Celestino Hastens to Secure His Position
Being the Sacred Maiden’s escort — that is, guarding her as we traveled — was, honestly, a headache.
There’s an icky bug! I’m tired! My legs hurt! (You’re riding in a carriage, for crying out loud!) It’s hot, it’s cold — she’d stop the carriage for every little thing. And slow up the entire expedition in the process. It felt like we were making no progress at all.
With His Highness infatuated with the Sacred Maiden, there was no rebuke coming from that quarter. And even the Knight Commander, who was in charge of the expedition, never said anything. Luckily, we never ran into any particularly dangerous monsters, but every time a monster did show up, the lady would fly into a rage and we would be stuck bending over backwards to try and soothe her.
When they announced that they would be sending back the soldiers who had set out with us, along with the attendants meant to see to the Sacred Maiden’s comfort, Lord Reynard and I both advised strongly against it. But His Highness and the Sacred Maiden refused to change their minds, leaving only myself, the Knight Commander, and Master Eric to protect everyone.
Saying we were the best of the best was all well and good. But it left a cold feeling in my gut. With such small numbers, if a dragon or some other monster of that level showed up it would all be over for us. I seriously had no idea what they were thinking.
That day, a monster had appeared just as we’d paused for a rest. Phaian boars were fairly common monsters in this region, but the Sacred Maiden had never encountered one before, and she was unaccustomed to fighting. She panicked, grabbed onto me, and would not let go. So I’d cut the boar down with her still clinging to me, but some of the blood had gotten onto her dress. After the panic had passed, the Sacred Maiden was furious.
That was when I heard a man cheer, “Ho, looks like we’ve finally caught up!” And when I turned to look…there was Lucia, who should have been safely in Arldat.
By the time it occurred to me to wonder why, I was already running. Abandoning the charge I should have been protecting and dashing off to someone else…I deserved a rebuke for that. But I couldn’t think. Like a starving dog that had just found food, I ran to see if she was really real.
It wasn’t an illusion. It was really Lucia, staring wide-eyed at me, the bright sunlight bringing out a glimpse of the true color of her normally near-black eyes. That mysterious amethyst color, usually hidden, brought to mind rare and precious gemstones.
Helping her down from the horse, I demanded, “Lucia, what are you doing here!?”
Lucia only stared at me. As for why…I could guess. That’s right, I’d never told her my real name. As I watched, she paled.
“Lucia?” I called, tightening my grip on her hand, but she didn’t react. What could I do? Would she hate me now? Surely not, not after all the time we’d spent together! But…
The big bear of a man she’d been riding with interrupted. “Oi. Lucia.”
Lucia started, finally seeming to remember herself. “…Oh! Right!” Hastily, she snatched her
hand back from mine. It was so adorable.
Still. Who was this bear guy, anyway? I eyed the man treating Lucia so cavalierly. I’d seen his face before. If I recalled correctly, he was a member of the Fourth Regiment.
“Lucia…” I started.
“Say, didn’t you have a message from the guys in the Third?” the bear-man said, interrupting me.
“Oh, right! Um, Sir Celes.” Lucia’s voice was music to my ears, after not hearing it for days. She turned to me, and innocently gave me the earth-shattering message she’d brought from the capital.
“They asked me to tell you, ‘Everyone awaits your return’… Hey! Sir Gaius, why are you laughing!?”
The bear-man had burst into laughter. “Don’t forget the rest of it, Lucia. They also said, ‘Brace yourself, Cap’n.’”
Now I remembered. He was Lord Reynard Canalis’s older brother. From the rumors, he was an oddball who’d bounced around between all the regiments except for the First: he was certainly powerful, but had too many bad habits. That certainly fit what I saw now. He had the air of someone who couldn’t be handled by ordinary means.
On the other hand… I let out a silent sigh. It seemed the others had finally found out about Lucia’s presence. And that I’d been hiding that fact from them.
This made it all the more important that I get Lucia’s attention as fast as possible. It seemed that thus far, she’d only thought of me as a friend. If she returned to Arldat like this, there would be all sorts of people interfering with our time together. I didn’t want that. I wouldn’t let go of the peaceful time I spent with her by my side!
While I’d been thinking, Lucia had, with her usual gentle manner, been acquainting herself with the other members of the expedition. The real surprise was the Sacred Maiden. The headstrong, self-centered Sacred Maiden who’d constantly complained about her attendants while flattering all the men seemed to be absolutely fascinated by Lucia’s magic.
She wasn’t the only one. Naturally, Master Eric — who was a researcher at the Academy, after all — clearly was intrigued by Lucia. Or at least, Lucia’s odd magic. I wanted to believe he wasn’t interested in Lucia herself. He was obsessed with magic to the point of mania. He was always pestering the Sacred Maiden to let him take measurements or loitering around myself or the commander, since we could both use some magic. Surely his interest in Lucia was the same.
Please let it be the same. I really did not need any romantic rivals.
