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By the time the qualifiers were over, the sun had already set.
Right now, the Emperor was hosting a ball.
Men and women dressed in resplendent clothing were dancing along to a waltz in the hall.
All was well.
Everything except for…
"Sir Black Knight, dance with me!"
"No, no, he's dancing with me!"
"What are you saying!? You must want to dance with me, right?"
I was surrounded by aristocratic ladies dressed in gorgeous dresses.
How did I end up in the same position as Yuusuke!?
(TL note: In case you forgot, Yuusuke is the harem hero childhood friend. In other words, an insignificant side character. You may go back to forgetting him now.)
Also, when did Vice-Commander Charlotte join the fray!?
I looked towards Blue Long-haired Ikemen, who was in ceremonial attire, for help, but he turned away.
Hey! Why the hell are you trying to stay out of it!?
At least do something about Charlotte!!
"I'm sorry, but could you please let the Commander go?"
It was Conrad.
A gift from the heavens!
No! My guardian angel!!
I excused myself and somehow slipped out of the crowd.
"Thanks for saving me."
I spoke softly, so that the ladies wouldn't hear me. Conrad gave me a sympathetic smile.
Yep. To me, the most ikemen-like person was Conrad.
I glanced backwards.
The ladies were staring daggers at Conrad.
Hey, shouldn't they be staring at me instead?
In my opinion, Conrad looked cooler than me.
I looked back at Conrad.
Conrad was also dressed in ceremonial attire.
He was wearing a blue long-coat, which had coattails that reached his calves and a stand-up collar.
Vines were embroidered onto the navy blue coat sleeves.
He was also wearing white pants and black boots.
To top it off, he wore his usual faded blue mantle.
The colors of the coats differed by rank. Ordinary soldiers wore light and dark brown coats, captains wore yellow-green and dark green coats, vice-commanders wore blue and navy blue coats, and commanders wore black and white coats.
The embroidery was grey for captains and below, silver for vice-commanders, and gold for commanders.
Both men and women wore the same uniform, so the women also wore pants.
Of course, I was wearing the uniform too.
However, I was wearing it under my armor.
I would feel out of place if I wore casual clothing under the armor, so I dressed up appropriately, even though it wouldn't be seen.
I gave him another once over.
"You really do look good in that."
Oops, I startled him.
Well, I couldn't blame him for being surprised.
"Sorry for saying that all of a sudden. It's my first time seeing you outside of your work uniform."
My investiture was done in a hurry, so everybody had been wearing their combat uniforms.
"Um, uh… Thank you."
Why was he blushing so much?
Shouldn't Conrad have heard stuff like that plenty of times from the women around him?
That was what Byron-san told me the other day.
"Anyway, did you need something?"
He must have called out to me for a reason.
"Ah, yes. His Majesty called for you, Commander."
"Well, that can't wait. Let's go."
We went towards the VIP seats.
The Emperor, Empress, Princess, and Prime Minister were all there, talking together.
I wanted to turn back as soon as I saw the Prime Minister, but since I had been summoned by His Majesty, I couldn't do that.
Also, let me just say that His Highness was in the same boat as me.
"Excuse me, Your Majesty."
His Majesty greeted me with a smile, while the Prime Minister scowled at me.
No surprise there.
"Oh, you came, Black Knight."
I ignored the Prime Minister and greeted His Majesty.
Well, since I was the only one he disliked, I was the only one who would suffer.
"It might be a little late to say this, but well done. I have high expectations for what you and Conrad will accomplish."
"I am grateful for your kind words."
"I will do my best to fulfill your expectations."
Conrad and I bowed.
"Now then, it is time to get down to business."
Ah, it was about that, huh.
"Understood… but are you fine with me?"
"It is fine. Rather, you are the most suitable person."
Her Majesty was right.
But even so…
"Please be Elene's first dance partner. Elene personally nominated you."
―――― "Hey, Black Knight! Dance with me during the ball tomorrow!!"
Yesterday, after I had finished the escort mission, the princess had requested this of me before I left.
I couldn't refuse, since His and Her Majesty were nearby.
In the first place, they knew I was a girl. I had no clue why this was happening.
They didn't really use the princess politically.
