The wagon’s canopy parted, and a thick, hairy arm suddenly appeared.
My wrist bone cracked in pain, and the moment I realized my arm was gripped onto, I fell off from the gloomy inside of the wagon, into the glaring light outside.
Not having expected the turn of events, I wasn’t even able to properly cover my face, and ended up forcefully giving a passionate kiss to the ground. The moment I fell down, sand entered my mouth, and a crunchy, unpleasant noise came from between my clenched teeth.
Gravel and pebbles wedged into my face and palms in pain. I may have gotten a wound around my jaw because of the stinging pain I felt.
Having fallen on the ground in this position was a first ever since I was born, and after the pain came severe humiliation
I was trying to raise my upper body in order to glare at the man whose eyes I met, but it seems that wasn’t needed.
My hair was grasped from behind, and as if they were pulling up a thing, they violently, and forcibly got me to stand up.
A hateful, tearing sound came from my head, and I felt pain, fear, and an unknown fury arise as a scream surged within me.
The man is of a huge build, and because he pulled my head up to his shoulder height, I was made to stand on my toes. Because of that, I couldn’t even struggle as I pleased.
“Nooooooo! Let me go!”
“You’re Elmenhilde, huh!”
“N-no, I’m not…!”
Firmly raising my head upwards, my breathing stopped for a moment, as if my throat was blocked. Before I knew it, tears overflowed down my tattered face.
They came here to catch me, so I wouldn’t be killed. Despite knowing that, my body paled from the coldness he was directing at me with his eyes. My fingertips turned cold, chills and fear went up my back as if a cold hand was tracing it, and when I realized it, I bawled like a kid throwing a tantrum, and frantically scratched the log-like arm with minimal resistance.
There’s no use wanting to escape, to run away from this place, and from this man.
Then suddenly, I felt something warm and slimy on my cheeks. It continued to drip from above.
Looking at him carefully, his forehead was split, gaping open, and blood overflowed and dripped from it.
My limbs shivered and trembled, and if he hadn’t been holding my hair, I would have fallen over.
Unnaturally raising my head, with my mouth agape, no words came out as if my tongue was cut off.
As that happened, something highly viscous dripped, and slipped down towards his cheek, near his nose. Nausea welled within me at the iron-like smell that was somehow mixed with the smell of blood, and I was attacked with extreme regret.
Up until now, I was under the impression that just myself was okay, with no basis nor definitive proof, as long as I do my best.
I finally realized just how tremendously reckless, and stupid I was.
Having turned quiet, I was once again asked by the man if I was Elmenhilde.
Should I bear it, and nod?
I’m the daughter, and direct descendant of Count Hausknecht. By no means can I allow such disgrace.
That’s what I thought, but if I tell him honestly, ‘That’s right,’ he might let go of me.
Such naive whispers unsettled my heart.
I’d like to be released from this unpleasant situation as soon as possible. If I hadn’t looked at this person, I wouldn’t have showered in someone else’s blood.
Wanting to be exiled together with Bernhardt was such a childish dream of mine. Why didn’t I notice it before suddenly appearing at their estate? I’m… I am*…
My complexion paled, and I somehow feel myself stagger.
My head hurts. Because my scalp is still being pulled on.
I don’t care what happens anymore, I just want him to let go. One way or another. Quickly.
I was finally reminded just how reckless, and ignorant I was.
My trembling lips were just about to form words of affirmation, when–
“Let’s do this~!*”
An idiotic voice.
When I looked towards the direction of the voice — behind the man’s back — by reflex, I saw Lizia wielding a pole-like thing.
With a courageous, and imposing stance, she twisted her upper body, and striked with the triangular plate at the tip of the pole she was wielding.
What is that? What’s going on?
Is that… a shovel?
The part of the shovel that’s used to scoop dirt accurately hit the side of the man’s head.
The impact as his head hit the metal reverberated along the hand he held me with until it reached me.
Despite what had happened, his deep set eyes below his forehead were still wide open, and unexpectedly, from his mouth came a mood-breaking cough as well as spit.
