Volume 1: The “Borderland Hero-Wannabe” Arc
Chapter 3: The Treasure of Shimur, Part 3/3
Leaving the young man to his thoughts, Mine went to her white steed. She freed its reins of the rock they were pinned with and muttered to herself.
“Well, this guy needs to drink… Seirin, come hold the reins, will you? Even if you can’t mount the horse, you should be able to lead it, right?”
“Don’t dawdle, get up, c’mon!”
“You’re hopeless, trembling like that,” frowned Mine, watching Seirin stand up on shaking legs. “Anyway, come here and take the reins.”
He did so. His muscles ached and his movements were unsteady as he approached the horse.
“Rohelin is quiet docile. He never bites or kicks so don’t worry.”
“Alrighty. Just lead him, he’ll obey you”.
Handing over the bridles, Mine headed for the river. Seirin made to hurry after her. However, Rohelin refused to budge.
“Hey, move, you! Your master has left already, hasn’t she? Be a good horse and follow after her.”
Seirin jerked on the reins. Such forcefulness didn’t seem to be to the horse’s liking, though, so he shook his head with a huff and started walking.
…In the opposite direction, of course.
“Wait, you’re wrong! Totally wrong! Turn around! …Wait, where are you going?!”
No matter how much he tried to halt Rohelin’s stride, he didn’t listen. What’s more, the young man himself got dragged along, pulling farther and farther from Mine.
“Hey, Rohelin! No, Rohelin-kun… No, Rohelin-sama! Please, please, listen to me. Wait a bit… Whoa!”
Watching Seirin get hauled away by the horse, Mine stepped in to ask.
“And where the hell are you headed?”
“Ah, about that… Please, don’t ask me, ask your ho–ouch–horse!”
She heaved a sigh.
“For heaven’s sake! What a pathetic man… Can’t you do anything without me nearby!” Though angry at her tutor, she seemed somewhat happy at the same time.
The princess ran up to Rohelin and plunged her hand into the leather pouch on the side of the saddle. She took out some ground pebbles and thrust them under the horse’s nose.
“C’mon, I’ll give you this, so come here!”
Rohelin sniffed once, twice, and turned in the direction of Mine’s closed fist.
“Quick, take his reins!”
Seirin complied hurriedly. For a moment Rohelin shook his head in dissatisfaction, but he seemed interested in the little rocks the girl had in her hand. So the horse followed obediently.
“Good boy, good boy. Must have been tough, to listen to that incompetent man”.
Mine opened her fist before Rohelin’s nose. He reached out to her palm with the long tongue and began licking the rocks happily.
“…What are those?”
“Salt? And he eats it so readily?”
“Of course. Horses eat grass, not meat like we do. Even meat-eaters feel the lack of salt. So what about horses, who sweat a lot? The more you sweat, the more salt you need. How do you not know such elementary things?” Mine replied to him, exasperated.
“Well, I’ve never dealt with horses before, so…”.
“Unbelievable… What am I to do with you? It can’t be helped, I’ll have to teach you everything about horses!”
Mine puffed with pride as she declared this.
The next day, in a certain room located in the South wing, Mine stared at Seirin with shining eyes. He was writing some symbols on a sheet of paper, and books were spread before him.
“So that’s Imperial writing… Looks difficult. You’re smart after all, Seirin. You can write and read something so complicated.”
“These letters weren’t made solely for recitation. The symbols themselves have a meaning.”
“What kind of a meaning?”
Mine seemed skeptical, so Seirin wrote 水 to show her.
“For example this is a symbol called ‘sui’, water. If we simplify it we get ‘sanzui.’”
Seirin wrote 氵(sanzui) beside水 (sui).
“These three lines for sanzui. They mean water too. So any kanji with sanzui are also related to water.”
“Oo, interesting. It’s like a puzzle”.
Curious, Mine put her hands on Seirin’s knee to get a better look at the table. He felt her weight through this touch, though she didn’t weigh much, being a slip of a girl. Still, the sensation of her light body left Seirin oddly restless.
“Princess? I can’t open the book if you lean over like that.”
“Don’t mind me. I’m not heavy, am I?”
And this is a good thing how?
Though Seirin really wanted to push Mine away with such a retort, he restrained himself. The infamous Wildcat was looking at the textbook out of her own volition, after all. So he had to be patient.
“So this ‘chon-chon-pyong’ means ‘water’? Interesting letters you Imperials have.”
She crawled over Seirin to sit on his knees. (yes, his.)
There was no sense of shame in her actions, but it wasn’t like she was ever modest to begin with. That shameless Mine was tracing Seirin’s ‘chon-chon-pyong’ symbol with her finger, imitating brush strokes.
Her fingers were even smaller than her tutor’s, and Seirin’s hands were often called delicate.
Every time she traced the lines she mouthed ‘chon-chon-pyong,’ bobbing her head rhythmically. The mild fragrance of her hair tickled his nose. Her backside shook a little on Seirin’s knee when she pronounced her rhyme.
