“What’s this about? Why is the royal army at such a place?”
“What happened to the units which went on patrol? They have left with 10.000, right!?”
“Who knows… how about requesting reinforcements? If we send a fast messenger…”
“What foolishness! We don’t even know the scale of the enemy!”
Oiva listens to the wild uproar of the imperial soldiers while sprawling on a wagon he uses as bedding. The blood, which he threw up on his abdomen, has permeated even below his clothes. It’s ticklish and crunchy making one wonder whether it has dried. While apologizing in his heart to those who had even their blood squeezed out until they were finally killed, he nevertheless wished for them to pardon him with just a plain revenge.
(It ain’t like I got the role of a corpse. I wonder whether it’s fine to even scratch this?) (Oiva)
Keeping his eyes half-open, Oiva nonchalantly scratched his belly. Just at that moment his hand and belly are held down by someone. The clinking sound of a small knife being handled can be heard. Next it continued with the sensation of bandages and clothes being fastened. A quiet voice saying 「Please endure, commander. You can’t move yet」 fell into his ear. He displays his dissatisfaction with slow nasal breathing.
This is the north-western part of the Plain of Wandering Calamity, within one of the several existing front line fortresses of the Imperial army. The sky, which was cut into a square surrounded by walls, was a clear blue notwithstanding. Oiva even felt relaxed in the courtyard of hustle and bustle. He is exhausted from the forced march everyday. Just the itch is troubling.
“Damn! The enemy is a cavalry unit, you say!? What kind of enemy is it!?”
“It seems they are pretending to be our allies. The whereabouts of the 208th light cavalry battalion is unknown…”
“You are certainly not saying that they have betrayed us, are you!? Where are the patrolling units right now?”
“Don’t mention something like betrayal thoughtlessly! Even so, an officer? Bastard!”
The fortress’ confusion seems to be more than expected… Oiva leaks a “Hmm” through his nasal breathing. It was the result of the lower half of his face being covered with a cloth. He contemplates that he might break into a smile. However, that probably can’t be helped, he thinks. “The patrolling units” is probably about the 2 units which were crushed by the Royal Guard Unit. Oiva praises himself for obtaining as many military achievements as he wanted in regards to the second unit.
The defeat of two units in their first campaign. As only that is likely a glorious distinguished war service, the person, who is Oiva’s lord, is even now dashing ahead for the sake of obtaining what’s beyond that point. They had already destroyed a third unit. The victory had nothing to do with Oiva, but he is currently here by taking advantage of that victory.
“They were after all really… destroyed by an unit of the Royal army…”
“Don’t make any rash statements. Isn’t the Royal army’s main force in the south? I think there is only the aforementioned mish-mash unit in the north!”
“Well, however, weren’t they lined up in the vicinity of the centre?”
“Yes, that’s right. So you are saying that it was another unit?”
Oiva groans in his mind when he receives with his ears either of it, something he can’t let pass and something they believe to have been done. He is troubled since the good and bad details of Marko’s words are proving to be right.
An intelligence network has been laid out in the Asuria Kingdom by the Eberia Empire and the church is cooperating with them. The remark regarding the Royal Guard Unit verified that. This time they have spread rumours towards the empire’s side anticipating the sortie of the Royal Guard Unit. It’s rumours about Marquis Yurihalshira and the Sword Square Knight Order. Among those rumours, the situation of being unable to get reinforcements, and the battle array of the Royal Guard Unit isn’t included. I don’t know whether even the sortie schedule was circulated, but there’s no mistake that information about the Royal Guard Unit was spread. Oiva judged it like that.
Thus he chuckles beneath the cloth. As this is just right to conceal his expression, his smile deepens even further.
The second battle, where Oiva wielded his sword in high spirits… after it ended, the Royal Guard Unit lined up close to the centre of the Plain of Wandering Calamity after proceeding south. Building a wooden fortress, they lined up stoppers against cavalry and dug a moat. It might have been that time when the unit led by Oiva was at the peak of their enthusiasm. No matter what, that unit has many hilarious folks, Oiva believes.
Once they finished resupplying after going out to meet with the military supply unit, the Royal Guard Unit began a strategic mobilization of splitting in three parts.
