‘If I were useless to you, would you treat me coldly?’
Fii waited for his answer.
Her heart pounded as her chest clenched.
(I’d hate it if he said yes…)
Even though she was the one who asked, those were her feelings right now.
York held his chin in his hands and began to think.
After about thirty seconds, he turned to Fii and spoke.
“Even if you ask me that, the person we’re talking about is somebody incredibly talented even for a knight. Somebody who constantly strives to overcome their weaknesses, and endeavours not just for my sake, but for everyone’s. You. You help lighten mood in our division as well, and I also feel comfortable when I’m around you. You’re a valuable person who there isn’t a replacement for. So trying to imagine a you that isn’t any of those things just isn’t possible for me. That’s why I don’t know what to tell you.”
His words caused her cheeks to suddenly heat up.
She even had to desperately stop herself from grinning.
“D-, Don’t think you can avoid the question by praising me, okay!”
In order to hide it, Fii tried to seem angry.
“I-, I see. Sorry.”
Why was she angry.
His expression betrayed his total lack of understanding.
Truly the ultimate dullard.
After thinking for a while, he muttered “Ah,” in realisation.
“But that doesn’t mean that I’d abandon knights that stop working because of injury, you know. They’re the heroes of our nation. I would never treat them with anything but welcome. I don’t want you to get injured, and I intend on taking care to keep you that way, so you can rest assured.”
“That’s really not what I meant… Geez…”
With her face still beet red, Fii slumped her shoulders and let out a tired sigh.
All her fervour had disappeared somehow.
In the end, it was no good…
As long as York himself didn’t think it was important to treat girls well, they would never really solve this.
Still, as his loyal subordinate, she felt it was necessary to advise him.
“Then, as your subordinate, I’d like to ask a favour of you. Please treat girls as gently as you can.”
Upon hearing her words, York fell into thought for a moment. His folded arms trembled, and his brows twitched, but he managed to squeeze out an answer.
“I-, I’ll see…”
Even Fii was resigned at this point.
(Does he really hate spending time on women that much…?)
Just imagining it had caused York to tremble painfully.
Well, it was true that the Captain was very busy, and she also felt sorry for him in this respect. But Fii felt that it would be a problem in all sorts of ways if it continued.
Even if it didn’t affect his duties as a knight, it would be all sorts of problems once he got married.
(But I think that the Captain might change once he finds a girl he wants to be gentle to. It’s such a shame… I think even the Captain would change if he met a wonderful girl like Fiiru…)
Unfortunately, Fiiru was married.
Getting into an affair with His Majesty’s wife would probably be bad news even for the Captain.
Since Fii couldn’t think of any other way of changing him, she was forced to put it aside for now.
But she swore in her mind. That if one day there was a wonderful girl who could change him, at that time, Fii would take action once more.
Kain was troubled…
Well, rather, he had been troubled for a long time now, but now another new trouble was added to that mountain.
Kain’s gaze was directed at Princess Fii, who was leaving the 18th Division gathering place.
Kain immediately began to move.
While suppressing his presence, he relocated to the usual location.
“Kain-saaan! I’ve come to play~!”
No sooner had Princess Fii stopped before a certain tree did she immediately move to climb it.
Before she could, Kain leapt down from his tree. A clean, silent landing.
The moment Princess Fii saw him, her face spread into a smile.
“Kain-san, I’ve come to play!”
‘Didn’t you just say that?’
Kain didn’t say that though.
He had something more important to say.
“Heath-kun, didn’t I tell you not to climb trees? It’s dangerous.”
“Yes, but I climb walls all the time, so it’s a bit late for that, you know?”
Her words seemed to stab into him.
True. She climbed walls all the time.
It was his fault for teaching her the grass skill of wall-scaling.
Naturally, it was even more dangerous than climbing a tree. Kain had even taught her various other things, like rolling to break one’s fall.
It had long passed the point where he could warn her about the dangers of tree-climbing.
“True, but there’s no harm in being careful.”
“Yes, I’ll climb carefully.”
He actually meant that she shouldn’t climb at all…
Kain placed his hand to his forehead.
“More importantly, Kain-san, I came to play! Please teach me a new skill!”
Her words caused sweat to flow down his back again.
This was what had been troubling him.
Princess Fii who he had become acquainted with. Just like what she was doing now, Princess Fii would frequently come find him to ‘play’.
But that wasn’t the problem. Well, it was, but there was a bigger one.
The real problem was what her ‘playing’ entailed.
Each time Princess Fii came here, she came to learn his skills.
“Heath-kun, the skills of a grass aren’t a game…”
“Ah, yes, that’s true. I’m sorry! I’ll take the lessons seriously!”
(No… That’s not what I mean… If possible, I don’t want you to learn at all.)
For some reason his warning had been met with an enthusiastic reply.
Kain didn’t know what to do any more.
She was technically a VIP.
If possible, he wanted her to have nothing to do with danger.
People often said that trouble would mysteriously find those who possessed dangerous skills.
Perhaps it was mere superstition. Those who needed to learn these skills were doing dangerous things to begin with.
Even so, normally she should have been living peacefully and elegantly, surrounded by maids and guards. When he thought about how he was teaching these kinds of skills to her, he simply couldn’t stop the anxiety.
If possible, he really didn’t want to teach them to her…
But this girl would always come here to learn them, like visiting her favourite restaurant on a Sunday.
Thanks to that, most of his grass skills had been passed on to Her Highness the Second Queen.
And the safer, just barely skills were something he was all out of. By this point, all he had left were aggressive grass combat techniques and the skills for hidden weapons.
Those were definitely impossible to teach her, he thought.
“Kain-san, what will today’s technique be?”
But Princess Fii’s eyes were sparkling as she happily awaited her lesson.
She seemed to have no doubts at all that he would agree.
And as long as His Majesty’s orders were still valid, Kain had no choice but to teach her.
