The day dawned and the Sun Festival’s second day was about to begin.
Tigre woke up on the bed of the guest room which was assigned to him in the royal palace. He finished changing his clothes in the dim room, put on formal clothes and came out to the corridor. Today, he had business with a person whom he would meet this morning. Yesterday, he had been informed on where he should go.
Tigre arrived in front of that room. As expected also due to the fact that it was early morning, he hesitantly knocked on the door. There was a response with a calm voice.
He opened the door. It was a room about half the size of the one which he used. There was also little furniture and it gave a plain impression.
At the center of the room, there was a small table placed between two sofas. The man who was sitting there stood up. It was Eugene Shebalin.
“I am sorry for having set this meeting this early in the morning; the reason being that I cannot readily get time.”
“Please, do not be concerned about it. I am used to getting up early after all.”
Although polite, Tigre gave a reply which would probably amaze Titta should she hear it.
As recommended by Eugene, Tigre sat down on the sofa opposite to him. Tigre expressed words of congratulations about the fact that he would become the next King. Though Eugene returned words of gratitude with a smile, his expression was stiff as he did not look so happy.
—Elen said that this person wanted to remain a local feudal lord as is, but…
Suddenly, Tigre recalled yesterday’s conversation with Victor. He wondered how Eugene felt about the face that it’s decided he would become King. He cast away his pipe dream of continuing being a local feudal lord.
—It isn’t something to ask, eh…
He inwardly shook his head. It was not something to ask someone that he met just recently. Even Elen, who was close to him, would not ask unless there were serious circumstances.
Eugene poured the tea, which cooled, into the two silver cups which were prepared on the table. When he put the tea jar on the table, he slowly opened his mouth.
“Although it is something of the past, I have met your father several times.”
Eugene has often been dispatched as a messenger to Brune before.
There were three paths to go from Zhcted to Brune. Either taking the sea route, taking a roundabout path from the south by making a detour around the Vosyes Mountains lying down on the border of the two countries, or going over the Vosyes Mountains.
By crossing over the Vosyes Mountains, one would set foot in Alsace. Eugene solely chose that path.
“I would like to pray for the souls of your father and mother.”
Eugene closed his eyes and advocated the gods’ names. Tigre deeply bowed his head to him.
“Thank you very much.”
“And, I also give you my thanks regarding Eleonora and Limalisha.”
To Tigre who revealed a wondering face, Eugene laughed and continued.
“It is hard for a Vanadis to make friends because of their position. Although Limalisha thinks dearly of Eleonora, it is precisely for that reason why she does not break her behavior of always pulling back a step. I was not able to do anything, but then you appeared.”
Eugene’s attitude was exactly just like that of a teacher speaking about his precious students.
“I have heard about you from them. They said that you are a reliable man who possesses both strength and kindness. I had observed you in the banquet hall, but frankly I was relieved. I thought that their words were right.”
“I too think of them as irreplaceable and important friends.”
Eugene smiled at Tigre’s words. Or he might have noticed the youth’s feelings that he could not put into words. However, even if it was the case, he did not mention it.
“You have your own position. So, I will ask you this fully of aware of it. Please take care of them from now on, too. No, that is wrong. I would like you to support each other.”
Tigre strongly nodded. Then, Eugene asked as he changed the topic.
“By the way, what do you intend to do after you returned to Brune?”
After a little thought, Tigre told him a part of what he talked about with King Victor.
That he said that he would not be able to remain in Alsace.
“It seems like something His Majesty would say.”
Eugene nodded with a wry smile.
“You might be offended, but could you consider those words as an encouragement of His Majesty?”
Tigre unintentionally knitted his brows. It did not really look like it. Eugene erased his smile and put on a serious face.
“Even I can easily imagine it. Earl Vorn, you, who returned to Brune, would be rolled up in political strife whether you like it or not. I am sorry for letting you hear an unpleasant talk, but in your homeland, there are still people who harbored antipathy towards Princess Regin’s rule.”
Tigre made a bitter face and tightly clenched his hands that were on his knees. That was something he understood. It was not like those who were following Thenardier and Ganelon were swept away after all. In addition, there were probably people who held dissatisfaction and doubt towards the rule of the Princess without achievements and rebelled against her, too.
For such people, an existence as unpleasant as Tigre’s was not needed. Even if he peacefully lived in Alsace, there was a possibility that they would start something.
Mashas also said that he wanted people who would support Regin, even if one. As for Tigre, he intended to help the Princess in any way which he could.
—Even so, I think that the idea of becoming King is too extreme.
However, if it was an encouragement as Eugene said, it might mean something like it was fine for him to have returned to Brune possessing that much fighting spirit.
“Thank you for your advice.”
Tigre answered so and bowed his head to Eugene.
It was in the early morning that the news was brought to King Victor. It was about the time when Tigre was meeting Eugene in one room of the royal palace.
The old King carefully listened to the report without changing his complexion one bit; and after finishing his meal, he headed to the banquet hall together with the chamberlain. At that time, Tigre also finished his talk with Eugene and was entering the hall to join with Elen and company.
When King Victor showed up in the banquet hall, Tigre and company were pressed with dealing with the nobles who requested to greet them. Those who were not able to talk with them yesterday and those who arrived at the capital this morning were in no small numbers.
Although surprised at the old King who showed up without prior notice, the nobles stopped their chats, stopped their hand putting food into their mouths and looked up at Victor.
Originally, when the King showed up in the banquet hall, someone would announce it beforehand like Eugene did yesterday. Nobody could hide their confusion at the fact that it was not done.
Especially Tigre, who couldn’t help but remember his conversation with Victor last night, he frowned and fell silent. Elen who was immediately next to the youth looked at him with a wondering face, but in a situation where the King was about to talk about something, she could not ask him what was wrong.
Victor, not opening his mouth right away, slowly looked around. As he felt like his eyes met with the old King’s, Tigre frowned.
—He looked at me…?
Tigre reconsidered that he might be misunderstanding. There were great nobles such as the Vanadises and Ilda in his direction. There should be no reason to look at him.
“I am sorry to disturb your fun moments, but there is something I would like everyone to hear.”
With an expression which had no trace of joy, Victor glared at the nobles and plainly said.
“The Sachstein Kingdom has invaded Brune whom is a friendly neighbor for our country.”
The banquet was wrapped in tension and stirred. Tigre looked up at the old King with an amazed face. So, it was not his imagination to have thought that their eyes met earlier.
“Sachstein? I remember having heard about it somewhere.”
“Come on, the one to the west of the Brune Kingdom…”
“The one said to frequently attack Asvarre and Brune…”
Such conversations could be overheard from between the nobles. Their knowledge was roughly something like that. As expected, Victor probably talked with the intention of informing Tigre.
It was something serious to the point of reaching Zhcted. It was not a skirmish, but a full-scale war. The faces of close people, who were in Brune, appeared in Tigre’s mind.
Because Alsace is located in the northeast of Brune, it would be safe for the time being. But, the thing called warfare spread just like prairie fire/wildfire.
He was also worried about Regin and Mashas. He should go back to Brune as soon as possible.
Pushing his way through the nobles, Tigre advanced before Victor. The old King looked down at the youth.
“Earl Vorn. I allow you to speak. If you want to stay in our country until your hometown regains peace, I shall gladly accept you.”
Tigre, not hesitating at all, got down on a knee on the spot.
“I am really thankful for your Majesty’s kindness. With all due respect, please allow me to leave.”
“After leaving, what will you do?”
“I will go back to Brune. In order to fight against Sachstein.”
The youth’s black pupils were filled with strong determination. The old King contentedly nodded.
“As one would expect of Brune’s young hero. In respect of your courage, I shall give you a present.”
Victor’s gaze was turned to Elen. The old King told in a dignified tone.
“Eleonora Viltaria. You shall cooperate with Earl Vorn and go to Brune with 2000 soldiers. LeitMeritz has fought continuously since Dinant two years ago, but can you do it?”
“I shall do my best with my poor ability.”
Elen wore a dress today, but she got down on her knee on the spot without minding it and bowed her head.
King Victor might have ordered the dispatch of troops in order to reduce LeitMeritz’s power, but it was something thankful for her. This was because even if the old King did not say anything, Elen would have asked herself. Although the number of 2000 was little, it was better than none at all.
“Your Majesty. It will be a disgrace for our country to be able to send only 2000 soldiers in the crisis of a friendly neighboring country. Please, give me the order to dispatch troops, too.”
Advancing as she said that was Ludmila Lourie.
“I will not.”
However, Victor responded to her with a clear rejection.
“Recently, Muozinel has been showing strange movements. Both Vanadises of Olmutz and Polesia should be cautious of Muozinel. I shall have the Vanadis of Brest ready as the two Vanadises’ rear guard.”
