Valentina received the report in her office after having finished breakfast and begun working on her official duties for around one koku. Adelaiyda’s army, which was supposed to head for Pardu, had actually appeared close to Silesia and was now requesting permission to swear their allegiance to Valentina.
Hearing those circumstances, the black-haired Vanadis couldn’t hide her surprise. Adelaiyda’s army consisted of lords who had joined together under the banner of making the girl, who currently held the fourth rank in the royal succession order, the next queen, but Chenbel and Eleck, who served as mediators of their allied forces and also as Adelaiyda’s guardians, had started to oppose each other merely three days after they had raised their army.
The reason for their animosity was a matter of form. Or in other words, they had different views on how Adelaiyda, whom both had elevated into being their leader, should be treated. Chenbel regarded the eleven-years-old girl as nothing more than a political tool to satisfy his own ambitions. On the other hand, Eleck favored Adelaiyda. Previously, he stood in contact with Adelaiyda’s father, Karl Rodina, and thus guilty consciousness might have also played a role here.
Both men had controlled the allied forces and headed for Pardu while slowly gaining more allies, but the hostility between both grew by the day. In the end, loud quarreling could be heard from Chenbel’s tent on the evening of the day when they were around two days’ march away from Pardu. Given that even screams were issued from the tent, soldiers rushed inside, just to find the two guardians collapsed on the carpet, bleeding. Chenbel had his forehead cracked open by a sword while another sword was stabbed in Eleck’s chest.
According to the report of a soldier, Chenbel had ridiculed Eleck for having a taste in little girls over his attitude towards Adelaiyda. Apparently Eleck had then drawn his blade in rage, but since both were dead at this point, no one knew the whole truth.
The ones being at a loss what to do were the lords and their soldiers who had lost both their unifying leaders. Adelaiyda’s army consisted of eleven lords and approximately 10,000 soldiers. However, among them was no one who could seize control over the whole army. Some definitely harbored intentions to do so, but they lacked the talent that would have been required to make the other lords agree.
After wasting a whole day on unproductive meetings, four lords left together with their 3,000 soldiers. The remaining lords decided to obey Valentina. They excused their actions by claiming that it had been Chenbel and Eleck who had blamed Ruslan while they had only joined the campaign out of animosity towards Eugene.
──So it’s because no one has been able to take over the leadership, huh? For them to be unable to come up with some better reason…
Valentina couldn’t help but snicker at their foolishness. Then again, it had been her who had given birth to Adelaiyda’s army which Chenbel and Eleck had commanded. Of course, she was well aware that both men had different views on Adelaiyda. She had considered the possibility of them bumping heads before attacking Pardu, but now that it had happened, she could only sigh at their uselessness.
On the other hand, this wasn’t the worst outcome among Valentina’s predictions either. Adelaiyda’s army was gone from the game field and she had obtained two thirds of its soldiers.
It was said that Adelaiyda had behaved herself submissively. But Valentina considered that to be inevitable. With the two guardians on whom she had depended gone, only adults with no sympathy for her situation remained around her.
──I should attack Pardu.
Valentina silently made this decision after having the civil official, who had reported to her, leave her office.
Ever since hearing reports about Arma Zirnitra having split its forces, with one part staying in Bydgauche and the other part moving south through the west, several days ago, Valentina had continuously pondered how she should move.
Defeat the forces in Bydgauche or defeat the forces which were currently marching south. Valentina believed that her enemies in Bydgauche wouldn’t attack the capital since they didn’t have the power to pull that off in the first place. The lords in the central and western north were supportive of Arma Zirnitra. Thus, if Valentina tried to attack Bydgauche, those lords would rush to Arma Zirnitra’s help. But, if Arma Zirnitra were to march on the capital, those lords would hesitate to assist them.
But, this didn’t apply to the southbound enemy forces. Valentina could clearly tell that they were aiming for Pardu. If they gathered up further soldiers in Leitmeritz and Olmutz, they might head for the capital. Thus Valentina had to crush them before they could increase their strength.
At this time, Valentina still didn’t know about Eugene’s death. But then again, it wouldn’t have changed any of her plans even if she had known.
“──Your Highness,” Valentina called out to Valery who was flipping through a book in a corner of her office.
Ten days had already passed since the young prince had started to read books here. At the start, the bureaucrats visiting the office had bowed at him while bewildered by his presence, but nowadays everyone had accepted the prince’s attendance as something very natural.
On the other hand, Valery never disturbed Valentina. He called out to her several times a day, but only when he couldn’t read certain words. Something of this level was no hindrance to Valentina’s work on governmental affairs.
Valentina herself didn’t understand whether she was trying to take care of the young prince as much as she could because Ruslan had asked her to do so, because she regarded this as an atonement towards Ruslan, or because she wanted to simulate some fake revival of her own childhood in this closed space. What she knew was that this type of exchange wasn’t unpleasant for her, nor did it cause her own ambitions to lose any of their drive.
Called by Valentina, the ten-years-old prince lifted his face from the book on his knees.
“What is it, Tina?”
Valentina left her seat and walked up to Valery.
“I feel like I should tell you without delay that I shall be gone from the royal palace in a few days. My attendants will take care of Your Highness’ needs until I return in a while.”
If it was just Osterode’s army, she could have departed today, if she felt like it. But, the same didn’t strike true for Adelaiyda’s army. Valentina had to reorganize its formation with her own hands. Plus, since some of the western lords had answered her call, it had become necessary for her to join up with them somewhere.
“Are you possibly going to war?”
