When she woke up, Eleonora Viltaria ── Elen noticed that she was made to take an unnatural posture.
She sat down on the ground with her back against a long and narrow iron pole, and both her arms were restrained above her. When her consciousness cleared up, she felt a dull pain throughout her body.
—Where on earth is this place……?
The surroundings were lit up by an extremely dim light, preventing her from seeing anything. It was impossible to tell whether it was day or night. She could hear the sounds of clattering coming from within the darkness, but was unable to discern any voices from it.
When she tried moving her hands, something coiled around both her arms made a jingling sound.
It was chains. The cold, unpleasant sensation made Elen regain her composure.
Narrowing down her eyes, Elen fixedly stared into the darkness. She first needed to accustom her eyes to the darkness. At the same time, she searched for her memory in order to remember what happened before she lost consciousness. Why was she put in such a situation?
“That’s right. I, by the enemy──”
Elen’s ruby-like pupils glinted, tinged with anger. However, she immediately calmed herself.
This was the enemy camp. Rather than getting angry, there were other things to do before.
She turned her attention to her own body. Various parts of her body were hurting due to the injuries she suffered in the battlefield. However, she could not feel that any of her bones were broken.
She moved to see whether she could pull out her hands from the chains coiling around both of her arms, but it ended with only the chains jingling. The chains seemed to be connected to the iron pole behind Elen, not even allowing her to stand up. The iron pole was stuck deeply into the ground, and it seemed impossible to move it by just pressing against it with her back.
While she was doing all that, her eyes finally got used to the darkness and, though faintly, she could see the surroundings.
—Seems to be a tent.
The sounds of clattering that she could hear from outside were probably the enemy soldiers’. There was nothing other than an old table inside the tent; it seemed to have been installed only to confine Elen.
She called the name of her beloved Dragonic Tool. A Dragonic Tool should instantly appear in the hand of its master when called.
But no matter how much time passed, the familiar sensation did not come back in Elen’s hand.
“Don’t tell me that it’s because of these chains……?”
A shocked voice leaked from her mouth. The Wind Princess of the Silverflash knew the existence of a metal on which the Dragonic Tool’s power did not work at all. It was the same for the Brune Kingdom’s sacred sword Durandal, and the chains that were on the Double-headed Dragon and the Fire Drake that had previously been deployed by Duke Thenardier.
—Even when I was held down by them, I couldn’t use my Dragonic Skill, either.
She remembered the events that occurred just before she lost consciousness.
She fought with the enemy troops and lost. Her allies’ camp collapsed and the soldiers began to escape disorderly in every direction.
Elen stayed back and fought in the enemy camp to buy time for her allies to escape.
Before she knew it, she had been surrounded by a large number of enemy soldiers.
Elen, who was being suppressed due to the overwhelming fatigue of fighting for extended periods of time, had no choice but to use her Dragonic Skill. She was not using it to defeat the enemies around her, but instead to escape the encirclement by cladding herself in wind.
But, the Dragonic Skill did not activate. Thinking about it now, she had probably been led into a place where chains similar to these had been placed around beforehand.
As her surprise and confusion created a split second opening, Elen failed to completely avoid a blade that an enemy soldier unleashed.
Although the wound was on her arm, it was shallow and would not impede her fighting capabilities.
However, soon after she thought so, Elen lost her sense of balance and fell down. Her arms and legs became numb and her vision shook. She was unable to stand up or speak, and she could not maintain her grip on her weapon.
She realized that poison was used.
The enemy soldiers swarming at her all at once was the last scene that she saw.
“Not only did they throw poison in the river, they also smeared it on their blades, huh. They’ve really done it.”
Her having become held captive like this was due to her own carelessness. Even when she thought so, she was not able to erase the anger flaring up in the depths of her heart. It was clear that the enemy resorted to cowardly means.
—However, even if I understand that they restrained me with chains as they were wary of the Dragonic Skill……
Towards Vanadises who were existences only second to the King in the Zhcted Kingdom, this treatment could hardly be regarded as rude. She did not know the enemy’s aim, but she could not expect a decent treatment.
—I wonder if Tigre is safe. Lim, too……
The faces of the darkish red-haired youth and her adjutant, who was also her best friend, came to Elen’s mind. Tigre was his nickname and when correctly calling it, it was Tigrevurmud Vorn. Same for Lim, which was a nickname; her name was Limalisha.
Tigre was the supreme commander of the Moonlight Knight Army, a combined army composed of Brune soldiers and Zhcted soldiers. Elen took a part of it as the commander of the LeitMeritz army, and Lim acted as her aid.
Elen considered Tigre as comrade in arms, but that was just a designation in order to deceive the surroundings and her own heart. She herself knew that for her, he was an irreplaceable person more important than anyone else.
—I just hope that he’s safe.
Suddenly, light leaked from a corner of the darkness. Then, a man holding a lamp came into the tent. Thanks to the lamplight, the inside of the tent became bright at once.
“How are you feeling? Eleonora-dono”
The man stared at Elen, who was seated on the ground and revealed a favorable smile on his graceful face like that of a young noble. The man was around the late twenties. He carefully arranged his gray hair and wrapped his tall figure in luxurious silk clothes with golden embroidery.
When she took some time and remembered the man’s name along with unpleasant memories, Elen threw a hateful gaze at him. She knew the man in front of her.
Charon Anquetil Greast. That was the man’s name. He was a marquis of Brune and cooperated with Duke Ganelon in the civil war two years ago. When Duke Ganelon was defeated, he disappeared and never came out again to the front stage.
During that civil war, Elen had met Greast only once. It was when Greast, as Ganelon’s proxy, recommended Tigre to surrender.
Though he demanded a handshake to Elen as courtesy, the Wind Princess of the Silverflash felt goosebumps erupting all over her body at the touch of his palm.
“I am honored that you remembered my name.”
Greast put the lamp on the table and approached Elen. As he crouched down a small distance from her feet, he looked into the silver-haired Vanadis’ face.
“It’s been two years since then. You were already beautiful enough that time, too, but it looks like you’ve become even more so now.”
Elen did not answer. It was not that she did not feel the need to answer. She felt a chill at Greast’s feverish and somewhat sticky gaze which crawled about her whole body.
What Elen wore was her blue military outfit, and several places were ripped and torn due to a series of fierce battles. As expected, she has been dispossessed of her protective gears such as breastplate, gauntlets and leg guards.
Unexpectedly, her medical care was properly done, clothes smeared with medicine were pushed against her injured parts and bandages were wound up, too.
Greast poured his gaze filled with lust without reserve on Elen’s exposed skin.
“What business do you have with me?”
Elen questioned Greast as she fixed her breathing and retained the fighting spirit in her eyes. Though the other party was someone who she wanted to avoid exchanging words with, she had to know the purpose of his visit.
The smile floating on Greast’s lips grew more lewd.
“It isn’t that much to call it business. If I were compelled to say it, then I’d say that I came to admire what’s mine.”
To the unexpected reply, Elen stared at Greast with a dumbfounded face. When Greast put his knees on the ground and sidled up to Elen, he put his hand on her left thigh. He gently and carefully caressed it as if handling breakables.
Elen raised her right leg with an angry voice. However, her leg did not move as she wanted as her body was restricted, and thus was easily dodged by Greast.
“It looks like the poison wore out. I made do with a weak one since I’d be troubled if there were after-effects. But, it looks like I can feel relieved if you’re so energetic.”
Greast happily laughed and stood up. He went around behind Elen with calm steps. Both his hands that he extended from behind her held both cheeks of Elen.
“Eleonora-dono. The reason why I captured you wasn’t for such things as to hold you as hostage of Zhcted or to boast of my military achievements.”
As he stabbed at Elen’s heart with every single word, Greast slowly spun his words.
“It was in order to make you mine. Anything and everything about you until even one strand of this silver hair.”
Greast’s hands parted from Elen’s cheeks and went to touch her hair. As to enjoy the touch, he combed it many times by letting his fingers running through.
Elen gritted her teeth and desperately moved both her arms, but the chains showed no sign of loosening at all. Even when she twisted her body, it only stimulated Greast’s sadistic heart and made him more delighted.
Greast’s hand stroked her nape, traced the form of her ear and touched her forehead. As he declared, this man seemed to try to make Elen his by thoroughly leaving the traces of his hands on her body.
He touched Elen’s shoulder, stroked her fingers and touched her tightly clenched hands. Greast lovelily stroke around her clenched fist.
The next moment, a strange sensation was transmitted on the back of Elen’s hand. As it was repeated a second, then a third time, the silver-haired Vanadis understood what was being done to her.
Greast was licking Elen’s hand. Not only the back of her hand. He also made his tongue crawl between her clenched fingers one by one.
“I’ve wanted to do this since the first time I met you.”
Separating his mouth from Elen’s hand for a moment, Greast said with an ecstatic expression.
