Chapter 6. Special Knights Face Lots of Danger
“My feet are quick, you know.” It appears that Florin was telling the truth.
With a flying pace, she runs further and further ahead of Ludwik, breaking out of the ring of couples in the blink of an eye as she runs through the crowd on the streets.
“Noela! Firano! (Move! You’re in the way!)”
Florin shouts as she had begun to exhort the pedestrians in Endrish rather than Dahl partway through, parting the crowd into two and charging forward.
She was like a wild, riotous horse or a fearless mountain rabbit. Ludwik was left further and further behind as he tried frantically not to lose sight of the flaxen hair jumping all over the place.
(You’re fast, too fast! Are you a champion sprinter or something!?)
As the clatter of the increasingly faraway festival fades and the number of people on the street thin out, Ludwik pushes his way into the forest chasing after Florin.
Luckily, it seems that Florin has never run through a forest before. Thanks to the protruding tree roots and thickets hindering her, Ludwik was finally able to catch up.
He grabs her small hand forcefully as if caught under a spell.
Having her hand suddenly grasped, Florin reddens her face as she complains,
“W, what is the matter with you?— I mean, what’s up with you? Doing something like this in the middle of an investigation—”
“I won’t do anything that you might misunderstand, so let me hold onto your hand. Otherwise, you’ll get lost in the forest.”
Ludwik appeals earnestly. Even if it’s impossible to stop this noble daughter who’s like a wild horse, he’s hoping she’ll at least let him bridle her. If he admits this out loud, he’ll probably be kicked in the face though.
Florin whimpers, clogging her voice.
“I, I’m not… suspecting anything, really. You’re someone who wouldn’t lay one finger onto a girl out of respect for her feelings even if you spend a night with her in the same room after all.
“Ehh, I’m not that nice—”
To spend a night with a girl he loves and not have anything happen is impossible. To Ludwik, whose words are clogged in his throat,
“But, it’s true that I’ve never gone so deep into a forest before…”
Florin admits as she fidgets bashfully,
“I, I’ve got it. If you say so, then I’ll offer you my hand. I mean, let you hold my hand…”
She says brusquely.
All the while, the golden-haired young man who had stolen the girl’s jewelry advances through the forest smoothly with the same ease that he navigated through the crowd with. Ludwik and Florin track him while hiding behind tree trunks and thickets.
“Tracking someone in the forest at night is just like “Paulette the Quick-Eared.” Paulette sneaks into the ogre castle deep within the forest all alone, you know?”
Florin whispers next to him with an animated voice. At first, she was feeling shy and timid from holding hands, letting Ludwik do all the work; yet now, she’s gripping Ludwik’s hand back tightly, and perhaps because she’s excited, her hand feels awfully hot.
From the fact that Florin still wasn’t scared at all despite coming this far, Ludwik felt his exasperation evolve into awe and even a sense of admiration.
“I’ll pray that there isn’t an ogre waiting for us ahead.”
“We’ll be fine even if that happens. Didn’t I tell you? I’ve escaped hell many times.”
“You’ve encountered an ogre before?”
“Well… only a pet cat that I used to keep back in the castle— I mean, back home. But, his name was ‘Assassin’, and he was a ferocious cat with black fur and silver eyes, you know?”
This is hopeless.
She isn’t a special knight after all; she’s just a naive daughter of some noble!
Eventually, past some black forestry, a brightly lit mansion came into sight.
“Perhaps that’s where the ogres live.”
Finding herself in the same situation as “Paulette the Quick-Eared”, Florin’s eyes suddenly begin to sparkle.
The golden-haired young man with a gentle-looking face heads straight towards the mansion.
Upon which, the shrubbery to the young man’s left and right rustle as three other men reveal themselves.
Two from the left, one from the right.
Including the young man Ludwik and Florin chased after, there are four men in total.
They’re all wearing masks and have golden hair that glitter in the dark night.
