‘After today, as scheduled, take off the maid dress.’
Having heard maid manager Willa’s words, Nainiae gritted her teeth, rushed out of the kitchen, and ran straight to the garden.
It wasn’t exactly because of the order.
Her Young Master… It was because she was certain that her Young Master would tell her differently.
‘Young Master definitely would.’
Nainiae just got out of the mansion’s corridor and stepped into the grass on the garden. She suddenly stopped and opened her mouth.
‘Wait… am I… being greedy?’
Nainiae, who was standing there with tears flowing endlessly, rubbed her eyes with her sleeves in order to erase the greedy thoughts in her head.
‘Just what are you hoping for, Nainiae? Wake up. That’s right. Just don’t think anymore. Just let things flow as they should. When the time comes, you will be able to close your eyes comfortably. You can hope for that much…’
Having thought that, she even used water magic to clean her face so there wouldn’t be any trace of tears left.
‘It’s for just a little while longer. Not much longer.’
She tapped on her cheeks with her hand, got a grip of herself, and started to walk toward the apple tree where Riley lied down often.
‘The fall will be here soon.’
When the fall comes, she will be able to close her eyes.
“… Ah, you are here.”
In the garden, where the apple tree was, Nainiae walked to the front of Riley and bowed to tell him that she is now back to do her work, although it was going to be until just today evening.
“Ian, can you please excuse us for a second?”
Riley, who had been lying on the ground with his fingers locked together to support his head, ordered Ian who was standing next to him.
“Yes, Young Master.”
Having heard the order, Ian lowered his head and stepped back away. Nainiae, wondering what this was about, tilted her head side to side.
‘Mr. Ian, you didn’t hurt your back?’
Unlike what Willa said, Ian, who was on standby next to Riley, seemed to be quite all right.
Ian had his eyes met with Nainiae, but he remained silent, took a moment to steadily gaze on her face, and walked away.
‘… You have been crying.’
It looked like she washed her face in a hurry, but her face near the eyes were swollen red, indicating that she cried her eyes out. Having realized this, Ian left the scene so others cannot see his face filling up with bitter sorrow.
“You are here?”
As usual, with a relaxed, leisurely face, Riley greeted Nainiae. Seeing his face actually made Nainiae’s heart more complicated instead.
‘I thought I would feel a little better if I saw Young Master, but…’
She opened and closed the right hand she was hiding behind her back. As usual, she walked over to stand next to where Riley was lying down.
Riley closed his eyes, and…
For a moment, silence flowed through the air.
It appeared that he was taking a nap. Lying down, he was completely still. Taking a glance at Riley, Nainiae asked carefully,
“Young Master, are you sleeping?”
There was no response from Riley.
Perhaps Nainiae was unconsciously hoping for a response.
Nainiae unconsciously had a disappointed look on her face.
‘That’s right. Just like this.’
Nainiae, in a respectful posture, stood by Riley.
She was thinking,
‘It’s nice to spend time like this… No, I wish the time could stop like this.’
At the end of the silence, Riley opened his mouth.
‘Perhaps he was not sleeping, but then why didn’t he answer earlier?’
Nainiae had a lot in her mind, so she responded a little late.
“Yes, Young Master.”
“Autumn will be here soon.”
Having heard what Riley said, Nainiae cast shadow on her face as she answered,
“Yes, Young Master.”
Riley slowly opened his eyes and looked at the apple tree’s leaves that were shaking in the wind.
“When the autumn comes…”
One, two, three, four…
There were countless leaves hanging on the tree.
There were things besides leaves too.
“… you have something that you are supposed to do for me, isn’t there?”
“Something that… I am supposed to do for you?”
Having heard the question, Nainiae vacantly asked back.
Riley didn’t open his mouth anymore.
He just lied down there with a blank look on his face.
He just watched the leaves flowing in the autumn wind.
‘Is he counting the number of leaves on the tree?’
Noticing that Riley was very focused on staring up there, Nainiae followed Riley and looked up toward the apple tree leaves.
