Volume 1: The “Borderland Hero-Wannabe” Arc
Chapter 3: The Treasure of Shimur, Part 1/3
“Boring, boring, so boooooring!”
Mine suddenly screamed, pushing away from the desk. She collapsed on the floor.
“Laoshi is teaching you easy phrases first to help you remember simple words. It is a very straightforward matter: your only task is to repeat what you hear from the esteemed tutor,” Mirin chided from the side.
Mine just looked up at Mirin from her position on the floor.
“I am neither a child, nor a parrot. I don’t want to say something stupid like ‘Hel-lo,’ ‘Hel-lo,’ ‘Good – weather – today,’ ‘Good – weather – today’ over and over!”
“We learn by practicing.”
And wasn’t it the truth. If only Mine could understand this simple fact. Then, she wouldn’t have been whining so much. The princess thrashed her legs, screaming again.
“I. Am. Bored! Who cares if I don’t know some words or letters?!” She raised her head to look at her bewildered teacher.
“Oi, Seirin. Answer me. Why do I need to learn languages in the first place? Letters can’t make a horse run faster, can they? And words can’t help sheep give birth to more lambs. So what’s the use in remembering all this stuff?’
“Hm, let me think. It is true that language can’t make horses faster or help sheep reproduce… But language lets you talk to many different people and allows you to read lots of different books. When you do this, you get to know a lot of interesting things.”
At Seirin’s words Mine bounced up, bending forward over the table.
“Interesting things? Like what? Tell me, tell me!”
He pointed a finger at her.
“Like you. Meeting someone like you is certainly an interesting experience.”
“..Nya?” Judging by her face, Mine didn’t understand.
She fell silent, puzzling over it for a while. Then, coming to some kind of a conclusion, the princess cried out indingnantly.
“Whaaaat! Are you implying my face is strange?”
‘That’s not what I was saying. Interesting, not strange. Like meeting new people and starting conversations with them, or doing things you’ve never tried before. That kind of interesting.”
Mine fell silent again, thinking about it.
“True, it’s fun, when you ride a horse somewhere you’ve never been before. Even if you go somewhere familiar and take the same road you always take, it is still interesting. ‘Cause you might always find something new on the way.”
“Exactly.” Seirin nodded his assent.
“Hmmm…” Mine drawled with a smile in response to his words.
Mirin had a bad feeling about this, though it seemed Seirin hadn’t noticed anything suspicious.
“Seirin, have you ever gone on a long horse ride?”
“What? No, I haven’t. I don’t even know how to ride a horse.”
Mine’s big blue eyes widened in shock. “Never? Young people these days! What have you been doing with your life?! How can I call somebody like that laoshi! You blockhead!”
That got Seirin irritated. “In the Capital no one will make fun of you for not being able to ride a horse,” he retorted.
“We’re in Tart, not the Capital! Here even children can ride! When in Wu and all that! I won’t listen to anything you say until you learn how to ride! So close your books and follow me!”
“Follow you… Where to?”
“What are you talking about! We’re going for a ride! It’ll be fun!”
“That’s impossible. You’re speaking to a man who never rode a horse in his life! Fun, it is definitely not!”
Watching Seirin panic, Mine smirked evilly.
“Oh, I see… And here I thought I heard someone say doing things you’ve never tried before is interesting… Were you lying, then?”
Seirin floundered at her comeback.
“Ah, well… um…”
The princess stood up abruptly.
“Quit your muttering, let’s go! Weather’s good today too! Perfect for a horse ride!”
“Wa-wa-wait! Princess, wait a minute, please!” Seirin cried as Mine pulled him by his wrist.
“That’s it, we’re going! Follow me!”
Despite his protests, Princess forcibly dragged her tutor out of the room.
Observing her charge’s exuberance and Seirin, who was about to cry, Mirin calmly waved her hand at them both.
“Your loss, respected teacher. This Mirin will await your safe return,” she said matter-of-factly.
About fifteen minutes later, Mine and Seirin slowly rode up to a hill not far from Tart. They were on the same white horse with the princess handling the reins. As a complete novice, Seirin sat behind her.
