Chapter 166 : Those Who Sneaking From Behind
Rio and Flora continued to travel along the southwest of the Rubia Kingdom.
Aside from the heavy rain on the previous day, which hindered their progress, their journey toward Rodania had been smooth so far.
Time flowed for a bit until before the sun went down when it still shone brightly in the azure sky. It had become an ironclad rule to stop traveling when the sun went down because there was no artificial source of light outside of the cities. They had no choice but to enter the closest city or make camp where they were.
Thankfully, there was a small town slightly ahead of them, at the entrance of the valley. Rio decided they would spend the night there.
「It won’t take much longer until we arrive at the next town. Are you okay, Flora-sama? The ground is a bit muddy from yesterday’s rain.」
「Yes. Please allow me to walk a bit further!」
「Thank God. Perhaps my assistance is unnecessary by this point.」
Rio had been holding her hand so far to assist her in walking. It was part of Flora’s rehabilitation since she spent so much time being carried on his back. When they started moving, she could barely walk by herself but now she was steady on her feet.
As he suggested withdrawing his support, he raised the hand Flora held a little higher. He had continued to assist her for so long because of habit, but holding hands like they were might be meaningless by now.
He was a bit confused when Flora scrunched up her face as if he had just told her the world was ending. She suddenly tightened her grip on his hand.
「Um… Do you think it’s too early to let go?」
「Ah… Um… Yes.」
「… I understand. I suppose I’ll have to continue attending to you along the way. However, today’s rehabilitation is about to end.」
Rio looked ahead of them with a wry smile on his face. The entrance gate of the city was only a few hundred meters from their position.
Although he didn’t mention it, he had noticed how Flora flushed with embarrassment as she refused to let go.
Sooner than she wished, they arrived at the entrance of the post-town.
Rio’s gaze focused on the gate. In the shadows along the structures hid several female knights. Since every one of them wore a similar uniform, Rio immediately realized the situation.
One of the female knights approached them, calling out once within hearing distance.
Despite keeping his vigilance high, Rio answered as if nothing was wrong.
「You’re quite young, huh. How old are you?」
「Ohh. What about her?」
The female knight questioned them with a military-like tone.
Once Rio answered her, she displayed a dazed expression before switching her gaze to Flora, who stood beside Rio with a hood covering her head.
When the female knight focused on her, the timidness inherent to Flora’s nature made her flustered.
「She’s 15. Is there a problem?」
Before she could formulate an answer, Rio beat her to it.
He was even more suspicious of the unknown knight and her intentions.
「Ah, no, it’s nothing. I’m sorry for taking your time. Did we make you suspicious? Don’t worry, we’re knights that serve this kingdom. I am Elena. I wanted to ask you two some questions because we’re in the middle of some duties.」
「I see. Please make it fast. We’re quite tired from our travels, and we still need to find an inn to spend the night.」
It was a subtle way to express his disapproval of her methods, but Elena wasn’t discouraged by Rio’s words. She wasn’t going to leave without her answers.
「I promise not to take too much of your time. We received a report stating that some bandits were targeting this area. We are here on a subjugation task. Our mission is to locate those bandits and repel them. Did you see anyone suspicious on the way here?」
「No, we didn’t see anyone suspicious.」
Rio knew the real reason why Elena and her comrades were stationed there, so his reply was short. If he did not cooperate with them, it would only raise their suspicions.
During the exchange, Flora stood quietly behind Rio.
「I see… Well, my team requires some manpower for the search and subjugation mission. We’re going to hire some adventurers, but I want you to be part of it, too.」
「… My deepest apologies, but we are not adventurers. We cannot help you.」
Rio shook his head and quickly denied Elena’s request.
He’d cooperate if it was just answering some questions, but assisting in the subjugation was another matter. If he was an adventurer, Rio would be unable to refuse a formal request for help without a justifiable reason.
Since he wasn’t, there was nothing wrong with refusing her request.
Judging from his attire, Elena had expected Rio to be an adventurer.
His answer was quite anti-climatic.
