Under the cover of darkness.
The sky is billowing in a gloomy grey with no moon or stars showing their lights. Only sweat is dripping down as they are half-heartedly stroking their napes with a feeling of listlessness and a tepid mood. The breaths of the men and the horses, chewing on their wooden mouth bits, are dampening swiftly. It’s the sighing of 600 riders. It might become a single scoop of hot water if it was collected in the hill’s depression.
(It’s an unpleasant night.)
That man, who had a golden ring coiled around his neck, spit on the ground. The strong displeasure screws up his fine-looking features as his glaring pair of eyes scowl at the hill on the other side without swaying. Only he isn’t chewing on any wood, but his mouth is closed tightly and turned down at the corners. He has a more dangerous presence than anyone else present.
The man’s name is Kustaa (T/N: >> Kusuta <<). He is the head of the mounted bandits.
He is the only one with a lining of vermilion colour, that looks as if burning, within the sea of black overcoats. The root of his spear’s tip has also affixed a decoration of the same colour. Is the meaning blood, fire or passion? Whichever of those it might be, either is likely appropriate in this night. That’s because they are currently about to stage an attack.
Tonight a large-scale transport unit of the territorial army is heading towards the front under the cover of the night. All of the small-scale transports here in the last few days have been merely diversions. It’s also the same for the mid-scale transport tomorrow morning. The unit passing by in the dead of this night is definitely the real target.
That isn’t information they obtained by coincidence either. Having endured for more than half year, they induced them so that the army cannot avoid doing it like this. Picking the transport units to be attacked, deciding on places where their appearance can be witnessed and coming up with the directions of their retreats… tonight will bear the fruits of them keeping these up persistently. The more logical the transport schedules of the territorial army got, the more their choices for preparations converged. And now the day of harvest has arrived.
(According to the guys on the other side of this hill… we have finished confirming that the unit has started moving. Everything’s going smoothly. And yet, although it’s going smoothly… what’s this uneasiness?) (Kustaa)
Kustaa pulled out the hair suddenly and forcefully while scratching his head. After counting the torn off strands, he discarded them. Next he tightly grasped the lining of the overcoat drawing it toward himself. As he gazed at the wrinkles that were immediately created, he abandoned it with a thud and looked at the sky. It’s only filled with soundlessly-moving, dull and bulky clouds in spite of its emptiness.
Stretching his hand to the divination board, which hung at the knapsack, Kustaa gave up on taking that into his hands. It’s because he noticed the countless pairs of eyes watching him. Putting back the baggage casually, he once again gripped his favorite spear.
It’s already too late for something like retreat.
These 600 mounted bandits aren’t the whole lot. Over 200 mounted bandits are advancing at various places as feints. They are showing movements in a deceptive style to lead on the territorial army. Two days ago that detached force should have crossed weapons with the territorial army. After their retreat, they split into 3 groups and are continuing to attract the attention of the territorial army. If the 600 mounted bandits, who are the main unit, end up being destroyed without being able to withdraw, even that detached force will likely lose their path of retreat to the home village.
Kustaa hasn’t taken the recent territorial army in this place lightly at all. In the past the territorial army gave up easily and furthermore only chased blindly after them. It doesn’t feel like their degree of strength or such, once they get in contact with them, has risen, but they are in places they don’t want them to be. It happened many times over that they were chased in a direction they didn’t want to be chased to. They are predicting that with a strange deployment and formation.
However, if it was like that, there was also the aspect of being well-informed on their plans. If you carefully observed the principle behind the opponent’s movements, it would be fine if you bent that principle in reverse. We incited them like that. The conclusion of accumulating such inducements is this hill, but… Something doesn’t make sense for Kustaa.
He is being assailed by an anxiety as if heaven and earth have been switched.
Isn’t it actually as if we, who are planning to set up a trap, have been led into a trap ourselves? That hill on the other side has a big hole. Isn’t it like all of us are about to jump in there? Even though all is advancing as imagined, only such uneasiness is surging forth within my heart.
(Damn it… though it’s of no use whatsoever, I’m so half-baked… !) (Kustaa)
Kustaa cursed within his mind. It’s his own blood.
He has a past no one is aware of. The blood of the man called Kustaa has history. Even though he discarded his surname, he isn’t able to falsify the history of the blood flowing in his body. Nothing but his own body is proof of that.
There is a phenomenon called miracle.
