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The darkness faded at the horizon of the eastern sky, and the sun was in the process of blessing this day with her presence.
Kureys Shahim Balamir witnessed that moment for the first time in a long while. It might actually be his first time after stepping into Brune. Many were sleeping at this time of the day, and even those who woke up were still in their tents.
Kureys walked outside the camp while having his cheeks tickled by a refreshing wind that wasn’t laden with heat yet. He was clad in a comfortable attire with wide sleeves. The one accompanying him was no one else but Damad.
Suddenly Kureys stopped his feet, and looked up to the distant wall of the royal capital Nice, as if a skilled artisan was scrutinizing the progress of his own work.
“Yesterday was the thirtieth day, huh?” That murmur sounded like a monologue, but Damad still confirmed it.
Different from his lord, he wore leather armor and had a sword hanging at his waist.
“Have you heard what I said about how many days it would take to conquer the capital?” Kureys inquired.
“I heard you mentioned 45 days.” Damad replied.
The reason why he could immediately recall that number was because Damad couldn’t hide his surprise when he heard about it through a close aide of Kureys. He had wondered about it taking this many days, even if it might be a country’s capital.
However, right now Damad couldn’t hide his surprise in a different sense. It’s because he could believe that conquering the capital might really need another fifteen days when looking up the wall like this. Once again Damad felt a deep respect toward his lord’s discernment.
His lord further said, “Let me correct myself a bit. It will take another ten days. Ekrem has reduced the number of days with his interesting ideas.” Turning on his heels, Kureys headed back to the camp, saying, “Double the number of scouting parties starting with today,” as if it was something insignificant.
Damad narrowed his eyes, looking puzzled and asking, “With all due respect, for what reason?”
“Obviously to find the enemy, no?” Kureys replied in a dither.
Murat’s report that the ships had been burned down in the port of Massilia was delivered yesterday late at night. Murat also reported that he would go south to put the situation in order.
Kureys considered the possibility of the enemy, who set the ships ablaze, coming here. Going by my forecast, our side should be slightly faster with the conquest of the capital, but in a war you never knew what might happen. One should be prepared in advance.
The soldiers of the Moonlight Knight Army, who had endured the siege battle of the thirtieth day, were all exhausted with no one being unhurt. There were many who were sleeping while standing with the support of their spears and who were laying down while still wearing their armors atop the wall.
The current number of soldiers was approximately 35,000. The casualties, which were below 500 in the first ten days, had now exceeded 5,000. In the last days, the number of casualties and injured people had been increasing rapidly.
Lim, who had finished her short greeting with Rurick in the morning of that day, noticed that he was walking while limping. It wasn’t an injury, but fatigue. There were also faint stubbles left on his head.
── I have also reached a level where I can’t get rid of my fatigue any longer with a little bit of rest.
Lim sighed while climbing the stairs towards the top of the wall with her helmet under her arm. Her body was so drained that she felt like flinging off her armor. Same with her spear and sword.
They had long run out of arrows and stones. Likewise there was no oil and firewood left that could be used for the battle. If they used any more, the number of torches illuminating the nights would diminish. Not only would it inform the enemy of their dire situation, but it would also make them consider night attacks. That was something they had to avoid.
── Only defending with shields and fighting with spears and swords puts us at a big disadvantage against the enemy’s overwhelming numbers. The Muozinel army had likely aimed for that and attacked without sparing any sacrifices from the very start. Our side knew that as well, but we had no other choice for the sake of defending the wall.
As she reached the wall’s top, the sunlight felt depressing to her.
Lim caught sight of Mashas who had put on his helmet, and called out to him, “Good morning, Lord Mashas.”
“Ooh, Lady Limalisha, huh? A good morning to you as well.” Turning her way, Mashas’ face was deeply steeped with fatigue. His armor and helmet were full of cuts and dents.
Up until the twentieth day, he had watched the movements across all wall sections without leaving the royal palace as much as possible. But, since a few days ago, he had taken command on-site. He had also brandished his own sword several times. Lim and Mashas lined up next to each other, looking down on the ground. Both of them were tired out, lacking even the leeway to exchange a light chat.
“How’s the situation in the castle town?” Lim muttered eventually.
Mashas rubbed his starchy, gray beard, “As of yesterday their numbers dropped below 20,000. It’s a salvation that their dissatisfaction hasn’t erupted yet.”
The residents of the capital were also exhausted from the long battle. What kept their discontent at bay was the still-existing leeway on food and water, Regin still showing herself and listening to the people’s worries, and the fact that the casualties were buried on Mount Ruberion, the center of the capital, regardless of their positions and social standings.
The burial was something Regin had ordered, but being entombed on Mount Ruberion was originally something only permitted to those who had achieved quite the meritorious deeds. It was an incredible honor. But then again, this wasn’t just Regin’s little gratitude towards the soldiers, but also a pragmatic decision based on the lack of another burying ground. Until now the dead of the capital had been buried along the road outside the walls.
“Her Highness Regin is even now bestowing us with her presence on the wall. The soldiers and knights not breaking down as of yet is probably thanks to her.” Lim said.
“Yeah, it’s very appreciated.” Mashas confirmed.
So far Regin had visited various places in the castle town or showed up on the wall during the day, but nowadays that had been limited to morning and evening. She was wearing make-up to hide her own fatigue, but during the day’s heat the make-up came off as she was sweating.
How many days longer do we have to endure? How far have Tigre and the others come? Such questions popped up in Mashas’ and Lim’s minds, but in the end neither of them touched on that topic.
“Today as well. Right, let’s fight today as well.” Lim encouraged Mashas and herself.
“Aye, let’s protect these walls to the end.” Mashas replied.
At the end of their lines of sight, soldiers carrying siege ladders appeared out of the Muozinel army’s camp.
In the last few days, they had also started to attack the other three wall sections. Leaning the siege ladders against the walls inside the moats, they slowly descended the ladders so as to not break them, and then climbed them on the other side of the moat again. Having no ranged weapons at hand also meant that the Muozinel soldiers were allowed to do as they pleased.
With each passing day, the casualties and injured people among the Moonlight Knight Army continued to grow. Even if more than 30,000 soldiers were still alive, less than 60% of them were still mobile. Because the Muozinel army continued to attack the wall from all four directions, the number of those, who couldn’t move anymore out of fatigue, was steadily increasing.
And yet, the Moonlight Knight Army continued to desperately defend the walls.
On one occasion, Muozinel soldiers, who climbed the wall, proudly hoisted their battle flag. However, they were repelled by Lyudmila Lourie, and their flag was tossed away alongside them.
They had used up their stamina long ago and were now moving on willpower alone, but even the limit to that came into sight.
When the battle of the 35th day ended, the number of the Moonlight Knight Army’s soldiers had fallen below 30,000. More than half of them were injured. If there were some who fell asleep in the middle of the battle, there were also others who were overrun by the enemy when their bodies became unable to move, even though they had the will to continue fighting, and crumbled on the spot.
There was still some leeway with the food provisions, but the number of those having the flexibility to eat that food plummeted. Because they would fall asleep after eating too much, the number of those, who only ate the bare minimum, had grown.
It had reached the point that Kureys visited the tents of the soldiers in the Muozinel camp while accompanied by his aides to convey his personal encouragement to them. That gave the soldiers the hunch that the fall of the wall was imminent.
On the day when the 38th battle over the wall came to an end, Kureys gave all soldiers a break of one day. Because of that, there was no battle on the 39th day, but that didn’t mean that the Moonlight Knight Army could rest up sufficiently. Being afraid of the enemy’s surprise attacks, Lim, Mila, Mashas, and Olivier kept their naps down to the utmost limit, and even the other soldiers’ sleep was shallow because of their fatigue and nervousness.
Succumbing to the anxiety that the calmness around the walls was a harbinger of something bad, the capital’s residents secluded themselves in their homes, praying to the gods.
On the evening of the 39th day, Kureys summoned his generals into his tent. Facing the kneeling generals, Kureys, who wore an emerald attire and had a violet cloth coiled around his head, calmly announced, “We will start the attack one koku before dawn breaks.”
