As I approached them quickly, their eyes slightly widened with surprise.
Honestly, I should have been scared.
I should have also been panicking.
The man on the ground lifted his head slightly and seemed to look at me, but I couldn't afford to pay him any attention.
I didn't want to be senselessly beaten on the street.
But I also couldn't reveal my identity.
The moment I identified myself, scandal would follow House Elias.
Because no noblewoman in her right mind would enter an alley like this without one or two knights by her side.
“Oh – Okay.
I seem to have interrupted something.
I'm very sorry!”
Crap! Why was I stuttering? 80% courage!
“Ha ha ha.
I'm terribly sorry.
“This woman has a big mouth!”
They came one step closer.
I took a step back and gulped.
“Go ahead and finish what you were doing.
I've apologized, so I'll be on my way.”
“Where do you think you're going?”
Unfortunately I need to leave.”
The thugs spread themselves out, encircling me.
As I stood there, surrounded, the thug crouched on the ground by the beaten man exposed his yellowed teeth in a smile.
The stench coming from his unwashed body nearly paralyzed my nose.
I forced myself to resist covering my nose and slowly opened my mouth.
I'm in a bit of a hurry.
Why don't you let me go?”
“Huh? What's wrong with her? Does she think this is a joke? Ha ha ha.”
“What's with the attitude? Look at her, saying such fearless words!”
This woman isn’t even nice to look at.
All I see is a fat pig.
This was why education was important.
If someone had bothered to teach these men some proper manners, they wouldn't be doing this.
I slowly approached them.
I felt a strong sense of repulsion, the revolting odour alone was almost enough to drive me insane.
I had to resist the urge to say something about it.
So I reached out and spread out my palm, holding it out in front of me.
Take it, 1 gold.”
Dumbfounded by my sudden remark, they looked at the golden coin in my hand and glanced between themselves.
One gold coin was equivalent to a noble servant's monthly salary.
One of them, who seemed to be the leader of the group, smiled and took another step closer.
“I thought you were just a fat sow, but it turns out you are a golden pig.
Ke ke ke ke.
Do you take us for fools? I believe you have at least 10 gold coins in that glittering pouch.
Do you really think we'll disappear after getting just one gold? I’d rather take everything in those pockets of yours.
Wouldn't you agree? Ke ke ke ke.”*
“Well, I suppose so.
But I'm only willing to pay you guys this much for the interruption.
So taking this money in exchange for the stolen time seems like the better option of the two.”
“What other option? Uh, are you saying we might lose it?”
“Over here! Now Bernard! Ouch!”
After yelling loudly, I quickly shoved my face between my knees and crouched down.
After getting into position, I looked back quickly when nothing happened.
Then I saw Bernard running towards us with his axe.
Wow, his strength was truly impressive.
Bernard's muscles were so hard that you could see them outlined through his clothes.
They reminded me of the muscles on the Greek soldiers from the movie ‘300’.**
Bernard knew how to wield his axe with either hand.
Now he held his axe single-handed, lifting it easily over his head with the axe blade facing outward, and swung the blunt head towards the crowd of gang members.
They all quickly stepped back due to Bernard's sudden entrance.
“Wha – what?”
“Gu – guys! Get him!”
Thinking they still had an advantage in numbers, they pulled out switchblades and knives from their pant pockets and sleeves.
Clutching their sharp blades, they circled Bernard and me, swinging their knives in quick strikes.
I could tell just by looking that their skills were sloppy.
Bernard skillfully deflected their blades, turning his axe in his grip so the blade faced upwards.
He then struck them lightly with the axe poll on their shoulders, backs, and arms, eliciting a series of dull thuds.***
Every time a thud sounded one of them collapsed, grabbing their arms, and whimpering.
After about five minutes of Bernard swinging his axe around like it was child's play, the fight had already ended.
He moved towards the gang, who were shuffling away with their feet dragging and arms clasped around their shoulders.
He grasped his axe’s hilt and raised it, preparing to swing it in an arc, as if he fully intended to finish them off.
“We won’t forget this! You guys better be ready next time!”
They had to make some final comment.
With those last remarks, the entire raggedy band of crooks turned and disappeared.
That deserved a full round of applause.
I struggled to get up from the ground and looked at Bernard with eyes filled with admiration.
I moved to praise him, but the ferocious expression on his face made me shrink on the spot and swallow the compliments on the tip of my tongue.
“What's going on? Are you out of your mind?”
I just wanted to look around a little bit…
I didn't think the wall would collapse so easily.
Clearly the problem is the subpar construction, right?”
“You call that an excuse?”
“I'm telling you, it just collapsed.”
“What would have happened had I come a little late?”
“You came right on time.
So please stop and let's go.
It's getting late.
How come you weren’t worried I wasn't going to be on time…!”
I expected you to come back around now.
Of course, I wasn't 100 percent certain.”
“How could you know that?”
“I've been watching you for a month.
A whole month.
Your irritable bowel syndrome causes diarrhoea more often than constipation, it usually takes you 15 minutes at maximum, especially when you hurry to do your business.
So I assumed you would make it back here on time.”
Bernard's entire face was dyed crimson with astonishment, and it crumpled further as if this was some great affront to his knightly honour.
Perhaps he was upset because this happened while he was neglecting his duties as a knight.
“Are you getting angrier because you feel responsible? It's okay, I’m alright.