Above her head, Nainiae realized that there were things besides leaves that were shaking in the wind. Nainiae vacantly opened her mouth.
Riley finally called Nainiae.
Meanwhile, Nainiae was not able to answer because she was vacantly opening her mouth while looking up the tree.
“You do have something you are supposed to do for me, right?”
Having heard Riley’s question again, around Nainiae’s eyes, which were already completely swelled up, tears started to form again.
With the wind blowing on her face, the tears rolled down.
With a heartbreaking voice, Nainiae struggled and answered,
Riley dusted himself to remove grass on his back and butt as he got up.
“I lived comfortably through my entire life as a lazy sword young master in Iphalleta House without ever having to lower myself to anyone. So, it would sound ridiculous for me to say this to you… However, there was a time when I was having similar thoughts as you. I have a pretty good idea about how you must be feeling right now.”
Riley mumbled monotonically without any emotion. However, Nainiae, who was still looking up, couldn’t dare to turn her gaze away.
“Back in Solia, when I brought you under my wings, I think I said it like this? That I know the answer to the question you have been agonizing over. That you should take a step back and watch, and you will be able to find the answer from doing so.”
Perhaps his shoulders were sore. He spun his arms around and said to Nainiae, who was still keeping silence in tears.
“So? Have you found the answer?”
He said ‘Have you found the answer?’
Having heard the question, Nainiae, who had her mouth open vacantly, started to have her lips shake.
She still couldn’t find the answer.
“No, Not yet… I have not found it yet.”
Perhaps, finding the answer to the question was no longer important.
There was something else now, something besides the question that she had back in Solia. It was because she now had something else that she was wishing for more strongly than that.
Riley took a step toward Nainiae and called her name.
“Don’t you have something you should tell me?”
It was not about having something that she should do for him.
Instead, it was about something she should tell him.
To that question, Nainiae was…
“… Actually, about ‘taking a step back and watching from there’ that you told me, I am not so sure.”
There were tears hanging on her face.
It was not certain if it was due to the setting sun or if it was due to her trying not to cry. With reddened cheeks, Nainiae continued.
“It’s difficult. Honestly, I cannot get a feel for what it means at all. But… but...”
Like something that had been pressed down for so long was finally coming out, her tearful voice cried out and said,
“Young Master, I…”
In struggling voice, with great difficulty, she cried out and said,
“… It is too hard…”
“I am miserable. There are still pretty things I have not seen yet, delicious food I have not yet tasted… and there are so many of them. I have to say farewell forever to the kind people that I like. I’m so scared.”
Her tears, which rolled down along her cheek, hung on the chin before becoming falling droplets, wetting the garden grass.
“The warmth was… It is too brief. It was too brief. It is so unfair. I still…”
Nainiae tightly shut her eyes. With more tear drops falling from her eyes, Nainiae tightly grabbed on to her skirt, hard enough to almost tear it apart, and cried out.
“… Not yet… I don’t want to die yet.”
Although she made up her mind to not expect more…
Although she had given up on her life…
Although that was the case…
“For just a little longer.”
Crying her eyes out, she was even showing her disfigured right hand that she always hid. Nainiae started to rub her face with both of her hands’ top side.
“For just a little longer, just for a little while longer, I would like to be at your side.”
It must be because she didn’t want to hide her tears more than her disfigured hand.
During the fall, which was approaching fast…
During the fall where she was going to pass away…
During that fall, Riley asked if there was something Nainiae should do for him during the fall.
“Apples, which will be ripe soon…”
A moment ago, among the leaves flowing in the wind above Nainiae’s head, she noticed green apples that were showing their shy faces from the branches. She was staring up at them with blank look on her face. She was finally able to answer the question Riley asked earlier.
“… I would like to pick them for you. I would like to peel them myself and feed them to you.”
Sound of Nainiae crying her heart out could be heard.
She must be overwhelmed with her heart full of sorrow. She even had runny nose from tears.
Riley, who had been watching this, smiled gently.
