It was an encounter. Both sides met unexpectedly and recognized each other.
It was a region slightly southerly from the heart of the Brune Kingdom. This area was dotted with hills, with pockets of forests in between; there were also thickets, and a gently meandering river also spread over there.
All of these obstructed the field of vision of both parties. Thus, they noticed the other party too late.
Under the first blue sky of summer, the reconnaissance teams of the Moonlight Knight Army and the Muozinel Army glared at one another from halfway-up a small hill. The distance separating both parties was about 300 Alsins (about 300 meters).
Both parties were composed only of cavalry, with about 200 on each side.
Incidentally, the so-called Moonlight Knight Army was the common name for the mixed army of Brune and Zhcted. This reconnaissance team had only a handful of Zhcted soldiers.
The fact that they had almost the same number of soldiers as the enemy seemed to have ignited their fighting spirit. Illuminated by the midday sun, the Muozinel Army was the first to make a move.
“This is a great opportunity to earn achievements! Let crush those bastards Brune men!”
The cry of the steel helmet-adorned Muozinel leader drove the soldiers out onto the battle. They let out a battle cry, and spurred their horses to rush on the Moonlight Knight Army.
“Attack! Show them that we are stronger!”
The leader of the Moonlight Knight Army shouted encouragement to his troops. He was a young man with darkish red hair and black eyes. He held neither a sword nor a spear in his hands, but a jet black bow.
The young man was none other than Tigrevurmud Vorn. He was called by the nickname Tigre by those close to him. He would be 18 this year, but looking at his age and appearance, it was hard to imagine that he has accumulated many distinguished military feats until today.
At Tigre’s cry, the soldiers responded with a cry of their own. This was Brune territory, and the Muozinel Army was the invader. The angry roars of the enemy only further fanned their fighting spirit.
Tigre breathed a sigh of relief at the fact that the soldiers, who were confused at the unexpected incident, finally recovered. He wanted to avoid a melee combat, but it could not be helped. If they were to retreat in order to reorganize their ranks, it would only the enemy’s morale.
Running across the hill’s slope, the two armies clashed. It has turned into a melee in the blink of an eye.
Horses and horses collided with each another, while humans and humans crossed weapons. Swords and spears, rather than just killing and maiming their enemy, were used in order to topple them from their horses. Those who fell to the ground either rolled down the slope, or were crushed under the hooves of enemies and allies’ mounts.
The blades of the Moonlight Knight Army and the Muozinel Army met with the resounding clash of steel and steel. Brune soldiers lost their balance, and were toppled from their horses. A Muozinel soldier tried to spur his horse to deliver the final blow, but he get clubbed from the back by another Brune soldier and lost consciousness as his head dyed with blood.
The frightening thing about a melee was that you never knew when an enemy would attack you from the flank or from the back. Both Brune and Muozinel soldiers fell to the ground as they were slashed at from the flank and stabbed from the back. The smell of blood and soil mixed into the hot breeze of early summer, making one choke.
A single arrow suddenly flew over their heads.
That arrow was headed straight towards forehead of the Muozinel Army’s leader who has taken down a Brune soldier boldly brandishing his spear. “Gah!” The Muozinel Army leader toppled from his horse with a small cry, never to get up again.
The Muozinel soldiers fell into disarray at the sight of losing their leader right before their very eyes. In contrast, the Brune soldiers became even more ferocious.
“Don’t leave a single soldier go back!”
Tigre’s merciless orders flew across the battlefield. The one, who has taken down the Muozinel Army’s leader in the midst of friends and foes with but a single arrow, was this young man.
The Brune soldiers charged in. The Muozinel soldiers were dressed with only light leather armor, with their heads wrapped with a black cloth. Their heads were cracked with a club, their shoulders cut off with swords, and they were stabbed in the abdomen with spears. The ground that was already stained a dark red from the rivers of blood was stained even more with the new blood, adding to the ghastliness of the scene.
Shortly thereafter, the Muozinel soldiers turned their horses around one by one and began to flee. A few valiantly fought against the Brune soldiers, but were quickly surrounded and cut down.
On top of that, 20 or so arrows were shot from the ranks of the Moonlight Knight Army. They came not from the Brune soldiers, but from the Zhcted ones. Being pierced by arrows to the heads and backs, several Muozinel soldiers were toppled off their horses. They were then ambushed by the Brune soldiers, and dealt a final blow.
Tigre nocked an arrow to his black bow as he gazed upon the soldiers’ way of fighting.
Although cruel, he could not let the enemy gather even the slightest bit of Intel. Moreover, he had to strike when he was able to strike. This battle aside, considering the whole picture, the Muozinel Army was indeed a large army of 150,000, twice as many as the Moonlight Knight Army’s number after all.
A single arrow drew a magnificent curve through the air. It flew as if chasing after the man at the vanguard of the retreating Muozinel soldiers, and shot through his head. Tigre let out a sigh of amazement. It was probably shot by one of the Zhcted soldiers, but it had such a marvelously fascinating trajectory.
Before long, the pursuit battle ended, and two men appeared before Tigre to give their report. One of them was a splendidly bald-headed Zhcted knight that left a lasting impression, known as Rurick. The other was a young Brune noble with black hair tinged with gray, Gaspar.
“We are still making confirmations, but I think we were able to wipe out nearly half of the enemy.”
Gaspar opened his mouth with a rigid expression. He was the second son of Mashas Rodant relied upon by Tigre. He was like an older brother to Tigre, and was in charged of keeping the Brune soldiers in this reconnaissance team.
“We (Brune side) count 12 dead. There are about 30 to 40 injured. I have about 10 cavalrymen that have not sustained any injury head onto the hill to make sure that there are not enemy reinforcements nearby.”
Gaspar was usually more outspoken, but he spoke like this to Tigre in presence of the soldiers.
Rurick then made his report. He served as the mediator of the Zhcted soldiers.
“There are no Zhcted casualties. We have 4 injured, but they are all minor injuries.”
Rurick then glanced at Gaspar.
“We will help you bury the dead.”
“Thank you. By the way, what do we do with the Muozinel soldiers’ corpses?”
Tigre shook his head at Gaspar who asked as such.
“There is no need to bury their corpses. Take their weapons, but otherwise just pile them up in one spot, so that it is easy for their comrades to collect the bodies.”
There was the possibility that their bodies would be eaten by wild beasts before the Muozinel soldiers, who have escaped, come to collect them. However, Tigre decided not to think about it. There was no way they could bury nearly 100 corpses. Besides, they were enemies. There was a limit to what they could do for them.
Gaspar and Rurick turned their horses towards the soldiers in order to issued commands. Despite their victory, the expression of Tigre, who saw off their retreating figures, did not brighten.
—Who would have thought that their reconnaissance team would have come this far.
This place was a distance of about a day and a half on foot from the Brune Kingdom’s Capital city of Nice.
The 150,000 Muozinel Army should have still been in the port town of the south. Considering that it took about 20 days on foot from the port town of the south to the Capital, this encounter itself made him shudder.
Though, since a Muozinel Army’s reconnaissance team had once been sighted at Montour, which was north of the Capital, this should have been expected.
Tigre, who was in charge of the whole Moonlight Knight Army, took just 200 cavalrymen and came to this area because he has judged that he wanted to confirm the topography with his own eyes instead of just using maps.
After a quarter koku passed, Rurick and Gaspar appeared once again before Tigre. They reported that all operations were complete, and that there were no enemy reinforcements nearby. Tigre nodded, and after giving the order to return to the Capital, suddenly asked about what have been bothering him.
“Speaking of which, when the Muozinel Army escaped, are you the one that took down the soldier at the vanguard, Rurick?”
“You could tell only after seeing the arrow? As expected of you, Lord Tigrevurmud.”
Rurick shyly smacked his hand on his gleaming head. He was good with a bow, and was fiercely proud of his own great skill. He also deeply respected Tigre, who was even better with a bow than he was. Tigre laughed as he replied.
“In this squad, you and I are the only ones that can let fly an arrow like that, Rurick. That arrow might just have been your best shot yet.”
“I think so, too. Recently, I was finally able to shoot an arrow over 280 Alsins during practice, but couldn’t do it in battle, so I kept it secret…”
In the continent, the record distance in archery was 250 Alsins, but it would be next to impossible for even those people called experts or masters to make a shot like that.
Rurick had long surpassed that record as he was able to shoot an arrow over 270 Alsins, but now he has further exceeded these 270 Alsins.
“Just you wait and see. I’ll eventually shoot an arrow over 300 Alsins, so that I can be on par with Lord Tigrevurmud.”
“Look like I can’t idle about with you around.”
Then, Gaspar, who has been quietly listening to their conversation up to that point, cut in.
“Rurick-dono. Tigre…. I mean, the Supreme Commander’s archery skills, I wonder how they compare to his sword and spear skills. I don’t dislike archery, but I’m a little out of the loop there…”
“Let’s see. If I’ve to say it in a single sentence, he’s probably the best on the continent.”
