Rumor had it, that anyone who saw Kureys Shahim Balamir for the first time could not help but be taken aback. While his body was of average height and weight (although fit) his large sunken eyes, long nose and ears, combined with his red beard that draped down to his chest, made him look extremely peculiar.
Of course, no one had said a word about the shaping of his visage to his face. He was the King’s brother, after all. Even though Kureys himself even joked that “no woman has fallen for him because of his face.”
He was 39 this year, but had defeated countless enemies, besieged countless forts, which made the owner of ability and achievements worthy for him to be called Great General. Precisely because it was this man, he was able to lead an army of 150,000 soldiers to invade Brune.
That Muozinel Army, led by Kureys, had just stationed 10,000 soldiers in the port town of Massilia, and began marching. This was the day after Tigrevurmud Vorn held the war council in the Capital Nice.
The Muozinel Army narrowed down their supply line to the sea route. It was because not only would a supply line through land route be too long, but it would also have to go through Agnes, which was a territory of Zhcted, and they would inevitably be obstructed. It was rather a matter of fact for them to station 10,000 soldiers to defend Massilia that connected the supply line of the sea route.
Brune’s terrain was, for the most part, very flat, and one could easily command a good view. Due to the fact that the current season was early summer, it was rather a comfortable environment for the Muozinel soldiers who had become accustomed to the oppressive heat of their country.
20,000 cavalrymen led by Ekrem and Avshall moved at the vanguard. They had black clothes wrapped on their heads, wore leather armor, held a spear each and hung a curved blade peculiar to Muozinel to their waists. The Muozinel horses’ skin was slightly darker.
20,000 cavalrymen moving forward in an orderly manner with resounding horses’ hooves appeared like a moving steel forest. The scarlet and gold adornments fluttering everywhere were their flag which symbolized the war god Vahram.
Ekrem and Avshall were both handpicked by Kureys for this expedition and both of them were very young, not having yet reached 30. But, they definitely possessed quite a good commanding ability.
Behind the 20,000 cavalrymen, 70,000 war slaves followed. Their equipment was rather random: some of them only held a sword, and some of them only held a spear. Some did not even wear armor, and were only clad in dirty clothes. Their march was also far from organized.
Behind them marched 25,000 infantrymen, led by Yargash and Murat. These two were also, like Ekrem and Avshall, Generals handpicked by Kureys. Only, Yargash and Murat were not as young as the other two, being in their mid-thirties.
The infantrymen carried a bow in addition to their spears and swords. A group of 25,000 archers marching would cause beholder an optical illusion as if countless whitecaps appeared in the grasslands.
It was by Kureys’ command that the war slaves were made to march in between the cavalrymen and infantrymen. Red Beard had instructed his soldiers that, if the war slaves were to try to flee, even if the Capital was before their very eyes, they executed them without mercy.
Their footsteps, horns, and drums echoed through the land, carried by the winds of early summer.
The highway connecting Massilia and the Capital Nice was well maintained, and did not impede the march of a large army, but their army was so massive that over half of them overflowed from the highway.
Colorful poppies, chrysanthemums, and Roger’s bronze-leafs were in full bloom on the sides of the highway, but the soldiers trampled them all without a second thought, and marched on trailing a cloud of dust.
The tail end of the march was a group of 20,000 infantrymen and 5,000 cavalrymen led by Kureys. Kureys, as he did before, rode on a palanquin, his close aides were riding horses around it.
He had over ten close aides. This could not be helped since he had 140,000 soldiers under his command. Kureys had left his Generals in charge of each battalion, but there would be times when he would have to make a personal appearance to take command. For that reason, he had to increase the number of his close aides.
Along with those close aides, Damad remained beside Kureys.
After seeing with his own eyes the battle where the Moonlight Knight Army defeated the Greast Army, he returned the main army again as planned. Then, once he had reported what he had saw to Kureys, along with words of thanks, he was ordered by the King’s younger brother to remain by his side.
He was not sure if this was a promotion as his salary, along with his position and rank remained the same. However, there were more instances where Kureys would call him over, and speak with him.
“In any case, we would have to thank that Sachstein.”
“True, they have worn Brune down for us after all. Moreover, since the beginning of their fight with Asvarre, it seems like they are too busy to impede us.”
“I hear that Zhcted has barely sent any reinforcement. Brune alone won’t stand a chance against us.”
Damad gazed coldly as the close aides talked lightheartedly.
They were right, of course, but Muozinel was not the one that pitted Sachstein and Asvarre against each other. It was Brune, or more specifically, Tigrevurmud Vorn who had done so. If they continued to overlook that fact, it may come back to bite them.
While there was just a little reinforcement from Zhcted, it was nothing to scoff at.
Whenever Damad remembered the silver-haired female knight, who charged into the enemy lines like a raging lion, it would make his palms sweat.
It was only after he had rejoined the main army that he had learned that the female knight he saw must have been Eleonora Viltaria, a Vanadis of Zhcted. At the same time, he learned that she had been helping Tigre on every occasion for about two years. No doubt, she would be involved in this war as well.
—I did report it to His Excellency, so everything should be fine, but……
Kureys, riding a palanquin and surrounded by them, was wearing a green silk outfit with gold embroidery, and letting his five-layered mantle flutter in the wind.
The coloring of the mantle was red, light blue, yellow, purple, and white from top layer to bottom; each layer was made of a thin silk, so the mantle was neither heavy nor hot. The way the five-layered mantle fluttered in the wind was quite a sight to behold.
One time, Damad was summoned by Kureys.
“How do you think Brune will move?”
Without beating around the bush, Kureys asked directly. Damad answered cautiously.
“If Brune was ever able to muster a military force comparable to ours, they would be headed down here already. They would have looked for a piece of land where both armies, totaling about 300,000 soldiers, can be deployed and fight us head-on.”
The Brune soldiers were by no means weak. When Brune knights lined up, and charged with their spears poised, not only Muozinel, even Sachstein and Asvarre, would have difficult times defending against them. Even Kureys had been careful not to take on Brune knights head-on.
“But from what I investigated, the Brune Army hosts less than 100,000 soldiers. I doubt they would last even a single battle should they proceed as such. Therefore, I think they will divide their army in two.”