Valentina was mildly surprised by Valery’s curt question. The young boy added with an apologetic look, “I heard several words which drew my curiosity…though it’s not like I planned on eavesdropping.”
“No, Your Highness, it is nothing you would need to worry about.”
Once Valentina shook her head, Valery’s cheeks relaxed in apparent relief. And then he said as if having suddenly hit upon something, “Tina, could you lend me a writing brush?”
When Valentina handed him a brush she had retrieved from her desk, the prince tore off one of the silver buttons attached to his sleeve. And then he wrote something on the button before giving it back to Valentina. Upon taking a look, Valentina saw that he had written a scrawly 『Good luck』.
Valery said with a smug look on his face, “I saw this in the book I read yesterday.”
Valentina fixedly stared at the button, but then asked the prince with a smile, “Your Highness, do you like reading books?”
“Yeah. Thanks to you, Tina,” replied Valery with a carefree smile. “I understand a lot if I read books. Until now I didn’t know how I should put my own thoughts and feelings into words. I also didn’t know what many things were called. But, now I have comprehended many things. Only after they became tangible, I started to understand my own thoughts.”
Listening to Valery, Valentina’s eyes widened for an instant. The boy’s words, which he fervently spun so that they’d pass on his delight and excitement, allowed Valentina to realize something. Her own ambitions came into existence back in her childhood when she had read the tale of Asvarre’s Queen Zepheelia in her own mansion. Until then she hadn’t even known that queens existed in this world.
No, that’s wrong. My ambition took shape even earlier than that.
Having thin royal blood streaming through her veins and merely carrying the surname Estes as she had no more than a remote relation to the direct royal bloodline, Valentina’s environment consisted of nothing but a single, small house in the capital. Even in her early childhood, Valentina was able to assess her current situation and deem it as unacceptable. The tale then gave the vague dream nesting in Valentina a clear direction towards becoming a queen. But, the dream itself had taken shape within herself over a long time.
“…Tina?” The prince looked up to Valentina who had suddenly fallen silent.
At that moment, she tucked away that episode of her past in a corner of her mind and returned a smile at Valery.
“Thank you, Your Highness. I shall borrow some of your luck for a while then,” said Valentina, and then bowed respectfully at the young prince.
The central town of Pardu, Litomysl, had a townscape crying countryside from every corner. Many of the houses were made out of wood, and only the main streets were paved with stones. Most of the wares offered at the stalls were fish, edible wild plants, berries, and nuts. Even Eugene’s mansion was plain and rustic.
“It’s definitely a nice place.”
And yet, Tigre liked what he saw when entering Litomysl. He felt that the ambiance closely resembled Celesta, the central town of Alsace, where he had grown up.
Then again, the current Litomysl emanated a heavy atmosphere, if one only looked outside the town. Countless tents were set up around the town with heavily armed soldiers patrolling the perimeter. Those were the soldiers of Leitmeritz and Olmutz which Elen and Mila had summoned. Up until today, more than 2,400 soldiers had gathered here.
As soon as they arrived in Litomysl, Lim immediately started to work on the organization of their joint army. Tigre, Elen, and Gaspal participated in Eugene’s funeral ceremony, but only Lim didn’t attend. Seeing how they didn’t know when Adelaiyda’s army would appear in Pardu, Lim immersed herself in her work, insisting that someone had to do it anyway.
Even late at night, Lim stared at maps while relying on the illumination of lamps inside Elen’s tent that had been erected outside the town. After finishing even Elen’s share of work and thus running out of things to do, she had tried to sleep, but couldn’t do so because of her high-strung emotions. Because of that she was now distracting herself by staring at maps and hypothesizing about various battlefields and enemy movements.
──We must protect Pardu at any cost.
It was at that moment when she heard a familiar voice outside the tent. At first Lim thought that she might have misheard, but since the voice called out to her once more, she answered, albeit being perplexed.
“I’m sorry about visiting at such a late hour, but please allow me to intrude upon you.”
The one entering was Tigre, just as she had expected.
“I thought you’d be staying the night at Lady Marina’s mansion.”
“I entrusted that part to Elen,” he replied and sat down on the carpet.
Once he took off his thick overcoat, two silver cups and a wine bottle came to light in his hand. He had apparently smuggled them underneath his coat.
“Want to keep me a bit company?”
“I have other things to do.”
Realizing that he had come here to console her, Lim’s face stiffened. Her voice was a lot more brusque than usual.
She tried to ask him to please leave her alone, but Tigre forestalled her, and said, “I wanted to hear about Lord Eugene from you.”
Lim was taken aback. After a short moment of silence, she asked Tigre, “…Did you hear something from Lady Eleonora?”
“She told me to help you forget your worries since she’d entertain Mrs. Marina and Alyssa for the two of us. I tried to come up with various ways to lift your mood on the way here, but to no avail,” Tigre revealed honestly without trying to hide anything while pouring wine into the two cups. “That’s why I changed my way of thinking. I’d like to hear what you know and have seen of Lord Eugene. I want to learn a lot more about that man. No, I feel I must know more about him.”
As the one who had inherited Eugene Shevarin’s will. He directly fixed his black eyes, which were filled with sincerity, on Lim.
Suddenly Lim breathed out. It can’t be helped, she thought while revealing a smile pregnant with an ample amount of sadness. It can’t be helped, allowed her to persuade herself. This is my duty. After all, I’m the only one who can talk about Eugene as I know him, and this man needs to know as much as possible about Eugene.
“Very well. What exactly do you wish to know about Lord Eugene?”
