As the group headed to their next destination, Ruthiana occasionally spread dandelion seeds along the road. Demon sightings were likely since the villages and cities were around here. In that case, Ruthiana felt that it was necessary to sow these seeds. As such, the large bag that had been filled to the brim with seeds became half empty in the blink of an eye. The group hadn’t received any news if the seeds had any effect in warding off demons, but the road the holy maiden’s group passed through would surely be adorned with dandelions.
And in the distant future, these fluffy dandelions would be known as the “holy maiden’s footsteps”.
The group ate their lunch as they took a break. At the beginning of their journey, they had been in no mood to enjoy casual conversation, but now they often chatted away.
“Have you all decided on what reward you want for the journey?” Ruthiana asked.
“Reward?” Makoto asked. His face added, “What are you talking about?”
“Those who participate in the holy maiden’s pilgrimage can have one request granted by the king as a reward. As long as it’s nothing too grandiose, His Majesty will see it through,” Zest, who was seated next to Makoto, explained.
“And have you decided?” Ruthiana asked Zest next.
“Yes. I want to ask for renovations for my magic research lab. Mine has gotten a bit aged,” he answered. Ruthiana found it endearing that Zest’s eyes would twinkle whenever he talked about magic.
“I want money! As long as you got the money, you can do anything in this world,” Gilbert cut in.
“I haven’t asked you yet…” Ruthiana showed her annoyance at Gilbert’s interruption.
There were probably many people out there who desired money like Gilbert. Although, a majority of the members present here were nobles. They already had wealth and could get what they wanted. So he probably thought if he could get more, why not?
“And Sir Licht?” Ruthiana asked.
“Hm… I would have to say permission to marry.”
“Marry?!” Everyone shouted in surprise that such a thing would come out of that person. “W-were you that much of a romantic?! Are they someone you can’t propose to even with the name of Duke Carlyle at your back?”
Licht’s family had the same prestige as the Arkwrights; they were dukes. So there were hardly any families out there who would refuse a proposal from them.
“There are some circumstances,” Licht answered with an expressionless face.
Gilbert began to tease Licht with this newly obtained information, but Ruthiana merely nodded and didn’t comment anymore. She felt like she knew who the other party was… She also made a mental note not to prod Licht after messing with him because he was scary.
While the rest of the group was lively, Franz was frowning by himself as he read the message from the castle he received from the knights stationed in the city they passed through. When the loudest becomes the quietest, everyone notices. And Ruthiana had a vague idea of what the message said.
“Did they tell me that I shouldn’t do anything unnecessary and only focus on pretending to be the holy maiden?” Ruthiana asked Franz with a bitter smile on her face. Franz sitting away from the other members and leaning against a tree while deep in thought… was very much unlike him.
“It’s none of your business.” Franz tried to end the conversation, but Ruthiana wouldn’t let him.
“It is. Perhaps, they had an issue with me sowing those flower seeds everywhere. Did they write that I wasn’t the real holy maiden and shouldn’t try to use her reputation for my benefit?”
Ruthiana was merely the holy maiden’s proxy, so those who had issue with her or the Arkwrights likely claimed that what she was doing wasn’t to benefit the real holy maiden in the future. If Franz was getting reprimanded for something Ruthiana did, then she had to say something. Their criticism should be directed at her, not Franz. She seemed to be right as Franz momentarily glanced at her.
“I know that you’re not doing this to exploit her reputation at the very least.”
Franz’s unexpected declaration surprised Ruthiana. That was how little she had believed Franz could understand her actions and thinking.
“Um, should I be thanking you?”
“Anyone who tells you to stop doing what you’re doing for some stupid reason when you’re helping the country is the dumb one.” Franz had a self-deprecating smile as he crushed the letter in his hand. “Anyways, it’s nothing you need to worry about. They’re just ignorant people complaining for the sake of complaining. Leave them be. Besides, it’s not like you’ll stop doing it.”
“That is correct.”
If the public was already talking about the “holy maiden’s footsteps”, then there was no point in stopping now. In that case, she would continue no matter who said what. Besides, it had the possibility of benefitting the country.
“—Oh, also, this might be good news for you,” Franz muttered as he looked down at the crumbled paper in his hand. Ruthiana didn’t say anything as she tilted her head. He continued, “It seems they’ve finished the preparations to summon the holy maiden. They’ll perform the ritual in the near future.”
Should she be cheering “finally”? Or “about time”? Over a month had passed since Ruthiana embarked on this suppression journey. Ruthiana quietly responded, “I see.”
“Once we finish our extermination in the Eyan Canyon, we’ll return to the capital for the time being.”
“That means I will also be relieved of my role, correct?”
Their next destination was the Eyan Canyon. It was farther west than the Luwel Forest, and the group was presently heading over there. The Luwel Forest and the Eyan Canyon were the two known places in the country where demons resided, so once those places were cleared, the group’s plan was to go around the country and exterminate any demons that strayed from those two places to attack villages or cities.
“A remote village was attacked by demons near the end of last year too…” Franz quietly muttered and stared at his feet.
Ruthiana had also heard about that. There were some among the demons who formed groups. And when their numbers became too much for the food supply in their home to sustain them, they would attack human settlements. And those demons who had tasted human flesh would attack humans to eat.
“Tragedies like that will lessen, I hope.”
After the party suppressed the demons in those two areas and the real holy maiden was summoned, they would gather the sacred tools and strengthen the country’s protection. It would not be long before everything was over.
“And you’re okay with that?”
“What do you mean?”
“Everything you’re doing—endangering yourself when we exterminate demons and even sowing those flowers—will be credited to the holy maiden. Frankly speaking, I can’t understand that philanthropism of yours.”
Franz stared at Ruthiana with his blue eyes. The ones who will receive a reward at the end of this journey were only the formal members. Ruthiana was not included. When faced with such a serious expression, Ruthiana couldn’t lie her way out of this.
“I have nothing of that sort. I am merely doing what I can as a noble who has much at her disposal. It is my duty to the country.”
Philanthropism… It was nothing like that. Ruthiana was just doing whatever she could. And just as Franz said, she had no interest in rewards or reputation. She added, “Besides, it’s not like I don’t want anything after this.”
She would not be granted a reward. But she had a wish. And to fulfill it, she participated in this journey.
After the group rested and were ready to depart, Makoto approached Ruthiana and asked, “What were you talking about with the prince?”
“Nothing of importance. We were just chatting.”
Their conversation had nothing to do with Makoto. Ruthiana answered with a perfect smile, but Makoto naturally picked up that it wasn’t a casual chat.
“I will not press if you do not wish to tell me, but if it will endanger milady’s wellbeing…”
“It won’t. You worry too much, Makoto.”
Ruthiana stretched a little and patted Makoto on the head.
“Why are you patting my head?”
“Because you’re always a good boy to me.”
Makoto muttered under his breath, “I’m older than you, remember?” Ruthiana heard it still and laughed that she remembered.
“Hey, you two, stop flirting. It’s time to go.”
“Did you honestly see our exchange as flirting?”
Makoto sighed and got on the horse. Ruthiana also got on her favorite horse. After that conversation before, Franz seemed to understand Ruthiana a bit more, although he still showed signs of disdain. Zest had grown very fond of Ruthiana. Gilbert and Licht continued to maintain a set distance, but they didn’t show any hostility towards her as a fellow member. Ruthiana thought this journey might go better than expected as she sped up her horse.