Chapter 220, A Father
Hatchel has led me halfway around the circumference of Regalia Lake so far.
Now, I wonder how much more I have to walk.
…And he’s no nervous that his arms are swinging out of sync with his legs.
…And Leon’s reaching his hands out, as if trying to grab the moon in the sky.
That’s not quite a child’s creative expression, but a baby’s – I could learn a thing or two from him.
I imitated Leon, reaching my free hand up… and at the same time, Hatchel turned around.
“… I-is something the matter, sir”
“Ah, nothing… just swatting some flies.
Damn it, I’ve just gone and embarrassed myself.
Leon looks confused.
And to be honest, I am as well.
How can adults tell lies like that, without even batting an eyelid
Scratch that – even a kid will do that.
Case in point: that one boy I’ve tutored…
Will Leon turn out like that as well, after experiencing various aspects of the world on his way to succeeding the Holy Emperor’s office
How do kids even feel growing up, always pressured by crooked adults’ wishes for them to live a linear, pre-paved path in life
Anyway, now Hatchel has stopped in front of a rocky cliff.
So what’s next Are we gonna have a picnic while looking at the Regalia Lake Talk and bond over some chicken sandwich and stuff
“H-here we go…”
He put his hands into a gap between the rocks and… twisted
The next moment, the rocks let out a writing-like sound and split to the sides.
It’s quite similar to the Resistance hideout that I once visited with Dallas.
And speaking of which, I wonder how Dallas is doing… and that Sayla lady, too.
It’s been quite a long time since I’ve time-traveled, after all.
At least they have Warren with them – so they’re probably all right, I guess.
“P-please come on in.”
I walked in, Hatchel lit a torch on the wall, then pulled the lever hidden on the inside of the passage.
The rocks promptly slid shut.
Is this Hatchel guy some sort of super important person Because he sure seems that way – normal people wouldn’t know about this kind of device in this kind of place.
“T-this way, sir.”
I followed Hatchel down the path, our shadows flickering with the fire of his torch.
We spent an uncomfortable amount of time walking… on uneven ground, no less.
Like, a whole hour must have passed by now, I think Without any conversation between us, either – just walking.
Then, when Hatchel’s torch was about to go out, the rugged ground transitioned to paved cobblestone.
-Wait, could this place be…
“A-almost there, sir.”
Great, Hatchel’s interruption made me forget what I was thinking about.
The falls are quite well-reinforced.
This path is good enough to be called a hallway, even.
After passing several wall-mounted candle stands, we came to a stop at a thick-looking door.
“T-they have arrived, my Lord!”
Hatchel, tens of times more nervous than he had been before, said through the thick, metallic door.
The door promptly opened with a subdued metallic clang.
The room is dark, illuminated only by candlelight.
Sitting silently in the chair in the center of the room is… an old man with a large, imposing silhouette.
Once we were inside, Hatchel knelt down.
“A-apologies to have kept you waiting, my Lord!”
Whoa, he hit his forehead on the ground so hard that I thought he was about to bury his whole head.
Considering Hatchel’s attitude toward this old guy, he must be quite a powerful person.
The old man nodded and said a few words, sending Hatchel out the door.
This man is definitely a good guy.
It’s written all over his face.
The flames of the candles on the circular table swayed, illuminating the old man’s face.
It took me but a glance to recognize his presence.
The glint in his eyes, sharp and strong.
His beard and eyebrows, white and long.
His hair, also white, with some remaining streaks of black.
He’s holding a staff, but doesn’t seem to be relying on it to stand.
His age, judging from his looks, should be over eighty years old, and his appearance is quite unique among all the people I’ve met.
But those eyes, blue as the ocean… where’d I see them from before
Leon tugged on my shirt, trying to get my attention.
That was moment when I realized who the old man was.
-Holy Emperor Hudl.
The very moment I realized that, something strange happened to my body.
Before I knew it, I was bending my knees and kneeling before the Holy Emperor.
… What the hell’s going on
Oh, I can stand now.
Looks like that was just a subconscious response of respect – interesting.
I’ll write that down in the Principles of a Philosopher.
The Holy Emperor took out a brush from his chest pocket as he stood up, his head tilting only slightly.
“I had thought you would kneel, but then you whipped out a book and started writing… Interesting.”
“Valuable experiences and memorable occurrences are the things that propel people forward in life, my Lord.”
“Mm-hm, that thing I just said was good, too.
Let’s write that down here… Oh, where are my manners Master Leon is perfectly well, as you can see, my Lord.”
