It was right after that that Arche received a request from the royal palace’s head wizard. A request to be in charge of looking after his garden.
——It was him.
She realized it right away. She didn’t even have to think about it. In fact, there had to be something wrong with Arche if she did not realize it then in the first place.
There was no one that didn’t know who the current head wizard was.
Agedilus Von Lancent. The extraordinary wizard with unimaginable jet black hair and beauty.
There were many rumors about him, far more bad ones than good. But good or bad, fear was attached to all the rumors, and there were even ones that suggested he did things that couldn’t be the work of man. As a result, there was even a rumor that Agedilus’s existence itself wasn’t real.
Arche was also one of the people that believed in the rumors like this. But he certainly did exist, and the short time she spent with him was more than enough for Arche to understand: he really was the kind of person that was worth all the rumors, that made you believe all the rumors.
She couldn’t understand why that man – no, he was a being that ought to be called ‘that gentleman’ – had chosen her.
She was just a novice gardener. And he’d even politely added a note that said, 「If you want to decline, no problem.」
Her father and colleagues went pale, all saying, 「Decline it.」 With great trouble, they finally said, 「We’re not forcing you to decline it.」 She herself thought she should. She should decline it. She knew that.
Arche traced the sentences with her finger, skillfully written on high-quality paper she’d never even seen before. The salary he’d suggested was double Arche’s current personal income.
Although she did think, ‘I’ll regret this if I let it go,’ there was something that occupied her mind more.
Which was, his mysterious sunrise-colored eyes gazing upon her as she stood alone in the medicinal plants garden. The beauty of his eyes’ wavering, shaking light was etched into her eyelids and it wouldn’t go away.
‘I want to see those eyes one more time,’ that’s what she ended up thinking.
That must be why Arche’s mouth said the exact opposite of what her internal voice was telling her, 「You have to decline」. Instead, she said, 「I accept.」
And then, she was introduced to Agedilus in an arbor in that medicinal plants garden. She was captivated for the second time by that jet black hair.
As she watched his beautiful face in fascination, he snorted and said,
「What, you didn’t decline?」
……Even though she’d come all the way here resolving herself, she still thought his way of speaking was too much. And who could blame her?
Anyway, that was when Arche’s battle began.
Agedilus’s medicinal plants garden certainly wasn’t vast. But the variety of plants that spread across it weren’t just popular common plants, like the one he was cutting when they met. There were also technical plants difficult to handle.
Thankfully, there were many plants she’d learned the basics about from her father, but she had to fumble around with the ones she didn’t know how to handle, asking her senior colleagues and looking them up in books.
Agedilus didn’t say anything to her as she did all that. Not in the sense that he never warned or scolded her, but he literally did not say anything at all to her.
All he said was the most straightforward, necessary things that had to be said. For instance, 「Collect this necessary number of these plants,」 or 「Raise these herbs now.」
His uninterested voice evoked no feelings at all, and his beauty was once again just like a doll’s. ‘If this is how it’s going to be, the day we first met was much better,’ she thought. Even though he’d plainly been disagreeable in his manner and speech that day. She felt herself strange for thinking that.
Sometimes he would read books in the arbor. When Arche noticed, she’d peek through the gaps between the herbs and medicinal plants to look at him.
She couldn’t help but feel afraid of that black hair, but for some reason, she couldn’t help but still feel captivated by it.
It was a day like that when it happened.
「What is this?」
No matter how indifferent that beautiful voice was, it was still pleasing to the ear. But no matter how many times she heard it, she really couldn’t get used to it.
Agedilus was checking Arche’s harvest as usual when he said that. He looked at Arche, just a slight question in his voice that usually didn’t even show the slightest emotion.
Frightened by those sunrise-colored eyes looking down upon her, Arche replied to her employer’s question.
「It’s a fruit called Delia.」
「Y-yes. It’s popular with girls lately, we grow it in our house too. I just thought maybe if it was alright with you…」
Even amidst the basket full of familiar medicinal plants and herbs, that small red berry vividly stood out, asserting its own existence. That Delia fruit was not one Arche been ordered to grow by Agedilus. It was just something she’d mixed into the harvest by her own judgment.
Arche’s family possessed a vast plot of land, unusual for commoners. They grew several vegetables and fruits there. Delias were one of them.
Until now, Delias weren’t noticed that much. But recently, they’d gained a reputation for their nutritional value being good for one’s beauty.
Not to mention they tasted sweet like honey, so it was certainly killing two birds with one stone. That was why as mentioned before, this red fruit was the latest craze among young girls.
That berry was so popular it became difficult to get even for nobles. Arche, meanwhile, was eating as much of it as she pleased in her home when she suddenly thought of her employer’s good looks.
What face would that gentleman make when he ate something so sweet and delicious? Before long, that small question grew large inside Arche. As she brought another berry to her mouth, she gazed once again at the Delias in a container on the table. The hand going to her mouth stopped. And then by the time she realized it, she’d carefully put the berries in a small basket so they wouldn’t go bad, and presented them like this to him.
She’d brought them in case he wanted to try some, but maybe he didn’t like sweet things. Maybe members of the distinguished Lancent family always ate food even more delicious than Delias in the first place. She would’ve realized all this if she’d just thought about it, but she didn’t. Her thoughtlessness felt shameful.
「……Ah, so this is a Delia.」
Unaware of Arche’s internal struggles, Agedilus nodded as if he understood somehow. And then, he gazed at the smooth red berry.