“My wish has finally come true. It’s as I expected, no, more than that.”
Elen’s face turned pale. This time, the disgust she previously felt at the sight of the gray-haired Marquis turned into fear as she shuddered.
But, Elen endured it while tightly clenching her fists so as not to speak. This was because she understood that if she spoke, no matter what words came from her mouth, it would please this disgusting man. There was no means of resistance other than going through it without any reaction.
When Greast’s mouth was separated from her hand, Elen was worn out. But, she was not allowed to relax. Greast’s infringement had just begun after all.
Greast’s hand once again stroked Elen’s arm. It went down little by little, went along her armpit and touched her chest.
The man’s dry fingers crawled around Elen’s chest over her military outfit like a poisonous insect. They relentlessly moved around as to feel the shape of her abundant chest.
“This heaviness, this size, this shape. Soft, and yet this elasticity which pushes back my fingers. My blood is boiling. Eleonora-dono, have you already let anybody other than me touch this wonderful thing?”
Elen did not answer. She endured not wanting to shout out loud. Her nails cut into her tightly clenched fists and blood oozed.
“You don’t want to answer, huh. No, I don’t mind it. It’s really fun just seeing that face of yours.”
As to enjoy the elasticity, Greast massaged the two hills. He suddenly stopped his hands and leaned forward and looked into Elen’s face from the right side.
“A weak girl would have already burst into tears around now, but…… as expected of Eleonora-dono who made my heart her own.”
Elen looked at Greast with a sidelong glance. Killing intent dwelled in her eyes of ruby.
The next moment, Elen inclined her head and spit on Greast’s face. White saliva splashed on the man’s cheek and left a strange trace. Dumbfounded, Greast removed his right hand from Elen’s chest and took it to his cheek.
Elen opened her eyes wide to the next action that he took. Greast scooped up the saliva on his cheek with his finger and then moved it into his mouth.
Seeing Elen shocked, Greast revealed a faint smile.
“I said it, right? That I’ll make everything of you mine.”
Greast separated his hand from Elen’s left breast and moved his body to her right side. He extended his hand and held Elen’s chin.
“Eleonora-dono. Have you already kissed anyone?”
Elen refused to answer as she glared at Greast. The gray-haired Marquis removed his hand from her mouth and moved it to her abdomen. Elen tried to protect her abdomen by pulling up both her legs, but she was not able to block Greast’s hand.
Greast’s hand which caressed around her navel slowly slid to the bottom. Elen reflexively closed her eyes and firmly closed both her legs. Confirming her reaction, Greast removed his hand.
Greast leaked out a joy-filled mutter as though he discovered a treasure. Elen pulled herself together and glared at the gray-haired Marquis. A rebuttal unintentionally spilled from her mouth.
“On what basis can you affirm──”
“I know of course.”
Interrupting Elen’s words, Greast poured a gentle-looking gaze at the Vanadis.
“A secluded lady who has never spoken to any men other those of her family, a prostitute standing on a street corner, a country girl who has never gone out of her village…… I have embraced various women until now, but virgins generally showed such a reaction. I have heard that you have a close relationship with Tigrevurmud Vorn, but you haven’t let him touch your body, huh. No, judging from your state, you two haven’t even kissed yet, I guess.”
Greast laughed loudly. His well-featured face was greatly distorted due to his swelling lust.
“That’s definitely a good fortune, Eleonora-dono. I shall take your lips and chastity after the battle with Tigrevurmud Vorn. I’ll embrace you in front of that man. Though I don’t know whether that man will be alive or his head will have been freshly severed at that time.”
“……Is it all right for you sure to be this easygoing?”
Acting brave the best she could, Elen somehow revealed a smile on her lips. However, Greast warded off the Vanadis’ gaze with a face full of composure.
“From the start, I didn’t intend to get it all over with during this night. I plan to take my time and slowly make you only mine, you see?”
Greast leaned forward and thoroughly licked up Elen’s shoulder and armpit. Elen barely suppressed the welling up nausea.
“If you were a woman who has already known a man, I would have deeply carved my existence into you here right now, in order to dim the past memory. But since that’s not the case, then it’s a different story.”
Then, Greast hold Elen’s face from both sides. He brought his face near and had his tongue creep on her forehead, her left cheek and her right cheek respectively.
Meanwhile, Elen endured the unpleasant sensation without closing her eyes. She intended to bite him off if he was to try to steal her lips, but Greast did not touch her lips as he said.
Perhaps he was satisfied with that, Greast finally parted from Elen and stood up.
“I’ll leave it at this for tonight. I’ll come again tomorrow. Every night little by little, I’ll make your body thoroughly remember the taste of my fingers and tongue. So that you can fully taste pleasure in front of that man. So that your eyes will reflect only me and so that your heart will yearn only for me.”
Greast picked up the lamp which he put on the table. The light flickered, making the silhouette of the man’s profile eerily appear.
“I’ll have a meal prepare for you later. I’d have like to make you eat with my own hands, but I don’t have time today you see? I’ll send a girl to personally take care of you. You should rest at ease. I’ll not let any man other than me, no matter who he is, approach this tent.”
As he said so, Greast left the tent while humming. Only Elen remained on the tent that returned to being dark.
For a while, Elen gritted her teeth and hung her head down without saying anything. This was because if she were to speak even a little, she felt like she would lose all restraint of her feelings. She shouted Tigre’s name many times in her heart to invigorate herself.
When she regained her calm with time, she felt the unpleasant sensation to the traces where Greast’s tongue crawled around. If her hands were free, she would have wanted to scrub her skin to the extent that her skin would peel off and blood would stream, in order to throw away this disgusting sensation.
—Endure it. Don’t give up.
She persuaded herself as such. The torturing like earlier would continue tomorrow as well. What would she do if she were exhausted and felt despair on only one day? Would it not just make that disgusting man happy?
Besides, Tigre and Lim would surely come to her rescue. Judging from what Greast said, Tigre wasn’t caught like her.
Of course, she would look for an opportunity to escape by herself, but apart from that, if she were not to count on Tigre and company, they would definitely get angry.
She closed her eyes. Since her thinking was settled, she should rest and recover her physical strength even if a little.
A long and painful fight was going to begin for Elen.
The spring approached its end, and the greenery wrapping the whole of Brune increased its vividness more and more. The wind blowing across the grassy plain was warm, and along with a quiet sunlight, gave the warmth to the earth.
In this season, the number of workers increased to nearly double in the vineyards. This was not because they were busy with work, but because they worked only half of their usual time. Rather than working and getting a wage, they chose to take a nap while drinking wine which passed winter.
“This year’s spring comes only this year. And today’s nap is possible only today.”
In Brune, there were a lot of poetry’s verses of such contents. In other words, this was already something which should even be said to be a custom since olden days. Naturally, the side allotting workers knew it; so it was made as such that every year they increased workers and in exchange suppressed the wages.
Although, this year in particular, that nap became very difficult, too. This was because as soon as the New Year began, the Sachstein Kingdom in the west invaded from the south and west.
Moreover, a revolt even occurred in the capital Nice against the Princess Regin Ester Loire Bastien de Charles, Brune’s ruler. Melisande, niece of the late King Faron and thus Regin’s cousin, secretly gathered comrades and tried to usurp the throne.
The one, who saved Princess Regin, suppressed the revolt and splendidly impeded Melisande’s scheme this time, was Tigrevurmud Vorn.
Until several years ago, he was only an earl who ruled Alsace, a small territory of the frontier.
But, he achieved victory in the many wars which stemmed from Brune’s civil war, was given the title of Star Shooter by the neighboring country Muozinel Kingdom, was given the title of Knight of the Moonlight in Brune, where he was born and raised, and was currently called young hero.
Regarding the Sachstein Army’s invasion this time, Tigre acted as the supreme commander of the combined army called Moonlight Knight Army. He defeated the enemy General Kreuger in the battlefield, and again made the enemy General, who used battle and stratagems, retreat; it seemed like Brune regained its peace.
On their way back to the capital Nice, the Moonlight Knight Army was attacked by an enemy. They lost the battle and left. It was three days ago.
The dark clouds covering the Brune Kingdom showed no signs of clearing away even now.
Seeing the appearance of Mashas Rodant, who showed up in the audience room, the courtiers held their breath. This was because his gray hair and beard was disheveled and bundled in a strange form; color of fatigue was deep on his face, and blood and mud were stuck on the armor cladding his short and stout body.
Even Princess Regin sitting on the throne and the Prime Minister Pierre Badouin standing by her side were dumbfounded and were unable to speak immediately. The warm air of spring, which was filling the audience room, seemed to have been squashed by the cold and heavy silence.
This place was the capital Nice of the Brune Kingdom. It was the audience room in its royal palace. And it was one koku before noon that Mashas, who acted as the supreme commander’s substitute of the Moonlight Knight Army, showed up there.