As Ludwik and Florin hide behind a thick tree and listen carefully, the golden-haired men greet each other familiarly.
“Oi, how did you do?”
“A big catch, as one would expect.”
“I got my hands on plenty as well. Looks like this golden-haired wig did work.”
“After all, it was rumored that King Ludwik would secretly come to the festival. The girls would all lose themselves in a daze upon seeing a young man with golden hair dressed in noble wear.”
“Long live His Majesty.”
They say to each other as they enter the mansion.
(My goodness. They stole jewelry from women while pretending to be me?)
If Adelheid finds out, she’ll rebuke, “That’s why I told Sire not to sneak away to town anymore, yet—“. As Ludwik begins to feel gloomy considering that,
“It’s His Majesty’s fault for fooling around with a flower girl then returning to the castle beyond cloud nine the next day. Because he deliberately told everyone that he had a wonderful encounter the night before, the girls ended up getting all excited thinking that that means they have a chance too. Living with such a cold queen must be very stressful, s, so I can understand having an urge to cut loose, but His Majesty is too lacking in judgment.”
Florin grumbles spitefully.
Ludwik is startled because Florin’s voice sounded just like Queen Katerina’s voice when she throws sharp words at him. Ludwik reflexively opens his mouth to try to defend himself—
However, he is frightened in a different way as Florin quickly lets go of his hand and speedily approaches the mansion.
(Uwahhhh, wait up, if you run so fast, you’ll—! Ah, ah, you’re already all the way over there.)
Florin appears to be searching for a window to see if she can peek inside. As Ludwik’s heart rings like an alarm, he catches up to Florin and pulls her into the shadow of the mansion with his hand.
“Let’s go back now. We can just report this place to the guards on duty.”
“No, we must acquire more decisive evidence.”
Florin unties herself from Ludwik’s hand and, would you believe it, begins to climb a large tree next to the mansion!
The edge of one of the branches is right next to a second-floor window.
“Climbing trees is a special skill of mine.”
She professes, and while Ludwik blinks his eyes repeatedly in disbelief, really does manage to climb up all the way, after which she crawls on her target branch until she was near its edge as it creaks.
Then, she daringly extends her head up to the window and peeks inside.
“We did it. They’re talking in the adjacent room. Lucky us.”
She mutters something that makes Ludwik’s heart pound pit-a-pat.
(Doesn’t that mean it’s extremely risky!?)
However, Florin doesn’t seem to think she’s in any danger at all as she cautiously shuffles herself forward a little more and extends her head up to the window again, straining her eyes through her mask.
“There are seven guys in total. Ah, they took off their masks.”
“Florin, come down. Let’s go back.”
Any more than this is truly a bad idea.
If they’re assaulted by seven thieves at once, a sheltered girl like Florin and a guy like Ludwik, who used to specialize in customer service at a dressmaker, have no chance of winning.
“I can’t see their faces very well from here. Grr, even though it’s a great opportunity with them taking their wigs off and relaxing.”
Becoming impatient, Florin crawls forward even more to the very edge of the branch, upon which
Above Ludwik’s head, a snap sounds.
Florin opens her eyes wide.
The next moment, the branch breaks off, causing Florin to fall with it.
Florin’s shriek and Ludwik’s cry overlap each other.
Ludwik extends his arms out, trying to catch Florin with his entire being. He successfully does so, but, unable to withstand the impact fully, falls on his butt while holding her in his arms before fully collapsing back onto the grass.
“Are you okay!? Ludy!”
The fall hurt Ludwik’s waist. Ludwik groans “urgh” in pain before managing to say,
“More importantly, we’ve gotta get out of here, or—”
Before he could finish speaking, the band of thieves had come running out of the mansion upon hearing their screams.
Just as Florin said, there are seven men in total. As they have removed their masks, their fiendish faces are on full display. They look laughably ill-suited for the frilly and gaudy noble wear they have on.
However, the two of them certainly didn’t have the time to laugh.
“Who are you two?!”
