“A Moment of Respite”
Rion always caused people around him to worry in one way or another and the number of those afflicted by that state just increased by one. This time the victim was Sol, the royal guard. He had always maintained a sense of distance from Rion, even though they had fought together in battle.
If asked, he would not be able to give a reason why did he behave that way. If forced to answer regardless, all he would be able to say was that he feared that getting too close to Baron Frey would destroy something he had protected all this time. And even to him, that excuse sounded really stupid.
However, despite trying to keep the distance, Sol never stopped the surveillance.
His conclusion was that in regards to talent alone, Rion was superior in all aspects. His swordsmanship might be nowhere near great, but it was unmistakably improving. He had displayed an overwhelming skill in magic. And even as a commander, he was so excellent that if he joined the kingdom’s military, he would be an easy appointment for a leader of thousands. Finally, on top of giving a vibe that he could effortlessly command armies, the retinue he was commanding right now would be more difficult to handle in a war than any of those armies could ever be.
However, there was obviously more to the man called Rion than just his abilities and Sol struggled to describe what that was in simple, succinct terms. If he tried to frame that nicely, he would say that the youth is an exciting and interesting person to be around. If he were not to do him any favors, he’d just describe Rion as so reckless that one couldn’t bear watching.
This appraisal was not really accurate. Sol’s assessment of Rion was a way for the guardsman to mask his real feelings. Because while he might indeed be that reckless, you just couldn’t stop yourself from lending him a hand. That would be the accurate opinion.
There was no way Sol would accept this kind of feeling in his heart. He had long ago decided on whom he should serve and he felt very strongly about that subject.
And thus, without knowing that the person he wished to serve and the person he refused to serve were one and the same, he was about to bear witness to Rion’s recklessness yet again.
Because on the first day of the return journey to the capital, Rion had started something undeniably stupid.
「…Are you serious?」
「There’s nothing a demon can do that a human cannot.」
「You are obviously mistaken. It’s exactly because they are demons that they can control the demonic beasts.」
「You’re the one that’s mistaken. Demons and demonic beasts are clearly two different things. Demonic beasts are merely animals that are a bit violent.」
「Are you trying to say that… this… is “just a bit”?」
Sol’s gaze wandered towards a demonic beast bound by numerous ropes. In theory, that should severely restrict it, but as if the presence of restraints was irrelevant, that demonic beast was rampaging in an attempt to break free.
As for what Rion was trying to do to with that demonic beast, he was trying to imitate a demon that used one of those as a mount.
「Normal animals rampage too when restricted. Looks like they’re the same after all.」
「…How could you possibly arrive at that conclusion? I can’t understand you at all.」
「You and I are different. It’s only natural for you to not understand me. Now then, no time for chit-chat, got to get on with this.」
Saying this, Rion got close to the demonic beast showing no outward signs of fear. This was something that Sol could not comprehend. True, the demon’s outer appearance was horse-like. But the thing had a horn growing out of its head and a nasty set of sharp fangs lining its mouth. It was also jet black and whenever it opened its mouth the crimson thus revealed made it gain a grotesque vibe.
And Rion was trying to ride that beast. The man couldn’t possibly be sane.
「Now then, let’s start. …Or so I would like to say, but how?」
Rion, not really sure how to proceed, paused to think for a moment after getting close to the beast. He might have been extremely well prepared when it came to moving his army, but, in Sol’s experience, he always fell short when faced with a problem like this.
「As an aside, why won’t you show gratitude for having your wounds healed, eh?」
Rion asked the demonic beast directly. But while it was true this particular being was saved by Rion once it succumbed to wounds in battle, Sol did not think it would either remember that fact or understand human speech.
And sure enough, the demonic beast showed no signs of willingness to behave.
「…Alright, let’s try with food then. If you want this meat, let me ride you.」
A lump of meat suddenly appeared in Rion’s hands making Sol wonder whether he had prepared for this beforehand. He talked to the demonic beast while presenting the meat in front of it, an astonishing idea in itself. Sol knew from experience that a normal animal could be tamed with food, but it took more than a single attempt to get anywhere.
Suddenly, Rion shouted in surprise while the meat he was holding was flung into the air. Exploiting Rion’s lack of caution the creature reached out with its horn and hooked the meat up, making sure it fell at its feet before consuming it promptly.
「Son of a bitch. Getting full of yourself when people are trying to be nice. If that’s what you want, then I’ll make you submit by force.」
While people around wondered what he meant, Rion unexpectedly cut all the ropes restricting the beast with his sword without paying any mind to anybody present.
「Don’t try to escape. Let’s settle this fair and square.」
People watching, Sol included, thought this was a futile thing to say, but, surprisingly, the creature faced Rion without trying to run as if it understood everything.
And that was how the fight between the demonic beast and Rion had started.
It charged at him, horn swinging, but he splendidly evaded each and every jab. His ability to defend was considerable and dodging the horn was just like avoiding swords.
