Nainiae was standing in front of Riley. Riley touched Nainiae’s face and wiped off her tear with his thumb. Riley was annoyed.
“Ugh, stop crying now.”
Nainiae could feel the warmth on her face.
That hand, the warmth, felt so good and happy. Nainiae was blushing from it. She had a hiccup and nodded.
“… Hup. Yes.”
It was not certain if Riley knew that the setting sun was not the reason why Nainiae’s face looked red. Riley, who was looking at her face, opened his mouth with an uninterested look on his face.
“Anyway, after today, you will be living with Andal until you are cured of your illness, so that’s all you need to know.”
“Pardon? With Mr. Andal?”
This was the first time she heard about it. Nainiae, tilting her head side to side, asked Riley.
Riley continued as he clicked his tongue.
“You didn’t know? Um, I guess you would not have. What can we do? That’s how it turned out. He has a terrible personality, but you will have to stay there for a while so I can continue to have you do things for me, so…”
“Who has a terrible personality?”
Riley realized there was Andal walking toward them with heavy steps. Riley stopped talking and shrugged his shoulders.
“… You’re here.”
“What a ridiculous rascal. Look who’s talking. Hey, no matter how terrible my personality is, it couldn’t possibly be worse than yours.”
Andal ground teeth as he looked at Riley. Riley looked apologetic as he raised the middle finger toward Andal.
“What’s that compliment for?”
“Oh, this is a compliment for your kind heartedness.”
Andal, dumbfounded, looked at Riley’s middle finger. Still finding it to be suspicious, Andal asked,
“… Are you being cynical?”
Nainiae was surprised by Riley raising up his middle finger in middle of the conversation. Having heard Andal mentioning ‘compliment,’ Nainiae tilted her head side to side, confused.
“I’m not being cynical.”
Riley shrugged his shoulder and asked as he looked at Nainiae who had a question mark floating on her face.
“I’m not, right?”
Nainiae, who noticed Riley’s eyebrows wiggling, roughly figured out what Riley was up to. She nodded and said,
“Yes, that’s right.”
If it was before she finished the trip to the Rainfield, she probably would not have realized the meaning behind Riley’s facial gesture with the wiggling eyebrows.
Andal, not able to dig in further into questioning, clicked his tongue, redirected his gaze upward, checked the color of the sky and got to the main point.
“Well then, can she go with me now?”
“No, not yet.”
“What? You said to come for her on the evening, didn’t you?”
Riley shook his head, and Andal had a confused look on the face.
“It’s still evening, right?”
Riley looked up the sky and asked back.
The sun was almost set now. Instead of orange color, the sky was filled with dark blue color. The stars were starting to show themselves here and there.
“You are so fickle…”
“You are going to be living for several thousand more years. Can’t you wait a few hours? Stop mumbling around and just wait.”
Riley scolded Andal for complaining and then looked at Nainiae who was just standing there and watching what was happening.
“Yes, Young Master.”
“It’s about time for you to go back to the kitchen area.”
“To … the kitchen?”
Perhaps it was because of what Willa said earlier. Hearing Riley’s order was making Nainiae’s shoulder to fall down all the way.
‘Get out of the kitchen.’
Nainiae felt like she could hear Willa’s voice. Hoping Riley will change his mind, Nainiae asked carefully,
“Excuse me, is there a reason for going to the kitchen…”
Riley had an ambiguous smile that seemed to indicate there was something to it. However, he didn’t answer. Riley grabbed Nainiae by the shoulder, turned her around toward the mansion, and ordered once again.
“… Get going.”
* * *
By Riley’s order, Nainaie ended up back at the kitchen.
She was hesitating in front of the closed kitchen door. For no reason, she grabbed on to the tip of her skirt and checked her cloth’s condition over and over, knowing already that it was completely fine.
‘Will it be all right?’
For several tens of minutes, she hesitated about entering.
Nainiae vacantly tried touching the cheek that Riley’s hand touched. As if that gave her the courage, she nodded and raised her hand toward the door.
‘That’s right, this time, I should do it right.’
Right now, she had a look on her face that was quite different from how it was when she entered the kitchen earlier today.
‘I should look at them properly. To the people who I cherish, I should look at them in the eyes and say it properly.’
