When Trajan gave Leon the signal for him to leave, he did so as quickly as he could. The middle of the Royal Palace surrounded by curious nobles staring at him due to his obvious intimacy with Elise was exactly the place he didn’t want to be, after all. However, as he, Elise, Alix, and Anzu stepped outside of the palace and began to make their way toward the bridge back to the city proper, Leon heard a voice call out to him.
“Sir Leon! Please wait a moment!”
Leon recognized the voice of the Paladin Roland, and he unconsciously started to speed up, eliciting a quizzical look from Elise, who was holding his arm. Leon still didn’t trust the Paladin, especially since he knew Leon’s true name. Unfortunately for Leon, Roland wasn’t shy about speeding up to catch up to him.
“Sir Leon, do you mind if I were to join you for a while?” Roland asked with an inviting smile on his wide, chiseled features as he quickly, inevitably caught up to Leon.
Leon smiled bitterly before turning around to face the Paladin and said, “I’m busy, Sir, as you can see.” He glanced meaningfully at Elise and Alix, but Roland wasn’t going to go away so easily.
“I would like to speak with Sir Leon for a while, I hope you ladies don’t mind,” Roland said as he shamelessly fell in beside Leon on the opposite side of Elise. Leon considered himself lucky that Roland at least didn’t take his other arm.
“So…” Leon said through clenched teeth, “what can I do for one of His Majesty’s Paladins?”
Leon’s question was a simple thing, little more than a tiny, meaningless courtesy, but it still gave Roland pause; ever since August appointed him to the post of Paladin, he had grown used to nobles, knights, and most other high-ranking courtiers and people of means and importance dismissing him as not a ‘real’ Paladin. To hear Leon calling one of the King’s Paladins brought out a smile of such pride and joy from Roland that Leon found it increasingly difficult to distrust the man, despite one of his subordinates participating in the attack on his home in the Northern Vales.
“I… I haven’t had much of a chance to speak with you since meeting up with you again, and I wanted to take the opportunity to do so before something else came up,” Roland explained.
Leon glanced at Elise, hoping his lady would help him out. He’d told her about the attack on his home and about Roland’s tenuous connection with the men who carried out the assault, so she knew why Leon wasn’t too eager to speak with the Paladin at the moment. For her part, she’d done a little bit of digging of her own, but she hadn’t found anything in Roland’s history that would give her pause. Still, when she responded to Roland’s request to speak, her tone was chilling and far less inviting than she might’ve been with any other noble.
“And why do you want to speak to Leon?” Elise asked.
“Just… wanted to catch up…” Roland hesitantly responded. He was a little taken aback at Elise’s cold tone, but he assumed it was simply because he was butting in on her time with her lover, so he simply smiled and bore with it.
Roland continued after taking a few breathes to compose himself, “I, uh, I actually heard you came down to the Bull Kingdom a while back. I even spent a considerable amount of time looking for you—after seeing you in action in the Northern Vales, I wanted to take you as my squire after Luke graduated from the Knight Academy.”
“I see…” Leon replied in a neutral tone.
“I followed you all the way to the Northern Territories, but I was told by the Consul of the North himself that you were killed in that unpleasantness with the Valemen…” Roland said with some traces of accusation in his voice.
Leon breathed a silent ‘thank you’ to the Consul of the North, then said out loud, “Not surprising. A lot of people died that day, I’m sure identifying everyone was a real pain, mistakes are sadly common.” He knew, of course, that the Consul knew full well that he was alive given that he was the man who knighted Leon, but it was also an easy enough ‘mistake’ to explain away.
“I suppose it was,” Roland admitted. “Anyway, I just wanted to express my happiness at how well you’re doing right now. Fifth-tier and serving under a Prince? That’s a far cry from the young Valeman I saw fighting bandits two years ago. You’ve truly done well for yourself!”
“Thank you,” Leon said with a few traces of genuine pride that he couldn’t hide behind his stoic exterior.
“And listen,” Roland continued, “if you ever have any trouble down here in the south, just come to me, I’ll be happy to help in any way I can!”
