This was already their third night out in the journey.
They spent the first two nights safely inside inns in cities, but such was impossible for this third night. This was to be expected since the deeper into demon territory they went, they encountered fewer human settlements.
Setting up camp was left mostly to Gilbert and Makoto. During that time, Licht killed some birds with his bow and Zest and Franz gathered dried branches. And since Makoto handled the cooking (as well as preparing the birds), Ruthiana's time to shine never came around.
The most she could do was assist Makoto the chef, but he vehemently refused to let her hold a knife, so the only job she did was arrange the food on plates and test the flavor.
Everyone here had their own quirks, but they also acted needlessly chivalrous. Whenever Ruthiana tried to do anything, the men would tell her that it wasn't necessary and that she should just rest.
"Our first destination is Luwel Forest to the northeast, correct?"
Ruthiana confirmed as she munched on the sandwich Makoto made, her cheeks stuffed.
"That's correct since we will be leaving from the Arkwright territory. It's possible for us to be attacked by demons along our journey, so please be careful."
Licht cautioned everyone as he ate a similar sandwich. The group often confirmed their future plans while they ate their meals like this, so food they could eat with one hand was very convenient.
"Oh, that reminds me. I would like to give this to everyone."
After swallowing the last bite, Ruthiana rummaged through her luggage and took out several things.
They were bags as large as her palm. They swelled with something inside, and a string was attached to them so you could wear one around your neck or elsewhere.
"What is it?"
Franz grabbed a blue bag among the bunch and suspiciously eyed it. It appeared that he still couldn't trust Ruthiana. And Ruthiana thought that she should have stuffed a frog inside them.
"It's a potpourri sachet. It's composed of the wildflowers that grow only on our land. Well, it's a simple charm against demons."
For some reason, these flowers would only grow on the land under the patronage of the Arkwright family. They couldn't be spotted anywhere else in the country, and damage caused by demons hardly occurred in the Arkwright territory. To begin with, sightings of demons were already a rarity there.
The group will be leaving the Arkwright territory soon. Thus, the encounter rate with demons will increase.
"Does it work?"
Gilbert also looked at the bags with a doubtful face. His reaction was understandable. Just because there was a correlation between the territory's flowers and the demons, that didn't necessarily mean causation.
"At the very least, it makes it so demons don't approach too closely. I have already tested that much."
Ruthiana didn't do this for the sake of the journey. No, she tested this out of curiosity.
She told her private tutor that there might be a connection between the flowers and demons and learned more about medicinal plants. Going further, she burnt the flowers she would use in her original potpourri mixture to test the smoke.
At that time, demons made their unusual appearance at the borders, but they ran away, hating the scent.
"In that case, I will gratefully use your gift."
"...Thank you very much, Miss Ruthiana."
Licht took the lavender bag, and Zest took the last remaining one, the red bag, with a warm smile on his face. How cute.
"You sure I can't give you a squeeze?"
Makoto reprimanded her, causing Ruthiana to reluctantly yield. Zest smiled, a bit troubled by this.
"Amazing, miss. You managed to pacify that Zest!"
Gilbert laughed as he watched Ruthiana pat Zest's head like one would to a pet.
Genius boy, peerless magician—such were names given to Zest Klaus. According to others, he was a taciturn young boy who avoided all conversation with others due to his extreme shyness.
However, these interactions quickly changed Gilbert's and Licht's view of Ruthiana.
This behavior was probably strange for a duke's daughter, but they were immensely glad that she didn't detest riding on horses or camping outside. She also didn't seem to mind how noisy they were as if they were eating at a cheap restaurant.
In truth, they were worried that she would constantly complain to have things her way.
Fortunately, the food they were eating today was bread even though they were camping outside, but from here on out, they would have to make do with preserved food. When they announced this beforehand, Ruthiana replied, "Well, of course. Isn't that obvious?" and it looked like she couldn't understand why they were telling her this.
"At the rate we're going, we'll reach the next city tomorrow."
"In that case, Luwel Forest should be right over there."
