Julia looked at the heavy pouch of gold coins on the table and shook her head in sorrow, saying in a low voice, “I am just one woman, how could I spend it all?” She looked up at Shaar and said slowly, “I have received your kindness. You fought alongside Kevin, and you don’t have to feel guilt over this. Blades on the battlefield show no mercy, he… he… just got unlucky. This is all written in fate by the heavens.”
When she spoke, tears flowed once more.
This time, she wiped her tears before Shaar started to comfort her again. She got up from the bed and put on her shoes, not even looking at the gold coins on the table and muttered, “I truly thank you all in place of Kevin. You… you don’t have to be too worried about me, I can take good care of myself…”
Shaar wanted to say something but Tatara suddenly walked up behind Shaar and tugged at his clothing, shamelessly saying, “If that is the case, Master Shaar, you should keep the money.”
Enraged, Shaar glared at Tatara and was about to reprimand him when Tatara gave him a look and whispered, “Master, this is a lot of money. Three hundred gold coins is a fortune to a normal family of three! If you give so much money to Julia, a widow, like this, aren’t you worried that it would just attract trouble? What if someone gets greedy and hurts her for the money? It’ll just be worse!”
Tatara’s words reminded Shaar, who slapped his forehead. “Ah! I didn’t think of that!”
A widow without any relatives would attract many people eyeing her newly-obtained fortune. He would just be hurting her even more!
As he mulled over it, Shaar could not help but look Tatara up and down. “You’re kinda smart too! Not bad!” Then, he patted Tatara’s shoulder twice- while Tatara bent his knees and almost collapsed from the pain, forcing a smile.
Shaar hung his head and thought for a while, then stood up and waved with an expression of hopelessness. “Soythe! Bring two of the guards with you and pack up!”
“Huh?” Soythe was stunned for a moment.
“Pack up! We cannot let Julia live alone here! Since I meant to take good care of her, naturally we can’t leave her here! Pack up, help her move!”
Soythe’s confusion turned to joy, immediately going out of the room to call two guards over from the yard.
Julia’s expression changed, about to interject but Shaar waved and helped her sit down, explaining solemnly, “Julia, I know you are an independent woman! Rhodelians are all like that, I know you all don’t like troubling others. I also know how strong you are but… please consider this offer, don’t refuse us in a rush.”
After a pause, the hillbilly smiled sincerely. “Kevin is a good brother of mine, please consider my position. How will I live with myself when he’s gone and you refuse my kindness? I won’t be able to sleep at night! Please accept my offer, just for the sake of my peace!”
Julia hesitated and shook her head. “Sir… Ah, Mr Shaar…”
“No, please call me Shaar! I am a good brother of Kevin’s, we can drop the formalities.”
“Alright, Shaar.” Julia smiled bitterly and said in a low voice. “I know that although Kevin is part of the Praetorian Guard, although its reputation IS better than the rest, I’m sure there is a limit. If you take me in, I’ll just be a burden…”
Shaar laughed and pointed at the bag of gold coins without a word.
Julia understood immediately. There was so much money on the table she would not have to worry for decades to come. What was there to be afraid about? She was just a stubborn person unwilling to accept help from others so she still thought about refusing when Shaar said in a serious tone, “You’re now carrying a child, the only child who would carry on Kevin’s blood! If I leave you alone here, I’ll worry if anything happens to you especially if life gets tough. With me caring for you, at least you won’t have to worry too much and you won’t have to do any difficult chores… You’re no longer living just for yourself, you must think about your child! I know you’re capable of feeding yourself but what if you injure yourself from working too hard? What will happen to the child? And even if the pregnancy was fine, after the birth, that is one more person to care for. The young child will be another expense--- if you want the child to be outstanding when they’re older, they must be raised in the right environment too. You…”
Shaar hesitated but carried on with a more serious topic. “You wouldn’t want your child to continue living in this poor neighbourhood, would you? With me caring for you-- I still have some money with me and will get a decent military position after my contributions in the last war—I can care for the child. At least they will be able to go to school, receive an education and be raised in a good environment.”
Shaar had found the right reason to convince her, using the child as an excuse. Indeed, Julia hesitated for a while and was slowly convinced. However, she was still stubborn and did not like taking favours, especially feeling bad that she would burden Shaar.
Shaar couldn't care less about these thoughts, taking the chance to hurry his men up to pack her things while she was hesitant. These guards that Ruhr lent Shaar were also military men so when they saw how kind he was to a brother’s wife, respect and admiration shone in their eyes and they became extra motivated to work. When Julia wanted to speak up, Soythe had already packed most of the house and sent someone to rent a horse carriage.
“Fine.” When Julia saw that she could not refuse the offer, she sighed and muttered, “But once I’m dead, I’m afraid Kevin will be upset over this…”
There was a bit of a struggle during the subsequent packing because this was her and Kevin’s house and contained too many memories. Shaar was exasperated at how she could not bear to part with many things.
“Uh… Julia, since you’re not selling the house, you can leave them all here. You can always return whenever you’re free, your things won’t go missing…”
After a few hours’ work, they finally finished moving her belongings just as the sky turned dark. The horse carriage left filled with her furniture while she sat on the carriage, leaving along with Shaar and the entourage.
During the journey, Shaar occasionally turned to take a look at Julia. He felt like he had completed a massive task and could finally take a breather, privately swearing to take good care of the bald man’s only child to honour their brotherhood. Even if he had to give up his life, he would make sure that the child would achieve great things and live a good life.
Then, he called Tatara over. At this point, Tatara was much more familiar with horseback riding and could ride over to trot next to Shaar, who smiled, “You’ve done well today, you deserve a reward! What would you like?”
Tatara chuckled but was hesitant. “Uh… Master, can I ask you for a favour?”
“Speak!” Shaar said with open arms, for he was in a good mood.
Tatara said in a low voice, “A long time ago, I owed some debt when I was at the capital and was forced to leave. There was some trouble at the association of magicians and I can barely keep my title as a magician. I’d like to borrow some money from you to pay off this debt and scrub my reputation clean, I…”
Shaar grinned. “Do you take the magician title this seriously?”
After getting to know him, Shaar believed what Tatara said and that he was an actual magician, not a ‘performer’ but…
“Just a level 1 magician, it’s nothing much. Now that you’re with me, I can give you a great path in the military. You need to work hard now that you have the Life Spell, maybe you could even get promoted…”
“No!” Tatara’s face fell and shook his head adamantly. “I am a magician!” Shaar saw the determination in his servant’s eyes, completely different from the usual cunning laziness so he nodded and did not say anything else.
(Perhaps everyone, including the laziest people, have something they hold on to)
Returning to their quarters, Shaar let Julia settle down in the house that Ruhr gave him. She would stay in the master bedroom now, while he, Tatara and Soythe slept in the room next door on small beds. The night was much quieter with Ruhr’s guards around too, Shaar hoped to hold on just a few more days longer to get his reward and the emperor’s honorary title. Then he would not be harassed again.
That night, when he was alone, he finally took out the wooden box that Calve Hill gave him, scrutinising the heavy stone for a long time. He felt like it was a very familiar shape but took a long time to think before finally having a sudden thought.
He rushed to leap off the bed to pick up the pitchfork on his table.
At the end of the handle, there was a hollow circle as if a piece of it was missing.
This circle was not purely circular and Shaar never paid much attention to it, thinking that it was due to rough workmanship. This hole must serve the same purpose as other pitchforks--- to hang up the pitchfork when not in use.
With a ‘shhh’ sound, he pushed the stone into the circle and indeed it fit perfectly without even a gap! His heart skipped a beat.
He was very confused!