His body suddenly tilted.
The sensation of having my hair pulled suddenly disappeared, and when I noticed it, I was released from the man’s grasp.
But because of the fear the seized my legs, making me unable to use them, I weakly sat on the ground.
The man’s physique was extremely sturdy, and despite staggering forward, he stood firm.
Though to be expected, he blinked his eyes, not knowing just what had happened to him when he got hit.
Now that I think about it, this man has a new injury on his forehead, similar to the one earlier where blood gushed out. Suddenly, his head had already received another blow.
Just how strong is he? Are you a rock? Is my ignorance this bad?
And yet, when I saw him staggering towards me to attack, I frantically moved my legs.
Seeing that appearance woke me up from my foolish thoughts, and fear once again filled me at the thought of violence, and death as I unconsciously screamed.
“One more timeee!”
Energetically screaming that, just as Lizia said, she hurled the shovel she was wielding towards the man’s head with all her strength. But this time around, the man was careful. Not a double slap, but a double shovel. I don’t quite get what she meant by that.
I mean, her swing just now was already beautiful.
If the other person was a nutcracker, his head would fly off, and a pure, radiant light would spill from it. But of course, the other person is real, so something as grotesque as his head flying off could never happen. As if it would.
She’s probably saved me about 9 times out of 10 already. But despite that, I thought of her as a merciless demon.
For her who wouldn’t refuse if asked for help, with her weak appearance, why is someone like her…
No, wait, did she unhesitatingly used a shovel towards a real person to shed blood? Is it fine of her to do that? Wait a minute, what’s with the idiotic voice earlier? What was that!?
Even I had swallowed back the scream that I was about to raise.
I don’t understand anything.
Scary. Really scary.
Even the man couldn’t bear the second blow to his head, and he finally fainted.
When that happened, I was released from unseen bindings, and with the strength from my frozen limbs disappearing, I began to hear the rapid pounds of my heart. With the situation finally dawning on me, I coughed slightly, as if a dam broke.
Speaking of Lizia, when she put aside the shovel as she tried to turn the large man over, and tie him up, he struggled. J-just how strong is he…
Scary. Really scary.
Speaking of, where’s Bernhardt?
Escaping from the reality of the scene in front of me, I remembered my original purpose, and unconsciously turned to look back.
I shouldn’t have though.
Three worms were squirming. They were as big as adult men. Wait, they’re actually adult men.
The well-built, adult men were knocked down, and gathered all together; some were groaning in pain, while others didn’t twitch one bit.
Bernhardt, who probably knocked them down, at that moment, mercilessly kicked one person who was trying to resist at the side of his face.
It sounded much more brutal than the time the other guy was hit with a shovel.
For some reason, it looked complicit, with how they both hit the side of the men’s heads. I’ve never taken martial arts classes, so I’m completely ignorant about it, but even at school, Bernhardt would forcibly make the other person lose consciousness…
Wait, don’t tell me…
Scary. Really scary.
“Are you okay, Elmenhilde-san?”
Feeling something warm soothe my back, when I turned around, I saw Lizia pat my back with a worried look on her face.
Because of the thick, winter clothing, her warmth gradually seeped into me, and my frozen limbs returned to normal, with the extremely unexpected turn of events finally fraying my nerves.
In other words, to say it in a more cliched way, I had embarrassingly fainted.
Hitting a rock, one of the wheels jumped up.
My body had lifted into the air slightly, and when I fell, the shock spread through. I rapidly came to, and woke up.
“Ah, you’re up.”
In the middle of the vague, and hazy view was a light brown curtain that swayed.
Despite saying that, irregular vibrations went through my body, which told me that this isn’t my room.
The blanket completely covered me, but my body shivered, feeling cold.
I blinked several times, clearing my view, and finally, I noticed that I had mistaken Lizia’s hair for the curtain from earlier as she peered into my eyes.
“You okay? Does it hurt anywhere?”
Because of how long I had slept, a hoarse voice came from my parched throat. My throat felt itchy.
