Chapter 114: Satsuki’s Feelings
Rio visited Satsuki’s room that night for dinner.
Between the two of them was a large and ornate table, and no other people around.
It was common sense for a waitress or maid to be in the room, but Satsuki was the type who didn’t like being disturbed during her meals. The staff were already used to this.
However, though some delectable dishes were lined up atop the table, there wasn’t much. At least, not enough for two people.
「I had them reduce the amount like you asked, but is this going to be enough, Haruto-kun?」
「Yeah. Or, rather, this might be too much. 『Release Discharge』」
After Rio recited the brief incantation with a confident smile, freshly made dishes appeared out of thin air in pots and on plates.
Satsuki’s jaw dropped at the sight, only for her to catch herself when the smell of the food tickled her nose.
「Don’t tell me, this is—!」
「You’re… You’re kidding me.」
「That one’s fresh-cooked rice, over there’s a stew, and that’s wasabi-pickled yam.」
Her eyes glittered more and more with every dish he explained.
「I-C-Can I eat this? It’s the real thing, right? Authentic, genuine, bona fide Japanese food?」
Satsuki was slowly creeping her upper body closer to the food as she asked.
「During the evening party, you looked like you were craving food from back in Japan, so go ahead. Consider this my apology for earlier.」
「Ah… Thank you! I love you, Haruto-kun!」
「You’re exaggerating, Satsuki-san.」
Blinded by Satsuki’s delight, Rio tried to calm her down, wearing a dry grin.
「Wait a minute! T-That’s not what I meant! I don’t mean “love” like that! The dishes! Yeah, I love the food! You better not take this the wrong way or anything, okay?」
「Haha, I know, I know.」
「Agh, really! You’re just imagining it! Got it?」
Rio couldn’t help but laugh a little more at her embarrassment, even while she was glaring at him with a face redder than a tomato. He managed to force back down the urge to keep going.
「Don’t worry, I get it. Anyway, let’s eat before the food gets cold.」
Realizing she was digging her own grave with the way she was acting, and it was the first familiar meal she’d seen in recent months, Satsuki quickly agreed.
Rio served up some of the stew and rice, and after an 「Itadakimasu」 they both dug in.
The taste of the stew permeated through Satsuki’s being, warming her homesick heart, and she lost herself to the food.
Soon enough, they were cleaning up the dishes, and Satsuki started the conversation again.
「Sorry, I kind of got into a daze there. Thanks a lot for the meal, Haruto-kun.」
「I feel a lot better about having made them now.」
「Haruto-kun, are you always carrying these kinds of dishes around?」
「Yeah, I usually make too much, and it’d be a waste getting rid of the rest.」
「Guess I shouldn’t be surprised. You even take your house with you. Hey…」
Satsuki paused for a second.
「Didn’t you say that stuff like soy sauce, miso and rice aren’t available in the Strahl region?」
「… Then, why do you have this?」
「Let’s not worry about the details.」
Rio responded with a profound-looking gaze, but she wasn’t having any of it.
「I’m worrying about it. You know I can’t just drop it like this, so if you have a way to get them, please tell me!」
Satsuki was the daughter of a rather high-class family. The quality of her food was something she couldn’t ignore.
The cook’s skill was a factor, too, but amateurs could only do so much with even the best ingredients.
So if there was a chance she could get all of that, she wanted to take it for the sake of the diet to which she was accustomed.
「Believe it or not, I have to leave the Strahl region to restock any of those ingredients. That’s why you won’t see it around here.」
「Ugh… Just how far away is the place that produces them?」
「The Yagumo region is far east. Too far by foot. You could take less time with physical reinforcement magic, but it’s a dangerous path that hardly anyone goes down. Even an airship would take a while.」
「In my case, I can go there since I can fly at high speed, but in Japanese terms it’d feel like a trip to Europe for any normal person.」
「I see. On top of that, Haruto-kun has that dimensional storage. You’d have virtually infinite maximum capacity for transporting. There’s gotta be something wrong with all that, right…?」
Satsuki pouted like a kid at all of Rio’s conveniences.
