125 – Noel’s Secret
“Are you wondering why I’m working for the mercenary guild?”
She couldn’t blatantly ask because it was a sensitive topic, but Noel straightforwardly said what she was thinking. Why did he always know her mind? Irene hesitated and quietly nodded hearing his question. Seeing her admit her curiosity, he smiled. Of course, she would be curious, but it felt strangely different seeing her be so cautious as if treading lightly so as to be considerate of his feelings. No one had ever been so considerate to him before.
“It’s nothing that big of a deal. Because I established this mercenary guild.”
“What? You did?” Irene’s eyes widened at his unexpected response. She thought Noel would be in an important position in this mercenary guild, but never did it cross her mind, he would have built it. “Because I needed power and money. If my brother became the Grand Duke, I needed a place to go to when I left the Grand Duchy. Somewhere I could be safe, but that’s no longer necessary but…”
His brother died of a fall. As a result, Noel was even more neglected by the Grand Duke. When she first heard the story, she thought it was simply unfortunate. But on second thought, there was something weird about it.
Maybe it’s just my feeling.
She had no intention of telling Noel anything that she was uncertain about. Because she did not want to hurt him again. Irene kept those questions internally, and looked at him. He continued speaking, “this is the source of the funds you were curious about. Not only are we mercenaries, we also receive commissions such as escorting, guarding and even hunting monsters. But the external representative is a man known as ‘Ram’, with mysterious origins.”
“That’s how it is. Did you bring me here to show me?”
“That’s the main reason, but more than anything I wanted to show you this. Here.”
Irene blinked at his words and looked at him questioningly. He continued speaking, averting her gaze shyly. “After my mother passed, my father held my hand and took me in. It was being kept in a prison. Everyone I passed whispered about me. My grandfather and brother treated me as if I didn’t exist. At the time, even the vassals of the Kristen household didn’t even care about me. I was no different from an invisible person in the family. I had to spend every day shivering with fear, with the prospect that I might die.”
“I had to protect myself. I was consumed with a sense of inferiority towards my brother, jealousy, misery, and the fear of being abandoned. So I gathered people who were in similar circumstances as mine, and created this place. Initially, I wagered all* just to earn money and raise the guild. But gradually, I felt a sense of security here. This humble and dangerous place is more comfortable for me than a luxurious grand prison. ”
* metaphorically put his neck on the chopping block; risk his life
“…To Noel, this is home.”
“Yes, it is.”
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It was his first time telling someone else this story. Therefore, Noel worried about how Irene would react. Would she be revolted and end up hating him? No, she wasn’t like that. Then would she feel disappointment? He was unsure. Whatever the reason was, mercenary work involved killing people; shedding blood. Even amongst the nobles, the perception of the line of work for mercenaries was abysmal. But his worries were overshadowed by Irene’s small, unexpected answer.
It wasn’t a response like ‘it must have been hard’, or ‘why are you telling me this’. Of course, he knew Irene’s personality and would not expect her to say anything negative, but he never thought she would say thank you.
“Thank you for what?” he asked, bewildered.
“Your home, you showed me such a precious place. A place you wanted to hide, even creating an alias for yourself. So, thank you. For trusting me.”
Noel was stunned, as if he had just taken a blow. He had brought Irene here to answer her questions about the source of the wedding funds. At the same time, he’d wanted to introduce Irene to the people of the guild. If he were to marry her, they would meet often in the future. He had thought nothing about getting to know her in advance.
But all that had to be built on the premise of trust. It was an important place for Noel, but it was also his weakness and disgrace. For a noble to be dallying in mercenary work, and the next Grand Duke of Kristen at that, if the aristocracy caught wind of this shameful activity, he wouldn’t know how to face his grandfather. If rumours spread that the Grand duke was paid to assassinate for others — this kind of dirty work, it would be a big blow to him and the prestigious Kristen name.
I was going to hide it until the end.
When he decided to marry Irene, he was going to hide as much as he could. More than his reputation, it took him courage to face what she would think of him afterwards. Even more so, it would be easy to sever the relationship without hesitation when the contract was over. However…
Aren’t I doing things that go against what I’d resolutely decided at that time.
Because it had been an unconscious action, Noel later felt flustered.
Have I ever been like this?
Once he made a promise, no matter what happened, he did not break them. Furthermore, nothing had happened this time. He just naturally changed his mind whilst spending time with her.
You don’t even remember what you said in the past and without thinking you let her into this mercenary guild…
That was why the guild members made such a fuss. So far, he had never brought someone to introduce before. Irene sipped the tea, her face shone with excitement, unaware of the dilemma Noel faced internally.
Am I recognised…?
Was it okay to let her into this space?
I’m not just an insignificant person.