The map crackled as it spread on the table.
Sir Leonhard’s white gloved hand pressed down the map, as if he was smoothing out a crease.
Sir Leonhard and I were the only ones in the rest area adjacent to the greenhouse right now.
The results of my persuasion. I wanted to believe I didn’t get some sort of pleasure from neglecting him.
His gaze invited me to look, so I did. It was a map of Nebel, not the continent. Moreover, it was an enlargement of the eastern half of the kingdom. We were here to discuss the vicinity of the border between our kingdom and Laptah, so I focused on the northeastern portion which bordered it.
At that very moment, to my surprise, my view of the map darkened. The moment only lasted a second. As soon as I recognized the shadow that stood between me and the map, I sighed. I reached out to that black mass and felt its velvety fine fur.
I spoke to the shadow—er, my beloved cat—in a low voice.
He paid me no mind, mewling carefreely as he looked back at me. His sapphire blue eyes were shining with curiosity.
Ever since his wounds healed and he could freely move about, he’s been following me around every day. That must have always been his true personality. New places caused no trepidation for him, and he explored happily.
There was Japanese saying that went, “A dog follows its owner. A cat chooses the habitat rather than the owner,” but it didn’t seem like my baby fit into either category. Maybe he saw the palace as a big house, which would be rather amazing.
“You can’t hop on the table.”
When I reached out to put him down, he smoothly avoided me. To my surprise, he ran to Sir Leonhard.
Unaffected by his owner’s frustrations, he cuddled up to Sir Leonhard’s hand. Perhaps a little shocked, Sir Leonhard’s eyes widened a few degrees. With a soft look in his eyes, he scratched under Nero’s chin with a finger.
“He’s quite friendly.”
Nero purred happily as Sir Leonhard watched him tenderly. What a sight for sore eyes.
While I watched with rapt attention, Nero began to climb Sir Leonhard.
Like a certain , Nero easily gamboled his way up to Sir shoulders. I was shocked. No matter how friendly he was, wasn’t this a bit too much? Just how much did he take after his owner??
“I’m sorry, Sir Leon.”
“It’s fine. I often scare small animals, so this is a happy turn of events.”
Nero made himself completely at home as he wrapped himself around Sir Leonhard’s neck like a black scarf. Sir Leonhard smiled as he gently brushed the cat’s head, ready to let it stay where it was until it got tired of him. But I couldn’t imagine that happening so easily when I saw how attached Nero was.
Don’t tell me my pet is my rival? He’s male though.
“Shall we continue?”
Cat on his shoulder, Sir Leonhard looked at the map. I followed suit.
The agenda for today was, naturally, the Dark Lord. Our desired goal was to locate the shrine where he was sealed.
“The story says that the temple we’re looking for should be in this area, correct?”
Sir Leonhard drew a big circle near the border with Laptah.
“Yes, it’s supposed to be near a village on the frontier.”
Even summing it up as somewhere near the border, the breadth was huge.
Finding a village that meets the conditions as well as a shrine on its outskirts, forgotten by time, won’t be a walk in the park. No doubt a lot of time would need to be poured into investigating all of the villages scattered along the border, but I couldn’t afford to abandon my search for the medicine.
“To some extent, we have no choice but to ask for help even if we find some contenders.”
Despite being in agreement, I had no idea how to get it done. I was at an impasse. Unlike me, however, Sir Leonhard had come prepared with a solution.
“Actually, the commanding officer of the northeast fortress is an old friend of mine.” Around here, he gestured as he pointed to the upper right corner of the map. “I thought I’d ask him to take a look when they’re on a marching exercise. What do you think?”
“I…appreciate it, but is that acceptable? Won’t it be a hindrance to their job?”
“You need not worry. After all, they’re only checking as they practice and patrol. Also, there’s a small matter that has me concerned.”
What did he mean by that? I looked at him full of questions, but he didn’t give me an answer. Well, it must be something he couldn’t tell me now. I trusted him, so I didn’t mention it. When it was necessary, and the time had come, I was sure he’d tell me.
“In that case, please take care of it.”
I lowered my head deeply and he nodded firmly.
“Next, about the medicine…”
He stopped himself and looked at me anxiously. He knew I was depressed after Georg told me not to get involved with the search. I had been quiet the entire carriage ride home, and probably caused him a lot of worry.
“It seems Lord Georg and Michael have departed.”
To search for the medicine, both of them have headed for the kingdom of Flamme.
As an apprentice wizard, I assumed Michael would be restricted in his movements, but unlike Theo and Lutz, he benefited from a modicum of freedom. Since he couldn’t use attack magic, it seemed they didn’t consider him a threat. The robes were color coded differently for that reason.
“I was left behind,” I jested with a smile, but his expression did not lighten.
“Princess…” he said pensively.
“Oh, I’m not pouting.” I hurried to shake my head. “It doesn’t mean I’ve given up, either.”
He looked surprised. “Huh?”
“Of course I’m sad, but if I think about it, I’ve always been prepared for this.”
“Prepared, you say?” he asked, perplexed.
“Yes, that’s right.” I nodded. “As long as I’m a princess, I’ll naturally be kept out of harm’s way. If I just give up, this is where it will end. I finally understand. If I believe that I can’t give in, nothing will begin unless it starts with me.”
So what if I’m being left out, I’m not waiting for anyone to lead me by the hand. At the heart of it, if I want to get in, I should make the first steps.
I hoped to change the future.
I vowed not to give up on Sir Leonhard.
Therefore, I have to become strong.
Strong enough to keep going forward, no matter what happens.
“I don’t want give up… Can you help me?”
Hand pressed to my heart, which was pounding from nerves, I looked at Sir Leonhard. He smiled gently in return, looking at me as if he was witness to the growth of a child.
Though I’m not satisfied, how could I not be happy to receive such a warm smile from him?
“Of course,” he reassured me. “I’m collaborating with you for that very reason, so if you don’t tell me anything, I’ll be worried.”
I sighed in relief.