That was based on just a half-year of observation, though.
Haah~. I guess this was also part of my job.
I really didn't think I was suitable to be the Princess's partner.
I guess there would be an annoying power struggle if she danced with a suitable male noble.
His Majesty did have political relationships with the nobility to consider.
Conrad was a bit too tall for her.
It was the same for the Ikemen.
The Stupid Swordsman was out of the question.
Mr. Musclehead…was already married.
I had been shocked when I found out last week.
Everybody else was like, 'Huh? We never told you?', to which I had responded, 'Nope!'.
What a tiring exchange that had been.
I hadn't met her yet, but I heard that Mrs. Musclehead was his childhood friend, three years younger than him, and that she was quite pretty.
I was secretly jealous that he was blessed with such a childhood friend.
Back to the point, all the other men couldn't do it for various reasons, leaving me as the last option.
Of course, I read the mood and didn't object.
While enduring the tingling sensation of the Prime Minister's glare, I nervously made my way over to the Princess.
"Well then, it may be presumptuous of me, but may I ask you for a dance?"
I bowed and offered my right hand.
The Princess took my hand, and I escorted her to the middle of the ballroom.
The other dancers moved aside as we made our way there, and once we reached the center, they all stopped and moved to the side.
The music also ended, and the conductor looked towards us.
We were surrounded by the gazes of nobles, soldiers, and servants alike.
The nobles' gazes were quite meaningful, but I couldn't pay attention to it.
We faced each other, and then held each other.
Upon seeing that, the conductor raised his baton, and the musicians began to play a slow waltz.
We began to dance to the music.
Heh. It was going pretty much the way Alice told me it would when we practiced together.
I would have been fine with just learning the male part when we practiced, but she threatened me into learning the female part.
She taught it to me quite enthusiastically.
As I recalled my practice with Alice, the Princess and I continued to smoothly dance through the hall.
As I watched the Commander and the Princess waltz through the hall, Her Majesty whispered to me.
"I feel a little guilty for asking the Black Knight to do this."
She was smiling, but her eyebrows were drooping.
Her guilt showed on her face.
"There's no way that…is what I would like to say, but I suppose that it is true."
I wanted to deny it, but it was the truth.
Everyone who worked in the castle knew that she disliked flattery and hypocrisy.
"In the Commander's case, he doesn't really hate it, but…"
Had she wanted to participate as a woman instead?
The rest of the sentence was left unsaid.
It seemed that Her Majesty understood what I was going to say.
Unlike the average girl, the Commander didn't care for things like makeup and clothes.
Rather, her passion was Katanas.
Even so, she wasn't necessarily unfeminine.
The way she smiled when she played with Hayate, when she looked at flowers, or when she ate sweets…
Even when the Commander got angry… they all made me realize, yet again, that she was a girl.
So, why was I getting more and more uncomfortable? Such thoughts didn't stop racing through my mind.
I knew that I couldn't do anything, since we had to keep her appearance secret.
"Conrad, I would like to ask something of you."
I bent down to give her my ear.
I let out a startled cry upon hearing Her Majesty's request.
She smiled in satisfaction at my reaction.
"Is that okay? The Black Knight is the main attraction tonight, right?"
I whispered as softly as I could.
As the winner of the previous tournament, I was automatically qualified for this one.
It would be a problem if both of us were gone.
However, her next words drained me of energy.
"Well, the reason that Elene invited the Black Knight to dance was so that I could request this of you. The three of us, including Alice, planned this a month ago. Of course, His Majesty and the Prince also know about it."
I was truly no match for Her Majesty.
"I will take care of this."
I probably had no choice.
Personally, I wasn't sure if she would be fine with me, but the only men who knew of the Commander's circumstances were Claude, the Emperor, the Prince, Kyle, me, and a few of the servants and soldiers who had been with the Royal Family when we met the Commander for the first time.
His Majesty was obviously out of the question.
Claude was excluded because he was pursuing Alice, and he also had an important mission.
Either way, he and the Commander were only friends.
None of the soldiers were attending this ball.
The servants were busy working.
That left Kyle, the Prince, and me.
However, why was I so reluctant to hand her over to anyone else?
