If the roads were deserted, they would whip their horses and gallop at full speed, but when the roads were busy or had people travelling on them, they would slow down to avoid attracting attention. Valeria and co. stuck to these rules as they rode south towards Seriba. Before long, the Sun set to the west, and night descended upon the earth.
Even though Valeria had a blanket underneath her to ease the pain of horseriding, her bum hurt because she’d stayed in her saddle for too long. Because of that, she got off her horse on a crowded part of the road and started doing some stretching.
“Right, what is Seriba like?”
“Valeria, don’t tell me you didn’t do any research beforehand…”
Dimitar, who was still on his horse, looked at Valeria with cold eyes.
“I-I-I-I didn’t have the time!”
“You should’ve have had one nights time to do some research…”
“Also, why are you still on your horse when I’m on the floor walking? Who do you think you are?”
“It wasn’t as if asked you to get off your horse – you got off yourself.”
Although Dimitar replied with exasperation and averted his eyes with discontentment, he got off his horse and started leading it forward by the reins. Behind them, Bettina was also leading her horse forward by the reins. In the eyes of passersby’s, they were only three normal travellers.
After looking around their surroundings to check for eavesdroppers, Dimitar whispered:
“… Seriba is a town near the border of the kingdom to our south. A rural town without even a Branch Magic Academy.”
“How could there be an uprising in such a peaceful, tranquil and rural area?”
“It’s because there’s an uprising there that the Royal Palace is in so much an uproar.”
“Although Seriba’s only a little town in the mountain range to the south, the terrain behind the mountain range is under the jurisdiction of Bagueiro.”
Bagueiro, the neighboring kingdom south of Yamoda, was a kingdom that worshipped pagan gods, so to Yamoda, a kingdom under the influence of the Tel Layton Church, Bagueiro was an enemy nation that needed to be wiped off the map. They hated each other so much that in the past 15 years alone, they had had more than 5 small-scale confrontations!
“So you’re saying that the uprising in Seriba…?”
“Might possibly be a ploy of Baguiero’s.”
Dimitar answered nonchalantly, making Valeria shudder.
“O-o-of course not!”
Valeria immediately refuted upon sensing that Dimitar was making fun of her.
“How could I be scared of those barbarians?!”
“Eh~? Valeria-sama’s scared~?”
Bettina asked through her helmet.
“Though I haven’t seen any of those barbarian pagans before, from the moment I first heard that there was a chance they were behind the uprisings in Seriba, I got super scared~”
“T-t-to be honest, I haven’t seen those barbarian pagans before… but as long as one faith in God, one shall fear no enemy.”
“I’m proud of your faith in God, of your piety, but your overdose of bravery and courage is making me worried. I’d prefer it if you were scared of the barbarians, even if just a tiny little bit.”
The Kingdom of Yamoda’s 2nd Dominas, Valeria Costacurta — but before she could blurt it out, she clamped her mouth shut with her hands in a panic. It seemed they were very near a town, as there were tourists and farmers and merchants all around them. She’d definitely create a great uproar if she exposed her identity here.
Dimitar gave a smile of victory at her near slip.
“… we’re very close to Kuromutan town, so we’ll rest there tonight, and continue on our journey at daybreak. That way, we can cover more miles tomorrow.”
“W-w-we have to leave at d-d-daybreak, and journey for the rest of the day tomorrow?!”
“What’s that look of despair for? It’s the horse who has to run for one whole day, not you. You should be pretty comfortable sitting on the saddle….”
“No, sitting on the saddle for a day is actually pretty tiring!”
“Then rest well tonight.”
At that moment, a bell started to toll. Trying to find out where it was coming from, Dimitar squinted his eyes and looked forward, to see the outline of a little town at the end of the road.
“You hear that? A bell’s tolling…”
“Yeah, because the sun’s about to set. I’m sure that very soon, the town gates will close for the night.”
“R-r-really? Why do they have to close the gates?”
“To prevent thiefs and the sort from sneaking into town at night… Valeria, you sure are the smartest person I’ve ever met. How do not know that towns and cities close their gates at night when you live in one?”
Like many other aristocratic young ladies, Valeria was brought up in a very sheltered environment, so her lack in general knowledge was understandable. But using that as an excuse would make her seem stupid and unintelligent, so all she could do was bite her lip and repress her urges to refute Dimitar’s comments.
At that moment, Bettina tugged Dimitar’s cloak.
“Dimitar-san, Dimitar-san, if we don’t hurry up we’re going to be in big trouble!”
“Don’t worry. We still have time before the sun sets.”
Valeria hated to admit it, but Dimitar’s posture and confidence made her feel safe and at ease.