And this was no time for woolgathering! Urgently, I grabbed Lucia’s arm.
Lucia was here because she had discovered a new effect of her magic.
Apparently, after we had set out on our quest, monsters had attacked Arldat. Lucia had desperately used her Soap to protect herself, and that magic had saved both her and the capital.
But what were they thinking, sending an untrained girl with only one escort!? Other than her ability to make monsters calm, she was a completely ordinary girl! Listening to Lucia, I could feel the blood draining from my face. Maybe she’d driven away the monsters once, but that was no reason to send Lucia out practically alone. At the very least, they should have sent a group of soldiers to accompany her until she caught up with the expedition, or a few knights. And I’m not forgiving Blitz. Trying to cozy up to her while I was away…!
As I fumed, one by one the others started talking to her; first the bear, then Lord Reynard, then Eric and the others. And then, as the final blow, the Sacred Maiden arrived — and took Lucia away with her.
Wait, why was everyone flocking around Lucia? True, she had a presence that made it soothing just to be near her. I could understand wanting that. But I never expected that even that difficult Sacred Maiden would take a liking to her…
“I treated a dear friend very badly.”
When Lucia returned from the Sacred Maiden’s carriage, she shattered my world all over again. How do you keep doing this to me, Lucia? It was like being stabbed through the heart.
A friend. I’d suspected as much. It seemed that she didn’t really see me as a man. Gods, what a disappointment. On the other hand, if I was dear to her, then I still had a chance.
First, I had to get her to look at me properly. Maybe it was just her sweet nature, but Lucia could be a little dense. Consider the fact that we had been good friends for months, and she’d never figured out that I was Celestino Clementi. If all I did was hint at my feelings, it would never get through.
Which meant I’d wasted the past several months…no, now was not the time to be depressed. Now was the time to get to the heart of the matter. When I tried expressing my feelings bluntly, I got a reaction she’d never shown before. She was so cute when she blushed.
This might work, I thought, and decided to keep pushing.
Honestly, I was a little desperate. Knowing I had to capture her heart before we returned to Arldat was more pressure than I’d expected.
I asked the bear — that is, Lord Reynard’s brother — to let Lucia ride with me. At the time, I’d only been thinking that I wanted to talk to her as long as I could, but…I might have miscalculated.
What is this torture! This was so much harder than simply sitting next to her!
With Lucia in my arms, I noticed a very faint scent of fresh flowers that she hadn’t had before. When I asked, she told me it had been a gift from Blitz. It was a soft, sweet smell, one that suited the gentle Lucia very well. It suited her, and yet…I was not pleased.
And on the theme of being displeased — when we reached the town of Amarith, where we’d planned to stay for the night, I wasn’t even able to talk to Lucia. There was just one reason for that: the Sacred Maiden, who really had taken a liking to Lucia, was monopolizing her and wouldn’t leave! No matter how much I wanted to be with her, I couldn’t.
Then, just when they’d finally left the public bathhouse, the Sacred Maiden pounced on me.
“Celes!” Wrapping her arms around my neck like a child, the Sacred Maiden turned a bright, full-faced smile towards me. Perhaps being with Lucia had eased her heart; it was the first genuinely relaxed expression I’d ever seen from her.
Was there a reason for her constant tantrums, perhaps? Until now, I’d only seen her in a fury, or turning false smiles on people she wanted to flatter. It was honestly a shock to see her without that harsh expression. This more natural expression made the Sacred Maiden’s delicate beauty far more charming.
Now that I thought about it, the Sacred Maiden was sixteen. She wasn’t even an adult yet, but this girl had been suddenly torn away from her parents and forced to live in a strange world. It must have been stressful. In her own way, the Sacred Maiden had been doing her best, all this time.
It was the first time I’d ever considered it: even if she’d been a little self-centered — well, no, definitely more than a little — how much more self-centered were we, for summoning her from another world and demanding that she cleanse our world for us? It made me feel ashamed, both as a knight and as someone who lived in this world. We’d been so inconsiderate.
…Then the Sacred Maiden herself smashed my apologetic feelings. Smiling, she leaned in to whisper in my ear, “Since you’ve been so cold, Sir Celes, I have a little present for you. Did you know, Lucia’s skin is snow-white under her clothes? And her breasts float in the bath. They’re very large, after all. I bet you’d love to get a look. Well, I got a good, long look. I bet you’d like to touch? Well, I’m going to touch all I want!”
I choked. What was she saying!?
She chuckled at me. “Later, Celes! Lucia, let’s go!” “Ah, yes’m…”
Grinning in satisfaction at my reaction, the Sacred Maiden took Lucia and set off to where Prince Edoardo was waiting. As they passed, I met Lucia’s eyes…and then realized I was about to look somewhere I really shouldn’t, so I reflexively turned away. I don’t think anyone can blame me for that.
Curse you, Sacred Maiden. I did not need to know that!