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“Your Majesty, please look! The signal from Fort Loylops!”
Looking at the fort, one could see a person drawing a big circle with a torch atop the wall. It was the sign marking that the advance party had not only gained control over the catapults, but the fort itself.
Hearing the report, the king loudly slapped his own knees.
“Well done, Lobnas! ――Now then, everyone! Get everything ready for crossing the river! The time to invade Holmea is finally upon us!”
Upon King Doldea’s decree, Romania’s army camp immediately became as busy as a beehive. The officers put on their armor, the soldiers loaded provisions and materials on the ships. All while their faces were a depiction of joy and excitement.
But that was only understandable. For a long time Holmea and Romania had shared a fateful connection of being bitter enemies. And now they’d be able to attack their archenemy at long last. It was inevitable for all soldiers to be filled with thrill. And among all them it was the king who was excited the most.
His face, covered by age-worn wrinkles and smudges, was flushing like that of a young boy about to go on a big adventure. He impatiently raced back and forth in front of his own royal boat as it was steadily getting ready for departure.
With him acting so obviously, even the lords and commanders couldn’t help but to smile wryly, commenting on the king’s youthful impatience while watching him, but soon running out of patience, King Doldea started to suggest something outrageous.
“We should cross the Labian with my ship taking the lead!”
No matter how anyone looked at it, this was way too reckless an idea. An old king being the vanguard with his retainers following in his wake would look bad to anyone watching. Just as the lords and commander racked their brains how they should dissuade the king with his childish exhilaration from this rash endeavor, the loud, high-pitched laughter of a girl drowned out all other noise in the vicinity.
“Father, you’re acting just like a kid, don’t you know!?”
The one standing at the epicenter of the voice was a girl with shining blond hair extending down all the way to her hips. For Romania, which considered it good manners for women to orderly knit their hair into braids, her casual, messy hairstyle was an offense without counterpart. She might be a noble or royal daughter, but far from wearing a dress, her body was clad in boorish armor. However, her somewhat rough overall appearance looked good on her for some reason, if you coupled it with her looks that could only be described as lovely.
The instant he spotted the young warrior girl, King Doldea smiled broadly, “Ohh, Piarta!?”
The girl was Piarta, the youngest princess on whom King Doldea dotted quite a bit. Of course, no one fathomed a bloody battlefield to be the right place for noble children ― and especially royal princesses ― to visit. However, not one of the lords and commanders was surprised about seeing her here.
That was no wonder.
Princess Piarta had earned herself the nickname Tomboy Princess thanks to her various actions and speeches you’d never expect of a royal princess. This nickname, which no one would usually attach to a royal princess, was decided upon four years ago.
At a tender age of thirteen, Piarta’s engagement to the eldest son of a high-ranking domestic noble was set in stone. The young girl stormed the home of the noble in question with the few friends she had, claiming that she wanted to learn of her future spouse’s strength. And there she beat him, who was two years older and had learned the basics in swordsmanship and horse-riding from a retainer as it was custom among legitimate noble children, in swordsmanship, horse-riding, archery, and on top of that, hand-to-hand combat.
As might be expected, the high-ranking noble had no choice but to request a withdrawal of the engagement from the king, seeing how he couldn’t handle the young princess. Hearing about this, King Doldea was surprised, summoned Piarta and chided her for this behavior.
“Piarta’s dream is to punish Holmea together with you, father!” However, far from shying away when faced with a sermon, Piarta threw out her small chest while making that proud proclamation. “With this, I’ll be considered an unmanageable princess by all the weak, cowardly noble children. Hence I want you, father, to offer Piarta to someone you see fitting in line with my wish without any regards to lineage! Piarta is then going to defeat Holmea as your vanguard together with that husband!”
A girl, who was merely thirteen years old, willingly requested to be exploited as a tool for her father’s ambitions. This caused even the king to be overcome with deep emotions.
Even though he told her to refrain from acting like that ever again, the king went out of his way to personally apologize to the noble and call off Piarta’s betrothal.
This chain of events was leaked at some point by someone, resulting in it becoming a common story known by anyone frequenting the royal palace. And even afterwards, the stories about her didn’t stay limited to this one. She gathered people with too much free time on their hands, such as second and third noble sons, and held pseudo military drills with them. All of this led to the nobles calling Piarta Tomboy Princess behind her back.