Mashas walked straight on the deep crimson carpet, stopped at a suitable position and went down on a knee. His armor made a clattering sound as if speaking of its wearer’s bitterness.
“Mashas Rodant, here to report. I am extremely sorry to expose this defeated body in front of Her Highness.”
Hearing Mashas’ words, slight noise leaked out from among the courtiers.
“Has the Moonlight Knight Army really lost……?”
“But, didn’t they repel the Sachstein Army?”
At this time, two reports mixed in the royal palace and confusion occurred. The one of the Moonlight Knight Army having won and another one of them having lost.
Both were right. This was because when they made the Sachstein Army retreat, and when they were attacked and defeated by an enemy a few days later, Mashas immediately sent a messenger to the royal palace. So, it could not be helped that the royal palace, which received two contradictory reports in succession, was unable to judge the situation.
“Earl Rodant. The Moonlight Knight Army ── you people won against the Sachstein Army. Afterwards, you engaged in battle with an enemy that has no relation with the Sachstein Army and was defeated. There is no discrepancy about that, right?”
Regin asked. This was a question in order to let the courtiers grasp the situation. She herself knew it was true without needing to confirm it.
“It is exactly as your Highness said. I think that you are interested in the details of the battle with the Sachstein Army, but I would like to first report about the army that we suffered a defeat against…… Is that all right?”
Regin nodded at Mashas’s words. As for her, she was thankful to this old Earl and wanted to tell him to take a rest immediately, but when thinking about what happened, she had no choice but have Mashas overdo it a little more.
Even after having defeated the Sachstein Army, the Moonlight Knight Army’s military power should have been more than 30,000. But, they suffered a crushing defeat. Even if it was not Regin, there was no way that one would not be concerned about it. Moreover as Brune’s ruler, Regin must deal with that enemy.
As he greatly exhaled as if he were enduring the pain, Mashas fixed his breathing and then opened his mouth.
It was three days ago. The Moonlight Knight Army’s troops of about 34,000 that Tigre led were advancing on the highway leading to the city of Nice, the capital. They were heroes who repelled the Sachstein Army, the invaders, thus they should have received reward when they arrived at the capital, become the leading actors at the place of the celebratory banquet and been flooded with praise.
It was when they took a break near a certain river that an ‘abnormal phenomenon’ occurred to them. The soldiers and horses that drank the river water suddenly began to suffer.
Poison was poured in the river.
Though Tigre immediately stopped himself from drinking the river water, 6000 soldiers, which was nearly 20% of the whole army, and about 3000 horses had already drunk the poisoned water.
Tigre and company were also careless. They had repelled the Sachstein Army, and before that, they had suppressed the rebellion that occurred in the royal palace. Everyone was thinking that the impending enemies had disappeared.
In addition, the river was within their sphere of influence, and they had previously used it on their way to fight the Sachstein Army, so their guard was lowered.
Although it was referred to as a poison, it wasn’t the type of poison that was lethal, but one of the kinds that caused headaches, fevers and long-term diarrhea. Even so, the soldiers who were poisoned were weakened and could not be considered to be fit for combat for the time being.
Furthermore, the remaining 28,000 soldiers, unable to appease their thirst, would suffer from dehydration. It was not like they used up the water on hand, but since they were unable to replenish their water supplies, they would have to be economic with it.
Tigre talked with his adjunct Mashas and they started to move while looking for other places with water. In preparation for when something happened, they inquired about places with river that a big army can use.
They reduced the March speed to about half the speed they used until then. This was because not only did they have to switch the poisoned soldiers between horses, they also had to be cautious of the enemy. The people who targeted the Moonlight Knight Army should have been nearby.
When it began to get dark, in the place where they had arrived at as a new water source, a group of about 2000 people appeared before the Moonlight Knight Army. They did not approach more than required, sent a messenger to Tigre and he claimed that they were subordinates of Viscount Antiga.
The messenger said that Viscount Antiga was a local noble that had a territory located to the west from here, but he moved his soldiers and was chasing the criminals who put poison into the rivers of the country. He also said that Viscount Antiga himself did not come here because he had to protect his territory, thus had one of his retainers lead 2000 soldiers to chase them.
“Do you know the criminals?”
When Mashas asked as such, the Antiga army’s messenger clearly answered.
“They are Earl Cotillard’s subordinates. When we interrogated them after capturing them, they said that they poisoned the river in order to make you the Moonlight Knight Army, suffer.”
Tigre and Mashas looked at each other. Mashas knew Earl Cotillard just a little. He was a man who followed Duke Thenardier in the civil war two years ago, held dissatisfaction to Princess Regin’s rule after the civil war and supported Melisande.
The Antiga army’s messenger further demanded cooperation to Tigre and company.
“If the Moonlight Knight Army is an existence that shows Brune’s justice, then could you lend us your help?”
Tigre clearly refused this demand. He explained that the Moonlight Knight Army was a joint army organized by Princess Regin and that he was only given its command temporarily, and moreover, told that from the point of food and materials, they could not afford to take unplanned actions.
It was a lie. The true reason why he refused was because he could not trust them. Though he could not see strange points in the messenger’s explanation, the fact that they appeared in this situation was suspicious to begin with.
In addition, neither Tigre nor Mashas had ever met Viscount Antiga.
The viscount was a person, who was only interested in his territory; even in the civil war two years ago, he declared neutrality early and did not move until the end. Although, when Regin became Brune’s ruler, as expected he visited the royal palace and pledged allegiance, it was said that he immediately went back to his territory afterwards.
Even regarding interactions between nobles, with the neighboring local feudal lords at the center, he did not have any interactions with Tigre governing Alsace in the northeast and Mashas governing Aude in the north.
The Antiga army’s messenger, who was turned down by Tigre, did not obediently withdraw.
“Then, could you at least let our army tag along with you for a while? From the look of it, there seem to be many soldiers suffering from poison. We would like to help with their treatment.”
Tigre also declined this. But, he did not prevent them from following behind them. This was because he thought that it would be better to keep them in view than to drive them away and be blind to their movements.
When about a half koku passed after they resumed their march, the targeted river could be seen.
The enemy also appeared near the river. It was a group of about 8000 where cavalry and infantry were mingled. The battle flag that they hoisted was Earl Cotillard House’s.
A grassy plain with gentle ups and downs spread out near the river and there were several small hills in a remote place. Under the gray sky, the Moonlight Knight Army and Cotillard army stood facing each other. The evening sun, which was setting, dyed the plain vermillion and made the river surface shine silver.
Viscount Antiga’s army, which followed behind, offered cooperation to the Moonlight Knight Army, but Tigre bluntly refused. He had no time to deal with them.
Tigre moved the 6000 soldiers who had been disabled by the poison and the 3000 soldiers who sustained serious injuries in the battle against the Sachstein Army to the rear and assigned 4000 soldiers to watch them. They also had the job of watching the movements of the Antiga army.
Even if he removed 13,000 soldiers from the battlefield like that, the Moonlight Knight Army still exceeded 20,000. It was more than double that of the 8000 men of the Cotillard army.
However, the Moonlight Knight Army’s soldiers had not yet recovered from the fatigue of the battle with the Sachstein Army and the postwar processing that happened several days ago.
After the Sachstein Army was gone, they went around the trampled villages and towns and promised compensation; in addition, they subjugated bandits and brigands who aimed at these villages and towns and exerted themselves in the restoration of the public order.
The problem was not only the fatigue. Because they were not able to supply in water, there were a lot of soldiers who were dehydrated. Moreover, the Cotillard army spoke with one voice the following words.
“This river has also been poisoned! You may drink as much as you want!”
Tigre undauntedly encouraged his soldiers, too.
“Those guys should have safe water somewhere! Let defeat them and snatch it!”
It was a way of talking like the boss of bandits, but it had a certain effect and some soldiers recovered.
Like that, both armies clashed, but the Moonlight Knight Army was forced in an unexpected hard fight. The Cotillard army’s commander’s tactics were clever to an extent that surprised Tigre and company.
While the enemy had the river at their back and did not allow Tigre and company to take their back, he changed flexibly the form of his own army, stopped the Moonlight Knight Army’s fierce attack and attacked their flank using a detached force.
The Cotillard army accurately found a place where their enemy’s formation was disordered and a place where the soldiers’ movement became dull, focused on the soldiers there and tried to break their formation. In addition, when they retreated luring the enemy to stick out, they attacked in pincer from left and right and defeated the Moonlight Knight Army’s soldiers one after another.
They lured the Moonlight Knight Army to the temporary swamp that they built by drawing the river water and when their (Moonlight Knight Army) movements became dull there, they even went as far as to set up an attack where a barrage of stones rained down upon them. Mashas groaned at the fact that they seemed to have thoroughly prepared themselves when they were lying in wait.