Hudl seemed surprised by Leon’s lighthearted greeting.
But why What about that could be so strange that it surprised even the Holy Emperor
“That’s right, Leon.
My thoughts exactly.”
“MY thoughts exactly as well… In that I had not expected him to be raised so well and healthy.”
He’s got a point there – we’ve been moving from place to place quite often these days.
I also didn’t expect Leon to grow up so healthy and adaptable.
It’s thanks to Pochi, Chappie, Bright, and all the others as well.
“First of all, let us express our thanks for taking care of Leon.
I am but an old man not long for this world.
Never had I expected to have another child so recently.”
Hudl nodded… so subtly that it looked more like he had just cast his eyes down.
Considering his age, he may have been right to assume what he said, but he’s still got a long way ahead of him.
The arcane energy inside his body is extremely youthful.
Maybe this is what it’s like to be so… spirited.
“So… was I summoned here because you wanted to see Leon, my Lord”
“That is part of the reason.”
What else could he want, then
“Another is that… I had wanted to have at least one look at you.”
The feeling is mutual, then.
Makes sense – this guy is THE Holy Emperor Hudl, the one ruling this Nation to face the Devil King’s resurrection.
People could see the light in him, and rely on that light to guide them.
Soldiers and adventurers alike could feel the willingness to trust him with their lives.
I can totally understand Polco and June’s attitude toward Hudl, too.
“Whenever I heard Adams report on your activities, I could not help but be reminded of my heyday – as if my heart was restored, even if briefly.”
“It’s an honor, my Lord.”
“…Where are you currently staying”
“An inn in Regalia, my Lord.
We’ve been stalked by agents of House Douglas at one point, but I don’t reckon that would be an issue.”
Hudl muttered to himself and coughed to clear his throat, as if he was feeling awkward about what he was about to say next,
“Is there anything inconveniencing you”
“No, my Lord..”
“Is there anything you don’t have enough of”
“No, my Lord.”
Hudl, a little fidgety, cleared his throat once more and asked me quietly,
“Would you… let me hold Leon in my arms”
Even a Holy Emperor would be nervous when interacting with his almost-grandchild-age son, I see…
Hudl looked at me, his eyes showing both confidence and uncertainly, and then quickly looked away.
Maybe because he noticed the look his own eyes were making.
He’s human as well, after all.
I held Leon up a little higher and said to him,
“That’s what he said, Master Leon.
“Permission granted, my Lord.”
“…Was that necessary”
Met with Hudl’s expression of slight disapproval, I elaborated on my point,
“I adhere to the belief that children should be free, my Lord.
At times they may want to be held, at times to walk, and at times to be left alone.
And although they are children, they are individual mortal beings.
Asking to hold him – every step of the way – is part of how one respects him as such.
And I would very much like Master Leon to become an adult who respects others, you see.”
“Hmm, it seems to me that your capabilities are wasted under Adams and Fulbright’s employment.”
Heh, so that’s what he thinks, huh
I slowly handed Leon over to Hudl.
The latter held the former, placing his wrinkled index finger on Leon’s squishy cheek.
Leon grasped the finger in both of his small hands and looked into Hudl’s eyes.
It’s as if both of them knew that the moment would not last long.
A brief moment of reunion for the father and his son – When I saw that there were no tears in any of their eyes, I knew for sure how immeasurably heavy their fates were on their lives.
“You have my thanks.”
“No worries, my Lord – I’m not doing this for this sort of reward.”
Hudl’s expression softened – though still not enough to be considered a smile – as he handed Leon back to me.
“By the way, I heard that you will be participating in the Familiar Chalice…”
“Yes, my Lord.
I have already registered my Familiar as a participant.”
“I look forward to seeing it in action.”
“That would be a great source of my worries, my Lord.”
And I’ll tell Adams that you were quite an interesting man.”
After the event, the winning Familiar and its owner will get an audience with the Holy Emperor.
Not something we’d need, I suppose.
I mean, I can DEFINITELY see Pochi be overly excited and making a disruptive fuss about it.
But of course, in order to win, she’ll have to defeat Lylia’s Familiar, Seki’teigyu the Crimson King Ox.
Hatchel did not accompany us on the way back, what with him being tasked with guard duty.
…Now that I think about it, me and Hudl… we never introduced ourselves to each other, did we
I didn’t use my Appraisal Glasses, either, but strangely enough, I naturally knew that he was the Holy Emperor.
Not that I could tell what was going on in that head of his, but, well… the Holy Emperor sure was incredible.