「Sorry. Including the 『Item Box』 I have a lot of things that aren’t easy to acquire. That’s why I want to keep it a secret as long as possible. Showing off will just get me in a world of trouble.」
His voice was apologetic, but he sounded like he’d been through such a thing before.
「Seriously, you are just way too strange. Your utility is off the charts.」
With his high mobility and overwhelming carrying capacity, people would kill for that.
She really wanted to beg him to give her the ingredients she so yearned for, but it was easy for her to imagine what sort of trouble she’d cause him.
And yet he was willing to share that kind of secret with her, even if it seemed like just a meal.
Satsuki didn’t want to betray that.
「Oh well. It’s regrettable that I can’t enjoy this every day.」
「My apologies. Would you have preferred to not eat them?」
「No! Not at all, I definitely don’t mean it that way! I just felt like I was wasting away here, living without tasting such amazing food again. But… maybe you could bring some in secret once in a while? And your house has an ofuro too, right?」
Satsuki took a peek at Rio’s face with upturned eyes. Though he looked troubled for a moment, he fixed it in no time with a clearly fake smile.
「… You’re right. If the chance comes up, then.」
Then, as if she knew what was going on, she started shouting.
「I refuse to say goodbye like this. We’ll meet again, Haruto-kun, right? You promised, didn’t you?」
She asked him sorrowfully, but Rio only responded with silence, so she stood, kicking back her chair and slamming her hands on the table.
「What is wrong with you?! Deciding all of that on your own, without saying anything or considering how I’d feel about it! Why can’t we meet anymore? Is this supposed to be a farewell dinner?
I hate this! This has nothing to do with the others, I still want to be your friend after this!」
Rio’s eyes widened slightly at the suggestion.
「That’s right! I know we only just met, but I consider you a friend. And I thought maybe Haruto-kun felt the same. Or was I wrong?」
Shaking his head, Rio gave her a light but earnest smile.
「… Not at all. Thank you, Satsuki-san.」
He felt guilty about it, but he was glad Satsuki thought of him that way.
「If that’s the case, then stop acting so distant from now on! The “keep some distance between us” thing is just a show for the public, right? So is this supposed to be because of the matter with Miharu-chan?」
Might have hit the bullseye.
Rio was at a loss for words, causing Satsuki to puff her cheeks out.
「You’re serious, aren’t you? I won’t forgive that kind of selfish decision-making. I am not letting you say, “Let’s not see each other again.”」
Her resolution took him by surprise.
He could have cut off his remaining connections with Miharu, Aki and Masato if he cut off his connection with Satsuki here, but the girl herself was making that impossible.
Rio questioned whether he had the privilege of being called her friend, but the answer was already staring him down.
Sorting through the conflicting feelings in his heart, he simply nodded.
In the middle of their dinner, King Francois spoke in his office with his children, Michael and Charlotte.
He wanted a report from their activities during the party.
「Father, is it really okay to let Haruto does as he pleases?」
Michael timidly spoke up after, but Francois cut him off without hesitation.
「There’s no problem with it. The man himself has no intention of serving the kingdom. It may be better this way.」
「This might sound arrogant, but now we have nothing to tie Satsuki to Galwark after we cede her friends to Saint Stella kingdom, don’t we?」
「I’ve already accounted for insurance. Our new honorary knight is quite enough. Fortunately for us, that man and Satsuki-dono seem to have a very favorable relationship to me. Charlotte?」
「Yes, dear father. Satsuki-sama has been so cheerful the last few days. It’s as though she’s an entirely different person.」
Charlotte gave her consent with a knowing smile.
「If that’s so, then…」
Michael was uneasy about their relationship, but he kept it down. This wasn’t the time or place to voice his curiosities.