Sharing the horse meant they had to be very close. Seirin clung to Mine’s back, his hands holding onto her waist.
The sensation of the girl’s thin waist, the softness of baby fat, the movement of muscles under his palms – all of that made Seirin think.
When she ordered me to get on the horse, I didn’t know what to expect. But she really is the nomad princess. It is like she’s talking to the horse, that’s how complete her mastery over it is.
Ignorant of the young man’s regard, Mine gazed towards the west, where cirrus clouds hovered right above the horizon. Nothing else cluttered the blue, exposing the early summer sky to her eyes.
Perhaps because of the thin highland air, both distant mountains and nearby hills could be seen in sharp relief.
“O-kay, today weather will stay good until the night.”
“How do you know?”
“You just have to look to the west! The skies will be clear all day today!”
In essence, climates change from the west. Here on the northern plateau you could see very far in that direction. So people here just had to look the right way to predict the weather.
Seirin knew this intellectually, but in the Capital he seldom watched the skies, so he had paid little attention to such trivia.
“Got it, didn’t you? Then we should hurry forward. First, let’s go to the Tarim river. I’ll show you Shimur treasures!”
That surprised Seirin.
Shimur treasures? What could that be? This girl is a princess, after all… Maybe she heard about some hidden stash of enormous riches from her father the tribe-chief… What if I am about to become a very rich man?
Mine had no way to know of Seirin’s wicked thoughts. Turning to face him, she continued.
“Hold on tight! Don’t you dare fall off like last time. That was pitiful!”
“What do you mean hold..?!”
Seirin had no chance to finish the question, as the princess spurred on her steed. The white horse sped to a gallop.
The young man couldn’t help but cry out from the sudden change of speed.
“Wah! It’s shaking. I’m going to fall, I’m going to fall!”
“Of course it is, we are galloping. Now lift your bottom to properly put your weight on the stirrups.”
“Don’t just say it, do it!” – Mine yelled at Seirin, who raised his hips a bit. “Go, go!” She took a whip to the horse’s side, so it ran even faster.
And so the horse ran, with Seirin wailing all the way.
Half an hour later, on the meadow near the bank of Tarim River, Seirin lay face-down, breathing heavily and groaning.
“Haa… haaa… Uhn…”
When you are on horseback, you sway constantly. You can sit in the saddle on your backbones, but this strains the inner part of your thighs, as you use these muscles to stay astride.
People don’t use these muscles much ordinarily, so when they are suddenly forced to exercise them for a prolonged period of time… Well, to put it simply, it’s hell.
What’s more, if you dare to relax your thighs, you fall off. Falling off a running horse, you face concussion and sprains in the best case and broken bones if you’re unlucky. And, if you have the worst luck, you might even break your neck or get your intestines pierced by a broken rib, and die.
Seirin, who was finally freed from the torture of horseback riding, simply enjoyed the fact that he was still alive.
He muttered ecstatically through his heavy breathing.
“Legs… don’t work… But I’m still…among the living…”
Mine sat cross-legged beside him, the way she did the first time they met.
“Good grief, man! There has to be a limit to your clumsiness. You cried all the way here,” she said disgustedly.
“Did… not… Maybe screamed… a little,” Seirin argued weakly.
Mine made a face.
“Don’t nitpick! Crying or screaming, it’s all the same in the end! You Imperials… Especially those of you from the Capital, why are you always fussing about one thing or another?”
Can it be that I am actually a bore…? It certainly sounds so.
“Not Genzai, but all the other Capital citizens! The official who came to Shan last year, he recorded the number of our horses, sheep, everything. And he came again this year and was so angry, when the numbers didn’t match!”
“Horses and sheep, they’re all living beings. They may fall ill and die, or there may be new offspring, so of course, numbers change. And that official told us to get the numbers to match… How big of an idiot is he?!”
Seirin recalled Genzai’s words.
That official, he probably trusted his documents more than reality. Was that what His Excellency meant, when he said that some people become slaves to the bureaucracy only to be crushed by the paperwork?