Several months had pa.s.sed since I had evaded my mother’s watchful eye and fled from the royal capital. I did not have any particular destination. It was just that I felt it would be wrong to continue on to my mother’s home country, and so I left as a form of retaliation.
I was immediately attacked by an anxiety. The state of my family was currently quite bad. And things would likely become much worse now. However, as I was packing my things, a certain destination came to me.
The beautiful scenery of the Helan territories that I had seen a long time ago, appeared in my mind. Why now? I’d wonder, but still, my thoughts would wander back to it. Furthermore, that place… Kururi was there. He would surely help me if I needed someone to depend on. But, that also felt like cheating. I had always been blessed with everything since I was young. It was not right for me to depend on someone for everything just because I was in trouble.
I had other reasons for feeling uneasy as well.
This could be the crossroad of my life. I had to be strong.
Ultimately, I decided to travel to the east alone. If I traveled to the far reaches of the east, I would eventually reach the Helan territories. There, the first step of my journey would be complete. After that… I would think about it when I got there.
In truth, I had always had a longing to go on a journey by myself. In the past, I had heard stories from Iris -who I considered to be my rival- about her travels. She had planned to walk the long path from her house all the way to the Academy alone. It was a road that few people traveled on, and there were areas where monsters would surely appear. But she had gone anyway, carrying a heavy load on her back. There were times when Iris appeared larger than life to me. I was sure that it wasn’t just something that she was born with, but because she lived with a strong pa.s.sion.
I can not allow myself to be beaten so easily.
I thought as I packed things that I likely didn’t even need and set out on a long, long journey.
While on the road, I would often remember an old story that Iris would tell me. It was also about her travels.
It happened when she was tired and resting under the shadow of a tree. Just as her spirits were starting to fall, a carriage happened to pa.s.s by. This was her first meeting with Kururi.
What a stroke of luck! I am so jealous.
But, Kururi would have surely left me there, if it were I instead of Iris. Because I’m so spoiled. Even now, I may not have changed much. But I’ve thought about a lot of things since my meeting with Kururi.
Ever since I started to have feelings for him, I tried to change myself to be more like him. To be generous like him, to be cheerful and light-hearted. To be as sincere.
Have I been able to change? Iris once said that I’ve become easier to talk to… I think I’ve been able to change.
My journey seems to be going quite well.
The rain can be hard, but otherwise, I feel like I can manage.
I’m worried because my preserved food has run out. But even for this, Iris had given me some advice that will surely be useful.
As the fatigue of the day started to kick in, I deviate from the main road and enter the forest to look for food. By now, I had sold all of the jewelry that I had been carrying. I do not even have any money now. I can not stop in any towns and buy goods.
Splendid. Now I was under the same conditions that Iris had been in.
I enter the forest and look for plants and animals. I found a rabbit right away. The rabbit was covered in soft and fluffy fur. It was adorable, but I had to eat it.
Iris’ Ironclad Rules for Traveling: Item 1.
Kill rabbits, birds, and fish without fail!
This applied here. The first time I heard this, it went in one ear and came out of the other, but now I realized it was vital information that I should be thankful for. I was glad that I didn’t care so much about appearances and talk about baking cakes.
I cast a spell of wind magic on the palm of my hand and breathed on it softly. With that signal, an invisible blade of wind rushed towards the rabbit. It’s adorable body and head were cleanly severed into two.
…Th-, thanks for the food.
Iris’ Ironclad Rules for Traveling: Item 2.
You will lose if you hesitate because it’s cute!
Any hesitation would have been breaking that rule.
I would never have thought the day would come when I, a young lady, would find myself butchering a rabbit. Even so, once I started a fire and began to roast it, it gave off an irresistible and savory smell. Perhaps this wasn’t so bad.
My travels went on like this, with small hitches along the way, but somehow still moving forward.
After that, I was saved many times by Iris’ Ironclad Rules for Traveling. But there was this one time when I had been especially tired.
The biggest fault was my inability to make the right decision.
Indeed, I had gained a lot of confidence due to the journey going so well up until then. And I was hungry from not having a meal for quite a while.
And so I went against Iris’ Ironclad Rules for Traveling: Item 16.
Stay away from mushrooms!
I gathered some mushrooms that looked pretty. I was quite used to making fires now, and I had made a nice big fire that day. So I started to roast the mushrooms. They smelled so good. I couldn’t stop myself, I disobeyed Item 16.