They would use one half to lure Muozinel deep into the country while protecting the Capital, and send the other half to attack the Muozinel Army from behind, severing their supply line and escape route. Damad was confident in his prediction.
But, Kureys, resting his chin on hand, looked at him like a master looking at his failing pupil.
“Is that it?”
Though Damad was perplexed, he could only nod. He knew that if he were to add any half-minded explanation, he would only anger the King’s brother further. Kureys spoke then.
“The others also said the same thing. But, you all think too lightly. You’re a swordsman, too; so you should understand that an uncommitted blow would only leave a shallow wound.”
In other words, we’ve to come up with a mean of stepping deep into enemy territory, huh…… This was how Damad interpreted it, but before he could think of something, Red Beard spoke.
“They’ll be targeting me.”
“That can’t be.”
Damad unintentionally voiced words of denial. It was something quite hard to imagine. Targeting Kureys guarded by more than 100,000 soldiers?
However, the King’s young brother explained calmly.
“Our enemy’s Supreme Commander is the young man whom I have titled Star Shooter before. He has unbelievable talent in archery as he can take down anyone from within 300 Alsins. In fact, in the battle two years ago, Kashim and so many others were shot down by that young man.”
Damad wrinkled his face as Tigre’s name was mentioned. While Damad himself did not really understand why, he still held onto an emotion that was akin to friendship towards Tigre.
He believed he could leave that behind once he confronted Tigre on the battlefield, but it looked like he would have to hold on to that emotion leaving it pending as is until that time.
Fiddling with his mantle fluttering in the wind, Kureys laughed.
“Hahaha. None can see the future. The reason I have given that young man the title of Star Shooter was to stir up some beef between him and Dukes Thenardier and Ganelon. And it was also used as an excuse for us to retreat. But──”
Kureys stopped laughing, and his sunken eyes shone keenly.
“I would have never expected him to, not only take down Duke Thenardier, but even come to the point of leading the entire Brune Army by piling up victory after victory both inside and outside of Brune. This is why I find life worth living.”
“Do your Excellency think that their Supreme Commander, for the sake of targeting you, will come charging in?”
Though he hesitated, Damad ended up asking. He thought an attack like that to be far too reckless, bordering a suicide attempt even. If his arrow failed to reach Kureys, his army would not escape from a total destruction.
Kureys, instead of blaming Damad, simply laughed at his straightforwardness.
“I just said it now, right? None of us can foresee the future. All we can do is guessing and taking countermeasures. Afterwards, we’ll just have to wait and see how the Star Shooter will move.”
Kureys waved his hand, so Damad withdrew from his presence. He straddled his horse, and looked forward.
The green of the grasslands illuminated by the sunlight were filled with the steely grey and dark brown. A sea of weapons and armor covered the earth, roaring with immeasurable sounds. The scarlet and gold battle flags were like small ships floating within that sea. The drums and horns kept shaking the air as they roared without stop.
—He’ll break through this?
Damad found it hard to believe that Tigre could even break through this sea of humans, a sea so vast that even a battalion of well-trained soldiers was sure to drown halfway through.
“But, His Excellency is convinced that he’ll definitely come. Then I have to think about what I can do……”
Perhaps Damad’s duty at this moment was to search for what he could do.
Three days after they departed from Massilia. The Muozinel Army, who had advanced to the highway without encountering much resistance so far, faced their first obstacle.
It was Fort Severac. A rare sight for Brune, which hosted a lot of flat lands, there were some hills to be seen in this area, and Fort Severac stood there, sandwiched in between two hills to the east and west.
There were about 3,000 Brune knights inside the fort who, while having locked the fort gates tightly, were ready to defend it with their lives as they raised thunderous battle cries from the fort walls. Although, judging from the 140,000 Muozinel soldiers, they just looked like puppies barking eagerly.
Kureys called over one of the Generals, Avshall.
“What do you think they are trying to accomplish?”
“I believe their intent is to buy time. They have locked themselves into the fort, and are looking to delay our march while taking down as many of our men as they can with them. A heroic determination, but we have no reason to play along with those Brune asses.”
Kureys sighed in satisfaction to Avshall’s accurate answer. Though Avshall did have a tendency to underestimate his opponents by calling them “asses” for example, he had accomplished enough on the battlefield to overshadow that. This time again, his discernment was accurate.
“Very well. I’ll leave this fort to you.”
Avshall, who was given 9,000 infantrymen and 1,000 cavalrymen, surrounded Fort Severac in a large parameter. He planned to take down any who would dare come out of the fort. His side’s number was 10,000. The enemy’s was 3,000. Brune side had no chance out on a field.
The remaining 130,000 of the Muozinel Army swiftly resumed their march. They temporarily got off the highway, went across hills, and then returned to the highway. The time they stopped for was about one and a half koku, so it was as good as having taken a long break.
According to Muozinel’s original style, they should have proceeded to a complete destruction of the enemy, not leaving even a single Brune soldier alive; but Kureys avoided clashing instead. This was because he thought that if his men were to shed blood, it should be in the battle when they attacked the Capital Nice.
The knights of Fort Severac, without even being able to fight, could only helplessly watch as the Muozinel Army marched to the north, their faces filled with rage and humiliation.
The report of Fort Severac being sieged reached Nice five days later.
When the Muozinel Army was passing Fort Severac, Tigre was patrolling the Capital along with five soldiers. He intended to brighten the spirits of the citizens and the soldiers of the Capital by showing himself. The youth had made this patrol his routine, every other day.
Tigre wore his leather armor over hemp clothes, and hung a blue coat over that. A white half-moon and a meteor, which symbolized the Vorn House, were embroidered largely on the coat.
Regin had gifted this coat to Tigre, saying that he needed to look more like a Supreme Commander. A coat like this may ordinarily have been an odd match for hemp clothes and leather armor, but perhaps because Tigre himself acted natural in it, it was oddly fitting.
The soldiers were surrounding him, so no one ran up to or talked to Tigre.
But, the piercing stares of expectation from all directions, and the occasional cheers of adoration wore Tigre down. He was struggling just to not show his emotions on his face.
—At any rate, I feel like there are more people here every day.
Even by walking by the gates, he had noticed more people fleeing to the Capital than from. There were many more small stalls on the streets, and girls that were obviously prostitutes, and people who just looked suspicious, could be spotted among the crowd of people coming and going.