“Everything you know that you believe you can tell me. You don’t need to worry about talking in order or anything like that. Just throw everything you remember at me,” Tigre held out one cup to Lim while continuing, “I met Lord Eugene for the first time during this year’s Sun Festival. He said that he met Father…my father on several occasions and that he’d pray to the gods for my mother and father to rest in peace. He even gave me a few pointers about what King Viktor had told me.”
Lim nodded, accepting the cup.
“I understand. Then I’ll start from when Lady Eleonora and I met Lord Eugene for the first time, I suppose.”
Fragments of many scenes revived in Lim’s mind. Without being aware of it, a smile formed on her lips as she started to intermittently talk about their happy past.
—————— End of Part 1 ——————
When waking up, Lim’s field of view was dim.
──Did I fall asleep at some point?
She guessed that her mind was hazy because of the remaining drunkenness. Apparently she had laid down while clinging to something. Warmth was emitted from whatever her body was glued to.
Lim strained her eyes in the mostly dark tent. But, once she understood what she was clinging to, all sleepiness was blown away at once. After all, it was Tigre who was softly snoring right next to her.
While taking a look at the sleeping face of the youth, Lim slowly recalled what had happened before she fell asleep. She had truly talked a lot about Eugene. Over all the time, Tigre had carefully listened to her while conversationally confirming her words every so often. The first wine bottle became empty in no time, and thus Tigre had procured another two bottles from somewhere.
It was around half a koku after she had started to talk when tears began to run down her cheeks. She had no doubt that the wine played a not so insignificant role in this, but when the face of the dead Eugene overlapped with her past memories of him, she couldn’t contain her emotions any longer.
“He was no one who should have died in such a place,” was something she had probably repeated countless times across the night.
She didn’t know when it started, but once she realized, her face was buried in Tigre’s chest. Her tears caused many stains on Tigre’s clothes. Meanwhile Tigre had gently caressed Lim’s head and back. As if telling her to cry for as long as she needed it.
She had cried like a child. Yet, Tigre had told her that crying wasn’t shameful at all, no matter how old one might be. However, he didn’t use words, but his warm, dry palm to pass it on to her.
──I have never done anything like that, not even with Lady Eleonora…
She didn’t believe it to be anything unbecoming, but now, after calming down and remembering it, it was a completely different issue whether it was actually embarrassing. Especially with Tigre being the other party.
Or, Lim pondered, maybe that’s the reason why Elen sent Tigre over.
Once she lifted her face and checked the situation, she saw that it was still night out. Lim laid down once more, snuggling up to Tigre. She wanted to stay like this for a bit longer. And while harboring that wish, she fell asleep.
The ones seeing Tigrevurmud Vorn’s proclamation first were the lords holding territories in Zhcted’s west.
“My name is Tigrevurmud Vorn. I want to become Zhcted’s next king after inheriting the will of Earl of Pardu Eugene Shevarin who lost his life to an assassin’s dagger after exerting himself to rule this fine nation until the other day. Some may harbor doubts about whether a foreigner has the qualification to become your king. But, I would like all of you to remember that the incarnation of the black dragon, the founder of this kingdom, was not born on this land either. What matters are the answers to the questions: whose trust have they gained and what can they do for the sake of the kingdom’s people. The Vanadis of Leitmeritz, Olmutz, Lebus, and Brest are already supporting my becoming the next king. Therefore I shall pour all my might into putting the current chaos under control, and after restoring Earl of Pardu’s honor, I shall take the crown. Those wishing to offer their power for the sake of Zhcted ought to rally under the black dragon’s flag hoisted by me.”
The western lords held a lot of information on Brune and Asvarre because of their geographical location. During times of peace, the exchange with the neighboring countries would increase, while their territories would naturally turn into contested zones during wartimes. Of course they were well aware about the civil war in Brune two years ago, the civil war in Asvarre one year ago, and the many battles that took place in Brune from spring until autumn this year. They also knew about Tigre holding the titles 『Star Shooter』 and 『Knight of the Moonlight』. And anyone who had attended this year’s Sun Festival would know how close Tigre had been to the Vanadis.
Conversely, the current state in the capital was difficult to grasp for them. Just as they believed that Ruslan might have come back, the prince collapsed. Eugene then served as proxy ruler, but he was soon to be thrown into jail due to some kind of accusation, just to be replaced by Grand Chamberlain Miron. On top of that, the Vanadis of Osterode became the First Prince Aide.
In the past, Eugene had worked as diplomatic envoy for Brune over a long period of time. Because of that, the western lords were well-accustomed to his character and capabilities. They had also agreed with King Viktor nominating him as the next king. That alone was more than enough for them to be suspicious of Eugene being ousted from his position as proxy ruler.
Furthermore, letters written by Elen and Marina reached the lords with territories close to Pardu together with Tigre’s proclamation. The shock they experienced from Marina’s letter was huge. In her handwriting, she informed them of Eugene having appointed Tigre as next king and Eugene himself having passed away. Of course, her letter had also been sealed by the Shevarin family’s crest. Elen’s letter was identical in content, but naturally bore Leitmeritz’s official seal.
This put the western lords in quite a bind.
Tigre’s proclamation also reached Valentina in the capital. Then again, if one considered the distance from Pardu to Silesia, one could easily describe her skill in information gathering as outstanding. For anyone else, it’d have likely taken another two or three days to learn of this.
And even Valentina couldn’t resist feeling shocked by this proclamation. She was also surprised about the news of Eugene’s death, but compared to Tigre’s candidacy as next king, this was nothing more than a sideshow.
──I guess I should put on a little act before departing.