That said, Charlotte was ordered by Francois to try to get close to them. It should have been fine to ask about it, at least indirectly.
「The real goal of the party was just as I said before.」
Suddenly, Francois derailed his train of thought.
「To look for someone who will attract Satsuki… right?」
「But then wouldn’t Satsuki’s friends have the highest value?」
「Hmhm, when concluding the discussion of an alliance with Saint Stella kingdom, we included some necessary particulars in the contract regarding the treatment of Satsuki-dono’s friends.」
Francois remained forthright with the information.
「That’s just how friendships are; it’s a matter of chance, just like a relationship between a man and woman. One cannot reliably say that someone will be more amiable with decades-old friends than someone they’d met only a few days ago. Don’t you also believe Satsuki-dono has gotten quite intimate with Haruto?」
He talked to his son with a pleasant tone.
「You should prioritize national interests.」
「… I know.」
「Then, do you understand? The heroes act as the apostles of the six wise gods. If mistreated, they can become a poison just as easily as they can a panacea.」
「Of course. That’s why the will of the hero should be respected to the best of our ability.」
The Strahl region believed in the six wise gods. Civilization in the region wouldn’t have developed to its current state if not for them bestowing upon the people a variety of magical technology.
As a result, most rulers in the region treat the gods’ items as national treasures related to their kingdom, and use it—that is, borrowing the gods’ divine will—to justify their kingdom’s authority.
There’s no independent priest or organization, either, nor a holy head to represent the will of the gods. Instead, each kingdom’s ruler is the head of faith in their kingdom. Priests belong to the kingdom as well.
It’s not much different in Galwark.
In short, Francois is not only head of state, but also the religious leader in the country.
On the other hand, while Satsuki has no noble authority, she is the personification of one of the gods’ divine will. So even though she won’t rule the kingdom any time soon, as a hero she holds significant political control through religion.
As long as a hero is allied to a kingdom, they are directly connected to its rise in power.
Naturally, that means they want to keep Satsuki as close to Galwark as possible, but that also means they need to be careful with the method.
It’s contrary to the hero’s will and the kingdom’s own policy, and could turn out very, very badly for the kingdom, so keeping her friends hostage is something they considered an absolute last resort.
It might be worth calling this a test for Francois as king. He had to see how much he could align Satsuki with Galwark’s objectives without relying on something so heavy-handed.
Francois was also acutely aware that Satsuki was on alert toward the kingdom until this past week. The evening party was one of his measures to winning her over, and it seemed to work.
Thanks to the event, Satsuki brightened up. A massive change from her melancholy before meeting Rio and his protectees.
「As your father I wish to help you, seeing as how you fell in love with Satsuki-dono. However, I must ask that you refrain from stirring the pot with your personal feelings.」
「You… You know about that, Father?」
Michael’s eyes bulged a little.
「I’m the one who told you to get close to Satsuki-dono and gain her trust, right? Did you think I wouldn’t see through you? Rather than making her fall in love with you, I was surprised to find the opposite had happened.」
「… My apologies.」
「No need for that. You understood your position well enough. But you made Charlotte jealous since you wouldn’t accompany her anymore.」
He ended with a hearty laugh as Michael looked to his sister.
「Is that true?」
「So you weren’t even aware of it. Hmph.」
Sulking, Charlotte turned away.
「I don’t really mind that much. After all, Haruto-sama is much more gentle than Onii-sama.」
「S-So even you think he’s that good?」
Charlotte only giggled gleefully as her brother lost his composure.
「Maybe now you understand some of my feelings, having to compete for Onii-sama’s affections with a girl who doesn’t want them.」
「… Uhm, yes, I understand. Please don’t make me more embarrassed of myself than I already am.」
Unable to take the brocon/siscon comedy routine any longer, Francois called out to them.
「Let’s stop this here; I still have work to do. If you want to continue, you can leave it for later.」