When he passed by the castle wall, Tigre saw a familiar face at the end of the road. He ordered the soldiers to standby since they were due for a break anyway, and approached that person.
“Viscount Augre! Gerard!”
When Tigre called, a short, old noble wearing a thin coat turned to look towards him. His kind, wrinkled face revealed a smile.
Standing next to the old man, the dark brown-haired young man, who had been reading through some papers with a sullen face, also turned around. He smiled also, but quite sarcastically.
“Oh, you’re still in the Capital. I haven’t seen you in a while, so I thought you were long gone.”
“I’ll be leaving in a few days. Unless our enemy suddenly decides to turn right around and go home, that is.”
Tigre smiled at the young man ── Gerard. The old man next to him was Gerard’s father, Hugues Augre. Both of them knew Tigre for a long time, and Tigre trusted them as much as he did Mashas and Rurick.
An aromatic smell floated over from Gerard. Tigre saw that he was holding a small hemp bag, where the smell must have been originating from.
Gerard noticed Tigre’s stare, and held out the bag with his empty hand.
“Lately, I barely have time to sit down and eat. Would you care for one?”
There were a few skewers in the bag. Tigre thanked him, and took one. The skewer that had several small pieces of meat on it, was still slightly warm, and was joyfully chewy. As the salt and fat and meat flavors spread through his mouth, Tigre let out a broad smile.
“It’s quite delicious. Is it lamb?”
“Fresh from the farm, it seems.”
Tigre tilted his head in confusion at Gerard’s comment. It should be very difficult to eat fresh lamb currently in the Capital, let alone find such a rare meat on a skewer. While eating a skewer himself, Gerard explained in a tone as if disclosing a magic trick.
Some of the people who had fled to the Capital were farmers, and many of them brought their livestock. Those were their valuable assets after all. However, it was extremely difficult to take care of said livestock in the Capital. Not only finding enough space alone was difficult, renting any kind of facility also cost money.
As a result, farmers who decided to sell off all of their livestock for cash began to emerge.
“It’s not every day we get to eat fresh meat. It’s the same for you, right, Lord Tigrevurmud?”
“Whenever you have time, why don’t you go hunting with me? You’ll get all the fresh meat you want.”
When Tigre smiled and made a made a motion as if to set up his bow, Gerard was rendered speechless; then he shrugged his shoulders. Beside him, Augre who was also eating the meat on a skewer smiled wryly.
“Right, before you were a commander and even a lord, you were a born hunter, huh. I almost forgot, thanks to that coat of yours.”
While his tone was sarcastic, he was complimenting Tigre in his own way. Once he finished his skewer, Tigre asked Gerard and Augre.
“What are both of you doing here?”
“Simply put, managing and distributing resources.”
Augre answered. Gerard flicked the edge of the pages he held.
“We’re placing rocks, oil, and water for the catapults under the walls, so we can refill the stations on the walls as quickly as possible. But, some of them are less or more than our orders; and other stations that have the right amount have been set up too far from the walls……”
After saying that much, Gerard lowered his voice.
“There’s been another issue lately. I can’t be too brazen about it, but people that have fled here with no one to go to and no money to shell for an inn have been living in hammocks below the castle walls. Getting them out of there is also part of our job.”
“We’ve been getting some complaints from those who live nearby, and they’re in the way of us setting up the resources. We’ve been trying to get those to go to the temple, but…… It’s not too easy. Even the temple can’t take in everyone.”
Augre formed all of his wrinkles into a frown. Tigre asked:
“Is there anything I can do?”
Gerard answered matter-of-factly. Even Tigre was taken aback.
“Quite the cold shoulder.”
“Of course. We’re working on it so we don’t have to bother you with things like this. If you really want to help, win the war as soon as you can.”
Infallible logic. Both Tigre and Augre, who tightened his face to protest his son’s attitude, could only agree with a dry laugh.
“I’ll do what I can.”
That was all Tigre could utter. Back when he tried to come up with a strategy against the Muozinel Army, using every bit of his brain, he could not recall how many times he had almost given up.
“By the way, what are your plans after you win, Lord Tigrevurmud?”
Gerard asked with an entertained smile, and Tigre crooked his neck.
“You’re already thinking about what happens after we win?”
“Thinking about reality, or about what happens when we lose just depresses me. Besides, we’re all being watched by many people. If we keep showing them our depressed faces, that’s all they will feel.”
“Then, you should be showing your serious side to the people.”
Augre threw in a jab, but his son masterfully ignored the comment.
Tigre scratched his darkish red hair, and cracked a complicated smile. Idle conversation like this heard between these two, or between Mashas and Gasper, was something that Tigre could no longer hope for, since he lost his father, Urz, four years ago.
“I still can’t think of anything. What about you, Gerard?”
“Climbing the ladder, of course. Up and up. Mister Badouin has been putting me in charge of a few tasks.”
With no coyness, Gerard answered immediately. Badouin has been the prime minister since the reign of the previous king Faron; he was well-trusted by Regin, too. Being trusted with the prime minister with tasks meant that Gerard was on course to growing his reputation as the palace clerk.
“What about Territoire?”
Tigre asked. The Augre worked at the palace because of Badouin’s strong request, but they are both lords with lands, just like Tigre. Gerard was supposed to rule Territoire after his father. Yet, Gerard shook his head.
“Especially because of Territoire. While I can, I want to create a strong pipe between the Capital and Territoire. Just so I can help anyone who jumps out of Territoire looking for success here. Of course, I want to be the success story myself.”
“When I was young, I learned much by visiting the Capital along with Urz and Mashas. Mashas spent most of his time fooling around, but…… Gaining some perspective at the Capital will lead to a rich Territoire as well.”
That seemed to be how the father agreed with his son. Gerard continued:
“And that’s why I want you to keep climbing the ladder too. Lord Tigrevurmud. I like to think that you have my back, and I will do most anything for you. Now, this is just a rumor, but……”
He lowered his voice there, and whispered somewhat dramatically. No one other than Tigre and his father could have heard him.
“After this war, I’ve heard that people want to make you king.”