The fiendish men cautiously approach the two of them who remain stuck on the ground.
It’s a life-or-death situation!
Ludwik’s heart is pounding so hard he feels like it’ll pierce his rib cage and break out of his body. More than himself, he strongly feels that he needs to protect Florin, who’s biting her lips tightly with a pale face next to him.
Because Florin’s a girl, and he’s a man.
If he can’t protect a girl he has feelings for when it counts, how can he call himself a man?
Adelheid had said that women’s hearts skip a beat when they learn of talents men have that they didn’t expect.
Unfortunately, Ludwik is neither secretly a master swordsman nor a skilled brawler.
My special skill is—
Ludwik displays a business smile that he cultivated during his time as the young master of a dressmaker.
Refreshingly— yet also respectfully, Ludwik smiles at the thieves and addresses them with a cheerful voice.
Receiving an affectionate greeting unbefitting of the situation, the thieves stare blankly at Ludwik. Florin is also staring up at Ludwik with her eyes open wide.
Ludwik helps Florin up with a natural-looking gesture and nonchalantly positions himself in front of her while surveying the group of thieves with a smile. He discovers a young man among them wearing well-tailored, fine clothes.
The other men’s clothes look gaudy, but upon a closer look the cloth is of poor quality and the seams are loose here and there. These are proof that the sewing was done crudely. However, the tawny-haired young man’s clothes are different; both the quality and design are first-class.
Ludwik leans his head forward towards that young man with a full smile on his face.
“Uwahh, that shirt is sewn with silk made in Miltoria isn’t it! Miltorian silk is exclusively screen two times over in production and is the best silk one can get. Miltoria only exports a tiny amount of it, so I rarely ever get to see it, but as expected, its polish is simply on another level!
“Oh, right… I’m surprised you can tell. This shirt was made from Miltorian silk that I had specially ordered.”
The tawny-haired young man is drawn into the conversation.
“Your coat has Golg needlework, and I see that your pants are from the purveyor of luxury clothing that caters to nobles, Shiluria.”
You’re exactly right, and my shoes are a one-of-a-kind item from the shoe store Régal, made inhouse in their famous workshop.
“Régal, the shoe store dubbed the Shoemaker of the Gods!? And, you’re wearing their shoes perfectly with such grace too! I’m amazed, it’s truly a sight to behold!
“We—ll, I figured that if I’m going to assemble a set of top-notch clothes, my shoes would have to match as well.”
Just as Ludwik discerned, the tawny-haired young man is fastidious and confident about his fashion. The young man is seemingly in a thoroughly good mood, as he even lifts his feet up to show Ludwik his shoes.
However, there’s no way that the other thieves would just stay quiet.
“Oi, so what are you doing here in the end?”
“You’re not going to tell us you came this deep into the forest to discuss fashion are you?”
They say with precipitous voices.
“Of course not! She and I came to this mansion for a very important business.”
Ludwik replied in an earnest voice without a moment’s delay.
Ludwik makes a serious, focused face, upon which the thieves all lean forward in anticipation.
“Our father left us an inheritance hidden somewhere in this mansion!”
“The hell are you talking about?”
Towards the thieves looking at him with eyes full of suspicion, Ludwik nods in a broad motion as if to say, “I know what you’re all thinking.”
“Both my sister Katie and I couldn’t believe it as well. However, our father’s will clearly states that there are ten thousand Dahl gold coins hidden in this mansion. Katie, show everyone the coins.”
Ludwik turned toward Florin, who had her mouth open with a dumbfounded look, but upon Ludwik reaching out his hand, she took out a gold coin from her small silk bag and placed it on Ludwik’s hand.
“There are ten thousand of these somewhere here—”
Ludwik holds the gold coin between his thumb and index finger and shoves it in the thieves’ faces.
Of the coinage used universally throughout the continent, the one of the finest quality and worth the most, the Dahl coin made of one-hundred percent pure gold glitters in the moonlight.