「What? Even though you look like one?」
「Yes. We are just ordinary travelers.」
Elena was still unconvinced about their identities.
「Travelers? … But it’s just the two of you. Doesn’t that mean you’re quite confident in your abilities?」
「Well… Only enough to defend ourselves.」
Despite giving her a positive reply, Rio could somehow smell a lot of trouble behind her request.
As he expected, she started to use more forceful means once he refused.
「Actually, there aren’t enough adventurers available, so we need every help we can get.」
「… My deepest apologies.」
While maintaining his cordial conduct, Rio firmly shook his head in denial.
But the knight still doubted Rio and Flora’s identities.
「… So you really aren’t adventurers?」
「Well then, may I check your body to confirm that you’re not carrying an adventurer’s tag?」
「Yeah, I don’t mind, just please do it quickly.」
His tone was obviously annoyed, but he had no choice but to comply with her demands. Elena immediately started a physical examination of their bodies.
After lowering his backpack, Rio took off his overcoat and stood in front of Elena.
Elena felt a bit awkward with how cooperative Rio was, obediently fulfilling her demand. Little did she know, Rio had expected that after going this far, no one would doubt that he was lying to her.
Or maybe the other party was aware that they weren’t in the wrong all along.
「What’s wrong? You wanted to do a physical examination, right? I’ve told you to please hurry it up. We want to get to an inn as soon as possible. We’re very tired, so can you finish this quickly?」
Rio’s tone was still polite, but there was an easily detectable discontent in both his voice and his gestures. It made Elena feel quite embarrassed.
「F-Fine. I understand. You can go.」
Elena allowed Rio and Flora to leave and pass through the city’s gates.
The other female knight, who stood away from them in silence, showed a somewhat impatient expression.
Rio had noticed the change on the female knights’ faces, but he didn’t want to linger around the area. He lifted his rucksack again and urged Flora to start moving.
They needed to leave immediately.
◇ ◇ ◇
They searched for an inn, but all the high-ranking ones were reserved for the female knights around the gate. After finding an appropriate inn, they rented the two rooms in the corner of the floor.
Rio needed to be there for Flora, except for when she slept. They decided to sleep after relaxing for a while with a cup of tea.
A while later, Flora timidly called to Rio.
「Yes? How may I assist you?」
「It’s about those female knights from before…」
Rio tilted his head in curiosity.
「Is something about them worrying you?」
「Uh… Maybe it’s just me worrying too much, but…」
「If you mean helping them with the subjugation quest, then you don’t need to worry about it. We have no obligation to help because we’re not adventurers. Moreover, we need to get to Rodania as soon as possible.」
「Y-Yes, you’re right. I was concerned because it almost turned into a quarrel back there. Looking from our position, I’m glad they let us go, but…」
Flora’s words sounded like she was vexed about something.
「Yes, they might have let us pass without a fuss if we had revealed our identities to them. However, doing so would only give us greater troubles in the future. Those knights were probably the last people we should enlighten about our situation. They might even have asked us to follow them to a different place to judge us. Naturally, if they were Flora-sama’s people then things would be different, but… 」
No matter how good the diplomatic relationship between the Rubia Kingdom and Restoration was, creating unnecessary loans were undesirable in their current situation. Even if they were in dire need of help, the assisting party had to be chosen carefully.
As an example, if this place was Almond of Galwark Kingdom Rio would have asked for Liselotte’s assistance.
The problem was the fact that Rio was completely in the dark about this Kingdom’s territory, including the geography and the status of the competition among nobles. It was clear that if they trusted the wrong person, things would get very complicated.
Although Flora understood his caution, she couldn’t stop her voice from sounding gloomy.
「No, I’m also not very familiar with this kingdom. But if we’re talking about royals, I’ve met several of them…」
「Then I feel it’s best to continue as we are. Magic vessel aside, if we move at this pace then I’m the fastest way to reach Rodania as soon as possible. Of course, if Flora-sama isn’t comfortable with me alone as your escort…」
「No, no! I’m not doubting Haruto-sama’s skill. I’m not questioning if it’s really okay to travel like this, I meant that I think this travel method is better. Ah… Well… I feel safer this way.」
As soon as she noticed how impassioned she got, Flora tried to rein in her feelings.
