IN HIS SHOES
Disclaimer: I do not own Kyou Kara Maou.
Note (a rather long one, too):
A new chapter, at last! I am very sorry to make you wait for one whole year for this one. But my excuse remains the same as last year's: real life and career are very hectic and I barely have time for anything these days. However, rest assured, I am not abandoning this story and will strive to finish it. In fact, in compensation for having taken so long with the updates, the length of this chapter will be massive. But I find that I couldn't have done it another way. Brace yourselves – you're in for a long ride.
There is also the matter of Shori taking over the story and this fic was in danger of shaping up to be a Shori/Wolfram fic instead of the Yuuri/Wolfram that I intended it to be. You cannot imagine how many times I've had to write and rewrite this chapter (and the next 2) for the story to come back to its original plot. I still don't have an ending yet but I do know who is going to end up with who in this story. (By the way, you might also be interested to know that I'm also in the process of writing a separate Shori/Wolfram story that I might post sometime in the near future.)
I won't bore you any longer with my notes and let you get on with the story. But before I end this, I'd like to say thank you so very much for all of those who reviewed, commented and PM-ed me about this fic. My gratitude also goes to the many people who put this story on their alert and favorites list. Million thanks and enjoy the story!
Chapter XI: Changes
Wolfram is a fearless knight among wimps.
Wolfram heard laughter from inside the room and for a moment he paused to decipher whose delightful voice it belonged to. A moment later, he found his answer. It had to be Gisela. He decided to stop and enjoy that sound for a little while, for it meant that the danger had passed and she was alive and, most importantly, truly well. Her condition had been grave for a while and the healers had even told Gunter to prepare himself for the probability of losing his daughter. Gunter's grief over Gisela's condition had been unbearable and everyone had tried their best to console him. Luckily, Gisela was strong and Wolfram's closest childhood friend pulled through in the end.
Wolfram did not even want to contemplate how things might have turned out if the healers and Ulrike had not managed to cure Gisela from her life-threatening injuries. Standing here in front of her room, with eyebrows crunched so closely that his handsome face lost its appeal for a moment, he shuddered as his mind briefly considered the what ifs. But he shook himself out of it pretty quickly when he heard the sound of laughter once again. Obviously, Gisela was all right now, so Wolfram quickly recomposed himself, schooling his features into its previously neutral expression and straightening the non-existent creases of his jacket. He glanced downwards to make sure that there was not a single petal out of place in the bouquet of flowers that he was bringing for Gisela and proceeded to knock the door to his friend's room.
"Come in," came the answer from inside.
Wolfram opened the door and stepped in. Gisela was half obscured from his view by the canopies of her bed but she apparently spotted him clearly because she squealed her welcome in excitement. Her companion, the formidable Lady Anissina, did too because right after Gisela's greeting he head Anissina's drawling greeting.
"Hello, Gisela," Wolfram started and then acknowledged Anissina, "Hello, Anissina." He paused and said again, "I heard you're well now so I came to visit."
Gisela beamed. "Why, thank you, Wolfram!" She eyed the flowers and her eyes widened at the sight of them. "You even brought flowers!"
Wolfram thrust the flowers at Gisela's hand and then blushed profusely. Gruffly, the blond knight said, "Well, it's only polite to bring some-something when visiting a sick person, especially if that person is a lady. And you are a lady, aren't you?"
Anissina and Gisela exchanged an amused look before the former burst out laughing in that annoying high-pitched voice of hers. Wolfram shot her a dirty look but Anissina was, as usual, unfazed. She even had the gall to tease him about that.
"Apparently chivalry is not dead!" Anissina proclaimed, "How gallant of you, Wolfram! It's good to see a man with proper manners these days… because we all know that the whole lot of them are brutes! Like your oldest brother, for example! Why, when he visited Gisela, he did not bring anything! Nothing! Not even one of his deformed stuffed animals! Honestly! So, Little Wolfram, you have my vote for Prince Charming of the Year!"
Wolfram gritted his teeth. Although she was not exactly mocking him, he did wonder why Anissina always felt compelled to tease him all the time. Perhaps he had made a mistake coming back to Shin Makoku after all. Perhaps he should have just stayed on Earth where there was no Anissina and her jokes. He should have just stayed there with the Shibuya family… but he quickly stopped his train of thought at the mere memory of that family. Thinking about Shori hurt too much right now. Thinking about Yuuri even more so. Thinking about their parents, who were so kind to him despite the fact that their sons weren't, hurt as well because now he was quite sure he was never going to see them again…
Shaking his head to get rid of unnecessary thoughts, he struggled to keep his temper under control. It would have been a difficult feat, controlling his temper, but the training he had done with Shori Shibuya on Earth had improved him in that department. He was now no longer prone to outbursts, although that did not diminish his desire to roast anyone who pricked his temper. Then again, this new development might have been due to the fact that he had avoided the whole castle ever since they returned from the encampment and that hideous battle. No one had come to seek his company either, although that was probably because he was always brooding these days and that might have discouraged callers, so Wolfram had been able to spend his days back at the castle, recovering from his wounds, in relative silence.