One is the light cavalry unit led by Kustaa heading north. Proceeding west again in the northern part of the Plain of Wandering Calamity, they will invade even close to imperial territory. They have been able to confirm their opponent’s unit in the third battle and have been requested to defeat an enemy twice as large. One can say it’s a strategic unit with the highest level of danger, but with Marko accompanying them as if it’s natural, it also brought something like confidence about the entire strategy to Oiva and the others.
Another part are the Akseli unit and Jarkko unit with the duty of standing by. Holing up inside the encampment, their role is to strongly impress the surroundings with the existence of Asuria Kingdom’s Third Princess’ Royal Guard Unit by staying active with lighting bonfires and flying battle flags. This has also the purpose of providing a path of retreat for the military supply unit, but more than anything the aspect of showing strength is large. It demonstrates that all members of the Royal Guard Unit intend to fight defensively there. Because of that, they conceal the existence of the detached forces.
The ones who were concealed are Kustaa’s light cavalry and… Oiva’s special operations unit.
Yes, the last strategic unit is Oiva’s unit. All of them are wearing the equipment of imperial soldiers. Those are items seized from the “patrolling units.” Currently Oiva and the others are gathering in small groups in the fortress as injured soldiers and scattered units. The confusion wrapping up the fortress makes such a feat possible.
It was a confusion created by Marko.
A considerable number of the enemy soldiers, who were defeated in the first and second battle against the Royal Guard Unit, has escaped just as intended. In addition, it’s only ordinary soldiers. Not a single officer got away. Having been scattered in a wide area, they were induced to aim for a single fortress despite that. Blending in with them, Oiva’s group aimed towards the west. Rather, it even took the shape of them guiding the dispersed soldiers.
And, what became the finishing blow was the third battle. Routing the infantry, the ordinary soldiers were pushed towards the near proximity of the fortress by forcing them that way. The fortress experienced pandemonium. There was no chain of command or anything like that either. Since there are many injured soldiers, the entire fortress is covered with dust and the stench of blood. They don’t even have the spare time to confirm the fortress’ own units. In any case, the enemy has even approached close to the fortress and moreover it’s said that it’s a cavalry unit. There was fear that they would get attacked soon.
That’s why Oiva is carefreely fighting his itching. He was still optimistic even though he was transported by being placed on a wagon because his physique stands out too much. Furthermore, because the unit members, who carried him, came up with the spot to place him on, it resulted in him being talked to by the officers of the fortress in the close vicinity. It’s a situation to smile a lot if it’s fine to do so.
(How far in the distance has our commander seen? I can’t bear this… can’t bear it!) (Oiva)
It’s Oiva who suddenly leaked his voice with a “Gufuh.” After he was sharply pinched in the abdomen, his chin was raised as if having vomited blood. It’s a measure to avoid suffocation by blood clogging up the throat. The skill of this unit member, who was told to be in charge of Oiva’s nursing, is actually quite good. In regards to emergency treatment of injured soldiers on a battlefield… and in regards to killing the enemy in an assault.
An alarm bell rung.
A voice informing of an enemy attack resounded from atop the walls. Noise turned into commotion and that commotion was mixed with groaning voices and screams. Oiva can’t help but feel sympathy. Until he reached this fortress, he heard the voices of many imperial soldiers while swaying atop the wagon. Those, who spoke to him in worry after seeing the fake clotted blood, were also those who stated that they won’t die until they return to their families. Everyone was a single human and everyone had a daily life.
Even so, they are soldiers. Oiva has abandoned them at that point.
From the beginning soldiers are sad beings. Their lives and deaths are much too transient. Being naturally controlled by their allies and being controlled by their enemy’s soldiers, they have tried to live by slowly swaying just like fallen leaves swaying on the water surface of a river. Everyone’s the same with no one being anything special. The battlefield is the place where they risk their own lives.
For this reason…, Oiva put his hand on the sword that was lying under his body. Tracing the scabbard, he arrives at the hilt. As it was covered in a cloth, he entwined his fingers in it. He has a battle feeling burning in his chest with only that. That’s the meaning of a person taking a steel blade into their hands. The hardness which cannot exist in a body of flesh unifies mind and body, hones the mind and makes the soul burn.
Once you find yourself holding that for a moment, you should immediately make up your mind.