Rio unintentionally let a chuckle escape with how his charge was behaving.
「… Thank you for trusting me. Just think of the matter with those knights from before as us being unlucky. Their easy retreat was a blessing in disguise. Some abuse their privilege to force others to do their bidding.」
It felt ironic to say that to others, and it made Rio smile wryly for a bit.
For some reason, this expression made Flora feel apologetic.
「… My deepest apologies.」
「… Why are you apologizing to me, Flora-sama?」
「Eh… I’m also royalty. It must be very disappointing to see so many royals acting as they like while abusing their authority.」
「It’s not like you’re one of them, right?」
It seemed that Flora worried about what Rio said before, about abusing authority.
He didn’t know how to soothe her.
「Yes. I’d like to think I’m the same as before. I don’t think I’ve changed much. I’m always living as a spectator… Even if I know what is happening around me, I can’t do anything about it…」
「Although I do not know what happened to you, Flora-sama, remember that the other royals are not you. Don’t worry too much about what the others do.」
Rio tried to pick encouraging words to say to Flora.
She seemed to want to say something for a moment but ended up saying something else as she smiled.
「… Haruto-sama, you’re so kind. Your words resound inside me.」
◇ ◇ ◇
At the same time, in the same town but in a different inn, two people met in secret.
They were none other than Elena, the captain of the royal guard of the First Princess of the Rubia Kingdom, Silvi, and Reis.
「That was very troublesome. Those two didn’t give us an excuse to take them with us… Your ‘gate inspection’ plan was rendered completely useless by them. I never thought your people wouldn’t be able to accomplish such a simple job.」
While he spoke, Reis shrugged his shoulders in disappointment.
Elena tried to make up an excuse for the poor handling of her troops, but it was obvious she was failing at it.
「I-It can’t be helped. I even use the pretext that you prepared, but those two aren’t adventurers so there’s no way to take them out.」
「That’s when you should have improvised and forced them. Oh well, it can’t be helped. Fine, then.」
Elena was surprised that Reis had accepted the situation so easily. It was out of her expectations.
His thoughts, however, were on a very different wavelength.
(As expected of Princess Silvi’s royal knights. They’re not suited for this type of work. They’re too pure. I wasn’t expecting them to complete the job anyway, at least I got the time I needed to complete my preparations. Although it took longer than I predicted, it seems Lady Luck is smiling toward us.)
To Elena, Reis was a very creepy person. She thought he would find even more reasons to extort more requests from them but, to her surprise, he let it go.
Just what in the world was that man thinking?
「I know which inn they’re staying at. In fact, Princess Silvi and Renji-kun are staying in the same inn as us, so you should go see them. Wait for further instructions.」
「What? You took Silvi-sama out of that deserted village, too?」
「Yeah. They left with me and Lucci right after you left with Arein. Naturally, everyone is staying in the same inn. Isn’t it fun?」
Reis spoke of fun, but his tone couldn’t be more disinterested.
But Elena wasn’t paying attention anymore.
Only one question mattered at that moment.
「… Where is my lady’s room?」
「Second room from the corner.」
Reis replied to Elena frankly, but all he got from her was a displeased huff as she got up from the chair. She made to leave the room, but stopped and turned back to him for a moment.
「Oh… One last thing.」
「Oh, my. Would you be so kind as to enlighten me?」
Reis merely smiled at her.
Elena did not hesitate to try and sate her curiosity.
「Those two who you told me to apprehend… Who are they?」
「Hahaha, and here I thought you’d never ask… I don’t mind telling you their identities, though.」
At this, Reis smiled happily.
「They are, or perhaps I should say “He” is trying to shake away his pursuer. How ungentlemanly, don’t you think? You’d better not underestimate those two, lest you lose something important to you.」
The profound words did not match the creepy smile on Reis’ face.
Elena’s eyebrows frowned in suspicion.