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Chapter 28: I Departed
The departure ceremony for the expedition had finally begun. The participants were gathered in front of the royal castle, and after receiving words of gratitude from the king, they listened to a speech from Julius, the crown prince in charge of leading them. The contents of his speech were nearly identical as what had been said at the dinner party. When he was finished speaking, they departed.
The whole affair was similar to a parade-like procession from the castle to the main gates of the capital. All around them, citizens were cheering for the prince and the saint, but when they saw Seiichirou, their cries died down to a murmur. He paid them no mind and stared back into the crowd with what he knew were the eyes of a dead fish,1 a look he had been perfecting since entering the workforce as a corporate slave.
To begin with, he had looked like this right from the moment they left the royal plaza.
With most of the general pomp and circumstance of the departure ceremony done, it was now time for the expedition to actually depart.
The prince and the saint were traveling in a luxurious carriage, outfitted with all the comforts expected for someone with a royal title, while most of the court mages and middle management civil servants were riding in carriages that were less grand, their amenities somewhere in the middle. It was the ordinary servants, cooks, and medical officers who made up this group of civil officials, rather than the prince and the saint, that were traveling in these. But still, even saying that about their transport, there was a distinct difference between these well-maintained carriages they were taking and the more uncomfortable ones that the common folk rode in with wheels that were not always even and cabins that jolted passengers at every dip in the road. All the knights rode on horses of their own.
Seiichirou, too, was technically a part of middle management, but as he headed towards one of the designated carriages, someone called out to him from behind.
“Seiichirou, come here,” the voice commanded.
“Excuse me?” Seiichirou turned around to look at the person who had addressed him.
It was the handsome captain of the Third Knight Order, the very same person that had left from Seiichirou’s room earlier that morning at the exact time the royal accountant went off to work and caused an unprecedented stir in his surroundings, who was calling out to Seiichirou with an unconcerned look on his face.
As if impatient with Seiichirou’s lack of movement, Aresh kicked at the cobblestones with his boot before reaching out to grab the sleeve of Seiichirou’s brand-new outfit. It was the one that he himself had suggested Seiichirou put on when they were getting dressed in the morning. Although Seiichirou had prepared some of his own clothes for the expedition, Aresh had seen them yesterday and given the royal official a raging reprimand before he replaced them. With a solid grip on the official’s arm, he returned to his horse.
“Ah, Aresh? That civil official… Are you going to make the deputy director of the accounting department ride on a horse?” Orzif asked reservedly amidst the dumbfounded onlookers. He was the man closest to Aresh both in terms of position and acquaintance, yet Aresh did not deign to answer him, only nodded as casually and stone-faced as ever in reply.
“This man has no resistance to mana and will die if a constant eye is not kept on him. I’ll take care of him.”
“Uh, ah, but in that case, wouldn’t it be better for him to travel in the same carriage as the medical officers?”
“No, it wouldn’t,” Aresh replied flatly. “This man has many other troublesome characteristics they could barely even begin to understand. The only person who can manage his condition is me, the one who’s been doing it all along. The reason why we’re taking him on this expedition in the first place is because of the direct orders from the crown prince. I can’t let him die along the way. That’s why I’ll take care of him.”
It was a lengthy explanation that did not make much sense to Seiichirou. Had Aresh not spent time yesterday carefully reinforcing a protective magical barrier meant to last throughout the length of the expedition? I thought he did that because we couldn’t be by one another’s side most of the time, Seiichirou thought to himself.
In addition, he still had things left to discuss with the court mages, starting with East, but most importantly of all, Seiichirou had never ridden on a horse before. He had heard that riding horseback could be very hard on the body2 if one was not used to it. Traveling this way for a six day round trip would be impossible for someone like him.
“Captain Indrak, with all due respect, I’ve never ridden a horse before. And as you know, my body is too weak to withstand such a long and arduous journey that way.”
The corners of Aresh’s eyes twitched unhappily when referred to by his family name and title, but Seiichirou hoped the knight would not mind as they were very obviously in public.
“That’s not a problem… We’ll proceed only after taking the time necessary for recovery into consideration.”
In other words, the plan was to stick close enough to him and familiarise Seiichirou with mana all while applying the protective barrier and recovery magic as needed during their travels each day.
No, but how would that…3
Although Seiichirou felt that Aresh’s actions had gotten a little out of hand over the past few days, he did not know if the Forest of Magic was so dangerous that it warranted constant round the clock contact.
As he was torn between preserving either his safety or his dignity, Aresh interrupted him by taking out a fistful of papers. It was almost as if he had prepared them beforehand as a distraction.
“Here are the detailed statements of the expedition costs for the Second and Third Knight Orders. You can read it as we ride,” he said matter of factly while handing them off to Seiichirou.4
“I’ll be in your care,” was all the official said before joining the knight.
Once seated, Seiichirou realised that riding on top of a horse was much higher up than he had ever imagined, and the unstable foothold from the shared saddle filled him with an alarming sense of dread. But for Aresh, who was seated behind him, it seemed like nothing. The knight kept his chest flush to Seiichirou’s back and surrounded the outside of his legs, their thighs pressed tightly together, to help fix his body in place.
“I’m sorry for asking this so late, but is it really all right for two grown men to ride a horse together?” Seiichirou questioned while looking down at the animal they were mounted on. He suddenly felt sorry for the horse, whose beautiful mane was just as black as Aresh’s uniform. Having heard him, Aresh answered in a low and enticing voice from behind.
“It’s not a problem. Even if I was kitted in armour from head to toe and had a longsword, Diana would still be faster than any other horse on the field.”
