Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
As soon as the sun rose, I woke everyone up, and we set off.
We tied the five bandits properly to a tree and left some water within easy reach. Theo looked a little uneasy, but the bandits didn’t say anything to him. I thought they would make a fuss about the boy being a member of their gang. However, considering that they all had the same tattoos, they might be bandits with a strong sense of unity and camaraderie.
Theo and I led the way, while the priest guarded the rear. The three women walked in the middle.
Zero grumbled about how troublesome it was to walk, but I couldn’t possibly tread a pathless forest while carrying her. I mean, I could, but I didn’t want to. Not with Lia who seemed to have misplaced her motor nerves somewhere.
“Your Eminence, there is a tree root buried there. Please make sure you do not trip—”
“Your Eminence, there is a hole dug by an animal. Please be careful—”
“Y-Your Eminence, please watch your step so you don’t fall into the river—”
How could she not see the obstacles that a man with his eyes covered could sense? And how could she not avoid them even when warned? Before we were even halfway through our journey, Lia had turned into a mess. Her clothes were torn, dirty, and wet, and she herself was covered in injuries.
Still, the fact that she didn’t complain was commendable. Although every time she blundered, the lady attendant and the priest would panic, significantly slowing down our progress.
“I am a little surprised that there is someone in this world who is so uncoordinated,” Zero said.
“She’s innately a hopeless case,” I said. “The more she tries, the worse the results.”
Some people were just so ditzy, you couldn’t help but pity them.
“Gramps, at the pace we’re going, we won’t make it in half a day,” Theo said. “It’ll take twice as long.”
“Yeah, I kinda figured. I just had the feeling that would be the case.”
Fine, then. I don’t have much of a choice.
I walked over to Lia. She was slumped down in the river, but managed to get up with the priest’s help. Ignoring the priest’s blatantly unpleasant look, I pulled her out of the water, and lifted her up to my shoulder.
Lia gave a yelp. “M-Mr. Mercenary?!”
“I’ll carry her. We’ll move faster this way.”
“You brute!” the priest hissed. “Such insolence towards Her Eminence!”
“You want to carry her then? I doubt you can walk faster than me while carrying her, Father. I thought we needed to hurry so she could save a child. I’m just doing my job.”
The priest gritted his teeth bitterly. No objection came from his mouth.
“I know I smell like an animal,” I said, “but you’re going to have to put up with it for a bit. Hold on to my neck so you don’t fall off.”
For a while, Lia was restless in my arms, but she nodded and obeyed quietly.
“So fluffy,” she whispered softly as she reluctantly put her hands around my neck. “So warm.”
I felt her slender arms tighten a little. Zero was finicky about her sleeping spot, so I’d been grooming my fur a lot more lately. The saint seemed to like it.
Then suddenly I felt someone staring at me. I turned around and saw Zero, clearly unhappy.
“What? Something wrong?”
“When I asked you to carry me, you refused.”
“Why, of course. You can walk on your own.”
“But…” Zero hesitated for a moment. She was uncharacteristically timid. “You are my mercenary, are you not?”
“Yeah. What about it?”
“So…! No… But… What I am trying to say is…”
Zero’s frown deepened. She then looked away and started walking.
“It is nothing.”
She didn’t answer the question. Actually it looked more like she couldn’t. She wasn’t acting like herself—something I felt last night too. She stopped mid sentence, and she couldn’t answer a question. Something was up.
Zero should know that me carrying Lia was the best solution to our current problem. I was sure she understood why I couldn’t carry her too.
I knew Zero’s grumbling was more like her joking around. We hadn’t been together for long, but I was with her at all times. I could tell when she was serious and when she was joking.
Nevertheless, she was clearly acting strange right now.
“You’re a bad guy, Gramps,” Theo said softly.
The boy quickly went after Zero, not even allowing me to ask a question. As I stood there puzzled, the priest kicked my behind.
“Quit dawdling around and start walking,” he said.
I don’t even know what’s going on anymore.
With Lia on my shoulder, our pace quickened, as expected.
Theo and the priest were in good shape to begin with, and though Zero usually moved sluggishly due to lack of exercise and laziness, she wasn’t slow by any means. The attendant also kept up just fine.
It didn’t take long for us to make up for lost time.
Apart from me dropping my knife somewhere, nothing noteworthy happened, and by the time the sun was completely up, we made it out of the forest and onto the main road. From here we wouldn’t need a guide.
I handed Theo some money and asked him to go ahead into town to get a carriage. When we reached the town, a carriage waited for us at the entrance. The boy did well, as always. He was completely thorough as well. He chose a vehicle from knights which was drawn by horses that wasn’t afraid of Beastfallen.
“We’ll take a carriage from here on out,” I said. “Just need to tell the driver to go fast and we should arrive in Idea Verna as scheduled, or maybe a little late.”
I lowered Lia into the back of the carriage. She seemed to like my fur so much that for a moment, she didn’t want to leave, but then she turned red and quickly moved away.
“Th-Thank you,” she said. “I must have been heavy.”
“Yup.” I gave my honest thoughts.
Her face turned even redder. She bit her lip a little, looking like she was about to cry, and punched me weakly on the chest.
Huh? I think my heart just skipped a beat.
As I stood there with a silly look, regarding Lia’s red face, Zero cleared her throat. Surprised, I shifted my gaze to find the witch glaring at me as she pushed me aside.
“Hey, what’s the big idea?”
“I, too, wish to ride the carriage. Your body is in the way.”
“Oh, right.” I stepped to the side, but Zero didn’t move. She just stood there with a scowl on her face. “What’s wrong? Get in.”
“Will you not pick me up?”
“What are you, five?”
Zero clenched her fist tight. I took a step back, thinking I’d get hit.
“Forget it,” she said. “Priest, lend me a hand.”
The priest did so without a word. Grasping his hand firmly, Zero pulled and entered the vehicle.
I didn’t say I wouldn’t help you up. What the hell are you mad about?
“Good news, Gramps!” Theo exclaimed, jumping up and down. He had been talking to the driver. “He said we can go through somewhat dangerous shortcuts with a Beastfallen as a guard. Am I useful or what?”
“Great job, Theo. You’re really helpful.” Nodding, I patted Theo’s head.
“Your hands are too big.” The boy laughed as I picked him up and tossed him into the carriage.
After helping the attendant up, I entered the carriage last.
“The road’s bad, so it’s going to be quite a bumpy ride,” the driver warned. “Hold on tight!”
He spurred the horse onward. As soon as the carriage started shaking, Lia, as expected, stumbled and almost fell off the vehicle.
The priest was about to get up, but I was closer and faster. I grabbed the saint’s arm and pulled her back, sitting her down between my legs.
“You cursed beast! Step away from Her Eminence, now!”
“You better shut up and hold on to something, Father. Don’t worry, I got Her Eminence.” I turned to Lia. “Sorry about this. You might not like it, but this is our safest option. With the priest’s weight, you both might fall off.”
Lia was tensing all over, so I tried to sound as casual as possible. To be honest, I didn’t want to do this, but if she fell off a running carriage, she could die.
“Just keep your mouth shut, or you’ll bite your tongue.”
“Okay,” she muttered.
Lia went silent. The priest seemed to have gotten my point as well.
Sensing a gaze on me, I looked at Zero. Our eyes met for a moment. Then she looked away.
Is she still upset about me not picking her up? What a child. I’m sure she’ll forget about it soon enough.