The generals starting with Ekrem and Yargash bowed their heads in reverence. From the beginning of this battle until today they had never been ordered to attack before dawn.
The number of Muozinel soldiers surrounding the capital was approximately 90,000. At the start the death toll had been high, but as the Moonlight Knight Army tired out and used up their weapons, the number of casualties dropped. And, among these 90,000 soldiers there wasn’t a single one who couldn’t move out of fatigue.
“Attack the north, west, and east with 10,000 soldiers as up until now. As for the south, I shall give each of you, Ekrem, Yargash, 25,000 soldiers. I will be on standby together with 10,000 soldiers behind you. Go at it with the intention to use up all of them.” Kureys ordered.
The generals gave their supreme commander short confirmations.
Mila, who had taken a nap in a corner of the wall, woke up from a cold wind tickling her cheek.
“Lavias…?” She mumbled dozily.
Her draconic tool, which she had embraced at the time of falling asleep, was now warning its owner by faintly shining at its spearhead that seemed to be made out of ice. Mila sobered up in an instant.
Her surroundings were still dim. Night hadn’t come to an end yet. However, she could hear noise from a distant place.
“So you’re saying they’ve come already!?” Mila stood up as she spit out in irritation. At that moment she felt giddy, forcing her to be aware of her own fatigue, whether she liked it or not.
“Tigre, when are you going to arrive? The capital and Regin are already at their limit.” Mila griped.
And yet, her trying to insist on herself not being at her limit yet might be a manifestation of her pride.
The sounds of drums and horns reverberated. The Muozinel soldiers had already shown up atop the wall, completely taking the Moonlight Knight Army by surprise.
Brandishing Lavias, Mila stabbed a Muozinel soldier alongside his leather armor, or ripped him apart. However, Muozinel soldiers appeared from other places in succession, swooping down on Mila. Without faltering, she mowed down her ice spear, defeating two enemy soldiers at once. Furthermore, she tripped up another enemy with a sweep, and frightened the Muozinel soldiers by scattering freezing air from the spearhead’s top, causing them to flinch.
Cheers were audible in a corner of the wall. Looking in that direction, wondering what might have happened, Mila stared in wonder. Regin was standing there. She didn’t hold a sword herself, but her two guards were wielding their swords, not allowing the Muozinel soldiers to get close to her.
“Everyone! Now! Now is the critical moment! Stand up! The battle still hasn’t ended!” Regin shouted.
Seeing Regin, and hearing her yelling, the soldiers came back to life.
The princess had visited the wall almost every day. There existed many soldiers who were deeply moved after being greeted by her. It was impossible for them to mishear her voice or mistake her face.
Raising angry roars with slightly strange voices, the Brune soldiers desperately slashed, pummeled, and stabbed away at the Muozinel soldiers. Above all else, their vigor caused the Muozinel soldiers to falter.
However, beating the Muozinel soldiers off the wall bought no more than little time. A fresh supply of troops appeared in no time, rushing at the Brune soldiers while swinging their swords and spears. Once again the Brune soldiers started to be pushed back. Although they frantically wielded their swords, the number of Muozinel soldiers gradually grew and they drew near Regin.
Claude and Selena, who served as Regin’s guards, had been slaying one approaching Muozinel soldier after the other, but contributed to their fatigue of helping out every day, both quickly started to gasp, and it became obvious that they wouldn’t be able to hold out long. And yet, Regin didn’t move from the spot. She stood firmly and gazed ahead.
The struggle between the Muozinel soldiers, who tried to crush them with their overwhelming numbers, and the Brune soldiers, who tried to force them back at the peak of their morale, continued, creating countless puddles of blood at their feet. The pools of blood were stirred up by their feet and the fallen corpses, leaving a great number of crooked stains behind.
Before long Lim, Mashas, and Olivier rushed atop the wall while leading their own troops, but they couldn’t even get close to Regin who was stopped back by the Muozinel soldiers. Just like them, Mila had her hands full just dealing with the enemies in front of her. Even if she wanted to use her draconic skills, she hadn’t the leeway to do so anymore.
And, at the time when dawn was about to break, surprise dyed Regin’s blue eyes. What she was looking at weren’t the Muozinel soldiers swarming the wall, neither her own soldiers, but something several hundred alsin behind the Muozinel army on the ground.
Over there, close to 20,000 cavalrymen were lining up, flying the red horse and the black dragon flags.
Switching to a smile as delight welled up within her, Regin spontaneously shouted, “Tigre…!”
“Brune’s army has appeared in our rear!”
At the time when a soldier came reporting, unable to hide his surprise and fretfulness, Kureys had been observing the battle progress on his palanquin as usual, but it was no wonder that he looked down with a dumbfounded expression at the soldier.
The enemy appearing was no surprise. However, having expected as much, Kureys had doubled the amount of scouts and sent them out in the vicinity ten days ago. The Brune army having splendidly slipped through this net was unforeseen.
But, when he expressed his admiration with a “Hoh,” Kureys had already regained his usual calm. Him being dumbfounded probably didn’t last even the span of a single breath.
Once he heard that the enemy had around 20,000 soldiers, Red Beard’s sunken-in eyes lit up, and he coolly said, “Call back Yargash. The others are to continue.”
The soldier hurriedly ran off in order to pass on that order. A smile surfaced on Kureys’ lips which were hidden by his red beard. A fighting spirit that welled up within him and a feeling of exaltation rapidly filled Kureys. He ordered his subordinates to turn about. Once he made his soldiers turn around in the short time of a quarter toki, despite the sky still being gloomy, Kureys boldly grinned towards the enemy army that was approaching his own.
“Now then, what’s going to take place first. My death, Star Shooter‘s death, or the capital’s death?” Kureys was convinced to find Tigre within those 20,000 soldiers.
Now a battle broke out even on the surface.
The 20,000 of the Moonlight Knight Army led by Tigrevurmud Vorn took two measures after hearing about the success of the Severac Knight Squadron and heading north: First, splitting the 20,000 soldiers into units of 100 and 200 soldiers while allowing them to only carry enough food for a few days. And second, having decided on their way points, they adopted the method of hurrying onward if a certain number of people arrived at the destination without waiting for the straddlers.
After shortening the distance to the capital by repeating this process many times over, Tigre informed his soldiers of their last destination. It was the ground, where he had encountered Muozinel soldiers right before the beginning of this war, when he headed out for reconnaissance while leading the scouting party by himself.
Tigre split the 20,000 soldiers in subdivisions and had them stay hidden at that place, which had a bad visibility as it was dotted with hills, lush forests and rivers. And until the trailing soldiers arrived, he carefully dispatched reconnaissance units to scout out the Muozinel army’s state.
It’s not that Kureys didn’t know about that area having a complicated terrain. However, his ultimate goal was the capital. Thus, for the time being he had limited his interest to checking the maps and trusting the reports of the scouting parties. Tigre, who had checked it with his own eyes, slightly exceeded Red Beard in his knowledge of the region.
Tigre wore leather armor atop his linen clothes, and grasped his black bow in the left hand and the reins in his right. His clothes and the armor were stained at several places with dirt and mud. He had equipped a quiver each on the left and right side of his saddle. A soldier behind him had additional quivers at hand.
Elen wore her usual lightweight equipment consisting of shoulder and leg armors being attached atop her battle attire that used blue as basic color. Her armor and clothes were also stained. However, she didn’t look as if she minded it. She held a longsword in her right hand, and grasped the reins with her left.
Bouroullec commanded 5,000 soldiers at the left rear flank of the army. His duty was to support the attack, and eliminate all those interfering.
Tigre and Elen, who were spearheading the army, lifted their respective weapons high up in the air. The Brune soldier and the Zhcted soldier riding next to them each brandished the battle flags of the two countries. This was the signal for the charge.
The Muozinel army in front of them had likely spotted Tigre’s army by now. However, there was no reason for them to announce their presence to the entire enemy army by blowing the horns.
“Attack!” Tigre yelled and spurred his horse.
