She and the Unexpected Reunion 3
Together with the guard captain and a squad of around ten soldiers, we went to the outer gate and exited the royal capital. In front of us was a straight road that led out into the plains that reached out as far as the eye could see. It was enveloped by large rocks and tall grasses that allowed no shortage of places to hide.
“I wonder where he is.”
“Lidi, do you remember where you released him?”
“I don’t. Cain?”
As Cain had teleported me out during that period, I had not known the location. After I called his name, he pointed in the eastern direction in response.
“That way. However, he probably won’t be at the exact same place, so wouldn’t it be better to search the place where he’s been spotted most?”
Freed agreed with Cain.
“Certainly. Captain, where has the beast been seen often?”
“Slightly farther ahead. There’s a lot of bushes in that area, making it easy to hide. There have been several sightings so far.”
“All right, let’s at least try there.”
Everybody headed in that direction. Since there were over ten of us, we inevitably stood out. Moreover, most of us wore guard uniforms.
Cain scoffed and muttered, “We stand out. I detest this. I’d much rather do this in secret.” We startled the people who were headed towards the royal capital.
The situation was so unusual that a merchant approached a soldier.
“W-What happened? There seem to be a lot of people out today. Has there been an incident?”
“There has been no incident. His Highness and Princess Consort have gone out, so we’re their escort.”
“His Highness and Princess Consort are outside the royal capital?”
The merchant raised his voice in astonishment and stared at us walking in the front. His voice was so loud that nearby people took notice as well.
Although I’d gotten used to being conspicuous, I couldn’t help being a little embarrassed.
The merchant sounded confused as he studied Freed.
“Huh, black hair? His Highness is definitely blond.”
“He simply turned it black to avoid standing out.”
“I see. So it’s really him.”
“Of course. Naturally, the Princess Consort is next to him.”
The gazes hurt.
I felt sorry for the surprised people, but I continued walking. Recently, I spoke with the townsfolk while I strolled around the royal capital. I did this so often that they were no longer surprised by me, but that wasn’t the case outside of it. Upon recognizing us, every person from outside the royal capital stopped in their tracks.
“… Somehow, I feel like this turned into a huge scene. Wouldn’t we stand out less if it were only the three of us?”
When I whispered that to Freed, he smiled wryly.
“I thought about that too, but unlike Alex, they wouldn’t agree to Cain being our only guard.”
My brother had a lenient side and understood the extent of Cain’s abilities, so he wouldn’t even fight us on it.
However, that wouldn’t be the case with standard soldiers.
If their Crown Prince announced that he was going out without sufficient escort, it was only natural they’d reinforce coverage.
Otherwise, they could end up being held liable. Under any other circumstance, it would be unthinkable to not accompany him.
The guard captain stopped.
The place was a few hundred meters away from the outer gate. A wolf appearing so close would of course have detrimental effects on people visiting the royal capital. Rumors notwithstanding, if a wolf actually appeared here, it would be natural to think that something must be done.
“He’s not here.”
When I looked around though, I couldn’t catch sight of the wolf’s silhouette. I examined nearby bushes, but I couldn’t find that child there, either.
“He might be well hidden somewhere.”
We had a lot of manpower for once, so we enlisted the soldiers who followed us to aid in looking for the wolf. After everyone dispersed, I overheard a conversation between a mother and child on their way to the royal capital.
“Say, mom. What are they doing?”
Was that lovely girl and young mother returning from a day spent out and about having fun?
The mother affectionately answered the girl’s question.
“It seems they’re looking for a beast that has recently been stalking the area. You’ve heard of it, right? They are trying to catch that beast.”
When the mother said that, the child’s face went pale. Her eyes widened and she asked her mother.
“Eeh? The guardian deity? He’s the one who protects us from bad people. They can’t capture him!”
Going by what the child said, the story claiming “the beast is the guardian deity,” had spread. However, her mother tilted her head as she asked, “The guardian deity?” suggesting she was unaware of the association.
“What will they do after catching the guardian deity? Kill him? They can’t!”
The mother looked stumped as her daughter complained.
I wonder if she felt like she herself was being accused. I could understand her feelings though.
“Lidi? Where are you going?”
“Give me a second.”
Freed stopped, and I kept on walking toward the mother and daughter. They gazed blankly at me.
The soldiers shouted in a fluster, “It’s the Princess Consort! You mustn’t be insolent!”
“Princess Consort… His Highness the Crown Prince’s consort?”
The girl asked, and I nodded to her. I crouched and looked into her eyes.
“Yes, I am. Nice to meet you. I’m Lydiana. What’s your name?”
