The match between Ryner and Harold concluded. Colette, who was looking at that scene in a daze, came to her senses in the next instant and started running towards Ryner, who had collapsed.
That magic Harold had unleashed at the end. Although it wasn’t a direct hit, there was no guarantee that Ryner was safe. Without even listening to Ryner’s father, Orbell, trying to restrain her, she moved her legs while being driven by anxiety.
But when she was just a bit away from the first-aid room, her path was blocked by a crowd. Even while thinking,’Why are there so many people?’, Colette resolutely plunged into the crowd, and while raising her voice saying, 「Excuse me!」 「Please let me through!」, with those thin arms of hers, she pushed her way through them.
That crowd abruptly split. Due to the pressure around her suddenly disappearing, Colette pitched forward due to her momentum, but still, she reorganized her posture with her inherent sense of balance, managing to stop falling down.
And when she raised her face, her eyes met with Harold’s.
Involuntarily, her voice leaked out.
It seemed as though this crowd had split because they had wanted to avoid Harold. If she were to look around, a space that was close to a circle seemed to be made up around him. Certainly, she could agree that one’s knees would become weak if they were to meet him right after they had seen that lightning. Colette too, would have acted similar to them if she hadn’t been saved by Harold in the past.
But just because of that, it wasn’t as though she could promptly speak to him. There was a huge amount of words and gratitude she wanted to convey. But after seeing the person who had saved her life and her precious childhood friend fight, now, at this particular moment when she was in a very unstable mood, she couldn’t put together any words.
Although it wasn’t as though he had perceived her emotions, Harold started speaking to her.
「Is that the guy whom you have acknowledged?」
「Eh…….? Ah! Y, yes!」
Maybe because Colette’s mind was considerably disturbed, even her reply was very shaky. However, she understood what Harold was speaking about and replied back.
「I thought I had told you to give that to a man who could protect you. Why did you purposely choose a weakling like that?」
‘That’ was most probably the necklace Harold had given her 3 years ago. From the day Ryner had accepted that necklace, he had always worn it around his neck. While in the middle of fighting, Harold must have realized that Ryner was the knight that would protect Colette.
「Ry, Ryner isn’t weak at all. He will protect me」
Colette, who had replied back like that, had done so in a frail voice. However, she hadn’t averted her eyes and had spoken while firmly gazing at Harold.
「Hmph, well if you’re satisfied at just being protected, then that’s fine. A suitable coward for a weakling to protect. At the most, you could only hold Ryner back though」
「Why are you saying something like that……….」
Why Harold was rebuking the both of them, Colette couldn’t understand the reason for doing that. Just, it was unbearably painful to be reproached by Harold.
「You should have personally experienced how helpless being weak is. And yet, if even after that you choose the path of living as a weakling, then suit yourself. Not like I care」
After saying only that much, as though losing his interest in Colette, Harold left. The reunion with the one had who saved her life had just ended with a few lines being exchanged. That too, in a form of one-sidedly being abandoned.
‘Why?’- only that question kept on going around inside her head. Why had Harold, who had saved the both of them, used such harsh words against her?
Without understanding the reason, when she came to her senses, there were tears floating up in her vision. It was due to Harold’s irrational behavior, and was also because of the sorrow at being abandoned by him.
She wiped the tears that were about to overflow and fall down with her cuffs. When she turned her eyes towards the direction where Harold left, that back seemed to appear very distant. When she considered that gap as the distance between them, Colette’s heart unnaturally tightened very much.
「……….That’s right, I’ve to go to Ryner」
Powerlessly, Colette instructed herself. As though wanting to run away from something she didn’t want to look at, she dashed towards the direction opposite to Harold. And when she reached the first-aid room, Ryner was lying with his eyes closed. According to the doctor, who was talking to Orbell, who had arrived a bit later, it seemed as though Ryner had only collapsed due to exhaustion and there were almost no external injuries.
The doctor also said that he might wake up soon since healing magic had already been used.
Ryner regained consciousness after about 10 minutes later. While groaning, Ryner opened his eyes.
As soon as Ryner opened his eyes, Colette embraced him as though covering him. Ryner was confused at the sudden occurrence, but as he started understanding the situation, his face steadily grew redder. The adults in the surroundings, including Orbell, read the mood and left without making any noise. The Colette, into whose eyes those reactions didn’t even enter, strengthened her embrace.
「What do you………ah, that’s right. I lost」
Realizing that he was made to lie down on a bed, he recalled the match from until just before. Although his whole body was languid, there were no places where he felt pain.
「Are you alright? Does it hurt anywhere?」
「I’m fine. Since Harold held back」
Abruptly hearing Harold’s name coming out from Ryner’s mouth, Colette’s expression became gloomy. Actually, although she didn’t want to behave in this manner, remembering the Harold from just a short while ago, her emotions were thrown into chaos. Ryner peeked at Colette’s face when she was like that.
