Chapter 160 : Departure
Two days had passed since Flora woke up.
The after-effects of the poison had done great damage to her body. Thankfully, her recovery had already progressed enough that she was able to walk around the room and eat by herself.
Since there was no longer any hindrance to her movements, she decided to explore her new lodgings.
The house was made of rocks and built by Dwarfs, impressive even to Flora’s royal standards. Dwarves were widely known for their skilled craftsmanship and this house did not disappoint. She went from room to room and examined everything with great interest, especially the bathing room.
「The instructions for the bath are written above it, do you have any questions about the bathroom?」
As he moved toward the dressing room, Rio instructed Flora on how the bathroom worked. That included the time allocation and how to use the magic tools. He also showed her a variety of soaps available to use.
「Ah, no… I… I’m good.」
Flora seemed completely entranced by the bathing facilities.
She looked around the bathroom while shaking her head slightly as if she couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
Rio placed one of his shirts into a basket with a towel that he had selected for Flora. Without any female clothing available, his only option was to give her his own clothes to wear.
「Here you go, a towel and a change of clothes. Feel free to call me if you… need anything.」
He informed her with a calm voice.
It was natural for royalty to have servants assist with their bath, but there was no way Rio would assume that role. Thus, he explained how everything worked and left the act for the person herself.
「Ye-Yeah. Thank you very much.」
「Well then, excuse me. Please enjoy your bath.」
Flora agreed in a strained voice. Since she didn’t have any more questions, Rio exited the bathroom in silence. After confirming he had left the dressing room, she let out a sigh.
Even though there was only her and Ri―Haruto in the rock house, the distance between them hadn’t shortened at all. They’ve been talking about various things in these two days, but it did not make him any more approachable.
(I want to talk to him more, but…)
Flora could sense that Haruto was deliberately keeping her at arm’s length.
She couldn’t bring herself to talk more openly in front of him. Even if she had a specific topic, she didn’t know how to bring it up.
Her shyness was also a factor in this. It was hard enough to maintain a conversation with boys, but it became even harder when she was with Haruto. This really frustrated her.
A stray thought crossed Flora’s mind, and she couldn’t stop herself from sighing.
(If my sister and Roana were in my position, they probably would do better than me.)
Standing alone in the bathroom, she was the very picture of loneliness.
It took her a few minutes to start undressing.
Rio’s shirt was way too big for Flora. She held it up in front of her and it covered her like a dress, stopping just above her knees. Her movements were clumsy as she was not used to this type of clothing.
Unfortunately, there was no other choice. Aside from that and one pair of underwear now lying in the washing basket, she had nothing else to wear.
「… Heave ho.」
After taking off her clothes, Flora briskly walked towards the bathroom. Though her body was still growing, it already exuded a certain feminine charm. When she opened the door, the luxurious bathroom surprised her.
The room was wide, with a tall ceiling and walls made purely from natural rocks. The same rocks that formed the floor and walls also formed the open bathtub. The water coming from the tap was so hot, it filled the area around the bathtub with steam.
As royalty, Flora was no stranger to expensive, exuberant bathing areas. However, compared to this one, those baths could only be considered poorly made.
(Why did he build such a splendid bath in a rocky area?)
Flora looked around the bathroom with a tense expression, feeling overwhelmed by her surroundings.
Rio had asked her to keep all of this a secret and not inquire further about it. At first, she thought nothing of it. It shouldn’t be hard to fulfill his desire since she owed him her life. After seeing this bathroom, Flora had to reconsider the difficulty of this request.
Now she understood his concern.
Nevertheless, instead of pondering about such troublesome things, she should start bathing.
「Let’s see, first I should wash my body and hair.」
Flora’s desire to take a dip in the tub grew stronger by the second.
She followed Rio’s instructions, choosing a soap and using the magic tool to generate hot water. She was pleasantly surprised by how everything worked, smiling in delight like a kid with a new toy.
「T-THE HOT WATER REALLY CAME OUT! 」
「UWAA, THIS SOAP IS SO FRAGRANT! 」
The soap was of the finest quality, and its bubbles gently wrapped around Flora’s body.
After washing away all the soap, she finally immersed herself in the tub. It was her first time experiencing this type of deep and spacious bathtub. Flora timidly lowered her body into the water and an enchanting moan escaped her lips.
The warmth slowly seeping into her body felt incredibly good.
This bath was the best she had ever entered.
(… This must be the tub soaking that Hiroaki-sama always talks about…)
Flora recalled when Hiroaki told her how he enjoyed soaking in the bathtub once in a while.
She now understood how this could become a habit.
Flora was completely relaxed and took her time enjoying the warmth of the bath. She scooped her waist-length hair that floated on the surface of the water.
She did not know her hair shouldn’t touch such hot water. Maybe Rio didn’t know either or merely forgot to warn her.