“You’re giving me way too much credit.”
As expected, Tigre looked shocked, but Rurick shook his head with a serious expression.
“What are you saying? We would be in trouble if there was another archer as good as you. Lord Tigrevurmud, you should be more self-aware of how preposterous and frightening the act of shooting enemies with a bow and arrow while standing at the army’s vanguard is.”
“No, even I have someone watching over me, so I couldn’t possibly…”
Tigre tried to deny it, but because not only Rurick, but also Gaspar looked at him with suspicious eyes, he turned his back to both and ended the conversation.
“Let’s pull back.”
Behind the youth, the bald-headed knight and the young nobles both smiled bitterly.
It was at the end of spring that the large army of 150,000 of the Muozinel Kingdom invaded the Brune Kingdom. The Supreme Commander was Kureys Shahim Balamir. As the younger brother of the Muozinel King, he was an outstanding great General known as “Red Beard” and feared by neighboring countries.
Under the command of Kureys, the Muozinel Army immediately rushed through Agnes, which became a territory of Zhcted, and stepped into Brune’s territory. For many Brune people, who thought that Agnes would hinder their invasion, it was truly a surprise attack.
The Muozinel Army that achieved their invasion to Brune did not immediately aim for the Capital, but instead proceeded to the south. They headed for the port towns which dotted the coast of Brune southern part.
Their March speed was by no means slow; the port towns, which were overwhelmed by their large army of 150,000, surrendered one after the other and showed intentions of allegiance. It was because bravado was pointless and they knew very well the cruelty of the Muozinel Army against those who opposed them.
Other than very rare exceptions, the Muozinel never forgave those who opposed them. They turn cities to rubble with thorough destruction and pillaging. Residents are either killed, or taken away as slaves.
At the moment, the Muozinel Army could be found in a port town called Massilia.
If one followed the large road that stretched from this port town to the north, they could reach the Capital Nice in about 20 days. Though they have not begun to move, it was a matter of time for the Muozinel soldiers and flags to fill the road leading north.
The current ruler of the Brune Kingdom was Princess Regin Ester Loire Bastien do Charles. She has resolved herself to fight the Muozinel Army, and has gathered soldiers from all over Brune.
The one chosen to lead these soldiers was Tigrevurmud Vorn. The people hoped that the youth, who had suppressed the civil war and kept repelling foreign invaders, would win against the Muozinel Army as well. Of course, Tigre himself shared the sentiment.
Tigre led the reconnaissance team back to Nice the day after their encounter with the Muozinel’s scout occurred. The morning sky was fantastically cloudless and blue, and the early summer’s sunlight poured down brightly, making the castle walls shimmer in white.
The Capital stood within a storm of nervousness, energy, and franticness. No large army has attacked the Capital for decades. The civil war that greatly shook Brune, and the large number of casualties that came with it, had stimulated the ambition of the surrounding countries.
The several gates opened all around the castle walls were jammed day after day with people going in and out. After hearing that the Capital would soon become a battlefield, there were some people, who tried to escape north or east, and others, who evacuated from neighboring towns and villages thinking that they would feel safer if there were inside the castle walls.
Furthermore, there were also merchants, mercenaries and prostitutes who sniffed out the smell of business, and troops of feudal lords and knights, who came running from all over Brune. This situation was expected to continue for the next while.
Outside of the castle walls, the militia labored on to dig trenches deeper and wider. These were people who answered the call of Tigre and Regin to join the fight.
Gazing out at the militia in the distance, Tigre remembered the day before he left for reconnaissance.
That morning, the youth, along with Regin, headed to the plaza that was the largest and closest to the royal palace. They had already proclaimed beforehand that they would explain the current state of the kingdom.
The plaza, which hosts statues of the gods in its four corners, had long been filled to the brim with residents of the Capital, and people, who could not possible fit inside, also crowded the outside of the plaza. Everyone whispered with faces filled with nervousness as they waited for Regin to appear.
Once Regin and Tigre arrived at the Plaza, the murmuring stopped.
Besides them were Claude and Serena, Regin’s guards, but the blond-haired princess, accompanied only by Tigre, stood on the platform set in the middle of the plaza.
“──Thank you for assembling here today.”
The number of the people gathered here would easily exceed 10,000. If we included those standing outside, it might be the double of the number. Even with over twenty thousand eyes directed right at her, Regin did not bat an eye, and without hesitation, met her people’s gaze. Tigre did the same.
With a calm voice, Regin notified the people of the Muozinel Army’s raid. Her voice was by no means loud, but it rang with determination, and reached the ears of the many people gathered here.
“The Muozinel Army is extremely large, and the various forts and cities will most likely not be able to stop their advance along the way. We will meet them in battle, here, at the Capital.”
The silent plaza was swept with terror and renewed tension. Before the people’s fear erupted, Regin glanced to Tigre, standing next to her.
“The one, who will lead the soldiers, is Tigrevurmud Vorn. I am sure I don’t need to introduce you our “Knight of the Moonlight”. I strongly believe that if it’s him, he’ll bring us victory.”
Knight of the Moonlight. That was the title bestowed upon Tigre by King Faron, Regin’s father, after Tigre suppressed the civil war two years ago.
Taking a small breath, Tigre, so as to appeal to all the people in the plaza, said.
“I promise that I will certainly drive our enemies out of our border!”
As soon as those words left him, the plaza erupted in cheer. Their welling emotions resonated and amplified, creating a storm of craze.
The people shouted the names of Brune, Regin, Tigre, and Knight of the Moonlight, over and over.
The volume of their voice expressed the size of their hope, and the weight of responsibility placed upon the youth.
If he lost this battle, and the country called Brune may disappear along with horrendous amounts of bloodshed and deaths. It would have been no surprise even if he had been flattened by the heavy pressure and ended up going insane, or fleeing in secret.
Tigre did not end up that way because not only were there many people who supported him, but also he also knew that there was a limit to how much he could do.
Until a mere two to three years ago, Tigre was, in all regards, a no-name youth. While he was a feudal lord with the peerage of earl, from the fact that the territory he governed was Alsace, far in the frontier, and that he had no other redeeming features aside of his archery skill, he could not visit the Capital very often.
Even after diving into the turmoil of civil war, he could not have fought nor won those battles with his ability alone. Therefore, when he was put in charge of the entire army by Regin, he was able to say “well, I’ll do what I can” without feeling much pressure, just as he did when he inherited the rule of Alsace from his father.
Some time has passed. As the storm of emotions was starting to calm, Tigre raised his hand. Feeling the heat swirling within and around their bodies, the people waited for the young hero’s next words.
“I will not break that promise. However, the difficulty we are facing this time is larger than ever. I need those who will fight together with me. Those who are willing to defend their own livelihoods, families, and friends with their own hands, those who want to share this victory with me, come to the front of the royal palace.”
Without missing a beat, Regin spoke.
“The Muozinel Army is headed to this Capital from the south. It’s not too late to run away north or east. It is not shameful to run away. On my honor, I’ll allow it.”
And so, Tigre and company left the plaza.
After this call, the Capital residents’ actions were greatly divided in three.
There were those, who tried to escape from the Capital, those, who remained in the Capital even after some hesitation and continued their daily routine, and those, ran to the royal palace to become the militia.
According to the preliminary calculation of the civil officials working in the royal palace, they estimated that 40,000 volunteer soldiers would gather after this call; but nearly 60,000 people of all age and gender gathered in front of the palace. There were even people among them that were armed with kitchen knives and pot lids, thinking that they would immediately head to the battlefield.
Although the civil officials cried in joy, it was only for a moment.
After all, there were also elderly, women and children. Next to a hungry hobo stood a housewife, who had never even stepped out of the Capital, and next to her was an elderly man leaning on his cane. Sorting out as such, the civil officials, with massive headaches, cut down the 60,000 volunteers to less than 30,000 by the end of the day.
Though it was less than previously calculated, it was a number that they did not expect to gather on the first day. Besides, the fact, that people were willing to follow Regin’s decision to remain in the Capital and fight, was great news on its own.
──The militia that gathered as such either worked onto digging trenches like those Tigre was watching now, carried weapons inside the castle walls, or gathered sandbags near the castle gates.
After dismissing the reconnaissance team and leaving Rurick and Gasper to paperwork, Tigre was about to enter through a gate reserved for army members. In preparation for things like urgent reports, some gates were reserved only for the staff of the army.
It was at that time when the militia, who noticed Tigre, raised their voices. Tigre waved his hand with a wry smile. He has done at least this much even back in Alsace, his hometown. A volunteer soldier, clearly excited, began talking loudly to his comrades around him.
Watching them with the corner of his eye, Tigre went through the gate.
The royal palace was located halfway up Mount Luberon, which towered in the middle of the Capital.
While Tigre, who entered the palace, has not yet walked halfway through the wide hallway, he was called out to by the princess with light blonde hair and blue eyes.