The color of shock spread to Sofy and Olga’s faces. The three Vanadises kneeled while inwardly holding irritation and impatience.
Victor’s words were indeed sound. They were first and foremost Vanadises and had to move for Zhcted and their dukedoms. But like that, it became almost impossible to help Tigre. The old King continued his words.
“I shall have Lebus prepare for the Asvarre Kingdom. If Sachstein was to move, Asvarre might also show some movement.”
“…As you command.”
Liza, repressing her feelings, also got down on her knee in front of the old King.
Victor’s gaze was then turned to the black-haired Vanadis.
“Osterode shall cooperate with Earl Vorn together with LeitMeritz. You should go to Brune with 3000 soldiers.”
A new wave of surprise ran. Tigre’s and the Vanadises’ gazes focused on Valentina. The black-haired Vanadis quietly got down on her knee and bowed her head.
“I shall respectfully accept your order.”
“Your Majesty. With all due respect, there is something I would like to say.”
Sofy stood up and stepped forward. Her face turned somewhat pale.
“Isn’t Osterode a little too far from Brune? Of course, I believe that your Majesty has some sort of plan. Please, would you mind sharing even only a part of it with us?”
“Currently, there is no conspicuous threat around Osterode. Isn’t that alone enough? Valentina, what do you think?”
“Your Majesty said that Brune is a friend of Zhcted. I also share the same thought.”
Valentina calmly answered. This meant that she had no objection.
“I really thank your Majesty for his kindness.”
Tigre once again expressed his thanks to Victor. He was given two Vanadises and 5000 soldiers. It was indubitably extraordinary for reinforcements.
However, slight uneasiness crossed Tigre’s mind. He ran his gaze to Valentina who was on her knee immediately nearby.
—Why is it her?
Tigre did not know at all what King Victor was thinking about.
“Well then, I shall excuse myself.”
As he stood up, Tigre left the banquet hall. Elen, Lim and Titta followed after him. Furthermore, the other Vanadises also quickly left the hall. The King walked away as if nothing happened, and noise returned to the hall.
After leaving the hall, Tigre and company gathered in a corner of the very long corridor. The youth looked at Valentina.
“Lady Valentina. I am grateful to you for sending soldiers for my country.”
Tigre straightened himself and expressed his gratitude to Valentina. The black-haired Vanadis, who wrapped her body in a white dress, shook her head with a charming smile.
“It is also an order from His Majesty. Do not mind it.”
“It saved me when you say that. I intend to first proceed to LeitMeritz with Eleonora-dono and then go to Brune, but what will you do?”
This was something that he should ask. He did not mean to rely on Valentina’s military power; but if he did not ask her about her plan, he would not be able to explain about reinforcements to Brune. One wrong move and there was a possibility that Valentina’s soldiers would be considered as invaders.
The black-haired Vanadis wandered her eyes into the air as she seemed to ponder, but after a little while, she turned her purple pupils to Tigre.
“I’m thinking of heading to the north of Brune along the coast by using the sea route. Several ports of my dukedom finally became usable after all.”
In Osterode governed by Valentina, there were only one or two ports which could be used in winter. The harbors and sea surface froze and ships could not be taken out. But, several ports became available when spring came.
Even 3,000 soldiers could be carried all at once if she prepared a fleet. They should arrive in Brune faster than crossing Zhcted.
“I understand. I shall also tell that to my country. Well then, let’s meet again in Brune.”
“Yes. Then everyone, I shall excuse myself.”
Valentina elegantly bowed and turned her back to Tigre and company. She walked down the hallway. After seeing off her back figure, Tigre turned to Sofy.
“Sofy, is there anything you know about the Sachstein Kingdom?”
“Well, I don’t know a lot about them, but there’s no doubt that it’s a country used to fighting. They will often cause skirmishes with Brune and Asvarre.”
Zhcted and Sachstein did not share any borders. However, there were interchanges between them as such.
“The current King is someone called August. In that country, the status of local feudal lords called powerful local clans is strong, but he’s without a doubt an excellent King. Besides that, I would say that they are famous in making good crossbows and catapults.”
“They are also famous for their mercenaries. It is said that mercenaries from Sachstein are good at fighting. I had also happened to meet some in the old days, so they also know when they should attack and when to withdraw.”
Elen interjected. At her words, Tigre remembered Simon a mercenary from Sachstein that he met in Asvarre. He was a skilled mercenary and a reliable existence.
“Lord Tigrevurmud. I think that now we should hurry to Brune without brooding too much. After all, we know neither Sachstein’s purpose nor the size of their army.”
Lim said as to intercede. It was as she said.
Tigre held out his hand to Mila.
“We part here, but we’ll meet again.”
“Yes. I expect good stories from your travel.”
Mila grabbed back Tigre’s hand, too. The youth also exchanged handshakes with Sofy, Liza and Olga, and received words of encouragement from them.
“Elen is there, so I think it’ll be all right; but don’t overdo it.”
“There’s probably no one who can defeat you, but don’t be careless.”
Sofy gently smiled, Liza warned him like an older sister and Olga finished briefly. Then, Tigre looked at Titta. Just for a moment, anxiety crossed the youth’s black pupils.
Titta was only a maid who could not handle a sword. Would it really be all right to take her to Brune where damages of war swirled?
However, Tigre changed his thought. This was because he noticed that firm determination was dwelling in Titta’s hazel-colored pupils.
As usual, Titta had a small stature and a delicate body appearance. Compared with the time when she set foot in Zhcted for the first time two years ago, the noticeable difference between her and Elen or Tigre hasn’t shortened much.
However, Tigre knew of her resolve and willpower. In the civil war in Brune, she followed Tigre until the end and recently, she had also travelled together with Lim and Mashas from LeitMeritz to Lebus in Zhcted’s winter.
“Titta. Our return will be quite busy. It’ll be harsh, but bear with it.”
The chestnut-haired girl cheerfully replied with a smile full of relief. She was the most afraid that she would be left behind. It was precisely because Tigre understood that that he decided to take her along. Elen put her hand on Titta’s shoulder with a contended smile.
“All right. Titta, help me change my clothes. Lim, go prepare the horses. And, send a messenger to LeitMeritz; to tell to immediately prepare 2000 cavalrymen.”
Lim answered with a bow. Respect for Elen overflowed in her unamiable expression.
And then as a half koku has not yet passed, Tigre and company left the capital.
The four of them changed to their travelling clothes and were on horseback. Elen and Lim were riding a horse each, but Titta was riding the same horse as Tigre as she got on behind and was clinging to the youth.
The sky was clear blue and the sun was shining white while rising to the east sky.
The Sun Festival still continued. Tigre and company were riding their horses with the noise, which could be heard until outside of the ramparts, behind them.
It was about five days later after leaving the capital Silesia that Tigre and company arrived at LeitMeritz.
“We have been waiting for your return.”
Standing in front of the gate surrounding the Imperial Palace and welcoming the four people was Rurick. He was currently 23 years old. He further honed his skills in military arts and as commander of troops through many battles, and although young, was an outstanding existence even among the knights of LeitMeritz.
Regarding his bow skill which he was proud of, although the distance didn’t reach 270 Alsins (about 270 meters), his accuracy had improved. Generally, the number considered to be the maximum flying distance of an arrow in the continent was 250 Alsins. Compared to it, the distance in which he could fly an arrow was a number remarkable enough.
By the way, Rurick was bald headed as usual even when entering upon the New Year.
Tigre who was the cause of him adopting this hair style has several times asked him “why don’t you already go back to your original hair style?” until now; but Rurick’s latest reply to it was a followed.
“I also thought so and I have consulted with a girl whom I’m close with, but she said that it was better like this. It’s a girl who knew the me before I shave my head, so…”
By the way, since there were four girls who were “intimate” with the current Rurick, he would not know who it was if he did not ask for the name.
“Are the preparations of soldiers already done?”
Elen asked in a strict tone from horseback. Rurick calmly answered.
“There are 2000 cavalrymen. They are all ready.”
“Did you get any new information from Brune’s direction?”
“So far, there is no important information in particular, but…”
Rurick’s reply was evasive. Although they shared the same border with Brune, it was not like they could immediately receive information from that country. Moreover, the war this time occurred in the west of Brune. Since she understood that, Elen did not blame Rurick.
“I got it. Gather the captains in the courtyard by a half koku.”
When Elen quickly finished bathing, she changed into her combat outfit with Lim’s help and wore armor. It was a light equipment of shoulder armor, breastplate, gauntlets and leg guards. Accompanied by Lim, who was similarly clad in armor, and Tigre, who only wore leather armor on top of his hemp clothes, they headed to the courtyard of the Imperial Palace.
In the courtyard, about 20 soldiers including Rurick were standing in line. All of them were captains leading more than 100 cavalrymen. Among them, there was also the figure of Aram who was close to Tigre.