So, the horse’s name was Diana.5 That must mean it was a mare.
Despite what Aresh had said before, Seiichirou still believed that the poor animal’s fatigue would build up no matter what the knight believed, but perhaps that, too, could be solved by Mr. Aristocratic Knight’s all powerful recovery magic.
“I want to try riding on a horse, too!” a high-pitched, girlish voice rang out.
“Your Holiness, you should spend your time in the safety of your carriage,” the firm voice of her guard instructed as they ushered her up the steps and into the plush cabin.
It would appear that when Yua saw Seiichirou riding in tandem with Aresh, his arm wrapped intimately around the official’s lower waist, she had raised her voice loud enough for all those around to take notice and stare.
And just like that, Seiichirou was publicly humiliated as he passed through the main gates of the city.
After they had left the city’s gates far behind, Seiichirou was finally given permission to read the documents he had been given earlier. It did not take him long to start flipping through and reviewing all of the pages one by one.
Even the occasional jerky motions of the horse trotting along did not seem to bother him as long as he concentrated on the documents before him.
“Was this statement prepared by the clerical staff of the Knight Orders?” he asked off-handedly, without looking up.
“No, I prepared it,” was the answer he received.
“What’s with that reaction? Is it lacking in some place?”
Far from lacking, the paperwork in question had been thoughtfully arranged and was easy to follow.
Had this really been written by Aresh, the same man who never wanted anything to do with such small odd jobs?
Once again, Seiichirou was convinced of the man’s natural genius, which appeared to extend beyond just the use of magic and sword. What else could he call it if Aresh could do this, too, even after managing to save Seiichirou’s life multiple times?
“What is it? If you have something to say to me, say it,” the knight spoke closely to Seiichirou’s ear. The warm breaths ghosting along the skin there made him feel more uneasy rather than displeased. Still, Seiichirou tried to ignore it and replied,
“No, it’s very well-written and quite easy to read. But what do you mean by this supplementation equipment repair cost?”
“Ahh, that is…” the knight trailed off in another lengthy explanation.
At any rate, Seiichirou was grateful that his work had now been made even a little bit easier by someone else.
He did his best to regain composure and followed along with the knight commander’s description of the expense. As he listened, Seiichirou reminded himself that being with Aresh, someone who was able to produce such high quality documentation all while still managing his other work, was a rare chance to learn more about the accounting procedures of the Knight Orders.
The town they arrived at on the first day was much smaller than the royal capital, but it was gorgeous and mainly built from red brick.
They had arrived shortly before dusk, starting with Prince Julius, Yua, and their attendants. Aresh and all the civil officers followed shortly after. Due to his position, Seiichirou was invited into the mansion by the lord who governed the town, and the rest of the knights and civil officials went off in search of their lodgings elsewhere.
Only when he was finally alone, did Seiichirou slowly begin to stretch out his stiff limbs.
Although Aresh had kept his promise to support him and help him recover from the many long hours spent riding, the experience had still been hard on his body. To be more specific, it was his groin and pelvis that were sore.
I’m definitely going to end up feeling this tomorrow, he thought to himself as he stretched out his legs.
While he dreaded riding on Aresh’s horse the next day, what really terrified Seiichirou most was the delayed muscle pain6 that he knew would kick in sooner rather than later. Then again, Seiichirou was already at an age where he felt a certain amount of acceptance to face the anticipated pains of the next day. It felt… almost normal this way.
“Well, then…” he sighed in resignation. There was still work to do. Somehow managing to move his stiff lower body, Seiichiro wandered out of the room that he had been given.
Earlier, he had asked the civil officials with no post to ask around town and gather information about the damage caused by the miasma. Thinking they would be reluctant to accept his orders, Seiichirou had prepared a number of logical arguments to get them to do what was needed. However, it seemed that his little public display with Aresh in the morning was more than enough to get them to all agree without question.
What he did not notice was how many of the civil servants were secretly taken aback by his own behavior as they watched him work from horseback while on the move.
Regardless of all that had transpired earlier in the day, Seiichirou’s aim now was to locate a different room on the same floor with a specific purpose.
When he found it, he quietly tapped on the door. There was no response. He had seen the person he was seeking enter the room earlier, so he knew they had to be in there. He knocked again, louder this time. Finally, someone answered.
“Uh, excuse me?” a listless voice said as they opened the door.
Tiredly, Seiichirou smiled at East, the deputy director of the Court’s Magic Department.
While it was a bit more difficult than Seiichirou had expected to hold a conversation with East, his nature truly was fundamentally honest and earnest. This type of personality was common amongst those who had managed to turn their passion into a profession.
His work was done sooner than anticipated, and Seiichirou left East’s room before preparing to head to the spot where he would meet up with the civil officials he had sent out to acquire more information from the streets.
As he walked, he made note of the mansion’s interior and how it was both colourful and brilliant yet not over the top, much like the quaint little town in which it resided.
Some time ago, he had read in a book that this territory contained a profitable coal mine and was renowned for the high quality of its jewellery. Knowing that, the decorative natural beauty of this place made more sense.
Since he still had some time before the designated meetup with the other civil officials, Seiichirou decided it would be a good idea to do some exploring around town outside. If he didn’t return in time for dinner in the evening, he was certain Aresh would have a lot to say to him.
He was still lost in his thoughts when the voice called out to him, so his reflexes were a tad slow to react. When he turned around to look at the source, he saw Yua, whom he hadn’t talked to in a while, standing under the lights on the floor below. She was waving her hand at him with a bright smile on her face.
Seiichirou sighed in resignation again. Nothing was going according to plan lately.
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