“──Earl Tigrevurmud Vorn”
Regin addressed him as such, most likely to conceal the fact that she almost called him by his nickname Tigre, in public. Tigre smiled, and bowed to her.
Regin, who turned 17 this year, had a delicate and beautiful appearance with a slender body, and at first glance, she gave off a kind and somewhat unreliable impression.
Yet, she has survived the civil war even though her life had been jeopardized by characters such as Duke Thenardier and Duke Ganelon, and has splendidly ruled the kingdom after succeeding her late father King Faron.
Even though there were capable retainers commencing with Badouin, if Regin was really the girl as she appeared to be, Brune would not have survived from the swamp of chaos.
Right now, there were only two knights who served as the princess’ guards by her side. Regin stopped, and continued her conversation with Tigre.
“I heard you battled with the Muozinel Army’s reconnaissance team. Are you hurt at all?”
“As you see, I’m all right. Please rest assured, your Highness.”
“It’s good above all that you, the Supreme Commander, is safe.”
After saying so with a smile that would calm people’s heart, Regin changed the subject.
“I just received report that the number of volunteer soldiers has reached 40,000. I intend to stop the recruiting for a moment, register those who came after this and made them as reserve forces.”
“Have we already reached the quota? That saves a lot of trouble.”
Looking at the youth, who was frankly pleased, Regin’s expression became clouded, and she looked down at the floor.
“I feel as though I became a coward who has deceived them. Without any logical discourse, we got them excited, and pushed and enveloped them in their wild enthusiasm……”
Regin’s voice was small, audible only to Tigre and her two guards.
“Your Highness. You should not see things like that.”
With clumsy gestures, Tigre took her hands and consoled her.
“There are people, who need such atmosphere to squeeze their courage. Not everyone can be brave without relying on anything.”
It was something that the youth had also experienced. Many of Tigre’s battles had started from a disadvantage, and many times he had to encourage his soldiers with his words or actions to boost their morale.
Regin did not answer immediately, but gently squeezed back Tigre’s hands. A gentle warmth enveloped Tigre’s hands. The blond-haired princess looked up, and grinned.
“Thank you. You saying so made me feel a little better.”
Then, Tigre, although vaguely, felt like he understood how she felt.
The words she spoke earlier were the princess’ true feelings and indubitably a serious distress. But, the usual Regin would by no means have uttered such a complaint.
By deliberately voicing it out, she wanted to be spoiled by Tigre. And, as far as he could tell from her reaction, Tigre seemed to have somehow been able to respond to Regin’s wish.
When Regin was about to speak further, one official was trotting from the other side of the hallway. The official was holding several letters in both hands and respectfully stood in front of Regin.
Regin returned her expression to that of a Princess, and nodded towards the official, then turned to face Tigre.
“Well then, Earl Vorn. I will see you later.”
“Yes. Your Highness, too, please, do not push yourself too much.”
With a bow, Tigre was about to walk away, but Regin stopped him as he took his first step. The blond-haired princess fixedly peered into the face of the youth, who turned back with a quizzical look.
“Is there something on my face…?”
Regin did not immediately answer Tigre, who had a perplexed look. After staring at his face for five counts or so, she finally loosened her expression.
“I am sorry for having surprised you. You seemed to have somehow changed. It’s hard for me to put into words, but you seem more grounded, even more so than before……”
Hearing those words, Tigre’s lips nearly twitched. In the youth’s mind, there appeared a girl with silver hair and ruby-colored eyes. If Tigre was acting any different now, it was surely because of her.
Either because she thought it was not something worth inquiring deeply, or because she thought that that his change was brought about by their current situation, Regin walked away with the civil official, along with her two guards. Tigre placed his hand on his chest, and saw off the retreating figure of the princess with sharp intuition.
Tigre, who parted with Regin, headed to the boardroom. There were two soldiers standing guard on either side of the boardroom door, but after recognizing Tigre, they pushed the door open.
“Everyone is already here; they are waiting for you, Supreme Commander.”
After thanking the guards, Tigre stepped into the boardroom.
The boardroom was quite large. The candles of the bronze chandelier hung from the ceiling were all lit, illuminating the room brightly.
On the table, there were maps, numerous pieces, piles of documents and scrolls, and seven silver cups filled with water.
Six men and women were sitting around the table. The men were all Brune people: Mashas Rodant, Earl Bouroullec, and the vice-leader of the Navarre Knight Squadron, Olivier.
Mashas, who has wrapped his stout and short body in silk clothes, turned 57 this year. It was Tigre’s late father’s best friend, and an old Earl that Tigre trusted above anyone else.
Bouroullec was a noble with land in Brune’ southern part, and has been working under Tigre since the battle against the Sachstein Army. He had the ability to bring together neighboring feudal lords, and was a competent man as a commander.
Olivier was the vice-leader of the Navarre Knight Squadron that guarded the western border of Brune, and also the acting commander at the moment. Tigre had left him charge of managing the western feudal lords’ armies, and knight squadrons.
All the three women were Zhcted people. They were two of the seven proud Vanadises of the Zhcted kingdom, Eleonora Viltaria and Lyudmila Lourie, along with Eleonora’s adjutant Limalisha. Those close to them called Eleonora as Elen, Lyudmila as Mila, and Limalisha as Lim.
Elen, who has silver-white hair that reached to her waist and ruby-colored eyes filled with aspiration, wore a blue-based military outfit. Upon making eye contact with Tigre, she smiled softly.
Lim, who has her matte blonde hair tied to the left side of her head, wore the outfit similar to Elen’s, and was sitting next to her. At times, she would serve as Tigre’s teacher.
Mila, who was sometimes called by her alias, the Snow Princess of the Frozen Wave, had off her blue hair gathered around her shoulders, and blue eyes that exuded her strong will. She wore a silver armor above her blue outfit.
“Were there results of the reconnaissance that the Supreme Commander himself performed?”
Mila asked with a teasing expression and a casual tone. Tigre, slightly relieved by her attitude, nodded.
“Yes. I don’t know if it’ll be useful, but I think that I’m glad I saw it for myself.”
“It’s all right then.”
Ever since a certain incident, Tigre and Mila’s relationship was a bit awkward, but for the moment, it seemed that she kept those feelings under the surface. It was entirely Tigre’s fault, so all he could do was be thankful of her thoughtfulness.
“……Tigre. Though abrupt, there’s bad news.”
No sooner than Tigre took his seat, Mashas cut to the chase with a stern expression.
“We might be short on soldiers earlier than expected.”
Tigre widened his eyes. Although he was psychologically prepared when he heard Mashas’ tone, his surprise was still a notch above.
Hearing this obvious question, Mashas looked at a map on the table. It was a large map depicting the zone from the Capital Nice to the south.
“Currently, the Muozinel Army is at the port town of Massilia… There are three forts along the road from Massilia to this Capital Nice.”
“There are Severac, Gergovia and Vierzon, right?”
Tigre said as to confirm. There were 3000 knights stationed in each of Severac and Gergovia, and 2000 in Vierzon to keep the order around the highway.
The other day, Regin had ordered them to abandon their forts and gather at the Capital. Against the Muozinel Army of 150,000, there was no way that 2000 or 3000 troops, no matter how they held their fort, would be a match. Regin and Mashas thought they would rush to the Capital immediately.
But, they were wrong. With a bitter face Mashas told Tigre.
“The knight squadrons protecting those three forts said that they will remain in their forts.”
Tigre was astonished, and could not find words to say for a moment. What were they thinking?
But, the youth soon shook his head and regained his cool. First, he had to know their reason.
“What did the Knight leaders say?”
“They said they will defend their fort with their lives to give the Capital time to prepare for the enemy attack. That’s about it in summary. Each leader used their own words, but the meaning the same.”
Looking at letters on the table, Mashas sighed. Even Tigre appeared dumbfounded. He looked at Bouroullec.
“Earl Bouroullec, do you know about these knight leaders’ temperament?”
Bouroullec, who owned a land on the southern part of Brune, has interacted with these knight squadrons before. Twirling the tips of his light-brown hair, he answered carefully.
“If we’re speaking about Sir Cauvin, leader of Severac’s knight squadron, he’ll certainly do it. He can get very emotional at times. Usually, that works for the better, and the knights admire him, but……”
In a somewhat sympathetic tone, Bouroullec added.
When the Sachstein Army had attacked, the Severac knight squadron could not move from their post, since the enemy could have suddenly changed their course, or deployed a detached force.
“I think that they wanted to vent their frustration of having been unable to fight at that time.”
“What a troublesome thing to do.”
Olivier snarled. As one who led a knight squadron, it seemed like he could not suppress his irritation. Though Elen, Lim, and Mila would not say it out loud, it was clear they shared his opinion from their expressions. Tigre felt the same, too.
Then, Bouroullec talked about Gastaldi, who protected Fort Gergovia. He said that the man believed it was his duty to protect the fort and its surroundings.