Though Aram always had features harking back to a beaver, Tigre felt that he more and more resembled to one recently. When his eyes met with Tigre’s, he raised the edge of his mouth only for an instant and gave a small laugh.
When Elen stood before them, she looked at them with a strict expression.
“I think that you’ve already heard the story, but the country called Sachstein attacked Brune. By the royal order, we will go to Brune’s rescue from here on.”
Elen cut her words once there. She observed the soldiers’ expressions. None of them conspicuously expressed their feelings on their faces; they noosed their mouths and were staring straight in front of them. Elen continued.
“Among you, there will probably be people who hold dissatisfaction. And those people will probably think ‘we are LeitMeritz’s warriors, not hired soldiers of Brune. Why do we have to risk our lives and shed blood for them?’”
Although an order of the King, they would fight against another country in order to save a foreign country. Soldiers holding feelings of non-consent in their heart should not be small in number.
Even so, if Elen appealed for taking the field, the soldiers would follow her. That showed how popular she was among the soldiers.
But, it was not good like that. That way of doing things by relying on their loyalty would fail someday. Above all, it was not to Elen’s taste.
“Saving Brune will also be to LeitMeritz’s benefit after all.”
Elen clearly said.
“Two years ago, we’ve participated in Brune’s civil war. And, I concluded several covenants with Brune. Asking them to develop the mountain path of Vosyes and the like are all intended to make LeitMeritz wealthier.”
She did not give a concrete explanation. This was because for example, unless they were people with enough ability and knowledge to be suitable as Elen’s assistant in government affairs like Lim, or people governing a territory like Tigre, they could not understand. What was important was to make them understand that it was not somebody else’s problem.
“But, Sachstein is trying to destroy it.”
Staring at the soldiers, Elen sharply declared.
“If Brune were to fall and Sachstein becomes our neighbor, we wouldn’t be able to live in peace as before. The skirmishes in the Vosyes Mountains would increase and a large-scale war would eventually break out.”
It might be exaggerated, but these were not groundless statements. Hasn’t Sofy said so? That they frequently caused skirmishes with their neighboring countries. There was no doubt that the current Sachstein King was an enthusiastic and ambitious person who thought of expanding his territory.
As for Elen, she did not want to share a border with such a troublesome country.
“So, as to not let that happen, I’ll go to Brune. Do you intend to come along with me? Do you have the guts to display LeitMeritz’s military power to people of a far-off country?”
When Elen asked, the captains saluted immediately. They move in perfect sync. Seeing their reaction, the silver-haired Vanadis contentedly nodded.
“Good. Then everyone, go back to your posts. We’ll depart for the front in a moment.”
And then, the LeitMeritz army of 2000 marched towards Brune.
Tigre asked Elen to let one cavalryman, to whom he gave a letter which he wrote, go ahead to Alsace. There was something which he wanted his territory’s people to prepare before they arrive at Alsace.
A few days later after leaving LeitMeritz, the 2000 cavalrymen led by Elen and Tigre crossed the Vosyes Mountains and entered Alsace.
The mountain path which connected Alsace to LeitMeritz, although it was only 30% of the whole, was well maintained. Pebbles and rocks were removed, the soil was leveled evenly, palisades were erected and a mechanism in order to drain the rain water to the outside was given to key points
Although it was only 30% as of yet, it was certain that the LeitMeritz army’s March speed temporarily rose thanks to it.
“It looks like Regin is properly keeping her promise. It’s good.”
When Elen joyfully laughed, she ordered the soldiers to rest as they have passed through the Vosyes Mountains.
While the LeitMeritz army was taking a rest of about a quarter koku, Tigre with only Titta advanced his horse slightly away from the army.
Spreading in the youth’s view was a vast grassy plain where only a deep black forest far away could be seen. Although called a plain, there was not one speck of green; only jonquils and myosotis bloomed here and there and they let the beholder feel spring. The sky was blue and the sun was shining in a position where it passed the zenith.
The wind which blew from behind shook grass with a rustling sound. While hearing the sound of grass rustling in the wind, Tigre stared at the grassy plain.
“We’ve come back, huh.”
“Yes, we have come back.”
Titta who was sitting behind Tigre answered the youth as she let her chestnut-colored ponytail flutter in the wind. Like the youth, many emotions were contained in the young girl’s voice.
It has been more than one year since Tigre left Brune. But, even more so before leaving Alsace, had he not strengthened his determination to fight Duke Thenardier?
Of course after the civil war ended, he passed through Alsace on the way to go to LeitMeritz as a guest General and stopped by the town of Celesta where he was born and raised.
However, it was really just stopping by. The season then was winter, so he was unable to stay for many days as he had to pass through the Vosyes Mountains when the weather was good.
Even after experiencing many battles, a life in another country and a trip to an unknown land, the still unfading scenery was here.
This blue sky, grassy plain, the forest visible in the distance, the river and lake which should be far ahead, the mountains where beasts lived, the small town where he was born and raised that was also his hometown.
“Titta. We’ll arrive at Celesta tomorrow. But…”
With his back still to the girl, Tigre said. However, he did not continue his words further than this.
Titta clung to the youth’s back. Though the girl’s warmth was not transmitted as it was blocked by the leather armor, Tigre could feel her feelings from her small body weight; also the feel of her chestnut-colored hair which tickled the nape of his neck.
They would stay only one night at Celesta. He did not mean to complain about it. Rather, he had to be thankful. This was because staying at Celesta was the result of Elen and Lim’s consideration.
If they were to head straight for the capital Nice after passing through the Vosyes Mountains, they would have not stopped by the town of Celesta. They would have passed through the highway located to the west of Celesta.
Then, Elen and Lim coordinated the troop’s marching road and time. While stopping by in Celesta, they thought so as to arrive at the capital as planned without being late.
Thanks to the two girls, Tigre and Titta were here now.
—Will I be able to come back here again?
Looking at the grassy plain, Tigre thought about such a thing. When they repelled the foreign enemy and Regin’s reign became firm, would Tigre be able to return to Alsace?
“We should return soon to where Elen and company are.”
Tigre turned the horse and rode it towards where the LeitMeritz army was. At that time, Titta extended her hands and clung to Tigre.
“Tigre-sama. I will accompany you no matter where you go.”
Putting strength in her arms which she put around the youth’s body, Titta appealed desperately. When Tigre nodded with a smile, he put his left hand upon the girl’s hands.
“Thank you, Titta.”
The horse which the two of them rode slowly walked towards the LeitMeritz army.
The next day, the LeitMeritz army arrived at Celesta.
The town of Celesta had no room for accommodating 2000 men and horses. 50 horsemen led by Tigre and Elen went to the town; the remaining soldiers started setting up a camp in a place about 500 Alsins (about 500 meters) away from the town.
In addition, Titta was riding behind Tigre without change.
“Tigre-sama, you came back!”
The gatekeeper who was standing before the opened door conveyed it in a loud voice in the town as he found the figure of Tigre standing at the army’s vanguard. He did not watch out for the Black Dragon Flag at all.
That was natural because when the Thenardier army led by Zaian attacked the town the year before last, it was the LeitMeritz army who drove them away. Since Tigre was with them, there was no reason to be suspicious.
The gatekeeper’s voice reached up to Tigre and company as it rode upon the wind. Elen who was riding her horse next to Tigre chuckled and lightly poked Tigre’s side.
“You’re popular as usual.”
“Even though I’m a lord who left his territory alone.”
Tigre shrugged his shoulders and answered Elen. His voice was slightly tinged with a sound of self-deprecation. Seemingly having heard it, Titta who was behind him tightened her hold on the youth’s body.
“Tigre-sama, I do not think that it is good to say such a thing.”
“I got it, it was my bad Titta. So, release me.”
Tigre hurriedly surrendered. If he was clung to by Titta as such, his dignity as a lord would also be ruined. Usually, he did not mind about such a thing; but when thinking that it has been a while since he returned to his home, he somewhat wanted to look good. He had to do something quickly before they were seen by someone.
“Titta, I’ll allow it. You may stay just like that until we enter the town.”
“Give me a break.”
While protesting to Elen who was enjoying it, Tigre advanced his horse. He arrived before the castle gate. The scenery which could be seen from inside the gate did not change at all compared to one year ago.
However, Tigre was not able to indulge in nostalgia any more than that. From inside the town, the residents of Celesta were running towards them. Even if they were few, there were 20 to 30 people.
Tigre hurriedly got down from the horse. Then, he helped Titta to get down. The young lord and his maid were surrounded by the people in front of the gate.
“Tigre-sama, so you have finally come back!”
“After hearing that the lord came back, I rushed out!”
“Welcome back, Tigre-sama! If Urz-sama was still alive, he would have been very happy.”