With her once again butting in uninvited without the slightest care for appropriateness, the lords and commanders watched the young princess with bitter smiles on their lips as she cheerfully laughed in defiance of their looks.
“Father, attacking Holmea is a long-cherished dream shared by everyone. If you snatch their precious chance to lead the charge, it’ll only earn you their resentment later down the line, father.”
Finally noticing from his daughter’s words that he had been too edgy, King Doldea slapped his own forehead, “Hohohoho! It is just as you say, Piarta. I got a tiny bit too excited.”
Having received a stinging rebuke by his beloved daughter, King Doldea quickly realized his own childishness.
“So, tell me Piarta, who should be given the honor of taking the vanguard?”
His daughter firmly refused, “That is nothing a woman like me should comment on,” but once her father insisted on hearing her opinion by telling her, “Just regard it as a little whim of mine, will you?”, Piarta answered after pondering for a bit, “I think the soldiers of His Excellency Lobnas would be a great choice. Their commander has splendidly stolen the fort from Holmea, thus we should grant his soldiers the honor to lead the charge. What do you think? Also, I’m sure, the soldiers wish to join up with their commander as soon as possible. As such, I’m certain they will do everything possible to show us outstanding efforts when we’re going to attack Barrier Fortress Masalkar.”
King Doldea nodded several times in plain satisfaction at his daughter’s suggestion.
“It is truly just as you say, Piarta. ――Everyone, arrange for it.”
A feeling of relief spread among the lords and commanders, who had watched the exchange between father and daughter anxiously, for the moment.
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“Your Highness, please refrain from doing anything that would draw everyone’s antipathy upon yourself.” A woman in knightly armor with her long, silver braids hanging down her back advised Piarta, who was heading for the tent assigned to her after leaving the headquarters, while following the princess a few steps behind.
“I know, I know. ――Demetria, stop being as naggy as my wet nurse.”
The girl called Demetria was the daughter of Piarta’s wet nurse and her foster sister as they had shared the same milk. And nowadays she always remained at the princess’s side as her most trusted first knight.
“If this is what you believe, then please act a bit more carefully. I do not enjoy being naggy either.”
Demetria’s words were strict, but her voice carried a deep trust and affection for the young princess. For this reason, Piarta would never try to keep Demetria at distance, even if she might pretend to be annoyed by her.
Suddenly someone called out to that pair of princess and personal knight.
“Your Highness, would you be able to spare me a moment?”
As soon as Piarta looked back, her eyes widened slightly. The one she found heading her way was Daraios, the marshal of Romania’s army who should be the busiest person in the camp now that they were about to cross the river.
“Oh my, I didn’t expect you to call out to me, Your Excellency.”
Piarta cast a sweet smile at the broadminded marshal that went far beyond mere courtesy as she harbored a considerable amount of good will towards him. Due to that, Daraios fleetingly glanced behind Piarta.
“Has my granddaughter been useful to you, Your Highness?”
The one at the end of his line of sight was Demetria.
“I have her assist me on various accounts. She’s so helpful that I would have married her a while ago, had I been a man.”
“Now, that is wonderful to hear. If she wasn’t married to His Highness Goldia, I’d have considered it under a positive light.”
In Romania it was frowned upon for royalty to successively marry into the same noble family, because it’d hamper the effort of maintaining a balance between the different noble factions within the kingdom. Daraios had responded, using that fact as joke material, causing both to laugh for a while.
Once she finished laughing, Piarta put on a serious expression and asked, “Let’s leave the jokes at that since I’m sure Demetria is glaring behind me. ――So, what is the reason for you having called out to me, Your Excellency?”
Daraios knew that Piarta hated pretentiousness and loved for things to proceed in a simple, concise manner, and thus he got straight to the point, “What do you think about the upcoming river crossing, Your Highness?”
That was a difficult question. It was the king himself who had decided to cross the river. Even as a princess, she wouldn’t be able to escape an accusation of lese majeste, if she openly denounced the king’s decree. But, Piarta knew Daraios to not be a man who would use others’ words against them, and therefore answered honestly, “…I feel like things are going too well for us. ――How about you, Your Excellency?”
