Lucia Sets Out on a Journey
At the king’s words, I unthinkingly raised my face in shock.
Looking at His Majesty’s visage up close for the first time…he looked so incredibly tired. His cheeks were hollow, his face pale.
“That will be all. It seems you are able to render monsters docile. In that case, they present little threat to you. One escort will be sufficient.”
“Your Majesty, she is still a young girl. At least let us send a unit of soldiers…” Sir Astorga said.
“Even if we assigned a whole army to accompany her, they would only be sent back again,” His Majesty replied. “We cannot afford wasted effort. Our forces are weakened at the moment. If the castle is attacked again, we will be lost. If we are to maintain our defenses, we cannot send our strongest with her, nor too many people. Had the Sacred Maiden not rejected her attendants and soldiers, perhaps we would not have needed to rely on this girl, but… Florido, I leave the selection of her escort to you. Choose someone who will allow no harm to come to her, and who will be of assistance to the prince and his companions. Young lady, pack your belongings and depart with all haste. Help the Sacred Maiden. Help the prince. Your kingdom has need of you.”
Feeling as though there was nothing I could say, I looked down again. From what I understood, I had been chosen to become a member of the company traveling with the Sacred Maiden on her purification expedition. That was a great honor…but to be honest, I was scared.
I’d been so terrified when the monsters had attacked. Did I have to go through that again? Yes, I had my Soap magic, but that was no assurance of safety.
I was an ordinary human being. I just happened to have a slightly odd ability; I didn’t know how to hold a sword, or how to slay an enemy, or even how to heal wounds with magic. How could someone like me manage as one of the Sacred Maiden’s companions? Thinking that way just made the unease even worse.
Honestly, the part about being rewarded was very welcome. I didn’t know how much it would be, but it would certainly be enough to pay off my debts. But who ever heard of a simple laundrymaid joining such companions! The Sacred Maiden, the crown prince of the kingdom, the Knight Commander, the Dragonslayer, and the best mage of the Academy!
They were all extraordinary. I was far too ordinary to be one of them.
…But, based on the conversation, it had already been decided that I would go to find the Sacred Maiden. In that case, I had no choice but to brace myself to do whatever I could.
I sighed softly, a little depressed.
Unexpectedly, I found myself thinking about the Sacred Maiden. She’d come from another
world. Was she accustomed to fighting and combat? Or was she as scared as I felt now?
Lady Maria, the Sacred Maiden. I didn’t know what sort of person she was, but if we should meet, I would like to ask her. And if she was as scared as I felt, and still trying… Was it insolent of me, to hope that I could be able to help her, as a person from this world?
“Lady Lucia, let us return to the knights’ quarters. Follow me,” Sir Astorga said.
That’s right. I’m scared, but there has to be something that even I, weak as I am, can do.
With that in mind, I swore that I would do everything I could. If I couldn’t avoid the journey, then I would throw everything I had into it!
I would trust that the future at the end of the road would be a bright one, and move forward.
I set out the next morning, while it was still dark. It was a shockingly early departure, but it wasn’t my place to comment.
The sun hadn’t risen yet, but the sky was clear, with almost no clouds. Looking at the way the deep indigo sky shifted to pale purple, and then a blazing orange, it seemed like today would be a lovely, clear day. A perfect day to do laundry. Although I probably wouldn’t be doing laundry for a while.
I shook out the hem of my dress and headed for where I would meet my escort with quick steps. The festival dress I had worn the day before was tucked into the bag hanging from my shoulder, but when it came to moving freely, my ordinary casual-wear dress was much better. Mostly because it had the same design as my uniform, I supposed.
I’d returned the laundrymaid’s uniform that I usually wore. I wouldn’t be working for a while.