Furthermore, the Cotillard army frequently used poison. When they thought that a unit of about dozens of people fiercely attacked them, their weapons were all smeared with poison. It was not a lethal poison, but the kind that caused dizziness and feeling of vomiting; but it was effective immediately.
Though Mashas was a bit late in discovering it, the Cotillard army’s aim was probably not to make the Moonlight Knight Army suffer with poison, but to make them angry and inhibit their normal judgment power. There was no doubt that it (aim) had begun since the time when they threw poison in the first river. Melisande also used poison when she caused a revolt, but this was a way of using it totally different from her idea.
No matter how calm Tigre, Mashas and Elen issued instructions, if the squad captains under them that led the soldiers did not move decently, the army would not function. When they rampaged and pushed out more than required, units surrounded by the enemy and units, who panicked as their gaps were attacked, continued to appear one after another.
Even the units, which did not suffer the same fate as the above-mentioned ones, could not be said to move well. As the initiative continued being taken by the enemy, they were pushed back when it came to clashing. Fatigue and thirst withered away at their fighting spirit.
If the commander was an average person, he would have long failed to maintain the army. Even so, Tigre and company tenaciously gave directions. If they kept fighting like that, even if they were forced to a hard fight, the Moonlight Knight Army would definitely win by the difference of amount of material resources in the end.
A change came in a bad way for Tigre and company. The 2000 of the Viscount Antiga’s army that assumed a bystanders’ stance outside the battlefield until then suddenly advanced rapidly and attacked the Moonlight Knight Army. Moreover, they attacked the soldiers afflicted with poison or those who were on the rear as they were injured.
Before this, the Cotillard army had thrown multiple detached forces that showed signs of wanting to attack the soldiers to the rear. Therefore, the 4000 soldiers that Tigre left behind to protect the injured forces were on guard against the Cotillard army, and thus dropped their vigilance against the Antiga army. The latter attacked in this window of opportunity.
The Antiga army fired fire arrows one after another from windward, attacking the Moonlight Knight Army with fire.
Their archery’s skill was not that good, to the extent as to wonder whether the fired arrows would fly 40 Alsins (about 40 meters); but the fire engulfed the bright green grass covering the ground and spread with a tremendous speed.
Although it was a dangerous strategy to use the fire attack since it could hit allies depending on the wind’s direction, the Antiga army kept firing the fire arrows fearlessly. The 4000 soldiers were confused due to flames and smoke. There were those, who threw away their weapons and ran away, and those who held their comrades, that could not move, and tried to escape with them.
The Antiga army mercilessly attacked those soldiers. They slashed at them around their shoulders with swords, smashed their heads with axes and pierced them from behind with spears. They mercilessly finished off even soldiers who fell down. The blazing flames and splashing blood excited the Antiga army.
“Were those guys in cahoots?”
The Moonlight Knight Army, who witnessed that disastrous scene from afar, flew into rage. Then, about 5000 soldiers began to move without Tigre’s order. For the sake of their comrades afflicted with poison, they stopped thinking about maintaining their units and formed a group that gathered the above-mentioned number by combining with soldiers with same circumstances.
The Moonlight Knight Army’s central forces were greatly disordered. The Cotillard naturally did not overlook this change. Without giving Tigre any room to reorganize, they deeply thrust their way through and spread out the wound.
The vigor of both armies created a flow on the battlefield. The more the Cotillard army advanced, the more the Moonlight Knight Army retreated. One by one, soldiers threw away their weapons and started fleeing; thus the Moonlight Knight Army rapidly collapsed.
When the Cotillard army succeeded in breaking through the Moonlight Knight Army’s central forces, even Tigre could no longer reorganize the lines. The Moonlight Knight Army finally collapsed.
Tigre and Mashas admitted defeat. It was not that they gave up on fighting. They still led the forces by diffusing orders and devoted themselves in letting as many allies as possible get away.
Similarly, Elen left the LeitMeritz army’s command to Lim and she herself wielded the Silver Flash at the most rear of the army. She occasionally turned her horse and resolutely cut down the enemies, who gave them a hot pursuit, thus dulling their pursuit.
At the time when the day set and the grass covering the ground could no longer be seen, the battle was finally over.
The Moonlight Knight Army lost more than 10,000 soldiers. And──.
At Mashas’ report, a certain courtier spitted out cursing words and another one leaked a sigh of grief. They could not hide their resentment at the cowardly enemy that threw poison into the river.
Regin’s anger increased along with strong feelings of disgust and she strongly clenched her hand. Her nails cut so deeply into her palm that she bled.
In the previous revolt of Melisande, poison was also used and it made a great number of soldiers, who were protecting the royal palace, suffer. The means that the enemy took made Regin recall that once again, and it was beyond enough to make her fly into rage. Moreover, in this time’s case, it even brought harm to the territory people using the river.
Not wincing at all even after seeing their reactions, Mashas indifferently continued the report.
“──Within the confusion of the defeat, the supreme commander Tigrevurmud Vorn and the Zhcted Kingdom’s Vanadis Eleonora Viltaria-dono went missing……”
Before the old Earl finished his sentence, Regin unintentionally stood up from the throne. Emotions were lost from her face and she turned pale.
—Tigre went missing……?
She had heard from the messenger that Tigre went missing. Even so, Regin thought that it was some kind of mistake. And if not, that they only lost sight of him temporarily.
She believed that there was no way that Tigre, who repelled the Muozinel army, defeated Duke Thenardier, protected her from Melisande’s evil hand and moreover defeated the Sachstein Army just now, would go missing with only one defeat. She believed that he would surely show her his safe figure.
Badouin softly called out to her. Regin finally came to her senses. When looking, Mashas stopped his report and waited for her to recover. So did the courtiers, too.
Regin took a small breath and reseated herself to the throne with calm movements.
“Earl Rodant. Please continue.”
Mashas resumed his report. After Tigre and Elen went missing, Mashas sent soldiers in all directions to search for their whereabouts. On the other hand, he somehow managed to lead the Moonlight Knight Army whose number decreased up to 21,000 and returned to the capital Nice.
Waiting for Mashas to finish his report, Regin slowly opened her mouth.
“Yesterday morning, troops calling themselves the Moonlight Knight Army appeared near the capital. If you had not sent a messenger then, we would probably have let them enter the capital. I once again give you my gratitude.”
Mashas silently bowed at Regin’s words.
When he sent a messenger to notify the Princess of their defeat, Mashas added this.
“The enemy, which defeated us, might disguise themselves as the Moonlight Knight Army. Please, set up countermeasures at once”. Regin, who heard it, called Prime Minister Badouin and ordered so that all the gates of the ramparts surrounding the capital were closed.
Thus, the troops that disguised themselves as the Moonlight Knight Army, unable to enter, appealed towards the ramparts many times; and when they understood that there was no result, they gave up and left.
It was the next day that the real Moonlight Knight Army appeared. In other words, it was early morning today. Mashas standing at the vanguard called and Viscount Augre and his son Gerard who were on the rampart hurriedly opened a gate.
And then Mashas head straight ahead to the royal palace and showed up in the audience room.
“You said that the ones who attacked you people were Earl Cotillard’s army and Viscount Antiga’s army, but is there no doubt?”
Regin asked in a cautious tone. The enemies were people who did not hesitate about pouring poison in the river. They also disguised themselves as the Moonlight Knight Army and tried to deceive Regin and the others. It was doubtful whether they were really Earl Cotillard and Viscount Antiga’s armies.
She wanted to avoid making a mistake in dealing with this and creating an unnecessary enemy.
Mashas raised his head and answered as he was impressed by his lord’s words.
“I was thinking to inform your Highness about that precisely. When we questioned several soldiers enemy after we caught them, it seems to be a lie that they were Viscount Antiga’s soldiers.”
Tightening his face in tension, Mashas continued further.
“However, there is no doubt about Earl Cotillard. The majority of the enemy is former knights, bandits and the like, but the ones forming the core of the army are the Earl’s soldiers. But, they said that the Earl himself already died due to illness and that, on the verge of death, he gave the command right to Marquis Greast.”
Regin opened her eyes wide at the unexpected name which came out. Surprise and confusion floated in the Princess’ blue pupils. It was also the same for Badouin and the courtiers and the audience room was wrapped in noise.
Greast was a man who sided with Duke Ganelon at the civil war in the Brune Kingdom two years ago. He was entrusted with soldiers by Ganelon and cornered Thenardier’s troops. But, he parted from the army as he was hurriedly called by Ganelon and then disappeared just like that.
The Ganelon army after Greast left received a devastating damage by the five dragons that Thenardier added in his battle formation and stampeded. Duke Ganelon, who received that report, set fire to Artishem, the city where his own mansion was located and it was said that he shared the same fate with his mansion which burnt and collapsed.
Having lost the person acting as the leader of their faction, the people who followed Ganelon scattered. Among them, there were those who joined in the Silver Meteor Army that Tigre led at the time and there were also those who took a neutral stance as they did not intend to adhere to another power.
