The rain, which had started at dawn, suddenly intensified around noon.
“We’re really out of luck. This weather, when we’re hurrying over here.”
Elen ─ Eleonora Viltaria ─ brushed up her forelocks in annoyance while riding her horse at the head of Leitmeritz’s army. Looking up, she saw thick clouds blanketing the sky as if a huge amount of soot had been blown into the atmosphere and expanded all over up there. Plagued by the cold winter rain, Elen’s face was dirty, and her silver hair, which extended down to her waist, had lost its luster, heavily sticking to her back. Her breathing was blurred with faint fatigue as it left her mouth.
Right now Elen wasn’t wearing a helmet or hood. All for the sake of ensuring her soldiers of her firmness by clearly showing herself as their commander. Of course her body was covered by a long overcoat from the neck down, but her iron boots had long become mud-caked in the stirrup.
Gently undulating ups and downs sprawled across the area around here. No forests or mountains were nearby, but because of the rain, visibility was bad, and the ground was a slushy mess with pools of water everywhere.
“I think we should allow the soldiers to get some rest. At least until the rain subsides somewhat.” A tall female knight proposed to Elen from behind.
It was Limalisha, Elen’s best friend and adjutant. She was lovingly called Lim by those close to her. Unlike Elen, she was in full armor, including a helmet.
Elen looked back over her shoulder without answering at once.
Her soldiers were silently thudding on, kicking up mud with each step and getting weighed down by the armor covering their bodies. No orderly ranks and files could be seen as it was hard to tread through the sludge, in addition to the fatigue wearing down on them. One of the soldiers trampled into a puddle of water, immediately causing a grand splash of muddy slush.
Feelings of guilt crept into Elen’s ruby eyes. But she immediately shook her head, ridding herself of that emotion. Putting a stern expression on, she turned her face back to the front.
“They’ve got to endure. We must hurry. Under these circumstances they won’t get any decent fires going anyway. Ludmila and the others are likely thinking the same.”
Behind Elen and Leitmeritz’s soldiers marched Olmutz’s army, led by Ludmila Lourie, followed by Lebus’s army which was spearheaded by Elizavetta Fomina and Olga Tamm.
If they were to interrupt the march, Elen would need to inform the three to that effect and all of them would have to pass down deliberate instruction so as to avoid the armies running into each other. And even then, a considerable amount of chaos would remain unavoidable within this rain. Elen feared that some of the soldiers might get left behind or wander astray, a risk she wanted to avoid if possible.
“If something like that hadn’t happened to Sofy…” She spat out with a sigh, muttering something she had worded out countless times up until today.
Four days ago they held the funeral ceremony for Sofy ─ Sofya Obertas, the Vanadis who had governed the principality of Polesia. Although they called it a funeral service, it had been a simple ceremony where several people, including Elen, had offered their prayers.
But, this had been inevitable. Back then Elen and the others were camping on the vast grasslands located at the southeastern edge of Lebus. They didn’t have the time to search the vicinity for settlements to call a priest over.
On the next day, Elen and the others had joined up with Olmutz and Polesia’s armies. The commander of Polesia’s army, who heard about what fate had befallen their mistress, informed them with a calm tone that his army would withdraw.
“We are soldiers of Polesia. We came all the way to this land in order to fight under Lady Sofya. Even though all of you are Vanadis, we would find it difficult to follow the command of one of you.”
Unable to stop them, Elen’s group had no choice but silently watch Polesia’s army break away. As a result, only the armies of Leitmeritz, Olmutz, and Lebus were left.
Sofy had been attacked outside the camp, and no one had witnessed the moment it happened. At the time when the other Vanadis and Tigre had rushed over, she had already been in a state where she couldn’t speak any longer. Because of that, they didn’t know who had done this to her.
However, the group around Elen believed that the assailant had to be Valentina Glinka Estes. The slashing wound reaching from Sofy’s left shoulder to her right flank had been caused by a huge, sharp blade. Valentina’s draconic tool, Ezendeis, was a long-handled scythe, and she possessed a draconic art, allowing her to cross wide distances in an instant.
That very Valentina should be in the capital Silesia together with Osterode’s soldiers. And thus the reason why Elen and the others had been continuing to march on in spite of the heavy downpour was all for the sake of closing the distance to the capital as much as possible and obtaining information. If they couldn’t grasp the current circumstances surrounding Valentina and the strength of the military forces under her, they wouldn’t be able to form any strategies. After all, their military forces fell short of 5,000 soldiers, even after adding all three armies together.
If Sofy had been with them right now, they might have been able to decide on their plan even while on the march. Her capabilities in information gathering and analysis had been outstanding among all Vanadis. This had also been the reason why the late King Viktor had appointed her to be Zhcted’s diplomatic envoy.
Besides, Elen was sure that she’d have been much calmer than she was right now. Even putting aside the matter of both of them having been fellow Vanadis, Sofy was a dear friend for Elen. If Sofy had seen the current Elen, she’d have admonished her, “At this rate, you’re going to catch a cold,” with her usual, gentle smile, and Elen might have obeyed her without being stubborn about it while grimacing.
──I don’t know what to tell the soldiers.
She had staved off the soldiers by promising them to explain the details once they’d reach their destination. However, with Sofy’s sudden disappearance and the departure of Polesia’s army, most of them should have realized that something was amiss.
It’d be simple to lie. If I tell them that Sofy and her army decided to act independently from us in order to achieve a certain objective, the soldiers would likely buy it. But, once they learned that this had been a lie, their consent would change into disappointment and distrust, resulting in a drop in morale.
Besides, Elen and the other Vanadis hid yet another big secret. Namely, that their draconic tools had lost their powers.
Around ten days ago, Elen and the others had a deadly struggle against Maximilian Bennusa Ganelon on a land called Zagan. Elen remembered it as a nightmarish battle. Ganelon had shed his humanity and allowed the Goddess of Night, Darkness, and Death Tir Na Fal to descend into his body. The fact that they had suffered no casualties could only be described as a miracle.
But, the Vanadis’s draconic tools had lost their powers during that battle, transforming into simple stone slabs. According to Tir Na Fal, they would apparently regain their might in seven months, but unlike during peace times, it was unthinkable that they’d be able to keep their current state hidden for a long time. Elen believed that they’d need to inform the soldiers, sooner or later. At the same time, she couldn’t fathom how much of a shock it’d cause to them.
──That’s why we can’t lie about Sofy’s case. If we continue lying and concealing things, the soldiers are going to hold doubts, wondering whether there’s some more to it. A commander, who lost the trust of his subordinates, is miserable. I cannot afford to invite such a situation.
“Even though Ganelon is gone just like those annoying, unusual phenomenons, we’re still bogged down by nothing but headache-inducing problems. If at least the weather could not get in our way, it’d be a start.” Elen roughly wiped her wet face with a palm while grumbling.
It was at that moment that she could hear a bright laughter accompanied by a commotion from behind. Once she looked back, she spotted a hooded pair of people walking next to the soldiers with their bodies hidden underneath overcoats. One of them held a wine cup in their hand while the other lifted a big leather bag, just to pour something into the cup.
“What’s going on there?”
Seemingly noticing Elen’s puzzled look, the pair looked her way.
Elen’s eyes widened, “Tigre and Titta?”