“R-R-Richternach-sama, mn… s-s-so, um, you have a lot of experience travelling?”
“Not really, it’s just that during my time as an intern at the Seal Knights Corps, I was given a lot of chores and tasks to do.”
“Such as going on expeditions with the Corps?”
“Unlike other armies, the Corps is a social club for young nobles, so even if we had to go on practice expeditions to somewhere far away, we wouldn’t camp out in the wilds. You know what we did? We would book rooms in the most luxurious in town, and splash money on entertainment and fun. They were practice expeditions in name only. In actuality, we were just going on holiday…. That’s why I, as an intern, was given all the chores to do.”
Dimitar didn’t look like he was particularly fond of his past, but he wasn’t angry at it either. There was just an ambiguous wry smile on his face that revealed nothing about his feelings or emotions
“Fu… we’ve made it.”
Making it before the gates closed at sunset, Dimitar and co. successfully entered the town of Kuromutan. Bettina gave a sigh of relief.
Valeria, who’d left the Royal Capital in the whole of her life, was shocked by the chaoticness and dirtiness of the town. Perhaps it was because the town was situated on the road that connected the south and the north of the country, but the streets were filled with merchants and their packhorses & donkeys, as well as numerous travellers wearing cloaks just like Valeria. Many of those travellers were from other countries, easily identifiable by the colour of their skin. The banter and chatter between the people on the streets and the different aromas and smells that drifted about the air merged with the rays of the setting sun to form a very special and unique odour.
Valeria put a handkerchief to her nose to block out the smell whilst surveying her surroundings.
“Dimitar, where are we going to lodge for the night? I can’t sleep without a bed, you know.”
“Valeria, you’re asking for too much. We’re on a secret mission here, so lodging at an inn like the Tabard Inn is a nono.”
“Tabard Inn? What’s that?”
“Ah, I know what it is.” Bettina butted in whilst navigating the one of the most crowded and popular streets in town.
“The so-called Tabard Inn, is an inn that only Dominas’, special envoys of the country, and nobles of high status can lodge in. It’s one of the most high-class and luxurious inns in the country! Am I right, Dimitar-san?”
“Mn — haha, yeah, you’re right.”
Dimitar seemed to be uninterested in the chit-chat between the two girls, looking around their surroundings as if he was trying to find something he’d lost.
“If we aren’t going to lodge there, where are we going to lodge for the night?”
“A budget inn, if you don’t want to sleep outside by the roadside.”
Dimitar stopped moving, and pointed to their north-east. A gargantuan three-storied beast of a building, with a sign depicting a grape vine hanging above its main entrance stood proudly at the end of his finger.
“There? That’s an inn?”
Peeking inside the inn from its slightly open main entrance, Valeria reeled back in disgust and shock. It looked more of a dirty bar far away from the town center than an inn, and was definitely not a place that a young woman would feel safe in.
“Any building with a grave vine sign hanging above its main entrance is a bar that provides and serves red wine.”
“I was right! This building isn’t an inn, but a tavern!”
Already able to smell the strong odour of alcohol without even entering the inn, Valeria knit her eyebrows together and stared at Dimitar with eyes that could kill.
“Valeria, you sure are a naive, inexperienced ojou-sama. Budget inns are taverns that provide lodging. Remember it.”
Dimitar started inspecting the inn’s outer appearance once again, holding his hand to his chin, obviously deep in thought.
“… based on its appearance and size, this inn should be the biggest inn in town. There are a lot of rooms in the inn, and it also has its own stable. We shouldn’t be able to find another inn better than this in town.”
“Mn ~ yeah yeah, Richternach-sama is so smart!”
“It’s just that I have a bit more experience travelling than you… If you have time to be ironical and satirical, why not work on making yourself less inconspicuous?”
Dimitar lifted Valeria’s hat and put it back on her head.
“There’s a low chance that somebody would recognise you here, but because of that, people in Kuromutan won’t respect you because you’re a Dominas or a member of the Costacurta family.”
“What do you mean…?”
“This world is a rough and cruel place. Women, especially young, good-looking women are kidnapped and sold for high prices. You understand?”
“D-D-Dimitar-san! Don’t talk about such scary things!”
“Bettina, your suit of armour’s too heavy for anybody to kidnap you.” Dimitar replied coldly, before striding into the inn.
Valeria, left behind by the roadside, shuddered fearfully at Dimitar’s words. Noticing her terror and unease, Bettina tugged Valeria’s cloak lightly.
“If you’re feeling uneasy and insecure about conducting a mission as a Dominas, I’ll ask uncle to make a Bachururusu next time for you. That way you won’t be kidnapped~!”