(I am a grass… To protect the nation, I carry out His Majesty’s commands to the letter…
Mum, Dad… Is this really necessary…?)
His parents didn’t reply. They had always been silent people.
Kain stopped reminiscing about his parents and forced himself to face reality.
At any rate, it was a fact that he had to teach her. Therefore, he hoped for something as safe as possible.
What should he do…
At that moment, a certain idea came to mind.
“Heath-kun, what kind of technique do you want to learn?”
It didn’t see much use with grass, but it was a trading technique to probe the other’s desires first.
Going by their previous interactions, Kain would suggest some safe skill, and Princess Fii would reject him. Kain would compromise and name something else, but Princess Fii would shake her head again. Most of the time, he would eventually teach her something dangerous.
But if he asked her what she wanted first, then at least there wouldn’t be increasingly dangerous proposals.
Perhaps he could even persuade her towards safety.
Even if her suggestion was a little dangerous, he could just modify it a little to make it safer.
Kain nodded, impressed with his own idea.
If Princess Fii asked for a non-grass skill, that would be even better. He had no problem with teaching her the skills of a regular soldier.
Placing a finger against her lips, Princess Fii thought for a while.
And then, turning towards Kain with a brilliant smile, she spoke.
“I want to learn assassination techniques!”
Fii’s bombshell struck Kain without mercy.
Chapter 73 – The Manliness Rankings
It happened on a day a little while after Doug and Fii started getting along.
When Fii headed to a break area, she discovered that a lot of boys were gathering around some piece of paper, kicking up some kind of fuss. Even Gorms, Slad and Remié were there.
They seemed to be having a lot of fun.
“Whatcha looking at? Show me too!”
So Fii came over as well.
“Mn? It has nothing to do with you, Heath.”
“Yep, yep. There’s not much meaning even if you get involved Heath.”
“Yeah, I think it would be better if you ignored this, Heath.”
However, their attitudes were awfully cold. Or rather than cold, dismissive, perhaps.
Being the only one excluded made Fii frown and puff up her cheeks.
“What the heck! Why am I the only one excluded!”
She jumped up and pinched Gorms’ cheek.
“Owowow, what the heck did I do!”
“Shut up! The moment you tried leaving me out, you were guilty of the same crime!”
“Alright, alright already! If you wanna see, then see!”
The apprentice knights hurriedly handed a piece of paper to the kicking and screaming Fii.
Fii took it into her hands and had a look.
It was a list of everyone in the Northern Dormitory as well as a bunch of numbers next to their names. And at the top, a certain title was visible.
“Man… liness… rankings…?” she asked in confusion.
“The Manliness Rankings,” corrected another apprentice knight.
“It’s a ranking to decide who the manliest of all is in the Northern Dormitory.”
“The person who takes first place is the one who wins.”
“That’s why it doesn’t have much to do with you Heath.”
Fii suddenly felt very offended.
Manliness? Of course she had that!
Thumping her chest, she declared,
“As wide as this nation may be, there are few knights as manly as I am, you know. At the top are Captain York, Palwick-san, and then probably me, okay!”
“No way, dude…”
It was so exaggerated that nobody knew how to respond.
Even Fii thought that perhaps she boasted just a little much. The anger from being left out had gotten her excited.
Still, she hadn’t thought that she had been too far off the mark. After all, all the maids had been kicking a fuss over her recently.
Fii had absolute confidence that she had manliness in her too.
“Anyway, I’m joining in. I’ll show you just how manly I am!”
“You sure? The person who gets last is gunna get a punishment game.”
“By the way, I’ve been last every time so far…” added Remié.
His shoulders were drooped, and his eyes were a bit wet.
Because of his gentle personality and rather cute appearance, it couldn’t be helped that he was low in rankings like this.
Even Fii was confident that she could beat Remié.
“No problem. After all, it’s impossible for me to lose to Remie! I’ll join! Far from losing, I’m aiming for top place!”
Ignoring the shocked Remié, the apprentice who had explained the game to Fii suddenly crossed his arms in a manly way and then declared in a deep and manly voice,
“Alright, got it! Heath will also be participating in the Northern Dormitory’s Fourth Manliness Ranking. Is everyone fine with that?”
Each apprentice knight bellowed their response as they posed in a manly fashion, and thus, Fii’s participation in the Northern Dormitory Manliness Rankings was settled.
“Alright. There are the rules.”
Apparently, even this Manliness Rankings competition had some rules.
Fii took a seat and listened attentively.
“The period for the competition is roughly a month. First, every participant starts with 500 points. During the month, you distribute those 500 points to people who you think are manly. The person who ends up with the most points is the one who is accepted as the manliest man.”
The rules were simple and clear.
In other words, you competed in manliness while getting others to acknowledge it.
The boy who explained things handed Fii a new piece of paper.
It was different to the rankings paper from before.
Neat lines were drawn along the page, and there were two columns for names and one for reasons, as well as various other details.
“Use this paper when you want to hand points over. You don’t have to write the reason, but it’s better to.”
“Because handing over points is also manly. That’s why if you give a manly reason, you can instead get manliness points from others.”
Fii was impressed. So handing over points was a strategy as well.
She asked the boy a question.
“Can you give yourself points?”
In that case, it would be entirely easy to avoid the punishment game.
“It isn’t against the rules. But it’s not a manly thing to do. You’ll stop getting points from the others. It would become impossible to aim for the top.”
“A guy who gives himself points because he’s afraid of a punishment isn’t manly at all.”
“A guy who gives points to someone else even though there’s a risk of the punishment game is what real manliness is about.”
The two boys around her seemed to be boasting of their own manliness.
To be honest, Fii thought that the rules were full of holes, but to these manly boys, it was apparently not a problem.
“Also, you can transfer the points you’ve gotten to someone else.”
“Transfer? Is there really anyone who would do that?”
Fii couldn’t think of any benefits at all.