[ED: Hot water makes the hair strands porous. This means that they are more open to the elements rather than being tightly sealed. Overly porous hair is dry, brittle, and much more prone to breakage.] [ED2: wow, thanks for the real life advice. Didn’t expect this here]
(I want to know more about Lord Amakawa… About Haruto-sama.)
Once again she recalled Rio’s matter.
During these days of cohabitation, she had noticed a striking resemblance between Rio and Haruto. There was even a moment where she regarded Haruto as Rio. It was not just his face. His tone, his gestures… Practically everything about him was way too similar to Rio. Her desire to know if Haruto was Rio grew every day.
The problem was… How would she confirm that? Did she even have the right to know? Flora had no answers to those questions. Nevertheless, whether he was Rio or Haruto, she wanted to talk to him about many things.
Flora noticed how her thoughts had wandered and thought of how long she had been in there.
(Maybe it’s time to leave.)
As soon as she considered getting up and leaving, she felt a wave of dizziness. She was unable to stand on her feet and could only sit back inside the tub.
(What happened to me!?)
Flora became anxious. She had probably never been dizzy in her entire life because she was wondering if this was a symptom of being poisoned. Her field of vision became white and her heartbeat quickened.
When her anxiety hit its limits, she called out to Rio.
「U-Uhm! Can you please come inside, Lord Amakawa?」
Her voice resounded in the spacious bathroom, but there was no answer from the outside.
「Uhm, can you come inside, Lord Amaka-… Haruto-sama? Haruto-sama, are you there?」
A second attempt also resulted in silence. Rio did not answer again.
Flora’s voice faded as her anxiety grew.
A while later, the door opened, and Rio’s voice resounded in the room.
「… Did you just call me, Flora-sama? 」
During Flora’s bath, Rio had been standing in front of the dressing room’s door. His voice was transmitted clearly even from the other side of the bathroom door.
「Y-Yeah! Thank God…」
Flora’s face turned completely red from embarrassment.
She was extremely relieved that Rio hadn’t left her alone, after all.
「How may I be of assistance?」
「Uhm… I’m suddenly very dizzy. My vision is hazy, and I can’t stand properly… Did I get poisoned?」
Flora explained her symptoms to Rio.
She briefly wondered why his expression went from genuine worry to complete disinterest…
「… May I ask if you feel like all your blood is rushing up toward your head right now?」
「… Blood rushing up to my head?」
The question puzzled Flora, who tilted her head in curiosity.
Rio patiently explained the cause of her symptoms.
「Yes. When you stay immersed in hot water for a long time, it intensifies your blood circulation. The blood rushes to your head, making you feel dizzy and giddy.」
「Eh, aah… Then… It isn’t poison? 」
She was bewildered. She had never heard of such a thing!
Rio only replied with another question.
「I can’t say for sure that it’s not poison, but it probably isn’t. Did you suddenly try standing up after soaking for a long time?」
「… Y-yes. The truth is…」
Embarrassed, she only nodded with a red face.
In the Strahl region, hot tubs meant for immersion weren’t very popular. It was natural that most people wouldn’t associate the dizziness with soaking in hot water for a long period. Even more so a caged princess like Flora.
Rio gently reassured Flora that the feeling would not last long.
「Your brain was shocked by the sudden rise of your blood pressure, that’s all. Don’t worry, it’s a temporary symptom.」
(Ha~h, What a troublesome princess.)
Suddenly spouting nonsense like that. Had she never been in a hot bath before?
Unknown to Rio, on the other side of the door, Flora was still inside the water.
He faintly heard her timid voice through the door.
「Uhm, what should I do, then? Should I leave the bathtub right away?」
「Yes, but please calm yourself. You don’t need to rush. After you leave the water, lie down or sit on the floor. Just make sure you’re not standing now. You should go back to normal in no time.」
Flora decided to heed Rio’s instructions immediately.
She did exactly as he told her, feeling a terrifying sense of vertigo when getting out of the water.
(He said soon… But how long is that soon? Can I stand up already?)
Pondering if 20 seconds were enough to regain her balance, Flora tried standing up.
She put more power into her arms in an attempt to lift her body. And then, the terrifying dizziness from the heat was gone.
Flora reported her condition in a cheery voice.
「Uhm, it seems my dizziness has been cured, Haruto-sama!」
「… That’s a relief. We can’t cool down your body right after you leave the bath, so please finish washing with warm water.」
Rio still couldn’t get used to her calling him with the suffix “-sama”. Still, he answered with a smile on his face.
It would have been bad if Flora accidentally called him as “Rio” out of desperation, he thought.
「Yes, thank you very much!」
「I’ll excuse myself then.」
He was reassured of her safety by her cheerful reply, so Rio turned around and left. A while later, the door of the bathroom opened and Flora walked out.
There was a slight flush to her cheeks. Once she regained her composure, Flora realized she had basically been speaking to Haruto while naked, with only a flimsy door between them. Somehow, she felt really embarrassed.
(… Eh? Did I just call Lord Amakawa by his name?)