Rapping Bettina lightly on the helmet, Valeria could not help but give a wry smile in response.
“…. wouldn’t it affect my ability to cast magic if I’m suited up from head to toe in armour?”
Not long after, Dimitar returned, with the lady innkeeper and a few burly men by his side.
Not waiting for Valeria and Bettina to break out from their stupor, he gave their horses to the few men, and started conversing with the lady innkeeper about lodging and room rates, not forgetting to tip them along the way for better service.
Although there were a lot of things that Valeria was still angry and unsatisfied about, she slowly came to realise that if she wanted to complete their mission successfully, she had to cooperate with Dimitar’s pragmatism and realism.
“Dimitar-san, sugoi, so cool~! Indeed, you’re very reliable!”
“…. Though it pains me to say this, I agree.”
Valeria nodded her head unconsciously in agreement, though her face became as stiff as a board from her sense of defeat at Dimitar’s hands.
“Oi, follow me.”
After wrapping everything up with the lady innkeeper, Dimitar ordered Bettina to carry a half of the luggage, taking the other half himself, before nagging the girls to hurry up and enter the inn.
The unpleasant and distinct odour of alcohol hit Valeria like a truck, making her gag and cover her nose in reflex. Apart from the stench of cheap booze and smoke, the tavern was also suffused with the smell of a day’s hard-earned sweat. Incredibly nasty.
“You guys should rejoice, because there’s still one empty room left. The best one, as well.”
Dimitar led the girls proudly towards their room, located on the inn’s third floor.
After inspecting the room closely, Valeria could not help but grumble in complaint. Although the room wasn’t as messy and as filthy as the tavern below, it was about as small as a room in the servants quarters of the Costacurta Family mansion. Simplistic and minimalistic, there was only two plain, unadorned beds, a table and a chair.
Valeria could not believe that this was the best lodging available in Kuromutan.
“Then do you want to take a look at the other rooms?”
Dimitar sighed after unloading their luggage in the corner of the room:
“… The other rooms left are only half this room in size, and the beds are there are basically straw mats. Not only that, you’ll have to share the straw mats with other lodgers, both male and female unlike, as there aren’t no other empty rooms.”
“… um, it’s fine. I’ll stick with this room.”
“Valeria ojou-sama the genius has finally made a wise and correct decision!” Dimitar’s reply oozed with sarcasm and irony.
Making sure that the girls were settled, he proceeded to place bread, cheese, bacon and red wine in a wineskin on the table.
“Oi! Pink armoured girl.”
“My name’s Bettina… sigh, at least it’s better than calling me suit of armour.”
“Whatever… don’t you have to change your cassette?”
TL Note: I’m assuming that the Cassette is something needed to power Bettina’s armour?
“Ok then… I’ve told you guys this before, but we’ll be leaving at dawn, so eat dinner quick and sleep early.
After finishing speaking, Dimitar turned around, about to leave the room. Valeria, who was folding her cloak, looked at him with eyes widened in confusion and surprise.
“Wait, where are you going?”
“I can’t sleep in the same room as you guys.”
“There’s other empty rooms?”
“Unfortunately, there aren’t, but since I’m a guy, I can just find a spot and lay down to sleep.
Hand on the door knob, Dimitar looked back.
“Don’t worry about me. Rest well, Valeria, Bettina. It’s going to be even more troublesome for me if you guys fall sick because you guys didn’t get enough sleep.”
“I-I-I… W-w-why would I be worried about you?!”
“Hmm, you’re right… remember to lock the door properly and tightly.”
With a twist of the door knob, Dimitar exited the room.
Listening to Dimitar’s advice, Bettina cinched the door with a nog.
“Dimitar-san should be alright, right….?”
“Since he said he’s going to be fine, I’m sure he’s going to turn out alright.”
Valeria shook her head in reply, before taking off her tabard, folding it neatly on top of her luggage, and jumping agilely onto her bed. Just like she’d expected, the bed was incredibly hard, but it wasn’t to the point that she couldn’t sleep properly on it. At least it was better than camping out in the wilds, she thought whilst stretching lazily.
“Valeria-sama, let’s eat dinner.”
Moving the chair to the table, she sat on it and grabbed a piece of bread, it’s hardness making her frown in displeasure. Even bread that’d come out of the oven this morning wouldn’t get so hard and firm this fast.
Their dinner consisted of hard, stony, almost uneatable bread, cheese slices and bacon. To Valeria, who’d grown up in a rich noble family, it was inconceivable.
“Is there any hot food? Like vegetable soup or roasted chicken?”
“No, definitely not.”