“No, transferring your points to someone else is pretty manly too. Even if it drops your rankings this time, you can expect your rankings to rise next round.”
“Transferring all your points to someone else, and waiting for the next round at the bottom. It’s pretty damned manly!”
(It sounds like a plain idiot to me…)
It sounded like a valid strategy to the boys.
“But nobody has ever done it, so I’ve been last every time…”
Unfortunately, Remié stated the reality.
In the end, it was just an interesting idea, and nobody had ever actually done it.
“Whoa, whoa, contenting yourself with being last three times in a row is pretty manly too, yanno. I’ll give you ten points.”
“Mn. I’m impressed that you haven’t tried protecting yourself after three times in despair. I’ll give you ten points as well.”
With that, a number of boys wrote the lamenting Remié’s name on the Fourth Round paper.
“T-, Thank youuu…” he said with moist eyes.
Perhaps he would finally be able to escape last place…
“By the way, Zerius has been 1st, three times in a row.”
“Right now everyone is saying that he’s got the best chance of winning the Fourth Round too.”
Zerius was often the topic of the maids’ discussions, but right now he wasn’t in the break room.
“That guy is seriously manly, after all.”
Another apprentice knight folded his arms as he nodded to himself in thought.
“Yeah. Even I have to acknowledge his manliness.”
This time, it was Gorms’ turn to fold his arms and nod with a difficult expression.
“Even the way he drinks milk is manly. I was freaking shocked…”
“He’s the only one I think is impossible to beat.”
“He’s probably always gunna be 1st, so people have been saying that they’re aiming for 2nd instead.”
“He’s like the embodiment of manliness.”
The boys all praised Zerius one after another.
Fii looked at the name sitting magnificently at first place.
Zerius, who Fii knew as well, was apparently the absolute king of the manliness rankings.
But well, even Fii could assent. That was simply how manly the boy named Zerius was.
He would definitely become a hindrance on Fii’s path to the top.
Looking at the rest of the names, she found that Gorms was pretty high up at 5th place, as was Gheith who was at 6th. Slad was decent as well, at 12th place.
And Fii suddenly spotted Doug’s ranking too.
The moment she called out this name, a boy began trembling behind her.
“Why did you join in without telling me?”
On the Round Three ranking sheet, Doug’s name was clearly there. It was around 22nd place.
The reason people voted for him were things like
“He’s got some dumb parts to him, but he’s manly.”
“When he gets bossed around by Heath, he reminds me of my dad.”
Even though he joined the Northern Dormitory after Fii did, he had the gall to participate before her.
And not only that, he kept it a secret from her as well.
The dark-skinned boy was glared at by the small one―――who was a girl inside―――and blurted out in panic,
“N-, No, I mean… I thought it wouldn’t have much to do you with… I mean you’re…”
She stopped him from blurting out her secret with a glare.
Naturally, Doug saw Fii as a girl. How could he have ever imagined that she would want to participate.
But Fii didn’t understand his thoughts at all.
She glared viciously at Doug.
“I’ll punish you later.”
A decisive declaration.
Doug simply dropped his shoulders and hung his head.
That evening, the apprentice knights invited Fii to come along as they left the castle.
“Sure. Sounds good,” she answered with a smile, before going to invite Doug as well.
“Doug, let’s go~”
Fii beckoned with her hand, and Doug trotted along from behind.
Everyone was already used to the sight. That’s why nobody even commented. In fact, when they wanted to invite either of them, it was already natural to ask Fii for permission instead.
The meeting place was the northern castle gate. When she arrived, Fii spotted some familiar faces.
Gorms, Slad, and Remié were there too.
Gheith had injured his leg recently which was why he wasn’t going out too often.
“Looks like we’re all here.”
Altogether, it was a huge group of eleven.
“Well then, shall we go?” prompted Slad.
At that moment, a band of knights passed through the gate.
Crow and Orbull were amongst them.
“Are you guys heading for town?”
“We’re heading to Lowtown!”
Since Crow asked so amiably, the apprentice knights replied happily.
Crow was just well-known. He was originally an apprentice knight, so before he entered the 18th Division, he had been making waves in the 1st.
He still helped out in various places, so pretty much everyone in the order knew him.
Since their senpais knew Crow, naturally the apprentice knights would get chances to speak to him too.
Not only that, but Fii was in the Northern Dorm.
Since Crow often came to speak to Fii, the other apprentices spoke to him too.
“Come back before it gets too late. Also, please look after our Heath! Take care that he doesn’t get lost somewhere.”
“Please don’t speak like I’m a little kid.”
Fii glared at him with narrowed eyes for treating her like some kid that was tagging along.
As for Doug, who was standing next to her, he looked excited and happy to see Crow.
York was the knight he admired the most, but apparently he admired Crow too.
(What a fickle bastard…) thought Fii.
But Crow was the idol of pretty much all the apprentice knights, so all the boys were happy as well.
He had the one flaw of being a playboy, but he was strong and talented, his looks were good, his personality was great, and he was good at looking after others too. It would be stranger if they didn’t admire him.
And also, even though Crow’s talks about women made them blush, the boys all listened attentively.
To the boys, being a playboy wasn’t a bad thing perhaps, Fii mused.
After talking a little to the other knights too, Fii’s group finally decided to head out.
“See ya then.”
Crow and the knights smiled as they watched their kouhai head off, so the apprentices waved goodbye.
Orbull wrote “Have fun.” on his signboard too.
“Kuh! Crow-san really is so cool,” exclaimed Slad, still thinking about the encounter.
Doug’s tanned cheeks flushed a little red, and he nodded along as well.
Since they were all closer now they knew, but Doug was a taciturn type. He would talk when it counted―――for example, when he first entered the Northern Dorm―――but otherwise, he would usually just listen and give small comments.
Apparently he was the type who couldn’t speak unless he planned out what to say in advance.
But even though he didn’t talk much, his face did all his talking for him. Since you could immediately tell what he was thinking, he never had trouble communicating.