Gisela noticed how agitated Wolfram had become because of Anissina's joke so she decided to intervene. "Thank you for the flowers, Wolfram. Just put them in my nightstand and come sit here next to my bed."
Wolfram nodded and did what he was told. Once he had reached Gisela's bedside, he placed the flowers on the nightstand and sat on an empty chair, clearly put there for visitors, and took a good look at his friend. What he saw broke his heart.
Because of the brutality inflicted on her person by those criminals, she had to have her hair cut. Her previously long locks were only as long as Wolfram's own and that was rather short indeed. Her face had been swollen before but now there were thankfully only about a dozen dried lacerations marring her pretty features. Wolfram felt his throat constrict at the sight of her. She did not deserve this… she did not deserve to have her face ruined like this. Oh, he knew it would heal over time but seeing them there was just too much for him… he had heard of a detailed account of what had happened to Gisela in the battle. How she had been dragged and kicked and punched and… nearly raped.
And just that last crime alone was enough to send Wolfram's temper up to flames. Those bastards!
Gisela was alarmed. Wolfram's power was furiously radiating from him and was threatening to escalate to a full-fledged outburst of Maryoku that could possibly wreck more damage. Apparently Anissina felt it too. The moment she felt Wolfram's power tingling under her skin, she started to steadily move away from Wolfram. The raw wrath from his powers, stronger than ever before, was surprisingly scary.
"Wolfram, calm down," Gisela ordered in a firm tone that reminded them all of her Sergeant persona.
Wolfram stared fiercely at Gisela and said through gritted teeth. "But your face… they ruined your face… they nearly raped you…"
"I'm fine!" Gisela cut him off quickly, understanding immediately the source of the sensation of wild power radiating from Wolfram, "These cuts will heal. It's not like I haven't had this kind of cuts before. As for those criminals, I'm sure they're being taken care of. Besides, I heard you fought them bravely there."
For once Anissina didn't tease him. She sounded perfectly serious when she said, "And you can't deny it. You did fight bravely. Everyone is surprised, Wolfram. You came late in the battle and yet you slew more villains than the other soldiers did. His Majesty is saying that you deserve an honor! You're practically a hero!"
Wolfram shrugged as if the matter did not concern him. The memory of his bloody homecoming had by now become a blur in his mind and it was all for the better. The less he remembered about the whole incident, the better. He could not bring himself to care that the king had finally realized his worth as a soldier.
"As for Gisela, don't worry about her," Anissina continued, "I'm developing a skin salve that will remove the scars completely, which will be ready in a week. And I can assure you, this one is not a fluke. I had already tested a less potent version of the cream on the other injured soldiers and it worked wonders!"
Wolfram didn't doubt that for a second. He had been present at the medical tent when Anissina's wonder salve had been applied to the cuts and bruises suffered by his fellow soldiers. Everyone in his regiment was miraculously scar-free. If Anissina had come up with a more potent version of the same salve for Gisela, then Gisela would surely regain her good looks once again. With that reassurance, Wolfram calmed down and his power began to stifle. Gisela and Anissina exchanged meaningful glances as this occurred.
"That's good then," Wolfram replied a moment later with a genuine smile to both ladies.
Gisela beamed again. She then asked him softly, "So, how have you been, Wolfram? Are you all right?"
"I'm…" And suddenly Wolfram was at lost for words. Sure, he could just say "I'm fine" but somehow Gisela's tone indicated that she did not want to hear a simple and somewhat untruthful answer like that. It sounded like Gisela was not merely asking about his health. No, Wolfram knew that Gisela was asking about matters of the heart. His heart. And Wolfram didn't know what to say about that.
It was no secret even for her who had not been living at the castle at the time it happened that Wolfram had mysteriously disappeared with Shori. Surely she had also heard of how his disappearance caused a great uproar in the castle. The fact that he reappeared in the middle of a bloody battle in what used to be her camp was certainly a point of interest for her. Gisela knew this and, having been Wolfram's friend since they were little, she knew that Wolfram must not be as well as he wanted to be. She wanted to know how he truly felt so that she might be able to help him.