The thieves’ faces
“Oi, this is the real thing!”
“There are more of these in this mansion?”
Ludwik nods even deeper.
“Correct, ten thousand in total.”
It’s a sum big enough to let everyone present live the rest of his life in luxury.
“Where in the mansion is it?”
“That’s what we were investigating.”
“And? Did you find it?”
The thieves stick their heads forward.
Ludwik grins sweetly,
“It’s where this—”
He says, lifting his arm straight up so as to make a display of the glittering Dahl gold coin.
“—gold coin lands.”
He finishes, throwing the coin forward as far as he could.
The glittering gold coin traces a parabola as it cuts through the air before landing between a dense group of trees by the back of the mansion.
The thieves reflexively run towards that direction.
Ludwik grabs Florin’s hand and begins running in the opposite direction.
Shortly afterward, he lets go of her hand and yells,
“You’re faster than me, go on ahead!”
Florin takes his hand back, gripping it strongly.
Realizing that the two of them have run away, the thieves come chasing after them. Ludwik ran through the night forest with all his being while holding onto Florin’s hand.
Fortunately for them, the clouds begin to cover the moon, thickening the darkness of the night.
If they can blend into the darkness and lose the thieves—
However, the thieves’ voices continue to press closer.
Faster! I have to run faster!
Once they make it out of the forests, they’ll arrive at a road where there’ll be people passing by. Due to the festival, there are more guards on duty patrolling than usual as well, so they may be able to find one.
Ludwik’s breath is running out, and his heart is pounding against his rib cage.
The small hand he’s grasping tightly onto is blazing hot.
Even though Florin could run away much faster alone… As Ludwik grinds his teeth lamenting how slow and weak he is,
It seems she stumbled on the root of a tree.
Her delicate body began to fall away from Ludwik.
Ludwik, who tried to stop her by pull her back, also ended up losing his footing, causing the two of them to fall forward.
Their voices overlap as they flop onto the grass on top of each other and roll freely downhill until they hit a thicket, which began to brake their motion.
Small leaves and twigs rustle as they scrape against Ludwik’s face and arms. Ludwik wraps his arms tightly around Florin so as to shield her. Florin’s small face is pressed against his chest right above his heart.
Right after they finally stop rolling,
“Where’d they go?!”
“I heard a voice just now!”
The thieves’ footsteps and voices rang close by.
Florin’s body stiffens.
As if to say, “Don’t worry, I’m here.” in encouragement, Ludwik hugs Florin tighter in response.
The moon is still hidden by the clouds.
The forest that they can faintly see through a gap in the thicket is pitch black. The thieves’ footsteps and their violent voices can be heard clearly.
“Fuck, those two brats are quick.”
“Let’s see if they’re over there.”
“Rather, the ones left behind looking for where the gold coin landed better not be thinking of splitting the treasure among themselves without us.”
“Yeah, I can see them doing that. Let’s search around just a little longer then hurry on back.”
“Yeah, it’s not like those little punks can do anything to us anyway.”
“After all, we have——– behind us after all.”
The sound of the thieves’ voices begin to fade away.
Ludwik had held his breath while holding Florin tightly against him as he had listened to their exchange.
Florin didn’t move an inch as she rolled herself up into a ball as tightly as possible in Ludwik’s arms. Florin’s body feels delicate and terribly soft, and her face right above Ludwik’s heart feels hot just like her hand that he had held onto until they fell.
Her slender legs are entangled with his own.
Is this elegant and pleasant fragrance mixed with the scent of leaves coming from Florin’s nape and hair?
I feel like I’ve smelled this same fragrance somewhere before… perhaps it’s a fragrance that’s popular among the girls right now.
(It’s very… pleasant.)
Even though they’re not out of the woods yet, just taking in that fragrance is making Ludwik relax.
That Florin is entrusting herself fully to him, staying completely still in his arms made Ludwik drunk with powerful feelings of love.