Mine’s body was slim, skinny even, but unexpectedly supple. Not soft like a freshly steamed manju or a mochi – this feeling Seirin knew. Mine’s softness, rather, was unlike anything he experienced before. It was soft in many different ways…
But the difference…
Not good. ‘Different’ is not good.
He didn’t understand himself what was so dangerous about the sensation, but if this state of things continued he wasn’t sure how he would respond.
As the troubled Seirin gazed around, he met Mirin’s stare. Though he wordlessly begged her for help, the lady remained stoic.
The princess is willing to learn. Pull yourself up! Her stare seemed to say.
How long he could bear such a suggestive situation, he wasn’t sure. Worried, Seirin decided to speak regardless.
“So, wh-what do you think, princess?”
He may have squeaked a bit, but his overall tone of voice was calm. Probably.
“Well, that ‘chon-cho-,’ wait, no… ‘sanzui’ character grouped with other kanji creates a meaning connected to water, right?”
“Exactly. For example this – 龍 – is a dragon. You know about them, don’t you?”
Mine glared at Seirin.
“Of course I do! A very big serpent-like creature! That’s a dragon!”
“And if you add ‘sanzui’ to the dragon you get waterfall – 瀧. It means water is falling down like a dragon.”
She nodded with sparkling eyes.
“Oooh, got it! A water serpent! I saw a snow thaw waterfall deep in the Ursam Mountains! It really was like a dragon made of water! Interesting! Are there more?”
“Indeed there are. This book is called a ‘dictionary’. It has a lot of kanji on its pages”.
Mine pulled the dictionary closer and opened it.
“Which ones? Show me! Wow, it’s true! There’re a lot of words with ‘sanzui.’ Are they all about water, then?”
After looking up to catch Seirin’s nod, she put her hands under her chin in contemplation. Finally, she nodded herself.
“True, if you think about it, water is pretty important. To grow good grass you need rain and water. And it’ll be water from the Tamil that turns the Rondo wasteland into a blooming meadow. Because it is so precious, there are a lot words about water. …This one, how do you read it? What does it mean?”
The excited Mine, exclaiming over the contents of the book was truly cute.
That reaction is exactly the type of interaction I want. It’s not my job to risk my life riding a horse and writhe with pain the next day!
Seirin who suffered from muscle cramps every time he let his guard down, answered Mine’s question, feeling elated.
“It is 流, ‘ryuu.’ It describes a river that flows down.”
“Hm, interesting, interesting. And this one? How do you read it? What does it mean?”
“Well, about this one…”
Of all things, Mine pointed at 淫, wantonness. Seirin was at a lost for words.
“It has ‘sanzui’ too. Must mean something very beautiful.”
Seirin broke into a cold sweat. Mine was staring at him excitedly, clearly waiting for the answer.
What should I do? How do I explain it to her? Tell the truth, maybe? No, it’s foolish.
She’s just an innocent– no, actually, more like an ‘ill-mannered wildcat’ – but still, a girl (girl, though the name of ‘ill-mannered wildcat’ fits her better). A child who doesn’t know anything of ‘those’ matters. Frankly, all I know about this kanji is what I’ve heard from my delinquent friends…
Seirin’s mind was hovering between the dark and the light side of the youth. But then –
Mine let out a cry.
“What’s the matter?”
As Seirin turned his attention to the book, Mine flipped a page.
“Look, look, look! This one,” she pointed at some symbol. “That’s from your name, right?”
“凜 (rin)… Yes, that’s right. This is how you write my name”.
He felt relieved. Mine, meanwhile, became even more excited after hearing his response.
“Your name has ‘sanzui’ in it too! You’re also good, like water!”
“Well… It is not ‘sanzui’. It’s ‘nisui.’”
“Nisui? Is it different? Not water?”
“Their meanings are close, but it’s not exactly water. ‘Nisui’ symbolizes ice.”
“Yes, ice,” Seirin echoed bitterly. “Nothing but inferior, useless ice.”
Mine fell silent, studying his face. Suddenly she took it between her hands.
Still not releasing him, the princess continued.
“Seirin is warm! Good water! If you f-freeze I’ll warm you up myself! Let’s go riding! Somebody, bring me my horse!”
“Wait a minute! We are still in class! And I’m bad with horses…” The flustered young man protested.
“Shut up! You’re bad with them only because you don’t ride one! Get on a horse and you’ll become better, even if you don’t want to!”
A wordless observer of their interaction, Mirin chose this moment to stand up.
“Ah, wait! Mirin-san, where are you going?”
“I’m heading off to prepare the horse.”
“Thanks! I’m planning to make this guy ride even farther today! ”
“As my master commands.” Mirin nodded with a cheerful smile.
“N-no, let the horse be! Please, Mirin-san! Wait! Wait, I’m telling you!”
Mirin exited the room and closed the door behind her.
He happened to catch a look of her profile in the process. The maid seemed to be smirking, amused.