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    What could His Majesty be thinking?

    Even while inspecting the emperor’s guards’ entrance, Ashler couldn’t shake off his doubts. When he came to his senses, the emperor had already disappeared, taking only one subordinate with him. However, there was no time to stop him.

    Should he chase after them now? His heart was restless, like a parent who had left their child by the riverside. He knew how powerful Karas was and trusted the 1st Battalion Commander who followed him. Yet, what if something happened?

    As he pondered, Ashler caught sight of Roster, the 2nd Battalion commander.

    The 1st Battalion Commander was older and usually not good at having conversations due to his roughness, but he was close to Roster and the Captain of the Royal Guards who was not present at the moment. The moments of death they experienced together bound them with a strong friendship. Of course, it wasn’t just friendship that bound them.

    “Roster.”

    As Ashler called his name and quickly approached, Roster glanced over with a colder look than usual. However, Ashler, preoccupied with concerns about Karas, didn’t notice his demeanor.

    “His Majesty has left with the 1st Battalion Commander. They disguised themselves and headed to the palace secretly first. So, make sure to keep this matter from leaking out.”

    The news was surprising enough to make Roster’s eyebrows shoot up. However, his astonishment was for a different reason.

    “Did he only tell you again?”

    Although the word ‘again’ seemed to have some force, Ashler casually nodded his head without making a big deal out of it.

    “I saw His Majesty off at dawn. I was so surprised because I didn’t hear about it in advance. It’s just that he went with only one subordinate.”

    Ashler expressed his concern, but Roster dismissed it casually.

    “His Majesty is wise and thoughtful. It’s been six years since he returned to the palace, so he must be going among the people to gauge public opinion. And if the 1st Battalion Commander went with him, there’s nothing to worry about. Well, it’s difficult to live through war, so human trafficking is increasing, however, His Majesty won’t be caught by anyone. So, it’s not a big deal if you didn’t go with him. That’s just a misconception.”

    “Yeah, it’s a misconception that it’s a big deal if I didn’t go with him….”

    Ashler, who nodded his head, finally realized the force in Roster’s words and furrowed his brow.

    “What are you talking about, exactly?”

    He asked with a serious expression, but Roster’s eyes widened in response.

    “Do you remember the Battle of the Badger River, exactly one year ago from now?”

    “What? Why are you suddenly bringing that up?”

    “I was in charge of the rear guard at that place. But d*mn, the King’s Heart leaked information again, and the enemy launched an all-out attack on the rear I was defending. If I had been breached, we would all have been annihilated. At that moment, my men and I were driven by a sense of duty to swing our swords towards the enemies, even if our bodies turned to dust!”

    Roster’s voice grew increasingly excited. Ashler’s suspicion also rose.

    What’s gotten into him?

    However, as Roster recalled the situation, his emotions intensified, and tears welled up in his eyes.

    “I naturally thought I would die there. Facing so many enemies, all sorts of thoughts crossed my mind…”

    “So what?”

    Annoyed, Ashler finally interrupted him, and Roster turned back fiercely.

    “But I survived. Until His Majesty arrived with the reinforcements, I defended that place. Do you know what His Majesty said when he saw me? He just said only one word. ‘Stand up.’ Haha, of course, I didn’t expect any praise from His Majesty, so I didn’t feel resentful. Instead, I felt even more empowered by the order to stand up. After all, I haven’t seen anyone receiving praise from His Majesty for the past six years. Until yesterday.”

    Only then did Ashler understand what Roster was getting at.

    Ah, this guy is still sulking.

    It was because of the praise that Karas gave Ashler yesterday. But Ashler was the one who felt wronged. Although the words were clearly a praised, it felt like a threat to the person involved.

    “Hey, it seems you’re upset about what His Majesty said to me yesterday. Believe it or not, it wasn’t praise. Seriously, it felt strange….”

    Swish!

    Roster drew his sword and his eyes blazed.

    “Ashler! You, who received His Majesty’s love, dare to blabber nonsense! What? It wasn’t praise?! Are you refusing His Majesty’s words?”

    Ashler realized that if he received His Majesty’s favor one more time, he’d likely be killed by his comrade first.  Of course, it was even more frustrating because he hadn’t actually received any special favor. If that were the case, His Majesty would have taken him along instead of the 1st Battalion Commander. It was already upsetting enough, but to be misunderstood on top of that.

    Swish!

    Overwhelmed, Ashler also drew his sword.

    “Roster! What nonsense are you spewing? Anyway, there’s no one in the world who could receive His Majesty’s love all to themselves. Even if there was… huh?”

    If there was someone, it would be Abel. The very one who departed early this morning. Karas followed suit shortly after. Ashler, in the midst of drawing his sword, halted as a new thought dawned on him.

    What if the emperor actually followed Abel? Did he perhaps notice something?

    However, his speculation couldn’t continue. Roster’s furious shout interrupted his thoughts.

    “Even if there is, are you saying it’s you? I’ll report everything to the Captain of the Royal Guards!”

    The Captain of the Royal Guards who was the most loyal to the emperor was the one who was most jealous of Ashler, to the point that he suspects he might be in love with him. If he knew that Ashler had received praise from the emperor, he would be the one to challenge him to a duel. He might even attempt an assassination.

    Ashler reluctantly threw Roster a prey.

    “D*mn it, of course, it’s not me. If you promise not to tell the Captain of the Royal Guards, I’ll let you in on a secret. There’s actually someone who has a real chance of receiving His Majesty’s love. His Majesty might be meeting with that person right now.”

