Chapter 14:

Chains and Chainbearers [Part 2]

Chained Regalia

My throat suddenly felt very dry. His words weren’t inherently threatening, but I wasn’t able to interpret them any other way.

“Alwey!” Lucia snapped at him. “I called upon you for help, not an inquisition. Leave him alone.”

“I apologize for my insolence, your highness, but I refuse to leave you in the care of a charlatan.”

“Charlatan? You just met him! How dare you—”

“You need not defend him,” he interrupted. “If this man is truly worthy of serving a member of the royal family, he should be more than capable of defending himself.”


“This is for your sake, your highness. Your trusting nature may make you kind, but it likewise opens you up to exploitation. I have concerns based on what you have written to me.”

Despite the formal manner in which he addressed her, this interaction was far more akin to a parent scolding a child than a subordinate speaking to their superior. Perhaps that was only natural, though, given their age difference. If he’d used to be a member of the royal guard, he may have known her since she was a child.

Still, Lucia shot back. “There’s nothing to be concerned about! I told you; we’ve gotten along well—”

This time, it was Selina who cut her off. “Luci, it’s okay. You know Alwey’s super overprotective of you, right? He just wants to see for himself the kind of guy Layn is. It’s like a dad vetting his daughter’s new boyfriend! Think of it like that! If he’s as great as you said he was, and I’m sure he is, it’ll be fine!” Her voice hadn’t lost any of the energy or cheer it had before, but her expression looked like it had turned just slightly serious, as if the optimism she exuded was merely to keep the mood up.

It startled me, then, when she suddenly turned towards me, winked, and gave me a thumbs-up. Any seriousness that her look had held a moment ago utterly vanished, and she went back to looking like a complete ditz. “Good luck, Mr. Trial-Boyfriend,” she whispered in a voice easily loud enough for the entire party to hear.

Ugh, don’t call me that! It’ll definitely cause misunderstandings. Of course, since I didn’t voice this complaint, I was just whining to myself.

Alwey eyed Selina, the intensity in his gaze unwavering, and sighed. “This is nothing like that.” He then paused for a moment, as if considering something, before his eyes suddenly widened. He then frantically bounced his gaze between Lucia and me. “I-it’s not, correct? It’s not like that? Is there something going on you haven’t told me!?”

As much as I tried to hold it in, I let out a quiet snort of laughter. ‘Overprotective’ was an understatement. Looks like even a guy as overly serious as this can lose his composure, sometimes.

“O-of course not!” Lucia was probably slightly embarrassed considering the light stutter in her speech.

I turned to her and reflexively joked in a defeated tone, “I mean, you’re not wrong, but I’m kind of offended by how adamant your denial was.” Now probably wasn’t the time or place for this kind of thing, but I’d gotten so used to this sort of rapport with Lucia over the past couple of weeks that I spoke without a second thought.

“Don’t push your luck. I could have put you in a far more awkward position by lying and saying it was true, you know.” Her reply was swift, and her stutter had completely ceased.

Um, but why the hell would you have done that? “That would’ve been needlessly cruel of you, Lucia. Show some respect!” I had more or less completely forgotten about Selina and Alwey’s presence as I shot out my rebuttal in our back-and-forth.

Lucia opened her mouth to reply but stopped when Selina giggled loudly. “What’s so funny?” Lucia suddenly sounded a little self-conscious after seeing someone’s reaction to our antics.

Selina’s smile widened and, for some reason, she poked Lucia in the side. “You made a friend, Luci! That’s amazing!”

“Wh-what? What’s so amazing about that?”

“You never make any friends! Usually, you’re super antisocial!”

Ouch. She really said that, huh, and with a huge smile on her face, too…

“What makes you think you have the right to speak that way to her highness?” Another voice joined back in, and it startled me bad enough that I jumped up in my chair for the second or third time today. I was already sort of intimidated by Alwey, but he sounded genuinely infuriated this time.

“I, um…” Oh god. “Show some respect”? I really said that!? Sure, I was kidding, but that didn’t change the fact that it was clearly a disrespectful thing to say to royalty.

Lucia looked like she was about to speak up for me again, but Selina whispered something in her ear—properly, this time, as I couldn’t hear it—and she stopped.

Alwey had said earlier that I should be capable of defending myself. He was right, in the sense that I should be capable of it, but now that it came down to actually doing so, I was frozen with uncertainty.