“It looks like they’re treating the soldiers to some drink, but… I wonder whether something happened.” Lim tilted her head in confusion.
Tigrevurmud Vorn and his maid, Titta, should be at the rear of Leitmeritz’s army as guests of honor.
After having exchanged some light banter with the soldiers, Tigre and Titta walked over towards Elen and Lim while splashing mud with every step. Accompanied by several mounted knights, Elen and Lim separated from the army’s file, and stopped their horses.
Leitmeritz’s army fielded around 1,500 men. Even if Elen gave the order, the army wouldn’t be able to halt at once. Thus it was necessary for them to break away from the army’s vanguard to talk with Tigre and Titta.
Tigre stopped his feet in front of Elen, and lightly heaved up the leather bag in his hand.
“It’s vodka. You two, have a drink as well.”
“Please explain the circumstances first, Lord Tigrevurmud.” Lim inquired before Elen could say anything.
Tigre answered with a smile, “Gerard informed me that we had some vodka left. I decided to buy the surplus and share it with everyone. I got enough for around half a cup per person.”
Gerard Augre had taken over the duty of appropriately supplying the three armies with goods such as rations and fuel. Originally he served at Brune’s royal court as secretary, but because he excelled at math and management to begin with, he had enthusiastically thrown himself at the job. To such an extent that they adopted his request to consolidate the management of each army’s provisions into one.
“I’m sorry for not having informed you in advance, but I did talk with Rurick. He happily agreed to the idea. Mila and Liza have also told me that they’d stop the march for a while.”
“──Lim, inform the soldiers that we’re going to take a break for approximately a quarter koku.” Elen told her adjutant, revealing a bright smile that lacked any of her previous stiffness. “We cannot bluntly turn down the kindness of our precious guest. Besides, if Rurick has said that it’s a good idea, we should probably listen to him.”
“As you command. I shall get to it at once.”
After nodding with a cheerful gleam twinkling in her blue eyes, Lim swiftly hurled instructions at the knights who had accompanied them. They turned the necks of their horses, and galloped off towards the rear.
Rurick had obtained a huge achievement. Elen had entrusted her army to him when they had departed for Zagan, ordering him to lead the army east. This had been a move in preparation of Valentina’s movements. However, Rurick had followed that order only for a few days. Encountering one of the cavalry units dispatched by Mila, Rurick had changed the course of the army on his own discretion after wavering for a while, knowing that Mila and the others had also departed for Zagan.
After going all the way back to the spot where Elen and the others had split away from Leitmeritz’s army, he had the soldiers construct a camp, having decided to wait for the return of their mistress. Moreover, he dispatched messengers to Olmutz and Polesia’s armies, requesting them to join up.
His arbitrary decision turned into a big help for Elen and the others. After all, they were completely exhausted and their draconic tools had lost their powers when they left Zagan. Only Tigre’s Black Bow was unaffected, but it’d have likely been a challenge for the youth to travel while protecting his friends all by himself.
“Very well, I guess we’ll take you up on that offer.”
Once Elen and Lim dismounted, Titta held out cups to both of them. On a closer look, several cups had been tied together with a string which was hanging around her neck.
“I sure don’t want to believe so, but it’s not like it’s just you two distributing vodka to all our men, right?” Elen asked while accepting a cup from Titta.
In response, Titta said with a laugh, “No, Mr. Gaspal and Mr. Damad are helping us as well. Mr. Rurick has also gathered many people for us in order to get them to help out.”
Tigre brought the leather bag close, and poured vodka into Elen’s cup. Meanwhile Titta held both her hands above the cup, probably out of consideration to prevent the rain from falling into the cup as much as possible.
Elen drained down the vodka in one gulp. The vodka itself was lukewarm, but it first heated her throat, and then her stomach. Soon after she felt the heat spread across her whole body, causing her to spill a long sigh.
──Maybe I’ve looked at things too gravely.
Staring at the empty cup in her hand, Elen soundlessly muttered, Not only Tigre, but even Titta should be well aware of what a dangerous situation we currently are in. It’s unimaginable that they don’t feel angry and sad about Sofy’s death. But, without putting those feelings into words, those two treat the soldiers to drinks and laugh together with them.
A warmth, which didn’t only originate from the vodka, filled Elen’s heart.
“Thanks. I feel like all exhaustion has been blown out of my body.” Elen grinned at Titta while passing back her cup.
Titta looked up to her with an anxious look. Even during this moment, rain continued to pour down on Elen.
“Lady Eleonora. You will catch a cold if you stay like that.”
“I don’t have such a weak body that I’d get a fever from this little bit of rain. It might strike you as odd, but I do have my own reason for doing this. Still, I’ll gratefully accept your consideration.”
It didn’t look as though Titta could fully go along with Elen’s explanation. But she quickly bowed, and went away to give a cup to someone else. And, as if to trade places with her, Tigre walked up to Elen.
“I’m in no position to say much to others, but…make sure to not go too far, okay?”
“This is a time to prevail with willpower. Right?” Elen proudly thrust out her chest.
Tigre nodded lightly, albeit smiling somewhat awkwardly. If a commander forced his men to push themselves, he had to demonstrate something that would make them agree to go along with it. Both of them, Ellen and Tigre, were fully aware of that.
“Still, your face is a mess. Even your hair…”
Tigre reached out for Elen’s cheek with a hand, and gently swiped a strand of hair clinging to it away. And then he brought his face close in a very natural manner, and stole a quick kiss.
“──Well then, we’re going to head over to the other places.”
Shouldering the bag with the vodka, Tigre walked away as if nothing had happened. Following her lover with her eyes while dumbfounded, Elen needed a moment before she placed a hand on her lips.
“Isn’t that way hotter than any vodka…?”
That mutter fortunately wasn’t heard by anyone as it got drowned out by the rainfall.
If you walked for around five days northwest from Silesia, you’d reach a town called Lecheneaut. Two big main roads crossed at this town, and because most of those heading for the capital from Legnica and Lebus, and those heading northwest from the capital would stop by here, it was flourishing quite a bit.
The aspect of it being territory under the direct control of the crown might have also played a part in Lecheneaut’s prosperity. After all, no lord would dare to unnecessarily meddle with royal land.
The allied forces of Leitmeritz, Olmutz, and Lebus pitched their camp next to Lecheneaut. This also served as a declaration that their soldiers wouldn’t enter the town. Such consideration was indispensable, especially for the sake of gathering information and resupplying.
The one meeting Lecheneaut’s mayor as representative of the alliance was Elizavetta Fomina. She had already visited this town once in the past.
Around the time when it’d still be too early to hail noon, Liza passed through the town gate while escorted by several knights. Their little party came back to the camp when the stars were already twinkling in the very dim sky.
Liza headed to Tigre’s tent while accompanied by her subordinates.
————— End of Part 1 —————
Tigrevurmud Vorn stood in front of his own tent, his body hidden underneath an overcoat. Having heard about Liza’s return, Elen, Lim, Mila, and Olga had assembled in his tent. In response, Titta brewed black tea for everyone after having boiled some water.
As Tigre waited while feeling the cold wintry night air gnawing at his skin, soon the figures of Liza and her retinue melted out of the shadows of the tents, illuminated by many campfires. She immediately noticed him and waved a hand, which he responded to with a wave of his own. This short exchange of gestures resulted in a smile blooming on her face, and she heightened her pace as she strode towards him and his tent.