“He’s indubitably excellent as both a warrior and a commander. Just, he doesn’t care about the happenings outside his fort.”
Tigre and Mashas looked at each other. Mashas sighed.
“Fort Vierzon is four days away from this Capital Nice. We do have time to try to convince them before the Muozinel Army arrives, but……”
There was not enough time to change the minds of the leaders of the Severac and Gergovia knight squadrons. And, if they could not convince the commander of Vierzon, as Mashas said, they would lose 8,000 soldiers before the battle had even begun. The Supreme Commander Tigre could feel his head and stomach starting to ache.
The problem was that none of them have any resentment or malice against Regin or Brune itself. They had simply convinced themselves that it was their duty to hold their forts to buy time.
The current Moonlight Knight Army counted about 60,000 soldiers. The combined army of Brune soldiers and Zhcted soldiers, which has fought the Sachstein Army and Greast Army under Tigre’s command, counted a little less than 20,000 soldiers. This meant that the soldiers that Regin had gathered from literally all over of the country added a little over 40,000.
This did not include the 15,000 soldiers stationed in the Capital, and the 40,000 militia. This was because they would only be accountable as supporting manpower, considering their lack of equipment and skill.
—Even though we’re already short on soldiers as it is……
After a silent complaint, Tigre took the silver cup from the table as he wanted to drink in order to change his mood. He took a sip expecting it was only water, but it was nicely cooled and a fresh sweetness reminiscent of citrus spread in his mouth.
“It’s something Titta has prepared, right before you came in.”
Mashas said in a casual tone. After thanking the chestnut-haired maid in his mind, Tigre looked around at all the people present with a renewed expression.
“What do you think the Muozinel Army will do with these three forts?”
“The enemy’s target is the Capital. I don’t think they want to spend unnecessary time anywhere else. I believe they would use a part of their troops to siege the forts, and keep their main forces moving.”
Lim was the one who answered. Elen, sitting next to her, nodded with her arms crossed.
“I would do the same as well. The distance from Massilia to the Capital is about 500 Belsta. Leaving some soldiers behind at strategic locations will also guarantee the safety of their rear.”
“I agree. For the Muozinel Army, the worst case scenario isn’t Brune’s resistance, but having their supply line and retreat path being cut off.”
Mila agreed, calmly. Mashas and company did not say anything probably because they felt the same. After nodding to their opinions, Tigre spoke.
“Concerning how to defeat the Muozinel Army…… We will first split our forces in two.”
Tigre’s words spoken in a calm tone were met with quiet shock from the others. He was speaking about dividing an army that was already less than half in number than the enemy.
“Can you tell us in detail? Since you, Lord Tigrevurmud, says so, you must have a good reason for it. In order to defeat the enemy”
Elen said so as to clear away the tense atmosphere. She did not call him Tigre, to avoid being too candid with him in the presence of Bouroullec and Olivier.
As the youth secretly thanked his lover as he nodded slightly, he took two small pieces. And he placed them on the Capital drawn on the map.
“We will call one piece the garrison (defending unit), and the other one, the detached force. We will have the garrison defend the Capital from the Muozinel Army. Meanwhile, the detached force will take a roundabout path to attack the enemy from behind.”
Tigre moved a piece away from the Capital and, while depicting a curve, placed it on Fort Severac.
“As Limalisha-dono said, the Muozinel Army will most likely siege the three forts along the road and neutralize them, and at the same time, they will establish a supply line. While the Capital has their main forces occupied, our detached force will attack their forces left to the forts to establish their supply line.”
“Hmm. Cutting off the enemy’s path of retreat and supply line is the usual strategy in a siege. This will be especially effective against the Muozinel Army that had a large army of 150,000. There will be a limit of food and materials they can make the surrendered towns deliver, and if they engage in pillage, they will weaken their attack on the Capital. Losing communication with their country won’t be a small impairment, either……”
Mashas mumbled while stroking his grey beard. Although his words affirmed Tigre’s strategy, his voice sounded somewhat nervous.
There was no one in the Brune army who did not know that the Muozinel Army’s Supreme Commander was Red Beard Kureys. And Mashas believed that Kureys, hailed as a great commander, might have long taken measures for something like that.
Mashas was not the only one to think so; Elen, Mila, Lim, and even Bouroullec did not look ready to completely get behind this strategy.
Olivier seemed calmer than the others, simply because he had not moved from the western border for a long time, and did not know much about Kureys. Moreover, no matter how rigorous the command was, he intended to obey.
Without lifting his hand from the piece that represented the detached force, Tigre continued.
“After that, the detached force will pretend to head down to the port town of Massilia, but instead go north so as not to be detected by the enemy. And like that, they will attack the enemy’s main troops from the rear…… and kill Kureys.”
When Tigre finished explaining and lifted his hand from the piece, the atmosphere in the room completely changed. Everyone stared at the map with dumbfounded expressions. The six people’s gazes were tinged with an intense heat enough to burn a hole in the map.
“I see. After defeating the enemy at Severac, if we head to Massilia afterwards, even the Muozinel Army will seriously believe that we are trying to cut off their supply lines.”
Elen was the first to raise her head from the map. She clapped her hands, which spread an energizing soundwave through the room. Understanding and burning fighting spirit flickered in her ruby-colored pupils.
But, the silver-haired Vanadis soon regained her composure, stared at Tigre and asked shortly.
“How many soldiers for the detached force?”
Tigre’s answer was also short, shocking the six people again.
“Are you telling us to kill Red Beard protected by 150,000 soldiers with a mere 20,000 soldiers?”
Bouroullec shook his light-brown hair, his cheeks flushing from excitement and nervousness. The brave Earl, who had fought hard against the Sachstein Army and the Greast Army, had beads of sweat trickling on his forehead.
Tigre shrugged his shoulders and answered in a calm tone.
“If we add more soldiers in the detached force, the Capital’s defense won’t last.”
To besiege a city or a fort, it was common belief that the attacker required three to five times the manpower of the defender. To put it another way, the defending side had to prepare at least a third to a fifth of the manpower of the attacking side.
In the Continent’s vast history, there were stories where a siege was prevented with the defenders having a small army force not even reaching a tenth of the enemy’s, let alone a fifth. But, no one should expect the same miracle to happen to them.
“We can’t use the main road, and we need to make a detour so as not to be detected by the enemy. From here to Fort Severac, it would take twenty days. Even if we defeat the enemy there and cut off their supply line without a hitch, I think it will take five to six days until that report reaches Kureys.”
Thinking along that line, the Capital would have to withstand the enemy’s attack for a quite a long time. Tigre explained as such.
“What if we go to Fort Gergovia that’s closer to the Capital, rather than Severac? I think that should reduce the number of days to some extent.”
Lim suggested in an indifferent tone. Though her expression remained unsociable as usual, the youth caught the slight change in her expression. Lim intentionally threw this question at Tigre for his own good.
“That way, the news will reach them sooner, and so they will react quicker. Above all, we will not be able to catch Kureys off guard.”
The intent of attacking Severac and faking an attack to Massilia was to draw Kureys’s attention in that direction. Attacking Gergovia or even Vierzon would imply to Kureys the possibility of going north from there, and thus putting him on alert.
They had to make the enemy believe that their true intention was to cut off their supply line.
“On top of splitting up our army that is already outnumbered, we will be travelling far from the Capital to fight our enemies. I’ve to say that it’s reckless, but if we don’t do at this much, it’ll be impossible to trick that Red Beard.”
Although Mila revealed a sarcastic smile, she agreed to Tigre’s plan. Tigre could not argue at all when she said that it was reckless. There was a very real possibility that the detached force would fail, and the Capital would become besieged.
But, concentrating all of their forces in the Capital did not guarantee a victory, either. They could not expect any back up, and they were unsure if they could withstand the siege until the Muozinel Army ran out of food.
Facing the Muozinel Army head-on in front of the Capital was out of the question, too. After all, the field would turn into a contest of which side held the most material resources, and the Muozinel Army was more than double the size of the Brune Army. Once the Brune Army was defeated, the Capital would be left defenseless.
Then, a storm of destruction and pillaging would blow through the Capital.
Those who resisted, and those who were worthless as slaves, like elders and children, would be slaughtered. Others would be taken as slaves, anything with value would be taken, and anything they deem worthless would be destroyed. It was doubtful that Regin would be killed, but a fate more tragic than death would await her.
Mashas looked at Tigre with a face filled with admiration. He sent him a silent praise for having considered so far regarding the vast battlefield from the Capital Nice to Massilia and made such a decision.
“Who will lead the detached force?”
Olivier asked briefly. The question implied that he too agreed with the strategy. As if to state the obvious, Tigre pointed at himself, Elen and Bouroullec.
“Myself, Eleonora-dono and Earl Bouroullec”
In order to make a round trip to Brune’s southern path, Bouroullec, who knew the land very well, was indispensable.