The church dispatches miracle investigators seeking the miracles of this world. If some special phenomenon occurs and if that is acknowledged as miracle, it will result in it being embraced for a long time in the loving protection of the church. However, since the church has on the other hand the mission to persecute witches and evil men, they will hand out condemnation without mercy according to the sequence and situation. The miracle investigation is a coin flipping that ought to be feared.
They, who decided to try Kustaa’s mother, showed a front of overflowing love and admiration. If there was a manifestation of God’s power, it would be recognized as being a miracle. She, who immediately was bestowed the privilege of a saint, is even now living in the sanctuary “Holy Grail Island.”
But, Kustaa knows about it. His mother’s power isn’t a miracle by no means. Instead it’s the repulsive type of power. This consequently invited rumours in the city. The outcome was a miracle investigator coming to their house.
She was able to create bugs from the corpses of animals. Those aren’t normal bugs either. Even without substance, they are bustling about with a faint, green light… they are shady bugs as if only the phosphorescence of summer bugs, which fly around making light from their rear, has been cut off. Their use is unknown. She was only laughing and giggling as she simply played around with them. Kustaa recalls that it spurred on a eeriness as she was a reputed, beautiful woman. She was a hated woman. He was refreshed when she disappeared.
And yet, like father like son. There is Kustaa’s miracle within Kustaa. He cannot afford for anybody to know about it, but he can’t bear to get rid of it either.
My premonition is sharp… no, powerful.
I hid myself in the storage room on the days the miracle investigator came to our house. Mercilessly haunted by an oppressive feeling that something would happen day after day, I finally took action after having lost my will to endure. I’m a rowdy person who was famous for being a thug since my childhood. I wasn’t a timid person shying away from physical threats, but I couldn’t oppose the threat gradually approaching from within my mind.
Putting aside whether it’s good or evil, will I predict something to happen? … I spent my time pondering about that, but there is also the possibility of dying by being involved in a landslide as I pass the next day calmly. On the contrary, not a single thing happened even as I spent the next two days without sleeping. There was also a time I devoted myself to martial arts as I hated it to be led around by the nose, but even then my premonitions never vanished. Before I noticed it reached the point that I was accompanied by henchmen as notorious outlaw.
The man I met at such period was Salomon.
That man, who wasn’t even accompanied by more than 100 followers as commanding officer at that time, overwhelmed Kustaa with a premonition so strong as it had never occurred until now. Even though he was unskilled at exchanging words as they met face-to-face, Salomon was a person with a degree of strength that completely extinguished all other premonitions. Instead of his attempt to kill him, Kustaa was beat up by the silver-haired woman, who was next to Salomon.
And he realized. He can’t defy the premonition caused by Salomon anymore. Reaching out for him as if being mesmerized, the way of accepting it had already become easy. The him, who had been always exposed to premonitions. The him, who wasn’t scared of the premonitions albeit not even knowing when they would appear. For the first time in his life, he bowed his head. He became one of Salomon’s followers.
I remember the day I killed an Eberian imperial soldier for the first time. It was a plain person. I recall the day I straddled a warhorse for the first time. It was majestic, fast and tall. I remember the day I took charge of subordinates for the first time. There was pride in that.
However… just like that… Salomon’s premonition fell apart on that day of the “Festival of the Sacred Flame.” It came to an end. Kustaa shook with a feeling of emptiness that can’t be described in words. Feeling a large, large hole gaping widely in his own chest, it became a habit for him to stroke his chest for a while.
Kustaa remembers the day when Salomon departed to the capital as if it had been just yesterday.
Salomon as commander led a mixed army composed of the volunteer army and a mish-mash of royal troops numbering all together 13.000 troops… they were the so-called Salomon army. When a time of around 3 weeks passed after they had destroyed the army of Eberia Empire, the dissolution of the Salomon army was ordered by the headquarters of the royal army. Using the convenient situation of having accomplished the military operation, 30.000 were put under a temporary command and had already been sent away to various places following their orders. Only the Salomon army continued to guard the vicinity and to deal with the remains of the battle on that soil.
It was decided to promote various commanders after the dissolution across the board. They were promised to receive their promotion only after having changed assignments. It was also decided in advance, albeit with objections to the judgement at that time, to release the volunteer soldiers, who had risen due to the danger of a ruined country, from military service. A reward was given to everyone. Although the regular army had turned up following its orders, they were instead far too late and they only considered it as an opportunity to raise military achievements, to a dreadful degree that they didn’t even differentiate between friend and foe.