On this day Valentina’s preparations for departure had been completed. Her large army, which what had been dubbed as Valentina Army, numbered 12,000 troops in total, consisting of 3,000 Osterode soldiers, 7,000 soldiers of the former Adelaiyda forces, and 2,000 soldiers of the western lords following her. It was scheduled for them to leave the capital tomorrow morning. And according to the information Valentina had obtained, the enemy, who had amassed in Pardu, now numbered something close to 10,000 soldiers. Of course, this was just an assumption since she didn’t actually know the real state of the enemy army. Plus, the circumstances might also change while she was heading for Pardu.
When noon had passed, Valentina held a war council as First Prince Aide. However, she called the various commanders to the audience hall instead of a meeting room. And when the commanders entered the audience hall, they all had their breath taken away.
But that was only natural since Valentina was calmly standing next to the throne which had been empty for a long time now. In her hand she held her scythe with its ominous form.
While exchanging looks amongst each other due to this sight, the commanders formed a line at a place slightly separated from the throne. Before long, all of them had assembled, and Valentina took out a parchment.
“The other day, this kind of proclamation was sent out from Pardu.”
Valentina dispassionately read out Tigre’s proclamation. Her listeners couldn’t believe their ears or bluntly showed their bewilderment on their faces, but Valentina assured them that she definitely hadn’t made it up.
Within the ensuing chaos and confusion spreading within the hall, only she remained calm and collected.
“It is extremely regrettable that the Earl of Pardu has passed away. But, what is even more regrettable is him having endorsed a foreigner to become the next king of Zhcted. I wonder just where his loyalty towards the royal family has vanished to.” Valentina shifted her head slightly, facing the empty throne. “After His Majesty King Viktor passed away, His Highness Ruslan became the master of this throne. All of you should remember that His Highness talked about obeying the mourning period during the winter, before holding the coronation ceremony once spring would arrive.”
She averted her face from the throne, and let her eyes wander across the commanders with a gaze that might as well be called frosty. What the commanders sensed from her look was cold rage.
“Tigrevurmud Vorn might be a hero in Brune. But, does he really have the qualification to demand Zhcted’s throne? While it may be true that the Earl of Pardu and four Vanadis have approved of him, is it truly the right conduct?” Valentina asked, just to clearly answer her own question in the next moment, “No. Based on morality and bloodline, His Highness Ruslan alone has the right to become the throne’s owner. We shall fight in order to prevent an outlaw from snatching his throne away. In order to protect the capital’s residents and Zhcted’s lands from the hands of an evil enemy. I expect all of you, as commanders of an army division and as soldiers, to exert all your power.”
Each and every of her words was calm and definitely not loud. But the tone of her voice certainly reached their ears, even as they were standing a distance away, and deeply touched their hearts.
At this moment, Valentina Glinka Estes was doubtlessly an aide standing next to the lord of the throne and the guardian of the capital who would resolutely oppose all enemies.
Vigorous cheers washed over her from the commanders. Those shouts overlapped manifold, turning into angry roars. After waiting for them to settle down, Valentina spoke up once more. This time it concerned military matters. She informed them that the army would depart tomorrow and gave them the details of which route they’d take to Pardu.
“There are concerns that Brune will send reinforcements if we pointlessly give the enemy too much time. We should crush a criminal like Tigrevurmud Vorn at once.”
She didn’t tell them, but Valentina had another reason for hurrying the battle. Since she didn’t know how long Elen and the others would remain unable to use their draconic tools, she had to slay all of them as quickly as possible.
And then, after reviewing the armaments and states of the soldiers under the various commanders, Valentina told them once more that they’d depart tomorrow morning, and ended the war council. One commander after the other left the audience hall.
In the end, only Valentina remained.
Without moving from the empty throne’s side, a monologue teeming with her determination oozed out of her mouth when it was just her in the audience hall.
“──I won’t hand it over.”
A faint tinge of passion dyed her voice. Tigre’s proclamation had been surprising, but Valentina believed it to be a golden opportunity for her. After all, she had been given the chance to publicly take down Tigre. On top of that, she’d be able to clean up all the Vanadis backing him, too.
Not even the slightest flickering could be spotted in the fighting spirit fiercely burning deep in her violet eyes.
‘It took me a long time, and I had to create a path littered with corpses while shedding lots of blood.
When this battle was over, the empty throne should welcome her as its new owner.
—————– End of Part 2 —————–
One group of soldiers after the other arrived in Litomysl, the base of Arma Zirnitra, from Leitmeritz and Olmutz. The morale of the soldiers was further boosted by the prospect of Mila, who led a joint force of a little less than 3,000 soldiers from Leitmeritz and Olmutz, arriving tomorrow or the day after.
The people of Pardu were also burning with a fierce desire to avenge their lord. For them, Eugene was a lord of whom they could be proud. In addition, with the wife of Eugene, Marina, having clearly shown her will to support Tigre on all accounts, the people heavily inclined towards cooperating with Arma Zirnitra.
But then again, it wasn’t as though everything was going smoothly. One example for this would be many of the neighboring lords sending responses that they wouldn’t assist Arma Zirnitra, even while sympathizing with Marina and stating that they’d pray to the gods for Eugene’s soul to rest in peace.
Tigre consoled Marina, who felt quite sorry about it, by telling her, “This much is plenty.”
In reality, he was already happy about them affirming that they wouldn’t become his enemies. Moreover, a part of Tigre felt that he’d be taking advantage of their pity towards Marina, and that would be inexcusable in the first place.
However, Tigre also managed to reunite with someone unexpected. At a time when noon was just around the corner, he came back to Eugene’s mansion after strolling through the town of Litomysl together with Gaspal and a few acquaintances among Leitmeritz’s soldiers, just to find a man and woman standing in front of the mansion.
