Radka lost his appetite after training due to heat fatigue, and decided that it was better to go out hunting rather than stuff himself with lunch while feeling horrible.
He forced himself to walk to the dining hall since he couldn’t have Igor or Calvin carry him back every time he couldn’t move, but in the end, he hardly ate anything, so they scolded him.
(Igor and Calvin will probably stop bothering me so much if I eat breakfast and dinner properly instead of having lunch.)
When the trainee nun stayed in the village, she had taught Radka more things than just the notoriety of nobles. His mother couldn’t work, and he was always starving since he didn’t have the strength to work, so she shared her knowledge about wild grasses with him. Wild grasses that are considered poisonous due to the fact that their leaves and fruits couldn’t be eaten, and seeds which were discarded because of their strong bitter taste could be considered as food, as long as one knew how to prepare and cook them. The nomad nuns who travelled through the vast Arxian lands have passed down knowledge on these wild grasses for generations to avoid disputes over food in places they stayed at.
(I’ll probably be fine as long as I have this much. I’m getting a little tired.)
Radka looked down at the woven basket at his side. The amount of grass and nuts that filled the inside of the basket was slightly less than he had planned to gather, but the heat combined with doing something he wasn’t used to made him not want to continue. It’s not like I’m sharing it with anyone, Radka thought and went straight back to the barracks.
There was no sunlight in the dining hall of the barracks, and it was well ventilated, so it was comfortable to be in there. He sat in the corner of the dining hall, moistened his throat, and processed what he had harvested. Radka suddenly remembered Elize while silently working on removing the inedible parts of the wild grasses and hollowing out the nuts from the shell.
(Come to think of it, I haven’t been to see her lately.)
He had been resting in the barracks after training since the increase in training and heat fatigue had left him feeling physically exhausted. Thinking back, he had abruptly stopped his visits. He couldn’t tell her in advance that his training had increased, and the temperature suddenly rose on days when he thought it would rain, so he hadn’t visited her.
(… I wonder what she thinks about me not visiting all of a sudden. Elize-sama is kind, so she might be worried that something happened to me…)
He felt strangely hopeful when he thought that. The girl’s jingly voice as she said, “Please come again, I look forward to talking to you,” warmed his heart.
… But, in the next second, Radka suddenly felt as if he had been thrusted into an abyss of anxiety. The knife, which he had used to cut the grass, slipped out his hand and fell to the ground with a thump.
His mother’s trembling voice echoed at the back of his mind and overlapped with Elize’s words, “Please don’t leave mother alone…” That was the wish his mother had repeated over and over when he was still hidden in the house.
――― After Radka had gone against her wish and escaped from that house, his mother gradually stopped recognising him. She didn’t notice even when he returned wounded. She also barely responded to his voice before she died. He knew that escaping to protect himself hadn’t been a mistake, and that it hadn’t directly driven his mother insane, but he felt guilty for betraying her.
(Elize-sama isn’t crazy like my mother.)
Radka desperately tried to drive her voice out of his head.
(I didn’t betray Elize-sama’s wish. I didn’t betray her.)
He desperately tried to deny, but his head thought of chilling situations on its own. What if Elize-sama felt betrayed since I didn’t go visit her? Or, if I’m no longer valuable to her… Elize-sama is a noble. No matter how much I say she is different from other nobles that I’ve heard about, she’ll probably quickly forget about a commoner who doesn’t even come to see her… She might be angry, wondering why I didn’t obey her words when she told me to visit her.
An uncomfortable feeling that felt like fear creeped over from his toes at his unpleasant imagination. He shook his head to shake off the feeling and picked up his knife again. He went back to his work and immersed himself in the simple movements to try and forget the fear.
The fear that expanded in Radka’s head by the end turned into an obsession to go see Elize. He didn’t even take a break after training was over, and dragged his nauseous and tired body to see Elize.
(We haven’t seen each other in a month, so I’m sure Elize-sama isn’t waiting for me.)
She probably wouldn’t wait that long for someone who never came, he bit his lips. He should have realised that time was passing sooner and visited her earlier.
――― However, as he walked around the building and out towards the courtyard, the waiting person was still there. Radka’s heart beat faster the moment he saw Elize resting her elbow on the window sill with a sombre look on her face.
He quickly ran to the window and called out her name, then Elize noticed Radka as well and she looked surprised and happy.