“I have safely returned. Did anything unusual occur while I was out?”
“It was peaceful. Well, I suppose Elen and Mila had a quarrel, but that’s just proof of the calmness.” Tigre answered with a shrug of his shoulders.
The bad blood between Elen and Mila was so famous that the soldiers even whispered, “They appear to even fight over the different shapes of baked sweets and the ingredients of fish soup,” amongst each other with wry smiles. Neither Tigre or Lim tried to deny those gossips since they were true for the most part anyway. And yet, the relationship of two seemed to have improved by leaps and bounds when compared to the time when they met for the first time, according to Lim.
While Liza entered Tigre’s tent, Tigre himself first guided her men to another tent.
“I’ll have some wine brought over for you guys. Is there anything else you’d like?”
“Allow me to take you up on that offer and request a fish soup, if possible. I have seen Leitmeritz’s soldiers eating it on the way here. I would be grateful if it could be so hot that it almost scalds your tongue.” One of Lebus’s knights replied.
Tigre looked at him, unintentionally breaking into a smile. That knight was called Naum. He was the man who had looked after Tigre in various ways during his time of memory loss in Lebus.
“I understand. Please rest up well.”
Tigre called for a soldier, and ordered him to prepare wine and a serving of ukha.
After they had built their camp in this location, Elen and the others had gathered their soldiers and explained Sofy’s disappearance and the withdrawal of Polesia’s army.
“Sofya Obertas got attacked by the enemy and suffered serious injuries. Polesia’s army prioritized the protection of their lord, and thusly, separated from us.”
This was an explanation based on the idea that it’d be meaningless to try hiding the circumstances if Valentina publicly announced the truth. The shock and unrest among the soldiers was undoubtedly not small, but fortunately it didn’t lead to any bigger confusions. Most likely because the four Vanadis around Elen were safe and sound.
Then again, those serving the Vanadis as close aides didn’t feel as calm about this. They decided that someone had to always accompany their respective lord in order to avoid them wandering around by themselves. They even assigned a knight of Lebus to stay at Olga’s side. This was also the reason why Naum and his men had stayed close to Liza even inside the camp.
Tigre returned to his own tent. Once he entered, Elen and the other girls were sitting on a carpet, forming a circle. Several maps and a few figurines had been placed inside that circle. Tigre sat down in the open spot of the circle ─ between Mila and Olga.
The heirloom of the Vorn House, the Black Bow, was leaning against its stand in a corner of the tent. It was an inconspicuous bow with no redeeming features except for its black color which made it look like it had been steeped in darkness, but it was a sacred treasure that exhibited a tremendous might in Tigre’s hands while carrying Tir Na Fal’s wishes. Next to it rested a greatsword with a guard and hilt which had golden decorations ─ Durandal, the treasured sword of Brune which was also known as 『Sword of Invincibility』. After Marquis Greast had stolen it out of Brune’s royal palace, it had wandered into Ganelon’s hands, but Tigre had retrieved it the other day.
Behind Lim, Titta poured black tea in silver cups matching the number of people present in the tent, and placed the cups in front of everyone. Just before she left the tent, Tigre expressed his gratitude with a light wave of his hand.
“Okay, let’s start then.” Liza took a look at everyone present, and then told everyone what she had heard from Lecheneaut’s mayor. “I was told that His Highness Ruslan hasn’t recovered yet and that the capital is being ruled by the First Prince Aide Valentina and Grand Chamberlain Miron. Droves of noble lords have been visiting the palace to declare their will to cooperate with those two.”
Of course, this didn’t mean that all noble lords were in favor of obeying Valentina and Miron. For example, the forces opposing Ruslan still existed, and they were naturally hostile towards Valentina who was supporting Ruslan. However, it seemed undeniable that Valentina was steadily reinforcing her own position.
In the past, she had told Tigre that she wanted to change the current standings of the Vanadis. Her new policy would put two Vanadis next to the king as his aides while placing the remaining five Vanadis below. If Valentina continued to bolster her influence at court, her desire could possibly come true in the near future.
“Did he know anything about Lord Eugene?” Elen asked while leaning forward.
She spontaneously poured strength into her hands, clenching her fists tightly. Liza shook her head with an apologetic look.
“I tried to ask about him, but the mayor told me that he didn’t know anything about it. You might as well regard it as positive news since it’d mean nothing has changed.”
“I see…” Elen hung her head, grinding her teeth in mortification.
Eugene Shevarin, the lord of Pardu, could be described as a teacher for Elen and Lim. He took over the governmental work as acting ruler after Prince Ruslan collapsed, but he was soon imprisoned by Miron over suspicions that he might have colluded with Muozinel.
“That should mean that Lord Eugene still remains safe, Lady Eleonora.” Lim added.
Her tone betrayed that she was rather persuading herself than cheering up her mistress, but it caused Elen to look startled, before nodding several times in agreement. Eugen had been designated as next by King Viktor, and was deeply trusted by Ruslan. Not a few among the civil officials serving in the palace looked up to him. If something had happened to him, rumors would immediately make their rounds.
“Let me go on then.” Liza spoke up after confirming that Elen had recovered.
When they heard that the unusual phenomenons, which had brought fear and chaos to the continent, stopped occurring on the day when Ganelon perished, Tigre and the others breathed out in relief. Those phenomenons were a byproduct of Ganelon trying to make Tir Na Fal descend on the surface. After they had departed Zagan, their group hadn’t encountered any such phenomenons. They didn’t catch sight of fairies or ghosts either. As if these things hadn’t existed from the very start.
For this reason, they had expected that the phenomenons might have disappeared all over the continent, but now that they had heard a confirmation out of someone else’s mouth, it hit them as reality all over again.
Tigre remembered David and Lena, the father and daughter he had met on his way to Zagan. The serious expression of David as he worried over his daughter and the bright smile of Lena had carved themselves deeply into his memory and vividly revived every now and then to this very day. Those two wouldn’t come back to life anymore, but at least the survivors of their village wouldn’t be tormented by the same tragedy anymore.
Eventually, Liza finished her speech.
“Valentina must have had a blast.” Mila commented with sarcasm oozing out of her voice.
She didn’t just mean Sofy either. Even Mila wasn’t very amused about being treated like a game piece on a board and felt unhappy about Valentina maneuvering behind the scenes while they were fighting Ganelon.
“I’d like to hear your opinion on this, Tigre.” Olga looked up to him from her seat next to him.
The other four remained silent, staring at the youth.
The reason why Tigre let them momentarily wait for his answer didn’t stem from him having to collect his thoughts, but him asking himself once more for what reason he was fighting. But, the answer appeared to him in no time, without any hesitation to be found there.
“I’ll fight against Valentina.” Tigre openly declared, a calm determination gleaming in his eyes. “There are two reasons for it. One is Sofy.”
Elen and the other four nodded.
“The other,” Tigre continued, “is her leaving Ganelon at large despite knowing what he was up to.”
Unusual phenomenona had occurred all over the continent. Even Tigre’s territory, Alsace, had most likely been no exception to that. The same applied for other Brunian lands like Mashas Rodant and Hughes Augre’s territories, and the capital Nice where Princess Regin resided. As such he couldn’t think of the tragedy that befell David and Lena’s village as someone else’s problem.