Wolfram raised his eyes to meet her gaze while contemplating her question and when their gazes locked he was suddenly overcome with the most overwhelming urge to spill everything to Gisela. He really wanted to talk to a friend about his predicaments but… alas, he was afraid of what Anissina would say if she heard his story.
Fortunately, Anissina was a very smart woman. She was more than capable of picking up hints through body language and facial expressions. She only needed to listen to Gisela's tone and see the look on Wolfram's face to realize that her two young friends needed to be left alone so they could talk about private matters. Anissina was obnoxious and she could be downright brazen when she wanted to but not this time. She respected that Gisela and Wolfram needed privacy. So she took her leave.
"I'm sure the two of you have a lot of catching up to do," Anissina said, standing up. She was already strolling toward the exit as she said, "I'm due in for a meeting with Gwendal and the others in a few moments so I'll leave you here to talk. I'm sure you're expected in the meeting as well, Wolfram, but don't worry, I'll let them know that you're visiting Gisela. We'll let you know of the meeting results! Bye, my little darlings… see you later!"
Before Wolfram or Gisela could answer, Anissina was already out of the door, waving her hand like mad and then closing the door with a quiet click. They exchanged amusedly exasperated looks before laughing quietly at her antics. Anissina's footsteps faded away behind the thin walls of this ancient castle. When they could not hear them any longer they turned to each other once again to pick up where they left off.
"So," Gisela started again, "I suspect you have many things to tell me about."
Wolfram nodded slowly and tentatively. "So many things have happened…"
Gisela patted the empty space on the edge of her bed, beckoning Wolfram to sit down there. Wolfram obliged and sat down. With her free hand that was not holding the flowers Wolfram had given her, she reached to touch his hand and squeezed it tight for support.
"Tell me everything, Wolfram," Gisela said.
And so Wolfram did. He told Gisela everything, poured everything out and held nothing back.
Further investigations of the Western Border incident revealed that the ambush on the Shin Makoku public healthcare establishment in the area had been organized by a formerly elusive criminal organization that had been a thorn in the side of the kingdom's justice since the end of the 26th Demon Queen's reign. This particularly nasty and cruel band of criminals had been rampaging villages and even towns in the Southern and Eastern Borders in the past several years. According to official case records by the local judicial offices in the area, these criminals were nomads. They had been known to never stay in one area more than a few weeks and recruit new members as they trudged ahead to plunder various establishments. They carried their loot with them as they went along and, by the time border patrollers reached their secret lairs, the only thing that they could find was dust in those abandoned hideouts.
The attack on the Western Borders was the fifth offense that this gang committed and also their largest scale operation thus far because it appeared that they sent every single bandit in their so-called organization for the offense. The investigators were amazed to discover that these bandits had never before attacked an establishment owned by the kingdom – their other victims had been civilian-owned establishment – because the way they attacked the camp was so vicious that one would think they had it in for the kingdom and official government. Why they chose to start attacking a military camp now was still a mystery but at least the investigators were able to confirm that nearly the entire number of members of this organization had been suppressed at this particular confrontation with the royal army. In other words, this particular attack seemed to have been designed as their ultimate coup.
The total number of casualties was 106 on their side, while 83 deceased and 23 injured. There were deserters but the number was yet unknown. Previous records showed that there were approximately 150 members in the organization so it was predicted that around 50 convicts were still out there, on the run. They might still pose severe threats to the public and government officials alike so patrols in each region of Shin Makoku, both border regions and the Ten Aristocrats territories, had been increased to prevent future confrontations.
Those were still alive among the casualties were under healer's treatments in prison but would be tried as soon as they were healed. All of them faced heavy sentences as consequences of their destructive offences. Among others, they would be tried for severely injuring one high-ranking official, namely Lady Gisela Von Kleist, and directly attacking King Yuuri Shibuya himself.
Gwendal listened to these reports attentively with Yuuri, Conrart, Gunter, Anissina and even Murata and Shori present in his office. The head investigator, Gregory, who was a lieutenant in Gwendal's regiment, had been working to investigate the case and compose this report ever since the king's return to the Blood Pledge castle from the Western Borders, which Gwendal organized after Geigenhuber had arrived to help Yozak secure the area. This morning, he and his comrades finally stepped up to present the finished report.
"What of the citizens of that town in the Western Borders?" asked Yuuri question after Gregory had reached the end of his presentation.
"The ones who survived the ordeal have begun rebuilding the town," Gregory answered, "A neighboring town is hosting the citizens who lost their homes because of the rampage so the citizens will have temporary shelter during reconstruction. We estimate that the reconstructions will take about a month to finish, during which time our troops will be stationed there to assist and accelerate the process."