When it showed an opening once again, he slipped into close distance straight next to its bust. The beast reared to crush him under its hooves and he dodged using the chance to get onto its back.
Moments after those words were said the demonic beast kicked with its rear legs so high that it resembled a person doing a handstand and launched Rion into the air. This was followed up by another attempt at trampling which he managed to avoid with a long jump backward.
「…To think it would still resist. How am I supposed to win when it’s like that?」
No one but the beast knew the answer to this half-muttered question and it had no way or inclination to offer it.
「Whatever, even if that’s the case I’ll make you my horse at all cost.」
Instead of giving up, Rion ended up getting fired up more. Seeing this development the clansmen knew that their Lord’s stubbornness had just been ignited and they all sat on the ground resigned to witness an inevitable war of attrition. Seeing that, the Royal Guard squires followed their lead.
And a battle of attrition was exactly what unfolded before their eyes. Many, many times did Rion manage to slip through the attacks of the demonic beast and mount its back. Every one of those times the creature would buckle to try, and succeed, to throw him off. Despite that, Rion never gave up, repeating the whole process again, again and again.
「How long is this supposed to continue?」
「Until Lord Rion is satisfied, I guess. We might not be able to travel any further today.」
Sol’s question was answered by Kiel.
「Then we will not make to our destination on time.」
「We will. Lord Baron, as usual, has a perfect grip on the schedule, however it may look from the side.」
「So you expect the training to continue on the way back?」
What Kiel was saying was that the marching practice would be in effect again while they traveled back to the capital.
「Milord doesn’t seem to be satisfied with our movements, why would you expect him to stop the training?」
「…I see your point.」
He would continue until he was satisfied. He had always been that way with everything. And with that being the case, the current battle, as Kiel had said, was unlikely to end anytime soon. Sol knew from fighting at Rion’s side that the youth had more than enough stamina for that.
However, this time both of them guessed incorrectly.
「….Let’s stop for now. You have not completely recovered from your wounds yet, have you? Winning against you in this state…」
after saying this, Rion really did end the battle and started to walk back into camp. With his back completely exposed to the demonic beast.
Unsurprisingly, even Kiel would be flustered by this turn of events. Just because Rion had stopped didn’t mean that the demonic beast would stop too, it would be normal to expect it to continue.
However, the beast didn’t try to attack Rion. It didn’t even try to run away.
「Get ready to set off.」
Rion started to issue instructions without showing any signs of paying attention to the astonishment of people present.
「What should we do with that demonic beast? Should we restrain it with ropes again?」
「Ah, no, that would be unreasonable. You would just injure it more and the contest of strength wouldn’t be fair, with one side restricted.」
It wasn’t as though Rion had given up. He had just called time on the matter for today.
「But how are we supposed to keep it?」
Common sense dictated that a demonic beast left unrestricted was certain to escape and there would be no rematch even if Rion wished for one. He was having none of that, though.
「I think it will come back to challenge me once it heals properly.」
「…How can you be so sure of that?」
「The eyes of this beast were responding to my words, it very likely understands human speech.」
「A demonic beast that understands people?」
「Would it really be so strange if some of them were capable of the feat? Well, to be fair I cannot be certain, but that’s the feeling I’m getting from it.」
Demonic beasts that could understand human language actually existed. And that fact would be proven over the next several days because just as Rion had predicted the creature had indeed returned of its own volition.
Once that happened, the two resumed their intense contest clashing repeatedly over the few following days. And somewhere towards the latter parts of that period, it stopped looking like an actual fight and everybody could swear Rion was simply playing with the thing.
Eventually, Rion managed to mount the creature and stay on its back while riding all around the camp. He was soon joined by Ariel, a fact that reminded everyone how alike the two of them were.
And thus, the young baron was able to achieve his goal of gaining a demonic beast as a mount. For a moment.
「Why did you set it free?」
Rion had set the demonic beast free once they got close to the capital and Sol was curious why.
「What do you mean? It’s not like it was captured, right?」
「True, but weren’t you planning to use it as a mount?」
「At first, but I have reconsidered since then.」
「Which is why I’m asking, what made you reconsider?」
Sol repeated his inquiry, irritated by Rion’s reticence.
「It’s impossible to keep Nightmare just tied down.」
「That’s her name. Doesn’t it sound cool?」
「…I don’t get it.」
「Boring. You’re the wrong person to discuss this with.」
Sol failed to see the point in naming the beast, not the meaning of the name itself, but his remark failed to communicate the distinction.
「Anyhow, it can’t really be stabled and it would be unreasonable to let it roam freely. That’s just asking for someone to confuse it with a demonic beast and try to kill it.」
「What do you mean “confuse”? It is a demonic beast.」
「…It would be bad if it gets mistaken for a stray one.」
It didn’t have to be said that non-stray demonic beasts did not exist.