「Did something happen?」
Ryner’s eyes and voice seemed to indicate his serious concern. From the day they had exchanged that promise, Ryner had always been trying to protect Colette. And because Ryner was like that, Colette trusted him and even if it were Harold, she wouldn’t permit him to look down upon Ryner.
「Ryner will protect me, right?」
「Yeah, since I promised!……..well, I ended up losing today though」
Concluding in a poor way, Ryner scratched his head. As though to cheer him up, Colette replied with a laugh.
「Ryner isn’t weak」
「Although you lost to Harold-sama, you might win the next time」
「Might, huh……..wait, Harold-sama? Does Colette know Harold?」
「Yeah. In the past, he had saved me and mom. The chivalric order’s necklace I gave to Ryner too was given to me by Harold-sama」
「Is that so…….., perhaps, is he a noble?」
「As expected. Amazing, that guy. He’s strong, he can use magic, and he’s also a noble」
‘Amazing’, a very simple impression. But it was actually true, Colette also thought so. What Harold showed in his match against Ryner was the difference in their level of strength.
But Ryner was the strongest among the village children. There had also been a time when he had defeated a ferocious monster alone. Harold had overpowered such a Ryner.
He was a person who had the strength to fight and also the strength to protect people. That was why, she was thankful for Harold, and also considered him a person worthy of respect. That was how much of a shock she had felt when she had been thrust away.
「Even so, that guy is way too severe. What do you think he said at the end? 『Idiot. If you could do that, then you should have started off with it』」
While imitating Harold’s tone, Ryner complained. But in that figure there was no anger due to being made fun of nor any sorrow due to losing.
It wasn’t a mistake to say that the flames that Ryner showed with the last strike was the best he could do right now. And it had been splendidly repelled. There was no way Ryner, who hated to lose, wasn’t feeling anything.
「Aren’t you frustrated?」
「Frustrated………Isn’t it obvious that I’m frustrated? But more than that……..hmm, how do I say this?」
Ryner folded his arms and tilted his neck. And after groaning for a while, he spoke out these words.
「I don’t clearly understand, but it didn’t feel unpleasant. When he told me to do that from the start, it wasn’t like he was making fun of me, but it was somewhat like…….. right, it was like when I get beaten up by mom」
Ryner’s mother, Leona. Although usually she was a gentle woman, when it came to training Ryner, her mouth would become bad, and her hands would become fast.
But that was for the sake of pushing Ryner towards his dream. It was one of the ways Leona expressed her love towards him. Ryner felt something similar to that from Harold.
Although you could that it was pitiful for Ryner to feel love when he was beaten up, maybe because it was him, there were some emotions of Harold that he could read.
「Besides, if we fight again some other time, then I’ll absolutely win!」
「……..I see. Do your best」
「? Aren’t you somewhat dispirited?」
「Not at all」
Pushing own the words that had almost come out of her throat, Colette laughed. Losing in sword fights which he was most proud of, but still being able to look forward like this, Ryner seemed dazzling for the current Colette. She felt as though that light could relieve her cowardice, unbearably she averted her eyes.
「Right, I’ll go call back Doctor and Orbell-san! Good grief, even though Ryner is awake, them just disappearing is troublesome」
Leaving behind a dry smile and those words, Colette left the first aid room.
That feeling of excitement he had forgotten a long time ago. Being stimulated by that, with his expression becoming even more looser than his usual flippant one, Cody, without even minding those odd looks he got, dashed through the main street. He wouldn’t mind it even if he got caught by his subordinates. More than those trivial things, the matter with the highest priority right now was to get in touch with that black-haired boy.
Lord’s ability in the sword and magic were real. Moreover, he had considerably polished them up until now.
And yet, both his skills and his body were still far from being complete. Cody felt that he still had a huge potential for growth.
How ominous. If it was him, then he could eventually equal Vincent, or perhaps, could become a person more remarkable than him.
That was why he was promising, and therefore dangerous. Because he had power different from others, if he were to err in the usage of that power, he might bring enormous harm. Then what should be done. The answer was simple. Toss him inside the den of powerful people.
「And that’s why, why don’t you try joining the chivalric order (us)?」
「What “And that’s why”. Has your head cracked?」
After appearing as though he had come cutting through the wind, to the Cody, who had solicited him with neither any greeting nor any preface, Lord hurled harsh words at him without being perturbed in the least.
Although the youth walking together with Lord was vigilant against the extremely suspicious Cody, Lord himself held him back.
「Calm down. This guy, even though he’s like this, he’s a member of the chivalric order」
The youth made a dubious face, but that was understandable. For their first meeting, Cody, who gave off a frivolous impression even under normal circumstances, had currently taken off his armor that testified for him being in the chivalric order and was wearing clothes as though he wanted to blend in with the town. Even if he said that he was a member of the chivalric order, it would hard to believe when said so abruptly.