…I wonder if I’ll be able to go back, once this journey is over. When I’d asked how they would divide up the work, everyone had told me not to worry about it, but I was still concerned. If they hired someone new, I wouldn’t have anywhere to come back to. Even if everyone wanted to wait for me, the laundry had to be done. It might be best to prepare myself in case I couldn’t go back. Given that they’d said there would be a reward, I should at least be able to pay off my debts. There was only a little bit left.
I’d arrived at the place I’d been told to go while I was thinking. A tall knight was waiting there. His powerful muscles were so big I could make them out through his uniform, and he had a scruffy dark brown beard that framed his whole face. Looking at him…made me think of a bear, a little.
“I’m Gaius Canalis, of the Fourth Regiment. I’ll be your guard, little lady. Just call me Gaius. Good to meet you.”
“I’m Lucia Arca. It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir!”
I couldn’t help noticing the greatsword slung over Sir Gaius’s back. It looked like it would be hard enough for him to unsheathe it, with it behind his back; how did he use it? Or put it back after?
Sir Gaius pointed at the bag hanging from my shoulder. “That all you’re bringing?” he asked.
I’d gotten ready the day before, with Sir Astorga’s assistance. (I would have been fine on my own, but he generously accompanied me.) Since I didn’t own very much to begin with, my bag was fairly compact by nature.
“Yes, this is it.”
“Pass it over, I’ll fix it to the saddle.”
When I handed it to him, Sir Gaius muttered, “That weighs nothing!” and quickly added it to the rest of his gear. Well, there wasn’t much in there to begin with, so it probably was fairly light.
“Right. Let’s be off, then.” Leading the horse, Sir Gaius set off at a nonchalant walk. You’d never think, looking at him, that we were setting off on a dangerous journey. “We’ll take the north gate,” he told me, as the clop of the horse’s hooves echoed through the empty streets of the city.
Most people generally used the southern gate, which connected to the kingdom’s main roads; the northern gate didn’t see a lot of use. We’d probably manage to set off without anyone noticing.
At least, that’s what I thought — until we reached the north gate.
Far from being quiet, the north gate was even busier than the south gate usually was! “Chicca!”
All of my friends were there. Chicca, Rossella, Jeanne, and Joanne. And it wasn’t just them, either. For some reason, there was a crowd of knights there as well.
“You be careful out there now, Lucia! You haven’t forgotten anything? Do you have any emergency supplies? Oh, I’m going to worry so!” Chicca gushed.
“Safety comes first,” Rossella reminded me. “No shame in running away.” The twins added, “Oh, Lucia! I do hope you’ll be okay!”
“Here, these are from us. Eat them when you get tired. They’re baked sweets from Fioravanti’s. They keep for a long time, and taste wonderful. When you come back, we’ll go have one of the Fioravanti cakes! My treat! So you have to come back!”
They’d all come to see me off, even when it was so early. I was so happy, the words got tangled up in my throat. I never thought they might come out just to say goodbye!
“I’m sorry,” Sir Blitz said glumly. “If we hadn’t asked you to help that day, you wouldn’t have had to risk yourself like this…”
“Sir Canalis here has his quirks, but his strength is undeniable. You can trust him to protect you. Sorry it came to this, when you’re not a knight, or a soldier, or part of the Academy,” Sir Ascari said.
Sir Blitz, Sir Ascari, you don’t need to look so down! I smiled at them, and their downcast expressions brightened. I turned to everyone who had gathered at the gate and bowed my head gratefully.
“Chicca, Rossella, Jeanne, Joanne, Sir Blitz, Sir Ascari, everyone… Thank you so much. Take care, everyone!”
At that, everyone responded with a chorus of goodbyes and well-wishes. I even saw some of the knights dabbing at tears, which was a very strange feeling.
So many people were cheering for me. Surely this would go well!
Just as Sir Gaius was about to begin walking, Sir Blitz handed me a small bag. “Miss Lucia,
please take this. These are some of Lily Blitz’s best lotions, and our most popular hand cream! There’s also oil for your hair inside, but the scent is still a trial product. When you come back, please tell us what you think of it!”