They were happy about Tigre and Titta’s return and unanimously expressed words of congratulations to them. There were also people who were crying in joy.
“Everyone seems to be fine. Sorry for being absent for a long time.”
“Everyone, it has been a long time! Thank you very much for coming to welcome us!”
Tigre and Titta either exchanged handshakes with each person, or hugged them for the happy reunion. Elen was looking at this scene from a remote place with a smile.
At that time, among the residents, one man stepped forward.
He was a little thin and had tied his black hair in the back of his head. Judging from his face, he should still be around 30 years old and several wrinkles were carved on his broad forehead.
Tigre remembered the man. It was Elvin, a chief administrator whom Regin dispatched.
“Your Excellency Earl Vorn. It is good above all that you have returned safely.”
Elvin politely bowed his head. Tigre also nodded and asked him.
“Have there been any changes in Alsace?”
“I have acted as best as I could to keep it as is. If it is alright with you, please let’s walk around the town. The people will also be relieved after seeing your Excellency Earl’s figure.”
At the same time he finished talking, Elvin moved his gaze. His eyes were cautious about Elen and company ── the LeitMeritz army standing in a remote place. The wrinkles of his forehead became deep.
“Elvin, they are allies. The people of the town think so, too.”
In a tone as calm as possible, Tigre persuaded the black-haired chief administrator. He could not bring himself to blame Elvin’s attitude. Foreign troops being immediately near the town could only make the people with the position of governing that town anxious. Moreover, he did not experience Zaian’s attack.
It looked like Elvin who heard Tigre’s words seemed to immediately change his thinking.
“I am sorry. I have heard that they fought for Brune, but…”
When he showed an honest attitude, the wrinkles disappeared from his forehead. Although slightly formal, Tigre got the impression that he was a sincere man.
Because Elvin would guide the 50 LeitMeritz cavalrymen to an inn, he bowed to Tigre and walked off at a quick pace. In his stead, the town’s representatives showed up before Tigre and Titta.
They respectfully bowed to Tigre and smiled at Titta standing next to the youth.
“Tigre-sama. It has really been a year since then. You seem to be fine…”
“It is good above all to see that you people too don’t seem to have changed.”
Seeing their faces, Tigre smiled broadly. Titta too nodded with a smile. The representatives were all in their fifties and they have lived in this town even before Tigre and Titta were born.
While walking down the main street guided by them, Tigre and company headed to the mansion. The citizens waved their hands, and he felt nostalgia and a sense of security from the unchanged townscape.
“Can you prepare the soldiers?”
When Tigre asked, one representative revealed a wrinkled face and nodded.
“Yes. 60 people holding a spear or a bow. I will gather them in this Celesta. Everyone has the resolve to strain themselves for Tigre-sama.”
This was the reason why Tigre asked Elen to have the cavalrymen go first to Alsace. While understanding that he would let the citizens head to their death, the youth deliberately ordered it.
“Thank you. I will trouble you…”
A very small amount of bitterness was contained in the voice of Tigre who thanked him. 60 territory people, 2000 cavalrymen and the apology to Elen were mingled with each other. The representative laughed so as to say that he did not mind it.
“What, the people of Zhcted thrust themselves into the battle, so how will we feel if we do not accompany Tigre-sama? We will not shame Tigre-sama. If not for my position as a representative, I would also accompany you.”
Tigre smiled wryly. This representative should have already exceeded 50. After all, he was the same age as Bertrand who was the youth’s personal attendant before.
“I leave Celesta to you people. Because there are people who are protecting this town, we will be able fight without worry.”
When Tigre said so, the representative happily and bashfully laughed.
That day, though modest, a feast was held in the open space of the town. Although it was to celebrate Tigre’s return, it was a feast also intended to welcome the Zhcted troops and to send off the sixty Alsace soldiers.
Alcohol was also served to the LeitMeritz troops who established a camp outside of the town, but there were about 2000 cavalrymen after all.
If Lim had not said “I will allow only a small quantity”, it might have not been sufficient.
Tigre did not drink alcohol that much and talked with Elvin and the representatives throughout the feast. Though Elvin might not be outstandingly capable, as Tigre had thought he was a sincere man and he felt that if it was him, he could leave Alsace to him.
A big bonfire blazed in the center of the open space and the residents sang and danced around it. Titta went to meet her family and the people of the shrine. It seems like she would spend this night with her family.
When the moon rose highly, the feast was also over and most people returned to their houses to sleep.
Tigre and Elen were sitting side by side in the grassy plain on the outskirts of the town and were looking at the starry sky. Beside them, there was one wine bottle and two bronze-made wine cups.
Although it was spring, the night air was chilly; but it was not something to worry about as they had put on an overcoat. Besides, Elen had Arifal. As long as it was by her side, this long sword could soften the night air’s coldness with the power of wind.
“It was an enjoyable feast for the first time in a while.”
Elen contentedly said. Her face being red was probably due to the fact that she greatly enjoyed wine. Tigre’s face was not that red, but alcohol was mixed in his exhaled breath.
“I’m glad to hear that.”
Until the feast had ended, Tigre did not have even an opportunity to meet Elen. It was because he gave priority to the residents. Because Elen also understood that, she did not meddle in. for that alone, he was thankful for Elen’s consideration.
“I’m not saying that as a compliment. After all, warmly welcoming a foreign country’s army is hardly thinkable.”
While saying that, Elen brought her body near Tigre. Her warmth was transmitted over the overcoat; and Tigre also brought his body near her. As if snuggling up, the two people glued their bodies to each other.
“A hometown sure is something good, huh.”
To the silver-haired Vanadis’ mutter, Tigre asked something which he suddenly recalled. It has been on his mind for some time now, but he unintentionally missed an opportunity to ask it.
“Where is Elen’s hometown?”
He has already heard before that before becoming a Vanadis, she was a mercenary. However, Tigre knew only that much about Elen’s past.
“I don’t know.”
Elen plainly answered. Seeing Tigre’s wondering face with a sidelong glance, she smiled.
“When I was a baby, I was picked up by a mercenary group. As far as I remember, I tried asking the guys of the mercenary group where I was picked up, but everyone’s answer was different, so I gave it up.”
Unless they participate in a long-term war, a mercenary group would not stay in one place. They could stop by in a town with the reason of rest for the group, the supplement of the staff, food, supplies and the like, but moving from battlefield to battlefield was basically their daily life.
“I love LeitMeritz and the people living there. But, it’s difficult to call it my hometown. It has only been four years since I became Vanadis after all. The time when I was a mercenary is longer.”
Although Elen’s tone felt refreshed, Tigre did not miss the slight gloom in it.
When she ceased to be Vanadis one day, what would Elen do? Would she live somewhere in LeitMeritz? Or would she go out on an aimless journey?
“Elen. If you don’t mind…”
Why don’t you come to Alsace? He was about to say that, however Tigre was not able to say more than that. While looking at the starry sky, Elen changed the topic.
“How will we move from tomorrow on?”
Or, she might have sensitively guessed what the youth was going to say. After a short pause, Tigre switched his thinking as he rummaged his darkish red hair.
“We will go south to Territoire. It seems that Lord Mashas is there.”
During the feast, Tigre asked Elvin about the present situation, but he did not know the concrete details. In a remote place like Alsace, concrete information was not available.
But, Elvin talked about something important.
He said that a few days ago from now, a messenger sent by Mashas visited this town. As the messenger conveyed that Mashas went to Territoire with several hundred soldiers, he left the town.
“Lord Mashas believed that I would come back. We first have to join with Lord Mashas.”
“Well, it’s plausible. As we don’t even know where the enemy is, it would be terrible to wander around in Brune and eat up all the food supplies.”
Territoire was the land governed by Viscount Augres. On the occasion of the civil war two years ago, he was the next person to cooperate with Tigre after Mashas. In addition, the Viscount’s son Gerard supported Tigre as he demonstrated surprisingly accurate calculation abilities.
It would be reassuring if they could join with Mashas and Augres.
“Speaking of which, what will you do about the brides?”
As she recalled, Elen changed the topic again. Tigre gave a small groan.
At the place of the feast, Tigre was asked by the town’s representatives and Elvin in a modest tone.
‘How about you begin to think about a heir?’
Elen had probably heard about that from someone.
Tigre was 18 years old. It was an age where it wouldn’t be strange even if one has already gotten married. Be it Brune or Zhcted, when it came to only the engagement, there were many nobles whom it was decided for at a young age; whether or not they have already turned 10. Speaking extremely, there were also Houses where a fiancé/fiancée was decided as soon as one was safely born and the gender could be confirmed.
Tigre was born in the remote region of Alsace and although an Earl, their property was also small. Because he was not frequently going to the capital, he was unfamiliar with such talk.