Nobody was sure whether that was a good or bad thing for Doug though.
“I wanna get strong and popular like Crow-san too.”
“It’s impossible for you.”
The boys all began to talk about Crow.
“I wanna be strong like Orbull-san,” said Gorms alone.
“Oh? So you admire Orbull-san then,” commented Fii.
Everyone had lots of knights that they admired, but Fii loved Orbull too, so her ears had perked up.
“Yeah. He’s amazing. In terms of power, he’s probably without equal. But despite that, he’s fast too, and he has good technique. He’s great with using all kinds of equipment, so if I had to follow in someone’s footsteps, it’s his.”
Admittedly, Gorms’ figure was similar to Orbull’s. Although Orbull was still a size bigger, and unlike Gorms, who had the face of a villain, Orbull-san’s was visibly kind.
Everyone had their own goals and idols.
Fii’s was the Captain… Or so she wanted to say, but she knew that it was impossible to become like him.
That’s why she set a more realistic goal.
“I guess I’d pick Kain-san.”
“Who the heck is that?”
“You know, he’s the one that’s always hiding in the treetops, and who for some reason always hides his mouth. He’s really kind.”
“Hidings in the treetops?”
“He hides his face?”
“Is that really a knight…?”
Apparently nobody knew about him. Even though Captain York, Crow-san, Orbull-san, and Palwick-san were so famous…
“Muu, he’s so really cool though…”
Fii puffed her cheeks unhappily and swore that she would one day make Kain-san known to them.
While the the boys chatted about this and that, they headed towards the lower parts of town.
It wasn’t rare for them to wander about here, and some of the familiar shopkeepers waved to them.
About thirty percent of the apprentice knights were from noble families while the other seventy percent consisted of commoners. Well, commoners and people with dubious backgrounds like Fii.
Out of the people Fii was close to, it was Doug and Remié that were nobles. Gorms, Slad, and Gheith were from Lowtown.
Perhaps because commoners formed the majority, the apprentice knights most frequented Lowtown. It was most appropriate for their salary as well, so even the apprentices from noble backgrounds became used to it.
But well, once they got a little older like Crow-san and their salaries increased a little, many would start going to more mature stores though.
Anyway, although they were heading to Lowtown today, their destination was a little different this time.
Fii suddenly realised that she hadn’t asked where they were going.
She had thought for sure that they’d be shopping or something, but they were headed in a different direction to the shopping district.
“Hey, where are we going by the way?”
The boys replied.
“Aah, did we not mention? Today we’re all going to the sauna.”
“It’s a bit lonely just bathing everyday, yanno?”
“Recently this cheap place appeared, so we all decided to go.”
In other words, taking off your clothes, entering a room filled with steam, and sweating your body clean…
And, very obviously, something that everyone entered together…
Fii was in trouble now.
And of course. It was impossible to enter the sauna with them and not have her sex revealed. She had really gotten careless.
Fii had to break out of this somehow.
(I’ll use Doug, and then find a natural excuse to go home…)
Thinking this, she turned towards Doug but found him blue in the face, opening and closing his mouth as he shook his head in great panic.
(Why is he more panicked than me…)
He was being so obvious with his dismay that Fii could even hear him muttering, “What do I do? What do I do?”
Before anybody noticed, Fii struck her elbow into his side and whispered at him to compose himself.
Her voice finally calmed him down, and he nodded repeatedly in understanding.
Although he was still sweating everywhere and his eyes were wider than usual, at the very least it wasn’t as obvious as before.
For now, Doug had settled down.
Fii now understood painfully well that she couldn’t rely on Doug.
His honest personality made him easy to manipulate, but he was useless in any complex plans that required lying.
While calming him down, Fii concluded that she had to break out of his crisis with her own strength.
To be honest, she wanted to go too.
Fii had only used a sauna a few times before, but it was more relaxing than bathing in cold water, and it was better for fatigue too.
In that case, she could just go later. Perhaps it might not be bad to go with just Doug.
“Speaking of which, there’s a book I want. Can we stop by the bookstore?” asked one of the members.
“Yeah, sounds good. We still have plenty of time.”
It was around 5 right now.
The apprentices didn’t have a curfew, but if they stayed out too late, they would get an earful from their instructor. Normally it would be better to get back before the dining hall closed at 9.
Leaving the dirt-paved road of Lowtown, they entered a back lane between the mess of wooden houses.
The area looked similar to the dangerous place Fii went to with Conrad-san, but the atmosphere was totally different.
The voices of children and women came from houses and street corners, and she could hear the sound of hawkers in shops. The whole place was lively and cheerful.
This was where Slad and Gheith had grown up.
Since they knew the place well, they smoothly navigated the labyrinthine paths without a worry.
To Fii, Doug, Remié, and the like, although they had come along often, they still weren’t too familiar with the streets. Because of that, they just obediently followed those who had grown up here.
After making a number of turns, an old wooden building was visible at the end of a small path.
Its merchandise comprised worn out old books and simple booklets made from paper and glue.
The booklets were like the halfway mark between hastily made newspapers and properly printed books. Those who grew up here called them ‘scraplets’, and they were apparently well acquainted.
The older books were placed further inside while scraplets lined the front of the store.
A white-haired old man owned the place.
“Oh, found it, found it. It’s this, it’s this,” cried the boy who wanted to come here.
He had immediately looked over the scraplets and happily picked one out from there.
“More of these silly scraplets? Read a proper book for once,” scolded the old man.
“What’s your problem. You’re the one who sells them. And I even brought a bunch of knight friends to an shop like this. Geez, be thankful once in a while,” grumbled the boy.
Apparently the two were acquainted.
“Oohh, welcome to my humble shop. It’s small, and only sells second hand books, but please have a look,” bowed the old man when he noticed the aristocrat apprentice knights.
Perhaps because of her appearance, he mistook Fii for a noble as well. Officially she was just a commoner though.