"We should consider placing a commander there to lead the restoration of the town and also install him as head of security," Gunter suggested to Gwendal.
Gwendal nodded. "That is very reasonable. We should look into the military records and choose among the high commanders to be placed there. However, seeing as he had already done a good job in the investigations, I am inclined to appoint Gregory."
"Ah, yes, about that, I think actually…" Gregory interjected suddenly and rather nervously. Everyone turned to him with interest.
Gregory gulped at the attention he was receiving from his superiors and wondered if he should still continue. Yuuri noted his discomfort and kindly asked the lieutenant what he meant with his words. Gregory still shifted rather nervously but the question had been asked. He had no choice but to answer lest he was considered rude by the king and
"Someone applied for that job to me, Your Majesty," Gregory finally answered, much to everyone's srurpsie. "Actually, what he said was that he would like to take over the job of supervising the troops there right now from Yozak and Geigenhuber. He was quite adamant in his request, Your Majesty, and but I told him that I would have to discuss the matter with Lord Von Voltaire first. However, if I may be frank, I am quite inclined to recommend him as well. He is a high-ranking commander who has shown great aptitude in combat and I wish to follow his lead."
There was a look of solemnity and utter respect in Gregory's face that everyone wondered who this commander was and how he managed to impress Gregory, who was himself a tough and accomplished warrior with impeccable leadership skills, so that he would even follow this commander's lead.
Conrart raised his eyebrows and asked, "And who might that be?"
At this, Gregory exchanged a certain look with his comrades, the fellow investigators, who nodded reassuringly. Having received their reassurance, he dared himself to answer, "Lord Von Bielefeld."
Everyone gaped at the statement, the shock clear on their faces. And then Gwendal's face turned sour. Gregory regretted his decision to reveal Lord Von Bielefeld's request immediately. It was perhaps tactless because he should have known better that the young knight's brothers would overreact, especially knowing that he might not have fully recovered yet from his post-battle injuries. No doubt Gwendal would reject the recommendation and tell him to find someone else to take over from Yozak and Geigenhuber. Which was a pity, Gregory said internally, because Wolfram, as Gregory had come to know the knight, would have been perfect. He had been so helpful during the investigation, too.
"Are you serious? Little Lord Brat himself asked to go?" Anissina spoke up. Her tone was a mixture of incredulity and astonishment.
One of Gregory's companions, the blue-uniformed soldier named Sebastian who had alerted Yuuri and Conrart of the trouble brewing in the Western Borders that afternoon in the garden when they were about to witness Greta and Anissina's invention, stepped forward. He gave his confirmation to support Gregory's statement. Sebastian was Wolfram's second-in-command in his regiment and he was known to be one of the few people Wolfram called friends. It could not have been a lie if Sebastian confirmed this.
"Lord Wolfram has even instructed me to organize our regiment's preparation for departure to the Western Borders," Sebastian said, glancing around the room. "Which might explain his absence in this meeting."
"Actually he's visiting Gisela right now," Anissina spoke up.
"Then he is probably taking a break from the preparations. Last I saw him, he was briefing the cavalry," Sebastian muttered, more to himself than to the room at large but his words had been heard all over nonetheless.
"He can't go!" Yuuri blurted, much to the surprise of all, "He is not fully recovered yet! Gwendal, you better not to authorize him to leave! He still needs to rest!"
The dark look on Gwendal's face told Yuuri that he intended to do just that. Anissina, however, countered, "He looked pretty healthy when he came to see Gisela!"
"We don't know that yet," Gwendal growled, "We haven't actually seen him since we returned to the castle."
"Then perhaps it is you who should have made more of an effort to see him," Anissina retorted. "But no matter! Conrart must be able to vouch for Wolfram's health conditions. Didn't you stay with him the whole time, Conrart? Tell us, don't you think he is fit enough to go on this mission?"
Shori stared at Anissina in awe, wondering what inspired the fiery redhead to inspire her defense of Wolfram. The last time he had seen them together in one room, Wolfram had been less than friendly and Anissina had been teasing him mercilessly. Everyone else seemed to harbor the same sentiment. They were all staring incredulously at Anissina, no doubt questioning this change in her and Wolfram's dynamics. Conrart was uneasy, Gwendal and Gunter seemed to be in shock, the investigators were wary but, Shori noted, Yuuri was stricken. Something was flashing in his younger brother's eyes… something Shori had never seen there before…
"Well, I didn't stay with him the whole time," Conrart started. Now everyone shifted their focus to him and Conrart sighed. "I check on him from time to time but only in the mornings. He goes about his own business during the day and I don't see him until the next morning. Not that I didn't want to stay with him the whole day but I assumed that he was undergoing treatment with the healers at that time and I didn't want to disturb…"
"He wasn't always just undergoing treatment," Gregory spoke up once again. Conrart swiveled toward him with a questioning look. Gregory squared his shoulders and decided to make another revelation. "He wasn't always with the healers during the day. He was helping us with the investigation."