What’s the right thing to say? Do I honestly speak my mind? No, no. I can’t do that. That’s not the answer he wants.

Why was I so eager to appease him? Was I really that spineless? I was struck with a strange sense of déjà vu; I felt like I’d been in a situation very much like this before. My brain was screaming at me to apologize, to say whatever I thought he wanted to hear, and to get out of this with the least amount of conflict possible.

To take the easy way out, just like I had before.

When was that, I wonder. I couldn’t remember. I really haven’t changed at all since then, have I?

“I-I’m sorry, sir—” As I set out to apologize, I caught a glance of Lucia at the edge of my vision. She was staring straight at me, her expression carrying a mixture of concern and conviction, as if she was confident in how I would respond. It reminded me a lot of the look she had while she scolded me for readily giving up on the day we met, and I recalled how I had felt on that day.

Her look made me feel guilty, for some reason.

I sighed. My throat was dry, and I was sweating like crazy. Screw it.

“I’m sorry, sir, but…” I turned and looked Alwey straight in the eyes; eyes which seemed to condemn me completely. I shrunk back for a moment at the intensity but tensed my body and continued. “… I-I don’t really see Lucia that way. I know she’s technically a princess and all, but… I don’t really care about that. To me, she’s just, um, well, Lucia.” I was shaking a little; the very concept of defiance here terrified me, yet I pressed on. “A-and… I don’t think you have a right to say what’s right or wrong in our relationship; that’s up to us, not you!”

My response was a little childish, I thought, and probably less focused than it should’ve been. But… it’s what I wanted to say. And I actually said it! What I couldn’t say then… I was able to do it now.

I didn’t think I was actually scared of Alwey. I was scared of whatever it was he reminded me of; something I had never been able to face properly before, and something I couldn’t tangibly identify even now. Even if that ‘before’ was fuzzy and vague, I had felt a feeling of catharsis as I spoke, though it was mixed with feelings of regret, too.

I must have closed my eyes at some point, as I had to open them again to analyze how things had gone.

“Huh?” Everyone was staring at me with surprised looks. Lucia was blushing slightly, but she looked no less shocked than the other two.

What the hell? I thought Alwey might get pissed, but why does he just look surprised!?

He cleared his throat, and then he spoke, “I… apologize for overstepping.”

“Wh-what?” My voice came out as a pitiful whimper. My anxiety had eased, but it’d been replaced with a different kind of stress.

“I admit it. You are correct. If her highness finds your behavior acceptable, I should not have tried to interfere.”

Ah. I must have significantly overestimated how angry he’d been. Based on everyone’s reaction, I had probably severely overreacted.

And here I mustered up all that courage just to embarrass myself… goddammit! Feeling self-conscious, I looked away from everyone, unable to make any eye contact.

“Hehe, did you see that, Luci? You two really do get along well. You told us he didn’t have much confidence, but look at him! You know how long it’s been since I last saw Alwey apologize? This is historic! You’re amazing, Layn!”

“I’m not that inhuman, Selina. I do apologize to people.” Alwey replied to her defensively.

“Yeah, yeah, sure, sure.” She completely shrugged it off.

I slowly moved my visions towards everyone again. Alwey and Selina continued bickering about whether or not he ever apologized to people—or, rather, Alwey was bickering; it looked like Selina was completely brushing off everything he said, much to his dismay. Lucia, though, had started smiling, and at me, no less.

I was probably already blushing from embarrassing myself earlier, but this didn’t help. “What is it?”

She continued smiling. “I am just happy to see you standing up for yourself.”

“Wh-whatever.” Man, I’m so awkward sometimes. I just have no idea what to say…

Alwey loudly cleared his throat again and turned away from Selina. I was guessing he had lost their argument (or, at least, made zero headway), because he looked slightly defeated. “A-anyway, I originally planned to ask several questions of you, but I have seen enough for today. I do not believe you are an immediate threat, at least, and I have more than enough time in the coming days to learn the rest.”

“Coming days?” I asked. And, hey, wait, “immediate threat”? Who do you think I am!?

He nodded. “Her highness called us to Nerush for your sake. We shall assist in your education and training, so that you will finally have real value to her highness as soon as possible.”

Ouch. It’s true, but it hurts.

Selina giggled for some reason I couldn’t explain. “We look forward to working with you, Laynie!”

“… Please never call me that again.”

From that day forward, my life got a little busier, and a lot more crowded.

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