Tigre was lost for words. All he could do was to blankly stare at Gerard. The brown-haired clerk was smiling, but his hazel-blue eyes shone through with serious intent. His father did not react, but he did not disagree with Gerard.
“……I’m not surprised, with all the hot air they’re blowing into me.”
Tigre shrugged and laughed in order to laugh it off as a joke. While Gerard did laugh along with the young man, his words that followed spoke of his insistence on the matter.
“I personally think it’s an interesting idea. An archer becomes the king of Brune, where archery is looked down upon. Imagine the irony. Ever since I have taken this position, I have had more opportunities to learn the history of neighboring nations. A nameless lord gaining victory after victory and finally becoming king…… It’s not a phenomenon so rare that they could only be found in mythology and poetry.”
“A king should not be decided based on irony or satisfaction.”
Said Tigre, his smile gone. Still, Gerard’s determination prevailed.
“You don’t think that everyone who follows you do so simply out of respect? There are many people who are looking to get a piece of your glory. In the civil war, Her Highness Regin took that role.”
“It’s fine to daydream……”
Tigre sighed, and glared at Gerard.
“That rumor can play as an excuse to get rid of me for treason after the war. I’ve been force-fed some history before. I believe that’s happened before a few times.”
Tigre had learned said history in a room in the palace of the LeitMeritz Dukedom, located southwest of the Zhcted Kingdom. A stoic teacher, with her matte-blond hair tied off to the left had patiently taught this less-than-sublime student, one-on-one.
Once Tigre showed his disdain so clearly, Gerard backed off a little.
“……All right. Perhaps we should stop talking about the taste of the meat of an unhunted beast for now. I don’t mean to take much of your time, either. Just remember that the rumor exists, and my opinion on it.”
Gerard bowed to Tigre and turned right back around to work. The father watched his son leave, took a respectful bow to Tigre.
“I apologize for my son’s disrespectful rant, Earl Vorn. I know you’re busy. Gerard seems intoxicated in the atmosphere of the Capital, and I suppose he couldn’t keep his opinion to himself any longer. Please forgive him.”
Now, Tigre understood. Augre purposefully did not stop his son. He thought it would be better for him to speak his thoughts while he was there with him.
“Please, that’s enough, Viscount Augre. I didn’t mind it at all.”
Tigre smiled, and placed his hand on Augre’s shoulder.
Tigre was definitely a culprit to have created what the old viscount described as ‘the atmosphere of the Capital.’ It was as though he got burnt in a fire that he himself had started. So, the youth could not blame Gerard for it.
After leaving Augre, Tigre rejoined the soldiers and continued his patrol.
—After the war……
Tigre repeated the conversation he had with Gerard to himself, as the people cheered for him and he occasionally waved back in response. He didn’t know how the war would end, but he felt that he needed to think about the future past it. But of course, becoming king was unthinkable.
That evening, Tigre visited Mashas’ room in the palace.
Mashas had some bags under his eyes, and a few white hairs poking out of his grey hair, but invited the youth in with a genuine smile. He ordered his assistant to bring in wine and cheese.
Mashas’ room, unlike Tigre’s, was not a guest’s quarters. Mashas had been working at the palace longer than expected, so Badouin prepared him a room along with the title of Palace Advisor. Mashas turned down the title with the reasons that he was a lord of a land and that he was quite old, but accepted the room.
The room was slightly larger than Tigre’s room, and a Muozinel carpet of good quality was laid on the floor. A line of bookshelves stood at the end of the room, and an old desk stood in front of them. From the window, they could see the red sun setting beyond the horizon.
They placed a table and leather chairs by the window, and sat facing each other.
“Sorry to bother you. I know you have a lot on your plate.”
“Ah, today’s been pretty quiet. Preparations are on course for defeating the Muozinel Army, and until the war’s over, Badouin won’t bring up any stupid tasks. How about you? I figured you’d be on your way in the next few days.”
“Yes. Before I go, I have a favor to ask of you.”
He clenched his fists on his lap, and looked at Mashas seriously. Seeing that, the old earl sat up straight. He nodded, giving the youth permission to go on.
“It’s about Titta.”
If something happens to me, please take care of her.
Tigre said quietly, and bowed.
He was about to charge into 100,000 soldiers with a force of merely 20,000. Even if he did kill Kureys, he had no guarantee of returning back alive.
Of course, Mashas would have attended to Titta if something had happened to Tigre regardless, but Tigre wanted to say so himself.
Mashas did not say anything right away, but stroked his grey beard and went into deep thought. Not expecting this reaction, Tigre frowned as if to ask what he thought.
“Tigre, I want to ask you something.”
Said Mashas, with a serious face he rarely showed.
“What does Titta say about it?”
The youth was startled, and couldn’t answer. When the Mashas asked him again, Tigre confessed that he hadn’t asked her. The old earl growled.
“Then, take care of that first. If Titta wishes it, I’ll do my best to help her. But it’s unacceptable for you not to know what she wants.”
Tigre bowed again, embarrassed. Mashas was right.
If Tigre or Mashas asked Titta to do something, she would do it. But, that wasn’t because of her lack of desires. Even if what Tigre suggested was the best way for her, he could not ignore Titta’s thoughts in doing so.
“Tigre, I might as well ask you now. What do you think of Titta?”
Tigre struggled to answer once again.
She was the girl who has always been by his side since they were little, and he heavily relied on her when times were tough. However, Tigre knew that so much was missing from that explanation, and thus dared not say it out loud.
Mashas took a bite of cheese, and drank wine from his silver chalice.
“This year, you turned eighteen and Titta turned seventeen. Both of you need to be looking for a marriage by now. I was planning to discuss it with you over time after you returned, but there came up the incidents with Sachstein, Melisande and Greast……”
With frustration, Mashas downed his chalice and poured himself more wine. He soon finished his second cup, and sighed, still frustrated.
“And now the Muozinel Army’s barging in, and it’s already summer.”
“After this war, I’m sure things will calm down.”
Tigre tried to console him, but Mashas replied coolly.
“When Melisande died, and the Sachstein Army retreated, that’s what I thought too.”
Tigre scratched his darkish red hair, and shrugged. Mashas continued, back on track.