「Ahaha–! Due to certain circumstances, I’m wearing these clothes now, but more or less I am full-fledged member of the chivalric order」
「So, why did you come here?」
「No well, like I said before, how about joining the chivalric order? – a solicitation like that. I think that Lord-kun would do quite well with us」
「……..Let me tell you one thing. My name isn’t Lord, it’s Harold. Never again call me by that name」
「You hate it so much? This name」
「To the degree that I would like to involuntarily crush you」
「It seems as though the circumstances are somewhat complex. Including such matters, want to talk for a bit?」
With his thumb, Cody pointed towards a store behind him. In the Delfit, where there were an innumerable amount of bars, it was one of the few stores that handled drinks other than alcohol.
Towards that invitation, without being able to particularly complain, Harold agreed. The interior of the store was much quieter when compared to the tumult on the streets. Although there were no more than about 30 seats including the ones at the counter, an eighth of them were filled, so it seemed to be flourishing in its own way. At the only place where 3 people could sit, Cody sat down in one of the seats around the circular table and without any hesitation, Harold took the seat directly opposite him.
In contrast to those 2, the youth who sat in between them, maybe due to still being vigilant, frequently kept glancing at Cody even after each of them lightly introduced themselves. Even when Harold was talking about his background and about the details of how he came to participate in the tournament, he wasn’t making a good face. But still, it seemed as though he had no intention to stop whatever Harold was choosing to say, and while drinking the beverage at times, he was calmly lending his ears to the conversation.
「Hoho, the fake name was to fool the eyes of your parents, huh. What made you go so far to participate in this tournament?」
「Just testing my strength. Unfortunately, I couldn’t test it out since there were only weaklings」
Certainly, with that much of a difference in strength, it was quite a disappointment. If there was an opponent who was even a bit worthy, then………
「But that red-haired kid you fought against in the finals. Wasn’t he quite good?」
「Ha, don’t make me laugh. With that level, there’s not much difference between him and a rock fallen on the roadside」
「Aren’t you harsh. As for me, I was about to call out to him too–」
「What did you say?」
Although it couldn’t be said that it was harmonious, that spot’s mood that was by no means dangerous froze up instantly. What Harold emitted abruptly was unmistakably anger.
Exposed to the pressure that was grave enough to almost overawe him, Cody involuntarily flinched. Although he didn’t know which part of that conversation touched Harold’s nerves, it was apparent that he rejected Cody getting in contact with Ryner.
「………But that seemed to have been a delusion. Ahaha, I give up. Somehow recently, my misunderstandings seem to have increased. Maybe I’m getting old」
Although he tried to poorly gloss over it, for the time being, it seemed as though he managed to avoid problems. But still,why did Harold dislike him trying to help Ryner, to this extent.
(Maybe he has some kind of emotional attachment towards him. Come to think of it, the final battle too seemed somewhat like he was trying to instruct him)
At first, he had thought that Harold wanted to harass him, but until the end, he had never directly attacked Ryner. Although it seemed to have been fought in the same way as he had done throughout the tournament, even though he had made all his other opponents until then concede within the blink of an eye, he was different towards Ryner.
Without using that speed which was his greatest strength, he had received Ryner’s attacks, and had either parried or evaded them. By Harold doing so, Ryner had been cornered, and he had unleashed power that had crossed his limits. If said in other words, Harold had been trying to draw that out.
(Well, only he knows the truth though)
Although he was curious, it wasn’t information that was necessary at the current situation. The most important thing was whether Harold was interested in joining the chivalric order or not. Wanting to loosen the stiff air, Cody once again started talking in a light tone.
「Well then, once again, let’s get to the main issue. Harold-kun, do you want to try joining the Saint King’s chivalric order?」
Folding his arms, Harold remained silent. Even for him, there might be many things he needed to think about. Thereupon, waiting for the right time to speak within the silence, Itsuki opened his mouth.
「Um, Cody-san. If I’m right, then only those above 16 years old can join the Saint King’s chivalric order. Harold-kun is still 13 years old, you know?」
「Hm, well, generally it’s like that. But exceptions always exist in everything. Even one of my acquaintance had also entered at an age of only 14 years」
「Exceptions, is it」
「Right, right! Well practically, it’s very rare, right? It means that that is how much talent and potential I feel from Harold-kun」
This was genuinely the truth. Listening to the words talent and potential, even Itsuki closed his mouth. Since it was the him who had been seeing Harold much more closely than Cody, he could understand many things.
「Within those exceptions, who was the youngest to have entered?」
Harold, who had been silently thinking, asked such a question.
「It was the 14 year old boy who came up in this conversation. His name is — Vincent」
‘Didn’t you implicitly want to know?’ with those feelings included, Cody said that name.
Vincent Van Westerfort.
Called the “Strongest” by the Saint King’s chivalric order, he was made out to be a monster by them, and was envied by many people as a hero.
「………..Fine then. Let me join the chivalric order」
But when he heard that name, Harold laughed. As though showing his thoughts of wanting to challenge the strongest.