Tigre unintentionally cried out their names in surprise.
“Your Highness Regin! Lord Mashas!”
He couldn’t say anything beyond that because Regin immediately ran over and tightly hugged him without a care that they were in public. Brune’s princess put her arms around Tigre’s neck and for a while didn’t show any signs of letting go.
Tigre looked at Mashas, implicitly asking him for help, but the elderly earl with his short and stout build shook his head, silently telling the youth to accept his fate.
At this time, Elen was out scouting with the cavalry and Lim had gone to Leitmeritz’s army camp in order to manage the soldiers. Thus, you might call this a fortunate coincidence for Tigre and Regin.
Gaspal tried to take a dignified attitude as befitting for a young noble, but once Mashas clapped his shoulder, Gaspal’s expression relaxed and he hugged his father’s shoulders. Father and son rejoiced over being safe and sound.
It was obvious at a glance that Regin and Mashas were wearing travel clothes. Their thick overcoats, gloves, and leather boots were dirty and had many smaller scratches, showing that they went through a long journey. Regin was carrying a hat with a broad visor while a sword was affixed to Mashas’s waist.
Tigre borrowed a guest room by asking Marina, and led the two there after having their overcoats dusted off.
The guest room sported a table with two chairs on either side in its center. They sat down so that Regin and Mashas were facing Tigre.
“Why are you two in a place like this?”
“That’s my line!” Regin barked back in response to Tigre’s simple question, unable to hide her anger.
With her happiness and delight over their reunion having abated, another emotion had apparently taken center stage.
“Do you remember what I had asked you when I ordered you to become the representative of the delegation?” She asked with an extremely disgruntled look that wouldn’t allow any ambiguity.
Tigre somehow managed to answer despite being overwhelmed by Regin, “Umm, inform them of our victory in the war, thank them for having dispatched troops to support us, hand over the gifts, promise them friendship…”
“Indeed,” confirmed Regin with a smile, but rage was still flickering within her blue eyes. “On my way here, I heard that you pronounced your candidacy as next king of Zhcted.”
“…Would you be willing to listen to my side of the story first?”
Tigre had no choice but to earnestly beg here while prostrating himself. After all, it was correct that he had overstayed his visit in Zhcted, gone way beyond his station, and moved around as he pleased.
Marina bringing some beverage for them at that very moment was his salvation. Regin corrected her posture, and accepted the cup with fruit water while smiling. As soon as Marina left, she stared at Tigre again, the rage gleaming within reignited.
Tigre regretted that he didn’t have Gaspal join the meeting. After he finished his reunion with Mashas, he disappeared somewhere with the soldiers of Leitmeritz. Tigre was sure that he had foreseen that things would turn out like this.
“It’s going to be a long story,” with that as a preface, Tigre began to explain while holding his cup with fruit water.
It was still autumn when Tigre and the others had left Brune, so he had been in Zhcted for less than half a year. But, lots of things had happened during that short period of time. Hearing about Ganelon, Regin blinked in surprise, gazing at Tigre while dumbstruck.
“Certainly, many strange incidents took place in Brune as well. Even though I had the priests offer prayers to the gods, it showed no effect, so I worried what I should do about it, but…”
The story about Tigre having recovered the kingdom’s treasured sword Durandal delighted Regin quite a bit, but her face immediately darkened when she heard about Eugene’s passing.
“I see. The Earl of Pardu has…”
Once Tigre finished his explanation, Regin asked him with a serious expression, “Do you truly intend to become the king of Zhcted?”
In no time, Regin hurled the next question at him, “What are you going to do about Brune?”
Being able to immediately answer stemmed from Tigre having anticipated that question.
“If Your Highness permits, I will try my utmost to wear the crown of both countries.”
This was something he’d devised on the day he decided to become king of Zhcted.
“What…!” Mashas cried out with his gray beard trembling after having silently listened so far out of consideration towards Regin.
Regin also stared at Tigre, dumbstruck once more. After the room was dominated by silence for five breaths, Regina finally pulled herself together, asking, “Why?”
“Because people dear to me live in both countries,” replied Tigre while squarely taking on Regin’s stabbing look.
He wouldn’t be able to concern himself with Alsace as king of Zhcted since Alsace belonged to Brune. But, for Tigre it was impossible to part with Alsace. Having said that, it’d also be out of the question to steal it with military might.
It was then that Tigre had recalled Foumar who was also known as 『Northern Sea Baron』. According to legends, he had served three countries, being granted peerage and land by each. Hence, Tigre thought that it might be possible to reign over two countries if one could serve three. Without either of the two annexing the other.
“I’m a greedy man.” Without even noticing that he had used a casual, more arrogant way of referring to himself while addressing the princess, Tigre continued with a calm expression, “I want to keep those I cherish by my side. I want to be able to help them if something happens to them. The people living in my birthplace Alsace, Lord Mashas’s Aude, Viscount Augre’s Territoire, and of course Nice are all important to me. It’s the same in Zhcted as well.”
Regin frowned because she had understood that Tigre was serious about this. If anyone other than Tigre had spouted such lines, she’d have curtly rejected them. But, Regin had been saved twice by this youth. The first time in Agnes, and the second time in the royal palace of Nice. And him saving the kingdom from danger wasn’t limited to just once or twice.
And yet, Regin deliberately responded harshly, “You make it sound easy, but do you really believe that you’ll be able to pull this off?”
“I don’t know.”
Disappointment washed over Regin’s face due to his answer.
Tigre resumed with a gentle tone, “But, I feel like trying. Won’t you lend me your strength to that end?”