“I already know that you think of Titta dearly. But, having fondness towards her, and taking actions in the future with her, are two different stories. You just said that ‘if something were to happen to you’…… So let me ask you……”
Mashas leaned forward and stared at Tigre sharply, as if to corner him.
“When the war is over, and you’ve survived, what are you going to do with Titta? You’ll keep her around as your maid again? Like I’ve said, both she and you need to be thinking about marriage soon.”
Tigre thought of Titta’s smile, and looked down at the table, struggling. The crimson light coming in from the window formed a dark shadow on the youth’s face.
He remembered when he visited Alsace earlier that year. The town representatives and the officer Elvin had asked him to think about his heir.
Gasper said something similar in jest, but back then, Tigre clearly answered that he did not plan to make Titta his concubine.
But now, he was in a different situation. Tigre had told Elen how he felt. And Elen reciprocated.
The crystallization of the love that was born between both of them did not allow for Tigre to keep muddling any thoughts or emotions surrounding their relationship. The time had come for him to make a clear answer.
Tigre stared at the table in silence. Mashas didn’t rush the youth, but waited quietly, sipping from his chalice. From the distance, a crow could be heard.
A silence that must have lasted at least thirty seconds was broken by a shaken voice.
“I want Titta to be by my side.”
Mashas frowned, looking at the youth’s face and hearing his answer. He expected Tigre to say something like this. He should not have had to hesitate to say so.
Tigre continued, forcing the words from his throat.
“But…… There is someone else who I love.”
Mashas unintentionally uttered, impressed.
He was surprised, but not in disbelief. Mashas remembered that when he was at Tigre’s age, he got along quite nicely with several girls. He didn’t plan to give the youth a hard time about that. If he was being honest, all he wanted was enough peace to not tarnish the household.
“Who are you going to choose, Titta or this other girl?”
Mashas asked, calmly. Tigre put his hand on his head and shook it. He tried to say that he couldn’t choose, but those words were stuck in his throat, unable to escape.
I can’t choose. That was supposed to be the right answer, but something inside of Tigre screamed that it wasn’t.
So, as Tigre sat there unable to answer, Mashas crossed his arms and said:
“You just need to tell this girl or Titta how you feel. If you hear what they say, you might be able to move forward a little.”
Staring back at Mashas, Tigre sighed.
“Um, this may sound weird, but…… You’re not going to be mad at me?”
“Is it something I should be mad for?”
Mashas chuckled, shaking his grey beard.
“If both you and Titta were commoners, and if I was the neighborhood matchmaker, I might have. But, you’re a lord and you own a land. You’re allowed to have a concubine in addition to your wife and, depending on the circumstances, there might be cases where you would have to have a concubine.”
For example, if the wife could not bear a child. If the bloodline of the ruling family were to end, the land would become unstable. The entire family may fight over who becomes the next lord, or a money-thirsty officer may be sent for the post. All in all, it will be a worst-case scenario for those who live in the land.
It was natural that people around their lord would want him to secure an heir, even if it took a concubine. In reality, Mashas had seen territories that have gone downhill after bloodlines have gone extinct, and the extended families warred over the rule of the territory. He felt like he had lost some hope in the world when he saw such turn of events.
Another example, quite common with lords, was when the marriage was political.
In addition to a case where the man would marry a woman that would benefit both houses and keeping the woman he loved by his side as a concubine, it wasn’t uncommon that aristocrats who missed out on marrying off their daughter or niece would push them out as a concubine for some political gain. Reject an offer for a concubine, and there would be a divide between them in that house, which made it difficult for both the husband and wife not to agree to such an arrangement.
There were other times when a lord would be taken in as a concubine as a woman who had lost her entire family to war. While that would be an act of pity, it was possible that love would bloom. There were many stories when said woman would carry the lord’s heir.
“What’s important is what you want and whether Titta and the other girl can accept it. You have to make up your mind, and take action. I can’t help you with this.”
Tigre looked troubled by this. Because he was so unsure, he really wanted to hear from someone who had lived their years.
“I’ve heard that when you were young, you’ve had more girls than my father or Earl Augre would even care to envy……”
The Old Earl showed a teasing smile that he rarely showed.
“I won’t deny it. And what I’ve learned from it is that someone else’s experience won’t help you as much as a baby hair.”
Leaving Tigre dumbfounded, Mashas continued, sipping on his chalice.
“It’s natural if you think about it. A relationship between a man and a woman is like no other. Even if it seems similar, they’re completely different under the surface. If you take the easy way out and copy someone else…… You might get hurt from that big difference under the surface.”
“…… I’ve learned a lot today.”
Tigre could only say that and back off. Mashas stopped giggling, and with some nostalgia, mentioned:
“I’ll tell you one story. Do you remember my nanny Matilda?”
Tigre, regaining himself, searched his memory and nodded.
“I do, she took good care of me when I went to Aude.”
Aude was Mashas’ territory, and Tigre had visited it a few times with his father when he was young. Matilda was an old woman of over seventy, and she worked as a maid in Mashas’ mansion. She was very nice to Tigre.
“Matilda had been working at the mansion since before I was born. She always looked after me since I was a lad. She was funny, and I could count on her.”
Mashas looked away from Tigre and to somewhere in the distance.
“When I was 23, I took Liliane to be my wife.”
Liliane, Mashas wife, was a thin but intimidating lady of the territory. That was Tigre’s impression of her. Gasper had once told him that he had finally past her in height, but will never be able to hold his ground against her.
“You may think I’m just bragging, but Liliane was not even 20 at the time, and she was beautiful and smart. Everyone was envious, and I was happy. However……”
Sipping the wine in his chalice, Mashas continued, reminiscing.
“The first few years of our marriage were incredibly strenuous. Liliane was jealous of Matilda.”
“Jealous……?” Tigre looked at the Old Earl feeling somewhat confused. Mashas chuckled.
“I didn’t understand at first, either. The 19 year-old beautiful lady of the land was jealous of a nanny who was over fifty and…… not as beautiful, to say the least…… Do you understand why?”
Tigre shook his head. As far as he knew, Liliane and Matilda never had any beef between them in the first place. He supposed that meant that they had already made friends by the time he first met them.
“I consoled, calmed down, and convinced my wife to finally tell me. It seemed that she didn’t like how I counted on Matilda for things, and that Matilda knew exactly what I needed and made it happen.”