“As Alsace’s lord, I cannot forgive Valentina.”
Whether Valentina might try to exercise power as Ruslan’s representative or change the ways of the Vanadis, both would be domestic issues of Zhcted. Tigre as Brunian wouldn’t be qualified to get involved in this. Of course that didn’t mean he wouldn’t do anything, seeing how it’d worsen the position of Elen and the others, but he’d likely avoid a direct confrontation.
However, Valentina had exposed Alsace to danger. This was more than enough a reason for Tigre to fight against her.
“It’s decided then.” Elen said complacently after folding her arms.
It wasn’t just her either. Lim, Mila, Olga, and Liza also looked at Tigre with smiles decorating their faces. They had accepted his response which went beyond their expectations.
Representing the five, Elen said, “Tigre, your feelings are the ropes tying us together. We pledge to you here and now that we’ll bring victory to you. Please accept those feelings of ours.”
Tigre was taken aback by her unexpected words, but he immediately noticed that everyone’s expression was serious. Having this much trust shown, he couldn’t afford to react in a silly manner.
“Thanks, everyone.” Tigre bowed his head deeply.
He felt five gazes pinned on the back of his head, yet all of them overflowed with warmth and affection. After wiping the inner corners of his eyes which had become hot, he lifted his head and asked something that had been on his mind.
“Of course I’m happy about you saying that you’re going to fight for my sake, but…could you maybe tell me if there’s some reason for doing so?”
All of them, except for Lim, were Vanadis who reigned over a principality. While it might be true that they had feelings for Tigre, it was unthinkable that they’d decide to fight for him based on that alone.
“We talked amongst each other about what Valentina’s next moves might be.” Mila explained after draining down the remaining tea in her cup, “We came to the conclusion that she’s either going to try assaulting one of us by surprise like she did with Sofy or that she’s going to try breaking us apart by sowing discord.”
“Both sound likely as options.” Tigre groaned.
Valentina could get in contact with one Vanadis and offer her a compromise. Whether it worked out or not, she wouldn’t mind either way. The fact of the Vanadis having met with Valentina would cause the others to doubt her, creating a rift between them. Once the Vanadis started to take independent actions because of their suspicions, Valentina would be easily able to pick a good moment to crush them one by one.
“As for surprise attacks, we can handle those by solidifying our defenses as much as possible, but her schemes to sow discord would be a problem. We must consider the benefits of Zhcted and the principalities we govern. Valentina should be aware of that, and thus she would approach us with offers that are hard to refuse. If the other Vanadis heard about it, they would end up doubting whether their fellow Vanadis agreed to Valentina’s terms.”
“Accordingly we’ve made a contract on which all of those present here can rely, allowing them to refuse any offers Valentina might make without any worries whatsoever.” Liza cheerfully followed up on Mila.
Tigre cocked his head in puzzlement, not understanding the meaning. Tilting her body to lean herself against Tigre’s arm, Olga explained, “Cooperating with you would result in the best outcome for our principalities. And of course for Zhcted as well.”
Tigre almost cried out in reflex.
“So that’s why…”
“We’re going to get the future king of Brune indebted to us. The soldiers are going to agree as well once they hear of this.” Mila laughed with tease coloring her voice.
Tigre shrugged his shoulders, indicating that he surrendered himself to his fate.
Calling for a short break, Tigre had Titta prepare another serving of tea for everyone. Then the war council resumed.
“──Valentina Glinka Estes is a treacherous Vanadis who plots to rule over Zhcted with Prince Ruslan as puppet. Sofya Obertas, who was trusted by the late King Viktor, was hated by her. Us four are going to bring down Valentina as loyal subjects of the kingdom. Brune’s Tigrevurmud Vorn is also supporting our cause…” Lim read out lout the text she had finished writing down on a parchment.
It was a legitimation of their just cause in fighting Valentina.
“It’s rather conventional, but it gets the message across, I’d say. I think it’s fine with us to go with this for now.” Mila evaluated the text while Elen, Liza, and Olga didn’t raise any objections in particular.
The key point here was that they regarded Valentina as their enemy, not Ruslan or Miron. It was for that sake that they brought up Sofy. It’d pose no problem for them if it was regarded as a power struggle, but they couldn’t afford to be misunderstood as aiming for a removal of Ruslan.
With the declaration set, the six shifted to the next issue.
“The military forces we have at hand amount to roughly 4,500 soldiers. 3,900 infantry and 600 cavalry.” Elen confirmed while looking at the map.
It approximated to Leitmeritz, Olmutz, and Lebus each fielding around 1,500 soldiers. But then again, the breakdown of infantry and cavalry was all over the place. In contrast to Leitmeritz, which had 1,000 infantry and 500 cavalry, Olmutz’s army had less than 100 cavalry at its disposal whereas Lebus’s army consisted of infantry only.
“The number of Osterode’s soldiers, who are protecting the capital, is approximately 5,000.” Mila sighed while placing a responding amount of figurines in Lecheneaut and Silesia on the map.
“We didn’t plan to attack the capital to begin with, but no matter how you look at it, it’d be impossible either way.”
A great number of soldiers and siege weapons would be required to attack the capital with its sturdy wall. Since they’d be fighting their own countrymen, they’d require a just cause that wouldn’t turn the capital’s residents into their enemies. Tigre’s group possessed neither.
“In that case, all points to this place, huh?” Elen pointed at an area northwest of the capital.
It was Valentina’s principality, Osterode. They’d attack her stronghold instead of Silesia. And if Valentina left the capital in order to prevent that, they’d drag her into a field battle. If not, they’d place Osterode under their control which would likely result in Valentina’s reputation plummeting back home.
They could choose two routes to travel from Lecheneaut to Osterode. The northern route where they’d be crossing Zhcted’s northern parts, or the southern route where they’d advance through Zhcted’s south as if drawing an arc to eventually attack Osterode from the south. Lim traced both ways with a finger on the map.
“If we go north, we will arrive in Osterode after 12 or 13 days at the pace of our infantry. If we go south, it will require twice that, I think.”
“But, going south has advantages too. If we proceed while making sure to advance through Leitmeritz, Olmutz, Polesia, and Brest, we’ll be able to increase the number of our soldiers and the procurement of the necessary goods won’t be a problem. It’ll also be possible for us to call out to the noble lords while we march.” Mila advocated passionately, earning herself a nod from Olga.
Elen refuted, “You make it sound like it’s all nice and shiny, but the longer we take, the more time Valentina will get to spend on battle preparations. Being able to rely on His Highness Ruslan’s authority while based in the capital might increase the other side’s advantage in proportion.”
Mila asked for Liza’s opinion with her eyes. Liza shook her red hair, seemingly dissatisfied.
“I think we should go north. Going south has its charm, but it’ll give Valentina time and there’s also the worry that our weak point will be found out in the meantime.”
Their draconic tools had lost their powers. If this fact were to be exposed, the predominance of having four Vanadis on their side would crumble apart in no time.
“Considering the matter with Sofy, it’s possible that she’s already noticed it, though.” Elen twisted her expression in irritation.
Mila shook her head, “I think she’s still not completely certain of it. Otherwise, she’d have attacked us a lot more aggressively.”