Elen galloped next to the youth. And 20,000 cavalrymen followed those two. 80,000 horse hooves kicked up a cloud of dust and caused the ground to tremble.
The distance to the enemy was approximately 500 alsin. That’s why they didn’t let their horses gallop at full strength at first. Quickening the gallop would shorten the distance to the enemy a lot faster.
Elen went slightly ahead of Tigre. At that time 10,000 soldiers of the Muozinel army had already finished turning about to meet the enemy in battle. The countless spears lining up without any gaps had their sharp spearheads point at the Moonlight Knight Army.
However, far from slowing down her horse after seeing that, Elen actually spurred it on even further. Her ruby eyes were tinged with a vivid hue, and the wind swelling with a desire for battle made her silver hair flutter. Mowing down the swarm of pushed-out spears with Arifar, Elen made her horse jump over the enemy line.
The cool morning air was quickly pregnant with the heat of the hot blood surging out of the bodies. The Muozinel soldiers wore leather armor. Such armor cleverly combined flexibility and sturdiness, but in front of longswords that easily cut through iron armor, it didn’t bear much of a meaning. Three Muozinel soldiers had their heads separated from their shoulders in succession, dying on the spot. Before the commanding officer directing the soldiers lining up there could even form the order to crush the Vanadis to death with his mouth, a single arrow pierced his forehead, reaping his life. It was the first arrow Tigre shot in this battle.
Following Elen and Tigre, the Moonlight Knight Army’s cavalry flooded in. The Muozinel soldiers got ready and met the swords and spears coming at them from atop the horses with their own spears. But, it wasn’t simple for them to hold back the mass of cavalry riding the momentum of its charge.
Elen halved the speed of her horse, but that was for the sake of protecting Tigre who had been firing one arrow after the other next to her. The sound of his bowstring was drowned out by the commotion of the other weapons clashing against each other, and only reached Tigre’s ears, but each time an arrow left the string, the Muozinel soldiers lost a commanding officer, resulting in an intensification of their disorder.
It’s not that there were no Muozinel soldiers, who changed their weapons from spear to bow and aimed at Elen and Tigre, in this situation. However, not a single of their arrows hit either of them. The wind surrounding the two blew away all approaching arrows.
“Not being able to assist the arrows shot by Tigre with the wind of Arifar is certainly a bitter aspect.” Elen muttered.
Adding too much power to the arrows would instead make them veer off course. Elen didn’t possess the ability to make an arrow hit a target 300 alsin away, which might become the reason for the aim to be off-point.
At any rate, Tigre had to make his arrows hit solely based on his own ability, but there wasn’t any problem with that. Tigre shot down enemies at places where swords didn’t reach at a frightening level of speed and precision while being protected by Elen.
The units that had lost their commanding officers turned into a bunch of blindfolded wanderers. Unable to grasp their own position within the large army, they could only follow the tide while jostling against the allies all around them, just to be defeated after popping out in front of the enemy.
Tigre and Elen deeply cut through the enemy line with great vigor, but they still didn’t reach Kureys. On the contrary, receiving a fierce attack at their flank, their advance came to a halt.
The ones that snapped at the left side of the Moonlight Knight Army were the 25,000 soldiers under Yargash. It was Ekrem’s unit that had been attacking the southern wall section, and Yargash’s unit had been on standby, waiting for their turn. That’s why they had been able to answer Kureys’ call at once. By merging with Yargash’s unit, the number of the Muozinel army surpassed the Moonlight Knight Army’s by far, growing to 35,000 soldiers in total.
“Cut all their heads off and bring them in front of me! I will give you one gold coin per head! No matter what head it is!” Yargash boosted the Muozinel soldiers’ morale. They had to stop these 20,000 enemies at any cost, not allowing even a single enemy soldier to get close to Kureys.
Yargash’s army began to devour the Moonlight Knight Army’s flank with the force of starved beasts. Piercing the horses with their spears, slashing at the cavalrymen’s legs with their swords, and jumping as well as clinging to their enemies, they tried to drag down each cavalryman with many of their own.
Tigre and Elen were at the head of the army. There was no way for them to fall back. They had their hands full with cutting and shooting down the Muozinel soldiers swooping down on them as if it was the crucial moment.
But, the time for Yargash’s army to act as they pleased was all too short. The 5,000 soldiers led by Bouroullec determinedly thrust into their right flank, causing them to falter.
“To the front! Victory is in front of our eyes!” Bouroullec brandished his hatchet-like sword, defeating a Muozinel soldier.
Also, by cleverly striking at the leading group of Yargash’s army, he succeeded in stopping the movement of the whole army, albeit only temporarily.
While Yargash’s army had been thrown into confusion, Tigre and Elen resumed their advance. But, Kureys had fallen back even further while once again reorganizing the ranks of his troops that had become disordered.
“Damad, I will give you 2,000 cavalrymen.” Kureys calmly called out to the black-haired warrior standing at his side.
After giving a short reply, Damad left his lord while leading the soldiers assigned to him. He tightly grasped the small leather bag hanging at his waist.
Due to Kureys’ retreat, Tigre’s group had been pushed to the side much further than at the time when they charged, but there was no way for them to give up on their advance because of something of this level. Encouraged by them, the soldiers following them had their fighting spirits ignited. Many of the soldiers were already bleeding and wounded, but all of them charged forward as if in a delirium.
“That’s the way to go!” Elen spurred on her horse ahead of them while brandishing Silver Flash. Each of her blows caused a crimson whirlwind to arise, and the Muozinel soldiers fell like old rags flapping in the wind.
Next to her, Tigre shot two, then three arrows at once. Targeting the commanding officers was a matter of course, but now that it had come to this, it was indispensable to decrease the number of as many soldiers as possible. The quivers hanging at his saddle were removed from behind, and new quivers full of arrows were tied to the saddle.
“Thanks.” While pulling an arrow, he expressed his thanks. He didn’t have any spare time to look back. And, the one being told so didn’t listen since he had to prepare new quivers.
Drawn blades leaped through the air, fresh blood danced. Screams and angry roars drowned out each other, joining the cacophony of weapons clashing against each other. Heads rolled, arms were cut off. Being trampled down by infantry, being scattered by cavalry. The collision between the two armies seemed to strive at creating a sea of blood and flesh on the grass-covered plain.
Yargash allotted 3,000 soldiers to three trusted subordinates, and had them try to wedge themselves in-between Kureys’ army and the Moonlight Knight Army. Kureys’ army retreated, the Moonlight Knight Army charged. The three army corps splendidly surged into the resulting empty space between the two armies.
However, the Moonlight Knight Army’s momentum and power exceeded their imagination by leaps and bounds.
Elen swung Silver Flash as if she didn’t know the concept of depleting one’s stamina, cutting apart the Muozinel soldiers that tried to challenge her. Tigre accurately shot his arrows, killing one commanding officer in the rear after the other, and thus inducing the Muozinel army to split apart and fall into chaos.
Even when attacking Elen with five or ten at once, they were mowed down with merciless slashes, and once they looked over their shoulders, their fellow comrades, who should be following after them, were aimlessly wandering about in confusion. At that point, the soldiers of the Moonlight Knight Army accompanying Tigre and Elen swooped down on them.
The first army corps that stood in the way of Tigre’s group at the beginning was crushed without being able to mount so much as a resistance. They fell apart like a sand tower scattered by the wind.
Tigre and Elen swiftly exchanged looks, confirming their respective thinking. The two started to assault the confused Muozinel soldiers while herding them towards the second and third army corps.
It didn’t take much time to bring the two army corps close to collapse as they had to endure the fierce onslaught of the Moonlight Knight Army while having their preparations to stage a counterattack disturbed by their allies who ran about in an attempt to escape.
The reality that 9,000 soldiers in total were easily broken through made not only Yargash, who had deployed the soldiers, but even Kureys groan.
At last it looked as if the Moonlight Knight Army had shortened the distance to Kureys.
At that moment, a single cavalryman brushed aside the Muozinel soldiers with a force as if sending them flying, and approached Elen. He raised the sword in his hands overhead, and brought it down on the silver-haired Vanadis. Elen stopped the sharp slash by turning over her wrist, but the abnormal impact jolted her whole body, and her posture atop her horse fell apart.