However, among them, Greast was nowhere to be found and even when the civil war ended, his whereabouts were completely unknown. Anyone was thinking that Greast was dead. Regin confiscated the land of Evreux that Greast governed and dispatched a chief governor.
Badouin, who was standing beside Regin, took a step forward. His eyes slanted slightly upwards were slowly looking around at the courtiers. The tips of his mustache that extended erectly to the sides in his round face harking back to a cat shook slightly.
“Everyone. I understand that you are surprised, but you are in the presence of her Highness.”
Badouin served as Prime Minister since the period of the late King Faron. The glint in his eyes had enough power to make the lined up feudal lords and courtiers quiet.
Waiting until the audience room became quiet, Regin asked Mashas with a stiff expression.
“Earl Rodant. Let’s call the enemy, who defeated you people, the Greast army, using the name of their commander. If they did not pour poison into the river, would you have won against them?”
After a short pause, Mashas answered.
“I cannot assert it.”
“Even with the strength of you people who defeated the Sachstein Army?”
“Though the Greast army’s soldiers is a variety of people put together, their commander Greast is extraordinarily skilled in warfare. Even if we rack our brains, try all possible means and then face him with the belief of certain victory, he is not an opponent we will easily win against.”
Even while inwardly looking puzzled at Regin’s question, which was not like her, Mashas frankly expressed his thought. Anyway, she had to understand that Greast was not an ordinary opponent. But, it was also not good for him to be thought as getting cold feet.
“Nonetheless, this one’s old bones bear enough anger and fighting spirit in his heart. If your Highness permits it, I would by all means like to wipe out the disgrace of the defeat with my own hands.”
Regin, not returning words immediately, casually turned her gaze left and right, and then once again looked down at Mashas. The blond-haired Princess told with a stern expression and tone.
“Very well. I will then order you. Reorganize the Moonlight Knight Army as the acting supreme commander and defeat the Greast army that is Brune’s enemy. In addition, you shall continuously carry out the search of Earl Vorn and Eleonora-dono. Until then, the responsibility of the defeat this time shall not matter.”
Mashas deeply bowed his head. He finally understood Regin’s intentions.
One was to clearly declare Greast as Brune’s enemy. They might be people among Greast’s relatives and acquaintances who would try to cover up for him. Regin sealed such an act beforehand with those words.
The other was the words about not questioning the responsibility of the defeat. Although cowardly means were used, it was a fact that the Moonlight Knight Army lost. There were probably people among the courtiers that would say that they should question the responsibility. She forestalled them so that such voices were not raised.
“Badouin. Send messengers respectively to Lutetia and Evreux. And investigate about Greast’s goal and people who may cooperate with him.”
Lutetia was the land once governed by Ganelon. Similarly to Evreux once governed by Greast, it has now become a territory under the royal family’s direct control. Taking into consideration the relationship between Greast and Ganelon, investigating Lutetia was a natural measure. Badouin respectfully bowed.
Afterwards, Mashas reported about the battle with Sachstein and after being praised for the victory with brief words, he left the audience room.
Perhaps she had wanted to exert more words to express her gratitude to Mashas. Just for an instant, Regin showed an apologetic face to the old Earl.
Mashas, who exited the audience room, took a rest in a guest room that Prime Minister Badouin prepared.
He took off his armor, carried water and wiped his body, fixed his beard and changed into new clothes. Then, he lay down on the bed and relaxed. He refrained from alcohol.
Like that, when the sun ascended to the highest position in the sky, Mashas got up and left the guest room. He headed to a room used for conference. There were no windows in that room, the walls were thick and the door was two layers (thick); so it would not leak out even someone was to speak in a very loud voice.
When Mashas went inside the room, other people were already present and were surrounding an elliptical-shaped table. The fire of the candlestick put on the table illuminated them.
One of them was the old Prime Minister Badouin who wrapped his body with the gray official outfit.
The small-built old man next to him and revealing a kind-hearted smile was Hugues Augre. He was a close friend to Mashas and Tigre’s late father, Urz and one of the Brune nobles supporting Regin.
The tall girl, who tied her dull blond hair to the left side of her head and set it adrift, was Limalisha. After Elen went missing, she was the one who managed the LeitMeritz army.
Though Lim had her usual unsociable expression, if those, who knew her well, looked at her, they would understand that her blue eyes were clouded with anxiety. She was worried about Elen.
Sitting next to Lim was a beautiful woman with bluish long black hair. She wrapped her body in a pure white dress decorated with varicolored roses and revealed an immaculate smile. On the wall behind her was leaned a long scythe tinged with an ominous ghastliness.
Her name was Valentina Glinka Estes. Like Elen, she was one of the Zhcted’s Vanadises with the name of Illusory Princess of the Hollow Shadow. In the Moonlight Knight Army, she led the Osterode army. The scythe colored deep crimson and jet black behind her was her Dragonic Tool Ezendeis.
Waiting for Mashas to close the door, Badouin spread many maps on the table. In addition, Augre poured cold tea into silver cup prepared for the number of people.
“Did I keep you waiting?”
When Mashas sat down on the empty chair while saying so, Augre shook his head.
“I just came as well. ──It’s been terrible, eh.”
Augre furrowed the outer canthus of his eyes and thanked his friend. Feelings of consolation, encouragement, sympathy and the like overflowed within these short words. Mashas revealed a bold smile.
“What, if it’s me, then it’s no big deal. There are many things I want to talk about though. And I’ll someday talk about that even while drinking alcohol with Tigre.”
“Regarding that Earl Vorn, but……”
Badouin stared at Mashas with a stern expression.
“Is it really the truth that he did not go missing, but is acting alone in order to rescue Eleonora-dono who has been captured by the enemy?”
“If Tigre had really gone missing, I wouldn’t have been so calm in the presence of her Highness.”
Mashas answered with a face as though it was a matter of fact.
“Although you had a reason, you deceived your lord; so should you not take a slightly laudable attitude, Earl Rodant?”
Mashas ignored Badouin’s sarcasm and drank a mouthful of his tea. The Prime Minister with a countenance akin to a cunning cat continued his words further.
“Although there is no helping it even if I say it at this late hour, why did you allow Earl Vorn to move alone? He is now a necessary existence to Brune. It is not as if you do not understand that, isn’t it?”
Badouin’s gaze and tone reached a level of blaming above criticism, and Mashas responded with a discouraged face.
“It’s none other than Tigre himself who asked to move alone. Certainly, I didn’t stop him, but this is because such a course of action would be futile. He was so determined that one wrong move and he might have left the army without saying anything. Rather than seeing that happen, it’d be much better to send him off while knowing his destination.”
The old Earl’s words were no lie. If Tigre could have been stopped by being persuaded, there was no way that Mashas would have spared his words towards him.
“Even if that was the case, should you not have at least assign people excellent in scouting out to him?”
To Badouin, who clung to it, Mashas laughed as though he did not mind it.
“You didn’t know Tigre was a hunter after all. If it’s running around hills and fields, it’d be better that it’s alone. Unless it’s people with quite the ability, they’ll only become a drag. Don’t you also share the same opinion as me, Limalisha-dono?”
“Eh? Yea…… T-That’s right.”
Perhaps because she was suddenly asked for agreement, Lim showed a perplexed face for an instant. Then after a short pause, she revealed a stiff smile as if having recalled something.
“Now that you mention it, even when he was in LeitMeritz, there were several times when he went in the mountains and did not come back for three days. At first, we were worried, but he each time would come back carrying his hunting’s spoils without showing any signs of fatigue. Before we were aware, both I and Eleonora-sama had stopped worrying. No, I recall that Titta had a composed face from the beginning.”
Titta was the maid serving Tigre. She was a girl who possessed lovely features, bright personality and fortitude and who, even in the war against Sachstein this time, followed Tigre in order to take care of him. She was one of the people who knew well Tigre since childhood.
“Rather a composed face, wasn’t it an amazed one? Saying that he’ll be back in two days, then coming back three days later with a face as if it was natural and being scolded by Titta was Tigre’s daily life after all.”
Mashas said in a joking tone. As she could easily imagine that scene, Lim smiled broadly. Augre, Badouin and even Valentina smiled.
“So, it’s like that. Just in case, I’ll send some search parties, but we should basically leave him alone. I don’t even know where he’s now. There’s no doubt that he’s chasing the Greast army though. ──So, how was it? Were there some people who showed some kind of reactions?”
When Mashas asked as he changed the topic, Badouin squinted in displeasure, Augre shrugged his shoulders and both of the men nodded respectively.
In the audience room, while Mashas reported the circumstances of things and Regin was carefully listening to it, Badouin standing beside her was intently watching the courtiers. Augre mingled with the courtiers and was observing them as well.
In order to find out people who had connection with Greast.