“Flames! It’s a fire!”
Someone yelled. Orange colour blows from all barracks and they are enveloped by smoke. Even close to Oiva something was violently burning. Sparks danced in his field of vision alongside the scent of oil. All right, it’s beginning!
He draws his sword while standing up.
He strikes with his sword while plunging in.
The head of an imperial army officer, who was petrified, danced in the air. Returning the katana, he lowers it and cuts deeply from the root of a adjutant-like man’s neck down to the abdomen. As he tried to kill one more, he discovered that the tip of a sword was piercing through that man’s throat. It’s Oiva who secretly watches the natural resemblance to the moment when he raised his chin due to the shock of pinching. The unit member, who stabbed him, is skilled after all.
“It’s a fire! This fortress is already a lost cause!” (Oiva)
Roaring that, Oiva ran around while slaying the imperial soldiers, who picked up their weapons even though being confused, one by one. There are also old people. There are also young people. If there’s men, there’s also women. However, if they chose to fight by taking up their weapons, there is no difference about them attempting this or that. He kills. He runs, cuts and kills. The blood and fire are bright red. He fights while the stench of iron rust and the smell of burning despair is wafting about tangibly and intangibly. He does his very best in war.
After someone of Oiva’s group opened the gate, this fortress is already ruined.
What he saw was Kustaa rushing in at the head. Routing the bewildered imperial soldiers, they have gained total control of the courtyard in the twinkling of an eye. Despite being amazed by his way of spurring his horse, Oiva plunges into a building of the fortress. The identification whether friend or foe is a hand signal and the red cloth wrapped around a wrist. Those resisting are killed. Those running away are left alone. And fire is set. There are those running around while holding torches. They should also possess oil. It’s the unit members with the role of arson.
“It’s a fire!! It’s hopeless already! This fortress will end up getting burned!!”
Oiva raised a loud voice with all his strength. Before realizing, the unit members, who were in the vicinity, nod to each other and run to the fortress’ stables. Unit members are already preparing the harnesses on horses over there and Oiva’s group straddled on those one after the other.
“Alriiight! Since the preparations are complete, go! Our last job is to return alive!” (Oiva)
There were no imperial soldiers to be found in this fortress, which was dominated by black smoke and heat due to the fires, for Oiva to fight against anymore. There’s no one who wants to get burned to death. This late in the game everyone has no other choice but to run in order to stay alive. People die outside rather than dying within the flames. No one will have the idea of wishing for something like that.
Oiva was made to gallop on a horse once again, too. The arsoning, which had no mercy, is transforming the fortress into a sea of flames. Even while thinking 「They have gone too far」, Oiva also has the expectation 「If it’s them, it’s impossible for them to be late in escaping」. The heat broke through and rushed outside the fortress.
Marko was there.
He is on horseback while being accompanied by the 99 red-clothed riders. Even as he is illuminated by the colour of flames, he gazes at the fortress while not moving an inch. He tried to call out to him wondering whether he was waiting for someone, but Oiva was unable to mutter even a single word.
There was no expression on Marko’s face.
That’s when Oiva noticed for the first time. Marko always revealed various expressions. Many are smiling ones. Even without that, having his look quietly gaze at someone or somewhere, didn’t disturb that cool atmosphere no matter what happened in front of him. Oiva was made to feel Marko’s profound depth as a transcendental.
What about now? He couldn’t sense any strength, depth or even any kind of colour from the current Marko. He seems to be entirely like an abandoned dagger. As if it was discarded to be exposed to the weather without even maintenance or being some kind of treasured, matchless dagger, its body is gnawed at for years and before long its sharpness, brightness and everything else ends up swallowed. As if he is in the middle of that, as if he has lost something precious, he stood there with a deterioration similar to the breath of despair.
Oiva made his horse advance. He looked at Marko’s face. He doesn’t even blink as only flames are reflected in his pupils matched by his braided black hair alongside his blue eyes. There was no light dwelling within. It was as if they have been burned.
“… Oi, Marko.” (Oiva)
He called out to him. It held a feeling of calling out to someone in the distance.