Regin bated her breath lightly, staring at Tigre full of surprise.
“The words just now… Can you repeat them once more?”
Due to her request, Tigre racked his brain whether he had said something bad, but Regin’s eyes were gleaming as if she was expecting something. He assumed that it might not be anything bad after all, and repeated the words he had said just moments ago.
Regin crossed her hands in front of her chest and smiled at Tigre, “It’s the first time for you to ask me for help.”
“I beg your pardon…” Tigre lowered his head.
Considering it closely, asking a princess for help could be regarded as disrespectful. Although Tigre had been asked by her to become king, he was still no more than an earl at present.
But, Regin shook her head, “I’m happy. I feel like I’m finally able to stand close to you, although I can’t say yet that I’m standing at your side. Until now, I’ve been always watching your back.”
“Something like that…,” Tigre started to say, but swallowed his words.
She might be right, he reassessed. It didn’t change the fact that Regin was someone important to Tigre, but unlike Elen or Mila, she naturally didn’t fight next to him. This makes only sense since Regin is no warrior, but it might have been a source of frustration for her. No, I think it’s safe to say that it must have vexed her.
“If I were to become king of Brune…” Tigre spun his words for her sake while thinking, “You’d become my wife. But, I’m still very inexperienced as a ruler. I can’t say anything as grandiose as let’s support each other. Therefore, please stand next to me instead of saying that you’re close to me.”
Without answering, Regin stood up from her chair and looked at Mashas.
“Earl Rodant, make sure to keep your eyes shut until I tell you otherwise.”
“Should I step outside for a bit?”
Guessing what Regin was about to do, the elderly Earl displayed some tactfulness.
“No, that would take it too far. We have many important matters to discuss, after all.”
“As you wish,” Mashas answered solemnly and closed his eyes.
After confirming as much, Regin went around the table, planting herself next to Tigre.
“Please stand up, Tigre.”
Tigre looked up to Regin with a baffled expression.
I don’t believe that she’s taken my words literally, but still, what is she planning?
Even while confused, Tigre followed her demand, standing up. At that moment, Regin stood on her tiptoes in order to stretch herself, and pressed a kiss on Tigre’s left cheek.
“I took the liberty of immediately performing one act that would be expected of a wife.”
Looking at Regin who smiled like a child that succeeded in a prank, Tigre responded with a kiss on her left cheek. And then he noticed that she had called him “Tigre.”
After they waited for Mashas to open his eyes in an unnatural manner, the three resumed their discussion. Regin explained why Mashas and her had come here. Hearing that they had spurred on their horses during this season with the sole desire to tell him about the various things she had learned after investigating Saint-Groel, Tigre became dumbfounded. They told him that they joined the soldiers after hearing that many were heading for Pardu, once they arrived in Leitmeritz. As they didn’t know about Eugene’s death back then, they had planned to meet with him and request his cooperation. According to Regin, they had seen Tigre’s proclamation on the way to Pardu.
Tigre suffered a shock when he heard that a temple of Tir Na Fal was hidden deeper inside Saint-Groel. But, at the same time, it made sense to him. The demons having shown up on that land and Ganelon having ruled that land; all of it had a reason.
While showing him her right palm, Regin said with a puzzled look, “A crest shone on this palm until I exited Saint-Groel.”
“That might be a legacy of Ganelon,” Tigre stated humbly while remembering his battle against Ganelon.
Back when the goddess descended into his own body, just to be devoured by Ganelon right after, several scenes had flashed through Tigre’s mind as if he was watching them from someone else’s point of view. Tigre believed those to have been parts of Ganelon’s past. The Ganelon from back then had said that he lent his strength for the sake of the founding king, Charles.
“Tigre, what are you going to do about the bow that connects Tir Na Fal and you?”
“I’ll keep using it as my weapon and heirloom of the Vorn family,” replied Tigre without any hesitation. “I’m aware that Ganelon made the Founding King Charles throw it away. I know only too well just how dangerous it is. But, without the Black Bow, I wouldn’t be where I’m right now. Seeing how I’ve been using the powers of the Black Bow up to this point, it’d be ungrateful to simply throw it away. Instead, it’d be proper to pass on as much as I know about it to the next generation.”
“The 『King of Magic Archery』, huh…?” Mashas muttered thoughtfully, and then fixed his eyes on Regin. “Your Highness, I trust Tigre. He’ll create a new legend of the 『King of Magic Archery』, different from the one being talked about right now. It might be handed down as a tale related to the Black Bow.”
Regin sighed lightly. But, the stir of hope and nervousness had been born in her heart.
‘Brune has shunned archery until now. This young man with his Black Bow might change that perception. I’m sure Brune will be able to take a step forward thanks to that. It might be a difficult path to tread. And it might be accompanied by bloodshed. But, there’s merit in going through with it.
Regin stared at Tigre with a smile, nodding. It was proof of her acknowledgment.
—————– End of Part 3 —————–
Just as Tigre had predicted, the Valentina army confronted Arma Zirnitra in Zamberk. It happened around the time when the gradually climbing sun reached the middle point between horizon and zenith, shining down on the frozen earth as if to unravel the winter’s cold.
Zamberk was a flat prairie looking out on distant forests and mountains. As Arma Zirnitra somewhat fell behind in numbers, it was bitter that they couldn’t make use of the terrain. But, if they had gone into the mountains or forests, they wouldn’t have been able to amply capitalize on their 10,000 soldiers. Hence, they had no choice but to go with this location as a battlefield.