Still, nobody bothered correcting him, so Fii didn’t care either. She wasn’t exactly a noble, but royalty was very similar.
“Keh! I’m your regular, but look at how you treat me.”
“What I really want to sell are just these old books. People who read nothing but those vulgar scraplets aren’t real customers.”
“Shaddap! It’s these damned scraplets that you’re living on!”
Although their words were harsh, everyone could tell they were close, so everybody ignored them and browsed the books.
It was at places like these that a person’s tastes would really show.
Slad and the other Lowtown apprentices were looking at nothing but scraplets. Most of the commoner boys from other areas were the same.
Remié and Doug were more interested in the old books. The two of them just seemed better bred.
Remié liked a lot of things, so he had a look at cooking books and various novels, but Doug was looking at nothing but novels about knights.
Gorms looked at both the scraplets and the books. When he did look at the books, they were mostly things like books on military history or tricks to strengthening your body.
Since Fii didn’t have any particular tastes, she just went to see if they sold the books that the Captain and the others at the 18th recommended to her.
After browsing for about half an hour and talking to the shopkeeper, in the end it was only the first boy, Slad, and Remié that bought anything.
They felt a little apologetic, but the old shopkeeper didn’t seem to mind. He saw them off with a smile.
They had been rather welcomed.
“What did you buy?” Fii asked Remié.
It turns out he had bought a book on embroidery. He liked plush toys but was too embarrassed to buy them. Apparently making them himself was his new goal.
(Looks like he’ll be last on the rankings as well, this time.)
As for Slad, he had apparently bought the new instalment of some action story.
Speaking of which, his room had a lot of these scraplets. Scraplets were only held together with glue, so it didn’t take long for them to fall apart. But Slad took care of him, and the old scraplets on his shelf were still pristine and readable.
“Is it interesting?”
“Yeah, it’s super interesting. Want me to lend you the series?”
As for what the first boy had bought―――
“What the heck…”
“It’s a book with rumours and occult stories from different countries!”
Just a look at his scraplet was enough to see all kinds of suspicious lines.
『Suspicions regarding the circumstances of Prince Domash’s accidental death! It was no accident, it was an assassination!』
『A mysterious person who appears on street corners. The truth behind Balsmashshootman!』
『Unloved by the King, and locked in the inner palace! The grudge that drives the vengeful spirit of the second queen to roam the Capital each night!』
A glance was enough to tell that they were all incredibly fake-looking.
But the boys all read through it with sparkling eyes.
“Oooh! Amazing! They’ve apparently confirmed the existence of a mysterious giant creature in Borden Lake!”
“Ooohh! That one that people have been talking about?”
“In other words they’re f-, finally planning to capture it!?”
“Yeah. Apparently the survey team is recruiting people right now. And apparently amongst the members is the legendary hunter, Luvisess, as well!”
“UOHHHHH! I WANNA JOIN TOO!”
Fii had a look and listened in, but when she saw the boys getting engrossed over obviously fake stories, she couldn’t help but feel astounded. Fii now understood how the old shopkeeper felt a little.
In the end, Fii ended up at the sauna without any ideas.
The problem hadn’t changed from an hour ago.
At this rate, she would have to enter the sauna with everyone else.
Not only that, but Doug was reaching the limits of his composure.
“What’s wrong, Doug? You’re all fidgety. Haha, are you looking forward to the sauna that much?” asked a carefree Slad.
“M-… Mn…” nodded Doug with a pale face.
It was fine since everyone here was dull, but someone sharp like Conrad-san would have seen through it with but a glance.
At any rate, this crowd of relaxed boys could finally see the sauna and the smoke rising from its chimney.
It was a large-ish wooden building, and quite a number of guests were coming and going.
There were two entrances and signs above them labelled them as men’s and women’s. Apparently they were separated by sex, but that didn’t help Fii at all right now.
Before long, they arrived in front of the sauna.
“Phew~ We’re finally here.”
“I’m looking forward to it.”
The boys all wore expectant and relaxed expressions.
Fii had to come up with some reason to avoid entering the sauna.
Sickness? No, that would cause trouble in the future.
But suddenly remembering some errand would be a little too unnatural…
At that moment, before everyone’s eyes, a young boy and his mother walked into the women’s sauna.
One of the apprentice knights came up with a good joke and turned to Fii.
“Isn’t that great, Heath. You can still go into the women’s sauna. Guys under eleven are allowed in!”
Fii’s age was about the same as his.
In other words, if Fii lied about her age, she could still enter without a problem. That was the idea.
And of course, he was also teasing her because of her girly face.
“Oi, oi, peeping is no good, ain’t it.”
“Whoa, whoa, he’d just be entering from the front. That’s not peeking. You could even call it manly to stroll in boldly for a look at the women!” declared the boy who had first teased Fii.
But despite his joking tone, Fii pretended to think seriously for a moment before looking at him in the eyes and answering,
“Yeah, you’re right. I’ll go have a look.”
Time stopped for the apprentice boys.
Gorms, Slad, everyone. They all stared at Fii’s face as though they couldn’t believe their ears.
Leaving the frozen boys aside, Fii kept her serious expression as she took off her apprentice knight’s jacket and handed it to her friends.
“If I wear my jacket in, even I’ll get busted, so take care of it for me. Well then, I’m going in.”
With that, Fii strode briskly towards the door to the women’s sauna.
Gorms hurriedly tried to stop her, but Fii turned around with a serious expression and held a finger to her lips.
Don’t cause a fuss. They’ll find out.
The boys all heard Heath’s voice.
An apprentice knight stormed into the women’s sauna. The public would find that out.
Everyone understood the gravity of the situation.
The women’s sauna.
There was no boy who wasn’t fascinated by its allure, but at the same time, it was a sacred and dangerous land that they could never step foot into.
And right now, their comrade Heath, was clearly walking towards it.