She somehow managed to avoid falling off the horse by firmly stepping onto the stirrup and tightly grasping the reins, but at that point the second attack lunged at her. Silver sparks colored the air between both alongside a grating, metallic clank, and Elen was forced back alongside her horse, unable to resist. If not for her draconic tool, Arifar, the blade would have been broken and sent flying. She felt a light numbness in her right hand.
── Not only fast, but a strength going beyond that of Roland…?
Elen turned her eyes at the man who slashed at her. It was a tall, young man with the characteristic dark brown skin color of Muozinel people. It was unclear whether he had already reached the age of twenty. His nose and chin were slender, and his eyes bloodshot while emitting a maniac light. He wore leather armor and tightly grasped a Muozinel-made sword.
Tigre, who had noticed Elen’s struggle, looked in her direction. Seeing the Muozinel soldier confronting the Wind Princess of the Silver Flash, his eyes widened, and words of surprise passed his lips, “Damad…”
It was the youth with whom Tigre had acted together for a short period at the time when he had lost his memory. However, even if Tigre was surprised, and even if he harbored feelings of hesitation, all of that lasted only for an instant. What he should prioritize above all else was helping Elen.
He nocked a new arrow on his black bow, but he didn’t come as far as releasing the arrow. The fierce clash between Elen and Damad kept them tied to each other at close proximity as they switched positions, and their two swords performed a furious dance, making it impossible for even Tigre to get a proper aim.
Rather, Tigre had to distance himself against his will so as to not get dragged into the storm of blades.
The 2,000 Muozinel cavalrymen following Damad were also encouraged by his ferociousness. They challenged the Moonlight Knight Army with a momentum of clashing alongside their horses into them. Throwing their spears, and slashing their hatchets, they had started to break through the ranks of the Moonlight Knight Army. Even the horses of both sides got excited, kicking as well as biting each other.
The Muozinel soldiers attacked Tigre who had lost Elen as his protection. Arrows came flying his way as well. That’s because the wind barrier by Silver Flash was temporarily gone.
While dodging the swords and spears approaching him, Tigre reluctantly shot his arrows at the enemy soldiers in front of him.
Several blades and spearheads grazed his cheeks, arms, and legs, carving cuts that were accompanied by burning pain into them. One arrow pierced him above his leather armor, but fortunately it was a shallow wound. He immediately pulled it out and tossed it away.
The Brune soldiers, who had noticed Tigre’s crisis, savagely launched themselves at the Muozinel soldiers while tightly grasping their swords and battleaxes. They cut through the Muozinel soldiers alongside their leather armors with violent slashes, or alternatively blew them away. But the dead were immediately replaced by new Muozinel soldiers, who then attacked the Brune soldiers. Being simultaneously stabbed by four and five Muozinel soldiers, two Brune soldiers, who had the gaps in their armors gorged out by spears, slowly slid off their horses while suppressing the wounds with their hands as blood gushed out. The space created by their death was immediately filled by the Brune soldiers who had been behind them.
This place, where Elen and Tigre were to be found, was the very frontline of the Moonlight Knight Army. They had to advance forward. Every step counted. And during the time they couldn’t, they had to protect their position to the last, no matter how many sacrifices they would need to pay for it.
While gasping roughly, Tigre glared into the far distance, across the ground overflowing with Muozinel soldiers. At Kureys who was giving out commands atop his palanquin.
── I had known, but he’s a dreadful man.
No matter how much they shortened the distance, that red-bearded prince cleverly moved his soldiers, allowing him to open the distance again.
Their side didn’t have a single soldier to spare anymore. If they didn’t manage to advance with the people here right now, it would spell their end. No reinforcements would show up like at the time when he fought at Agnes in the past.
Once he looked at the capital’s walls, he saw the red horse flag fluttering there. His allies were still holding out. While several siege ladders had been set up against the wall.
His head was still working. His eyes could still see. His ears could still hear. His hands and fingers moved as well. He was able to pull the bowstring. It was impossible for him to give up here.
Tigre took out three arrows at once. A Brune soldier, who saw that, ran off to obtain new arrows while harboring feelings of admiration.
The battle between Elen and Damad still raged on. Elen pulled through by evading and warding off the violent slashes, which were unleashed with no time in-between, with Silver Flash while counterattacking. If she were to continue receiving those heavy blows from the front, her arms and hands wouldn’t last, even if Silver Flash were to remain safe. Of course it wasn’t as if she was unhurt either. Her battle attire and armor parts were riddled with cuts, and even her cheeks and arms were plastered with wounds.
And then Elen, who had observed her opponent’s state while swinging her sword, finally understood the real reason behind Damad’s aberrant strength.
── A drug, huh?
Elen had heard during her time as a mercenary that some drugs lifted the mood remarkably, allowing one to pull out power several times higher than usual. Anything else was unthinkable if it came to unleashing such blows with his physique and his muscle build.
Besides, even though Damad’s sword techniques were magnificent, they were simple to a bizarre degree. If he were this much of a sword master, he would definitely use feints and lures which should always be mixed in-between normal attacks. But there wasn’t a single one of those to be found in his sword play. It was a fighting style as if telling her that his aim was to make Elen surrender by shaving off her stamina.
Sparks scattered. The wind howled. Strands of their hair were cut off and danced in the air. The next blade ringing resounded before the previous had faded. Damad raised a scream that somewhat sounded like that of a beast, and swung down his sword at the crown of Elen’s head. Elen met the slash by wielding Silver Flash while twisting her body. An odd metallic sound assailed the ears of both, and then Damad’s sword broke off in the middle.
“You did well to exchange blows with Silver Flash for so long.” Those were Elen’s words of praise towards the black-haired warrior.
If they had wielded the same weapons, Elen might have lost. He was a formidable enemy that made her think so.
Damad raised his broken sword, showing his will to further challenge her. Elen matched his movement, and mowed down Silver Flash. The broken sword flew out of Damad’s hand, his posture crumbled, and he fell off his horse. The black-haired warrior’s body vanished out of sight as it was swallowed by the maelstrom of the battle between both sides.
Elen took a short breath. Her face was smeared by many lines of sweat, and several strands of hair clung to her forehead. She bent her shoulders forward out of exhaustion. However, she had eliminated the enemy. She fixed her hold on Silver Flash, and brought her horse next to Tigre.
They looked at each other, and all they needed was to nod at each other. Once more they cut through the enemy line with the one shooting his arrows and the other wielding her sword. Yargash couldn’t pull away from Bouroullec’s unit as he had planned. The most he could do was to form detached units and have them sally forth. It should be fine to consider that there were no more than 10,000 soldiers in front of Tigre’s group.
However, no matter how many soldiers they slew, Tigre and his army couldn’t get close to Kureys. Using the precious time created by Damad and Yargash’s detached units, Red Beard finished reforming the ranks of his soldiers once more. No matter how much Tigre’s group advanced, and even if they gouged a deep hole into the center of the Muozinel army, the soldiers commanded by Kureys retreated with flexible movements, and were able to recover the thickness of their line in mere moments.
── We’re not reaching him…!
Tigre ground his molars out of impatience, irritation, and weariness. Even though Kureys was right in front of his eyes, the distance didn’t shorten at all.
Red Beard always maintained a space of approximately 400 alsin between them. While thinking, a little bit more, just a little bit more, Tigre made his horse advance as he shot his arrows, but Kureys kept staying at the same distance. It was as if he was running towards an illusion he couldn’t ever reach.
Even Elen, who was swinging her sword next to him, had started to pant heavily since a good while ago. Spurts of blood stained her battle attire all over.
── 100 alsin more…! No, 50…even 30 alsin…!
He would likely scream out his thoughts as if spitting blood if he had the time to speak up. A hopeless number of Muozinel soldiers did their utmost to fill that small distance. Advancing any further won’t be possible unless we defeat all of them, will it? Tigre started to harbor even such a hallucination.