If Tigre joined the detached force, all they would have to do was to get within a distance of 300 Alsins from Kureys. Since they would attack an army that far outnumbered them, there was no way that he would not make use of this advantage of his.
Elen’s role was to protect Tigre from the enemy. She was the most suitable for it as she boosted the most excellent skill in close range combat.
“What? Are you leaving this old man behind?”
Mashas was the one who complained first. Tigre was dumbfounded.
“Lord Mashas, you need to lead the main troops. Besides if I had to say it, our side will be the one facing a very big risk. After all, we will be diving into the enemy camp with a force of 20,000 or less.”
“But, the detached force will be the one crowned with the ultimate achievement – the head of Kureys Shahim Balamir.”
A chilly light flashed across Olivier’s eyes. Tigre replied so as to deny it.
“Lord Olivier, I want you to keep the western feudal lords’ armies and the knight squadron organized. Also, I don’t believe the achievement of defending Princess Regin and the Capital could be considered any lower than taking the enemy General’s head. And I intend to report this to Her Highness as well.”
Elen and Bouroullec sat in their seats satisfied, looking like they did not have any objection.
“As her adjutant, I think that I should be by Eleonora-sama’s side.”
Lim demanded, matter-of-factly. While surprised by her objection, Tigre spun words to persuade her.
“We can’t incorporate all of the Zhcted soldiers into the detached force. Someone needs to command those who remain at the Capital.”
“Can’t we leave them to Rurick?”
“I will also have Lyudmila-dono remain, so I don’t think Rurick can handle her.”
The concerned Mila, although revealing a displeased expression, did not say anything as she suppressed her feelings. This was because the Snow Princess of the Frozen Wave understood that her abilities were better suited for a siege than a battle on an open field, and she also knew that she was expected to play an active role on that direction (siege).
“Are there any other suggestions?”
When Tigre asked to all present, Olivier raised his hand.
“Will the enemy fall apart once we kill Kureys? Is there any possibility for someone else to take the helm and continue the attack on the Capital?”
“I doubt it.”
Tigre’s answer was not calculated by any results from the reconnaissance team, but those were words derived from the experience he accumulated until today.
“To lead 150,000 soldiers from Muozinel through Zhcted, and invade Brune. Then establish a supply line through the sea. It may sound easy when saying it like this, but it’s not something anyone can pull off. Actually, I believe that Kureys is the only who can do it.”
Tigre had fought all over Brune, leading various teams of soldiers. He had even fought in Zhcted and Asvarre. That was why he could tell. That only Kureys Shahim Balamir was the Supreme Commander who could possibly take charge of this grand campaign.
“Got it. I will trust the Supreme Commander.”
Olivier ended with that, as he was convinced. The next one to raise a hand was Mila.
“Can’t we request reinforcements?”
“We have no one to turn to.”
While finding it strange that she asked such a thing, Tigre shook his head.
Many feudal lords’ and Knight Squadrons suffered greatly from the civil war two years ago, and the invasion of the Sachstein Army, which happened this spring, has gouged their wounds, which were gradually recovering, and forced them to bleed heavily.
Anyone with the will and strength to fight has already gathered at the Capital, and should have been enlisted under Mashas or Olivier. Those without the strength to do so had remained in their own territories, and were focusing on defending their land.
“According to the reports, Asvarre is in combat with Sachstein as we speak. Zhcted helped us more than they needed to in our war against Sachstein. I don’t think we can count on any more reinforcements.”
Elen agreed to Tigre’s explanation.
“The King may want to, but the noble feudal lords would be opposed to the idea. ‘We’re not mercenaries; why should our soldiers shed their blood for Brune?’ That’s what I would say if I was in their place.”
Soldiers, for the most part, fought for their own country. Even the soldiers of LeitMeritz, who were friendly to Brune, were only fighting because of Elen’s orders, and did not consider it their mission to defend Brune. This was different from their friendship towards Tigre himself.
While nodding at Elen’s words, Mila said.
“You’re right. I also think the feudal lords will say so. But, our country must show our stance against Muozinel even if merely for form’s sake.”
Elen noticed something.
“Are you talking about the Muozinel Army crossing the land of Agnes without our permission?”
“Oh, so you properly remember it. Since it’s you, I thought you had completely forgotten it.”
“I admit it took me some time. Unlike a certain someone, I haven’t experienced the humiliation of being duped by the enemy in front of me.”
At first, in order to take Brune by surprise, the Muozinel Army had faked an attack against Olmutz, a land ruled by Mila. Then they dashed through Agnes, and invaded Brune. Mila had only noticed the true intentions of the Muozinel Army after they have entered Agnes.
Mila was about to verbally strike back against Elen, but she barely pulled herself together and turned to Tigre.
“On top of what I said just now, you also remember that His Majesty had warned Sofya Obertas and Olga Tamm against Muozinel at the Sun Festival, right? Those two may move some soldiers.”
Sofya, called by her nickname Sofy, and Olga were, like Elen and Mila, Vanadises of Zhcted. Tigre was also close to them, and knew them well.
“If we send messengers to the Zhcted King and the two Vanadises respectively, at least one of them may take action. And that may, to some extent, keep the Muozinel Army in check. Is what you mean?”
As Tigre asked, Mila nodded.
“Both Polesia and Brest are too far, but it’s better to do it than nothing.”
To get to Polesia, which Sofy governed, from Nice, one would have to traverse Brune’s eastern part, enter Zhcted across the Vosyes Mountains, and cross Olmutz, which Mila governed. A one way journey alone would take twenty days or more.
Brest, which Olga governed, was farther to the east after overtaking Polesia. There was the possibility that everything would be over by the time the messenger reached there.
“Got it. I’ll send messengers.”
Tigre said, despite those facts. As Mila had said, they had to do everything they could.
Mila secretly thought that Sofy might even already be on the move.
When Mila decided to head to Brune after sensing the presence of a demon, she had sent messengers to the Capital and Sofy respectively. She had told Sofy of the Muozinel Army, the demon, and about what she planned to do.
If Sofy took her message seriously, she might have sent her soldiers already.
But, Mila did not inform them of such arrangements of hers. Even she did not know for sure if Sofy would come. Nothing would be more devastating than not receiving reinforcements that were expected. She, who was appraised as the Vanadis who excelled at defense tactics, understood that very well.
At this time, neither Tigre nor Elen nor Mila knew that a new Vanadis named Figneria Alshavin appeared in the Legnica Dukedom.
If Tigre had known of the existence of Figneria, he might have requested back up to her as well. At least, Mila would have recommended him to.
Legnica was not too far from Brune, and unlike Valentina Glinka Estes who has refused to fight the Muozinel Army, and Elizavetta Fomina, who had been ordered to pay attention to Asvarre, Figneria was in a relatively easy position to support Brune.
“When will the detached force leave the Capital?”
Mashas asked. Tigre answered while looking at the map.
“Once we receive the report on how the Muozinel Army deals with Fort Severac. If that report reached us, that is. However, moving 20,000 soldiers all at once will draw attention, so I plan to start sending soldiers out in small numbers starting today.”
Afterwards, they decided on small details like the structure of each battalion, and concluded the war council.
After the meeting, Tigre was resting in his room at the top floor of the palace.
Mashas took over the report to Regin. The old Earl had volunteered, so Tigre could take the short time until dinner and get some rest in.
The decorations were simple, and there were little furniture, but the room had been cleaned well. Regin was the one who had prepared the room, and Titta was the one who cleaned it so thoroughly.
Being thankful to the two of them inwardly, Tigre threw himself down on the bed. But, as he vacantly gazed at the ceiling, he could not suppress his welling up anxiety. For the past few days, whenever Tigre had any free time, his thoughts kept rolling back to the battle ahead.
Tigre had never before fought an enemy of with over 100,000 troops. Nor had he fought on a battleground this large. To top it off, Brune’s fate depended on this battle.
After the meeting, Lim said with a smile, “we could not have done better”. The woman who taught Tigre everything to know about war had said so, and meant it, so he should have confidence in himself.
Even Elen gave him a push on the back while saying “If this doesn’t work, nothing will.”
—But the enemy is Kureys.
Two years ago, Tigre had defeated the Muozinel Army led by Kureys that invaded Brune. Back then, Kureys had given Tigre the title of “Star Shooter”.
However, when he remembered his experience back then, cold sweat ran down his back. The events would more likely be described as Kureys falling back, rather than Tigre forcing their retreat.
If Kureys had resolutions to defeat the enemy in front of him at any cost, Tigre would have been defeated. If that had happened, Regin, Mila, and Mashas and company would not have been there today.
Tilting his neck, Tigre looked at the black bow leaned against the wall. The arch and bowstring were both so black, as if they had been extracted from darkness itself; the Vorn House’s heirloom. If Tigre released its powers, could he kill Kureys?