I nodded in reply.
Her Majesty smiled and turned back to watch the Princess and the Commander's dance, ending the conversation.
I also went back to watching them dance, while wondering about the best way to invite the Commander.
I wanted to quickly understand a girl's heart.
After a while, the music ended and we stopped dancing.
The people around us applauded.
Ah, I had forgotten that everybody else stopped dancing to watch us.
We both bowed, and then returned to His Majesty.
"Elene, you danced well. Black Knight, I thank you for being my daughter's partner."
"It was my honor."
I bowed to His Majesty.
"It was a splendid performance."
His Majesty smiled at us.
The Princess flashed a dazzling smile at the compliment and started talking with Her Majesty.
She must have been very happy that her beloved parents had complimented her first dance.
As I observed the charming scene, His Majesty called out to me.
"Black Knight, aren't you a bit tired?"
"Huh? No, I'm not…"
Even though I said that:
"No, you are definitely tired."
"Yeah, Black Knight is tired."
His Majesty and the Princess insisted.
Huh? What was happening?
When I glanced at the Prime Minister, I noticed that his bad mood had disappeared, and he had a blank expression on his face. His mouth was wide open.
"Then, please use the Royal Family's terrace to rest. There, you won't have to worry about other people's gazes, since it is tightly guarded and only those we allow can enter. You can even still hear the ballroom music from there."
Her Majesty chimed in.
"B-but, if I'm not here, then…"
"Conrad, take the Black Knight to the terrace. He would be bored alone, so please accompany him. The food will be served later, so please take your time. Tonight's full moon is quite beautiful right now. You should enjoy it."
Her Majesty dropped yet another bombshell.
"Eh? Even Conrad is leaving?"
"Certainly, Your Highness. Now, let us go, Commander."
"Eh!? Wait a minute, Conrad!"
In the end, Conrad ignored my protests and pushed me from behind.
Without understanding what was happening, I was led out of the ballroom.Royal Terrace
"Please enjoy your meal. His Majesty told me to tell you that you are dismissed for today, and that your normal work will resume tomorrow."
"…You two must have been conspiring with Their Majesties."
Conrad pushed me, who was still flustered, to the terrace and sat me on a chair. When I saw a grinning Alice carrying and setting dishes onto a table illuminated by the Raitoree spell, I calmed down.
This was most likely planned by Alice, the Empress, and the Princess?
Only those three would do something like this.
Alice left the terrace with a giggle and a bow.
Even though she didn't answer, I could tell that I was right.
"Let me just say that Her Majesty just told me about this. I was more or less out of the loop."
He didn't seem to be lying.
I sighed, took off my mantle, and turned my armor back into a bracelet.
I had my hair in a ponytail, and I was wearing the ceremonial red mantle underneath the armor.
I knew that nobody would come here because I often accompanied Her Majesty for tea.
There were very few times when I was wearing neither the robe nor the armor.
"Ah, you were wearing that underneath."
"Well, I can't wear casual clothing under the armor."
I leaned into my chair.
"Sorry about that, Commander."
"It's fine. Honestly, I was feeling a bit suffocated, so it was good timing."
I responded to Conrad's apologetic statement.
I had thought that I could relax with the nobles' children, but instead, I had been mobbed by young ladies of marrying age, and then made to dance with the Princess in front of a large crowd. That had worn me out.
"If I had stayed there, I would probably have been swarmed by the noble ladies and Charlotte asking for a dance, so I feel relieved."
Conrad's smile cramped.
"I can imagine that."
"Right? I looked to Long Blue-haired Ikemen for help, but he just turned a blind eye. When you came, I really thought that you were my guardian angel."
"Haha, that guy is pretty much useless, isn't he? I'm glad I was able to help."
Before we knew it, we had both started chatting happily.
We talked about mundane topics as we ate, but I was having fun for the first time tonight.
"Oh yeah, Conrad, was it fine for you to accompany me? Normally, wouldn't people ask you for a dance if I wasn't there?"
Conrad's eyes started swimming.
"Ah, about that…"
I looked at him curiously. He sighed, then began to speak.
"The way I treated the ladies during the ball four years ago made it so that they do not want to ask me for a dance."