If it was at the period when his father was alive, it would have still been all right. But, he already must think seriously about it and if possible, put it into effect at an early stage.
While drying up the wine cup, Elen said.
“Their worry is reasonable. The year before last, you only ran about in the battlefield; and last year, you weren’t in your territory since you stayed in a foreign country as a guest General. Although the story about the fact that you struggled in Asvarre did not seem to have reached here, they will become anxious if they don’t hear about your whereabouts.”
If Tigre lost his life, the Vorn House would die out. If that happened, a noble or knight appointed by the royal family would become a chief administrator and govern Alsace.
Unlike a feudal lord, a chief administrator had what was called “term of office”. When that term of office expires, the chief administrator would leave the land. Therefore, chief administrators abusing the territory’s people and spreading tyranny while thinking only about the results during their tenure were not unusual.
Of course, there were also good-natured chief administrators like Elvin who thought about people, but In such case, standing out was the usually the wrong way.
If just the tax payment was correctly carried out, the kingdom would not interfere in the chief administrator’s acts. Although there was also the fact that an inspecting group was rarely dispatched in order to inquire about a chief administrator’s administration, it was a really rare instance. In addition, even the inspecting group could be won over by the chief administrator.
Such precedents piled up as time passed and adding some exaggerations, stories of retired nobles going on a trip with their attendants to punish heinous chief administrators were completed.
“I understand their feelings. I was also taught by my father that it was a noble’s duty not to let his blood die out.”
Tigre inclined his glass while being aware so as to not look Elen’s way as much as possible.
“But, I didn’t have that kind of talk.”
Though the youth clumsily tried to escape, Elen did not allow it.
“There have been such talks from the nobles of Brune through Princess Regin, right?”
“I saw them, but they are only people I don’t know…”
Before the Sun Festival was held, Tigre heard about them when he returned to LeitMeritz from Lebus. He was given a large quantity of letters by Elen and Lim. They said that Gerard Augres had carried them when the youth left for Asvarre.
About when winter was over, Tigre saw them for the first time.
In the event when you will eventually return to Brune, I by all means want to deepen my friendship with you. First of all, could I have you greet my daughter?
Although the word “daughter” could also be referring to a younger sister or niece, such was in a great part the contents of the letters; and Tigre came to have a headache after reading the fifth letter.
Even Tigre understood the necessity to expand such interactions. However, it was also a fact that he was fed up with the fact that their ulterior motive was obvious from the beginning.
“Regarding them, it’ll take time to deal with them. I want to consult with Lord Mashas and Viscount Augres first and it might also be better to ask her Highness about it.”
“You don’t know when that’ll be, right? How about Titta? Wasn’t the reason why that girl was allowed to become your maid for such an aim?”
“Probably. I didn’t even think about such a possibility in the past though.”
If I could make a child with Titta, the danger of the Vorn House’s blood dying out would be avoided for the time being. Then, he could adopt the measure of slowly looking for a legal wife. Although, in that case Titta would become the favorite concubine and the child made with her would be illegitimate.
Tigre’s expression became bitter. Although it did not seem noble-like, he has never seriously thought about marriage so far. There were several reasons.
The year before last, until he had gone for the battle of Dinant, Tigre did not so much as think about the fact that he might die. Before that, he had gone on a battlefield only once and at that time, his father was with him.
Tigre was all right as long as he straddled his horse next to his father’s. At that time, oddly enough he did not feel the danger of death.
In addition, the surroundings too did not rush Tigre. When Urz died due to illness, the territory people should have approached Tigre so as to urge him to make a child; but they did not do that.
Originally, in addition to his carefree nature, Titta felt relieved just being by Tigre’s side. Many people came to know that Titta was harboring light feelings towards the youth.
Nobody said ‘since Tigre is a noble, he should take a nobleman’s daughter as a wife’. Judging from the late Urz, although his wife was born in the capital, she was the daughter of a gardener.
Moreover, there was Mashas’ presence. This old man, who was Urz’s close friend and took care of Tigre in various ways, has several times said to the territory’s people that he would someday find a suitable girl for Tigre. The territory’s people were also close to Mashas and believed his words.
It was not impossible if Mashas were to use his personal connections. But, the civil war two years ago and the contract about Tigre living in Zhcted as a guest General have caused it to be delayed. Above all, Tigre did not assertively requested to Mashas about such a thing.
“Titta is important to me. But──”
Tigre cut his words there. He had hesitation on the fact of putting Titta in the position of beloved concubine. Although a noble having a concubine was not unusual, there was also opposition about keeping the concubine before welcoming the legal wife.
“In your case, even if you make Titta a concubine, how about doing it after you’ve decided about the legal wife at least?”
As Elen accurately saw through about the part which he did not put into words, Tigre stared at her with a surprised face. The silver-haired Vanadis proudly laughed.
“Your thoughts are easy to read. Then, how about Lim?”
As the name of someone close to him was voiced out, Tigre looked at Elen with an amazed face.
“Considering it’s a joke from you, it’s not really funny. If I take her as a wife, she will have to come to Alsace, you know?”
“I know that. Lim is already 21, too. It won’t do well if she doesn’t think about marriage. But, as for me, I don’t have any intentions of giving Lim to the mob around there. I’ll allow it if it’s you.”
“Who to choose is her own will, right?”
“I don’t think that Lim will reject if it’s you. Or, don’t you want it?”
Being asked by Elen, Tigre sank into silence. Though Lim was a commoner, she was a knight. Moreover, she had the position of Vanadis’ adjutant. For Tigre, it would feel rather rude if he had to take her as the legal wife. She was a person from Zhcted, but it was not like there was no noble who had a foreign wife.
Above all, if it was her, there would be no problem even if Titta became the concubine.
“There’s no way that I wouldn’t want it. I’m worried about you.”
Tigre answered so in a joking tone.
“Can you manage without Lim by your side?”
“Oh my, it looks like I’m being underestimated.”
Elen pretended to have gotten angry. However, she immediately returned to a serious expression.
“I find the ties of obligations quite bothersome.”
“Doesn’t a Vanadis have ties of obligation?”
As he casually asked that, Elen nodded while looking up at the starry sky.
“Vanadis is one generation after all. If I feel like it, I can move without thinking after having ceased being Vanadis. Although, I don’t know when I’ll cease to be one.”
“In that case, what would you do about marriage?”
“I’ll be able to do normally. I can also conceive a child even when being Vanadis as is. Ludmila’s mother and grandmother are good examples. And, it’s hard to become a target for political marriage. When I ceased to be Vanadis, I would become an ordinary woman; after all, there are many Vanadises with backgrounds of commoners.”
“Is that so?”
To Tigre who revealed an unexpected face, Elen casually answered.
“I was a mercenary. Ludmila’s great-grand mother should have been a commoner. Sofy’s father is a Knight. Sasha had said that she was born and raised in a small village. I think that only Elizavetta and Valentina are Vanadises of noble birth. How was it for Olga?”
“Olga is the grandchild of the head of the Horse Riding people.”
“Hmm… It’s difficult to make a judgment. She’s from an important House, but I would say that it isn’t a noble one. So returning to the topic, the marriage of a Vanadis is freer than a noble’s. Though, the one who becomes the husband will have to live in the Imperial Palace. Conversely speaking, it can be said that that’s the only condition to become a Vanadis’ husband.”
That too was one of the reasons why it was hard for a Vanadis to become a target of political marriage. The noble side must become the bridegroom. Moreover, Vanadis was not something permanent. Unless one was greatly driven into the corner or there was something that one wanted to get even if temporarily, a political marriage was impossible.
“Well, let’s stop talking about me. This fellow will look for the one who will succeed me after all.”
As she lightly laughed, Elen lightly tapped the sword guard of Arifal which she held in her hand. As if answering to it, the long sword which was put in its sheath caused a small wind which rustled the two people’s clothes.
“But, I’ll be thankful if you do something about Lim. After all, there isn’t any male presence around here. I don’t mind interceding, but it’d be troublesome if I were to appear to be favoring her.”
“You’re right. I’ll give it some thought.”
Saying that was the best Tigre could do. Of course, it was not like he did not like Lim. However, she would have hated it no matter what the decision as the person herself did not know about this.
The next morning, the LeitMeritz army in addition to 60 people led by Tigre and Elen were seen off by Elvin and the territory’s people and left the town of Celesta.
It was three days later after leaving Alsace that Tigre and company joined with Mashas. Soon after they entered Territoire, the scouts who were sent discovered thousands of soldiers.
“Do you know the color and design of the flag which that army was floating?”
“It was a green flag with a brown wild boar drawn on it. There were some others beside that though.”
Tigre’s face brightened at the scout’s answer. It was the flag of Earl Rodant’s House.
Tigre and Elen immediately released the messenger and reunited with Mashas in the field of Vesoul located in the west of Territoire. When he saw a knight with a grey beard riding a horse at the vanguard of the army, Tigre unintentionally shouted.