Jaws dropped. Gregory continued, "Lord Von Bielefeld is our main source for this investigation. His regiment had been in charge of border patrols in numerous occasions. More often than not, he even went to patrol the borders himself. He is very knowledgeable about border security. It was his reports and notes that we referred to when we were investigating this criminal organization. They were extremely helpful and helped us reach our conclusions."
No one had anything to say to that. Everyone, including Anissina, seemed to be astonished just by the fact that Wolfram had managed to contribute significantly to the investigations. Shori felt a burst of pride in his heart knowing all this. He was still not on speaking terms with Wolfram and he knew Wolfram was still angry with him but he could not help but feel proud that Wolfram managed to show his intelligence and capacity. He suddenly caught Murata's eyes gazing intently on him. Murata's gaze was meaningful, as if conveying to Shori that he was also feeling the same way, that he was proud of Wolfram. He gave the boy whom they called the Great Sage in this world a nod and received a smile in return.
"All the more reason to send him there, then!" Anissina proclaimed. "Don't you think so, Conrart?"
Cornered once again, Conrart coughed a little. Gwendal was glaring at the both of them while Anissina smirked triumphantly.
"If his health is permitting, I would say that it's a good idea to install him as head of security during the construction period in the Western Borders," Conrart finally said, silently adding, and I will go with him to protect him if need be.
"Absurd," was Gwendal's response. "He's probably not well at all. He's an expert at hiding his true feelings."
Shori considered that statement ironic. Wolfram had always been honest and upfront, at least with him. Yuuri, however, was with Gwendal. His younger brother the king rose from his seat and declared, "Wolfram is not to be sent anywhere. His place is here in the castle."
"Why is that, Your Majesty?" Anissina questioned.
"Because I say so," Yuuri answered firmly.
"Excuse me, Your Majesty, but that is extremely arrogant of you to assume that you have a say in anything that Wolfram does," Anissina countered.
"He is engaged to me! I have power over him as his king and his fiancé. And I say he is not to leave the castle," Yuuri said angrily.
"Ha! And you think, just because you're his king and his fiancé, he won't fight you for this?" Anissina challenged, smirking.
"That's quite enough, Anissina!" Gunter reprimanded.
Anissina ignored the long-haired advisor to the king and laughed gleefully instead. The sound of her laughter was irritating but at least without malice. She turned to singing now, "Oh, he will fight you for this. He will fight you so hard that you will burn, Your Majesty."
The silence that followed her cackling was deafening. Tension was so thick now that a knife could gut it without a problem. Gregory, Sebastian and the investigators were nervous as hell; they feared their safety being in the same room as these bickering royalties. Luckily for them, Murata put his foot in just in time.
"Everyone, let's calm down, shall we?" spoke Murata loudly. The soldiers let go of the breath they had been holding. He smiled sympathetically at them. Then he started on Yuuri and his subordinates, "Shibuya, you are being an arrogant wimp. Lady Anissina, provoking people is not a good hobby. Lord Weller, you don't have to please everyone all the time. Lord Von Voltaire, you are going to get wrinkles. Lord Von Kleist, you're drooling; close your jaws. Shori, some help would be nice."
Surprised at being addressed, Shori nonetheless knew what Murata was asking. So he joined the cause. "Why don't we call him here? It's about time he's included in this meeting instead of just being talked about as if he were someone not part of the family."
The last part of his sentence was uttered with a glance towards Conrart and Gwendal, both of whom returned his look in a strange way. He ignored them and focused on his brother Murata instead. It was probably safer that way. To his surprise, however, Yuuri did not look happy either. Shori wondered what was going on in his little brother's head now.
Anissina didn't miss a beat. She turned to Sebastian and ordered, "Fetch Wolfram. You will find him in Gisela's room. Try to not to disturb them but if you must do so in order to fetch him here, do it gently. Who knows what those two might be into right now? Young people these days…"
There. Another flicker in Yuuri's eyes of something that Shori had never seen in him before. Was it…
"Get him," Yuuri commanded, his voice fierce and low, "Get him here right now."
