Alas, it appears, that her mask of noh was not so inscrutable, after all, for it was surely her displeasure that made the air so tense, and led the boy to offer her help – a tribute, so to speak – in an attempt to quell her worsening mood.
It must’ve been her eyes that gave her away.
“You needn’t worry yourself, really. Besides, how do you intend to help with your arms like that?”
Unfortunately, a curt refusal was all he would find, though a quick glance at his arms would leave little to speculation why.
With his right arm covered in bandages, and the left suspended in a sling, no doubt his capacity to help was of suspect.
At most, perhaps, he’d hand her a laundry basket, yet with the haste at which she hung them, his desperate efforts might well only prove more work; need not it be mentioned, that any foolhardiness on his part may well open his wounds and ruin the clothes stained.
Hence, the boy could only smile with a wry and drop his shoulders with a cry.
So it appears, he was even more useless than usual.
Indeed, he could have been healed at once with magics of healing, yet such powers weren’t recommended beyond emergencies.
They burdened the body, and there were consequences that appeared only later, so it was generally accepted that, for as much as possible, natural healing be preferred.
Not to mention, that of his injuries, wounds and fractures were actually of the least concern, and preference needed be given to the more grievous ones.
Presently, he was being treated with a bandage, the magic sort, of course: a magic healing from the Kingdom of Earthgand meant to promote the body’s natural healing abilities without burden.
“Please just behave yourself, so that all the effort we put nursing you, not to mention the expensive items used, won’t go to waste.”
By the way, since they were bandages, they were disposable.
“Uu… I-I understand…”
With no arguments to offer and no strength to argue, the boy could only withdraw.
It came slowly, but Stella was finally beginning to understand how to handle him.
Regardless, he showed no signs of returning to his room.
He leaned his back against that same wall and watched her work just as before.
It was curious what he found so fun about watching her, but she couldn’t be bothered to ask and just continued hanging the clothes to dry.
The recent incident and the cleanup of the manor had left her with more work.
She was the head of the maids, so it was up to her to give instructions to everyone, and that cost time, allowing all these laundry to pile up.
Neither the boy nor the head maid spoke a word while he observed, but when she was about to finish, perhaps merely out of coincidence or because he’d been waiting for this moment, he made a remark that made her frown. He really was talkative today.
“…You know, when I watch you from behind, hanging out clothes to dry, for some reason, you strike me more as a mother than a maid.”
“…T-That’s not something you should be saying to an unmarried woman. Please revise your statement.”
“It’s so touching I almost want to marry you!”
The boy gave her a thumbs up as he revised his words.
For a moment, her heart throbbed, but she reasoned it away for coincidence and just eyed him suspiciously, wondering if he was still feverish from his wounds.
“………That doesn’t change the implication, though, does it?”
“Really? I hear there are men who look for motherhood when choosing their spouse.”
“That’s not what I meant, but… Are you one of those men too?”
“Well, in my case, it’s mostly because I’m homesick.”
She glanced behind her, and a smile surfaced on him. It was hard to tell whether he meant that for a chuckle or a strained smile, but it was enough to remember something she’d forgotten.
He was an otherworlder, someone who has been – by no one’s design – torn away from his hometown, his family, and his friends.
When she realized that, that smile on him became unbearable, and she found herself pulling her gaze away to the white sheets.
“Whoops, I almost forgot, but I didn’t come here to talk about something so boring.”
As she sensed the boy approach her from behind all too quickly, surprise found its way on her, but not because of how quickly he moved, but by how defenseless she’d left herself before him.
However, that surprise did not last long, for the moment she felt him tying her hair by the back of her neck, fluster took its place.
“W-What are you doing?”
When she finally recovered herself, she turned around, only for him to pass something onto her.
By reflex, she accepted it and realized what it was despite her confusion, causing her eyes to turn into dots.
As she understood his intentions, she told him curtly, “You really needn’t be concerned… Though I must say I’m surprised. I didn’t think you could do so well with one hand.”
He’d shoved onto her ribbons of different colors, and she knew that he meant them as replacements for the ribbons torn in the recent incident, something that could be blamed on him, but really, it was an accident.
It was with a similar ribbon that he’d tied her hair with one hand.
“Ha ha, I can do at least this much. And how could I not be concerned? It’s my policy to pay debts as soon as possible, and I wanted to thank you too. Ah, but they’re nothing expensive, you know. I hope you don’t mind,” the boy said in a silly tone.
He wasn’t merely being humble when he said that.
After all, she was a maid that served the royal family of a great kingdom. She was naturally used to handling luxurious goods, but his gift was nothing more than a ribbon made from a common cloth.
Be it the raw material or the craftsmanship, both were second rate, and as far as aesthetics went, one could – at most – praise it for looking durable.
“…We’re Lilisha-sama’s servants. It wouldn’t do for us to be more eye-catching than her, so I actually don’t use expensive or fancy items.”
The tone of her voice was somewhat dismissive, but her words could be taken to mean that she would only use common items. And, in fact, she preferred “such things” for her own use.
Shinichi could easily see through what she was thinking, so a smile naturally found its way on him as he spoke, “I’m glad to hear that… In my hometown, the people would often liken a woman’s hair with her life. I know I’m just saying this at my own convenience, but… Your have such a long and beautiful hair, so I wish you’d treasure it,” he laughed, somewhat embarrassed, reminding her that he meant no offense, as though he did something she didn’t ask for.
From time to time, he would talk about his hometown, but he was considerate enough not to force his culture onto them.
That was probably an etiquette he picked up as an otherworlder.
Falandia didn’t have a culture that treasured a woman’s hair.
Hair was the body part most conductive to mana and most able to store it as well, so anyone that dabbled in magic, be it man or woman, would – at most – see it as a place to temporarily store mana outside the body.
Stella herself did not feel anything special about her hair; however, she too was a woman, and when he praised her hair so much, she could not help but be concerned at how little she’s taken care of it in the past few days.
“Though I don’t really think you have to be so concerned, if you’re going to say that much, then I’ll have to use it gratefully, so, umm… Thank you.”
She had the urge to excuse herself to the bathroom right there and then and wash her hair carefully, but she kept that urge at bay and thanked him with her usual expressionless face, albeit with a somewhat awkward bow.
She couldn’t help but wonder if she should have been more engaging, but when she looked up from her bow and saw his face, she saw how pleased he was to see her happy, and for a moment, she froze.
But then in the next moment, they were suddenly surrounded by people.