Just like that, her employer kept his silence, and with Arche being Arche, she didn’t say anything either. In the end, a silence fell over them.
But she couldn’t stay like that forever. The one who ran out of patience first was, as expected, Arche.
「Um, I’m sorry for going too far and doing something unnecessary! I’ll be sure to take them back home properly!」
She suddenly apologized, bowing her head and moving to take away the red berries. But that white hand, as if transparent, stopped that.
With just one word, that beautiful voice shook softly in Arche’s eardrums.
Those were very short words. That voice was soft like a whisper. In that beautiful voice befitting his beautiful face, were unusually clear emotions. Even though his voice was usually just indifferent to her, in this voice she could clearly see joy.
But what was even more of a shock to Arche was:
It was truly a small, slight smile, as if prone to fading away unnoticed. But Arche had faced him countless times now; for her, this change in Agedilus’s expression was a dramatic one.
His indescribable beauty didn’t change. But that beautiful face of his that usually seemed like a doll or a night fairy’s, that beautiful face certainly became human. Just like the moment they were both wide-eyed when they first met.
That was when Arche realized. She realized that before she knew it, she’d fallen in love. The being in front of her was the one she longed for.
She didn’t know exactly when it happened. From the moment she saw his human-like expression when they first met, his face wouldn’t leave her mind. Even if he didn’t have that black hair, she thought he was unbelievably beautiful.
Right as she started looking after his medicinal plants garden, she would be stopped and thoroughly scorned at by aristocrats. They wore ornaments and accessories as if to highlight the difference between her and their social status.
But whenever they did, that gentlemen would show up for her. They would go pale, faces stiffening at the sudden arrival of the royal palace’s head magician.
He would say unthinkable things to them like, 「Well, you don’t seem like a nice worried girl, do you? Ah, perhaps no one’s made you realize your own place until now. If so, go ahead. Well, if you can is another matter.」
That way of speaking wasn’t just looking down upon the nobles, but on Arche too. But she realized afterwards, that he really was saving her there.
「Well, you don’t seem like a nice worried girl, do you?」 「Ah, perhaps no one’s made you realize your own place until now.」 After she thought a lot about it, she realized that could be interpreted as him saying Arche was the more valuable one compared to the aristocrat.
And that last line he added, 「Well, if you can is another matter」 basically meant 「If you do, I won’t show you any mercy.」
She might have been excessively self-conscious about it. Basically, he was annoyedly saying, 「Don’t waste my time.」
But his pace as he walked her to the medicinal plants garden, holding her arm, was more relaxed than usual.
When they arrived at the garden, he told her as she cast her eyes downward, 「If anything happens, call my name. Most of them will run away right there. There’ll probably be some on the contrary that’ll say more, but they’ll get tired either way so just listen quietly to them until they do.」
It wasn’t just that. When she said, 「Thank you,」 in return, he said, 「So it’s not just your ears, even your head is just for show?」 But his sunrise-colored eyes quivered as if perplexed.
She didn’t know which moment it was. It might have been all of them, it might have been for some other reason. It didn’t matter which it was. As long as that reality that she liked him was clear, she was fine with it.
Even if he had black hair, even if he was beautiful enough it seemed like he wasn’t the same kind of human as her, even if everyone all over the country feared him. Despite all that.
——I love him.
Since the day she realized it, Arche changed.
She started caring about her appearance more than she ever had until then. It wouldn’t even pass as flattery if you say her walnut hair matched her; she always avoided unfastening it but now she started to let it extend freely. She brushed it countless times without getting tired of it, smoothening it with perfumed oil.
She had freckles from being in the sun everyday; she had never cared about them but now she started to fret over them, using her sharply increased salary to buy popular face and beauty lotions to use. She started frequently using ointment on her hands rough from gardening, and changed her clothes to ones that were more feminine but still didn’t bother her while working.
She wanted to become beautiful. She knew that no doubt the only one who could stand next to that beautiful being was the country’s princess, but still. She knew how absurd and ridiculous her feelings were, but she still just wanted to get a little closer to him.
It’s not like she was bothered by having to do all that. In fact, she inevitably thought it was fun. ‘When will he come to the garden again?’ ‘When will he sit in that arbor again?’ Even the time she spent thinking about that was fun.
As she started doing all that, the palace guards started inviting her for tea, and the youngsters in the neighborhood would give her small presents. But those were trivial things for Arche. 「Is it because I’ve gotten prettier than before?」 She thought that just once, and no further progress was made in that area.
More importantly, the person she wanted to notice her the most simply ordered her to harvest the plants or take care of them. She was greatly concerned that he didn’t seem to have noticed her change one bit.
He was the type not to say things, so maybe if she kept trying he’d say something one day. That’s what she thought as she put effort into looking after the plants, looking after her appearance, and looking after her spirit.
It happened then.
The demon king supposed to have been sealed away long ago came back; the chivalric order of knights the king sent to defeat him were utterly crushed. Young people from all over the country gathered until finally, the hero appeared. And then, Agedilus was chosen to go on the journey with him.
The news that he was one of the people chosen to go with the hero spread around Arche’s surroundings in the blink of an eye. Arche too, had to accept it as reality.
That party of heros, called the world’s last hope. But there were still some people that whispered uneasily, 「What if they fail?」
But Arche somehow strangely knew that that gentleman would be alright.