There were no unreasonable arguments. Many people were even delighted. However, there were also many who voiced their doubts. Kustaa also had suspicions alongside his once again revived premonitions.
It’s because I didn’t understand the meaning of dissolving Salomon army. Why did the strongest army, that produced the biggest military gains, end up disappearing? Before my eyes the Plains of Wandering Calamity was spreading up to the horizon and there wasn’t anyone to obstruct us even if we advanced beyond that point.
The king’s decree, which came before long, deepened his suspicions even further.
Only Salomon himself was to be summoned to the capital.
It was under the pretext of him being a promising person. Even that patriotic hero would say that for a person like Salomon it was only adequate to praise him for his distinguished war service at the royal capital. There was also the pretext of attending the hero’s funeral. And, there was also the issue of relinquishing the family name.
As the Salomon army incorporated various units of the royal army, which escaped from the regular army, into its ranks, Salomon was temporarily established as head of the Hahato household for appearance’s sake since there were also nobles, albeit of lower rank, mixed with those royal units. Given that this household had become extinct long ago, there was only Salmon belonging to the Hahato family, but that still didn’t change the fact of it being a noble’s family name. There was no other way but for him to relinquish the name at the capital if they wanted to dissolve the Salomon army.
Everything would be put in order so that the arrangements would be excessive. The roads would be ornamented magnificently… a road of triumphal return would be paved towards the capital. The wordly-wise man, who didn’t step out of the hero’s shadow, would finally be seen bathed in glory.
If that’s how it was to be, why had it to be no one but Salomon himself going there?
It was his adjutant, Jikil Rosa, who voiced the strongest objection to that. Being a woman descending from a minority, she was the one who beat Kustaa, who had once attacked Salomon, to a pulp. She is a warrior who advanced to the front line disguised as man since it is prohibited for women to join the army of the Asuria Kingdom. She is famous for her nickname, Jikil of the Demon Eye, but there are only few who know that she’s a woman.
Jikil Rosa didn’t place her trust into the kingdom from the very start. Even as she risked her life on many battlefields, it was merely for the sake of Salomon. There is nothing like loyalty to the kingdom in her. Since she resembled Kustaa in that point, only that much was reason enough to aid in her imploring, even if there was the bitter experience of being beaten half to death.
The next one to oppose was Kustaa. However, his declaration of opposition was far off from being well-reasoned. Unable to control the revived premonitions, he became frantic. There was also the reason of him having seen something he didn’t want to see.
Having looked at the ground where the imperial army was destroyed… or the place where the hero died for three weeks, Kustaa saw countless people he deemed to be miracle investigators. He hadn’t forgotten their peculiar presence that scarred his mind in his childhood. Although he believed them to be investigating the hero’s death at first, their investigation scope stretched out too far for that. And then he saw Salomon.
It’s not like premonition is a particular patent of Kustaa. Many people recalled the unpleasant premonition at that time. As if they smelled the stench of something rotten… something sticking to the inner parts of the nose, a cold shivering within their chests and the feeling of not being able to calm down.
Salomon didn’t talk much. Since an order is an order, one should obey it. I think that was his opinion. Having a slightly awkward face due to Jikil Rosa’s fervent speech, he turned his white eyes towards the standing Kustaa, who was wound up having foam coming out of his mouth. Kustaa had such a hunch. His memories during that tragic situation and confusion are vague.
But, even so, only the words, Salomon muttered last, are remaining in his ears.
Although Kustaa fell to the point of dabbling in divination after the death of Salomon and went to travel in irritation as he wasn’t able to guess the details of his premonitions, he remembered those words. You might say anxiety, fretfulness and emptiness were clinging and dwelling in those words. The words cast a previously unseen darkness. They depicted the mind of Salomon in his days of yore.
“Above not being able to see the things I want to see, there’s nothing but despair… !” (Kustaa)
He spoke them as if thoroughly chewing on them.
On this dark hill imposing silence upon soldiers and horses, Kustaa spit out these words.
With the sounds of wagons and horse’s hooves beginning to be audible in the distance, he knows that they are gradually getting closer. The sky is ominous and even the wind is wet and glistening. However, Kustaa raises his hand, resulting in the blades of 600 horsemen flashing.
And… he swung his hand downwards.