Bettina held a knife in her armoured hand, slicing the bread into thin, equal pieces.
“Because budget inn’s normally don’t provide room service, so if you want to eat hot food, you’ll have to go to the tavern down below and pay extra for the meal ~ but obviously, we can’t do that.”
“Even if this mission wasn’t a secret mission, there’s no way we could eat in such an environment.”
Bettina shouted in epiphany:
“Valeria-sama, please place the cheese on the bread slices and heat them up.”
“Use that ~ your magic!”
“You really are–”
Valeria was a Dominas. No matter the era, there were only twelve Dominas’ at one time on the whole continent. The Kingdom of Yamoda had three, and Valeria was one of them. It was extremely disrespectful to ask her to roast hardened bread with her magic. Although Bettina was still young and naive, Valeria still had to teach her a lesson.
“Bettina, you do know that I serve Go–”
“I’ve heard that Valeria-sama has the most magic talent out of all the Dominas candidates for this time’s Dominas Selection ~ I’m so jealous of you, because I don’t have any magic talent.” Bettina cut Valeria off mid-sentence. Though her helmet was covering most of her face, Valeria could still see the envy in her eyes.
Valeria suddenly felt much better after hearing Bettina’s words.
“Bettina, you pesky little girl… hmph.”
Raising her index finger, Valeria focused her mind on casting magic. Instantly, scarlet magic crests appeared on the back of her hand. Complex magic crests were unnecessary to create a small flame to heat bread, so Valeria only had to use 1/100 of the complex and dense magic crests engraved upon her body from “head to toe”.
“So cool ~ ♪”
Bettina clapped her hands praise, before using her knife to skewer her freshly sliced bread and hold it over the flame that Valeria was producing on top of her index finger.
“Magic sure is God’s grace upon the people, the source of our wisdom and foresight.”
“I think so.”
“But why are so many people unable to use magic?”
Bettina asked after placing a slice of cheese on top of the freshly roasted bread, creating a mouth-watering sandwich. It was a simple question, but Valeria was stumped for an answer.
According to the Tel Layton Church, magic was a tool that God created to seal The Demon, and a skill that he blessed upon his children, the humans. Only those who believed in God could use magic — this was what Valeria was brought up to believe.
But in actuality, only one in ten people could cast magic. Valeria and Dimitar belonged to the one in ten people who could cast magic, and Bettina belonged to the nine in ten who couldn’t. Let’s take a look at the Kingdom of Yamoda for exmaple. Even though almost all the citizens of Yamoda were zealous, reverent believers of the Tel Layton Church, most of them were unable to use magic.
Why that was so, why there was such a discrepancy in what she’d been taught, Valeria could not explain.
“Whatever, let’s not think too much about that.”
Valeria muttered to herself whilst eating her sandwich.
Although she was a renowned genius in magic, she wasn’t great at thinking about and answering philosophical and logical questions. Her good friend Karin had once said Valeria’s genius with magic was innate. Karin was correct, because casting magic was as natural, as easy as breathing to Valeria. She didn’t have to think about it. She only had to do it.
Because of that, Valeria acknowledged the fact that she wasn’t very good with using her brain, though she was very talented at casting magic. It wasn’t humbleness or modesty, but the truth. She really couldn’t get her mind around difficult things or questions.
“Don’t you think that the wine’s a bit sour?”
Valeria tilted her head and said after downing all the wine in the wineskin in one go. The red wine that Orvieto gave me yesterday was much more tastier.
“Should be because it’s been oxidised a bit. Commoners usually drink wine of this quality, because not everybody’s rich and a noble.”
Bettina replied, whilst lifting the visor of her helmet and stuffing the sandwich into her mouth, gulping it down like a ravenous wolf.
“– because my uncle loves to drink wine, he buys freshly made red wine daily from the market. Most of the time he gets the cheap and sour ones, so he would add in a little sugar or pepper before drinking them.”
“Is that so.”
Valeria was shocked. Bettina, who was a few years younger than her, knew more about the ways of the world than her. There was much she had to learn in order to become an up to snuff Dominas.
But, what astounded Valeria the most was that eating with other people — though the food was incredibly simple, incomparable to the dishes that she would eat at home — made her her food tastier, and made eating much more enjoyable. She rarely ate with other people, usually preferring to eat all by herself at home.
Valeria suddenly thought of Dimitar, of where he was and what he was doing.
If it was him, he wouldn’t care about whether the food was delicious or not. He’d eat the hardened bread silently, and wash it down with some sour wine from the wineskin.
Lost in her own thoughts, she failed to realise that the bread she was roasting had already been burned into cinders.