That’s it? Tigre almost blurted out, but kept his tongue.
For Liliane, it wasn’t that simple. Even after acknowledging every little aspect at which she was better than Matilda, she was not satisfied.
“Some of it was my fault. I had a habit of asking Matilda to take care of things around the house. She had been working for us for decades, so everything that needed to be done and when was all muscle memory for her. It was three or four years before the two finally became friendly.”
“How did it get to that point?”
“My wife became accustomed to things. I tried my best to ask her to do things. But I suppose the biggest cause was that Matilda and Liliane worked hard to get along.”
Reminiscing about his past, with a tired face, Mashas stared at the youth.
“It’s hard to see where jealousy comes from. It’s not a quick fix either. I know there are some miracles of men who are close to multiple women, and none of them is jealous of another. But, what are the chances that you’re one of them? That’s all I can say to you.”
Mashas concluded and Tigre bowed with deep respect once again.
Tigre struggled to imagine Elen jealous of Titta or vice versa, but he also knew that he could be misunderstanding it. If they were to be put it in such a situation, who knows if some new emotions wouldn’t arise?
—In any case, I just have to try.
Tigre felt some knots in his stomach as he thought about discussing this with Titta, but he was already one foot out of the door. He had no intention of turning around.
“So, you just wanted to talk about Titta?”
Mashas asked, pouring wine into the two chalices that were now empty.
Come to think of it, Tigre had not sat down to chat with Mashas for a long time. Same with Gerard and his father, but everyone had been so busy that no one had time for idle chat.
“Can I ask for just a little more of your time?”
Mashas was also someone he could talk to about anything, no matter how trivial.
He told him about the speech he made with Regin, the things he noticed during his patrols, enemy movements…… Mashas would laugh or tease at times, and put a smile on Tigre’s face.
And Tigre remembered what Gerard had said and mentioned it jokingly, that there was a rumor in the palace to make Tigre king.
Mashas looked away from Tigre to the corner of the room, and quietly cursed. So quiet that Tigre could not really hear his words.
“Is there really such a rumor?”
Seeing Mashas reaction, Tigre asked, confused.
The old earl admitted reluctantly. He could have denied it, but he figured that sooner or later someone would confirm to him like Gerard did.
“While that is only a rumor, it’s true that no one has more victories under their belt than you do. And to top it off, if you were to win this war, your status will become unshakable.”
“There’s no way one can’t be a king just by winning battles.”
“Of course. But the next king of this nation will be one who can show strength on the battlefield. You understand that, don’t you?”
Tigre nodded. After the civil wars, foreign invasions followed one after another; people were tired of war.
“The thing is, I think the candidate’s own will is the most important thing here. Tigre, do you want to be king?”
To the direct question, Tigre was dumbfounded. He shook his head hastily.
“Lord Mashas, please stop joking. I’ve never thought of such a thing.”
“Then, don’t be.”
Said Mashas, very matter-of-factly.
“Even if you were the perfect candidate in terms of ability, it means nothing without the willpower. Those who take the throne because of a stupid reason like everyone forced him to tend to give up the throne for stupid reasons. ……Do you remember our civil war two years ago?”
Tigre frowned at the sudden question, but nodded matter-of-factly. How could he forget? That war changed his life forever. Mashas continued.
“There was no battle that was easy. It would have been natural for anyone’s will to be broken along the way. But your will was strong and undeterred. Isn’t that right?”
Protecting Alsace. For the youth, he fought in the civil war two years ago for that reason. That determination led through the fights against Duke Thenardier, the Black Knight Roland, and the Muozinel Army. Mashas understood that well.
“To want to take the throne, you’ll need at least willpower comparable to that. If you don’t have it, don’t worry about any rumors.”
Tigre bowed with great respect, but also to hide his blushing face.
While he listened to Mashas, the youth had realized that there was a part of him that may want to sit on that throne. And that emotion was akin to that of a child wanting sweets he had never tried before.
The conversation had stopped. Tigre thought it was appropriate now and stood to take his leave. He did want to calm down for a bit and wanted to sort out his thoughts on his own.
“Lord Mashas, thank you.”
Tigre bowed once more then turned to leave. When he got his hand on the door, the Old Earl who hadn’t moved from his chair called his name.
“If it’s something you’ve set your mind on your own, I will do anything in my power to help you.”
Tigre thanked Mashas again and left the room quietly.
Finishing supper and returning to his room, Tigre had been sitting his chair, contemplating.
Not about war. About Titta. To Tigre, the girl with the light-brown hair perhaps required more of his thought than the war did. He stared at the floor, stared at the wall, and stared at the ceiling for about a quarter of an hour, Tigre sighed softly.
I want her by my side. He had confirmed again that his emotions were not dishonest in any way.
And it wasn’t because she was good at her job. Tigre could not imagine Titta not excelling at housework, but even if she did, Tigre’s love for her would not have changed one bit.
However, if he accepted this feeling as true, he also had to accept something else.
“I’m a lustful man without integrity, huh.”
Tigre concluded that since he wanted both Titta and Elen by his side.
I can’t choose. A fact he couldn’t say out loud in front of Mashas after all. Tigre finally realized why he couldn’t say it. In the deepest part of his heart, he had no intention of choosing one or the other. Of course, the thought of choosing one seemed wrong.
Tigre placed his face in his palm. He was mostly dumbfounded by the revelation of his own selfishness, but that wasn’t all.
—If I explain all this to Titta, will she understand?
Thick and slimy sweat trickled in Tigre’s heart. He felt like he was the villain of a fairy tale. He thought that this proposition might even be easier to accept if there was a political motive.
Something whispered in his ear to keep things the way they are. Titta would understand without being told a thing. There were plenty of things in this world that are better left unsaid.
—No, I have to tell her.
Tigre had no idea how Titta would react, but he knew that he could not move forward without first telling her.
The youth decided to tell her immediately. He felt that his determination would waver if he pushed it back.
But most of all, there was no guarantee that he would have a time like this tomorrow. As soon as they found out about the movement of the Muozinel Army, Tigre would leave the Capital.
Just as Tigre stood up to call Titta in, the door was knocked and Tigre’s shoulders shook. When Titta’s voice rang through the door, Tigre was startled.
