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1624-chapter-72

“Hana, are you really that tired? Would you like to rest instead?”

Weed asked again with a worried tone, noticing that Hana was staring blankly. She was too distracted by his outfit to respond to his earlier question.

“No… I’m not tired. Wow, Weed, you look really great.”

He smiled. For some reason, he was seemingly shy today, not avoiding her gaze like he sometimes did. It was the response of someone who knew they looked good.

“Hana, I have something for you.”

Weed pulled something from behind him. After gently sweeping Hana’s hair aside with one hand, he placed it atop her head and handed her a mirror.

“This is…”

“I’ve modified the hair decoration you wore last time. Do you like it?”

It was made of golden leaves.

Were these from Weed’s main body? He had mentioned that only bare branches were left of him, yet during a brief period when leaves had regrown, priests had collected these falling leaves. Weed had wanted them discarded, but one priest, feeling they were too precious, crafted them into a hair decoration.

Honestly, she loved it. His golden leaves were distinctly different from the bright yellow of ginkgo leaves. They shimmered like gold. But he had said their worth was even greater than gold.

This time, the decoration was interspersed with small red gem-like beads.

‘Um, so, this shape is exactly…’

Hana couldn’t finish her sentence because Weed, interpreting her smile as approval, reached out his hand to her. It was a bare hand without gloves, just like hers was bare. She took his hand and stood up. His fingertips trembled.

Hana smiled. He was trying to act nonchalant, but he was nervous.

 

* * *

 

Shaa—

What was that sound?

The sound of water falling in bulk from a high place came from afar. It was as cheerful as music, though not as majestic as a waterfall.

Hana had thought there might be a separate building for the banquet somewhere here since she hadn’t explored every room of the beautiful castle she had been staying in the forest. It seemed plausible there might be a special hall for their own gatherings.

But instead of heading to another room, Weed left the room, and without a word, they walked together for quite a while.

Hana walked hand in hand with Weed in silence.

No words were needed. Transitioning from spring to summer, the ground beneath them sparkled with the faint green light. They were the new summer fireflies that were already awake and glittering like stars amongst the leaves.

With every step, Hana felt a surge of joy.

It was surprising how delightful walking could be. She loved everything about this place. The feel of the soil beneath her shoes, the rustling of the bushes that parted to make way for them, and the sound of Weed’s footsteps matching her own.

Intoxicated by the enchantment of a spring, or was it a summer night? Hana hummed to herself. It was like a forest of paradise, and here she was, a welcomed guest. Tonight, she wanted to let go of everything and just revel in the moment.

Before long, they reached a vast space.

A forest banquet hall encircled by cliffs. It wasn’t the barren type seen in pictures but rather lined with trees that arched overhead, forming a natural roof. Underneath, bell flowers hung like chandeliers, casting bright light in all directions.

The place was as rowdy as an unregulated ball but fell silent as Weed and Hana entered. Unlike the lively day with Inis, everyone present rose and bowed in respect. They then knelt down.

In the center of the banquet hall was a path lined with tender flowers.

As if to show off, Weed boldly stepped toward that path. Hana looked up at him, slightly bewildered. She hadn’t imagined anything like this.

What had she imagined? Well, nothing specific, just…

“The root of abundance.”

“The stem of eternity.”

“The leaves of radiance.”

Caught off-guard, Hana was led forward by Weed. The priests, who usually chattered endlessly with various flowery phrases, now spoke only in concise, solemn words.

“Sovereign of the everlasting forest.”

The last voice sounded like it was Rutis.

At the end of the flower-lined path, there was a specially arranged spot positioned higher than anywhere else in the banquet hall. A smooth old tree trunk was decorated with all kinds of wildflowers. The center was open, so someone could sit there.

Two seats.

“Hana.”

As she walked, clutching Weed’s hand, her mind was blank. Guided merely by his lead, she was brought back to reality only when he called her name.

While she was distracted, Weed lifted the hand and kissed it. Her legs weakened. She couldn’t recall when her heart had started to pound so intensely. She sat on a throne crafted from the forest elements trees, flowers, vines.

Even though Weed was saying something, she couldn’t grasp his words. It couldn’t get into her head. Her head spun with an unknown tension.

The headpiece Weed had created felt suddenly heavy.

…Ah, what did this remind her of?

Yes. It closely resembled a crown.

 

* * *

 

As Weed spoke a few words, the previously silent gathering quickly buzzed with noise. Hana felt uncomfortable at first, unaccustomed to such a setting. But soon relaxed into the festive, comfortable atmosphere.

“Hana.”

She had been lost in her thoughts and only then noticed he looking at her.

“Hana?”

“Oh, yes?”

“Are you alright?”

Leaning back into a seat padded with soft leaves, Hana accepted a fruit wine Weed offered. It was sweet, as everything always seemed to be here.

“Yes, it’s really wonderful.”

It truly was. When else might she experience such a moment? Her stay here hadn’t been long. How many months had it been?

Time had blurred as she had enjoyed each day so much.

She had not lived an especially long life, but she felt weary from having lived so defensively. Towards the end, she knew where to find peace. She had cried through nights, wishing not to wake up, but lately, she found herself looking forward to each new day.

Soft music floated through the air, yet no musicians were in sight. Someone hummed a tune without words.

Hana joined in, matching the melody with her own quiet hum.

The gathering was less formal than Hana had worried it might be. The chatty priests continued to chat and laugh, sipping their drinks or snacking on food, dancing in circles without any particular order or formality.

It was simply merry.

Among the vividly dressed priests, each as colorful as the flowers around them, she could easily spot Inis and Calden. Though they were quite attractive, they stood out a bit against the priests, perhaps due to their darker, more somber hair colors. Nonetheless, they mingled and enjoyed themselves well with the others.

Could she really dance here?

The thought worried her a bit. She had never imagined dancing until now. She wasn’t particularly social, and if asked to dance, she wouldn’t know whether to accept or decline. Her feet were healed, but her hips and back were still the same.

It wasn’t a complaint, though. She had insisted on having this banquet, yet she felt a bit guilty for not being able to enjoy it as much as she might. She owed an apology to Weed and Rutis, who had prepared the celebration.

“Hana.”

“Yes?”

As Hana idly sipped her fruit wine, Weed called her again.

“Would you like to take… this?”

His phrasing was odd. Not a direct ‘Please take this,’ but a gentle ‘Would you like to take this?’

Hana looked at him curiously, wondering what he was about to offer.

 

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