Sebastian's commander was still sitting in Gisela's room, right beside her on her bed, when he came to summon him. The lieutenant knocked as softly as he could and tried very hard not to make any sound when he opened the door to Lady Gisela's room. Like all the soldiers in the army, he had seen firsthand of how bad the lady's condition was after the battle and he was terribly worried that she wouldn't be able to make it. Judging by the scowl on his commander's face as he stared down at him haughtily for daring to interrupt the tranquility of Lady Gisela's rest, Sebastian knew that Lord Von Bielefeld was just as worried, if not more. Concern etched every line in the young lord's handsome face and Sebastian's heart clenched at the sight of it.
"What do you want?" Wolfram growled his question low.
Sebastian would have flinched but he understood why it was necessary for him to speak like that; Lady Gisela was sleeping. So Sebastien stated his reason for coming as quietly as possible in the tranquil room. Wolfram's reaction to his statement was a curious and nervous stare. Sebastian dared himself to suggest that they make haste for the meeting. Much to his surprise, Wolfram nodded in agreement.
Wolfram rose slowly from the bed as to not disturb her sleep. Sebastian watched as he gently straightened her folded arm and laid her hand on the mattress as he let go of her fingers from his long, slender ones. They had been holding hands all this time. When Wolfram bent down to kiss Gisela on the forehead, Sebastian averted his eyes and resisted the urge to blush. The scene was strangely intimate and he felt very much like an intruder.
Fortunately Wolfram didn't linger. Once he had said his silent goodbye to Gisela for the time being, he practically marched right outside the door. Sebastian had to do a small run to keep up with him. That was when Sebastian registered that there his commander's expression had changed. Lord Von Bielefeld looked fierce, just like when he was about to prepare for a battle or other equally arduous tasks. It was the very look that had won him many of his soldiers' loyalties, Sebastian's included. It was the look that usually meant that he was going to fight with his life to protect the kingdom and the people he loved. Sebastian gulped. All of a sudden, he felt sorry for the lord's brothers.
Wolfram was not amused. He had known who would be in this meeting but now that he had seen the people he decided that this meeting was utterly abominable. How could it be anything else but utter abomination when it consisted of his least favorite persons from both worlds?
First, there was that wimp of a king… then there was that wimp of a king's equally wimpy brother… the one who somehow vexed him more than the wimpy king himself at the moment. Wimps aside, there was that smug sage Murata, whom Wolfram had not even realized was even here in Shin Makoku. How did he get here anyway? He only remembered shoving Murata aside until he fell into the lake but did not remember Murata showing up at the battle with him and Shori. Then again, it wasn't like he particularly wanted to know. The Shibuya brothers and everything and everyone associated with them did not deserve a place in his mind.
To make things worse, there were the two nutcases, Anissina and Gunter. As if their presence was not offensive enough in his book, those two were actually glaring menacingly at each other on either side of the wimpy king and the annoyingly smug sage. Take your drama elsewhere, Wolfram wanted to say.
As for his brothers… Wolfram was disheartened to see that Gwendal was scowling. That never boded well for anyone, especially for Wolfram, when Gwendal did that thing with his face. Conrart, on the other hand, was looking at him with concern. Wolfram frowned at that. They might have patched things up between them a little bit but Wolfram sincerely hoped that Conrart wasn't going to be all brotherly mushy with him right now. Not in front of the soldiers in the room.
Apparently all of the members of the investigation team were here; Gregory and Olivier from Gwendal's regiment, Philip and Jules from Conrart's and Rolfe, along with Sebastian, from Wolfram's own. The five soldiers were the first to acknowledge Wolfram's appearance. They all saluted him and he returned the salute. There was actually no need to be so formal between them. After all, they had been working closely together in the past several days during the investigation. But Wolfram understood the need for formalities as they were in the presence of other, higher-ranking commanders in the room. Nonetheless, Wolfram was glad for their presence here. If any, their presence could quell any tension that was sure to occur between him and the other occupants of the room.
"Glad you could join us, Wolfram," Murata greeted, "Why don't you take a seat?"
"Thank you but I would rather stand," Wolfram said stiffly. He then deliberately took his place next to Gregory, who stepped aside to make more room for him. Murata didn't ague and merely shrugged before addressing him again.
"How are you, Wolfram? Well?" Murata asked.
"As you can see, I am in perfect health," Wolfram answered.
Murata turned to the others with a meaningful look that made Wolfram feel suddenly apprehensive. As Wolfram was beginning to question the real purpose of this meeting and the reason for being summoned, Murata continued, "We have finished hearing Gregory and his team's reports. The result of the investigation is quite comprehensive and very informative. And we were told that you were their source."