Titta poked her head in and nodded with her innocent smile that Tigre had grown accustomed to.
“Tigre-sama, I thought I would bring you something cold to drink……”
Summer was in full force, and nights were growing as hot as days. Tigre thanked Titta and seized the opportunity to add:
“Titta, could you bring two cups please?”
“Do you have a visitor scheduled?”
The little girl asked curiously and Tigre shook his head.
“It’s for you. There’s something I want to talk to you about.”
Tigre said, nonchalantly. A light shone in Titta’s hazel eyes as she energetically answered yes! Her light-brown ponytail shook a little bit.
Titta soon returned with two silver chalices and a plate on her tray. Wine inside the chalice, and diced peaches and strawberries on the plate. Titta placed those on the table, and politely sat down.
“It feels like we haven’t sat down to talk like this in ages, Tigre-sama.”
“We’ve both been busy. How are you doing?”
“I may be a little busy, but everyone’s so nice, I don’t mind it at all. How about you, Tigre-sama? You must rest while you can.”
“You used to scold me for not working enough.”
Tigre chuckled, and Titta frowned a little bit.
“I’m serious. I’m happy that the people adore you, Tigre-sama and I have no idea about the warfare, but you need to take care of yourself.”
“You’re right. I’ll do that once this war is over.”
“You promise? I’m ready to tie you to your bed.”
The idle conversation soaked Tigre’s heart with joy. “That’ll be a problem”, Tigre chuckled and sipped on his wine. An unexpected surprise captures the youth’s heart.
“Is this wine from Alsace…….?”
“Yes. The other day, I asked for one bottle from the palace cellar through the head cook. I was planning to serve it to you one day, and I thought today would be perfect.”
It wasn’t unusual that the palace had wines from various lands around the nation. It was rarer when lords paid their taxes in full. Tigre himself had sent wine or fur as part of his taxes before. He had heard from Mashas and Augre that they had sent things like silk and honey.
“I didn’t think it would taste something like this here.”
The fragrance was rather strong and sweet. It didn’t taste especially better than other wine, but it was yet a special wine for the youth. The last time he had tasted it must have been when he stopped by Alsace at the beginning of the year.
Drinking that wine alone with Titta made Tigre feel like he was back home in Alsace.
Back in those days, Tigre only had to worry about troubles inside Alsace. All he had to do, while accumulating moments of small happiness day to day, was to make Alsace a little bit better one at a time, and like his father did to him one day, pass on the land to his child. Those were all of his worries.
But, those days were in the past. Tigre was now asked to worry about Brune as a country, and to act in order to benefit it as a whole. He understood that his peaceful days at a small land like Alsace would have been impossible without the peace of Brune as a nation.
When he drank about half of his wine, Tigre put the chalice down on the table.
He stared at the girl with light-brown hair with a serious face. From his expression, Titta must have understood that she should listen earnestly. She also put down her chalice, sat up, and stared back at the young man. In one breath, Tigre discharged his words.
“There are two girls that I love. One of them is you.”
Now that he had said it, he felt beyond immoral.
Hearing this unexpected confession, Titta blinked a few times, looking confused for a beat, then finally realizing that the youth had confessed his love to her, she blushed to the tips of her ears. She fidgeted with her hands on her lap, aimlessly.
Tigre did not move a muscle nor say a word until she calmed down. While he did, nerves and anxiety were crushing him in the inside.
With Elen, the fact that they were both emotional worked for their benefit. If either one of them was calm, it would not have went down the same way.
Tigre was gripping his knees until they hurt, holding back the rest of the words he wants to say and waiting.
If he wasn’t careful, he felt like he would rant on and on about how precious Titta was to him. Which, after what he had just said, would only come across as an excuse.
“W-What do you…… mean……?”
Unable to conceal her confusion, Titta asked, shaking.
“I want you by my side, forever. Not only as a maid.”
Tigre felt Titta’s heart skip. The light-brown haired girl had waited to hear those words and had almost given up for a long time.
Just as Tigre’s father Urz had taken a woman from the Capital as his wife, since that was something expected of a lord and ruler of Alsace. Titta had heard some people in Alsace saying so as well.
That’s why she had given up on her dream. She kept telling herself that she would be happy to just remain by Tigre’s side as his maid. But now, Tigre had finally said the words of her wildest dream.
Titta felt her entire body heat up and her head was foggy. She couldn’t keep the tears from pouring out of her eyes. Before she knew it, droplets fell out of her eyes and formed streaks down her face. Some sigh-like half words escaped her mouth.
Tigre’s face and tone turned blue. He had never shown so much fear in his face when facing off tens of thousands of enemies.
The youth thought back to the words he had said to see if he had said something that would make her cry and Titta, while wiping her tears with her right sleeve, waved her left hand in a flutter.
“N-No, that’s not it. It’s not…… I don’t know why, but I can’t stop crying……”
She seemed to be struggling to find the right words, so she kept repeating not it and waving her hand. Tigre waited again, patiently.
After some time passed, Titta, who had finally stopped crying but still blushing, asked Tigre:
“Um, I’m sorry to ask such a thing, but…… Has anyone from Alsace told you anything?”
“They did tell me to think about an heir. Lord Mashas told me to think about marriage.”
Tigre answered with a gentle tone as to not make Titta nervous.
“But I’m not saying this because someone told me to. I have always thought that I want you by my side. I was just too much of a coward to say it any sooner.”
“Yes. For years.”
Tigre nodded with conviction. Titta blushed again and looked down. She played with her fingers aimlessly. She must have gotten excited again as she sniffed her nose. Her head still down, she looked at Tigre.
“Tigre-sama, may I ask you for one favor?”
“What is it?”
Tigre gently encouraged her and Titta, shrinking in shyness, said:
“Please hold me. Let me know that this is real, that it’s not a dream or something.”
Titta lifted her chin and with a timid smile continued.
“I know that when you say you have one more person you love…… That you’ve thought it through and through. But still, when you said that you want me by your side……”
She couldn’t continue. The girl looked down again. Tigre stood up and went around the table to stand next to Titta. Then he gently placed his hand on her shoulder.
Titta looked up. Their eyes met.
She stood up, supported by the young man, and slowly closed her eyes.