Until two years ago, Greast was a respectable Brune noble. The possibility that people, who had interactions with him and inwardly harbored animosity towards Regin, secretly taking contact with him was by no means low.
Although there was a difference in the way of using it between those, who cooperated with Melisande’s revolt and those in the Cotillard army, that there was the strange common point of having used poison was also a matter of concern.
“There are three people I am concerned with. They are people I have been cautious of since before, but…… When you were talking about the Moonlight Knight Army’s defeat, these three people were not angry and had faces as if they have already heard about it.”
“As for me, there are two people I found suspicious. When Her Highness Regin stood from the throne, as most of the courtiers were surprised, they were worried about her Highness. But, those two people were laughing. As if to say that she’s done for.”
Badouin and Augre respectively raised the names of the courtiers they were concerned about. While stroking his gray beard, Mashas revealed a villain-like smile.
“If it wasn’t me, but Tigre who gave the report, or if her Highness calmly dealt with it as she knew of the circumstances, the enemies might not have given themselves away. Now then, Badouin. You’ll let those lots swim for a while, right?”
“We must absolutely know how they contact the outside. Besides, we must have Greast think that Earl Vorn’s whereabouts are unknown.”
If he heard that Tigre went missing, Greast would try to ascertain whether it was the truth or not. Then, he should obtain the information that it seemed to be the true. There was no doubt that he would not possibly think that Tigre is chasing the Greast army by himself.
If Greast were to let his guard down even a little due to that, it would be a great help for Tigre who was acting alone.
—But, I’m amazed that Tigre came up with this in that situation.
Mashas inwardly leaked a mutter of admiration.
By reporting that Tigre went missing, they would find out people, who were in contact with Greast.
The one who thought about this plan was Tigre. And moreover it was when the Moonlight Knight Army lost, Elen has gone missing and everyone was thrown in confusion that he came talking to Mashas.
There was no doubt that Tigre wanted to move alone because he wanted to rescue Elen with his own hands.
But, if he had insisted on only that, then no matter how much drive he had, Mashas would not have allowed him to be sent out. He would have done so because he would have judged that Tigre had lost his calm.
“Badouin. Deceiving her Highness is certainly not something that one must do as a retainer, but the enemy is formidable. I think that the matter this time is something unavoidable in order to win and for her Highness’s sake, too.”
“If you have that much resolve, then it is fine. The duty to tell the circumstances of things to her Highness and receive a scolding will be left to you.”
As he smoothly pushed a troublesome task to Mashas, Badouin asked in a careful way of speaking.
“By the way, it is about the fact that Vanadis-dono has been captured by the Greast army, but…… Has there been some sort of demand from Greast until today?”
Lim weakly shook her head. Fatigue and irritation blurred in both her voice and her blue eyes. Badouin stroke his bears seeming to want to say that it was incomprehensible.
“Even towards us, Greast has not formulated any demand. Even despite having come immediately near this capital yesterday. I thought that if he held prisoner someone such as a Vanadis, there is no way he would not convey it.”
“Are you implying that we are lying?”
Lim glared at Badouin with a sharp gaze. It was an angry look to the extent that if she had a sword to her waist, she might have swiftly unsheathed it.
“Either he intended to take her prisoner but let her die by mistake, or she has been wounded more than he thought. And thus, he might be at loss about what he should do.”
Valentina said with cool face while tasting her tea. The male group made startled faces at this. This was because while they thought about that possibility, they avoided putting it into words.
Even when being turned eyes tinged with killing intent by Lim, the black-haired Vanadis did not change her expression in the slightest. She slightly moved her head and coolly received Lim’s gaze with her purple pupils.
“When I go out on the battlefield, I think about the worst case scenario and resolve myself. It should be the same for Eleonora. Moreover, unlike me, she stands at the vanguard of the soldiers and wields her sword. Despite this, why are you, Eleonora’s adjutant, acting in such a way?”
Valentina’s tone was too cold for a chiding one and it even sounded as provocation. Though Lim felt an intense anger welling up in the depths of her chest, she earnestly repressed it.
Though she did not like how the black-haired Vanadis put it, Lim could not help but recognize the correctness of what she said. If she rebutted here, it might be regarded as denying Elen’s resolution she spoke of.
“……I am sorry, Valentina-sama. I did something rude.”
Then, Lim also expressed words of apology to Badouin. Toward the Prime Minister of a country, her attitude earlier was clearly impolite.
“I do not mind it. It’s quite difficult to stay calm when it comes to one’s lord’s danger.”
As he consoled Lim while saying so, Badouin went back to the topic without breaking his calm attitude.
“Concerning Greast, but…… Although he captured Vanadis-dono, because he is unable to decide how to use her, he has yet to say anything to us. I think that we should assume as such for the time being, but is it all right with you?”
Lim silently nodded at the old Prime Minister’s suggestion and Valentina answered “I do not mind it” with a smile.
—No good. Limalisha-dono is more tired than I thought. It might be good to leave the LeitMeritz soldiers’ command to another person and have her rest at least while we’re in the capital.
Seeing Lim, who hung her head down completely depressed, Mashas thought about such a thing.
Though the five people who were here had abundant experience, even so there was not even one among them that thought that Greast captured Elen for his own desire.
More accurately, only Augre thought of that possibility. This was because when Greast met Elen for the first time two years ago, the old Viscount was there together with Tigre.
But, there was no way that he could voice it out with that alone as basis. All the more if he thought about the feelings of Lim who was concerned about Elen’s safety.
Besides, Elen’s utility value as a prisoner was extremely high. There was no way that Greast, who held resourcefulness enough to serve as Ganelon’s confidant, would not use Elen for such deals. He thought so.
“Regarding the method to rescue Eleonora-dono, do Limalisha-dono and Valentina-dono have any plan about it?”
Augre asked the two Zhcted people. Lim hung her head down with a stiff expression and as expected even Valentina shook her head with a serious face this time.
“It is deplorable, but for the moment we are in a situation where we can only rely on lord Tigrevurmud.”
Lim answered so with a depressed expression and Valentina also spoke in a calm tone.
“If the enemy that captured Eleonora charged ahead, we will be unable to fight, right? On the other hand, even if we organized a unit in order to rescue her, we will only get in Earl Vorn’s way. We cannot afford to be careless.”
“No, I am sorry to have asked an unnecessary question.”
Augre lightly bowed his head. If Lim had any plan, there was no doubt that she would have long executed it. Badouin frowned anxiously and said to Mashas.
“Do you know how the Greast army will move? After having left the capital yesterday morning……”
Mashas took one of the maps spread on the table and put it on topmost. It was the one depicting Brune northern part as the center. Both Evreux, which was Greast’s territory and Lutetia, which Ganelon once governed, were also drawn in the map.
“According to the scouting’s report, they seem to be moving not on the main highway, but a so to speak highway equivalent to a byroad to the north. It’s a report of around yesterday evening though.”
While looking at the characters “Lutetia” drawn on the map, Augre asked.
“Speaking of Greast…… Is it true that Ganelon was alive? I certainly thought that his death two years ago was too sudden.”
Mashas did not answer directly and turned his gaze at Valentina.
“Valentina-dono. Though briefly, I’ve heard the story of the other day from Tigre. Could you also tell us about it?”
It was about the night when Melisande caused a revolt. Without prior notice, Ganelon appeared in the royal palace. Although there were only four people who confirmed his figure. They were Tigre, Mashas’ son Gaspar, and the Zhcted people Rurick and Valentina.
Among them, both Gaspar and Rurick were immediately stunned by Ganelon, so they did not know the detailed circumstances.
Although Tigre more or less talked about it to several people including Mashas, and they had decided to think about a concrete way to deal with him after the battle with the Sachstein Army would be over. Before the formidable enemy, which was Sachstein, they had no room to think about other things.
“I will digress a little from the current topic, but……”
Showing no signs of being agitated even after receiving Mashas’ gaze, Valentina bent her head slightly to the side. Mashas and company nodded unhesitantly.
Judging from the fact that Ganelon was alive and moreover appeared in the royal palace recently, it was safe to think that it was connected to Greast. It was necessary to know their purpose.
As Valentina put the silver cup she was holding in her hand on the table, she turned her gaze to Augre.
“Well then, first I shall answer Viscount Augre’s question. Duke Ganelon is alive. The night of the day when the revolt occurred, I met with him and we have exchanged words a little.”
“Tigre said that he was suddenly attacked and then was saved by you though.”
When Mashas said so, Valentina affirmed with a smile.
“Yes. I was concerned about the cause of the commotion and walked around in the corridor.”
The black-haired Vanadis turned her body and gazed at the scythe leaning against the wall behind her.
“Although I have a weak constitution, I am also one of the Vanadises. As long as I have this child, I will be able to at least protect myself. And then, I have met them. I was also surprised at the fact that Duke Ganelon was there, the shock that I received when I knew that he is a demon, was even more than that.”