"Oh? How exactly did you treat them?"
"Well, I was still quite crude back then, so there were some youthful indiscretions…"
Conrad spoke more and more vaguely.
He murmured softly.
"They were too pushy, so I yelled at them."
So they didn't like that one outburst?
"After I told them to shut up, nobody else dared to approach me!!"
Conrad was as red as a tomato as he forced out the last sentence.
Ah, so in other words, the sheltered noble ladies were yelled at for the first time and became frightened of him?
That was understandable.
I could sympathize with Conrad's irritation, but I could also see how the sheltered ladies would have been scared of him.
I couldn't really judge who was in the wrong.
I could only say that they both shared some of the blame.
Conrad was blushing furiously while looking down.
Hm? I thought that he resembled a dog for a second.
No, calm down. He wasn't a therianthrope.
He looked really cute though.
Based on how he normally looked, I never would have imagined that he could look like this.
Was he really that embarrassed?
The more I thought about it, the funnier it became.
I burst into laughter, causing Conrad to look up.
He still seemed downhearted.
I held my sides as I laughed.
This continued for a while.
"Aah, that was a good laugh!"
"You laughed too much…"
Conrad had both hands over his face.
(This isn't actually from the series, just for amusement.)
"Ah, sorry, sorry."
I took a deep breath.
Conrad was just too amusing.
"So that's why? That's why you have never been invited to dance."
He responded with his hands still on his face.
He must have been extremely embarrassed.
Sorry about that, Conrad.
"You're too good for those ladies."
His hands left his face in surprise.
"That's right, you know? I don't know about the past you, but the current you is handsome and has a good personality."
"U-uh, thank you very much."
Conrad's shy face was now only slightly red.
Wasn't that even cuter?
Not that I could tell him that.
"Well, I always spent these balls talking with His Majesty and Adolf. I have never danced with anyone."
Did I hear wrong?
"You never participated?"
I looked at him with wide eyes.
"Yeah, that's correct?"
He seemed confused as he replied.
Wait, wait…so he had never danced, since he was never asked to?
Ah, it made sense if it was Conrad.
He, like me, didn't like gaudy things very much.
I had realized that much in the half-year I had been here.
However, not even once…
"Hey, would you like to dance with me?"
Wait, what the heck had I just said!?
I probably startled Conrad as well!?
"Ah, um, I mean, we're alone right now. Also, we can hear the music. The terrace is wide enough to dance on, and it might be fun to do once in a while…"
Really, what the heck was I saying?
AAAH, that was so embarrassing, my face felt hot!
"Ah, sorry, that was a-"
"I-if you're fine with me!"
I couldn't understand what he had just said.
Conrad stood up and walked over to me. He then straightened his back, took a deep breath, and said:
"May I have this dance, Miss?"
Conrad bowed with his eyes closed, his left hand on his chest, and his right stretched out to me.
My face heated up in a different way when I saw his gallant figure in the moonlight.
Before I knew it, I had taken his hand and agreed to a dance.
Conrad stood up and guided me away from the table. We faced each other.
We had left the area illuminated by the Raitoree, but I could see that Conrad's face was red.
Seeing his flustered face calmed me down.
Ah, Conrad's heart was also beating furiously.
That thought helped me relax.
"Alice has more or less taught me the female part…but please lead me well, Sir Knight."
I said while laughing. After getting over his surprise, he smiled.
"Please leave it to me, Milady."
It was my turn to be startled.
When we saw that we were both shocked, we burst out laughing.
We both corrected our postures. I curtsied, using the hem of my coat instead of a skirt, while Conrad bowed with his left hand on his chest.
We then held each other and began to dance to the music from the hall.
It was just us two, dancing in the moonlight.
What a romantic setting.
I felt guilty about just wearing a military uniform, but as a woman, it felt great to be able to monopolize such a fine man.
It wasn't bad to do feminine things from time to time.
I thought that for the first time in my life.
I should have been the one to ask her. It wasn't like I was Adolf.
I grumbled to myself silently.
Her Majesty had told me, "After this, be Chie's dance partner."
I had been waiting for a chance to ask.
How uncool of me to have been asked by the Commander.