That was the only thought in her head. She had her hand on the kitchen’s door hand and carefully opened it.
“… S… She’s here!”
“I think she’s here now!”
“M… Mr. Ian! What are you hiding there for? You should give it to her first!”
“Oh… The thing is… Maybe it would be better for Sera to go first…”
“Ugh, this is so stupid! Mr. Ian, you should be the one to go first!”
“Ugh, please act like the elder!”
It seemed like there was a commotion happening inside, so Nainiae entered carefully. As soon as she entered, she saw Ian standing in the front. Nainiae couldn’t help but to flinch her shoulders.
“M… Mr. Ian?”
For some reason, Ian had a petrified look. Nainiae looked confused. She flinched again when she heard a voice coming from the back.
“Ugh, the Mercenary Hero? What Mercenary Hero.”
“Step aside please.”
Both Ian and Nainiae shriveled after hearing Willa the maid manager.
Ian was standing in front of the door, petrified. Willa pushed Ian aside and approached Nainiae.
“M… Ms. Willa…”
‘Try not to be afraid… Think about how Young Master patted me on the head. Look at the people in the eyes.’
Having reminded of herself of those things, Nainiae, with courage, lifted her head.
“Excuse me, I’m sorr…”
Perhaps it was because the look on Willa’s face was not what Nainiae expected, not what Nainiae feared would be. Nainiae opened her eyes wide.
To Nainiae, who had a confused look on her face, Willa presented something that she was holding to Nainiae.
“What is this?”
It was a piece of fabric that was neatly folded into a square.
It was a handkerchief.
“The fact that I’m giving you something I used to use gets me a little, but this is the only thing I own that is the most precious to me.”
She couldn’t explain the reason for the handkerchief being a little wet. It was because Willa wiped off her own tears with it. Nainiae was vacantly staring at the handkerchief.
“It’s basic function is handkerchief, but you can also use it as a scarf, so… You are a girl. As becoming of a girl, I wish you could put in effort into making yourself look your best too.”
Nainiae had a look on her face. She was wondering what this was. She was also wondering what Willa was saying. With that look, Nainiae looked up at Willa.
“You are not like how you look… No, it’s nothing. I was not talking about your scar.”
Perhaps she realized she didn’t say it correctly. Embarrassed, Willa corrected herself in the middle and continued.
“You cry a lot. You did earlier too, so… I believe this handkerchief will be of use to you.”
Unlike the advice she was giving, Willa turned her head away because her eyes were tearing up. She quietly wiped it off with her finger and ended her sentence.
“You use it. It’s a gift.”
Willa nodded and stepped aside. To front of Nainiae, who still didn’t quite figure out the situation yet, Ian tumbled forward.
“Mr. Ian, you need to understand what’s happening here right now, read the atmosphere, okay?”
“You know what that means, right?”
Pushed by others to stand in front of Nainiae again, Ian barked at the people behind him to say that they should just shut up. Ian put his hand toward the sword resting at his waist.
“… Here. Take this.”
Ian brought out the sword that he loved. Along with the sheath, Ian presented the sword to Nainiae.
“When a swordsman trust another with his sword, you know well what that means, right?”
Nainiae had been working in Iphalleta, a house of sword.
Nainiae had learned at least that much basic etiquette from Sera. Still confused, Nainiae received the sword from Ian.
Nainiae knew that Ian’s gesture was of a great significance. She was having a hard time understanding the situation.
“In this mansion, next to Young Master Riley…”
Nainiae was standing there with a blank look on her face. With a serious look on his face, Ian continued.
“… I’ll wait for your return.”
Having heard those words, Nainiae’s grips on her hands, which were holding the handkerchief and the sword, tightened.
“It’s not for myself, but for our Young Master.”
The serious look in Ian’s face didn’t last long.
Perhaps his sensitive heart was at its limit. His eyes started to get wet.
“You must return.”
Ian also wanted to say that there is no other talent that’s better suited to look after Young Master than her, and it will always be. However… Ian was not able to hold it anymore. He started to sniff like a child.
“When you return, my sword… you can give it back to me then.”
“Ugh! I told you not to, but again! Again! You are ruining the mood!”
Nainiae was vacantly staring at Ian who was crying. His body was pushed aside by someone. Nainiae blinked her eyes.