Hand cream… Oh! Come to think of it, I’d never thanked Sir Blitz! “Um, Sir Blitz…”
“Please, call me Fedele, Miss Lucia.”
“Oh. All right. Actually, Sir Fedele, Sir Celes gave me the hand cream that you gifted to him. I’m sorry, he seemed to be worried that I was too hard on my hands, but…”
“Sir…Celes?” Sir Blitz — Sir Fedele, rather — blinked. At least he didn’t seem to be angry that Sir Celes had given his gift away. “Miss Lucia, you know Sir ‘Celes,’ then?”
“Yes. We met about three months ago.” “Three months… Oh really.”
Sir Fedele and Sir Ascari both smiled brightly. All the other knights had similar smiles on their faces. At least, they were definitely smiling, but…was it my imagination, or was there something frightfully intimidating about the looks on their faces?
“I’m sorry. I suppose I must have hurt your feelings,” I said.
“Oh, not at all, it’s quite all right,” Sir Fedele reassured me. “That hand cream was far better suited to you than ‘Sir Celes,’ Miss Lucia. Do please use it freely.”
I rested a hand against my chest, relieved. I’d already tucked the hand cream I’d received from Sir Celes into my bag. I was sad that I hadn’t been able to meet Sir Celes again, but I still had his ribbon. I felt like it gave me strength.
“Thank you very much,” I said.
“Not at all,” Sir Fedele said, with a bright, amiable smile.
Encouraged, I decided to ask about something that had been bothering me. “Um…if I may ask, is Sir Celes well? I had heard that he’d returned to the capital, but I still haven’t seen him yet…”
It had been bothering me since we’d left. When I didn’t see that kind smile anywhere in the crowd of people who’d come to see us off, I suddenly wondered if maybe he had been wounded.
“Ah, him? He’s on a…rather demanding mission at the moment, so he wasn’t able to come,” Sir Fedele replied.
“He wasn’t hurt in the roc attack?”
“As a rule, it doesn’t matter what happens, that guy will come through without a scratch. Even when we fought the dragon, he got through it without any serious injuries, despite being on the front lines. His swordwork is the best of all of us, and he always seems to land on his feet. He almost never gets himself hurt.”
So Sir Celes was out on a mission, then. I’d hoped to be able to see him, but…work was work.
Disappointed, I asked, “Um…would you give him my regards?”
Sir Ascari shook his head. “Well… You know, I think it would be better for you to tell him yourself. Pretty sure the Cap…er, Sir Celes would be happier just to see you, rather than hearing it from us.”
So make sure to come back safe, he implied. It made me laugh a little.
“By the by, Miss Lucia. Sorry about this, but would you pass a message on to our captain? He’s with the Sacred Maiden,” Sir Fedele asked.
For some reason, Sir Gaius suddenly started laughing. Why? Had we said something funny? “Sir Gaius, are you all right?” I asked.
“Nah, don’t mind me, keep going,” he snickered, hand pressed to his mouth as he turned away. From the way his shoulders were shaking, he was still laughing. “…Oh Cap’n, you’re in trouble now…”
Was our conversation really that amusing? It seemed normal enough to me…
Ignoring Sir Gaius’s laughter, Sir Fedele beamed. “Please tell him, we await your return. Brace yourself.”
I nodded. “Of course. I’ll make certain to tell him!”
For some reason, Sir Gaius, standing next to me, patted me on the head. I had no idea why he’d done that, but something about being patted on the head by someone my father’s age gave me a bubbly, happy feeling.
Still. The captain of the Third Regiment… That would be the famed Dragonslayer, wouldn’t it. For all of his subordinates to miss him so, he was surely a good person. I was looking forward to the day that I would meet him.
“We’re off, then!” Tucking the parcel from Sir Fedele into my bag, I waved goodbye, and then we left Arldat. If it was to protect all of the people I loved, then I could do this!
Thus began my unexpected journey.
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