With flushed cheeks, I nodded timidly then grabbed the sides of Kaname's kimono tightly. I heard Shouta whistle again, signaling his own stallion to go. The three bandits' horses followed suit. As for the two of us, we only started to move when the four horses disappeared into the cold night.
The moment the stallion started galloping, I realized that holding on to Kaname's robe wasn't enough to ensure my safety. I shut my eyes tightly. Not caring how he would react, I coiled my arms around his waist and buried my face in the center of his back. He didn't seem to mind as I felt no sign of protest from his body. He neither stiffened nor reprimanded me.
This simple and supposedly innocent action of mine led to an unexpected discovery: the man had washboard abdominal muscles and his oblique muscles were as defined. I blushed again. I suddenly felt like a pervert groping an innocent.
Along the way, we encountered a river. Because it rained earlier, the river was in spate. Its current was strong and loud.
Sensing no indication of us stopping, I shouted, "Stop!"
Kaname immediately pulled the horse's rein. Looking over his shoulder, he asked, "What's wrong?"
"Umm.. D-don't you think it's rather u-unsafe for us to cross the river?" I timidly asked. He only uttered two words but his kingly aura hit me full blast. "I mean.. The horse might not m-make it."
"My mount has crossed waters far more dangerous than this one. Your worries are unfounded," I felt him give his horse a light squeeze with his legs, the animal immediately started to move forward.
"But there's two of us.." I tried to reason.
"Didn't you give my stallion and I a proper look earlier? How could you not see that he is a sturdy and majestic beast?"
"I know but-"
"Woman, if we don't go now the water will rise even more and we will have to spend the night here." His words dripped with forced patience. "Or is delaying us your true intention?"
"No! Of course not!" I shook my head firmly. "I'm just afraid we might be carried downstream. I don't know how to swim."
"Believe me, that won't happen."
With that, the black stallion with two people on its back cautiously but swiftly waded into the raging water. It flawlessly stepped on the slippery stones on the riverbed. Midway, the water reached its shoulder which meant our legs got wet as well. I wanted to lift my lower limbs as the water was freezing and it stung my raw knee. Kaname instructed me to hold on tighter, his tone carried a hint of worry.
When we finally reached the other side of the riverbank, he immediately got off the horse to check on me. "Are you alright?"
I nodded but my teeth were chattering and my body, shivering. He stared at me before rummaging through his saddlebag. Its bottom was the only part that got wet, thankfully its contents remained dry. He took something from the bag and tossed it to me, it landed on my lap.
"Hurry and cover yourself. I have no idea why you're dressed that way in this weather."
"Thank you," I murmured gratefully before hastily wrapping myself with the thick cloth. I'm not sure but it seemed like some sort of a blanket, it smelled faintly of sandalwood and clove. "Is there dirt on my face?" he was staring at me. I consciously wiped my cheeks with the back of my hands.
He shook his head before looking away. "Do you have a name?"
"My name is Hinata."
"Hinata.." he nodded. "From which family do you come from?"
"I.. I am not from here."
"Oh?" his uncovered eye looked at me with interest. "And how old are you?"
"Didn't your mum teach you not to ask a woman her age? That's a very sensitive topic, it's number two on the list of things you should never ask a woman.. The first one being our weight."
"My hahaue did not mention such a thing when I was growing up," he furrowed his brows as he internalized what I just said.
"Whoa, really? That's weird! Well, now you know so you'd better not ask any woman that question in the future. I read that some women find being asked that question very depressing."
"You know how to read?" he sounded impressed.
"Of course! I also know how to write in block and cursive!" I said, ignoring the surprise that registered in his face. "I am a learned woman. I'm actually the head of the audit department in my workplace."
"Audit department?" he repeated the words with evident curiosity. "What is that?"
I rolled my eyes at him and was about to reply when I realized that I was speaking fluent Japanese. Not only that, I had no trouble understanding what the man in front of me was saying!
My hands flew to my mouth. "Oh my God! I'm speaking in Japanese!" I gasped. "Whoa! This is awesome! I'm actually speaking the language! Amazing! Absolutely amazing! But how did this happen? Oh my gosh.."
As I marveled at my newfound ability, I didn't notice that the man before me was giving me a strange look. His face alternated between amusement and confusion.
 Mother. -ue literally means "above" and denotes a high level of respect.