As soon as she calmed down, she realized her blunder. Such a bold remark might be due to her lack of knowledge, misunderstanding her situation as an emergency. Just remembering it mortified her.
(H-How bold I am…)
Flora blushed furiously as she gathered warm water and poured it over her head.
She walked briskly to the dressing room, wiping her body dry with a towel. After changing to the new set of clothing that Rio prepared for her, she headed to the living room where her host stood.
A little stutter entered her voice as she expressed her gratitude. She wondered if he was bothered that she didn’t call him “Lord Amakawa” anymore.
「U-Uhm, the hot water felt very good, Haruto-sama. And… thank you for your help earlier!」
「It was nothing. I’ve prepared some tea to warm your body, as well. I hope you’ll enjoy it.」
Flora looked at him and tried to gauge his reaction, but he didn’t seem to mind how she addressed him. He just smiled and calmly shook his head. That smile reminded her of her time at the Royal Academy and Rio’s figure as he smiled at Celia flashed through her mind.
Her eyes opened wide and with a red face, she nodded.
「Ye-Yeah. Thank you very much.」
◇ ◇ ◇
Since then, another two days had passed.
The day of their departure slowly arrived and they left the Rock House.
「Uwaa, it really was a house inside a rock. So that’s why it’s built in such a rocky area…」
Flora looked back at the Rock House with an expression of extreme interest. Since her recovery, it had been her first time leaving the house.
Rio looked at Flora with a pensive look for a moment before walking ahead.
「…Yes. Will Your Highness please follow me over there before we depart?」
She was puzzled by his request but still followed him.
Currently, Flora wore Rio’s shirt with an overcoat on top of it. Naturally, it also belonged to him.
(I wonder where we’re going…)
About 50 meters from the Rock House, Rio stopped and turned back to her.
「Please, wait for me here for a while. I’m going to hide my house. It won’t take long.」
Flora nodded obediently and Rio went back to retrieve his Rock House, returning before even a minute had passed since he asked her to wait. Flora was puzzled.
「Eh, it’s done already?」
「Yes. That house is special. With all due respect, you can’t tell anyone about it.」
Fearing she would start asking about how it all worked, Rio attempted to change the topic.
「D-Don’t worry. I wouldn’t tell anyone even without you asking me not to. That’s a promise!」
「I am grateful. Shall we depart? First, we’ll head to the nearest city to buy some daily necessities and some clothes for you, Flora-sama.」
「My apologies, I’m of no use again…」
「 Don’t worry, I don’t mind it.」
Rio shook his head, refusing her apologies. There was something else that he needed to suggest to her.
「Flora-sama, it’s still very dangerous for you to walk for long periods. Would it be okay if I carried you? We would move faster that way.」
Flying would be even faster than walking and would considerably reduce their travel time, but there was no need to tell her about it. That fact would remain a secret.
「… Eh? Y-Yes, no problem!」
「Please excuse my rudeness.」
The idea stunned her for a moment, but she quickly agreed. It was simply the most practical idea. However, when Rio stood right beside her and prepared to lift Flora into his arms, she stiffened.
This did not go unnoticed by Rio.
「Ehm, can I really hold you?」
「Y-YeSH, WITH PLEASURE! U~hm… I might be heavy, though…」[ED: Flora best girl!][TL : Ehem, it seems we found a heretic.]
「It’s all right. Well then, excuse me…」
Smiling wryly as if the mere idea of her weight amused him, Rio easily lifted Flora’s dainty body in his arms.
Once again Flora’s face resembled a tomato.
「I’ll run at a moderate speed but please hold on to me properly regardless.」
Nodding timidly, Flora tightly gripped his black coat as Rio instructed her on the most important point.
「Uhm, if possible, I believe it’ll be safer if you hug me.」
「EH!? Y-Y-Yes! L-Like this?」
Per his request, Flora timidly hugged Rio.
「Yes, that’s enough. Well, let’s go.」
「P-Please take care of me.」
With the princess now secure in his arms, Rio strengthened his body with Spirit Arts and broke into a run.
Flora unintentionally tightened her embrace on Rio.
「I’m going to run at this pace for a while, please do tell me if you’re scared.」
Flora loudly replied to Rio’s warning. In the blink of an eye, the scenery around them changed constantly. They were traveling so fast it felt as if Rio’s feet had wings. She felt weightless in his embrace. Flora shouted in excitement.
「A-AMAZING! YOU’RE SO AMAZING, HARUTO-SAMA!」
「I’m glad you’re enjoying this ride.」
Rio replied in a calm voice.
Though he could run even faster than his current speed, he felt that this amount was enough to be able to enjoy the scenery. So far, their journey had been sailing smoothly.
Unbeknownst to the traveling duo, someone looked at them from afar. Their position was so high that they would appear as nothing more than a speck from their point of view.
It was Reis.
「… Finally departed, huh. Well, I guess it’s about time for me to make my move too.」