After they discussed the matter for a while longer, Elen and the other Vanadis agreed on taking the northern route. They had decided to prioritize speed based on the judgment that more lords would join Valentina’s side under the current circumstances.
Tigre had carefully listened in silence up until that point, but then he looked with a serious expression at Elen and the other girls, “Everyone, please make sure to be as careful as possible. Unfortunately, it’s about the only thing I can tell you though…”
“That’s our line.” Elen grimaced.
Lim and Liza directed worried looks at him. Tigre would act independently starting tomorrow. His task was to infiltrate the capital and rescue Eugene. The reason why they hadn’t mentioned him with a single word in their declaration was to avoid having Valentina focus on Eugene.
If they managed to spring Eugene, the knights and lords following him would likely join their side. Alleviating the fear of him being used by Valentina for her own devices would be a big boon, too. Moreover, Tigre liked Eugene’s personality which bore the wish in him to rescue Eugene, even while disregarding the political advantage it’d bring.
“Have you decided on who is going to accompany you? I’ve already heard about Lord Gaspal and Damad, but what about the rest?” Mila asked.
Tigre ransacked his hair and then shook his head, “Not yet. Right now I’m having Rurick search for more men, but…”
Tigre had requested Rurick to look for “Zhcted who are knowledgeable of the capital’s geography.” However, most of the Leitmeritz soldiers here had never visited the capital before. If Rurick were to expand his search to the commanding officers leading hundreds of soldiers, there would be some among them meeting Tigre’s condition, but it’d affect the stability of Leitmeritz’s army if they were to pull out those men from their current positions. Rurick was certainly racking his brain over the same issue right now.
“In that case, take Naum with you.” Liza offered readily.
Tigre stared at her with a look full of surprise.
“Naum has visited the capital together with me and my predecessor on many occasions. I’m sure he’ll be of good use to you. While he’s not here, I’ll have that girl over there do her best.” Liza shifted her blue and gold eyes to Olga.
Olga nodded expressionlessly. She had already proven her ability to command with the victory against Egol Kazakov. Even if she wouldn’t be fit to replace Liza, working as the commander of a detached force should be well within her capability.
“Thanks. That’s a huge help.”
Impatience vanished from Tigre’s heart, replaced by a sense of relief. After all, he was now able to believe that things would definitely work out.
“Which reminds me, what are we going to do about the name of this army?”
Elen asked around the time they had finished checking all details and were about to call this war council off.
Everyone present exchanged looks, and while tilting her head to the side in confusion, Liza said, “Wouldn’t Allied Forces of Three Principalities or Four Vanadis Alliance be alright?”
“It lacks impact as it’s just a line-up of words. Do you think that such a name would rouse the morale of the soldiers?”
“It’s easy to understand, but rather dull.”
Not just Elen, but even Mila turned those suggestions down, resulting in Liza looking sullen.
“Could we hear your name suggestions then, you two?”
“Let’s see. Reviving the name of 『Silver Meteor Army』──”
“──is a no.” Mila coldly interrupted Elen who was in the middle of declaring her idea with a triumphant expression.
“The silver part of the name was taken from your army, wasn’t it? This here is going to be our army.”
Elen was about to fly into a rage, but Mila’s argument was quite sound.
“Okay, then let us hear your idea. Of course you won’t include ice or spear, right?”
“That’s only natural. Snow’s──”
Having spoken up to this point, Mila abruptly held her tongue. Elen stared at her with eyes brimming with scorn and ridicule.
“Snow’s? Hoh, that sure sounds like a stirring name. Go ahead and give us the rest.”
Mila glared at Elen with her fists clenched. Tigre and Lim sighed at that. As might be expected, Liza didn’t feel like mediating either, only staring at the two with a fed-up expression. Olga ignored the two, looking up to Tigre.
“What do you think, Tigre?”
Tigre pondered while letting his eyes wander across the ceiling. He came up with a single name, and asked Lim, “How would you say Army of the Black Dragon Flag in Zhcted?”
“Hmm…『Arma Zirnitra』, I think.”
Elen and Mila, who had continued to scowl at each other up until this point, looked towards Lim.
“Arma Zirnitra? Isn’t that quite decent?”
“It means defenders of the black dragon flag, the national symbol of Zhcted, which perfectly applies to us, and not Valentina. Not bad.” Mila smiled with a tinge of irony and her eyes twinkling.
As Olga and Liza also agreed with the name, it was set.
————— End of Part 2 —————
Only around a half koku had passed since the war council had concluded when Tigre visited Olmutz’s camp. She had told him that she wanted to see him after he finished his preparations to depart for his own journey.
──No, it was 「make sure to visit」, wasn’t it?
Recalling the almost unnaturally cold attitude of Mila back then, a wry smile crept on his face. Even for Tigre it was the perfect time, since he had wanted to talk with her as well.
Mila’s tent was obviously located in Olmutz’s army camp. After explaining that there were several issues he wanted to confirm about tomorrow’s march, Tigre got the guards to lead him to her tent. Him feeling cold around the nape was because the evening had already advanced quite a bit, accompanied by a sharp drop in temperature, or maybe because had a guilty conscience.
When he entered her tent, Mila was sitting on a carpet in a relaxed manner. She still wore her blue uniform and white ribbon, but she had removed her armor, including the breastplate. Her draconic tool ─ Frozen Wave ─ leaned against a wall, still gray.
“Welcome. Did you get everything ready for your trip?”
An iron kettle with steam wafting out of its spout, a bottle with black tea leaves, a jar with jam, and two silver cups were placed on the ground next to her.
“Yeah, just as planned. I’ll wait for dawn and then set off with Gaspal and the others.” Tigre sat down opposite Mila.
Since a thick carpet had been laid out on the ground with a bear pelt laying on top, he didn’t feel cold. The lamp hanging down from the ceiling illuminated both of them.
“Let me first treat you to some black tea.”
Mila prepared the tea for him with practiced movements, and after the jam had melted, she handed Tigre his cup.
“Drink it while enjoying the taste.”
Tigre thanked her, and lifted the cup, bringing it close to his mouth. Contrary to the tea Titta had brewed for them during the war council, this tea had an invigorating aroma that made him settle down. Once he took a sip, the heat and sweetness gradually permeated throughout his body.
“Strawberry jam, huh? It’s really been a long time since I last drank your tea.”
“The last time I brewed some for us was back when we were in the capital, after all.” Mila giggled while brewing tea in her own cup.
The two talked about trifling topics for a while, but around the time she had prepared a second serving of tea, Mila suddenly began to act very nervously. She started to say something, but then stopped before actually voicing it out, her cheeks red and her eyes wandering.
Guessing what was making her hesitate, Tigre was about to speak up in order to broach the topic from his side, but before he could, Mila lifted her face, obviously having made up her mind. Tigre put down his silver cup, and waited for her to speak.
“H-Hey, Tigre, it’s about that matter…”
Tigre wasn’t as dumb as to ask what she was talking about. Going by Mila’s behavior, it could only be related to her confession. The scene of that time had occupied a corner of his mind ever since he had been invited over. It was only after the battle against Ganelon had come to an end that Tigre had seriously brooded about the question how he should answer Mila’s feelings. Until then, to be honest, he didn’t have any time to spare a thought on that.