It didn't feel bad to be able to monopolize the Commander's feminine side.
She looked like a moon spirit, with the way her black hair and black pupils glistened in the moonlight.
I was so swept up by the atmosphere that I began having thoughts I normally wouldn't have.
However, the Commander really did match with the moon.
It felt good to be able to monopolize a side of the Commander that nobody else knew about, so I was glad that I had accepted Her Majesty's request. Such thoughts crossed my mind as we continued to dance.Several Days Later
I headed to His Majesty's office with two documents in my hand.
I had finally gathered enough information to report.
It was fortunate that it had not interrupted the tournament.
I took a deep breath in front of the door to the office.
I knocked on the door.
"Who is it?"
"Prime Minister, Your Majesty, it is I, the Black Knight."
The Prime Minister had been the one to call out.
"You may enter."
This time, it was His Majesty who responded.
"Please excuse me."
I entered the room.
Not surprisingly, the Prime Minister was scowling at me, but I just ignored it.
"Your Majesty, Prime Minister, I have some urgent news that I must report to you."
I handed one document to His Majesty.
His Majesty's eyes widened as he read it.
"What shall we do about it, Your Majesty?"
"Raiz, you read this too!"
As the Prime Minister read the documents, his face paled.
"What in the blazes is this!?"
The Prime Minister also shouted in shock.
"It is as you see. I am sorry that this report came late, but I judged that the situation would deteriorate if we moved openly, so I investigated this by myself."
The Prime Minister stayed silent, probably acknowledging my reasoning.
"Black Knight, you did well to discover this."
"I was merely informed of this through an information broker. The informant has been placed under protective custody."
I was truly thankful to Aaron.
He had risked his life by poking his nose into this matter.
"Will the Three Countries Martial Tournament go on as planned, I wonder?"
"Shall I ask the other countries to postpone it?"
I respectfully interrupted them.
"The tournament should go on as planned."
"Huh!? What are you saying?"
"…You seem to have a reason…"
I told them my thoughts.
"If we change it, they may get suspicious. It is likely that the situation will worsen."
"Hmm…that sounds reasonable."
They continued to listen.
"That is why we should hold it as planned. As for the deployment of the soldiers-"
I handed them the other document.
"This can't possibly…"
"But, like this…"
Their eyes widened once again, and then they nodded in approval.
"Then, deploy the soldiers at once."
"I have already instructed the soldiers to do so. The report I gave you is highly confidential."
Even the Prime Minister was surprised.
When I saw that, I felt relieved.
"Only the Commanders and Vice-Commanders know about this. The plan hinges on the enemy not finding out."
"Understood. Then, let us meet in the conference room at once."
"Yes, Your Majesty!"
Just as I was about to leave the office, His Majesty called out to me.
"Black Knight, how is the [Crow]?"
"It's quite troublesome when it pecks."
The Prime Minister was slightly confused as to why we started talking about crows, but we ignored him.
This was a codeword I used with His Highness, mainly when around people other than Alice or Conrad.
Claude's existence was a secret between the four of us, so when we had to discuss something related to him, we called him Crow.
Our previous exchange could be translated to:
"Is Claude fine?"
"Yes, but we occasionally squabble."
We had decided that it would be least suspicious to use animal codewords.
I bowed and left the office.
Now then, I would probably be quite busy for a while.
To be continued
Thank you for waiting for so long.
How was Chapter 29?
I tried to depict a sweet atmosphere.
I thought that it would go quickly, but RL work kept me busy and, before I knew it, a year had passed.
I wish there was more time.
Thank you for waiting so long.
This month, I have two rare back-to-back holidays, so hopefully I will be able to release two chapters.
Next time, time will fly.
I will try really hard to release two, three, or even four chapters.
Please continue to enjoy this story.
Translator's Note: here's the update dates of a few chapters. (makes me feel better about being slow)
Ch 28: 2015/07/16
Ch 29: 2016/01/12
Ch 30: 2016/01/17
Ch 31: 2016/06/18
And on another note: ( ) here is the link to a character glossary, in case both mine and the author's (mostly mine) slowness gets you to forget stuff. Uhh… other than that… come read my other series (google me)? — Elephant No. 5