“Wait, Tigre.” Elen said without stopping her hands as she wielded her sword. Right now she didn’t even have the leeway to look at the youth standing next to her. “I will wrench open a path right away. What, it will take just a little longer.”
“Elen…” Tigre uttered with a voice that seemed to gasp for air. Elen probably didn’t intend to act brave.
Tigre pulled out a new arrow from his quiver with his fingers that had started to go numb, and nocked it on his black bow. Suddenly he turned his eyes towards the distant Kureys.
Why? My arrow won’t be able to reach this far. Reach an enemy whom I can see so clearly── It was at the time when that question welled up in a corner of Tigre’s mind. Why won’t it reach? Is that really so? Will it truly be unable to reach him?
The range of his arrows had grown compared to the time when he met Rurick for the first time. Several of his other acquaintances had said so as well.
But, what about Tigre himself?
Being able to hit a target 300 alsin away with an arrow was something he had accomplished 3 or 4 years ago. Because the range didn’t grow no matter how much he trained himself, he had started to believe that it was his limit before he noticed it. Above all, there didn’t exist any people, who could shoot arrows this far, as far as Tigre knew.
He never parted with his bow, but the thought of making an arrow reach an even further distance had at some point vanished within himself.
Is this really my limit? Can’t I make the arrow fly by another ten, no, even five alsin?
He had traversed battlefields countless times. By now he didn’t know how many arrows he shot, or how many enemies he had killed. However, it shouldn’t be wrong to say that this had forged Tigre’s skill.
“──Elen.” While nocking an arrow to the bowstring of his black bow, he called out to the silver-haired Vanadis. “Buy me some time.”
He drew the bowstring to its limit. His aim wasn’t the enemy commanding officers within 300 alsin. His black eyes were fixed at the red-bearded man sitting on top of his palanquin, which had been decorated with gems and gold, 400 alsin ahead of him. It was only natural, but the enemy looked a lot smaller than the ones he was usually targeting. For no particular reason, Tigre recalled the legend of a hunter who continued to shoot his arrows at a speck in the far distance.
He raised his arm holding the black bow somewhat higher than normal. The bowstring vibrated as his arrow left his fingers. Immediately after the arrow drew a parabola in the sky, it vanished within the enemy army. It might have hit someone, or it might have simply fallen to the ground.
“…Tigre?” At this moment Elen finally noticed that Tigre’s state was different from usual. While restraining the enemies by swinging Silver Flash sideways, she peeked at the youth’s expression with a sidelong glance.
Without answering her, Tigre nocked a new arrow into his black bow. His target didn’t change. And the released arrow dropped down among the Muozinel soldier far in front of him, not to mention reaching Kureys.
“You, don’t tell me…” Having said this much, Elen swallowed her breath. She had realized that Tigre wouldn’t hear anything she said right now.
Tigre exhibited an abnormal level of concentration on a battlefield where drawn blades clashed next to him and where bellows and screams filled the air. Even the wind’s rustling as it caressed his dull red hair and the bloodstained sleeves of his clothes didn’t cause Tigre to even blink once. His black eyes never veered from their target.
He fired his third arrow. This one didn’t reach Kureys either.
Kureys Shahim Balamir stared at Tigre, who was readying his black bow in the distance, with great interest. Just like Tigre had decided to precisely aim at Kureys, who was sitting on his palanquin, the red-bearded prince was completely perceiving Tigre’s figure as he sat on his horse.
However, Kureys couldn’t grasp Tigre’s intention right away. Even though the battle had transitioned towards a direct clash between soldiers, countless arrows were still flying across the battlefield. The arrows shot by Tigre were of course among those as well, but there was no way for Kureys to trace each and every single of them.
The moment when Kureys started to feel uncomfortable was when Tigre’s fourth arrow aimed at Kureys missed. As if having a blade thrust at his throat, Kureys experienced a strange feeling of oppression.
──Is it because that youngster is looking at me?
Kureys had noticed Tigre’s stare long ago. It was exactly because he had noticed it that he himself was now observing Tigre as well. Otherwise it would have been impossible for Kureys to pay any attention to him, even if the enemy’s supreme commander might have approached up to a distance of merely 400 alsin. Kureys was a supreme commander as well. He had to continuously move the soldiers while incessantly speculating about the next enemy moves.
──I understand from his scanty movements that he has been firing arrows without time to take a break…
It was that moment when Kureys started to wonder whether Tigre might actually be targeting himself. Him not having thought of this possibility until now was probably what you’d call a human’s boundedness.
Even though just making an arrow fly to a point 300 alsin away isn’t a normal person’s feat anymore; does that mean someone can make it fly even further? I have no doubt, a person, who can achieve such a feat, isn’t human.
Even as he logically believed so, Kureys couldn’t scoff at what Tigre was doing.
Why am I feeling an indescribable uneasiness if it won’t reach me anyway? Isn’t it maybe because I’m pondering about it like this? I thought that I would definitely be safe at this distance. But, is that really the case? Aren’t the arrows fired by that youngster getting closer and closer with each shot?
At this moment Kureys hesitated which was atypical for him. The biggest reason was that retreating any further would make giving commands somewhat difficult, but above that, even he needed two seconds to abandon his prejudices about the reach of an arrow. Compared to an ordinary person, it was an extremely quick process of concluding and deciding, but if restricted to now and here, it was too slow. That short moment was plenty for Tigre to nock and shoot a new arrow.
That arrow flew through the air while drawing a trajectory different from the ones before. To Kureys it looked as if it was leisurely and slowly flying his way, but if one considered that a body wouldn’t respond at the speed of thought, it had to be a suitable flight speed. Kureys slanted his body in unusual desperation.
The arrow grazed his temple. It felt hot. Blood flew through the air. The violet cloth coiled around his head was torn, came apart, and slid off his shoulders to his knees. Kureys placed both his hands on the palanquin’s ground, propping up his own body. His whole face started to get drenched in sweat. If he had been a second too late with dodging, the arrow would have doubtlessly penetrated his forehead.
“What a…” A hoarse groan escaped his red beard.
Just when was the last time he had released such a voice on the battlefield? And even during that time, the blood flowing from his temple was dyeing his left cheek crimson. It was at this moment that Kureys’ aides finally reacted.
“Your Excellency…!” One of them brought his horse close to the palanquin, and another two stood in front of Kureys, serving as shields.
In the next instant, an arrow stabbed the forehead of one of them, and he slid off his horse. It wasn’t a stray arrow, but one that had been precisely aimed.
“Retreat! Quickly fall back! Didn’t you hear, hurry!?” Abandoning appearance, an aide waved his hands, shouting at the men shouldering the palanquin.
Even while being bewildered, the men followed that order. In the meanwhile another aide had his nape stabbed by an arrow.
“A fiendish demon…!” A single aide screamed with his voice trembling.
It was a monster’s name which had been handed down since ancient times in Muozinel. Whether the target might be an elephant or a lion, that monster was said to bring about death by just breathing at them, as if being stabbed by a scorpion, while never actually being witnessed.
While Kureys stopped his bleeding by pressing the violet cloth against his temple, he watched his panicking aides as if it didn’t concern him at all. His thinking hadn’t stopped. However, because he had to reconsider his tactics from scratch, he was preoccupied with that matter.
A man capable of hitting a target 400 alsin away with an arrow. I have to set up my tactics under the premise that someone like that is among the enemies.
Another arrow flew. That arrow made its way through the gaps between the aides, and pierced Kureys’ chest. The greatest of all commanders on the continent with the alias Red Beard collapsed on the palanquin after fainting.
When Kureys woke up, he was inside his own tent.
“What about the battle?” Those were his first words as he abruptly raised his body.
His small, thin physician, and two aides stood next to Kureys’s resting place.
Suddenly he felt a sharp pain at his temple. Once he touched the place, he noticed that it had been bandaged. When he looked down on his body, he saw that he was wearing a loose, white robe. Bandages likewise covered the area from his shoulders to his chest.
At this point, Kureys remembered what happened right before he fainted.
“What about the battle?” He asked once more while gazing at his aides. His voice was calm and didn’t seem to contain any emotions.