Arma Zirnitra took up position with the lords’ forces, numbering approximately 2,000, taking the center, Leitmeritz’s forces of 4,000 holding the right wing, and Olmutz’s forces of 4,000 taking the left wing. The central division was commanded by Tigre with Mashas as his advisor. Elen led the right wing while Mila led the left wing. Of course, Lim was with Elen. Moreover, Leitmeritz and Olmutz’s armies had split infantry and cavalry with the cavalry waiting in the rear.
Keeping the center thin was intentional. If the enemy charged the center, they could use the move of pincering them from both sides by moving the wings. Then again, it was hard to believe that Valentina would carelessly humor their invitation.
Regin, Titta, and Marina were surrounded by guards, remaining at a place separated from the battlefield. Marina had the obligation to observe the battle with her own eyes as Eugene’s representative. Regin and Titta had been insistent on their wish to watch Tigre’s battle.
On the other hand, the Valentina army adopted a surprisingly extreme battle formation. 7,000 soldiers of the former Adelaiyda army had been deployed in the center, the ring wing held 2,000 soldiers of the western lords while the 3,000 soldiers of Osterode formed the left wing. Valentina commanded the left wing, Viscount Lodion the center, and Baron Vladlen the right wing. By the way, the eleven-years-old Adelaiyda wasn’t with the former Adelaiyda army. Valentina had her stay behind in the capital.
──Valentina isn’t anywhere to be seen, huh?
Standing at the head of Leitmeritz’s army, Elen gazed at the enemy in front from the back of her horse. Having said that, the distance between both armies still amounted to 700-800 alsin, so she couldn’t tell for sure. But, even after straining her eyes, she couldn’t spot Valentina’s characteristic, pure-white dress and the big scythe.
The wind blew across the land from the north to the south, making their respective flags flutter violently. The blaring of their horns was carried away southwards with the wind. With their armors clattering and their weapons gleaming dully in the sunlight, both armies started to advance.
When they reached a distance of 300 alsin from each other, the archer battle began. Currently Elen couldn’t do much more than hold up her wooden shield with its leather-strapped surface to deal with the rain of arrows falling down on her and her men. She might have been able to knock down one or two arrows with her sword, but both armies shot so many arrows that the sky was filled with a swarm of flying twigs.
As her heartbeat sped up out of nervousness, Elen’s face stiffened up slightly. She thought that a Vanadis dying from a stray arrow would be too ridiculous to imagine. Fortunately for her, the shield managed to block all arrows coming at her.
The spear-wielding soldiers stepped in front at both armies. Raising war cries, their fear was swallowed by wild madness. That madness linked them to their war buddies all around them, compelling the soldiers to go forth.
Osterode’s soldiers kicked off the ground, charging while followed by a cloud of dust in their wake.
“Charge!” Elen brandished her longsword.
Her soldiers answered with angry bellows.
Elen met an attacking Osterode soldier from the front. After warding off the head of his spear with her blade, she cleaved open his neck. Blood sprayed into the air. But, faster than it could fully seep into the ground, a new enemy soldier approached Elen, brandishing a mace.
Elen observed his movements, and then launched a ramming attack by spurring on her horse. The Osterode soldier lost his balance just as he had lifted his mace, stumbling forward. Without missing that opening, Elen embedded her sword in her opponent’s chest. All that escaped his mouth was a short scream.
Elen tried to pull out her sword, but couldn’t. The sword had apparently cut deeply through the man’s flesh, getting stuck in the process. The enemy soldier struggled furiously due to the sharp pain in his chest, colliding against Elen’s horse with his shoulder. Having squarely received his ramming attack, the horse shook and staggered, retreating several steps. Just for another Osterode soldier to work his spear through his hands, stabbing the horse’s belly. This resulted in Elen losing her horse early on.
“I suppose you can say that it’s just what you’d expect of Osterode’s soldiers. They’re different from barbarians.”
Elen pulled her feet out of the stirrup, and jumped down on the ground without any hesitation. Immediately after landing, she leaped at a nearby enemy soldier who was holding a mace. In passing, she cut his flank open, just for her small sword to break. On the other hand, the enemy soldier collapsed, vomiting saliva mixed with blood.
Forcefully wrenching the mace out of the enemy’s hand, Elen slammed it on the head of another soldier who was charging her way. At the same time, her opponent’s sword grazed Elen’s head, causing a thin line of red blood to stream down between her silver hair.
Tossing the mace away, she snatched the sword from the soldier that had gone down moments ago. It lacked grace and exhilaration, but Elen didn’t consider it to be pathetic. It was impossible for a warrior to regard a warrior’s way of fighting as ridiculous.
──I’m not a Vanadis because I wield a draconic tool.
Her movements were the very reason for her being a Vanadis. She slew all enemies coming at her from the left and right with a single blow. Swinging a bloody sword, Elen yelled at her own soldiers. While the area from her forehead to her left cheek was dyed crimson.
“Your lord is over here!”
Leitmeritz’s soldiers responded to their mistress’s vigorous shout. And it was at that very moment that Valentina appeared in front of Elen.
She didn’t use a draconic art to do so. She simply showed up by pushing her way through Osterode’s soldiers. While shouldering her scythe, she steered her horse onward, facing Elen.
Elen gritted her teeth so as to endure the pressure. Until a moment ago, this place was actually dominated by Leitmeritz’s army. Elen’s brave fighting had boosted her soldiers’ morale. But, the instant Valentina appeared, the atmosphere changed completely. The feeling of oppression the black-haired Vanadis released from her entire body caused Leitmeritz’s soldiers to falter.
“I should have slain you before the likes of Sofia,” Valentina hissed with a frosty voice, looking down on Elen.