I smiled at the girl staring at me, hoping she’d relax her guard around me. After a pause, she answered.
“Bell. What a nice name. I want to know more about the guardian deity. Could you tell me?”
Even though she was a child, I couldn’t discount her. There was a decent possibility she had information unknown to adults.
With that in mind, after my question, Bell repeated, “About the guardian deity?” with an adorable look on her face.
“Yes, about him.”
“H-Hey, Bell! Don’t be impolite when speaking to the Crown Princess!”
“She’s still young, so I don’t mind.”
I felt sorry for the mother, since she looked like she was on the verge of tears. However, Bell began speaking with, “Let’s see.”
“The guardian deity is exactly that. He drives away people who do nasty stuff to us.”
“Is that so?”
“He’s black and big. He disappears right away so nobody knows what he looks like, but he protects us, so he’s a guardian deity. You won’t capture the guardian deity, right?”
Bell asked anxiously, so I answered her with a smile.
“I’m sorry. We’ll capture him if we can. However, I hope you can forgive me because it’s for the sake of returning the guardian deity home and protecting him from danger.”
“The guardian deity is going home? He won’t protect us anymore?”
She sounded anxious. The boy I’d released here seemed to have become a hero before I knew it.
“You wouldn’t want to be unable to return home, right? You wouldn’t want to be outside, in danger, all of the time, right?”
“Besides, you will be safe, because the soldiers here will protect you. Right?”
When I turned the conversation to them, the soldiers replied in a fluster.
In fact, it was their job to protect these girls. It would be troubling if they thought they couldn’t be safe without some guardian deity.
“The guardian deity will be leaving, because he wants to go home.”
Although she sounded dejected, she seemed to agree.
“You’ll have a better chance of meeting the guardian deity if you come a little earlier than today. I think you should also look closer towards the outer wall.”
At hearing the conversation between Bell and I, the soldiers reacted excitedly amongst themselves. Even her mother was surprised.
“The guardian deity is probably resting close to the outer wall. I don’t know if he’ll come out.”
Bell fixed her eyes on me. I looked back in return.
“Don’t be cruel to the guardian deity. Protect him and make him happy.”
“I promise I will. Thank you.”
As I agreed, Bell nodded her head.
I stood up and spoke to Freed as he approached.
“Freed, it might be better if we keep searching.”
“You’re right. Let’s take a look around the outer wall a little earlier tomorrow.”
“Your Highness, Princess Consort! Do you really believe that child?”
One of the soldiers asked us, sounding astonished. I nodded to him.
“Yes, of course. There’s no reason not to believe her.”
“… She’s a child. It’s possible she’s lying…”
“Bell wouldn’t lie!”
Bell turned visibly angry at the soldiers. “I know,” I told her reassuringly as I got down on my knees in front of her.
“Bell, I know very well that you wouldn’t lie, so don’t worry. You told me about the guardian deity because you believed in me, didn’t you?”
Bell was cute as she huffed.
The soldier was still distrustful. It wasn’t like I couldn’t understand the soldier’s feelings, but I believed in this girl as well.
Freed also spoke to the soldier.
“You’re free to not believe her. I can’t force you to do that either. However, you will one day find yourself in trouble if you disregard what children say. Think about how you were when you were kids.”
“Neither adults nor children trick people when it’s important. Are you saying you’re different?”
Asked by Freed, the soldier fell silent and looked embarrassed.
“That’s… right. It’s certainly like that. Miss, I’m sorry for doubting you.”
The soldier stroked Bell’s head in a soothing manner.
Bell sullenly had been puffing out her cheeks, but the soldier’s earnest apology cheered her up.
“Bell isn’t lying.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s my fault.”
Convinced by that, she clung to her mother. Her mother bowed her head many times to us while apologizing, then they headed to the royal capital. Apparently, the purpose of their visit was shopping. Patrons like that often came from the towns and villages surrounding the royal capital.
There were things only the royal capital could provide that their towns or villages couldn’t. Many people traveled far to the royal capital for them.
After seeing them off, I looked at Freed.
He nodded in response, and turned to the soldiers.
“All, my party will return tomorrow but you need not accompany us. Continue your duties as usual. However, if you see the beast appear, immediately send word to the castle. If by some chance a fight breaks out, do not hurt him. Do you understand?”
The soldiers unanimously acknowledged Freed’s order.
While listening to him, I thought of how I hoped to run into that wolf tomorrow.
―― I prayed that he was doing well.
However, he was living in an unfamiliar land. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d been starving.
“Lidi, we’re going home.”
Freed came to my side.
At any rate, we’d continue this tomorrow. To prepare for that, we returned to the castle.
Editor: Alexis, CoastalService