As he ruminated over how, when he told her to go on ahead and let go of her hand, Florin said, “I refuse.” and took his hand back, Ludwik felt like his throbbing heart was being filled with thick, sweet syrup— Even after the sound of the thieves’ footsteps were completely gone, Ludwik continued to embrace Florin.
Who knows how much time had passed, before—
“Ludy… are you alive?”
Florin, who was still clinging onto Ludwik, muttered apprehensively.
“Yeah, I’m alive.”
Ludwik answers with a serene voice, upon which she let out a sigh as if relieved.
Ludwik crawled out of the thicket first while keeping his eyes out. After confirming that the coast is clear, he let Florin know and gently helped her up as she came out of the thicket.
Florin’s mask is a bit askew, sliding down her face to one side.
Ludwik discreetly adjusts her mask for her, upon which Florin nervously trembles her shoulders slightly. Because the darkness is thick right now as the moon is being covered by the clouds, Ludwik couldn’t discern her face clearly when her mask was askew, but it seemed like she has an elegant, beautiful face.
Along with the color of her eyes, that her facial features and tone of voice seem to resemble Queen Katerina must be because they’re both from the Northern Empire.
Although, Queen Katerina probably wouldn’t chase after thieves and climb trees to peek into their hideout.
Ludwik began to worry that once the clouds disperse, letting the moonlight through, the thieves might find them, upon which cold sweat began to run down his back anew.
Even after he had adjusted her mask, Florin continued fidgeting with her head down. Maybe she’s still nervous.
“Are you okay? Does it hurt anywhere?”
Ludwik inquires, upon which, looking a little embarrassed,
She replies curtly.
“Let’s go then.”
Ludwik offers her his hand, upon which she wriggles a little again as she grasps his hand tightly, causing Ludwik’s chest to grow hot once again.
So that Florin wouldn’t stumble over any tree roots or rocks or be scratched by any twigs, Ludwik walks just a little in front as the two of them advance through the pitch dark forest.
Even though when they came, Ludwik was the one frantically trying to stop Florin who was charging forward like a wild horse recklessly, now, he’s the one leading Florin as they take their time walking discreetly through the forest.
That Florin is someone dear to him that he must protect is a sentiment that has been vibrating within Ludwik’s heart since when he voluntarily confronted the band of thieves.
Eventually, they finally make it out of the forest and onto a road.
When the moon which had been covered by the clouds once again began to illuminate the ground—
A young woman dressed in a knight’s uniform approached from the opposite side on horseback.
Looking dignified with her hair tied into a ponytail on top of the back of her head— she’s the female knight that tumbled down in front of Ludwik’s carriage during the coronation parade!
Ludwik had heard that her name is Evelyn.
He sees her from time to time within the castle as well. When Ludwik would greet her, saying, “Hey there, thanks for your hard work”, she would abruptly straighten her back with a beet red face.
“G-good morning! Your Majesty.”
She would reply in a shrill voice.
It’d be bad if she recognizes me, but we’re still lucky that she just happens to be passing by.
With a voice purposefully deeper than usual,
“Miss, there’s a band of thieves hiding in a mansion in this forest.”
He stops her and explains the situation, upon which
“What! They must be the perpetrators of the thefts that the girls at the festival were reporting! I’m sorry, but could you two come to the main office of the guards with me?”
She said, after which she briskly guided the two of them to the main office of the guards, seeming not to notice that Ludwik is the king. Though Ludwik had thought that she seemed unreliable from the fiasco at the parade, seeing her gallantly take charge and do her job with zeal made Ludwik reevaluate.
In the main office located in the town, the girls who were victims of theft at the festival were demanding that the guards hurry in finding the thieves and returning their lost jewelry.
“My treasured pearl necklace was taken from me!”
“Get me my earring back!”
“Even though he was a young man with blond hair, so I was certain he was His Majesty!”
They strain their voices simultaneously.
The one that particularly stood out even among the flashy bunch was a young woman with curled, ruby red hair wearing an extravagant dress and a mask embedded with a gemstone.