—I might be able to kill him, but……
How many in this world could witness a power which surpassed human knowledge, and remain unfazed? Chaos would be unavoidable. In the worst case scenario, Brune would be split in two between those who would stand with Tigre, and those would stand against him. That disaster had to be avoided at all cost.
“We’ve been fighting together for a long time, but you don’t get easier to wield.”
He grinned at the black arrow. Of course, the black bow did not move at all, but Tigre felt as if it replied “It’s not all my fault”. Perhaps he hallucinated, but perhaps something that resided in the black arrow might have spoken to Tigre silently.
At that moment, a knock rang through the door. Before Tigre could speak, Elen spoke with a slightly formal tone.
“Earl Vorn. It’s me.”
Tigre sat up, walked to the door and opened the lock. From the crack of the opened door, he could see silver hair and ruby-colored eyes.
“I want to talk with you a little. May I come in?”
They were inside of Brune’s palace, which explained why she was acted out her position as a Vanadis. Tigre nodded, and invited her in.
Once the door closed, Elen smiled, and her face returned to the one Tigre had become accustomed to.
Tigre gestured her to sit on the chair, but she shook her head and sat on the bed. She looked up at the youth, and tapped the space next to herself, encouraging him to sit there. Tigre, chuckling at his lack of delicacy, sat next to the silver-haired Vanadis.
“First, let’s talk business.”
Said Elen, and looked at Tigre with eyes mixed with some sarcasm.
“I understand why you included Earl Bouroullec in the detached force’s formation. After all, he knows the Southern geography well, and is also an excellent commander. But why did you include me?”
“Is it that strange?”
As Tigre asked, Elen answered with a solemn face.
“I ask just to be sure. There’s no guarantee that someone may not harbor suspicion. At the very least, you and I need to be on the same page.”
Elen was right. A good number of those, who had hailed from the western border, were wary of the Zhcted Army. That was precisely why Tigre had left Olivier in charge of them.
“This is because you are very skilled as both a warrior and a commander. Through the battle against Sachstein, Earl Bouroullec also acknowledged you. Even if some of the soldiers are unhappy with the decision, not only I, but he’ll also intercede in your favor.”
On this point, Mila, who had joined the army after the battle against Sachstein, left a little to be desired. That was another reason to keep Mila out of the detached force, in addition to wanting her strength best used in the siege. He had explained all of his reasons for Lim and Mashas’ assignment during the meeting.
“That’s why, no matter how I think about it, you’re the only one suitable for this.”
Once Tigre finished his explanation, Elen smiled contentedly.
“Is that so? You need my strength that much, huh.”
Seeing her expression, Tigre finally understood why she asked. Like she had said “just to be sure”, Elen probably knew already the reasons to some extent. And she just wanted to hear Tigre give the obvious explanation with his own words.
“I’ve always relied on you, haven’t I?”
“I’m glad you say that, but it’s a bit lonely to only be able to hear you say it in such a place.”
Since Elen was not even a long-time subordinate to Tigre, if anyone else has heard Tigre say that, they could have taken it as favoritism. The higher his rank became, the more careful Tigre had to be with his words.
Elen wiped off her smile, and stared straight at the youth with her ruby-colored eyes filled with determination.
“Got it. No matter which enemy comes, I won’t absolutely let get close to you. I’ll pulverize all the arrows aimed at you.”
“I’m counting on you.”
There was no room for bravado; it was an open exchange. Their target was Kureys. With the Vanadis who could cut down any number of enemies, and the archer who could shoot an arrow in the far distance of over 300 Alsins working together, they finally stood a sliver of a chance.
With that conversation settled, Elen loosened her expression, and leaned on Tigre. Tigre, who felt embarrassed, unintentionally blurted out something unnecessary.
“T-That’s right. Should I have Titta prepare us something to drink?”
Elen suddenly frowned and lightly tapped the youth’s head.
“If you’re really going to call Titta, I’ll immediately return to my room.”
Tigre apologized honestly. Elen loosened her frown, and leaned on Tigre again. With a teasing smile, she stared at the youth from distance close enough where he could feel her breath.
“Well, it’s just like you.”
Elen gently placed her hand above Tigre’s hand that was put on the bed.
Despite having wielded a sword for a long time, Elen’s palm was tender and soft. Her body temperature felt good as well.
Tigre tried looking for words to say, but he immediately erased such a thought. This was because he understood that he did not need to do that. The silence this time was one that relieved one’s heart.
For a short while, both of them were feeling each other’s warmth like that.
As one wondered how much time passed, Elen suddenly tightened slightly the grip of her hand above Tigre’s. Tigre turned his head to look at Elen.
The cheeks of Elen, who felt his gaze, flushed and her ruby-colored eyes shimmered. Even the dense Tigre guessed what she wanted, and leaned his face closer. They pressed their lips together.
They had not made love again since that night, but they had kissed as often as they could create a situation where they would be alone.
Sometimes they pressed either their foreheads or cheeks against each other, sometimes they entangled their tongues, and there were also times where they engaged in a kiss so intense that they got drunk at the act and the sensation.
But this time, they did not go that far, just stopping at a gentle kiss, as if to ascertain the sensation of each other’s lips.
They both earnestly suppress their urge to outstretch their arms and hold the other close to their chest. This place was the palace after all. So, they should display some self-control.
They separated their bodies. Elen’s cheeks were flushed; she looked up at Tigre with upturned eyes, and then leaned her head on his shoulder. The weight of her head and the sensation of her silver hair somewhat calmed Tigre.
“This is a strange feeling.”
Said Elen, with a warm breath and a tone weaved with happiness.
“I never imagined that the day I’d fall in love with someone like this would come.”
“Me neither. I thought I would one day marry someone, like my father did……”
Hearing that, Elen regained some seriousness.
“By someone, do you mean Titta?”
Tigre supposed that he was allowed to speak of other girls, as long as Elen had initiated the conversation. He answered “no” while smiling wryly. If Elen did not have her head on his shoulder, he would have simply shaken his head.
“It was back when I was small and didn’t even understand what marriage or husband and wife meant. I didn’t picture anyone in particular.”
“How about now?”
With an undertone, Elen asked him. While feeling his face becoming hot, Tigre looked away without answering. Elen let out a deep chuckle.
“After the situation has stabilized, I’d have to learn how to be a good wife. Even though I don’t know how long that will be, I can’t embarrass the one who will become my husband.”
Hearing her words, Tigre imagined Elen wearing an apron and standing in the kitchen. It was not that it did not suit her; it just seemed that her cooking would be very bold both in presentation and in taste.
“What are you thinking about?”
Elen leaned in, her eyes squinting sharply as she glared at him. One could understand from her gentle and kind gaze that she was not genuinely angry. After gently pressing his lips against her cheek, Tigre answered.
“Only that I never ate your cooking, come to think of it.”
“Well, let’s leave it at that.”
Elen kissed him back on his cheek, and continued proudly.
“I’ll have you know I have no problem cooking something simple. Before becoming a Vanadis, I took turns cooking with Lim, you know?”
“Back when you were both mercenaries? If it’s fine with you, I’d like to hear about stories about those times of yours.”
When Tigre said so, Elen tilted her head wonderingly.
“I’ve told you about them several times up until now, haven’t I?”
“I want know more about your past. Of course, if you say you want to hear about my past, I’ll tell you as much as you like.”
Until now, they both kept from asking personal questions to each other, considering their positions and the inevitable distance that would stand between them in the future. But now, their relationship had changed.
Because Tigre said so in such a straightforward way, Elen, for some reason, felt her cheeks flush and she looked away from the youth.
“It’s so sudden; I don’t know what to say. I’m sure I could tell you anything, but well, um…… it’s a little embarrassing.”
That last word of her sentence was so faint that if Tigre had not been sitting so close to her, he would not have heard it. Tigre found Elen, squirming slightly with a shy smile, so adorable that he had an impulse to hug her, but he somewhat restrained himself.
“I also just say it like that. Maybe soon, when we have more time to spare.”
“Okay. I’m looking forward to hearing stories about your childhood.”
Elen looked up at Tigre and quietly closed her eyes.
They kissed once more.
A month or so had passed since Figneria Alshavin had become ruler of Legnica. She was already garnering recognition as a Vanadis.
What was surprising for both Figneria and her advisors was that the duties of a Vanadis actually seemed to suit Figneria well. No matter what decision she was forced to make, the black-haired Vanadis did not falter or lose herself in indecision, but made her decision swiftly and stoically.
At times she made the wrong call, but Figneria never hesitated to admit to her wrongdoing, and correct the mistake. She also listened to her advisors sincerely.
And so, some of the projects left behind by the late Vanadis Sasha ── Alexandra Alshavin, were taken care of with astonishing speed, and the public offices of Legnica were energized in a snap.
Figneria’s politics remained similar to that of Sasha’s rule. It helped that Sasha was a good ruler, and she kept the majority of her policies, and only adjusted ones that had become outdated for her society.