Still, it likely wasn’t a question that would require this much courage to answer. The two aides looked at each other, and one of them timidly replied, “The royal capital didn’t fall.”
There was no anger in Kureys’ voice.
Very likely someone has given the order to stop the attack because I lost consciousness. It must have been a call to station more soldiers at my side for the sake of protection.
“Is it still daytime, or has the sun gone down already?”
“It’s evening, Your Excellency. Umm…” Although the aide hesitated, he continued his report after making up his mind. He knew that Kureys’ anger would erupt if he remained silent. “Your Excellency, you have slept for a whole day. The battle took place yesterday.”
“Yesterday?” Kureys widened his hollow eyes.
He couldn’t believe it so suddenly. Even he himself knew that the wounds at his temple and chest weren’t grave. However, he also knew that it was impossible for those two aides to feed him such a lie.
When he told them to bring some alcohol, his physician entreated him to keep it to water at least for today while prostrating. Therefore Kureys reluctantly had them bring him some water.
“Come to think of it, was there poison at the wound’s opening?” Kureys asked his physician while accepting a silver cup filled with water. Upon being told that there was nothing like that, he laughed, making his red beard tremble. “It was a remarkable hit. Tigre…right, it was Tigrevurmud Vorn, wasn’t it? I guess it means I was saved by that man’s immaturity.”
At this time Kureys clearly voiced out Tigre’s name. It was also the moment he distinctly identified Tigre as an enemy he must defeat. Of course Kureys had been highly evaluating Tigre’s archery skills, but if he were pushed to comment, the title of Star Shooter was something he had bestowed upon Tigre with the intention to add prestige to an opponent who managed to repel him.
But just now Kureys had said Tigre’s name with a feeling of admiration from the bottom of his heart. Tigre had exceeded Kureys’ imagination a second time.
“Haahaha. It looks like I had been unwittingly stuck in common sense, too. So humans can shoot arrows over a distance going beyond 300 alsin.” The aides secretly glanced at each other upon those words. They wanted him to stick to common sense here by all means. Otherwise it would be quite likely that he would start ordering promising archers to shoot their arrows beyond 300 alsin.
While drinking his water, Kureys urged the aides to continue with their recount.
“We managed to escape from the Brune army that came assaulting us.”
With Kureys fainted, the Muozinel army succumbed to chaos. By then they had become unable to stop Tigre’s and Elen’s charge.
After the Moonlight Knight Army broke through the Muozinel army as if bisecting it, their flank was attacked by Ekrem’s unit which had been attacking the southern wall, but the Moonlight Knight Army repelled them. Because more than half of Ekrem’s unit was still attacking the wall, they couldn’t deliver a powerful blow.
Moreover, the Moonlight Knight Army timed their withdrawal from the battlefield, and headed eastwards. The 10,000 Muozinel soldiers, who had been attacking the eastern wall, tried to stop them, but this was prevented by another force which suddenly showed up.
“It was Zhcted’s army. They numbered around 500.” The aide’s voice was overflowing with rage, which he couldn’t subdue, as he answered Kureys’ question.
“Many people said that they saw a flag with a golden wand and a green tract of land, in addition to the Black Dragon flag. It’s the flag of the Principality of Polesia, I think.”
It was the army led by Sofya Obertas. The Moonlight Knight Army was approaching its limit after having repelled Ekrem’s unit. If not for her reinforcement, they would have certainly suffered heavy losses even if they managed to escape.
Kureys was listening to these reports with an expression as if it was somebody else’s problem. As it had already happened, nothing could be done about it anyway.
“You’re saying the enemy escaped to the east just like that then?”
Once Kureys asked to make sure, tears of frustration welled up at the corners of the aide’s eyes. “It is as you say. I’m terribly sorry.”
While silently looking down on the aide as he was deeply bowing his head, Kureys touched the wound at his temple. He felt pain and itching at the same time.
“You don’t know where they went after escaping east?”
“Sir General sent out scouting parties, but at present they haven’t reported anything…”
Next Kureys had them report the losses of the army. The army, which Kureys had commanded himself, lost 4,000 soldiers. This was largely owed to the chaos triggered by Kureys fainting. The confused soldiers, who didn’t receive any orders, were overrun by the Moonlight Knight Army as it broke through. At the same time he was informed that Damad had been apparently taken prisoner.
Yargash’s unit lost 5,000 battle slaves and 2,000 cavalrymen. Ekrem’s unit lost 5,000 battle slaves. The losses of the units deployed in the north and west amounted to 1,000 battle slaves. The unit deployed in the east lost 2,000 cavalrymen and 3,000 battle slaves as well as soldiers. Of course there were many wounded on top of that.
The majority of their losses occurred when they withdrew from the wall. After all, they had to pull out while under enemy attack.
Furthermore, the Moonlight Knight Army atop the wall temporarily recovered its energy after watching the hard struggle of Tigre’s army. As if identifying this as the crucial moment, they mustered their remaining strength and threw themselves at the attackers.
After Kureys fainted, the Muozinel army transported Kureys to his tent, and spread out so as to defend the camp. Ekrem and Yargash were excellent generals, but they couldn’t replace Kureys. Thus, they had no choice but to act like this.
──We have lost more than 20% of the army stationed here, huh?
As one would expect, even Kureys could only sigh at that. However, I’m happy that Ekrem and Yargash are still in good shape. Having lost Damad hurts, but it’s no fatal loss.
──It won’t change the situation that the capital needs just one more little push. We have plenty of food and materials, too.
Although they managed to run away, Tigrevurmud Vorn’s army should have suffered considerable losses. Even if they stage yet another offensive, I’m confident that we can deal with it. There’s also 500 cavalrymen of Zhcted army, which seem to be new reinforcements. We will reorganize the army, and launch another general offensive on the capital. It’s possible to surmise just how exhausted in body and mind the enemies atop the wall are, going by the losses of the units that attacked the western and northern walls. They were only able to defeat 1,000 enemies, who turned their backs on them after suddenly abandoning the offensive, because it was daytime.
It was just when Kureys decided this course of action. Suddenly it became busy outside his room. Given that the partitions of each room were tent planes, voices and footsteps easily reached his ears.
One of his aides frowned and stood up. After bowing to Kureys, he left the room in a jog. Then he harshly scolded the people who had been talking outside for some reason.
However, before Kureys could count to ten, that aide rushed back into the room with a changed expression. He was tightly grasping a letter in his hands. All blood had drained from his face, it was obvious from the movements of his attire’s cuffs that his knees were trembling.
“What happened?” Kureys tried to calm him down by asking indifferently.
After he pushed out his silver cup to his physician, ordering him to bring him another cup of water, he looked back at the aide.
The aide pressed his hand against his chest as if putting up with intense pain, and then held out the letter after falling on both knees in front of Kureys.
He squeezed out a frantic voice, “It’s an urgent message…from our home country…His Majesty the King has passed away.”
Even a man of Kureys’ level needed a short moment to understand the meaning of those words.
The king of Muozinel, in other words, his older brother. At the time when Kureys departed while leading 150,000 soldiers, he was the very picture of health. Other than the serious illness during his youth, he was sure to not have suffered from illness.
Receiving the letter with mechanical movements, he opened and read through it. Only the facts were dispassionately recorded in the handwriting of Muozinel’s prime minister. It said that the illness from his past relapsed, and after laying in sickbed for a month, he died. And, the prime minister requested Kureys’ return for the sake of avoiding chaos within the national politics.
There were four children fathered by Muozinel’s king. Two princes and two princesses, or nephews and nieces in Kureys’ eyes. Problematic was that even the first prince, the oldest among them, was merely twelve years old. The king of Muozinel turned 45 years this year.
“His Majesty has…” Kureys closed his eyes. His face looked as if he was praying to the gods.
Of course, he did that as well. His relationship with his brother was quite good. Otherwise it would be unimaginable for him to go on an expedition while leading 150,000 soldiers in his position as royal prince. And then, once he offered his prayers to the gods for a peaceful rest of his brother’s soul, Kureys pragmatically sorted his thoughts with eyes still shut.