“How do you feel?”
I don’t particularly feel good, but I don’t feel bad either. When I slowly shook my head, Lizia let out a long sigh.
Where are we?
I remember being surrounded by pursuers, dragged out, saved by Lizia, seeing Bernhardt kick someone’s head, and — that’s right, I fainted after that.
When I coughed dryly multiple times because of the uncomfortable feeling in my throat, I was offered a flask. Despite thanking her as I took it, there were no cups.
My head has yet to start working properly, so I could only stare at the flask for some reason. The insides of the flask made refreshing, splashing noises as it followed the vibrations of the wagon.
“Ah. Sorry, we don’t have any.”
Do you mean to say I have to drink from it directly? No way.
“That wouldn’t be appropriate.”
“You’re really a noble lady, huh, Elmenhilde-san.”
For a moment, I thought to say something sarcastic, but I saw the genuine surprise on Lizia’s face.
“You’re a lady as well, you know.”
“Me? I guess I’m the type of noble lady that would drink the water directly.”
That doesn’t really explain anything. You’re just stating personal facts now.
I thought that this would be her first time going on a long journey because of how frazzled, and nervous she looked when we left the Rietberg estate, but it looks like she’s actually used to travelling.
I never took one step outside from the estate, except for important tea, and evening parties, and was always watched over by someone. I thought that was normal. Even until I started school.
“Anyways, we have no cups, so please bear with this for now.”
There’s no helping the fact that we have none. And now that I think about it, I’m currently in the middle of being exiled. As if I could have such luxuries. And most of all, I can’t deny the fact that my throat is terribly parched right now.
My throat felt refreshed by the water, and with my mind cleared, she told me what had happened after that.
One of the pursuers said in the beginning that he’s an apprentice butler of Count Hausknecht. She told me that because he didn’t seem familiar, even if he was an apprentice butler, he must be an apprentice butler of the branch family, and in reply, I said, ‘Ah, that’s true.’
As for the other information, in addition to the other three, the hired ruffians were 12 in total. Three of them had already gone ahead to Bell.
The neighboring kingdom that was my destination, the kingdom of Hestyria, is a large, southern kingdom whose soil is abundant. Though calling it a large kingdom is lacking, as it’s too large. No matter how fast one is, it would take half a year by land from here, the kingdom of Cornelia, to the main city of Hestyria.
On the other hand, there are various types of ships — regular, service ships, merchant ships, and travelling ships — that head towards Hestyria from Bell, but once you’ve gotten on, there was nothing else you could do. Is what I heard.
Of course, I’ve never gotten on one. Even though half of my blood hails from there.
As for ambushing us at Bell, I’m pretty sure they’re underestimating me, and thinking a noble lady can’t possibly do something as harsh as trekking a mountain. I can’t deny it though, which makes it all the more vexing.
Additionally, if I were to get on one of the ships heading towards the port city of Hestyria, they won’t be able to pursue me from henceforth. As expected, if I had to do one of these, it has to be by sea.
“Bern seems to have thought of something, and said we don’t need to be more careful than is necessary.”
“Why? With the four people who attacked earlier, and the three that went ahead to Bell, shouldn’t there be four more people? By the way, what happened to the men earlier?”
Soothing me who had rapidly asked one question after another, Lizia continued on.
The remaining four should be pursuing the maid that pretended to be me, so it’d be impossible for them to catch up to our wagon. And the last one stayed behind to watch the Rietberg estate, just to make sure.
“Why are you so sure that it’d be impossible of them to catch up to us?”
“Are you feeling restless, Elmenhilde-san?”
It’s not a lie.
In that wide yet confined estate, I had no one that I could directly complain to. I made a slightly depressed face, and felt like it as well. Because of that, I was slightly shocked at what Lizia said.
“As for what we said to those people, we told them we’ll appropriately award them for their behavior if they cooperate…”
What does she mean by appropriately award them for their behavior?
I’m pretty certain that she’s looking down on me for being ignorant of the ways of the world, and deceiving me with such vague words.