In the meantime, she surely proved to her soldiers and knights her powers as a warrior. The first instance of which was when she gathered confident knights and soldiers for a sparring session.
Each session was performed one on one with a judge to call the match, and Figneria had defeated ten fighters in a row without any breaks between matches. While she has sweated a little by the end of it, her breath remained calm.
Another instance was when they defeated some bandits on the way to inspecting the territory.
Against a gang of bandits of about twenty, she led four soldiers and three volunteers from the neighboring village, and fought on the vanguard.
Once again, she secured a complete victory. Two soldiers were injured, but both of them had recovered in about ten days. She did not kill all of the bandits, but saved the lives of a few of them, in exchange for their servitude in the village.
“Following Alexandra-sama, we’ve her. We are truly blessed with great Vanadises.”
“You said it. Legnica’s got nothing to worry about.”
People began to have conversations like that inside and outside of the public offices.
This day, per usual, Figneria had finished her morning training, and was looking through paperwork after finishing her meal. At this time, she was 25 years old. She wrapped her proportionately tall figure in black clothes that had a falcon embroidered on it. Her clothes were in the same design as the ones she wore during her time as a mercenary.
As it could be seen in her long black hair that covered her left eye, Figneria has always been somewhat unconcerned about her appearance; she believed that as long as it did not leave a strange impression on the other party, there was no need for her to bother to take care or change.
When one maid had suggested tailoring a dress for her to wear during banquets, she had simply replied “maybe next time” with a troubled face, leaving the maids in dismay.
Shortly before noon, a civil official announced a visitor.
“Elizavetta Fomina-sama has come.”
“Please let her through to the reception, as planned. Have her attendants relax in a guest room.”
Figneria stood up from her chair while ordering as such.
Elizavetta was the Vanadis who ruled Lebus Dukedom, located north of Legnica. Those close to her called her Liza, and she was also known to have special eyes known as Rainbow Eyes.
Soon after Figneria has begun living in Legnica, Liza sent a messenger to congratulate the arrival of a new Vanadis. She had said that since Figneria must be busy becoming accustomed to her life as a Vanadis for a while, she would paid her a visit after some time. Figneria had thanked her, and set up a date for her to visit. And today was that day.
The black-haired Vanadis took the twins swords she hung by her desk, and sheathed them on her waist. Always keeping her weapons within reach was a habit she picked up during her time as a mercenary.
She left her office and headed to the reception room.
The reception room was decently large, and the early summer sunlight came in through the square window on a part of the wall. A bear fur was laid at the center of the room, and a round table stood above it with three leather chairs surrounding it.
Instead of sitting down on a chair, Figneria stood by the window and gazed the outside scenery.
From the window, she could see the townscape below the castle. The residents, all about a size of a bean, moved around either briskly or leisurely.
Suddenly, Figneria took notice of a scene. In the corner of a certain plaza, people, who looked like a mercenary group, were recruiting new members. It was probably due to her line of work that she recognized it from this distance at first glance.
—I’d love to ask you what you think after seeing the current me.
Figneria muttered inwardly. Those words were meant for a soul that had passed. There was a mercenary group called the “Silver Gale” that was no longer. She thought of the man named Vissarion who was their leader. Any talent in politics that Figneria had was undoubtedly nurtured by her interactions with him.
Figneria was brought back to reality by a knock on the door from the outside. She swept away her emotions. She turned around with a call, to welcome a girl who opened the door.
Even more than her bright red hair that reached down to her waist and her extravagant purple dress, her eyes of different colors would give off a strong impression to those who saw them. And Figneria was no exception as well.
—A gold right eye and a blue left eye… So those are her Rainbow Eyes.
“Nice to meet you, Vanadis of Legnica. I am Elizavetta Fomina, the Vanadis chosen by Thunder Swirl and granted the land of Lebus by His Majesty Victor. I am honored to make your acquaintance.”
Liza pinched the hem of her dress with her left hand, and performed a gracious curtsy. The black whip curled on her right waist shook a little. It was Valitsaif, her Dragonic Tool.
Figneria walked over to the Vanadis six years younger than her, and extended her left hand.
“Thank you for coming. I’m Figneria Alshavin. I gratefully welcome you.”
Liza shook Figneria’s hand, and congratulated her for becoming a Vanadis. While her words were not creative, they were perfectly polite.
“I’ll have drinks prepare, so please make yourself at home until my other guest arrives.”
As soon as Figneria said so, the door was knocked again. After Figneria called the guest in, she entered.
It was a girl, wearing a white dress and carrying a strangely shaped scythe with ease. While Figneria and Liza were beautiful enough, this girl possessed a beauty different from either of them. Her glossy black hair was long, and multicolored roses adorned her dress.
“Nice to meet you, Vanadis of the Luminous Flame. I am Valentina Glinka Estes, the Vanadis chosen by Hollow Shadow and granted the land of Osterode by His Majesty Victor. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
The Vanadis who introduced herself as Valentina then looked at Liza.
“Long time no see, Elizavetta. It must have been at the Sun Festival where I saw you last.”
“Yes. I didn’t expect to see you again so soon, Valentina.”
Liza is wearing a smile, but only out of respect for their host, Figneria. There was slight tinge of caution in her voice towards Valentina.
It was due to some circumstances that the two Vanadises visited Figneria at the same time.
When Valentina, who returned to Zhcted by ship from Brune, and entered the port town of Prepus located in the territory of Legnica, she found out about the birth of the new Vanadis.
Valentina had planned to head directly to the Capital Silesia from Prepus, but she changed her mind and instead sent a messenger to Figneria. The messenger was to tell that she congratulated the birth of the new Vanadis and by all means wanted to pay her a visit.
Osterode, which Valentina ruled, was far from Legnica. If she were to miss this opportunity, it would take a long time for her before being able to visit Legnica next time.
Though Figneria did not turn down her offer, she did ask Valentina to move the date, while letting her know that she had already planned for Liza to visit.
Figneria mentioned Liza’s name on purpose as her way of explaining to Valentina that she would not ask her to change the date without a good reason. Figneria thought that if Valentina were to know that she already had a previous engagement with another Vanadis, Valentina would also understand and moved her day of visit on a different day.
Valentina’s messenger returned that message, but then came back to Figneria once more with a suggestion from Valentina.
“If you and Elizavetta do not mind, I would love to join you both.”
In summary, that was the contents. Figneria sent a messenger to Liza to explain the situation. Liza sent back a message of acquiescence.
And so, three Vanadises were gathered in the same room.
Figneria offered them each a chair. After putting their Dragonic Tools at their feet respectively, the two Vanadises took a seat. Figneria followed suit.
A maid entered holding a silver tray with silver cups, wine and pastry.
She lay down on the table: small biscuits that contain small-cut figs, chilled apricot and peach in a glass bowl, and wine diluted and sweetened with honey. Liza and Valentina loosened their expressions at the smell of the baked sweets.
“Though a little abrupt, could you tell me your impressions?”
While picking up a silver cup filled with wine, Figneria calmly asked.
“Impressions about what?”
“You came to see how I look like, didn’t you?”
In response to Valentina, who asked wonderingly, the Vanadis of the twin blades answered indifferently. Not only Valentina, but also Elizavetta could not conceal her confusion at this.
Even Figneria herself considered how ridiculous it must sound. After all, they had just met. But she wanted to know their character. She wanted to see how they would response to such a question.
“You’re quite a bold one.”
It was Liza, who responded provocatively as such while puffing up her chest. An entertained look flickered in her gold right eye and blue left eye.
“Despite you asking such a question, I can already understand that you don’t care about how others perceive you. I don’t dislike such attitude. Are you satisfied with such an answer?”
“Yes. That’s good enough.”
Said Figneria, and thanked Liza. Figneria could somewhat guess the girl’s capability, just from the fact that she almost accurately saw through her intentions.
Figneria then looked at Valentina. She wondered how this one would answer.
“Let’s see. What I can say now, is that you give off a completely different impression than the previous Vanadis of Luminous Flame.”
While smiling with a silver cup in her hand, Valentina continued.
“Alexandra Alshavin was a gentle person. If I were to compare her to a flame, she was like a bonfire, or a flame in a fireplace around where people gathered, and abated their minds. On the other hand, she fought like a roaring flame that burned everything around it to a crisp.”
“What kind of flame would you compare me to?”
“I don’t know yet. But, now that I’ve seen your countenance, I think you are far from gentle. By the way──”
Valentina smiled and asked.
“May ask you what you think, now that you’ve seen my face?”
“You’ve got thick skin.”
At this short and immediate reply, Valentina revealed a bewildered expression for the first time. While giving a sidelong glance at Liza, who could not contain her laughter, the Illusory Princess of the Hollow Shadow asked Figneria, bamboozled.
“Um…… Is that how I look like to you?”
“I apologize if I hurt your feelings, but it was a compliment.”
Those were Figneria’s true feelings. Giving a firm reply to one’s question and then returning the same question immediately to the other party showed that Valentina was not quite the innocent girl she appeared to be.