Now just keep taking your medicines, and I'm willing to answer any of your questions.”
Bernard, frowning slightly and shook the dirt off his blade.
Then he grabbed his cloak, which had fallen off slightly, and pulled the hood back over his head as if he was indifferent.
“But why haven't you inquired after me? As my knight, shouldn't my safety be your greatest concern?”
“You look unscathed as far as I can see.
Anyway, what about…..”
I looked towards where Bernard pointed his chin towards the man still lying face down by the wall.
I'd wanted to just ignore him and go.
[I seem to have interrupted something…Go ahead and finish what you were doing.]
The words I had said earlier stuck in my mind, so I took a step closer to him.
Are you okay?”
At my words, he moved slightly and leaned against the wall, but said nothing.
Until he did that, I thought he was so beaten up that he didn't even have the energy to speak.
“You seem very hurt, can you get up?”
“Do you need money for treatment? If so…”
So, I simply assumed that he didn't have any money.
“Bernard, give him this.”
As I handed Bernard the gold coin that I had offered to the thugs earlier, I heard a sound that made me doubt my own hearing.
It was obviously a snort.
He stood up slowly while I stared at him in bewilderment.
He was also wearing a cloak, so I couldn't see his face in detail, but one thing was clear.
He was a lot taller than I’d first assumed, and his body looked solid.
And despite the fact he had been beaten so severely, he stood with an upright posture that betrayed no indication of pain at all.
What? Was he just extraordinarily obstinate? Or simply arrogant?
Bernard was also a big man, but he was built very differently.
If Bernard had a rugged bear-like figure, this man was a slim jaguar.
Besides, he was even taller than Bernard, who was significantly taller than me.
About 185cm? Maybe even taller.****
The man looked like the complete opposite of how he appeared earlier, to the extent that I doubted whether he was even the same person I saw getting beaten up.
And then, the man spoke.
What if even 100 gold isn't enough?”
I couldn't figure out what he meant by those words, and I froze, stopped by the sound of his hardened voice and the look in his eyes.
I felt like I had suddenly been hit hard in the back of the head.
“You bastard! What's wrong with you?”
As if he was offended by the man's words, Bernard moved as if to step in front of me.
I grabbed his forearm.
In spite of Bernard's threat, the man was staring at me.
His gaze felt like it would pierce through me.
His eyes were a dark grey, tenacious and sharp, as if he was trying to read my mind.
It was just a matter of looking away, but there was a strange force behind those eyes, and I found it difficult to wrench my gaze away from his.
“What are you! You saved him just now, but he doesn't even know what gratitude is? How dare he!”
“Because of you…..
I pinched Bernard's forearm.
“What is it?”
“Let’s go! Hurry!”
I abruptly turned around and walked away without even pausing to listen to Bernard’s next comment.
My primary objective was to avoid this situation.
I wonder if it was because of the unusual expression on my face, but Bernard put aside his anger.
He gave the man one final glance and then followed closely behind me.
The back of my head seriously hurt.
As soon as we got away from the strange man, Bernard started grunting and cursing him.
It was unreasonable to expect politeness from a suspicious man you met on Lackton Street.
I just listened as he ranted loudly to me.
However, bad mouthing others typically worked best when the person you were talking to followed your lead.
When I just pursed my lips tightly in response to Bernard's tirade, he quieted down, running out of steam.
As we approached the bar, he asked me again.
“Miss, why did you ask me to leave him alone? That's just not like you.”
“What am I like then?”
You don't like conceding even a single word, you have a temper, and you don't let insults like that pass.
Why did you hold it in?”
“I'm just saying.
Why did you avoid it? Was it because you were afraid?”
well, something like that.
Some kind of instinct perhaps?”
“What? You mean some kind of sense?
A snort burst out of Bernard.
Exactly like that, some kind of sense, like a gut feeling that someone is dangerous.
It's a good idea to avoid people like that.”
“Wha – what?”
“He didn't stink at all.
He didn’t have the distinctive stench vagrants often have.”
“You sniffed him?”
A scornful look crossed his face, but I pretended not to see it.
“That's not what I'm saying! He's not from Lackton Street.
Didn't you notice?”
He had a strange look in his eyes when he stared at me, and there was definitely something about the way he spoke.”
“He clearly spoke like a wealthy person.”
“What are you talking about? Wouldn't someone that rich have plenty of ways to avoid being beaten up like that?”
It's not just about him sounding wealthy.
How should I explain this….Um.
His voice had that kind of quality to it.”
“Do you really believe that? He told you to give him 100 gold after you offered to give him 1 gold.
Do you really not believe there are plenty of shameless bastards like that guy out there?”
Editor’s Notes –
So that’s one way to make a first impression… As you can tell, Lackton Street is a classy place.
* Koreans often reference the Chinese Zodiac calendar.
The year of the golden pig 황금돼지 symbolizes wealth, prosperity and good fortune.
Year of the Golden Pig
** Yes, this is indeed referring to the 2006 Hollywood action movie directed by Zack Snyder that coined the phrase 'This.
Apparently dumb action movies transcend all cultures.
*** Quick lesson on axe terminology, the ‘poll’ is the blunt side of the axe head, opposite the blade, apparently optimal for non-lethally beating the crap out of street thugs – https://www.timbergadgets.com/parts-of-an-axe/
**** 185cm is approx 6'1″ for us North American folks who still use the archaic Imperial system of measurement for heights.
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