For a while after that, my hunger was satiated and I felt great.
However, shortly after, when I was looking at a beautiful flower, my vision suddenly went blurry and just like that I lost all consciousness…
I had the feeling that I saw a small fairy of the forest next to the pretty flower. It must have been a hallucination from the mushroom. Ahh, they are outstanding. Iris’ Ironclad Rules for Traveling…
I don’t know how long I was asleep.
When I finally woke up, I seemed to be in a house. Not just a house, but in a very fluffy bed.
The ceiling and furniture were unfamiliar. Everything was made of wood and probably homemade. I could see that they had been used in this house for many years. There was fresh water and fruits set close to my pillow.
I was just as hungry as I was before I fainted, and so I was stuffing the water and fruits into my mouth before I knew it. I would definitely have not acted like this when I was a proper lady. But now, I felt like I had to be tough in order to live.
“You woke up then? Ah, I’m glad that you seem quite well nari.”
The door to the room had suddenly opened and the forest fairy that I had seen before I fainted was standing there. He was short, with drooping eyes, a large nose, and white hair. He was an old fairy.
“Um, I… I’m sorry. I ate your fruits and drank your water without asking. But, I will work for you in return, please allow me to repay you.”
“Huh? I don’t mind nari? I can get a lot of fruits from here anyway.”
“Is that so. But if there is anything that you cannot do as a fairy, I will be glad to help!”
After that, I realized that this man was not a fairy. He was just a funny looking old man. Quite misleading, don’t you think? I think I got confused because he appeared at the same time as the pretty flowers.
Petel allowed me to stay here, saying that I had not fully recovered yet. He said that I should at least wait until my scrawny body returned back to normal.
It was true, it had been a pretty taxing journey. Even I didn’t think that I would make it so far.
Huh? By the way, where are we right now? I thought.
“Mr. Petel. What part of the Kudan kingdom are we in right now?”
“Here nari? This is the Helan territory nari. You came here not knowing this nari?”
I felt a sense of joy rising within me when I heard this. I had arrived. On my own, I was able to come all the way here. I had always been patronized until now, but for the first time, I was able to accomplish something on my own.
If this was the Helan territories, then my journey was over.
What should I do now? I had decided that I would think about it when I arrived… But I still did not know, now that I had.
“Mr. Petel. What are you doing here?”
“I am researching this land nari. Research on a curse related to the Helan territories nari.”
A curse? In this beautiful Helan Territory?
“Really, why are you doing such a thing all alone and so seriously in a time like this? Yesterday and the day before that, you only read books and inspected the soil, the air, the water, the wind… Are you saying that all that serious moving around you’ve been doing was to research a curse?”
“That is right nari. It is not a joke or a false story nari. It is a most important truth left by a dear friend nari.”
He said those words with a calm voice, but I sensed a vast unknown world and a strong purpose behind it. I felt as if they contained the pure hopes of someone who had continued to fight for many years for someone.
…Well, then. My road had been decided.
“Mr. Petel, I’m sorry for doubting you. But your words just now have convinced me to believe in you. Please let me stay here. I will do everything that I can to help you in your researching of the curse. I promise to be of use to you.”
“…This has nothing to do with you nari. You should hurry and return to the place where you belong nari.”
“I will decide for myself where I belong. Please, let me help you.”
Petel thought silently for a moment. He looked at Eliza carefully, as if testing her resolve.
“Why nari? Why will you join this fight nari? It is not an easy road nari.”
Of course, it is not easy. But this land is important to me. I’ve gained much from it. And so, I want to give back in return.
“This place, the Helan territory, it is an important land to someone who is very important to me. I want to stay and fight here if it will help him.”
Petel looked at me in surprise. It seemed that my sincerity had made a big impression on him.
“Then you are just like me nari. I too am fighting to protect this land which was important to someone who was important to me nari. You are the same nari. I would be glad to receive your help nari.”
And like that, I had a new role and a place to be. I would work with Petel at this base in the Cursed Swamp.
And like Petel had said, the curse later ravaged this land.
Petel was supposed to have had ways of dealing with it, but none of them worked. Everything that he had built, it was all destroyed by the curse which was too strong.
Petel had said that there was still one last hope, but he did not say anything specific. When I think of the disappointments he’s faced, my heart aches.
And within that time of hopelessness, one day, suddenly, in an unexpected encounter at the lake, I was reunited with Kururi.