    ⊹˚. ♡.𖥔 ݁ ˖ ⊹˚. ♡.𖥔 ݁ ˖

    “……”

    “……”

    “……”

    The three in the carriage froze at the name they just heard, their minds going blank. All they could do was look at the person who confidently stated his name. Even though none of them were unfamiliar with that name, what good did it do to simply hear it? Why did he suddenly appear? And why were his clothes so shabby?

    However, there was someone who explained only what was unnecessary, leaving out the important parts.

    “What you heard earlier is this person’s name.”

    The person who stopped the carriage pointed at Karas and explained. The three pairs of eyes turned to him at once. However, the stern 1st Battalion Commander, completely serious, paid no mind to their reactions and continued with only what he had to say.

    “But there are circumstances, so you must not call this person by their name from now on.”

    “Then, what should we call him?”

    When Melmond finally regained his composure and asked, the 1st Battalion Commander replied in a blunt voice.

    “Commander-in-Chief.”

    Now, any questions about why Karas had suddenly appeared were forgotten in the minds of the three. The only thing filling their minds was the emphasis of the 1st Battalion Commander.

    “Do you understand? From now on, this person is Commander-in-Chief. Please address him strictly as Commander-in-Chief. By the way, if you want to use his full title, you can call him the Commander-in-Chief of the Commander Captain’s Battalion, which is the title of the Commander Captain of the Commander Captain’s Battalion directly under the Commander-in-Chief’s command.”

    He wanted to beg to let him call him by his name instead.

    Melmond was a quick-witted person. He knew best what he should do at this moment, which could be the most awkward in the world. He pretended to be asleep.

    ⊹˚. ♡.𖥔 ݁ ˖ ⊹˚. ♡.𖥔 ݁ ˖

    Rattle. Rattle.

    The carriage, claiming that he should drive it himself, had its reins forcibly taken by the 1st Battalion Commander, and naturally, Melmond and the butler who were sitting in the coachman seat, had to move to the back.

    However, no matter how much the butler cherished the young master who was behind him, the butler pushed Melmond’s back, as if he didn’t want to go near Karas, who was emitting a cold gaze.

    The three people who reluctantly boarded the shaking carriage were Melmond, Abel, and Karas. Although they were riding together, the air inside the carriage was incredibly heavy. It was all because of Karas, who stared piercingly at one person from the moment they sat down. Abel felt like his skin would be pierced because of Karas’ fixed gaze as if he wouldn’t miss a single breath he took.

    However, right now, Abel’s neck was straining as he tried to avoid Karas’ gaze, regardless of whether his skin would get pierced or not.

    He had definitely received a frightening threat the night before. If he pretended to know him, he would die. To Abel, this felt like a test from the devil himself.

    He was so worried if they accidentally made eye contact because it felt like the other person would draw his sword and attack him for pretending to know. His gaze was truly terrifying.

    Abel had no choice but to turn to Melmond who was asleep and ask for help, however, he didn’t even wake up.

    It was natural. He was already awake.

    Among them, Melmond was the most flustered. His head was so tangled and complicated that he had a headache. What would he do if he accidentally said something wrong and the truth was revealed between the two who didn’t know each other’s existence?

    No, the one who can’t be trusted is Abel.

    He believed that the other person wasn’t the emperor, so what if he said, “Hehe, I’ve been reincarnated,” and accidentally confessed?

    So, all he could do was pretend to sleep. But even he felt like holes were being drilled into his skin under Abel’s piercing gaze, so there was no respite.

    Even Karas, who caused all of this situation, should have been peaceful, but unfortunately, he was also uncomfortable.

    Why isn’t he looking at me?

    Actually, he wanted to talk to him more to see if he was really Abel’s reincarnation. If he didn’t realize it himself, Karas thought he might even reveal hints of the old Abel in his ordinary conversations or actions.

    However, he had to make eye contact to talk to him, yet he had been staring fixedly at Melmond the entire time.

    Why? Why doesn’t he look happy to see me and only look at Melmond?

    Feeling worse, Karas narrowed his eyes and glared at Abel, but suddenly a thought occurred to him.

    Ah, he might be embarrassed in front of other people.

    Karas turned his narrowed eyes directly at the culprit, Melmond.

    Get up quickly and disappear from the carriage.

    The pressure on Melmond doubled with the added curse in his gaze. He desperately pretended to be asleep. However, the more conscious he became, the more his body writhed, and the more he held it in, the more cramps formed in his legs. Unable to endure the pain, Melmond couldn’t help and was about to open his eyes, and suddenly, a miracle happened.

    Thud.

    The carriage stopped, and the familiar voice of the butler was heard.

    “We have arrived at the river. Everyone needs to get off to board the ship….”

    The butler, who had been lifting the curtain and only sticking his head out, stopped speaking and asked Melmond with a puzzled expression.

    “Melmond, why are you crying?”

    It was tears of joy from the pain in his feet subsiding and the relief of being able to get off the carriage. However, Melmond quickly pretended to yawn and deceived the people. Then, he tried to be the first to get off the carriage with his limping leg. Abel, who quickly followed behind him, was stopped by a word from Karas.

    “Cover your face.”

    Melmond, feeling guilty and claiming that Abel can endanger the nation based on his appearance, persuaded Abel once again to cover his face. Due to Karas’ insistence on covering every inch of his face, Abel almost suffocated and nearly died before even boarding the ship. They finally agreed to just wear hoods, but Karas’ disapproving gaze continued to follow him.

    Melmond thought that he would die of a heart attack before Abel, rather than Abel himself, and went to the place to board the ship. However, he encountered another problem even there. Perhaps rumors of the war ending had already spread, as there were quite a few people gathered at the riverbank to board the ships.

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