“Lord Mashas. You are safe!”
“You too. I’m glad that you came as well.”
Mashas also nodded with a smile to Tigre. He wore dark grey armor on his short and stout small-sized body and hung a sword to his waist. While being endowed with enough dignity, there was youthfulness in his black pupils.
It was about ten days before the Sun Festival that Mashas had met Tigre and company for the last time. When King Victor made the promise that Tigre would return to Brune after the Sun Festival ended, this old knight immediately returned to Brune.
As Mashas stepped forward in front of Elen, he observed courtesy as a noble as he deeply bowed his head.
“This is an earlier reunion than I expected, but I glad that you came safely. I give you my gratitude in the stead of Her Highness Regin.”
“What, don’t mind it. I’m not coming by means of morality here, but I’m moving by the royal order to help Tigre.”
Elen answered so while laughing, and Mashas revealed a dubious face. It was probably hard for someone like Mashas to understand a royal order of helping a person from a foreign country. Elen explained about the fact that King Victor often ordered the dispatch of troops in order to chip/weaken a Vanadis’ power.
“That sure is hard for you… That said, since he is helping us this time like this, I cannot really speak ill of him.”
Afterwards, Elen also called Lim and Titta. Mashas lightly tapped Lim’s shoulders and exchanged a handshake with her. And then, he kindly patted Titta’s head. He also noticed the face that Titta had and how she did her hairstyle as a ponytail and praised her that it looked good on her.
For Mashas, Titta was like a daughter and Lim was a comrade in arms with a great difference in age. In the civil war two years ago, Mashas and Lim cooperated and commanded the soldiers.
These three people have also made a trip to Lebus in order to meet Tigre who lost his memory. That memory was still fresh in Tigre’s mind.
Mashas led 3000 soldiers. The soldiers of Aude which was his territory were about 500. The remaining soldiers were those of various nobles of the neighborhood.
Tigre thought that since they were in Territoire, Viscount Augres was also here, but his figure was nowhere to be seen. When he asked, he was told that Viscount Augres was in the capital Nice together with his son Gerard.
“It seems that Augres thought that it was soon time for him to hand his title over to his son and retire, but Badouin doesn’t want to let go of Gerard. They are talking about that in various ways.”
Badouin was the Prime Minister who pledged allegiance to Regin, he was also an old friend of Mashas.
It was a shame that he could not meet the Augres father and son pair, but Tigre reconsidered that if they repulsed the Sachstein army and then went to the capital, he would be able to meet them again.
Then, a sharp-looking man appeared, standing beside Mashas. Tigre who saw that man’s face revealed a smile mixed with nostalgia and joy.
“Lord Gaspar! It’s been a long time.”
“I am glad to see that you look healthy. Earl Vorn.”
The man called Gaspar bowed to Tigre with a broad smile. Mashas introduce him to Elen and Lim who made wondering faces.
“He is one of my sons. Gaspar, this is Eleonora Viltaria-dono, a Vanadis of Zhcted, and Limalisha-dono who serves as her adjutant.”
“I am the second son of the Earl Aude House, Gaspar. Since my elder brother, Urbain, is protecting the territory on behalf of my father, I’m acting as an attendant of my father. Please to make your acquaintance.”
Gaspar courteously bowed to Elen and Lim. The two girls also returned the greeting to him.
“However, Tigre ── Lord Tigrevurmud, you grew up magnificently, eh. The last time we met was four years ago.”
Gaspar who called Tigre by his nickname corrected himself at once. Although a shadow of loneliness flashed on Tigre’s face for an instant, the youth immediately revealed a smile and nodded.
“That’s right. It was about when I succeeded Alsace.”
Looking at this exchange, Elen and Lim roughly understood the two young men’s relationship. Until Tigre succeeded to the Earl Vorn House, they probably got along well enough to be able to speak with each other in an informal tone. Although Tigre used a polite way of talking, it must be because Gaspar was older.
“I am really sorry for having been unable to do anything on the occasion of the civil war two years ago. For this war, I shall frantically exert myself and be helpful to you, Earl Vorn.”
“I am relying on you, but please do not overdo it too much.”
Both of Mashas’ sons did not participate in the civil war two years ago. Mashas did not permit it. Since the eldest son Urbain would succeed him should anything happen to him, he could not let him participate.
For the time when those with a suitable position would have to move, Gaspar also had to stay on standby in their territory.
Tigre and company established a camp in the field of Vesoul. The soldiers dug trenches and while looking at the state of the fence being set up, the youth muttered impressively.
“That reminds me of the “Silver Meteor Army”.”
But, this was not the time for nostalgia. As they left the command of soldiers to Rurick, the trio: Tigre, Elen and Lim headed to Mashas’ tent.
Several men were already inside the tent. They were Brune nobles who had interactions with Mashas and would participate in the battle leading their private army. After getting the greetings over with, Tigre and company sat down as they formed a circle. Having opened her mouth first and foremost was Elen.
“Let’s get to the main point at once. How is the situation?”
“Honestly, it isn’t good.”
The other nobles alternately looked at Mashas and Elen with eyes wide opened. They were surprised at the fact that Elen of Zhcted was the first to speak and that Mashas honestly replied to her. While stroking his grey beard, Mashas smiled at them.
“They are friendly troops. So it’s natural I would explain the situation without concealing anything.”
Although the nobles nodded, there were those with faces showing that they did not consent from the bottom of their hearts. They also turned curious gazes towards Tigre. They were probably wondering how he was able to make the soldiers of Zhcted accompany him.
While spreading several maps so that everyone was able to see, Mashas explained the situation.
“Sachstein attacked us from the south across the sea in the middle of the Halo Festival ── the New Year festival in our country. Their army numbered 20000. Those guys passed through the port towns of the coast and went north little by little.”
The fact that he expressly restated the Halo Festival as the New Year festival was probably in consideration towards Elen and Lim who were people from Zhcted. Mashas proceeded with the explanation.
“The Knight Squadron and the nobles with territory located to the south were ordered to repel them by Her Highness Regin. However, about ten days ago, the Sachstein army also appeared at the western border this time. And they number 50000.”
Two pieces were put on the map depicting the entirety of Brune. It seemed like the Sachstein army was aiming for the capital Nice from the south and the west.
“Here, a change occurred in the enemy’s movement. The enemy who attacked from the south began to retreat. On the other hand, the enemy on the west side continued to advance as is. The nobles possessing territory to the west and the Knight Squadron there seemed to have ambushed them, but as far as I know, they performed two battles and they were defeated those two times.”
Tigre who finished hearing Mashas’ story gasped. Although the enemy’s numbers were frightening, he felt pain as if his stomach had shrank when he heard they had lost twice. The situation was far more serious than he thought.
“So they first attacked from the south, attracted attention there and then the main troops went in from the west, huh.”
“Probably. Therefore, most of the Knight Squadrons and the nobles’ private armies are heading to the west. It’s too far to contact them, so I don’t know their specific number.”
“Then, who is heading towards the enemy of the south side? I’m guessing that it won’t be only the 3000 soldiers led by Lord Mashas.”
To Elen’s question, Mashas greatly nodded.
“Of course; with the addition of the Lutece Knight Squadron and the troops of noble feudal lords commencing with Earl Bouroullec, an army 10000 strong will be heading there. It’s half the enemy’s number, but we should be fit as a diversion.”
Tigre did not know the person called Earl Bouroullec, but when he heard the name “Lutece Knight Squadron”, he took a breath of relief.
The Lutece Knight Squadron was one of the Knight Squadrons who rushed to Tigre’s help when the Muozinel army invaded two years ago. They continued to fight against Duke Thenardier’s army under Tigre’s command afterwards, too. Tigre remembered a man called Scheie.
“Now then, about how we will move from now on. South or west, where will we head?”
“Let’s go to the south” Tigre immediately replied. He pointed at one point of the map that spread out, with a finger.
They were only 5000. If the enemy’s numbers were 50000 and 20000, they should fight the enemy side that had fewer soldiers. Besides, considering the distance, it was hard to think that the two armies of Sachstein did not get in contact in enemy territory. If they could deal damage to the army of 20000, the situation might change.
“If we can join with the soldiers of the Lutece Knight Squadron, we will number 15000 in total. I think we’ll be able to put up quite a good fight.”
Elen leaked a smile meaning the worries were resolved; when it came to war, her ruby-colored pupils shone with vitality and fighting spirit.
Since other troops and Knight Squadrons were heading to the west side, they just had to fight the enemy in the south with all their might.
While hearing Elen’s words as he was next to her, Tigre still observed the map. From what was said so far, there was a part which he was not somewhat fully satisfied with.