“That diamond ring is our family treasure! It’s an item with rich history that most of the mediocre jewelry out there can’t even hope to compare to, do you understand?!”
The girl presses the guards for an answer.
As soon as Evelyn saw her,
The young woman with red hair turned around with a start, upon which
“You’re the daughter of Duke Folma, The—”
Evelyn begins to say but is charged at with frightening speed and has her mouth sealed by the palm of the girl’s extended hand.
“What are you saying, I wonder? I’ve never met someone from an upstart family like you even once in my life before. Nor am I related in any way to the family of a duke.
Evelyn glares at the red-haired girl as she tries to shake off the girl’s hand. In response, the red-haired girl presses down even harder on Evelyn’s mouth as if to say, “I won’t let you.”
As the two unfolded a battle of offense and defense, Ludwik and Florin were sent to another room.
There, Ludwik and Florin were asked about the band of thieves and their hideout mansion by the commanding officer of the guards.
“Please describe their features as best you can.”
“Could I borrow a pencil and some paper?”
Ludwik is handed paper and a pencil as requested, upon which he quickly and fluently sketches each of the thieves’ faces one after the other, upon which the guards start to stir, inadvertently gasping “Ooohh.” in amazement.
Each time Ludwik finished a sketch,
“Oi, isn’t that Sheeta the Swindler?”
“This here is Gustaf the Pickpocket.”
The guards exclaim one after the other.
When Ludwik finished his last sketch, the one of the young man dressed in posh clothes,
The commanding officer exclaimed as his face turned pale.
He gulped, and opening his mouth hesitantly,
“This looks somewhat like… the third son of the merchant Elmond. No, it’s his spitting image.”
Speaking of Elmond, he’s the wealthy merchant who’s been cozying up to Duke Walter, a powerful duke who’s displeased that Ludwik ascended the throne. Adelheid did mention before that Elmond had been gaining influence lately.
So the wealthy merchant’s third son is a member of a band of thieves?
(Now that I think about it, the thieves who chased after us said something like that they have a big wig behind them.)
Though he couldn’t catch the name that they said, that name might have been Elmond. It’d be no laughing matter if Elmond’s been gaining influence from secretly being in bed with criminals.
The commanding officer and his subordinates all suddenly have a complicated look on their faces,
“Elmond is close to Duke Walter. If we arrest Elmond’s son and it turns out to have been a mistake…”
“What should we do, captain? If an important person is involved, we can’t easily take action at our own discretion.”
“Dammit, even though we even have a sketch as proof.”
The guards’ voices are filled with bitterness.
Ludwik opens his mouth,
“Please dispatch soldiers to the forest immediately.”
Florin, who had been looking vexed next to Ludwik, looks up at him with an expression of astonishment.
The guard officers also begin staring at Ludwik all at once.
Returning their gazes with a composed look in his eyes, Ludwik said,
“Elmond will surely rely on Duke Walter. To Duke Walter, Elmond is an important source of funding, so it’s very likely that he’ll try to cover things up for Elmond. However, when that happens—”
Facing the officers who are listening attentively with a perplexed look on their faces, Ludwik declares in a refreshingly cool voice,
“King Ludwik will intervene.”
Florin gulps down a tiny breath, and the guards open their eyes wide as well.
Ludwik slackens his mouth,
“If something happens, please talk to Adelheid, the grand chamberlain. She’ll definitely hear you out.”
Adelheid will gladly turn the gears in her head if there’s an opportunity to reduce Duke Walter’s power.
The captain inquires with a choked voice,
“J, just who are… that golden hair and those green eyes… don’t tell me—”
Ludwik takes Florin’s hand.
Florin blushes as she gracefully curls the fingers of her white hand around Ludwik’s.
After which, the two turn toward the officers, who are being overwhelmed by the noble aura they’re exuding. Ludwik announces in a bright, ringing voice,
“We’re the king’s special knights.”
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