Considering the backlash, causing a fuss would be bad. Really, really bad.
But wouldn’t failing to stop Heath be even worse…?
While the boys were sewn to the ground by their confusion, Heath began walking again.
Towards the door to the women’s sauna.
With brisk, natural steps, as though Heath was doing nothing wrong at all, Heath casually opened the door, and then simply walked right in. Heath disappeared from their sight.
Into the women’s sauna…
With the exception of one person, everyone had broken out into a cold sweat at what just happened, their eyes wide open and still dumbfounded by the scene.
Their hearts seemed to pound furiously in their chests…
Pounding both from the shock of what just happened and the fear of the uproar that was to come…
But strangely, they were met with silence.
A boy, who was an apprentice knight of all things, just walked into the women’s sauna. It should have been a massive scandal that shook the world.
But even after Heath disappeared into the sauna, nothing had happened. Nothing had happened at all.
And as though truly nothing had happened, time seemed to flow again as the boys returned to the calm evening street.
“H-, He went…?”
“That guy… seriously went…”
“And he even went so casually…”
They boys felt like they had seen some illusion.
But it was reality. Heath had gone into the women’s sauna.
Boldly, from the front… and so casually…
And the fact that nothing at all had happened meant that Heath’s infiltration had succeeded…
Since the passer-bys began looking at them suspiciously, the boys flusteredly removed their gazes from the door to the women’s sauna.
A group of proud knights had very nearly been treated like perverts.
Without even heading to the men’s sauna, they just stood there as their eyes wandered randomly and fidgeted about.
They were searching all around them.
Searching for the figure of that small apprentice knight boy.
And then, they came to a conclusion.
That small boy was nowhere to be seen.
In other words, what had happened just now truly was reality…
Fii left the boys behind and walked into the sauna for women.
Having taken off her jacket already, she was now dressed in a black top made from weaved fabric and long white pants.
The way she looked now was somewhere between a girlish boy and a boyish girl.
And she was obviously a boyish girl to the people around her, since she had now entered the women’s sauna. Not a single person suspected her.
And of course, she truly was a boyishly-dressed girl.
All she did was head in through the door she was naturally supposed to use.
She opened the door like natural, and she headed inside like natural.
When she came through the door, there was a place to pay her fee and then a dressing room connected to it.
The moment she step foot in this room, Fii tweaked her hair a little.
She quickly pulled down some sparse hair on the side of her head. It was just long enough to reach her neck, and she covered her white cheeks with it after bringing it to the front.
Suddenly her image seemed to change.
The remaining bits of boyishness vanished, and her face seemed even more girly now.
In fact, her hair actually had two layers.
Normally you would only see the layer cut to cheek length that gave her a boyish impression. But besides that, she had some sparse, but long hair, that reached as far as her neck.
It was usually kept brushed back to hide, and Fii normally kept this hair tied with a string.
But by untying it and having it fall to her sides of her face, Fii had a simple way of changing her image.
It was at the advice of Conrad-san that she had gotten her hair cut this way.
And thus, her messy boy’s hair could be turned into a girl’s by just a little combing with her fingers.
Even the woman at the fee booth showed no signs of suspicion and simply handed over a towel after receiving the money.
There was nobody who questioned her in the changing room either.
And naturally so. Why would anybody blame a girl for using the women’s sauna.
Taking off her clothes, Fii gave herself a quick rinse to get rid of the sweat from her training before enjoying the sauna to the fullest.
Here, she could relax without worrying about the eyes of others. It was hot, and she was sweating everywhere, but it was bliss.
After leisurely enjoying the sauna, she gave herself one last rinse before tidying her hair and leaving…
The apprentice knight boys were already waiting outside.
Since their hair was wet, they must have entered too. She had really enjoyed herself, so perhaps she had taken a bit too long.
Fii felt a little apologetic towards them.
The boys had been glancing at the women’s sauna door the whole time. Averting their eyes, and yet paying close attention.
Their cheeks were a little red.
Fii quickly headed over to them.
When they saw how Fii walked out of there like it was nothing, all of their eyes went wide. Doug was the only one who knew the circumstances, but Fii had made sure to silence him with her eyes.
Doug nodded up and down, of course.
The moment she took her jacket back, the boys began crying out in unrest.
“D-, Did you really go inside…!?”
“To the women’s sauna…!”
“Yeah,” she confirmed, “I took my time and really enjoyed it. Sorry for taking so long though.”
The moment they heard this word, all the boys gulped as they blushed redder.
Fii only meant that she had enjoyed the heat and sweating though; it certainly was different from the boy’s expectations.
For a while, the boys exchanged glances, and the silence continued until one boy couldn’t hold on any longer.
“So… how was it…? Heath…! The… The women’s sauna…!”
Fii went thought silently for a moment, and finally realised why they were asking that.
Holding her chin in her fingers, she gave a terribly meaningful smile before flashing them a silent grin.
In that moment, the boys realised it.
That today, their comrade Heath, had reached a summit that none of them had ever seen.
Of course, what really happened was that she simply went into the sauna. Nothing particularly exciting had happened at all.
Fii had no interest in what the boys probably wanted to see, so she had simply enjoyed the sauna.
But, in the minds of these young boys, Fii was a man who had stepped foot into a world none of them knew.
Only Doug, who knew the circumstances, looked away with a blushing, yet astounded face, but it didn’t take long before Fii silenced him with yet another glance.
The boys idealised and were fascinated by the women’s sauna. So when Fii had stepped into it and even returned without harm, those feelings transformed into respect, or perhaps fear towards her.
“Well then, shall we head back?”
she spoke refreshingly. Her back showered by the boys’ gazes of admiration, Fii walked back comfortably to the castle having enjoyed her evening at the sauna.
The next day, Fii received over 2000 points from the members who went to the sauna. Because of that, she shot up to 3rd place in one go.
It was still a long way from 1st place Zerius, who was already at 4000 points, but her incredible speed of ascension had caused her to be the talk of the dorm.