As Franz and the group looked over the map and confirmed tomorrow's schedule, Ruthiana stifled a yawn.
"Milady, you appear exhausted. Why not rest for the night?"
Makoto was the first to notice, calling out to her with a blanket in his hand. While Ruthiana had more endurance than most ladies, she expectedly exhausted her energy quickly. Among the rest of the group, she was at the same level as Zest.
Zest had already cast a ward against demons around them, so they could rest easy even without needing someone to keep guard. Resting with peace of mind was a good thing.
"...Yes, I should. I'll sleep early and get ready for tomorrow."
She accepted the blanket from Makoto and wrapped it around herself. The blanket was originally prepared just for her, so the size was perfect and its feel was splendid.
"Good night, Makoto."
As a part of their usual custom, she gave him a good-night kiss, and Makoto returned one on her cheek, although the gesture was mixed with some bitterness.
"Good night, milady."
Makoto sat beside Ruthiana so she could lean against him and use his shoulder as a pillow.
"...What the hell are you two doing?"
Franz opened his mouth, speaking for the group who were watching the whole scene unfold.
Makoto didn't understand but then realized his mistake.
This exchange was so deeply incorporated into their daily lives that Ruthiana and Makoto forgot about the others. No, Makoto felt that Ruthiana probably didn't care who was watching.
"Errr, well, that's...it's been a habit of milady's since she was young."
"If you two are going to flirt, do it somewhere we can't see."
Gilbert's sudden taunt caused Makoto to raise his voice.
They stayed at an inn yesterday, so naturally, Ruthiana stayed in a separate room by herself as she was a girl. The rest of the guys didn't witness their customary good night kiss.
"Everyone says 'good night' in their own way, right?"
Ruthiana couldn't understand what all the fuss was about, but she still muttered this in a sleepy voice.
"Heh, then, can I get one too, miss?"
"Please leave all talks of dreams till after you fall asleep."
For some reason, Gilbert wanted a good night kiss.
"Ah, but if Zest asks, I'll do it. Rather, please let me do it."
"Milady, you'll trouble him. Doing such will trouble him."
Truthfully, Makoto wanted to say, "Rather, I'll be troubled." This had become deeply-ingrained in him, so he knew how terrifying forming habits becomes.
"You guys... Can you care just a little about those around you?"
Franz let out an exhausted sigh. Even now, Ruthiana was leaning against Makoto's shoulder as if this was all normal.
"I don't want to be told by the prince who can't read the mood of the room."
Ruthiana was feeling terribly drowsy now, so she became irritated at the littlest things.
"Milady, you should go to sleep. Good night."
If Franz and Ruthiana start quarreling now, they'll lose out on sleep.
Having a sense of foreboding, Makoto forced his way into the conversation, softly pushed Ruthiana's head back on his shoulder as she was about to get up, and gently patted her head.
Ruthiana had puffed her cheeks out in anger, but she soon closed her eyes, her fatigue winning out in the end. After some time, her breathing slowed, and she fell asleep on Makoto's shoulder.
"Are you a beast tamer...?"
"Milady isn't a beast."
Makoto wanted to add, "Although she is tomboyish and a little eccentric," but decided to hold back.
"She sure resembles one."
Franz spat those words out and took out his own blanket. The other members noticed and also prepared to go to sleep.
Makoto bitterly smiled at the warmth he felt from Ruthiana on his shoulder and covered the two of them with a blanket.
Because of interactions like this, Makoto became accustomed to seeing Ruthiana's defenseless appearance, whether he wanted to or not.
He was used to it but also not used to it. He knew this was hypocritical, but this described the situation perfectly. Makoto wasn't innocent enough that this sight prevented him from sleeping, but he also couldn't help but be aware of what was happening.
However, he also didn't want to let any other man see her sleeping face. Even more so because of his pure desire to monopolize her.
He moved the sleeping Ruthiana's head from his shoulder to his knees. Her whole body could rest if she were lying down. Once she fell asleep, it was hard to wake her up.
Makoto brushed her smooth black hair and slowly closed his own eyes.