In tearful voice, Nainiae told him her true wish.
“… I want to live.”
Actually, instead of the wish about wanting to die, her wish for wanting to live was desperately stronger.
The scenery in Rainfield that she saw was so beautiful, and the daily lives in the mansion with the people were so happy.
She wanted to see that scenery again, and even if it was going to be just a while longer, she wanted stay with the people she cherished.
She wanted to gather good memories.
“Young Master, I…”
‘Is it all right for someone like me to dare to wish for something? Will I just get hurt again?’
She finally poured out everything she had been holding on out of fear.
Nainiae’s face was a mess, a face full of tears and runny nose. With her face toward Riley, Nainiae asked carefully,
“I… will it be all right if I lived?”
The sun was setting now.
Nainiae’s face was red from having cried so much for so long. Maybe he found her reddened face to look too similar to an apple that Nainiae mentioned earlier, but Riley was not able to hold it anymore but to break into suppressed laughter.
“I said earlier, didn’t I?”
With a smiling face, Riley took a step toward Nainiae, raised his right hand and started to pat her head.
“You pick the apples.”
That one sentence…
Could it mean an order?
Also, what could the gentle pat on her head mean?
The answer was already out.
“I hate bothersome things, so I need you.”
In that one sentence, there were,
You have done well.
You worked hard.
I need you.
I’m counting on you to continue to help me.
… The sentence contained everything she had been longing to hear.
With her eyebrows pointed upward and her lips pursed, Nainiae was desperately trying to hold her tears. Now, she started to pour out the leftover emotions that were inside.
“Huup, huk… Huhuk…”
“It can’t be Ian. He makes me tired with his nagging.”
“Hu… Huk… Huuuunng!!”
In silence, Riley slowly brushed Nainiae’s head. He casually looked up at the apple tree.
During this fall, the apple tree in Iphalleta mansion’s garden was changing its color a lot later than before.
It was as if someone rolled back the needles on the clock…
* * *
It was at the corner of the garden.
“… Hup, huhuhuhuk!”
There were a few people hiding in the bushes, crying and sniffing.
“Hup… Commander, Mr. Ian, please cry quietly. At this rate, those two will notice us.”
“But, but… Ms. Nainiae is…”
There were the three of the Lightning Boulder mercenary group, Ian that just left Riley’s side, and also Sera who came here under Willa’s order to watch Nainiae so their surprise party won’t be found out by Nainiae.
There were five hiding in the bushes.
Watching Nainiae crying with reddened face in the garden, Sera bit on to her handkerchief and tightly held her urge to rush out there.
“Lazy-Sword, Lazy-Sword, there were a lot of talks about that, but… Looking at him like this, I think the rumors are just wrong.”
“He is a really… magnificent person, Young Master Riley is…”
Standing in the middle of the ocean of tears, Isen and Rorona murmured with smiles on their faces. Sera, who was biting off her handkerchief, nodded and agreed.
“Yes… Mr. Ian, today, I got to respect our Young Master again.”
“I… I have been since a long time ago…”
It seems Ian already completely forgot about ‘it can’t be Ian’ comment made by Riley earlier. Ian was mumbling like that with face full of tears.
“Kuhup… As a fellow man, he is really cool. I understand why Mr. Ian is serving Young Master Riley.”
Nara wiped off the runny nose with his sleeve and nodded.
“Right… It’s not the time for me to be doing this.”
Ian, who was nodding his head after hearing Nara’s words, quickly cleaned up the tears on his face and turned around in duck-like steps.
“Let’s go help with the preparation too.”
Sera realized Ian was talking about the surprise party for Nainiae. She slowly turned her head and looked at Nainiae who was still crying in front of Riley.
“I think we won’t have to worry about being found out.”
“Because Young Master is there.”
Standing next to Nainiae, Riley directed his gaze toward the bush that Ian and Sera were hiding in. Riley winked and sent them a signal.
Perhaps it was as expected of the Young Master.
Noticing Riley’s wink, Sera couldn’t help but to smile awkwardly.