「That is unavoidable, it’s still a dangerous creature, right?」
「Did Nightmare assault anyone here even once?」
「Then, it’s clearly not dangerous. It may be a different matter when it’s angered, but that would be the fault of whoever aggravates it.」
「…If you consider this that important, why not make it clear that the demonic beast belongs to you? Setting it free here doesn’t eliminate the possibility of it being hunted down.」
To Sol, Rion’s insistence on covering for his new pet was akin to a child trying to justify his selfish whim, so he offered this suggestion without a second thought.
「…You sure say good things sometimes.」
「It’ll need a proof that it is mine. A collar, maybe? Nightmare dislikes collars, though. But what if I got one with really cool ornaments…」
Finding Sol’s suggestion acceptable, Rion began to consider what to do to make it clear that the beast was his. Which made it impossible to talk to him until he managed to collect his thoughts, something Sol was by now aware of after seeing it many times before.
「Haa….. Sometimes it’s really hard to say whether your husband is really an adult or a child, milady.」
Their conversation unilaterally terminated, Sol complained to Ariel instead.
「Rion is still a child.」
「This is, in the end, a conclusion I arrived at myself recently. Even if he’s a completely different person when performing his duties.」
In his eyes, once the battle was over, Rion had changed into a completely different person. Unbeknownst to him, every clansman present actually thought the same.
「That is because my husband is tired.」
「That is not surprising, in hindsight. Compared to others, he works very hard.」
「It is Rion’s heart that is exhausted, being always on guard when interacting with people. Rion trusts very few individuals and likely finds dealing with a demonic beast much easier. After all the creature does not conceal its true motives.」
「And yet, Rion is still burdened with the responsibility for victory. If the Crown mistrusts my husband so much, it should just stop relying on him. Rion is not exactly here because he wants to be involved.」
Ariel was angry. Rion was exposing his innocence to others because the recent battle had been so intense it left him no space to pay attention to others. He hadn’t just been thinking of preventing others from getting the glory, he had been weighed down by his pledge of not repeating the mistakes of the past. Trying to fight in a way that prevented bystanders from becoming victims had been an overwhelming pressure on his shoulders. And he was being crushed by it.
Rion was still a child. Those words carried all the fury she felt at the people who made this child carry such a heavy burden. As well as her own worry that she might add to that burden herself.
「Sol might have lost the person to serve but can you really say that you are suffering? Rion had been on the receiving end of so many hideous things that he cannot find in himself the will to trust others anymore. And yet, he still craves for people he can trust in, like my brother, to whom he had dedicated his entire soul.」
「Sol, though? Does Sol really seek a person like that too? Getting to know Rion, I somehow struggle to believe that.」
Sol couldn’t find words to reply. He did, of course, wish to reject the accusation. Still, what had he exactly done to demonstrate his desire to find the person he was looking for? Frankly, the only thing he could bring up with any confidence was how he had lamented that the princess was lost to him.
What was he compared to Rion? The youth’s Lord might have died, but that only spurred him to act for his sake all the harder. While likely grieving with equal strength as revealed by Ariel’s anger.
Rion who, by all accounts, should’ve been locked in thought had suddenly called Ariel’s name.
「It’s really embarrassing when you say that to other people.」
「…I wonder if Sol knows, there is that thing I said to Rion when I first met him.」
However Ariel understood Rion’s words, it made her suddenly change the track of her conversation with Sol.
「Back then, and many times since, I have told Rion that his eyes are beautiful. And whenever I have done that, he would stare into mine as if under a spell. I am certain that first meeting was when he fell in love with me.」
「W-Wait!? I don’t think there’s a need to say those things, right!?」
「After that, before he reached the age of ten, Rion had slept with so many maids. He was just a child, yet he used his body like an adult would.」
Ariel had casually narrated yet another, in Rion’s opinion, unnecessary story from their past. For him, that was not something his wife should go around telling other people.
「Ari, really, what are you saying?」
「I am retelling embarrassing stories from Rion’s life, of course.」
「As a punishment, why else? Rion only had time for Nightmare lately, am I to understand you cannot relax at my side anymore?」
「Not at all.」
「Then from here onwards to the capital, I wish for Rion to talk and look at me only.」
「Ari… Alrig- ouch, that hurt!」
Rion was about to hug his lovable wife, but when he reached out with his hands in her direction, he felt a hindrance. Something sharp was painfully poking him in the back. When he turned, he saw Nightmare jabbing him with its horn.
「Is Nightmare actually a female, perhaps?」
「Somehow I am certain that is the case… So tell me, husband…」
「Should I feel jealousy towards this demonic beast? Is she, perhaps, jealous too?」
In the end, Nightmare never separated from his side. Whether it was female infatuation, strong friendship, or some other feeling, nobody knew.
And this story was why in the future, among many other titles, Rion would earn the sobriquet 『Knight of the Demonic Beast』. It was all because Nightmare would be with Rion in all of his battles.
TL: I swear this innuendo was not intentional rofl.
PR: translator got a bit sexual