“That’s a generous offer,” Leon stated with little intent to actually test the Paladin’s offer.
“Well, both you and your father helped me out a great deal in my mission back then, so I’d like to repay the favor if I’m able. Speaking of which, how is your father doing?” Roland’s face was the definition of innocent curiosity, but as soon as the question was out of his mouth, Leon almost froze and had to fight not to snap at the Paladin. Fortunately for him, he was a stoic person by nature, so all it took to conceal his emotions was to turn his head away from Roland for a second or two, and the Paladin was none the wiser.
“He’s… fine,” Leon eventually answered. Fortunately for him, Roland didn’t pick up on his hesitation with his answer, and neither did Alix or Elise feel the need to speak up before him. They both knew that Artorias was dead and could understand Leon’s reticence to speak with Roland.
“Sir Roland, it was lovely to see you,” Elise suddenly said as the opposite end of the bridge came into view, “but Leon and I were going to spend some quality time together, which we haven’t gotten much of in the past year and a half, so we’re going to have to say goodbye here.”
“I understand,” Roland said, a little disappointed that he hadn’t gotten to say much at all but unwilling to continue to interrupt their time. “Just know, Sir Leon, that you’re always welcome wherever I’m at, should you feel the need for my company.”
“Thank you,” Leon said once Roland had walked a fair distance, this time with less pride and more muted suspicion.
And with that, Roland separated from their group and started walking toward a different part of the noble district.
“Thank you,” Leon repeated, this time to Elise and with a great deal of honest gratitude. “I had no idea how I could ditch him without raising any suspicions…”
“Don’t mention it,” Elise said with a glowing smile. “I’ve gotten fairly good at dismissing people I find annoying since my mother started having me help in administering the Heaven’s Eye Tower.”
“Does that mean I ought to be dismissed?” Alix asked with a wry smile, feeling more than a little superfluous still being with Leon and Elise.
“Of course not!” Elise said, letting go of Leon’s arm to pull Alix into a hug. “You can consider yourself welcome anytime! By the way, do you two have your accommodations arranged yet?”
“We don’t,” Leon admitted. “We were supposed to report to the Legion barracks if we couldn’t find a place by nightfall, but I figured we could find a place by then, assuming we couldn’t impose on you for a little while.”
Elise grabbed one of both Leon and Alix’s arms and said, “Neither of you are an imposition! I insist you stay with me as long as you want!”
Waiting for them near the bridge were dozens of carriages and litters owned by the nobles in the palace and the servants to operate them. The largest by far, though, was a silver carriage that glittered in the evening sun. It was trimmed in gold and pulled by a pair of enormous pure white stallions, each one about half again as large as the horses Leon had seen used in the Talfar army, which was known for its exceptional horses. Emblazoned on the doors of the carriage and on the caparisons of the horses was a large golden eye, the sigil of Heaven’s Eye.
“Nice ride,” Alix said, admiring the carriage as Elise led them over to it.
“Thanks,” Elise said with a beaming smile.
Barely fifteen minutes later, the three had arrived at Elise’s estate. Leon had done Alix the favor of carrying her luggage in his soul realm, so once he dropped her stuff off in her room, he and Elise made their way to Elise’s bedroom. Elise hadn’t been lying when she told Roland that she wanted some alone time with Leon.
Once the door was closed and they were alone, Elise threw her arms around Leon and pressed her lips against his. But she didn’t do anything more, which Leon found quite unusual for her. Under normal circumstances, she’d have been running her hands over his body while encouraging him to do the same to her, but this was a deep, passionate kiss and nothing more.
After separating, she whispered, “I’m glad you’re back, but we need to talk…”
Leon’s heart sank. ‘We need to talk’ were four of the most dreaded words anyone could hear in a relationship, and even though Elise’s behavior up to this point hadn’t led him to believe she wanted to break up, he still began to panic upon seeing her loving smile turn serious.
“What about?” he asked with trepidation.
“I’ve been thinking for the past few weeks,” Elise explained, “ever since you told me about your situation with that Naiad.”