However, every one of those entries had their explanation left blank. And no matter who asked, none of those boys would ever explain the reason.
Because of this, the rumour that Heath had definitely done something dirty again began to spread amongst the apprentice knights.
Fiiru-sama’s New Years Special Performance
Fiiru was in the Déman palace gardens with a number of people.
They were not maids; instead, there were people who wished to consult her for advice, people who had brought gifts for her, people who had come to learn from her sublimity as well as a host of other reasons. There were sons of aristocratic families, princes from neighbouring nations, and on top of it all, even a priest was present.
In the eyes of some of these princes, perhaps this garden itself was not very large, but with Fiiru there, the very scenery seemed to change.
Even these dull flowers would seem to bloom brightly in red and gold. Even the banally aligned trees seemed to all be perfectly positioned.
And standing there amongst all this was Fiiru. Fiiru, whose clean beauty brought to mind an angel, completed the painting that was this garden.
Dressed as beautifully as ever, Fiiru looked up.
Her eyes, like sparkling sapphires, softly beheld the skies.
And as she did, long lashes narrowed around those gems as she gave a meaningful look.
“Look! Fiiru-sama is looking up at the sky.”
“Heavens… She’s breathtaking…”
“She must be pondering some issue too profound for us to understand.”
Amidst all the clamouring, Fiiru was thinking to herself.
(What nice weather…)
Today the wind was cool, and the sunlight was gentle and warm.
It was so comfortable that her eyes had begun to droop. For a while, she considered how pleasant it would be to simply have an afternoon nap on the spot.
But there were guests here today, and thus, it would not be permissible to do so. To start with, she had never had an afternoon nap in her life, much to her disappointment.
It was truly a nice day, however. Just spacing out in the garden like this was more than pleasant enough.
Even these guests who would normally approach her so incessantly were now happy to leave her alone to enjoy herself. Because of that, Fiiru was able to bask the afternoon sunlight as she pleased.
As she was doing so, she noticed a butterfly flutter past.
(Woww, it’s a butterflyy…)
Still in a daze, she reached out without thinking too much.
Suddenly, one of the noblemen shouted. In shock, Fiiru froze in place.
“Wha… What a mysterious pose Fiiru-sama is taking!”
“Ah-! That pose is…!”
“Do you know of it, Father Priest!?”
The priest gave the prince a serious look.
“I am certain. That pose is the pose of prayer towards God, passed down in the ancient texts of the Prase Faith. It is said that upon the completion of this prayer, the surroundings will be purified and fortune will befall all.”
“Heavens! So Fiiru-sama was actually attempting such a thing!”
“No wonder they call her the Miko of Soothing!”
“So when she gazed into the sky, she was actually thinking of the world in preparation for her prayer.”
screamed the girl in her mind.
“Then tell me, Priest. You said ‘upon completion’ did you not? How long will this prayer take to complete?”
“The prayer will succeed if she maintains that position without moving for eight minutes.”
“I see! In other words, Fiiru-sama is presently trying to reach that mark.”
(I-, I can’t moveeee…!)
After that conversation, it was impossible for her to move now.
The best way to describe her current pose was a strange one where only her left leg was touching the ground. The right one was lifted forward at roughly a thirty degree angle, and her two arms were stretched out before her.
(I, I have to stay like this for eight minutes…? T-, That’s impossibleee…)
To be very frank, it was a very difficult pose to hold.
Not only that, but Fiiru had been brought up like a princess.
Having done almost no exercise, she had little strength. Very little strength. Very, very little strength.
Before even thirty seconds was up, her left leg was already trembling and the blood had left her face.
(Why… Why did it turn out like this…)
She had just been enjoying the sun when she wanted to chase after a butterfly. How had that managed to turn into publicly challenging her to keep this strange pose for eight minutes?
Fiiru’s eyes started to water a little.
She held out for about a minute.
(I, I’m done…)
By now, her entire body was trembling.
But just before she collapsed…
Loud clatters and crashes could be heard from afar.
In the background, they could hear the sounds of shouting maids.
“Fii-sama has suddenly gone berserk!”
“The flowerpots and vases are…!”
“A-, Again!? The other day I was wondering why she was so quiet when she suddenly broke into a rampage. Why is she doing this again…!”
Even the men who had been staring at Fiiru’s “praying” began looking the other way now.
“W-What on earth is going on!”
“Apparently some woman called Fii is causing a fuss.”
“That completely dissimilar sister of Fiiru-sama!?”
“Kuh! We cannot allow this to affect Fiiru-sama’s praying! I shall go catch her!”
“I will come as well!”
“I won’t let you steal a march on me!”
“I will come too!”
With that, all the men began running in the direction of the disturbance. The maids also followed behind them.
After dazedly watching them depart, Fiiru was finally able to stand normally.
Her eyes were looking towards the garden bushes where someone’s shadow waved to her.
It only took an instant to recognise her. It was her older sister, Fii-neesama.
She had probably spotted what happened and caused a fuss as a distraction.
(Thank you, Neesamaa…)
Fiiru shed tears of gratitude.
With a warm smile on her face, she waved back at her gentle older sister.
After that, Princess Fii continued her game of tag in the castle, and fifteen minutes later everyone returned to Fiiru completely out of breath. Fii-neesama had succeeded in her escape.
Thus concluded another day in the life of the two sisters.
Chapter 79 – Roy and Fiiru
In the Orstollian royal palace stood a room for the royal husband and wife.
Because there was only one entrance and exit and many smaller partitioned rooms lay inside it, the set-up was like a house within the castle.
In one of those smaller rooms sat a long table, large enough to sit twenty people, but in contrast there were only two chairs.
At one end of the table sat a girl with her head down, polishing something in her hands.
It was a small and plain, white porcelain cup. The cup was well-made, drawing smooth and beautiful contours in her hand.