──Going by this letter, my brother died around thirty days ago. Considering the distance from Muozinel to here, the prime minister has likely dispatched messengers right away. The secret feuds must have begun already.
The princes, the guardians of the princesses, and the nobles, who saw this situation as a perfect opportunity, were sure to move around in order to crown a person advantageous to them. And, it was only natural that those people regarded Kureys as an enemy.
Kureys was 39 years old. It was an age that couldn’t be considered neither young nor old. He was someone who had achieved glorious deeds of arms, enjoying a deep trust among the soldiers. Moreover, he had the experience of participating in national politics. He was fairly suitable as next king.
Kureys put strength into the hand caressing the red beard. He should have been able to conquer the royal capital Niece during the course of yesterday. If Kureys hadn’t fainted, he would have resumed the attack on the wall after destroying the detached army led by Tigre, capturing the capital.
“No good,” Kureys muttered soundlessly.
Even if he were to force Niece to surrender, there was still Tigre. After the greater part of the Muozinel army pulled out, he would likely show up to recapture the capital. Even if he were to tell him to come out while using Princess Regin as a hostage, there was no guarantee that he would show himself. If things went wrong and got prolonged, the situation would become troublesome for Kureys.
Should I assign the army to one of the generals and leave this land to them after taking the capital then? I think that’s impossible as well. Putting aside if it was some town, but if it came to ruling the capital, there was no one besides Kureys who had enough ability to pull that off.
Should I thoroughly plunder the capital after capturing it, and then go home while taking the loot with me? This seems to be the most realistic option, but it will naturally lower our marching speed. Also, I don’t know how Tigre, who ran away and is hiding now somewhere, is going to move.
──The soldiers will probably fall into a state of panic…
Once they were to hear about the king’s death, the soldiers could be expected to succumb to anxiety altogether. It wasn’t an issue of loyalty towards Kureys. This was the soil of a foreign country, far away from Muozinel. Several dozen days passed since they left their hometowns. Leave alone battle, they were going to worry about their hometowns.
──Just one day…
He touched the place where the arrow stabbed his chest. Just one day. For everything to come to nothing just because I fainted.
He felt the urge to loudly scream out that absurdity. Kureys had respected his brother, but he wanted to vent his complaints at his brother with all his heart. Why did you die? And moreover, at such a time.
No, if the message had arrived much earlier, I wouldn’t be tormented by such an intense rage.
However, no matter what he thought, he knew better than anyone else that it was meaningless. He had no choice but to deal with reality as it came to pass.
After his long silence, Kureys started with a heavy sigh, and then he calmly announced, “We’re going to withdraw. Once we gain some distance from the capital, we will shift into a forced march.”
However, he had no intention to return empty-handed. Kureyes switched to words full of anger, and said with ambition burning in his hollow eyes, “Send a messenger to Murat. Tell him to completely plunder the three port towns, Massilia, Rameille, and Agdeau. He is to enslave all residents, and carry away even the houses’ building stones in thirteen…no, less than twelve days. Tell him to leave nothing behind except for the wharf.”
This wasn’t an order for revenge or whatsoever. It was his duty to pay the soldiers, who he brought along to this place, their salary. If he were to be negligent on that part, he would immediately lose the soldiers’ trust which he had built up so far.
If it was pillaging in the port towns, they could immediately transport the loot to their home country as long as they could provide ships. It wouldn’t slow down the march either. Kureys would also be able to keep up the morale of the soldiers by telling them that they would be paid their salaries as soon as they arrived at a port town.
Once he returned to Muozinel, internal discord awaited him next. To move freely around, Kureys, who had fallen behind by several dozen days compared to the lords and other royals, had to preserve the loyalty of the soldiers following him now to lead them even after their return.
The Muozinel army had finished its preparations to withdraw in the time between dusk and dawn. After forming orderly ranks while showered by the early morning’s sunlight, they were about to depart from the capital. It was at that time that Kureys informed all soldiers about the death of Muozinel’s king. And on top of that, he gave them a promise as royal prince.
“I will pay your rewards our of my own assets. For now, just think about returning home alive. For those desiring war, I will prepare an opportunity to gain riches and honor as well as to obtain merits of war ─ on the next battlefield.”
Telling the soldiers about the king’s death was a measure to prevent the possibility that Brune would get its hands on this information in some way and officially announce it first. Such news had less of an impact when communicated by an ally rather than the enemy.
The generals following him all equally anticipated that the next battlefield might be one where fellow Muozinel people would fight each other. And, as if it was very natural, they intended to accompany Kureys. Ekrem, Yargash, and the others as well.
Their mortification over having to give up the capital after coming this far was no inferior to their lord in any way.
──Twelve days later the Muozinel army left Brune’s soil. What they gained were merely meager deeds of arms, and the loot and slaves they pillaged in three port towns.
Tigre, Elen, Mila, Sofy reunited three days after the Muozinel army had retreated from Nice.
After they had rescued Tigre’s forces from the Muozinel army’s attacks on the fortieth day of the battle over the capital, the 500 cavalrymen of Polesia’s army led by Sofy acted separately from the Moonlight Knight Army. It was for the sake of misleading the Muozinel army by splitting into two. Also, Sofy made them investigate the surrounding areas before returning to the capital, discovering several places where 500 cavalrymen could hide if the need arose.
There were a few reasons why it took this much time for the four of them to meet, but probably the biggest one among them was their inability to completely abandon the possibility that the Muozinel army’s retreat might be some kind of trap. The Moonlight Knight Army had no spare energy left to fight any longer and thus they couldn’t afford to not tread carefully.
Only after receiving a report that the Muozinel army had reintegrated the garrison in the city of Laferte, which was two days away from the capital, into its own army, just had requisitioned provisions, and left without even pillaging, they judged that the Muozinel army was apparently retreating for real.
It was just past noon of that day when the more than 14,000 soldiers of the Moonlight Knight Army led by Tigre and Elen showed up on the east side of Nice. They first set up camp because it was likely that they would live there for several days, seeing as it was impossible for such a number of soldiers to enter the capital.
At the time when they had finished building the camp, the 500 cavalrymen of Polesia’s army came into sight in the far distance. And then Mila came over from the capital as well. Having the front gate opened a tiny bit for herself, she had used a ladder – but not one that had been abandoned by the Muozinel army – crossed the moat, and arrived in front of Tigre and the others.
“We both look quite terrible, don’t we?” The blue-haired Vanadis grinned as she looked up to Tigre.
Even though they had rested a bit after the Muozinel army withdrew, the hair of both was disheveled, traces of fatigue were carved into their faces, and their clothes as well as armors were dirty. As for Tigre, he didn’t wear his leather armor since it had been damaged in the battle.
However, the youth extended his hand towards Mila with a smile, saying, “It’s wonderful that both of us are safe and sound.”
Mila nodded, and grasped his hand. This might have been the moment when she finally felt relieved from the bottom of her heart. Next, Mila also exchanged a handshake with Elen.
“I suppose, you didn’t hold back at all, did you? Aren’t you quite composed?”
“I will return those words right back to you. Watching from above, it did look very grave.”
It wasn’t clear who of them had put strength into their grip first, but both immediately glared at each other while cladding themselves in threatening auras. Tigre pulled their hands apart with a fed-up expression.
“Oh my, are you two fighting again?”
Elen and Mila had their shoulders jump in surprise due to the calm and gentle voice. Tigre turned around into the direction of that voice. Seeing the woman standing there, a smile naturally formed on his lips.
“Long time no see, everyone.”
A loosely waving, golden hair, and eyes with the color of beryl. She was wearing thin, silken clothes, which covered her body while tracing her abundant curves, and an overcoat which was beautifully colored in green and white. What she was grasping in her slender fingers was a golden bishop’s staff which combined an assembly of rings, her draconic tool, Zaht.
“The first time in half a year, I think. Thanks for your timely help before, Sofy.”
Although Sofy was on the verge of smiling broadly upon Tigre’s words, she immediately tightened her expression, giving precedence to her official position, and then bowed elegantly with a smile.