Dodging a clear statement after having the question thrown back at him, the marshal answered, “War is like an ill-nature barmaid. Even if you try to win her favor through various means, she’ll merely show you the cold shoulder. And just when you believe to have finally dragged her into your bed, she’ll demand an exorbitant price.”
Demetria cleared her throat artificially as soon as Daraios finished speaking.
“Your Excellency, you are in the presence of the princess. Please refrain from using vulgar examples.”
“Pardon me, this certainly was a blunder on my side. I simply forgot that I had the princess standing in front of me.”
He added insult to the injury with this, but Piarta cheerfully responded with a joke of her own instead.
“Your Excellency, it sounds like you have many heroic tales to tell not only about your exploits on the battlefield during daytime, but also your conquests in bed during the night. I’d love to get a full account of the details whenever you find some time.” Once again, Piarta got reprimanded by Demetria, but she simply shrugged it off, and further added to Daraios, “In other words, you’re asking for my opinion because you also suspect that something strange is going on, right Your Excellency?”
Piarta was ridiculed as Tomboy Princess by her surroundings, but with her being a woman, and moreover, this being her first campaign, she wasn’t as brazen as to march into the headquarters with a big attitude. Until now, she had quietly stuck to her own camp at the edge of Romania’s army camp as long as she wasn’t summoned by the king. Piarta now being at the headquarters stemmed from Daraios having invited her to encourage the king before the river crossing.
“Now, I wonder what you might be talking about,” asked Daraios while suddenly playing dumb, although it was clear that she had hit bull’s eye.
However, Piarta didn’t show the slightest hint of feeling offended by his blunt pretense.
Even if he might be the marshal, he was still no more than one of many retainers. It’d be one thing if he had clear evidence, but it’d be next to impossible to restrain King Doldea, who was currently roaring to go, with a vague reasoning that things going too smoothly for them triggered a bad premonition. Also, a clash of opinions between the king and his marshal right before a battle would be anything but smart with all the lords and commanders in attendance.
In that regard, if the opinion came from Piarta, the king would lend her an ear, and the other retainers would lightly play it down as nonsense of a clueless woman. Piarta knew that he had brought this up with her based on such anticipation.
“Your Excellency, you’re going to owe me one for this.”
Daraios guffawed at that.
“It looks like I’ve incurred a debt which is going to haunt me in the future.”
After separating from Daraios who had to take command over the river crossing following soon after, Piarta returned to her own camp together with Demetria. King Doldea’s decree to cross the river had already reached her camp. Piarta’s soldier were busy finishing the last preparations.
Weaving her way through the hustle and bustle, Piarta went to the end of her camp. Over there a squad of brawny knights surrounded a small rock. They were especially loyal and tight-lipped even among the men led by Piarta. And the one sitting atop the rock encircled by those knights was a single, lovely girl.
She was covered with a huge cloth reaching from her head all the way to her toes. Her round and cute eyes were turned towards the west.
Noticing Piarta’s arrival, the knight performed a knight’s greeting as it was done on the battlefield, namely placing their left fist on their breastplate and lightly lowering their heads. With a slight delay, the girl also became aware of Piarta’s presence, and tried to stand up, but the princess prevented it with a light wave of her hand.
“No need for formalities. ――Rather than that, did you find out anything, Lala?”
The girl called Lala turned her eyes westwards once more. Just when Piarta started to wonder whether the girl was gazing at western sky, Lala started to mumble intermittently, “Fort…go…enemy…thousand.”
Piarta folded her arms in response and brooded for a while.
“Hmm. ――Are you saying a thousand soldiers are heading towards Loylops from Masalkar to relieve the fort?”
Piarta nodded at Piarta’s question, “Yes, Princess. There’s no doubt about that.”
She said with confidence as if she could look beyond the Labian, but not a single person present in this place had a trace of doubt about her words.
“A thousand, huh…? ――Isn’t that too few?”
Lobnas has taken a suicide corps of 500 men with him. Even if the numbers might have decreased due to battle and accidents during the river crossing, he should have at least 300 men left. A thousand soldiers are too few a number to quickly assault a fort held by that many enemy soldiers.