“Oi, Marko. Do you hear me? Marko, hey… Marko!” (Oiva)
While gradually strengthening his voice, Oiva largely placed his own body in front of Marko’s eyes. Against the backdrop of the fortress’ large fire, the mounted boy was wrapped up in shadows. The flames within his pupils disappeared and only still blue remained. It was a state similar to that of a sculpture. Oiva addresses him. It wasn’t a thoughtful action.
“Marko! The operation is finished, but it still ain’t the end!? You understand, right?” (Oiva)
At last he extended his hand and grabbed Marko’s shoulder. He merely grabs the shoulder, which is still unexpectedly delicate, without shaking it. He wanted to convey something through his hand. He believed that it’s something to be conveyed.
“Oi, Marko! Come back! Do you intend to leave us behind!?” (Oiva)
Those were words whose meaning Oiva himself didn’t comprehend. However, they were sincere. He has made a vow with Marko. Towards the future where Marko is heading… he was a person who began to walk through life towards some far journey. Now that he was aware of that fulfilment, he can’t return anymore. He doesn’t want to return. Oiva had no intention at all to go back to those days where he sulked in bed with booze in his hands. That’s why he stacked up powerful words.
“Not yet, right!? Marko, it shouldn’t be yet! It’s definitely not yet!!” (Oiva)
He repeatedly shouted cryptic words, however, it definitely had an effect on the boy. He blinked in succession and light was lit in his blue eyes. Expression returned to his face. Having tightened his lips, which were opened slightly, he produced a smile.
“… Sorry, I dreamed for a bit. It seems that I was affected by the heat of the flames.” (Marko)
It was Marko. Anything and everything coming back then and there, the 13 years old Marko smiled in that place. Although Oiva was happy, he also lost his bearing at the same time. Oiva suffered a hallucination as if having spent quite the long time.
“Well then, let’s run. Nothing has ended yet after all.” (Marko)
Turning the neck of his horse towards the east, he began to gallop. He gallops while being basked in the heat of the flames in the back. He gallops even as he gets further away and the air cools down. Yes, the strategy still hasn’t finished. Only death is waiting if they stop here. Oiva looked at the back with a glance. The fortress, which has gradually become distant, seems to be a bonfire lit at daytime. Smoke rises higher and higher.
… Like this the first campaign of Asuria Kingdom’s Third Princess’ Royal Guard Unit has come to an end.
They were able to procure huge military gains, now, in the Plain of Wandering Calamity where it was just the beginning of the war. Because those achievements were too enormous, neither Asuria Kingdom nor Eberia Empire were able to cope with it immediately. They rejected it as those believing in common sense. The facts in front of them were too absurd to accept them for what they are. That wasn’t unusual.
Three regiments of the Imperial army numbering 10.000 soldiers were crushed.
Overwhelming 1.800 prisoners.
The captured warhorses number overwhelming 2.900.
A great number of plundered items.
And… the destruction of the Imperial army’s northern front-line fortress.
At the time the military gains became definitely visible, they turned into a roaring thunder that caused a huge shock in both countries. The name of Asuria Kingdom’s Third Princess’ Royal Guard Unit has been etched into history. The dreadfulness of its first campaign made future historians admire them and at the same time likely made them cock their heads in puzzlement. Why was such a thing possible? Was such a thing really possible? The historians don’t know about it, the shape of that truth, its horror.
At that time Marko’s name was merely added as the lowest seat of the Royal Guard Unit. The commander is Akseli to the bitter end. Kustaa is the commander of the detached forces. In military records and tactic history one will only find those two names. Marko’s reality was never specified there.
And yet his military fame has become known. The boy from a frontier region, who devoted himself to the princess, he with his youthfulness of 13 years, fought to the bitter end as one rider of the light cavalry unit. Crossing the Plains of Wandering Calamity with merely 1.500 riders, he is one of those who broke into an empire’s fortress. To say nothing of it being something tremendous as it was officially their first campaign. He is known in a shape far distant from the truth and yet Marko obtained fame.
However, among those living in the same era and breathing the same battlefield air… there are. There are people who began to notice something, sensing a physical disorder. The person, who was the first in the Eberia Empire, was called by the name Terencio Balcello. His rank is that of a Lieutenant Colonel in the Imperial army. He commands a light cavalry unit numbering 1.500 riders.
That man was known for his nickname, “Blacksnake.”