“The last time we have seen each other in person was the Solar Festival, wasn’t it Your Excellency Earl Vorn. I have come to this territory after receiving a precious letter from a colleague. Allow me to congratulate you as Vanadis and friend for winning the war and staying in good health, Your Excellency.”
Tigre also straightened his back and formally expressed his gratitude towards Sofy, “It is I who should say so. You have my deepest gratitude for helping us at a critical moment. This victory was only possible through the cooperation of Zhcted. I’d like you to inform His Majesty Viktor as such.”
“I shall definitely pass your words on without a single alteration.”
Once they had finished their official greetings in such a manner, Sofy changed her smile into a carefree one, and continued, “I certainly didn’t expect in the least that I would be able to meet you again so quickly.”
When she smiled broadly, her sweetness, which seemed to be more that of a common town girl than that of a Vanadis, was standing out.
Tigre embarrassingly scratched his darkish red hair, laughing softly, “Me neither. It’s our reunion after a long time, and yet it had to be under such circumstances. I’m sorry.”
However, Sofy slowly shook her head without grimacing, “Don’t worry about something like that. It’s obvious at a single glance how eagerly you struggled. Considering that fact, you’re very cool.”
The golden-haired Vanadis extended her hand. Tigre followed her lead, and both of them shook their hands.
Sofy thanked the youth with a soft voice full of affection, “Well done, Tigre.”
Afterwards, Sofy exchanged greetings with Elen and Mila as well. The states of the two Vanadis weren’t all that different from Tigre. After praising her friends for fighting so hard once more, Sofy didn’t forget to give them a warning, “But, you mustn’t fight.”
“Come to my tent for the time being. There I can at least serve you some wine.”
There were plenty of things he wanted to talk about and listen to. Also, there was no concern about someone listening in when it came to the supreme commander’s tent.
The four went inside the Moonlight Knight Army’s camp, and entered Tigre’s tent while being showered by the soldiers’ surprised looks.
“By the way, do you…”
Tigre turned around towards Sofy, about to open his mouth in order to ask her whether there was something she would like to eat. However, before he could even finish that question, he was tightly hugged by Sofy.
She put her right hand, which still held the bishop’s staff, and left hand around his back. Her golden hair lightly tickled his cheek, and her breathing grazed his shoulder. Her rich, soft breasts were pushed against Tigre’s body. Naturally, this also caused Tigre to be surprised and flustered.
Elen and Mila were staring at the two, dumbstruck.
Sofy didn’t answer, only holding onto Tigre tightly. An unnatural silence ruled the tent. It was only after ten seconds had passed that this silence dissipated. Sofy breathed out slightly, and released her embrace. Then she faintly tilted her face, and laughed.
“That now was a little congratulation. You have really held out well out there, Tigre,” she said with a genuine smile.
Tigre couldn’t say anything in reply. Above all because he understood that her calling it a congratulation was no lie at all. But then again, Elen and Mila seemed to have difficulties to agree with this. Elen folded her arms, and Mila pressed her hands against her waist, both glaring at Sofy while feeling angry.
“Sofy, I might be ill-informed, but I have never heard anything about such a congratulation method.”
“Me neither. Besides, I feel like it was overly long for a congratulation.”
Sofy didn’t flinch away at all from those two who didn’t even try to hide their irritation. She turned towards the two while making the hem of her long skirt wave, and stepped forward in a very natural manner, hugging Elen.
“Of course you two will receive my congratulations as well. First up is Elen.”
Sofy caught Elen by surprise. She stood stock still on the spot with her face bright red while raising a quiet voice. However, without showing any further resistance than that, Elen silently accepted her fate.
“Not just the battle against Sachstein, but even against Muozinel… I think you really did your best, Elen.”
Next, Sofy hugged Mila in the same way. Even while donning a slightly awkward expression, Mila submissively let Sofy hug her. For one thing, she had a reason. After all she felt obliged as she came to Brune while entrusting the defense of Zhcted’s south to Sofy and Olga. On top of that, Sofy’s manner as she hugged her told Mila that it wasn’t just a perfunctory action, but an expression of Sofy’s genuine joy over her safety. Mila couldn’t treat her rudely.
Once the hugging rally came to an end, the four immediately exchanged information. Beginning with the war against Sachstein, Tigre, Elen, and Mila talked about the rebellion in Brune, the battle against Greast, up to the fights against the Muozinel army in alternation.
“We still don’t know why the Muozinel army pulled back. However I think something might have happened to Kureys, or some events took place in their home country.” Tigre said with a conflicted expression.
In response, Sofy nodded lightly, “I do have an idea about that.”
The golden-haired Vanadis then spoke about the letter she obtained from the Muozinel army in Agnes several dozen days ago.
“According to that letter, Muozinel’s king seems to have come down with an illness.”
“King as in Kureys’ brother?”
“Yes. Their brotherly relationship appears to be very good. However, since Muozinel’s king should have been healthy in the last few years, it’s difficult to imagine that Kureys would decide to retreat just because of an illness.”
Elen groaned with a frown at Sofy’s words.
“In other words, something going beyond an illness took place, I suppose.”
The four looked at each other, understanding that all of them were thinking the same.
Mila shrugged her shoulders, “To be honest, I think the city would have fallen if it had been attacked a day longer. Considering that…”
“I guess that means, all we can do is to ascertain whether they are really going to withdraw.”
Tigre looked up to the lamp hanging from the tent’s canopy with a weary expression.
──I couldn’t win.
Even though he accomplished the feat of extending his archery range, allowing him to succeed in his reckless, last-moment plan. In the battle two years ago and also in this one Kureys withdrew while abandoning victory on the very last stretch. It wasn’t Tigre who made Kureys give up on the battle with his own abilities.
“──Tigre.” Elen lightly tapped the back of the youth, and said with a bright smile, “You protected this country to the end. That’s what it means to win.”
Tigre blankly stared at his lover, and then blushed within a moment. He roughly churned his hair which had become a weird habit of his by now.
“Your right, yep.”
Mila gazed at the two, who laughed and looked at each other, with mixed feelings.
Evening of that day, Tigre and the others passed through the capital’s gate, and had an audience with Regin in the royal palace.
Tigre honestly reported that he managed to hit Kureys with an arrow but didn’t know whether he shot him down, and Sofy explained her thoughts about the health condition of Muozinel’s king.
“Understood. We will start an investigation from our side as well.” Regin said as she sat on the throne, and then thanked Tigre’s group.
“Earl Vorn, what do you think, when will the Muozinel army leave this country?”
“I believe they will hasten their pace once they distance themselves from the capital far enough that they won’t be pursued any longer. That probably means they will be gone in twelve to fourteen days.”
And then the youth had to voice out an ill-omened prediction with a bitter expression. This was nothing he had come up by himself, but something that had been pointed out by Mila.
“They might possibly leave only after pillaging the port towns.”
“…That’s quite likely.”
After staying silent for a short moment first, Regin nodded with a serious expression. She couldn’t come up with an idea why they, who wouldn’t hesitate to plunder, would hold back in this case.
“But, Earl Vorn, even if what you’ve said comes true, it is my task to resolve it. Make sure to not forget that.”
Regin told Tigre that there was no need for him to feel responsible. The youth formally expressed his thanks to the blonde-haired princess.
Afterwards Regin told Prime Minister Badouin, who was standing next to her, to loosen the vigilance across the entire capital. Of course they couldn’t completely relax their attention yet. Albeit hurrying back home, the Muozinel army was still on Brune’s soil, and their total number amounted to more than 100,000 soldiers. On the other hand, Brune’s side had less than half of that.
However, they at least won’t be able to stage such a large-scaled siege like the one several days ago right away, I think,’ Regin had judged. It was not just her, but even Mashas, Lim, Mila, Olivier, and all those experienced in war were strongly convinced of that.
Several tens of days later, several reports were delivered to the capital. About the Muozinel army’s retreat, and their looting in Massilia, Rameille, and Agdeau. After receiving those reports, Regin announced Brune’s victory.
The curtain of the war against Muozinel had fallen for the time being.