“Was the information about the majority of the 『Black Wall』 having headed to the west to subjugate the revolting slaves really true?” Demetria asked Piarta as she apparently harbored the same doubts as the princess.
With Romania about to cross the river with its fleet, the crucial recapture of Loylops was a race against time. If they couldn’t stop the ships that would cross over one after another, Masalkar would be in jeopardy, no matter how sturdy the fort might be.
And yet they’re only sending a thousand soldiers to Loylops. This only allows the conclusion that the enemy is severely lacking soldiers right now.
“They’ve been the attackers, but I think even Lobnas will be able to persist in defending the fort with so few adversaries. ――I guess I was worried for nothing, huh? With this I’d only have displeased the lords and commanders,” said Piarta while revealing a self-deprecating smile.
But, having reached a clear solution, Piarta immediately switched her mood. Ordering Lala to keep monitoring the fort just like that, she returned to her camp and took command of the preparations.
Piarta was going around, observing how the soldiers folded their tents and got their luggage ready, but then a knight suddenly ran up to her. With a tense look on his face, he hurriedly saluted and reported to Piarta, “It is a disaster, Your Highness! Just moments ago, your prized slave…”
At that point, the knight held his tongue. That’s because Piarta was scowling at him with calm, seething rage in her eyes.
“I don’t intend to fault you for things you say in places where my ears don’t reach. But, don’t you dare calling Lala and the others prized slaves in front of me,” said the princess with a flat voice, suppressing her anger, but it still allowed the knight to perceive that he had just incurred Piarta’s anger.
Lala was a cherished slave owned by Piarta. But, after being bought by Piarta for her special ability, Lala had been freed from slavery and got hired as new attendant. Because of that, many still called her a prized slave of the tomboy princess behind her back, but that was taboo in front of Piarta. The knight, who had carelessly forgotten about it because he was in such a hurry, apologized with a ghastly pale face.
“Your Highness, something must have happened. I think we should prioritize listening to Lala for now.”
Piarta’s anger lost its target thanks to Demetria’s words which covered for the knight’s blunder.
“Pay attention so it never happens again. ――So, what happened to Lala?”
“A-At your will! According to Lala…”
Piarta at first furrowed her eyebrows while listening to the knight’s explanation, but gradually surprise overtook her face.
“…Did Lala really say that?”
“Yes, without a doubt.”
Getting astonished by the knight’s answer once more, Piarta exchanged a look with Demetria who was just as surprised.
“Your Highness, I cannot believe this all of a sudden, but if it is really true, it is a dire situation!”
“Lala has no reason to lie to us. I’ll head to the headquarters at once! Demetria, come with me!” Piarta ordered, and then said towards the knight, “――If there’s any new information from Lala, contact me at once. And, make absolutely sure that Lala and the others don’t attract the attention of other people!”
With those words, Piarta abandoned the river crossing preparations, and ran towards the Labian’s ferry point with only Demetria following her.
Once they arrived, King Doldea was just about to place a foot on the gangplank onto his own ship with all his lords and commanders assembled.
Piarta shouted while rushing towards the ferry point, “Father! Please stop the river crossing!”
The retainers frowned at her yelling. Because she was the king’s beloved daughter, they had been turning a blind eye to some of her tomboyish shenanigans, but as might be expected, they couldn’t ignore statements that would obstruct the army’s operation. Several put on grim expressions and tried to step in front of Piarta to block her from getting closer.
“What has happened, Princess Piarta!?”
However, Daraios called out to her to rein in those retainers. The people, who had tried to restrain Piarta, staggered at once due to Daraios approving Piarta to speak.
Piarta signaled her gratitude with a quick look at Daraios, knelt down in front of the king, and quickly rattled down, “Father, it is of utmost importance! Please stop the river crossing and withdraw the soldiers!”
“Just what is wrong, Piarta?”
The king had never seen Piarta in such a panic. Usually she always boldly and proudly weathered through everything, even when getting scolded for unladylike behavior.
King Doldea stepped off the gangplank, as he was inclined to listen to Piarta.
“Father, this is a trap!”
“A trap, you say…?”
“Indeed! Fort Loylops has already been retaken by Holmea!”
Impossible…, thought the king, just for one of the ships to blow up behind him as it was crossing the river.
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