At the word “demon” that came out from Valentina’s mouth as if it was natural, Mashas and Lim were surprised, and Augre and Badouin stared at her without be able to conceal their confusion.
“Excuse me, Vanadis-dono. I would like to confirm one thing.”
Augre raised his hand and asked Valentina.
“Just now, you said “demon”, but…… When you met Duke Ganelon, what kind of appearance did he have?”
“It looks like my way of explain it was not good. The outward appearance was the very Duke Ganelon that you people and me know well. He neither has three or four eyes nor did he grow a horn.”
“Despite this, you are saying that you knew that Duke Ganelon was a demon?”
When Augre asked one question after another, Valentina once again looked back towards her Dragonic Tool.
“This child told me that. Though you have certainly heard about it from the other Vanadises, Dragonic Tools have the power to sense the existence of demons. Though it does not seem to be something you would know if it is nearby.”
“Huh?” Augre returned such an idiotic voice. Well, it was probably the natural reaction. Badouin turned a gaze demanding assistance to Mashas.
Mashas and Lim knew well what both of them were perplexed about. For Augre and Badouin, who had actually never seen a demon, they could not concretely imagine it even after being told about demons. Much more when they were told that they had a human appearance.
Mashas and Lim had encountered a demon called Baba Yaga in Lebus of the Zhcted Kingdom. They have also heard about stories from Tigre and Elen. That’s why they were not that much surprised at Valentina’s story.
—That isn’t something one can understand unless they actually witness it.
As Mashas temporarily interrupted her talk with a cough, he addressed Augre and Badouin.
“Hey, you two. Do you remember the folklores that wet nurses narrated when you were children and also poems of monsters that the minstrels recite? For example, the monster frog Vodyanoy. The broom witch Baba Yaga. The white demon Torbalan. Don’t you remember at least one of them?”
“……Are you telling us that those monsters actually exist?”
Badouin’s middle forehead was carved with several deep wrinkles as he made a face seeming to want to say that it was absurd. Mashas shook his short and stout body and shrugged his shoulders.
“I don’t know to that extant. But, it’s true that there are people who take the names of such monsters and possess power beyond that of a human. ──Valentina-dono.”
Mashas turned his face to the black-haired Vanadis.
“Judging from the fact that you called him a demon, even if his appearance is human as is, I think that Ganelon showed you some extraordinary power. For example, flying in the air, or spitting out fire from his mouth or bringing thunder from the sky……”
While Valentina put the tea in her mouth, she looked at the old Earl with honestly impressed eyes.
Depending on the interaction of Augre and Badouin, she had thought to end the explanation using that as a reason, but as expected the attitude of Mashas, who has already seen a demon, was flexible. Pulling themselves together at his words, Augre and Badouin once again showed a stance of listening to the story.
“There are two points I saw that told me that Duke Ganelon is an existence detached from human.”
Holding her silver cup in her right hand as is, Valentina raised her left hand’s index finger.
“One is his strength. He has easily crushed iron armor along with the human wearing it just by lightly catching it with his hand. In addition, he ran on the royal palace’s roof with a speed like a beast. Since even my Dragonic Tool was not able to injure him, it will be useless to fight him with an ordinary sword and spear, right?”
“I see. And the other one?”
Although Mashas’ face turned pale with fright, he briefly urged her to continue with a serious face.
“The other one is a power exactly like in fairy tales. He released a fireball of this size from his hand. And that fireball flew with the speed of an arrow.”
Valentina used both her hands to describe the fireball’s size. It was roughly as big as an adult’s head.
“That is all for what I saw” as Valentina said that, Mashas, Augre and Badouin stared at the black-haired Vanadis with serious expressions, but they looked at each other before long.
“So, that is how Duke Ganelon is now, huh…… What do we do?”
Badouin muttered his impression in a serene tone and asked the other two. While stroking his gray beard with a despondent face, Mashas answered.
“Well, even if you ask that, the fireball aside, we were told that swords don’t work him…… Speaking of which, that Gaspar, he said that his sword was blown away in an instant and he didn’t understand why.”
“In other words, things that face heroes recited in myths, huh. I wonder how his physical strength is. The outward appearance is the same as the Ganelon that we know, so I wonder if it’s possible to attack him with number and get him tire. I can’t say that it’s a good method though.”
To Augre’s words, Mashas nodded seeming to want to say that it could not be helped.
“I guess there’s only that. Bind him with chains…… No, if he can crush iron, then chains are useless. Though it’s a little brutal, how about making him fall into a deep hole, pouring oil from above and then burning him to ash?”
“Or, there is also the method of attaching weight on him and sinking him in a deep lake or marsh……”
Augre further proposed a plan, and Badouin summarized the talk.
“Aside from whether we can really do it or it will work, let’s think about these two for now. After all, it is not like we currently know everything about him.”
While observing the old men, Valentina eagerly endured as she almost burst into laughter. This time seemed to be her turn to harbor thoughts that mixed amazement and admiration.
Both Augre and Badouin, hearing “demon”, were confused as they have imagined it to be a slippery monster. They revised their recognition thanks to Mashas saying that “it was a creature with supernatural power”.
It would have been better it was only that, but they seriously intended to fight against that creature. Without being at a loss how they should fight it, they did not give up before fighting and, for the time being, worked out countermeasures to face it.
This indomitable courage was without doubt what allowed them to get rid of the civil war and an enemy nation’s invasion. Though it was Tigrevurmud Vorn, who was extolled as hero, it was not like Brune has obtained various victories with only his ability alone.
“Valentina-dono. There are several things that I would like to ask you, but is it all right?”
Badouin turned eyes filled with great interest towards the black-haired Vanadis.
“You said that that day was the first time when you learnt that Duke Ganelon was…… not ‘a human’.”
He seemed to slightly hesitate to call him a “demon”. Figuratively expressing Ganelon as above, the cat-faced Prime Minister continued his words.
“Your interactions with Duke Ganelon should date back to a few years ago. Until then, have you never realized it? Or, in those days Duke Ganelon was still a human?”
It was an interaction with a great noble competing to be one of the best in Brune and a Vanadis with position second only to the King in Zhcted. There was no way that Badouin, who was the Prime Minister, would not know.
Valentina made a somewhat grim expression and answered.
“Just as you say, my interaction with Duke Ganelon extends for roughly three years from five years ago until two years ago.”
Five years ago, in order to make Osterode that she governed wealthier, Valentina, thinking about trading with Brune, got in contact with Ganelon.
At the time, Ganelon, with his territory Lutetia as the center, held an especially strong influence in Brune northern part. If Valentina, who had her dukedom in Zhcted northeast part, were to think about trading with Brune, it was the natural choice to get friendly with Ganelon.
“But, I do not think that he showed such a presence ever once. My Ezendeis did not show a reaction as well. Whether he had kept on hiding being a demon or he was still human at that time, I do not know.”
This was a lie. That day when she met Ganelon for the first time, Ezendeis reacted to him. While knowing that the other party was an inhuman demon, Valentina continued the trade with him.
Although saying that the Dragonic Tool appealed as such, that was something only a Vanadis understood. If she were to brand a duke of another country as demon without conclusive evidence, it would invite a serious diplomatic issue.
In addition, although Ganelon vaguely guessed that his true identity was found out by Valentina, he did not breathe a word about such a thing. While showing a great noble-like attitude regarding the trade, he was throughout and upright.
As a lord, Ganelon was a cruel man who afflicted his territory people with violence and fear; but he did not show such an attitude to nobles of foreign countries and merchants, so as a trader partner, there was no problem in particular.
But, Valentina did not reveal a single word about those facts.
Before, at the place of the meeting on the night of the Sun Festival, Valentina adopted the attitude that she knew nothing about demons. By adding to that, she had to pretend that she knew about Ganelon’s identity afterwards.
Though Tigre was not here and Valentina was also the only Vanadis present, it was very likely that Lim and Mashas would talk about it to Tigre and other Vanadises.
As Badouin listened to Valentina’s words while nodding several times, he moved to the next question.
“You said that you exchanged words with Ganelon, who appeared in the royal palace, but could you tell us what he is thinking about or if he has revealed his goal?”
After finishing his question, Badouin made a face saying that they finally went back to the real issue at hand. It was not only him, so did Augre, Mashas and Lim as well.
This meeting was to speak about how to fight against the Greast army. Because there was no change in the fact that Ganelon was also an enemy to defeat for Brune, they thought about the means to fight him; but unless they made a connection between Ganelon himself and the Greast army, it could not become the subject of the topic at hand.
While bending her head slightly to one side as she explored her memory, Valentina answered to the Prime Minister.
“Duke Ganelon seems to be plotting something, but I do not know anything about it. But, when he showed up in this royal palace, he aimed at Earl Vorn.”
Mashas and company’s expressions became steep. Even Lim, who has been listening to the talk silently until then, revealed a very small of strain on her unsociable face.
