Chapter 3. The Mind That Noticed

 

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It was hard to believe that Terban was right in front of her, so much so that El wondered if she was dreaming right now.

 

In a sudden situation, El just looked at his hand in a daze, showing no action, and this time she heard a voice.

 

“I think you’re already exhausted.”

 

El looked at Terban’s hand and looked down at her own, scarred, calloused, and dirty.

 

She could not hold his hand easily, fearing that Terban’s noble hands would be dirty.

 

“I can get up on my own. So please withdraw your hand.”

 

Elle said, looking at his hand, and Terban meekly withdrew his hand, and El stood up, brushing off the dirt from her clothes and hands. She wondered why he was here.

 

“What brings you here, Your Majesty?”

 

“I just happened to pass by and see you still here.”

 

“Oh, is it late already?”

 

El looked up and before she knew it, the sky had darkened and the stars were shining.

 

“Are you foolish or diligent? Others would have done just enough and left.”

 

“Yes. They told me to do it roughly, but how can I do that?”

 

“It’s your life.”

 

As Turban swallowed the last word, El lifted the sword she had placed down.

 

“It’s been so long since I’ve worked so hard that I feel even lighter.”

 

El lied in front of Terban, even though she was really heavy and felt like she was about to collapse.

 

“Only you know the condition of your body, so always pay attention.”

 

“Yes, I’ll keep that in mind, Your Majesty.”

 

When he saw El wiping the sweat from her face, he thought back to that moment in the past. It was the first time he and El had met.

 

“It seems like only yesterday that I saw you for the first time, and yet so much time has passed.”

 

It was the same for El. She remembered every single encounter with Terban, which was like salvation to her.

 

When El couldn’t see any future, like now, Terban had reached out to her first, and she had gladly taken his hand.

 

Thanks to him, she was able to stay by his side until now.

 

“You seemed like a cautious cat when I first saw you, but not so much now.”

 

“Is that so? I don’t think I’m any different than I was then. The only thing that has changed is my competence?”

 

“Well, it’s all thanks to my realization.”

 

“I suppose I owe it to my own efforts, though.”

 

Even though she wasn’t very good at expressing herself, El had worked very hard to repay the favor and had been able to rise to this level. It was just one thought, to stand proudly by Terban’s side.

 

“Let’s check it out.”

 

“I won’t avoid it.”

 

“You seem pretty confident.”

 

Terban said, thinking about El’s exhaustion from the training, but El smiled rather spare, despite the difficult situation she was certainly in.

 

“You never know, right? Will the goddess of victory choose me at this moment?”

 

“You’re saying that again.”

 

“That’s how confident I am.”

 

“Okay, let’s do it another time. It’s enough for today.”

 

Terban could tell how hard El was working, even without seeing it in person, because her personality was such that even if she did that enough, it would be too much.

 

That was why he was more strict with her. For El’s sake, not anyone else.

 

“I trust you.”

 

Those words almost made El’s heart stop beating. She was elated Terban said that, but it filled her with so much emotion.

 

‘Yes. This one word will do.’

 

El didn’t want anything more from Terban, because one word of ‘trust’ was enough for her. She only wished to protect him until the end.

 

Of course, she knew that that wish was shaking at this very moment, but El just smiled and responded to his words.

 

“Yes. I will not betray your faith and will support Your Majesty until the end.”

 

There was another person watching El’s bright smile that only appeared in front of Terban. Shanil was standing at the entrance, watching them.

 

Shanil’s expression hidden in the dark was grim, not a gentle smile she showed to Terban.

 

And her eyes had reached El.

 

‘You don’t even hide it anymore, do you?’

 

Terban didn’t notice, but Shanil could see it clearly. It was the meaning in El’s eyes as she looked at Terban. She didn’t like El being around him either, but then again, if she had feelings like that.

 

She was very worried about El’s presence near Terban, afraid that it would shake what she had so carefully prepared.

 

‘I don’t like it.’

 

Shanil’s consideration for El was completely gone. With that oath, she approached Terban with that adorable smile she always showed him.

 

“Terban, I knew you were here.”

 

“Shanil?”

 

As soon as Terban spotted Shanil, he hurried over to her, and El hurried after Terban.