Wolfram blinked. Source? Ah, my notes…
"Yes," Wolfram confirmed, failing to keep the pride from spilling forth in his voice. His notes did help Gregory's investigation. They had been painstakingly compiled by him and members of his regiment during the many years he had spent patrolling the borders so he was damned well going to take credit for his and his men's efforts.
"I spent many years patrolling the borders and kept notes and filed reports after each patrol. This is nothing new. Every commander in the military does this. I happen to patrol the Western Border more often than the others," Wolfram elaborated.
"A job well done, in any case," Murata complimented.
Wolfram slightly inclined his head. "Thank you, Your Excellency."
Murata beamed and the bespectacled boy carried on, "And Gregory has told me that you were planning to go back to the camp to supervise the restoration and reconstruction of the village that was destroyed during the attack. Why is that?"
Wolfram was surprised at the question. Next to him, Gregory fidgeted nervously and that was how Wolfram knew who had told Gwendal about the proposal. The reason for Gwendal's fearsome scowl was clear now.
Wolfram sighed. He had not expected his brother to know about this particular request of his yet. He had planned to put the request to Gwendal alone, using a tactful persuasion technique because he knew that his brother would never allow him to go. Not at first anyway.
Murata was still staring at him expectantly. His gaze was all-knowing and yet so deceivingly innocuous. Wolfram knew Murata must have guessed the motivation behind his request. He was the Great Sage, after all. He must have known that Wolfram requested to be sent to the border for the same reason he avoided joining this meeting in the first place. It was because he wanted to avoid a confrontation, or even a conversation, with the people who were sitting on the other side of the long conference table. The king and the king's brother. He wanted to get away from them. In fact, he wanted to get away from the whole world, if possible.
But he couldn't exactly say that in front of these people, could he? Angry, Wolfram was. Discourteous, he was not. And to say that he was using 'kingdom security' as a way of escaping his troubles would earn him scorn from his subordinates. So he said the next thing closest to the truth.
"I have experience patrolling the borders. The notes that were used in the investigation are mine. Rather than sending someone new to become head of security, I think it's best if someone experienced on the matter be the one handling all the security issues in the area. After all, I already know what to expect."
And then, before he could help himself, he blurted out, "I also feel responsible for not being here to prevent the attack. If I had been on patrol at that time, I would have been able to discover the threat much earlier. Unfortunately, I had been busy giving help to… an acquaintance in another world, in His Majesty King Yuuri's world. It's something that I have always regretted doing."
Two things happened after that. Wolfram saw Shori flinch at the implication that it was Shori's fault that the attack happened because he had been the one who whisked Wolfram away from the kingdom. The blond took great satisfaction in seeing the famous older Shibuya's composure crumble, even just a little, at the veiled accusation. But the more interesting reaction would have to be Yuuri's.
Yuuri paled considerably after Wolfram had ended his sentence. Wolfram noticed Yuuri's knuckles turning white from gripping the arm of his royal chair too hard. If Wolfram wasn't mistaken, he also thought that there was anger – absolute fury – blazing in those dark eyes. Wolfram wondered which part of his words had triggered the reaction from the king and arrived to the conclusion that it was probably the accusation he had made of Shori's action that angered the king. Apparently, Yuuri was more loyal to his brother than Wolfram had thought.
Which is just as well. Wimps, the both of them.
"It wasn't your fault," Murata spoke up once more, cutting through the tension that was steadily rising once again in the chamber, "You didn't do anything wrong. Well, I suppose it doesn't matter what your reasons are, Lord Von Bielefeld. If you're set on going to the village, I suppose we should let you."
"Request denied," Gwendal intervened. To his younger brother, he testily said, "Your physical condition is questionable. Your health, or lack thereof, might pose new problems instead of solving the old ones."
"I beg to differ," Wolfram countered hotly. A part of him was shocked at himself for daring to raise his voice to Gwendal but another part of him was tired of being mollycoddled by his older brothers.
"My condition has been cleared of all threats by the healers. I can give you proof, written statements from various healers, right now. My troops have already made preparations. I helped them in making the preparations. I have been doing so in the past week. If I were still sick, I wouldn't have been able to do it. But the fact is, I could. And I have. So please, Lord Von Voltaire, if you have a better reason to detain me here, let's hear it because, frankly, that thing about my health is a ridiculous excuse!"
"Gwendal, if I may?" Shori suddenly cut in. Wolfram's head swiveled to glare at him. How dare he cut in? This was his argument, his battle. That older Shibuya was trying to steal the show!
"What?" Gwendal barked at the older Shibuya brother.
"Wolfram has become a lot stronger than he had been before he left Shin Makoku with me. He trained with me on Earth, to help me improve my Maryoku. He was my sparing partner, so to speak. And Wolfram managed to use his Maryoku on Earth."