Now he was glad that he had handled it like that. Mila had confessed to him while being aware of Tigre loving Elen and Titta. That emotional resolve and power wasn’t anything he could have faced while being preoccupied with something else.
This wasn’t about their respective positions nor did it have anything to do with his lovers. Just, he’d put his feelings for her into words. It took some time, but he managed to be in time.
“W-Wait a moment. Let’s do this after you come back from the capital.”
Getting energetically interrupted by her without having actually said anything, Tigre felt dumbfounded. He wondered what was going on. Once he took a peek at Mila’s state while being confused, he noticed that her face had terribly cramped up. He thought that she might be nervous, but it also looked like she was scared.
──What should I do? Should I postpone it to the next chance like she’s said? No.
Tigre breathed in lightly, and made up his resolve. I should go ahead with what I had intended to tell her. No one says that the tragedy that struck Sofy couldn’t happen to Mila or me.
Fixing his eyes on Mila, he slowly and firmly said, “I love you as well.”
Mila’s eyes widened with her face looking stunned. A short comment spilled out of her mouth, “You’re lying…”
“It’s not a lie.”
Confusion and anxiety welled up within Tigre. He couldn’t understand – why she had denied him, and whether something had changed in her feelings since the confession.
──Even if that might be the case, I can’t simply pull back here. If she says she doesn’t reciprocate my love, I cannot change it. But I’d hate for her to arbitrarily label them as a lie.
“I love you, Mila. I’m not saying that on a whim either. I remembered your words and thought about you, just to reach this conclusion deep down in my heart.”
Mila cast her eyes down. Wondering whether she was against it, Tigre straightened himself and silently waited for her reply. After a time of five breaths, Mila looked up to Tigre, her eyes red and moist.
“Tell me once more.”
Tigre blinked several times. He didn’t understand what Mila was thinking, but if she said that she wanted to listen to him, it was the best he could ask for.
“I’ll say it as often as you want. I love you, Mila.”
Mila lifted her face. Her cheeks were blushing. The Snow Princes of the Frozen Wave, who always tried to be a proud Vanadis, was nowhere to be found. Instead a normal girl, whose body was trembling out of sheer joy over her feelings having come through, was sitting there.
“It’s not a dream, is it?”
“If it had been a dream, I might have come up with far sweeter and better words.”
Mila sat up on her knees and leaped into Tigre’s chest. Tigre caught her delicate body, and gently hugged it. She relaxed her body, entrusting herself to him. Her weight and warmth felt pleasant to him.
“I had expected that I’d be turned down in all probability.” Mila admitted, her voice trembling faintly. The outer corners of her eyes as she took a quick peek at him glittered with tears. “I thought that I’d also be okay with being turned down. Because I’d be able to give up on you. Because I’d be able to tell myself that I had properly told you my feelings.”
So that’s what it was, huh? Tigre could finally understand.
“But, you allowed me to expect something, didn’t you?”
Just as she said back when she had confessed her feelings.
Tigre put some strength in the arms holding Mila. “Thanks,” he whispered close to her ear, “I’m happy that you harbored expectations for me, even if it might just have been one or two. And that I could answer those expectations.”
“Tell me,” Mila began with her face buried in his chest, “what do you love about me?”
“There are many things, but…first and foremost, it’d be your strict and gentle parts, I’d say.”
“Explain it properly so that I understand. No matter how long it might take.”
Being told so, Tigre reseated him. Mila wrapped her arms around him as if trying to stay glued to him.
“Can’t you let me see your face,” he asked, but Mila refused with silence as she pushed her face into his bosom.
Tigre regarded that action of hers as adorable. While looking at Mila’s head, Tigre put his feelings into words, little-by-little.
“When I met you for the first time, I thought you were arrogant. But I learned to understand that it came from your pride in yourself as Vanadis and your wish to be a proud Vanadis as you love your mother who used to be a Vanadis, and Olmutz where you grew up… I think it was around that time that I started to like you. I believe that being able to frankly state harsh things is the flip side of kindness.”
Probably out of embarrassment, Mila rubbed her cheeks against his chest as if trying to transfer the burning sensation of her face on to him.
“You see, I thought that you were unreliable when I met you for the first time. When I learned about the power of Tir Na Fal’s bow, I thought that you were able to fight recklessly because you had this weapon. But, after standing at your side, I understood that I had been mistaken. I’ll also say it as often as you want me to. I like you. I love you.”
The two hugged each other for a while but eventually Mila raised her face. Maybe because her feelings got elated by the words and warmth they had exchanged in addition to the joy over her feelings having reached him, her blue eyes were wet and tinged with a radiance.
“Tigre, tell me what part of my body you love.”
For an instant, Tigre pondered about it. For one thing, her words just now made him conscious of her body which she had been pushing against his for a while now. Compared with someone like Elen, Mila had a delicate body, with little to no fleshiness. However, her body contours definitely possessed a womanly allure. Her warmth, which got transmitted to him through his clothes, and the softness and youthful springiness of her modest chest were both more than enough to stimulate Tigre.
He thought that it’d be fine for him to phrase it out just like that. But, his reasoning got in the way. Maybe because Mila had sometimes done things like testing Tigre. So he overthought things, believing that he had to answer something appropriate rather than his own, unfiltered thoughts.
“Hmm, I’d say your trained warrior arms and legs.”
The sweet mood and smile vanished without a trace. Tigre immediately perceived that he had blundered. If he were able to hear the voice of her heart, 「You failed」 would have doubtlessly resounded in his ears, but what actually reached his ears was a thanks that sounded more like a blizzard turned into words.
“I’m happy. So you’ve approved of me as a full-fledged warrior.”
“Of course I also cherish you as a woman.”
Tigre tried to somehow salvage the situation. It was an effort resembling the pitiful work of repairing the edge of a huge, drilled hole, but apparently his sincerity still got through to her. Mila sighed very deeply.
“I’ll give you just one more chance.”
Mila quietly closed her eyes. Even Tigre wouldn’t be able to mistake this. He leaned his body over, and overlapped his lips with hers. It was a slow kiss as if they were transferring their affection and passion through their lips. The faint sweetness on their tongues came from the strawberry jam.
After a while, they separated. Seemingly basking in the lingering memory, Mila’s cheeks became bright red once more. However, her eyes didn’t only contain the gleam of a sweet lover, but also the hard fire of a Vanadis.
“Come back to me in one piece. Once you do, we’ll think about how we’ll be able to become happy.”
“Thanks. Mila, you too… Ah, right. I’d be happy if you could greet me with a smile when I return to you.”
Tigre gently clasped her hand. Currently, he was in a tight spot on how to even make his relationship with Elen work. He knew that his relationship with Mila would only add more problems to it. And since Mila was well aware of it herself, she had told him what she did.
The two kissed each other once more.
————— End of Part 3 —————
Around the time when Tigre met with Mila to tell her his feelings, Limalisha visited Titta’s tent. As it was getting late in the night, the moon had already risen high into the sky, but Titta was still awake. As might be expected, she didn’t wear her maid attire, but loose, casual wear made out of hemp cloth, wrapping her body up in a blanket on top of that. Her ponytails had been loosened as well.
“Excuse me for visiting you at such a late hour. There’s something I’d like to request of you.”
