and resist their captors. Refusing orders was their first act of resistance. That's why he never once touched her. Likewise, Ermine didn't secretly report Edgar's rebelliousness to her master.
And from then, they trusted one another, and considered one another as comrades in arms fighting the same battle.
Even though she'd been the prince's woman, he'd never intended to consider her as tainted. But at the same time he didn't want to treat Ermine the same way as that man had. And even though they were a free man and woman, he couldn't help being afraid of the feeling that by making love to her, he would once again be caught in the prince's spell.
"......I'm sorry, Ermine."
In the end, Edgar could only push her away.