Gasps were heard around the room. No one had heard about this since Wolfram, Shori and Murata reappeared in Shin Makoku. Yuuri was blinking in disbelief. Gwendal was shocked. Conrart, on the other hand, was smiling. Anissina was astonished and clearly impressed. So was Gunter; the almighty mentor to the king even seemed to emanate grudging respect for Wolfram after he had picked up his jaws from the floor. The soldiers were just plain awed. Under normal circumstances, Wolfram would have felt proud yet again but he just couldn't feel it right now.
"So that's what you've been doing! That explains that display of raw power in Gisela's room!" Anissina exclaimed. A moment later she excitedly began to ramble, "Excellent! I can now ask you to help me with my experiments! I have this new machine that I need to test and you can–"
Shori cleared his throat loud and clear to stop Anissina from spouting further scientific nonsense.
"As I was saying, Wolfram's power has increased," Shori continued from where he left off, "If that helps, I think he would be fine at the Western Border."
"And surely, he won't be alone," Murata added. "I'm sure he will receive assistance from Geigenhuber. He can be Wolfram's deputy of security."
"I second that, actually," Conrart spoke for the first time since Wolfram had entered the room.
Gwendal turned to his middle brother and gave him a look that subtly said, Not you too, Conrart?
"I believe in Wolfram's capabilities. And if the reports from the healers show nothing wrong with his health, it would be foolish for us not to grant his request. He did volunteer. Might I remind you, Gwendal, we have a responsibility to finish the reconstruction as soon as possible. His troops are prepared. If we appoint someone else – even me, for example – we will unnecessarily lose precious time! How will we explain that to the people?"
Silence reigned after Conrart finished. Gwendal seemed to fall into deep thought while Conrart turned to Wolfram and locked his eyes with him. When the brunet sent him a small smile, Wolfram nodded stiffly in gratitude. His relationship with Conrart had just evolved once again. He might not be ready to be affectionate with his half-brother in public, even after the tender moment they had shared in the camp a couple of weeks ago, but he was undoubtedly grateful for Conrart's trust and confidence in him. Now, if only Gwendal would just approve…
"We will adjourn this meeting until tomorrow morning," Gwendal decided at long last. He rose from his seat at the long table. "Everything will be decided then. You are all dismissed."
Turning to Yuuri, Gwendal tersely said, "Your Majesty, I take my leave."
"Sure," Yuuri replied absently.
That answer was good enough for Gwendal. He turned around to leave. The door slightly banged when he closed it upon his exit. Gunter followed and so did the soldiers.
Anissina made to leave as well but before she went to the door she approached Wolfram and smiled at the blond Mazoku. Wolram eyed her warily as she gave him an appraising look. The moment was broken when Anissina brought her hand up to pat Wolfram on the shoulder.
"Good job, Little Lord Brat," Anissina drawled.
Without giving Wolfram a chance to reply, she filed through the door and disappeared from Wolfram's presence. Wolfram let out the breath he didn't even know he was holding. He let his composure break for a moment until he suddenly remembered he still had company. His head snapped up and realized that Yuuri, Shori, Murata and Conrart were still there with him and they were staring at him.
It was too much for him.
Very quickly, Wolfram lowered his gaze and muttered his valediction. "Excuse me, Your Majesty, Your Eminence, Lord Weller, Shibuya-san."
He practically ran to the door.
"Wait! Wolfram!" Yuuri called out all of a sudden.
Wolfram halted, stiffening until his whole body was rigid, with his hand on the door handle. It was odd to hear him being addressed by the king. It seemed like ages ago since he had talked to His Majesty. But he found that he didn't want to be addressed by Yuuri Shibuya. It hurt… it hurt too much to talk to him, to listen to him or even just look at him. Because all he could remember was how he had been abandoned…
"Wolfram, we need to talk," Yuuri said, his tone urgent, before Wolfram could finish forming a reply.
"I don't have time," Wolfram finally responded through gritted teeth.
"Just for 5 minutes. Please," Yuuri begged.
No, Wolfram. He has nothing to say to you. You have nothing to say to him. Just leave.
"Please?" Yuuri repeated once again, his voice becoming more and more desperate by the minute.
He will only hurt you again if you let him speak to you. He has hurt you many times before. He hurt you by ignoring you. After all the things you had done for him, he ignored you. He doesn't want you. So you don't have to listen to him. Just walk away.
"I'm sorry, Your Majesty, I have duties to attend to. Perhaps we can speak another time," Wolfram replied swiftly. And before Yuuri could say anything else, Wolfram walked out of the room and did not look back.
TO BE CONTINUED