“Find anything that could help me out?” Leon asked with a hint of hope in his voice.
His hopes were dashed when Elise shook her head.
“Not yet, but it has brought an issue we’ve been ignoring to the forefront of my mind,” she said. “Nobles are expected to be polygamous in this Kingdom. I’m noble, as are you. The Kingdom at large may not know your real name, but you’re still a fifth-tier knight, and thus noble enough to have multiple spouses.”
“I see…” Leon whispered. It was true that he hadn’t put much thought into this particular issue until Naiad had almost forced herself upon him; he felt like he could be perfectly happy with just Elise for the rest of his life. However, monogamy was an extremely rare thing among nobility—in fact, Artorias was the only high noble Leon knew of who hadn’t built a harem.
But even though Leon hadn’t thought much about it, this was something he and Elise were going to have to talk about at some point, and it seemed like that point was now.
“I want to say right off the bat that I don’t want any husbands other than you,” Elise said while looking Leon in the eye. He could see fear and dread in her eyes, but also determination and a complete lack of hesitation. It was obvious that she meant what she said.
“Well, I’m not exactly keen on looking for other wives,” Leon replied with a smile, hoping that he was conveying the same seriousness Elise was.
“Then we have a problem,” Elise said as she took a seat on the edge of her bed. “Only one of us can have a harem, but if neither of us does, then it would be an embarrassment for us both. To have a harem is a sign of authority and nobility that shouldn’t be ignored.”
“Hmmm,” Leon hummed as he sat down next to his lady. His cheeks were rapidly turned red with this conversation and he had no idea what to say.
“Leon, do you think you could share me with another man?” Elise asked. Her tone wasn’t playful or teasing at all, and her emerald eyes locked onto Leon’s and didn’t let him go.
“No!” Leon instantly replied. He didn’t need to think about it, but when he did, he found the idea of Elise and another guy together to be detestable. “I guess I’m a selfish and greedy man,” he continued after his initial negative reaction died down, “I know that other guys don’t have a problem with that sort of thing… But I don’t want that…”
Elise giggled and said, “I didn’t think you would. Can I let you in on a secret?”
“… Sure…” Leon said with rapidly rising anxiety.
Elise leaned in and brought her lips to Leon’s ear. Her breath tickled his ear and she whispered in a smooth and sultry tone, “I don’t think I could say the same in return, if I had to share you with another woman…”
Leon’s eyebrows shot almost to his hairline in surprise. He felt that, for sure, Elise would be as greedy and selfish as he was, refusing to share him as he refused to share her.
‘But… I could be misinterpreting that…’ Leon thought to himself. He turned to look at his lady to find that she was still staring at him with her big green eyes narrowed in playfulness and her full lips curled upward in a teasing smile. ‘I see, she’s just messing with me…’
As if knowing exactly what he was thinking, Elise said, “I’m being deadly serious! I’m… curious as to what being with you and another woman might be like… Ever since the idea entered my head, I can’t stop thinking about it!”
“Oh shit, you are serious…!” Leon said with as much surprise as he was capable of expressing.
“Yes, I am,” Elise responded. She wrapped her arms around Leon’s neck and pulled him in closer, whispering into his ear, “Listen, my love, if you don’t get at least two or three more wives, it will be an embarrassment in this Kingdom, an embarrassment I will share as your first wife… It’s best for us both if you were to be the one with the harem, here.”
Leon’s heart was racing so fast he felt like it was going to explode, and not just from talk about his finding another couple of lovers, but also because Elise was talking about marriage for the first time.
“Do you u-understand what I’m saying?” Elise quietly asked with a degree of uncertainty, her voice cracking for the first time since this conversation began. “I don’t expect you to go out tomorrow morning and return at night with another girl, but it’s something I want you to keep in mind… And I need to meet her before you do anything, got it?!”
“I-I…” Leon sputtered as he searched for the right words to say. When he separated from Elise’s tight embrace and saw how grave Elise’s expression was, there was only one thing he could say: “I understand.”
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