I felt uncomfortable thinking that, and scrunched my eyebrows.
“Please say it to me more clearly.”
Lizia felt uncomfortable, and looked around restlessly with no meaning to her gaze.
She’s definitely deceiving me…
“Well, how should I say it? We’re… bribing them?”
“What did you say?”
“With money and body language, we made them promise to lead the other pursuers down the wrong route…”
“But then, won’t those men take the blame for it?”
“That’s true, but…”
Pretending that she didn’t understand my words, Lizia tilted her head slightly.
“That’s weird! People who commit bad things should be judged appropriately!”
No matter who it is. Especially not a man like my father.
Wouldn’t it be weird if they don’t?
Anger boiled within me. Rather, that anger might be because I remembered how miserably scared I was, and was unable to direct my anger towards the man who violently pulled me out of the wagon.
Lizia had her mouth half-open, like an idiot, and blinked her eyes multiple times.
“W-what’s with your expression there?”
“I-it’s been so long since I’ve met someone who says normal things.”
“Ah, no~! You’re right! Those who do bad things should be judged! There’s only, always one truth, right? The old man said that as well! Ahahaha!”
She looks so pitiful. Lizia’s head had turned weird because she hasn’t gotten any sleep.
I don’t get what she’s trying to say, but I don’t think it’s an old man that told her there’s only, always one truth. I wonder why.
Even until now, it’s obvious that she’s feeling anxious as her gaze swam around while she continued laughing, ‘Hahahaha.’
I thought that it was due to lack of sleep.
If it isn’t, she may have seen something bad while I was asleep.
Despite that, I couldn’t put my guard down.
Since then, Bernhardt continued to drive the wagon throughout the night.
“To drive by himself for so long. Wouldn’t that be too harsh on him…?”
“It’s fine. We’ll change shifts in a little bit.”
“Is that… okay?”
When I tried to implicitly tell her my worry of her driving skills, she pulled my hair, and said, ‘You’re rude!’
Why did you have to pull my hair though?!
My useless quarrel with Lizia immediately ended, and when I looked towards the entrance’s canopy as cold air came in, a golden light peeked over the distant mountain ridges.
The morning sun.
It appears that I was unconscious for a long time. It’s because I’ve been nervous recently.
“Are you fine with not sleeping?”
“Yeah… I slept for a bit, but I had a nightmare for some reason. Eh, are you perhaps worried!? About me!?”
With an exaggeratedly surprised gesture, Lizia smiled, mean-spiritedly.
No matter how hard you look at me, it just puts me in an increasingly awkward position.
She’s probably a kind person.
But being too kind is a little hard for me. I don’t know how I should answer her.
I wonder if I’ll find out as we go on this journey.
I wonder if I’ll be able to directly thank her for her kindness.
Besides, I’d also like to talk more with Bernhardt.
I already know how cold he can be as I’ve already experienced it when I was in school, so it’s not a big deal to me anymore. Sad things are still sad though.
However, I’d like to put an end to my love towards him who let me make a once in a lifetime decision of leaving my home.
Though I still don’t know how I should go about that.
Gently parting the entrance, Lizia let out a sigh of admiration.
The intense light of the sun that began to rise high into the sky chased away the night.
The light began to burn brightly along the various mountain ridges.
You really couldn’t say anything else.
Now that I think about it, this may be the first time I’ve woken up this early, and watched the sunrise.
Like a fool who can only focus on one thing, Lizia repeatedly said, ‘Wow, amazing’ as I slightly grew relaxed.
Surely it won’t just be bad things that’ll happen on this trip.
I can just feel it.
Suddenly, to the east of the sky, a black silhouette of a bird appeared.
It looked to be heading straight towards us.
I finally made a name for the country that I’ve vaguely hidden so far.
*”I… I am—“ Elmenhilde changes words here. At first, she says watashi, which can be used as casual, mostly feminine, and then the second one, she uses watakushi, which is more formal.
*Lizzy actually says “fight~!” here but it’s mostly pumping herself up for the swing.