Tigre suddenly ran his gaze around. His eyes met with Lim’s. Usually, a faint smile would appear on the lips of this expressionless girl. But, she guessed that Tigre was harboring a question and demanded with a gaze expressing that they should solve it by themselves.
Rummaging his darkish red hair, Tigre once again scowled at the map. He did not understand. In a casual movement, Lim traced the coast in the southern part of Brune with a finger. From an outsider’s perspective, it would look like she just brushed off dirt. So, there was no one to blame her.
Tigre greatly opened his eyes wide and stared at the map. The youth finally understood the part he was not satisfied with. Tigre raised his face and asked the nobles.
“A while ago, Lord Mashas had said ‘passed through the port towns of the coast’, but what had happened to those port towns?”
Normally thinking, two or three of the major port towns would be captured and they would become the enemy’s foothold. But when thinking back upon Mashas’ explanation, the enemy’s assault on the port towns was frighteningly fast. One could only think that they captured them in one day.
Mashas answered with an evasive tone.
“There are reports that some port towns are cooperating with the enemy.”
A wave of shivers ran throughout the tent. Tigre, Elen and Lim unintentionally looked at each other.
“Are you saying that the port towns deflected to the enemy…?”
“According to the scout’s report, it seems that the port towns La Mer, Agde and Massilia taken by the Sachstein army didn’t suffer much damage. It said that the merchants there actively cooperate with them, too. The notification of the Sachstein army’s invasion also came late.”
“So, isn’t it like they surrendered without fighting after being shown an overwhelmingly large army?”
Elen cocked her head in puzzlement at Mashas’ explanation. One of the reasons of gathering a large army was to coerce the enemy, thus making them lose their fighting spirit.
“There’s that possibility, but with the three port towns I nominated just now, all in the same situation, it’s hardly conceivable. Besides, the Sachstein army has been in enemy territory for nearly 20 days already; without starving. There are no signs of them having attacked towns and villages for resources.”
Mashas said in a depressed tone.
How did they supply food and fuel to support a large army of 20000 soldiers? Even supposing that they attacked cities and towns on the way while marching, there was no guarantee that they would get enough food.
And it was also not like the Sachstein army just passed those cities and towns without attacking them. When marching, they attacked towns and villages considered to become strategic positions. But, those numbered few.
Tigre was inwardly puzzled. For some reason, Mashas seemed to persist on the thought that those port towns deflected to the enemy.
—Other than what he told us, is there any other information he got a hold of?
He thought, but he passed on asking him about it here. If Mashas did not say it, there was probably a reason.
“So depending on the situation, they’ll be more troublesome than the enemy of 50000 who is attacking from the west.”
Elen snorted as she folded her arms. If possible, she wanted to avoid fighting an enemy whose preparations were near perfect. But, that could not be considered when thinking about the situation.
Tigre raised his face from the map and asked about a different matter.
“Is Her Highness Regin safe?”
“She’s in the capital. Soldiers are gathering one after another in the capital, so there’s no problem.”
Mashas cocked his head in puzzlement while answering and quickly winked at Tigre. It was in the blind spot of the other nobles, so they did not see it. Having noticed it were probably only Tigre and Elen sitting next to him.
“Eleonora-dono. If you do not mind, could I ask you about the interaction with Zhcted?”
The implication of Mashas having said so in order to reassure the nobles in this place was strong. The reason why the other nobles remained silent since a while ago, was because they were too cautious of Elen and Lim, thus they left it all to Mashas who was close to them.
Elen, also aware of that, revealed a smile as she looked around at all the members present
“His Majesty King Victor, as he cannot overlook the crisis of a friendly nation, ordered 2000 soldiers of my LeitMeritz to be dispatched. Of course, I won’t say that it’s for free, but I shall have a talk with Her Highness Regin about it after having driven away the fussy eagle.”
When she said “fussy eagle”, she spoke about the Sachstein army. Elen did not know that much about Sachstein, but even she knew about their flag that had a white Steller’s sea eagle. She made fun of it.
“Other than us, reinforcements from Zhcted are scheduled to be dispatched. But, they will need a little time to arrive.”
Lim indifferently supplemented. It was about Valentina leading the Osterode army. Judging from her tone, it did not looked like she counted that much on them.
In fact, it would take a great amount of time for them to come from the faraway Osterode until this place. Moreover, their commander was Valentina who was known for having a weak body, as well as for her slow sortie and early withdrawal.
“What, it’s nothing. As for me, I’m thankful enough that at least you guys have come. I’d have to apologize to Victor. By the way, Tigre, I’m thinking of having you take the supreme command of this army, but will you do it?”
Tigre looked at Mashas with a face which could not hide his surprise. Most of the nobles gathered here were people he did not know. Therefore, he thought that Mashas would take the supreme command.
“Your name is known in Sachstein, too. Let’s surprise them.”
Mashas broadly grinned. Tigre strongly nodded.
After the war council’s first stage had ended, because Mashas said that he had a lot to talk about with Tigre, Tigre remained in the tent. Elen and Lim also made up a proper reason and stayed together with them. It was for this purpose that Mashas gave a wink a while ago.
“Do you know a woman called Melisande?”
Being asked by Mashas without beating around the bush, Tigre cocked his head in puzzlement. It was a name he had never heard of. While shaking his short and stout body, Mashas answered with a serious expression.
“She was Duke Thenardier’s wife, which means that she is a widow now.”
To his words, not only Tigre, but also Elen and Lim opened their eyes wide. Thenardier was a formidable enemy and an unforgettable existence even for Elen and Lim.
“What’s it with that widow? Since Thenardier was responsible for having made that much of a mess, even his wife won’t be left off the hook.”
“Of course, is what I would like to say; but Melisande is a person who inherits the blood of the royal family. She can’t be treated roughly. After that civil war was over, Her Highness the Princess entrusted her to a shrine in Nemetacum. Since she behaved herself, Her Highness left Melisande alone, but…”
Nemetacum was located in the southern part of Brune and was Duke Thenardier’s territory before. After the end of the civil war, Nemetacum was requisitioned by the royal family and a chief administrator dispatched by Regin governs it now.
“There’s a possibility that Melisande invited the Sachstein army in.”
Tigre became speechless to Mashas’ words. That was a reckless action that even Thenardier would not do. Lim asked in a serene tone.
“Lord Mashas. As for the group of port towns in the southern part which deflected, is it highly probable that they did it by Melisande’s instructions?”
“You’re quick on the uptake.”
Mashas spilled a sigh mixed with a wry smile. However, the old Earl returned to a serious expression right away and pulled the map put aside towards him.
“I don’t need to say it now, but Duke Thenardier’s power at the time he was alive was great. You may even say that Brune’s southern part with Nemetacum as its center was mostly that man’s sphere of influence. Even the port towns of coastal places; for those port towns, Duke Thenardier was a powerful protector.”
Thenardier protected the group of port towns that brought in vast profits by trade. For example, when the Muozinel army had attacked from the sea, he personally commanded a fleet and repelled the enemy.
“I spoke about it during the war council, but the Sachstein army which appeared from the sea went through the port towns and is going north towards the capital. After an investigation, we found out that the enemy had passed Nemetacum when going north. If it was only that, then it’d be fine; but they seem to be receiving support such as food from Nemetacum.”
“However, the current Nemetacum is governed by a chief administrator that Her Highness Regin had dispatched, right?”
Tigre looked puzzled. But, the youth immediately understood a certain thing.
Just like the group of port towns of the coast, if those, who either felt indebted to Thenardier or have distanced themselves from Regin, occupied an important post in Nemetacum, the chief administrator would be helpless by himself.
“Because it’s difficult to send scouts into Nemetacum now, I can’t assert it. But, it’s probably just as you think.”
“In other words, you’re saying that the current enemy isn’t only Sachstein. And that it’s very likely that we’ll have to deal with Nemetacum and the port towns of the coast. Where is that Melisande now? In Nemetacum?”
Mashas shook his head to Elen’s question.
“She’s in the capital Nice. She’s locked up in one room of the royal palace.”
“That’s good for the time being. But, gathering domestic discontented members and borrowing soldiers of a foreign country since she has no soldiers on hand, huh. It’s one method, but…”
While Elen nodded with folded arms, doubt spread in her ruby-colored pupils. Tigre responded with a sigh.
“You’re wondering about what she intends to hold out as compensation, right?”
“Yes. Taking the size of the army into consideration, Melisande’s aim might be to drive out Regin and sit on the throne herself.”
“Our country’s Prime Minister said the same thing, too.”
Mashas nodded with a bitter face. By Prime Minister, he meant Badouin.
“It’s better to think that the Sachstein army has grasped the positions of major towns, cities and forts. Even the topography around Nemetacum. Although we will fight in our own country, we’re in a situation where it’s hard to fully make use of the geographical advantage.”