Elize called the same name that she had been called. It felt extremely uncomfortable to be called that name, since he hadn’t been called in a long time, but he didn’t care about that for a second when he saw Elize’s face loosen in happiness. The name that the feudal lord’s daughter had forced on him was annoying, but even that didn’t matter if he considered that he got that name from this girl.
At the same time, the anxiety and fear that had been tormenting him so much disappeared as if it was an illusion.
“I’m sorry that I stopped coming… without saying anything.”
“No, it’s fine… I was worried since you hadn’t come here for a while. I wondered if something had happened to you… But I’m relieved you look fine.”
She said with a dazzling smile and Radka felt his chest squeeze. His heart pounded strongly to the point it hurt and the palpitation sounded at the back of his ears.
(See… It was okay after all. Elize-sama hasn’t forgotten about me.)
Radka’s mind went numb with relief as if he had been blessed with something.
(Elize-sama is special, she wouldn’t do something terrible, even if she doesn’t think of commoners as people…)
He wiped his blood-soaked eyes at the contradicting thought that almost flashed through his mind, and presented the gift he had clenched in his palm. They were remarkably nutritious and tasty seeds that he had carefully processed yesterday.
“Umm, here. I brought you these in order to make up for not being able to visit. I gathered them yesterday. I’ll throw it up there now.”
He nervously clenched the seeds again. Elize’s room was on the second floor, so he needed to throw them up there to give them to her.
(I wonder if she’ll think that she doesn’t need it. Elize-sama is a noble, and she eats food cooked by chefs every day. She probably won’t be happy with these seeds that even the villagers ignore…)
Elize tilted her head in puzzlement as Radka looked up at her nervously. Then she asked curiously.
“What does ‘gather’ mean?”
Her response was too surprising. Radka’s brain stopped since he couldn’t process what had happened.
Elize looked down blankly at Radka who had raised his voice stupidly and froze. Silence fell between them. What does ‘gather’ mean? Radka couldn’t be blamed for not understanding the question that had gone into his ears even after taking five deep breaths.
Something that was very natural for Radka, that even children did for work, was something distant to Elize, who didn’t make her own food because she was a noble, and was raised carefully in a box since she had a weak constitution.
――― He suddenly heard a giggle. The sound, which came from Elize’s window, caused him to put his guard up.
After having been placed in the barracks, he didn’t recall being told that it was alright for him to approach the mansion. On the other hand, he hadn’t been told that he couldn’t approach either, but this was the residence of a noble. He faintly sensed that he must not approach the mansion, since he was a commoner. Therefore, he always moved through the shadows to avoid being seen, whenever he came here. Since there was no guarantee that there wouldn’t be another person besides Elize who wouldn’t criticise him.
“Whaat, Maya? Why’re you laughing?”
“… Well, Ojou-sama… I just thought that you surprised him.”
Elize started talking to the owner of the voice without being particularly bothered by the fact that Radka had completely frozen in place. The owner of the voice responded calmly to Elize.
“Harvesting edible flowers and nuts is called gathering. I’m sure Eliza-sama mentioned this when she talked about living at the barracks.”
“Yes, you’re right… I see, so that’s what gathering means.”
Elize turned back to Radka with a satisfied smile on her face. Radka smiled in the spur of the moment, but even he could tell that his cheeks were twitching.
(She’s talking as if she knows about me. Has she been in the room the whole time…?)
Could it be that she has been listening to my conversation with Elize-sama the whole time? When he thought that, he felt a twitching sensation in his chest.
He had thought that this relaxing interaction was just between Elize and himself, and he even felt that it was sacred.
Radka was ――― but he tried his best to drive away all of the complex emotions, which had made his cheeks twitch, from the corner of his mind.
Elize-sama is a noble. I’m sure nobles are used to having their personal interactions being heard by a third party. That must be natural to them. This is normal to her, just like how she didn’t know the word ‘gather’; in other words, nothing I said meant anything to her.
――― No matter how different she is from my image of a noble… She is a ‘noble’ without a doubt, he felt. The existence of the ‘nobles’ that the stained red eyed girl hated still remained in him.
Elize tilted her head curiously and looked down at Radka.
“――― About what? Nothing?”
It seemed that each of their social positions indicated their relationship, and Radka quietly took his eyes off Elize.
(My stomach… is kind of painful for some reason…)