While gazing at her silver cup where a small quantity of tea remained at the bottom, Valentina answered.
“I only became aware of it recently, but the bow that Earl Vorn possesses seems to have the power to repel demons, like our Dragonic Tools. Perhaps, Duke Ganelon aimed at it.”
“So, he either tried to steal a weapon that can wound him, or to kill its wielder Earl Vorn.”
To Badouin, who narrowed his eyes and tilted his head to the side, Valentina nodded.
“It is to the bitter end a guess though. In the end, he escaped before revealing his aim after all.”
“However……” said Mashas as he folded his arms and looked at the map on the table.
“As we don’t know Ganelon’s aim, we can only think about Greast’s goal from his movement, huh.”
The fact that Ganelon was not human was certainly important information. They also understood regarding the relationship between Valentina and him. But if one had to say it, it was all they knew.
Since it was Mashas and company’s side that asked her, Valentina did not intend to express her dissatisfaction; but it was unfortunate that it did not seem to become a clue to find out Greast’s goal.
“There’s probably no doubt that he’ll aim at either Lutetia or Evreux, but…… No, judging from the fact that it’s clear that Ganelon is alive, will it be Lutetia after all?”
Augre’s gaze was busily coming and going to Lutetia and Evreux on the map, but then it was fixed on Lutetia. It was a distance of seven to eight days on foot from the capital Nice.
“Attacking Lutetia, making it their base and then building a force to revolt with assuming Ganelon as the leader. Wouldn’t the enemy’s intention something like that?”
At Lim’s words, Mashas and company assented. Two years passed since the previous civil war, so neither Ganelon nor Great would have their cohesive power like before. But, the remnants of Melisande faction and those, who still opposed Regin, would definitely assemble under him.
“Her Highness said that the Greast army is the Kingdom’s enemy.”
Badouin looked at Mashas with a stern expression.
“Earl Rodant. Is it possible to catch up with them and defeat them before they attacked Lutetia?”
“It’ll be impossible to defeat them, but if we make not letting them come near Lutetia as our number one objective and gain time by devoting ourselves to defense, then let’s see…… if we choose, among the soldiers, up to 7000 ones with minor injuries and with energy to spare in physical strength, have them restore their energy by taking a rest until tomorrow and depart from here the morning of the day after tomorrow, then”
Without having room to recover from their fatigue of the battle against the Sachstein Army, the Moonlight Knight Army fought against the Greast army and lost. And then, they returned to the capital while dragging their injured bodies. As for Mashas, he really wanted to give them rest for at least five days.
But as expected, if they were to leave the Greast army alone for five days, Lutetia would be snatched away. Even now, they have moved ahead for approximately one day.
“What’s thankful for us is that the Greast army can’t head straight to Lutetia. Between the capital and Lutetia, there are a territory governed by a feudal lord who isn’t cooperative with Ganelon and a fort where a chivalric order is stationed.”
No matter how strong Greast was at battle, he would incur losses if he fought. It would also take time. In addition, if he were to attack Lutetia, suitable preparations would be necessary.
“On the other hand, we can go to Lutetia at the shortest distance through the highway. While requesting cooperation to the feudal lord and the chivalric order. This difference is big. If we leave the morning of the day after tomorrow, we’ll catch up with them.”
Mashas and Augre looked at each other. They somehow managed to be able to fight.
Of course, there was a possibility that Greast forced his way through the feudal lord’s territory and hurried to Lutetia, but they should have expectations from their ally there. Even if they were to forcibly have the exhausted soldiers walk and catch up with the enemy, they would only be kick about easily after all.
“I am sorry, but──”
At that time, Valentina slightly raised her hand. To Mashas and company, who made puzzled faces, the black-haired Vanadis plainly told in a calm attitude and tone.
“I and the soldiers of Osterode intend to leave the capital tomorrow morning at the latest.”
Silence descended in the conference room. Mashas, Lim, Augre and Badouin stared at Valentina with dumbfounded faces without moving an inch. It was as tough too much surprise and confusion have turned the four people into sculptures.
“W-What…… What do you mean by that, Valentina-dono?”
After a little less than ten seconds passed, Mashas finally squeezed his voice. One could see the entanglement in his tongue to the point of trembling.
“Even if you ask me what I mean”
Even when being exposed to the four people’s gazes, Valentina did not break her composed attitude.
“The reason I am here is by the order of His Majesty King Victor of my country. His Majesty’s order was to cooperate with Brune and defeat Sachstein. Now that is over, I have no reason to remain in Brune.”
At this reply, not only Mashas, but also Augre and Badouin opened their eyes wide.
Though Valentina’s words seemed to be cruel, it was a sound argument and considering her position, it was a reasonable claim. This was because she first had responsibility regarding the soldiers, who were her subordinates, and should avoid doing something like exposing them to danger by shoving her neck in an unnecessary battle.
Lim, who recovered first, stood up from her chair and bowed her head to Valentina.
“Valentina-sama! I beg of you. In order to rescue Eleonora-sama, could you remain here……?”
“Limalisha. I should have already told you my evaluation regarding Eleonora.”
Mashas also vigorously left his seat with a pale face. As he walked until next to Valentina, he bowed his head very deeply like Lim.
“What you say is correct. Even after having understood it, I still beg of you. Could you cooperate with us at least until we defeat the Greast army?”
Furthermore, Augre and Badouin stood up and stared at Valentina.
“If you say that you must have permission of the Zhcted King, I will go to Zhcted. I will explain the circumstances and ask him to grant Vanadis-dono’s freedom of movement. Therefore, can’t you lend us your help here?”
When Augre said so, Badouin also appealed to Valentina with a serious expression.
“I beg you as well. If you want it, can you not give some conditions?”
The Osterode army’s soldiers numbered approximately 2600. They were 3000 when they set foot on the land of Brune, but they have lost 400 soldiers in the battles until today.
Though it was not a large army, they were well trained, loyally moved by Valentina’s command and bravely fought. It was 2600 that the Moonlight Knight Army could by no means let go of.
In addition, Valentina’s fame as a Vanadis could not be ignored.
Under the present circumstances in which Elen went missing, if the other Vanadis was to leave, the Moonlight Knight Army’s morale would greatly decline and conversely, the enemy’s fighting spirit would rise.
In addition, this was something that they could absolutely not voice out, but one concern was born in Badouin’s and Mashas’ minds.
They wondered whether Valentina, who would leave the capital, would not join the Greast army.
How much close the black-haired Vanadis was with Ganelon? Among the people present in this place, only Valentina herself knew. In this case, the point, that they did not know clearly Ganelon and Greast’s goal, made fear well up inside the two men.
However, even when she was entreated by the four people, Valentina did not consent.
“Everyone, I am sorry for making you bow your heads, but I have already decided.”
Mashas and company stood stock still on the spot. She was a Vanadis of Zhcted, so even if it were Regin, she would not be able to force something on her.
—Since it comes to this, even if I’m to cling to her unsightly……
Though Mashas thought so, he was unable to move. If he were to harm her mood by doing that, everything would be over.
Not caring at all about the four people’s gazes, Valentina turned a smile to Badouin.
“Prime Minister. Could you prepare a (free) pass for me?”
The man, who has served as the Prime Minister of a country for many years, artlessly repeated the Vanadis’ words. Valentina joined her hands together and answered “yes”.
“I and my soldiers will go north from the capital, pass through Lutetia and then go back to Zhcted from the port city located in the northern coast. I would like to avoid causing needless misunderstanding after all.”
Badouin were unable to return words at once.
If Valentina, who held a pass, were to act together with Greast, Greast would be able to openly move around the land of Lutetia. This was the worst advent for Brune. However, if he were to voice it out, he would definitely anger Valentina.
He had to skillfully avoid her demand.
“Vanadis-dono. As we have talked earlier, Lutetia is a land which will become a battlefield from here on. You seem to be thinking about passing through there before the battle begins, but that we do not know what might happen is the way of the world. We find it difficult to thoughtlessly expose you to danger.”
“I assume that that is the Prime Minister’s thought, right?”
As if having waited for Badouin to finish speaking, Valentina asked. Although the old Prime Minister slightly frowned, he nodded with a composed attitude. He squared off in his mind at what she intended/meant to say.
“I am thankful at the Prime Minister’s concern. But, I too would like to have my soldiers return quickly. I will trouble you, but could you ask it to Her Highness Regin? If even Her Highness says that she cannot consent, at that time I will stay in the capital together with my soldiers.”
While stroking his moustache in a casual gesture, Badouin quickly scrutinized Valentina’s words. There was no problem about conveying her demand to Regin. What bothered him was that Valentina seemed to think that Regin would make a decision different from Badouin
“I understand. I shall get a reply from Her Highness by today and convey it to Vanadis-dono.”
And thus, with irritation, impatience and doubt remaining in some hearts, the meeting ended.