While being shown into the tent by Titta, Lim held out a plush toy to her. It was a plush teddy the size of a hand which was quite dirty. Moreover, it was missing its right front paw.
Titta blinked her eyes in surprise, accepting it from Lim. It was a plush teddy she had made in the past.
“You’ve been cherishing it quite a bit, haven’t you?”
Having seen the teddy as decoration at Tigre’s mansion in Alsace, Lim had asked Titta whether she could have it, or otherwise, have Titta make her a similar one. This was something that happened two years ago, just when Tigre had resolved to fight Duke Thenardier.
“Since I’ve been using him as a replacement for a good luck charm at times when I headed out for battle, he might have gone through somewhat rough times.” Lim revealed an apologetic smile.
Titta shook her head, and fetched a needle and yarn out of a small box placed in a corner of the tent.
“I’ll fix him up right away, so please give me a moment. Ah, let me prepare you some black tea before that. I still have some grape jam, after all.”
“No, I’ll take care of the black tea. Please allow me to do at least this much.”
Upon Lim’s offer, Titta bowed her head, telling her, “Please do,” and then began to sew on a new front paw for the teddy. After having Titta tell her where to find everything, Lim grabbed a small kettle and a leather bag with water, stepping outside the tent. After boiling the water, using a nearby campfire, she returned to the tent.
There she brewed the black tea in two porcelain cups. Just then Titta also finished up her repair work.
“Thank you very much. I considered asking you tomorrow morning, but…”
Lim thanked Titta from the bottom of her heart after accepting the teddy bear. Because she got spurred on by unfounded anxiety, she’d come here tonight to ask Titta despite feeling bad about it, but it had been the right decision.
“Things like these end up bothering you, no matter what you do, don’t they? Please feel free to rely on me at any time from now on.” Titta answered with a smile.
The two enjoyed a light-hearted chat over their black tea. Titta had been interacting with the soldiers in a way Tigre and the Vanadis couldn’t. As such, she had an inexhaustible supply of topics. At the time when they had emptied their cups, Lim brought up something she had been hesitating to mention.
“Titta, there’s one thing I’d like to ask you, if possible.”
The other girl tilted her head to the side, making her chestnut-colored hair sway. The following silence was a result of Lim wavering once more.
Tightly clasping her cup, she shook off all hesitation, and rattled down without break, “It’s about Lord Tigrevurmud. That gentleman has Eleonora-sama as a lover besides you. I’ve heard that got a confession from Her Highness Regin as well. What do you think about that?”
When she finished speaking, Lim was fully enveloped by a gloomy guilty conscience. She had asked something she shouldn’t ask as an outsider in this regard. She had hurt Titta’s feelings, and thus she was filled with nothing but regret. In the past, she had confronted Elen with the same question. But, Elen was Lim’s mistress and best friend. As such, she had more than enough reason to ask.
Unable to look Titta in the face, Lim shifted her eyes to the teddy bear next to her instead.
After around two breaths, Titta answered, “Ms. Limalisha, do you love Lord Tigre?”
Putting her tea cup down on the carpet, Lim stared straight at Titta, and answered, “Yes.”
Even though she had asked a question first, being the only one to evade an answer by lying was no option for her. And, thanks to voicing out her honest feelings, the hesitation, which had been nesting in the deepest recesses of her heart, slowly dissolved.
However, no other words left Lim’s mouth. She couldn’t come up with the right words to precisely express emotions on the spot. As she kept brooding in silence, Titta said, “I want Lord Tigre to always smile.”
Titta’s eyes were overflowing with affection to her beloved youth.
“I’ve seen Lord Tigre looking pained on so many occasions. When a plague ran rampant in a village of Alsace, resulting in half of the village having to be burned. When his father ─ Lord Urs ─ passed away. When he had to tackle a difficult problem during his work as lord. And when he headed out for battle, too.”
Lim nodded. She herself had frequently seen that pained look on Tigre’s face.
Titta continued, “I can’t beam a smile on Lord Tigre’s face at such times, but Lady Eleonora can. I’m well aware that she has done all kinds of things for Lord Tigre’s sake. That’s also why I’m happy about Lady Eleonora loving Lord Tigre.”
After having talked up to this point, Titta puffed out her cheeks a bit and pursed her lips.
“Of course, there are times when I feel depressed about it in my heart though… Like what happened during the time when we distributed vodka to everyone during the rain the other day.”
Lim spontaneously burst into laughter. This was about Tigre having kissed Elen. She believed to have been the only one to have noticed it, but apparently she had been wrong.
“Didn’t Lord Tigrevurmud do anything with you afterwards?”
“No,” she ducked her head, seemingly embarrassed, and then answered with a faint whisper.
It looked like the two had hugged and kissed each other after having become alone.
Lim picked up the teddy bear, and deeply bowed towards Titta.
“Thank you, Titta. Thanks to you, I was able to sort out my feelings.”
When she lifted her face again, a bright smile was blooming on her face. Titta’s view was something she could fully approve of. Her heart always felt at ease whenever Tigre was smiling. If Tigre accomplished something, she was happy for him. She felt like she wanted him to always smile.
“Ms. Limalisha, are you going to confess to Lord Tigre?”
“Let’s see… Once this situation has been settled, I’ll think about the proper words.”
Turning her feelings into words. Just like Mila was doing at this moment.
Exchanging good night wishes, Lim left Titta’s tent.
The light of dawn quietly pierced through the cold air wafting across the ground as it flooded the land from the eastern horizon. Tigre gazed eastwards, squinting his eyes as the sun rays were too dazzling for him.
He stood outside the camp of Arma Zirnitra, his body clad in traveling clothes. Next to him were Elen and Titta who had come to see him off.
Shifting his eyes to Elen, he was about to open his mouth in order to tell her something, but what crossed his mind was the nightmare he’d seen in the past. The dream Tigre had seen at night after secretly meeting with Valentina in Silesia. A venomously purple ground, black vegetation, and a crimson moon. Monsters. And, several decayed draconic tools.
What allowed Tigre to calm down a bit more than Elen and the others when the draconic tools had lost their powers right after the battle against Ganelon was the nightmare from that time sticking to his memory, in addition to what the goddess had told him about the situation.
But, now Tigre couldn’t escape a feeling of uneasiness whether it was truly so.
Didn’t that dream show me the future of the wielders and not the draconic tools themselves? Though I’d love to believe that I’m overthinking this.
In the end, Tigre kept his mouth shut. He worried that he’d only make Elen feel anxious, no matter how he phrased it.
Elen passed a small strap of paper to Tigre. Once he looked at it, it listed three names.
“They’re bureaucrats serving at the palace, and people who are especially close to Lord Eugene. I’m sure they’ll assist you.”
“Lord Tigre, please be careful.”
“Thanks, you two.”
Tigre separately hugged Elen and Titta. And then he mounted the horse that had been prepared for him. His Black Bow, quivers, and things necessary for traveling had been loaded on the horse behind the saddle.
Three men, who had watched the parting scene from several alsin away, now brought their horse close. It was Gaspal, Damad, and Naum. Without saying, all three had finished their preparations long ago. Gaspal was Mashas’s second son, and something akin to an older brother for Tigre. Damad was a Muozinel soldier and a friend who was always open for a casual chat with Tigre. Naum was one of Zhcted’s knights, and while still in his thirties, the white streaks within his black hair stood out and deep wrinkles had dug themselves into his face.