 

“You weren’t in the Office, so I came to make sure.”

 

“It’s pretty far from there. You could just wait at the palace.”

 

“I’ve been waiting for you, but you haven’t come, so I’m worried about you.’p”

 

Thinking she might be cold in the night wind, Terban took off his jacket and put it on Shanil’s shoulders without hesitation. Shanil did not refuse Terban’s favor and glanced at El with a proud smile.

 

“Thank you. Oh, and Sir El is here too.”

 

“Lady Shanil.”

 

El bowed her head, addressing Shanil politely.

 

“Did you practice until this late? You worked late the last time I was here too.”

 

Shanil, who folded her eyes gently and talked with a smile, was fascinating and lovely to the same woman. So El replied with her eyes slightly lowered.

 

“I’m fine. As a knight, it’s only natural.”

 

“‘Still, be careful not to get hurt. Let’s go back now, Terban.”

 

“Sir El, you go home too.”

 

“Yes, I will, Your Majesty.”

 

They were moving away arm in arm, and El was standing alone in the performance hall. Her gaze fixed on the two distant figures.

 

“Yes. There must be someone that beautiful by His Majesty’s side.”

 

At the thought, El clenched her chest with an unexpected, faint pain.

 

But she didn’t know if it was because she was sick or because of the sadness of having to look at that figure. She just hoped that this pain would go away soon.

 

***

 

“Let’s conclude today’s meeting, shall we?”

 

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

 

The meeting with the nobles was over, and El, who had stayed by Terban’s side throughout the meeting, came out of the meeting hall with him.

 

“Sir El will now go to the performance hall.”

 

“Understood, Your Majesty.”

 

Terban walked past El with his aide to go to his next appointment.

 

As Terban moved away, El bowed her head and turned to go to the performance hall. However, a voice calling for El came from behind.

 

“It seems that Sir El is busy today.”

 

‘I am sure of this voice…..’

 

When she turned her head to the familiar voice she had heard several times, there was also an expected person standing, and El swallowed a sigh and greeted him.

 

“I am pleased to meet you, Duke Peisen.”

 

“Yes. It’s been a long time since I’ve been here.”

 

The middle-aged man was Peisen Kaicher, one of the few dukes of the Rubain Empire.

 

His domain, located in the northwest, was surrounded by rugged mountain ranges, but it was rich in resources, most importantly, it had mines that yielded valuable minerals, and he had amassed immense wealth.

 

In short, El had no connection with him, and all she had seen of him was a few times when she was with Terban. But still, El did not want to run into the man in front of her, nor did she want to talk to him like this.

 

‘Why do you have to talk to me when you don’t like me?’

 

El could ostensibly sense that he didn’t like her as much as she thought. His mouth was smiling, but his eyes were contemptuous.

 

El was very used to this kind of situation. It was a gaze that had followed her around like a tag ever since she’d been serving Terban.

 

She could always hear the accusation, “You don’t have anything, but you got the Commander’s position just because Terban cares about you.”

 

Knowing this, El gritted her teeth and did more diligently. To silence them by sheer force alone.

 

So, while those stares were less frequent than at first, they weren’t completely gone. There was always a person like Peisen in front of her everywhere, so it was best to ignore it and pretend not to know.

 

She was about to say that she was busy and leave, but Peisen’s voice was faster.

 

“Isn’t it hard for you to attend to His Majesty?”

 

“It’s not.”

 

El simply replied, refraining from words to the utmost. It didn’t feel like he was asking with good intentions. Peisen also showed signs of dissatisfaction when El answered briefly.

 

“I’m glad you don’t hide it like that, though, because it makes it easier to deal with.”

 

Then, as El had expected, Peisen revealed his original intention.

 

“Sir El, please don’t take what I say too seriously. But I have a bad view of you. You don’t deserve to serve His Majesty.”

 

“I knew you would say that.”

 

El had expected it to some extent, so she didn’t feel hurt. On the other hand, she had a thought. How a man like Peisen became a duke and lead the Kaicher family.

 

He had no idea what El was thinking, but he spoke words that contained nothing of his true heart.

 

“So, if you need help, feel free to tell me. I’m on your side.”