Holding it carefully in her hands, she was using a clean white cloth to carefully polish away any possible blemishes.
“Fiiru-sama, High Majesty Roy will be here soon.”
The girl raised her head at Lynette’s words.
Her lovely golden hair shifted as she did, and her beautiful blue eyes gazed the maid’s way.
So beautiful was the girl that even Lynette, who had grown up with her, found herself sighing.
Her eyes, her nose, her mouth… Everything part that composed her face was delicate and beautifully arranged. But instead of the cold beauty one would expect from a doll, her eyes turned down in a way that exuded a kind and gentle impression.
Although she was beautiful enough to outshine even other princesses famed for their beauty, she shared the child-like atmosphere that her older sister had, which attracted men all the more.
It was little wonder that the royalty in Déman’s vicinity had been obsessed with her.
Fiiru met Lynette’s gaze and gave a nod.
“I know. Lynette, could you pour some tea for His Majesty and I?”
“Yes. In the same cup as always?”
Fiiru’s voice was a little frail, but also clear and gentle.
Upon hearing Fiiru’s request, Lynette carefully poured tea into the polished cup.
Fiiru simply watched the tea pour in.
Normally you would heat the tea cup in advance, but because of Fiiru’s unwillingness to part with it, Lynette had chosen tea that was still delicious when lukewarm.
Light-brown tea layered over the white of the porcelain.
After that, Lynette moved to the other side of the table and placed a warmed cup down in front of the King’s seat, this time pouring hot tea.
“Thank you, Lynette,” thanked Fiiru with a smile.
It wasn’t long before they heard footsteps coming down the hall.
Brisk footsteps that seemed hurried as usual.
The knight from the 1st Division who had been stationed in front of the door now received a signal from another knight outside. With that, he opened the door.
“Sorry for keeping you waiting.”
Beyond the door came an apology, and a man with it.
A handsome black-haired man, with blue-grey eyes and a cleverness to his face.
It was Roy, the king of this nation.
Roy, King of Orstoll, entered the room, and Fiiru stood up to bow.
“Good evening, Your Majesty Roy. Lynette has prepared some tea. Please have some if it pleases you.”
“I see. Thank you,” he said as he removed his jacket and tossed it onto some nearby shelf.
Lynette’s brows furrowed as she ran over to straighten it out and place it on a hanger.
When she was done, she ran into the kitchen to bring dinner for the King and Queen.
Lynette returned with a cart with the food on it. As it was no more plentiful than your average dinner, it seemed a little scarce for a royal couple’s meal. Still, Roy paid it no mind and spoke to Fiiru instead.
“How has life in Orstoll been? If there has been anything unsatisfactory, please say so.”
“No, you have treated me very well, Your Majesty. There is nothing unsatisfactory.”
The tone that Roy used to speak to her sounded a little gentler than his normal speech, and he used this tone to apologise once again.
“I am terribly sorry for essentially confining you here.”
“I am very grateful for your help. I could not hope for anything more.”
But after that, Fiiru spoke to him a little hesitantly.
“Umm… but… if possible, I would like to meet with Fii-neesama.”
Roy’s rejection was immediate.
Roy replied calmly to her sad cry.
“There is no proof that your sister was uninvolved. As long as I cannot decisively rule out the possibility, I cannot allow you to come into contact with her.”
“My sister isn’t that kind of person!”
“Exactly. Fii-sama would never do such a thing!”
Even Lynette the maid spoke out above her station to refute Roy.
However, Roy did not chastise her and instead replied to the two with his ever calm voice.
“I have said it before. I will doubt everybody. With regards to this case, I will trust nobody except you, Lynette, and my most trustworthy retainers. Even your sister is no exception. For the sake of your safety, I intend to be as careful as humanly possible.”
When Fiiru continued to argue, Roy’s gaze began to grow sharp.
A dark aura seemed to seep out of him.
“I will say it once again. No matter how much you or Lynette may trust them, I have no absolutely no intention of doing the same. To begin with, I recall you leaving all facets of this investigation to me, did you not?”
Fiiru couldn’t help but tremble under his glare.
As Lynette watched this, she had a thought.
(I don’t think he realises at all…)
It was probably unintentional, the way this king glared at others.
(Even though he’s scaring Fiiru-sama like this…)
Fiiru-sama was blessed with knowledge and wisdom, but she was not particularly blessed with courage. Frankly, she leant towards timidity and cowardice.
It went without saying that a grown man’s glare was enough to frighten her.
Even so, it was within her nature to try her best to overcome her fear, but this man alone was too much for her to handle.
After all, he was the monarch of the great nation of Orstoll and the man known as the Ice King.
And upon considering her current position…
Fiiru had no path except to hang her head in dejection and apologise.
“My sincere apologies. I should be thanking you in gratitude for your help, not… I said too much…”
It was only at this point did Roy seem to have an inkling that he had scared her.
The sternness on his expression was replaced by the mask of calm, and he replied to her in a gentler voice than usual.
“No, I should be apologising for speaking so severely. But as I’ve said, I want to limit contact as much as possible to those who aren’t absolutely trustworthy. Please bear with it for now.”
After gazing at her crestfallen expression, Roy spoke to her seriously.
“Princess Fiiru. I promised Prince Tomáš that I would absolutely protect you. And we are by no means in a situation where we can let our guards down. Even so, I still want to make your time in this country as pleasant as possible.”
With that, Roy took a sip of Lynette’s tea before leaving his chair.
“Apologies, but I still have work left over so I will be heading to the study. I’m still busy, you see.”
“Yes. Thank you very much for coming tonight.”
Fiiru once again bowed to him.
“Um, what will Your Majesty be eating for dinner…?”
“Just this will do.”
Roy responded to Lynette as he took just one dish from the cart. After that, he holed himself in the study as usual.
Lynette was unable to tell Fiiru about how Fii was being treated.
It was because the only thing it would achieve right now would be piling on another worry.