—So that’s why Lord Mashas did not voice out Melisande’s name in the war council just now.
Depending on Melisande’s actions, there was the danger of those, who would betray Regin and follow her, appearing. Moreover, Melisande had Sachstein as a supporter. In the worst case, Brune might be divided into two camps. And if that happened, war would spread through the whole of Brune.
—We have to look after Her Highness Regin…
The golden-haired Princess’s smile flashed across his mind. While keeping his determination in his heart, Tigre cheered up the old Earl with an especially bright smile.
“However, Lord Mashas, I think that both Melisande and Sachstein haven’t expected yet that Zhcted would intervene. Even during the civil war two years ago, Elen brought victory to me. Lim and Rurick were there too. No matter who the opponent is, we’ll the ones to win.”
“That’s it. You sometimes say very good things, Tigre.”
Elen revealed a fearless smile and tapped Tigre’s shoulders. Though Lim saw through the fact that it was to hide her embarrassment, she did not forget to give a warning.
“Lord Tigrevurmud. I ask you not to spoil Eleonora-sama too much.”
The silver-haired Vanadis, not faltering, counterattacked as she broadly grinned.
“You too, I feel like you’re spoiling Tigre even more since before. Even in the Sun Festival, along with Titta, you took care of him in various ways, right? Before long, you might feed him mouth-to-mouth like a parent bird does to a young bird.”
As her cheeks unintentionally dyed red, Lim fiercely objected. Then, she turned around to Tigre and said with a stern expression in an unusually low voice.
“I won’t do it.”
“No, I know that even without you saying it.”
Tigre waved his hand aside with a serious face. Mashas changed the topic while smiling wryly.
“By the way, about the other reinforcements which Limalisha-dono said a while ago, who will come?”
“A Vanadis like Elen; a person called Valentina governing Osterode…”
At Tigre’s reply, Mashas groaned and stroked his gray beard.
“Tigre. What kind of person is Valentina-dono? If it’s Ludmila-dono, Sofya-dono and Elizavetta-dono, I know those three, but…”
Mashas’ life had been saved by Sofy before. He fought with Mila in the civil war two years ago. He met Liza when he went to Zhcted in order to rescue Tigre last year. He has never met Valentina.
Tigre looked at Elen with a troubled face. Elen too shrugged her shoulders as she was at a loss for a reply.
“I’m sorry, but I also don’t know her too well.”
“Osterode that Valentina-sama governs is located in the northeast of our country. For that reason, there’s hardly any interaction with Eleonora-sama.”
As Lim explained in an apologetic tone, Mashas sighed as he was discouraged.
“Isn’t the northeast, a direction directly opposite to Brune? I see, so that’s why you didn’t voice out Valentina-dono’s name during the war council.”
Among the nobles gathered then, it was quite unlikely that there was someone who knew Valentina’s name; but if there was someone who knew her, they would have been discouraged like Mashas just now. There was the fear of the whole army’s morale lowering if they were to tell that to the other nobles.
As she considered it, Lim only gave a vague explanation.
“Limalisha-dono, is it better to think that that Vanadis is untrustworthy?”
“What I can only tell is that Valentina-sama is a person with a weak body and therefore, even if she has been ordered by His Majesty, their departure from their Imperial Palace will be slow and if her troops received some amount of damage, she will immediately withdraw.”
Somewhat indirectly, her manner of speech also could to be regarded as slander; but Lim did not retract her words. At least, she spoke of a fact. It should have been better than talking with speculation.
“I thought that Vanadises generally were brave people, but I guess there are also exceptions.”
“I wonder about that. There’s also the possibility that she pretends to be so.”
To Mashas’ doubt, Elen shook her head as he answered.
“At least, Sofy thinks so.”
“As for me, I don’t expect too much from her. After all, I want to kick out the Sachstein army as soon as possible.”
When Tigre said that, Mashas smiled broadly.
“You’re right. It’s a shame that your home coming turned out like this.”
Afterwards, the four people called Titta and had her prepare something to drink and along with her, once again talked about the current status. Although it only lasted a quarter koku, it was a happy time.
It was about when it began to get dark that Tigre returned to his tent after parting with Elen and company.
They planned to stay for one night in the plain of Vesoul as such today and depart at sunrise. They wanted to grasp the Lutece Knight Squadron’s position. In Brune, there were a lot of grassy plains without ups and downs and although the view was good, it was quite difficult to look for about 10000 troops.
Since there was still time until dinner, Tigre decided to tend to his black bow. He prepared the tools for tending to his bow and even with just the lamp’s light it was sufficient for him to perform it.
—Although, I don’t think this bow needs to be tended to…
While carefully taking off the bowstring from the bow, Tigre thought about such a thing. In the first place, the youth did not even know what this black bow was made of.
He did not feel coldness like from a metal. Its feel was close to that of a wooden bow which he was familiar with. Therefore, it might be said that he did not notice until when he used this bow’s power two years ago.
He carefully polished the bow with a dry cloth. He removed dirt and wiped off moisture. He put back the bowstring and tried it by pulling it with a finger several times. The feel was not bad. At that time, he heard a voice from outside the tent.
“Lord Tigrevurmud. Can I have a little of your time now?”
It was the voice of Gaspar, Mashas’ son. When Tigre said “you can come in”, Gaspar went in.
“What’s the matter, Gaspar-niisan?”
There were only Tigre and Gaspar in this place. Tigre called Gaspar like he used to call him before. Gaspar has never praised Tigre’s skill with the bow, but he has never laughed at the youth’s poor skill with a sword or spear, either.
“There are many nobles weak with the sword and spear after all. There are also nobles whose way of life is to leave the fight to other people and devote themselves to governing. I can’t do anything about the bow though.”
Tigre had been saved by these words of Gaspar. For the youth, it took time in order to come up with an explanation for why it could not be help that he could not skillfully handle a sword or spear.
“What, I meet you after a long time and I have been worried in various ways. Tigre, you’re already 18 now, so have you decided about plans for marriage?”
For Tigre, Gaspar said in a nostalgic, casual tone. However, most of the contents were a surprise for him. Tigre was flustered to the extent that he was about to drop the quiver in his hand.
“M-Marriage…? Even though there’s no partner?”
As he replied while blushing, Gaspar revealed a wondering face.
“That’s not true. I heard it from Father and Viscount Augres’ son; that several nobles want to match you with their daughters or younger sisters.”
By Viscount Augres’ son, he meant Gerard. Remembering the pile of letters which he saw when he returned to LeitMeritz, Tigre revealed a dejected face.
“Anyway, I have no plans for marriage.”
“Well, marriage sure is a troublesome thing after all. Then, did you welcome even one concubine?”
“Unfortunately, I’m not that resourceful.”
He shrugged his shoulders as he finally pulled himself together. Gaspar revealed an unexpected face.
“What about Titta? Both my elder brother and I thought that that girl is the only one able to look after you though.”
“Titta is important to me, but I have no intention of making her a concubine.”
“Hmm… Then, during the one year you were in Zhcted, did you find a good girl?”
Tigre kept quiet for a moment. Gaspar grinned at that reaction.
“Did I hit the bull’s-eye? Vanadis-dono’s adjutant, was she called Limalisha-dono? She’s a beautiful girl after all.”
It was at that time. Gaspar took out a piece of paper from within the sleeve of his clothes and held it out to Tigre. A short sentence was written on the paper.
『At night, I want you to come alone to my tent. Mashas』
The youth unintentionally swallowed his words and stared at the paper. It was without a doubt Mashas’ handwriting.
—Was there something he forgot to tell me?
After thinking so, Tigre shook his head while saying “impossible”. There was no way that Mashas would make such a blunder. Perhaps Gaspar thought “is it fine already?” he quickly squeezed the piece of paper in his hand. With that gesture, Tigre recalled the earlier conversation with him
“We’re about to fight an enemy from here on out, so please stop teasing me by saying strange things. I certainly trust Lim──Limalisha, but that’s different from love…”
“Just now, you clogged up when you call her name, right? Don’t tell me, were you about to call her name in the way that only a pair of lovers would openly do?”
Tigre shouted as he unintentionally raised his voice. Gaspar shrugged seemingly wanting to say “how troublesome” and turned his back to the youth. This was because he already said what he had to say. Even if he was to be questioned by someone, he had enough room to make up a reason.
“I got it, I got it. Anyway, find a good partner.”
Waving his hand, Gaspar left the tent. Tigre stood stock still on the spot. He took a small breath and thought about the sentence written on the piece of paper.
Even excluding Elen and Lim, he wanted to talk to only Tigre was what Mashas said. And a talk, that he must hide from people to the extent of going as far as to use such a way, at that.
Tigre silently stared at his feet.
Late at night on that day, Tigre slipped into the darkness and visited Mashas’ tent.