“Seriously! You are a man, so how come you are crying on a day that’s a happy day? Nainiae isn’t going there to die. She is going there to be cured! Why are you acting like you are never going to see her again?”
With his crying, Ian was going to ruin the mood. Looking at the maid that pushed him aside, Nainiae mumbled her name.
“That is… I’m sorry, Nainiae. I’ll apologize first. I wanted to give you a present too… Unfortunately, I found out about this today. I didn’t have enough time.”
Sera smiled awkwardly in front of Nainiae. It looked like she was scratching her hair. Along with a sound that seemed like something was untied, Sera walked toward Nainiae.
“Now that I think about it, I didn’t get to give you a good ribbon on the day you arrived.”
The sound just now was Sera pulling the ribbon that was holding her hair to the back.
“That day, because we were not close yet, I gave you a really old one on purpose… but you didn’t complain at all.”
Sera gave the same advice that Willa gave about how it would be good for Nainiae to start caring about looking her best. Sera stepped forward to stand right in front of Nainiae.
“Nainiae, I’ll apologize again. I’m sorry I gave you a worn out ribbon that day. Actually, I felt pretty guilty that day. It hurt me in the conscious when you looked happy about the ribbon and told me it was pretty…”
Sera held the ribbon on her hand. Sera raised her hand above Nainiae’s shoulder and started to fiddle her hand on Nainiae’s hair on the back.
“If you asked me to give you a different one, I would have acted like I’m just giving in and gave you a new one. I’m not that bad of a person.”
Sera and Nainiae’s faces were getting very close. Their faces were close enough to hear each other’s breathing. Nainiae, with overjoyed face, barely responded,
“Yes, I know.”
“… When you return, when you do, I’ll prepare another one that’s even prettier.”
Sera untied the old ribbon on Nainiae’s hair and replaced it with her own. Sera’s voice was, before she realized, tearing up like Ian.
Although she was finished with tying the ribbon, Sera was not able to take her hands back. Not able to hold it anymore, Sera tightly hugged Nainiae.
“Sera, I can’t breathe.”
“Just for a moment… just for a moment, like this.”
It was so Sera won’t have to show Nainaie her crying face. Nainiae knew that.
“I memorized it properly.”
While crying and hugging Nainaie, Sera sniffed. Soon, with awkward face, Sera stepped back and said,
“I memorized it, your scent.”
“You know I have a great sense of smell, right? You can’t run. You better not dare to come back before your illness is cured.”
With her eyes tearing up, Sera smiled big as if she was daring Nainiae on running. Sera slowly stepped back, and…. Other servants of the mansion, who were waiting for their turns, smiled big and greeted Nainiae.
Willa, Ian, Sera… Not just the three, but others were also welcoming Nainiae. She vacantly looked around.
“All this… just what is it for?”
Nainiae was still confused. Looking at her like that, others started to tease Nainiae.
“Nainiae, I thought you said you learned some common sense while you were at Rainfield?”
“What was that for? It seems like you are still lacking in the sense department!”
It looked like they were just made. There were foods exuding steam. They were making people’s mouth to water from just looking at them. There was also a chair-size cake. It was making people’s heart flutter.
“This is a surprise for you, you dumbass!”
“Before you go, you should have a full stomach, don’t you think?”
“A surprise… party?”
This was the first time for Nainiae.
A cake made just for her, and gazes full of warmth were all new to Nainiae.
Nainiae realized that the people she cherished were also caring about her like this. This was also her first time to experience it.
Nainiae, who had her mouth open vacantly, mumbled with shaky voice. It seemed like she was being overwhelmed with emotion.
She cried her eyes out earlier in front of Riley, but it seemed she still had tears to shed.
“Uh?! Nainiae is crying!!”
“Ugh, this is not good! Ms. Willa, you made her cry!”
“What? What are you saying? I don’t have anything to do with this.”
“You made her cry earlier!”
“That was then, and this time, I think it is purely because of Mr. Ian or Sera.”
“Puhup. Mr. Ian… looks like you know what we are talking about.”
Listening to the people talking out loud to each other, Nainiae, with her face full of all the happiness in the world, said without hiding her tears,
“… Thank you.”
It was because she wanted to properly face the people that she cherished.
“Thank you, all of you, thank you so… much.”