Tigre held Titta in his arms and kissed her forehead and cheek.
Limalisha was standing in a garden shone by the light of the half moon. She did not wear her military uniform but plain hemp clothes and a coat over it. Just in case, she had her sword on her waist.
This day, her work had ended unusually early, so she went straight to bed but could not fall asleep. She had come outside for some fresh air.
Summer in Brune was longer than that in Zhcted but did not come with unpleasant heat. It was perfect weather for her to cool down.
The town that could be seen from the hills of Mount Luberon was ghastly in contrast to the commotion that took place there during the day. She had heard that the reason there were many lights lit were because many people lived there without a house, and lived in a hammock or so.
Lim couldn’t imagine an army of 150,000, either. But, when she thought about the thick castle walls that she saw every day, as well as the deep trench below it, she would begin to think that they would be all right. Even when she did, however, her spirits were still down.
“Why the long face?”
A bright voice called from the shadows and Lim jolted her head up. Then she relaxed and answered.
“Just patrolling to get some fresh air. Don’t mind me.”
“You can’t sleep? You’re the one who’s telling Tigre and I lately to get some rest while we can.”
The one who appeared from the shadows was Lim’s lord and best friend, the silver-haired Vanadis. Lim chuckled and replied to Elen.
“I went to bed a quarter of an hour ago, however, I couldn’t keep my eyes closed.”
“You look like a warrior who will welcome her first campaign. That’s unusual from you.”
Elen laughed then stood next to Lim. They both looked towards the distance without much thought. They could see the black outline of the walls that surround the Capital as well as the torches placed evenly along it.
“How is the detached unit?”
Lim asked quietly. While she was worried about Elen, it was also a protest for being left out. Elen understood that.
“Don’t worry. We have Tigre. With him fighting alongside, no one will stand a chance against us. I’m sorry to leave you behind, but you’re the only one I can trust to look after Lyudmila. Please understand.”
While Lim knew that Elen was being honest, she also knew that she was trying to console her. If she was asked which unit, the garrison defending the Capital or the detached unit, was more dangerous, Lim would say it was the detached unit. If the detached unit were to be surrounded, they would be done for.
That was precisely why Lim was unhappy with Elen’s decision to leave her behind.
But Lim kept that to herself and respectfully replied.
“I’ll humbly try my best to not embarrass the name of LeitMeritz.”
Elen answered “Good”, and continued:
“I still can’t imagine an enemy of 150,000, but once we charge in, I won’t be able to worry about anything else. I don’t think I could even worry about Tigre.”
Her job was to charge forward at all costs and take down anyone that came her way. She could not even be bothered with Kureys. This was because it was Tigre’s duty to take care of Kureys. She knew that the only thing she could do was to believe that Tigre would stay next to or behind her, and charge.
“I don’t want to stop. No matter what happens.”
She knew that if something happened to Lim on the battlefield, Elen would definitely stop in her tracks. In fact, two years ago when she faced the assassins called the Seven Chains, Elen lost herself seeing Lim fall.
Elen did not underestimate Lim’s ability as a warrior or commander. They both learned the hard way that anything can happen out in the field. Elen tried to remember how many times, counting since they were mercenaries, that she was dumbfounded by an unexpected situation and was forced to do something she never thought she would.
“You have to drag Lord Tigrevurmud, at least, along if necessary.”
Lim replied with her usual matter-of-fact tone. “I’ll try my best”, Elen laughed.
“Anything you want to say to me while you can? I won’t see you for a while.”
Elen asked nonchalantly and Lim asked something that came to her mind. She didn’t come up with the thought at the spot but had been meaning to ask it for some time.
“Did something happen between you and Lord Tigrevurmud?”
“……What do you mean by something?”
Elen tried to laugh it off, but the unnatural pause before her words made Lim even more suspicious. There were two reasons why Lim thought to ask such a thing:
First, she thought that Elen and Tigre had been communicating with their eyes, silently, more often than before. She also thought that they seemed to be bonded by something more than trust when they did so.
The second reason was Lyudmila Lourie’s attitude. Now that they were defending the castle walls together, Lim had more opportunity to speak with Mila one-on-one, but whenever she mentioned Tigre or Elen, the blue-haired Vanadis got a strange look on her face and tried to change the subject.
Lim, of course, knew that Elen and Mila were far from friendly, but the look she saw on Mila’s face was not that of disdain. Then what was it about? Lim didn’t know. In any case, the reaction was enough to make Lim wonder.
“If you don’t want to tell me, Eleonora-sama, I won’t ask you again.”
Lim said as if to push those thoughts away. But, some afterthought made her continue:
“I still haven’t heard what Lord Tigrevurmud has told you to bring your spirits up.”
Lim was unable to cheer up Elen, who had been down in the mud since the fight against Greast. As a last resort, she had told Tigre about it and Tigre soon went to remedy the situation.
After that, Elen regained her usual candidness, however Lim had not been told any details on why or how Tigre was able to do so. Both Tigre and Elen would only ever say that they “talked through the night.”
Lim had been trying her best not to imagine too much about that. They were both very dear to Lim, though she couldn’t stop thinking that she was left out.
After taking a few breathes, Elen said with sincerity.
“Did something happen between me and him? I’d have to say yes. I can’t say much about it, but, it was, for me…… And for him, I think, a good thing.”
“That’s good to hear.”
Lim meant it when she said so. If it made Elen happy, she would never oppose it.
“I feel bad about keeping it a secret until you asked me. Though, right now, this is all I can say about it. I will tell you all about it someday; will you wait a while longer?”
Lim couldn’t answer right away. Silence brooded between them.
After ten counts or so, Elen called out Lim’s name nervously. Shaking her blond hair tied to her left, Lim giggled.
“Okay. I’ll be waiting for the day you can tell me about it, Eleonora-sama.”
From Lim’s tone, Elen understood that Lim was teasing her, but she didn’t retaliate but instead crossed her arms in silence. She did make Lim worry about it. She thought that she was lucky that she got off that easy.
“Then, Eleonora-sama, if you’ll excuse me……”
“Hmm? Are you tired now?”
“Yes, we have to rest while we can.”
“Right. I suppose I’ll return to my room, as well.”
They turned around and started walking. The summer-night breeze gently lifted their hair.