—She’s got some guts, too.
“I heard you were in Brune until recently.”
Figneria willingly changed the subject. Valentina nodded as she put some pastries into her mouth.
“Yes. Brune was invaded by Sachstein from the west, and LeitMeritz’s Vanadis Eleonora, along with me, proceeded there as reinforcements.”
Figneria twitched her eyebrow a tad at the mention of Elen. Although, her reaction was small enough that neither Valentina nor Liza noticed.
“Could you please tell me more? All I know is that you have won.”
“I’m also interested in Brune’s current state, Valentina.”
Swallowing the fruit she was elegantly chewing on, Liza looked at Valentina with a serious expression. Valentina said she understood, and began narrating.
The Illusory Princess of the Hollow Shadow explained that Sachstein attacked Brune from the west and the south, but on both fronts, Tigrevurmud Vorn was the one who fought them. And she and Elen fought while leading soldiers under his command.
Valentina’s story included no embellishments, and organized the war so well, that Figneria and Liza listened in, impressed.
Her story continued beyond the fight against Sachstein, and explained that there was an insurrection in Brune’s royal palace, and that Marquis Greast had had the Moonlight Knights’ army cornered, at least for a short while, and concluded by noting, then Mila had joined the war on her lonesome, and the Muozinel Army had invaded.
Liza frowned after hearing that Elen and Mila remained in Brune.
“So, you left Eleonora and company behind, and came running home?”
“It’s not like I left anyone behind, Elizavetta. They remained in Brune out of their own volition.”
Valentina answered with a smile.
“You were there at the Sun Festival. What His Highness ordered Eleonora and me to do was to help Brune in their fight against Sachstein. I did not prepare for any battles beyond that.”
While Liza glared at Valentina in a very unfriendly manner, she did admit the logic in her claim, and reluctantly remained quiet. As she drank her umpteenth glass of wine, Figneria asked.
“I agree with your reasoning, but then, why did the Vanadis of LeitMeritz remain in Brune? According to your telling, the fact that Earl Vorn had saved her after she was captured by the Greast Army would not be the reason. I don’t see much need for her to check Muozinel’s movement and strength, like the Vanadis of Olmutz does.”
“She has always been close to Tigrevurmud Vorn. I think she remained for him, rather than Brune.”
“But, wouldn’t that go against His Highness’ orders?”
“No,” Valentina shook her head slowly.
“The only reason His Highness deployed Eleonora and I to a war between foreign nations was to prevent Brune from weakening. If Muozinel strengthened its might, it will definitely be bad for Zhcted.”
“You understand that much, and yet you……”
Liza cursed in indignation. Though, she did not verbally attack Valentina any further. She knew there was a difference in geography between Elen and Valentina as well as in character.
LeitMeritz, which Elen governed, shared a border with the Brune Kingdom, but Osterode, which Valentina governed, was very far from Brune. A longer battle would have no doubt exhausted the Osterode soldiers’ mind and body.
Even Liza, if she were in Valentina’s shoes, would have a hard time making the decision. Lebus, which Liza governed, was also far from Brune, although connected by sea.
Figneria silently stared at Valentina. To think that she would tell something she knew would be criticized about before someone she met for the first time. And moreover, she did so without speaking at all of a word for her own defense.
—This woman does have thick skin as expected.
Without showing any of her inner thoughts on her expression, Figneria asked Liza.
“Are you close with the Vanadis of LeitMeritz?”
Through the exchange just now, Liza was clearly worried about Elen. The red-haired Vanadis frowned, and answered matter-of-factly.
“No, I wouldn’t say close. Of course, we’re both Vanadises. I’ve spoken with her, and have seen her on the battlefield a few times.”
“No need to be embarrassed, Elizavetta. Watching you talk to Earl Vorn and Eleonora at the Sun Festival reminded me of a child who finally got the opportunity to talk to someone she desperately wanted to for years. It was adorable.”
“C-Could you not say such strange things!?”
With a bright-red face, Liza glared at Valentina, who poked fun at her, from the side. While putting some more fruit into her mouth, Figneria thought that Valentina’s assessment, judging from Liza’s face, was not too far from the truth.
“Even you kept sending flirtatious glances at Earl Vorn, right, Valentina?”
“Oh my, so you noticed. As expected, is it because you were also watching Earl Vorn very closely?”
“……Even without doing it, anyone would have noticed it. You were so obvious.”
To Valentina, who retorted with a leisurely smile, Elizavetta responded with a snort. But, that the Vanadis of Thunder Swirl was speechless for a moment unveiled her agitation.
“Are the other Vanadises fond of that Earl Vorn as well?”
At Figneria’s words, Valentina and Liza interrupted their war of words and turned to her. It was Liza, having regained her composure, who answered.
“Yes, I would say so. Lyudmila who rules Olmutz, Sofya who rules Polesia, and Olga who rules Brest, you could say, have a fondness towards him. Earl Vorn has very well earned their trust and favor.”
That’s almost all of the Vanadises, Figneria thought. There’s Elen, and Liza before her eyes who also thought of Tigre dearly. As for how Valentina thought of him, Figneria was still unsure.
“I would love to meet him one day.”
“Once the war with Muozinel is over, I’m sure there will be an opportunity to do so.”
“If Brune wins, that is.”
Valentina added nonchalantly. Liza glared at her with disapproval.
“Why do you always have to stir the pot?”
“Because the way you always display your emotions through words and attitude is really amusing, Elizavetta.”
“I am not your toy.”
“Oh, don’t get yourself so worked up. Here, have a candy.”
“Do not treat me like a child. And you are not the one that prepared those.”
Figneria thought it might have been a mistake to meet with these two together.
Sure, Valentina requested and Liza agreed, but regardless of the fact that Figneria had only met both of them for the first time today, she could not get accustomed to two young girls in vibrant discourse. She felt like she could watch them in silence while sipping on beer or vodka. Though, it did not change the fact that Valentina was 23, only two years younger than Figneria.
—That said, I would have never heard the things they have said today, if they were not in the same room.
Figneria was not that talkative. Even when she was a mercenary, she was always a better listener than a talker. If she had met Liza and Valentina individually, she was sure their conversations would have been almost exclusively business related.
At a break in the conversation between the two Vanadises, Figneria changed the subject again.
“Why do you both think you were chosen as Vanadis?”
Although it was somewhat abrupt, this question must have been quite unexpected for both of them. Both Valentina and Liza looked at Figneria, dumbfounded. Figneria continued, looking down at her twin blades placed at her feet.
“It’s been a little more than a month since this guy chose me. As to why it chose me, I have come up with an answer on my own, but I have no clue even now if that answer is accurate.”
Liza did not answer right away, but fixedly stared at Figneria’s face. As if trying to guess her real intention. Valentina spoke first.
“I have a dream that I want to fulfill.”
The Illusory Princess of the Hollow Shadow looked so serious, when saying so, that even Liza was taken aback.
“I believe that my Dragonic Tool ── Ezendeis appeared before me to make that dream come true.”
“A dream, huh……”
“Childish, isn’t it? I don’t mind even if you laugh at me.”
Seeing Figneria’s indifferent attitude, Valentina soon cracked a smile, jokingly. However, the Vanadis of the Twin Blade shook her head.
Then, Liza also replied.
“My answer is similar to Valentina’s. There is something I want to accomplish with my own hands. I believe that my Valitsaif have given me the chance to try whether or not I can do it.”
“You don’t need to copy me just so you have a decent answer…”
Valentina teased her again, but this time Liza did not respond to her provocation. She straightened herself, puffed up her chest and looked back at Valentina.
“Say what you want. I’m the only one who needs to know my wish.”
Some surprise flickered in Valentina’s violet pupils, but she did not say anything further to Liza. Figneria, who started the whole conversation, was staring at the two Vanadises in front of her, impressed.
—A dream. And something one wants to accomplish.
In their conversations so far, Figneria thought she had the mostly understood the difference between the two women in front of her. It was interesting to her that they had given a near identical answer to this specific question, while she was sure that any other question would have drawn out very contrasting answers from them.
And Figneria herself had a wish akin to that. While it had grown in her heart slowly, only by the influence of Vissarion, who even though was a mere mercenary, had a grand dream of creating a nation where everyone could be happy.
Perhaps her Dragonic Tool had sensed their secret dream, and appeared in front of her.
Within Figneria’s mind, the figure of the fourteen year old Elen appeared.
—Has Eleonora carried on Vissarion’s dream?
But, Figneria soon denied her guess. Sooner or later, Elen would show up before her. It should not be too late to think about it when that time came.
While not showing the slightest bit of such thoughts on her face, she spoke to Liza and Valentina.
“Thank you to both of you. I think those answers will aid me, who just became a Vanadis.”
Afterwards, Figneria invited Valentina and Liza for supper, and they agreed with gratitude. The meeting of three Vanadises had concluded without a hitch.