“Done?” Gaspal asked with a smile.
Tigre nodded. Naum pulling a face full of complicated feelings most likely stemmed from this lineup. Even though they were heading to the capital of Zhcted, he was the only Zhcted in the group.
“I’ll ride in front. Considering the current situation where battles are raging all over the place, it’s not strange for Brunians and Muozinel to travel the lands, but if someone talks to you, pretend that you don’t quite understand the Zhcted language. Then I’ll handle the rest.” Naum said while looking at the other three.
In response, Tigre obediently bowed his head, Gaspal imitated Tigre, and Damad nodded lightly.
The hooves of four horses thundered across the ground, turning the cold air into a wind that pricked the men’s faces. Tigre and his escort spurred their horses on, galloping towards the sun which was slowly but steadily gaining in strength as it blessed the land with its light.
Arma Zirnitra vacated its camp roughly one and a half koku after Tigre had departed. Even though the sun was weak around this season, its light was brilliant and warm. The sky looked like a blue canvas, few clouds to be found.
After swiftly finishing their breakfast Arma Zirnitra had begun its march in the northeastern direction. Elen and the other Vanadis had their men rest every half koku, sending out scouts while checking their maps. Whenever they got close to a village or town, they’d write a letter for the local mayor or village chief, and have a cavalry unit deliver it.
The letters requested permission to buy provisions and fuel, but of course this wasn’t the only aim. They wanted to find out in advance whether those towns and villages were on Valentina’s side. Depending on the situation, it was quite likely that an enemy could suddenly show up behind them.
Maybe you could describe it as luck, but all the towns and villages, where Arma Zirnitra stopped by, declared their neutrality. Neutrality under these circumstances meant that they’d yield to the superior side as soon as it became clear who was predominating, but for Elen’s group it was plenty with them not turning into their enemies right away.
Just like that Arma Zirnitra advanced along the main road at a good pace for several days, but when they dispatched a cavalry unit to Piwa, a town situated in the middle between Lebus and Bydgauche, they received a grave request.
“Northern bandits have suddenly crossed the border. They don’t know the number of towns and villages that got attacked by them… Thus they’re begging us to lend them our strength as Vanadis.”
It might be more accurate to describe it as entreaty rather than a request.
“I’ll head over to ask them about the details. It’s my first time to visit this town, but I’m sure they’re much more familiar with the name Lebus than Leitmeritz or Olmutz.” Liza said.
Accompanied by just Olga, she headed over to Piwa early in the morning. Elen and Mila, who had been entrusted with the command of Arma Zirnitra, had the men set up camp near Piwa. Even in this place, it’d be impossible to allow 4,500 soldiers to enter town.
Snow seemed to have fallen in this area. Patches of white could be seen here and there around Piwa, glittering as they were struck by the sun rays.
It was just past noon when Liza and Olga came back from Piwa. The camp build had long finished. The sky was a sketch of light blue, and if you took the season into account, you could actually call it a sunny day, but the wind was freezing.
The sight of off-duty soldiers warming themselves at the campfires they had started could be watched manifold inside the camp. Some of them were also grilling dried meat or fish.
The Vanadis assembled in Elen’s tent. Next to the stony Arifar leaned the Sword of Invincibility, which Tigre had left in Elen’s care, in a corner of the tent. Noticing Liza revealing doubt and irritation in her odd eyes, Elen raised her eyebrows.
“You look like it’s quite a troublesome story.”
“Yes, it is a major pain.” Liza answered and spread out several maps she’d brought over from her own tent.
Lim called Titta over, and asked her to bring hot water with honey for everyone. Considering the state of the camp, she suspected that water should have already been boiled at several places. In little to no time, Titta poured hot water with honey into silver cups and carried them over.
With cups in hand, Elen and the other Vanadis sat down while making sure to surround the maps prepared by Liza.
Liza pointed at one map. It depicted the continent’s northern part. Her slender finger wasn’t aimed at Zhcted, but north of Zhcted, beyond the border.
“You’re aware that people referred to as savage tribes live in the north of our country, right?”
“If it’s around that much, yeah.” Elen answered while staring at the map.
Her Leitmeritz and Mila’s Olmutz were both situated in Zhcted’s southwest. Olga’s Brest lay in the east. Thus it was fine to describe the knowledge about the northern tribe of the three as almost non-existent.
“They’re asking us to repel those savage tribes. The enemy numbers around 20,000. Up until today, quite a few towns and villages have been attacked by them, and even in Piwa, many residents, soldiers, and then peddlers have run away.”
Liza’s voice clearly oozed with rage. Elen felt the same, but she prioritized asking something that was bugging her.
“If I remember correctly, Lord Ilda supposedly subjugated the tribes, didn’t he?”
“Right. I have heard that story from Lord Ilda himself. He told me that the tribes fielded big numbers, lengthening the expedition for days over schedule, and that his army also suffered casualties.”
This was an event which took place at the beginning of Tigre, who had lost his memories after defeating the pirates led by Torbalan, was brought to Lebus as Urs. Liza remembered that time quite well.
“You’re saying they recovered within just one year and launched a counterattack in the midst of winter?” Mila frowned in a way that made her doubt clear.
She hadn’t been close to Ilda, but she had learned through rumors that he was a skilled commander with a vast territory in Zhcted’s north. While it might be true that he had struggled with them,. she couldn’t believe that he’d wing the savage tribe suppression. Moreover, she couldn’t understand the tribes’ action either. If they took action for the sake of pillaging, the current season was extremely unsuited. After all, none of the villages and towns should have much reserves left anymore.
“I found all of this strange as well, and thus asked Piwa’s mayor about various things. One of the stories he told me drew my attention. Most recently, the chief of the tribes has changed.”
Elen, Mila, and Lim all inclined their heads in confusion. They couldn’t immediately grasp the meaning behind Liza’s words. Olga, who drank her water while looking at the maps, hadn’t participated in the discussion so far, but now she added with a dispassionate, detached tone, “A new chief would exhibit their power and start wars in order to increase their authority. Some of my ancestors were like that as well.”
“I see. That makes sense in a way.” Elen nodded.
Next to her, Lim faced Liza with a serious expression.
“Lady Elizavetta, our army fields 4,500. Let alone having half the enemy numbers, we do not even reach a fourth of the enemy numbers. I think it would be dangerous to fight them under these circumstances.”
It was the duty of a Vanadis to protect the kingdom from foreign aggressors. They also felt angry towards the cruelty of the tribes. And just because they were getting ready to fight Valentina, it was still no choice to leave the tribes to their own devices. But, as an army commander, one should avoid reckless battles as much as possible.
Liza placed her cup against her lips, and sipped some hot water. After adding a silent break, she revealed a smile filled with confidence.
“Of course we’ll call out to the surrounding lords to provide us with soldiers. We’ve got good prospects of winning this, even with just me alone handling it.”
Four curious stares converged on Liza. Mila’s blue eyes twinkled in amusement.
“Could we have you tell us the details?”
“It’s something I’ve heard from Lord Ilda before, but──”
With that preface, Liza told them what she knew about the tribes, and explained her plan based on that knowledge. After the other Vanadis and Lim offered several suggestions, the plan was completed.
————— End of Part 4 —————