During the time of her leaving until arriving on this battlefield, Valentina had constantly wondered why things had developed like this, why Tigrevurmud Vorn had stepped forward, naming himself the next king of Zhcted, and why she had to step on the battleground herself.
As she had continued to carefully deliberate, a certain silver-haired Vanadis surfaced in her mind. Like a lightning flashing through the deep night.
Valentina despised Elen. Leitmeritz, the land governed by Elen, was the furthest principality from Valentina’s Osterode. Moreover, although Elen was regarded as an excellent ruler, her true character was that of a warrior. Valentina knew all that, and she had believed that Elen wouldn’t become an obstacle to her own ambition, except for a time when she had to face her on the battlefield.
One couldn’t call that conclusion wrong. Elen alone might not have been able to oppose Valentina. But, Elen’s existence summoned Tigre to Zhcted. Her existence made him decide to get involved with the disturbances in this country. In such a meaning, Elen doubtlessly stood in the way of Valentina’s ambitions. If not for Tigre, the Vanadis would have never banded together like this.
Elen tightly clasped her iron sword, glaring at Valentina. Elen knew that Valentina would kill her in the blink of an eye if she only thought of running away. In front of Ezendeis, her sword was no more than a stick. It wouldn’t be able to block or ward off its blade.
“You guys, scatter!” Elen yelled at the Leitmeritz soldiers around her.
By no means was it a shameful act to run away when having a Vanadis as an opponent. But, only at this time, her soldiers didn’t obey her order. They felt a sense of duty, telling them that they had to protect their lord, and on top of that, taking down an enemy Vanadis was the highest deed of arms one could dream of.
Brandishing their spears, two Leitmeritz soldiers attacked Valentina from the left and right side. After a glance at both, Valentina casually swung her scythe cutting the approaching spears in halves. And, faster than they could take their next action, her scythe swooped down on them, blowing away the head and helmet of both soldiers. Their bodies, as they hit the ground, were completely missing the part above their necks.
Without even sparing a single glance at their corpses, Valentina advanced while brandishing Ezendeis. She reliably and surprisingly quickly cut apart the Leitmeritz soldiers coming at her. A scarlet squall colored her surroundings, but not a single drop of blood reached her pure-white dress with its rose decorations.
In her case, it might be more precise to say that she was blowing away her enemies rather than cutting them apart. As might be expected from a scythe, the trajectories of Valentina’s attacks were hard to grasp. One Leitmeritz soldier after the other was turned into a lifeless corpse, littering the ground. Broken armor pieces and weapons were scattered in the spaces between their dead bodies as blood rained down on all of it.
The soldiers of Leitmeritz were horrified. The overwhelming might of a Vanadis was leagues above the barbarians they had fought the other day. This whole battle was like challenging a dragon with toothpicks.
Valentina plunged onwards, creating a storm of blood around her. One Leitmeritz soldier, then another, and then another crumbled while Elen could only watch on, unable to even restrain Valentina. She threw a dagger when she spotted an opening, but Valentina pulverized the blade on the side without a single change in her expression. Even her horse neighed lowly as it treaded across puddles of blood and smashed corpses with its hooves.
And then, after countless dozens of Leitmeritz soldiers had turned into corpses, they finally ran out of courage. Their hearts had broken after being confronted with Valentina’s abnormal, destructive force. One of them screamed, threw his weapon away, turned around, and ran away. One became two, two became five, five became ten, and soon Leitmeritz’s army started to rout.
“Holy shit…” Elen groaned.
She couldn’t even blame her men. It was her own poor judgment that Valentina wouldn’t come onto the battlefield in person. Elen believed this sorry state to be completely owed to her own stupidity.
Elen, Mila, and Lima had considered countermeasures for everything else. But, without an opportunity to exhibit a single of their little plans, Leitmeritz’s army ── the right wing of Arma Zirnitra had started to collapse.
Elen resolved herself, kicked off the ground, and charged straight at the mounted Valentina. Her aim wasn’t Valentina herself, but the horse underneath her.
Valentina calmly raised Ezendeis overhead, and then swung it down on Elen.
Blood danced in the air.
The scythe’s blade had stopped at grazing Elen’s head. While half of her face was washed in blood, Elen looked up to Valentina, baring a daring smile.
“Is it really okay for the supreme commander to butt in at a place like this?”
Valentina swung her scythe without answering. Tearing apart space alongside the dust and dirt swirling through the air, the scythe drew a trace.
Elen couldn’t carelessly step into Valentina’s combat range. The complex movement patterns of the scythe played a part in this, but even more so, Elen had no means other than dodging while Valentina could easily block Elen’s slash with her draconic tool. And, if that should actually happen, Elen’s sword would most likely break into pieces.
──If only I could force her into a mutual stab…
Such an idea crossed Elen’s mind. If she managed to kill Valentina, the supreme commander of the enemy army, this battle would end with Arma Zirnitra’s victory. But, Elen immediately discarded that thought.
Elen’s existence was the reason for Tigre’s fighting. She couldn’t afford to die. Not only for her own sake, but also for Tigre’s.
Osterode’s soldiers, who had remained behind Valentina, flooded towards Elen with gleaming eyes, their swords and spear raised. Not a single ally remained around Elen at this point.
Elen corrected the grip of her sword, getting ready to fight to the bitter end. She thought that Valentina might save her own men, but Valentina didn’t move an inch, only glaring at the silver-haired Vanadis. Elen suspected she might follow the notion to avoid snatching her subordinates’ achievement.
At that moment, a single arrow cut through the air, penetrating the right eye of an enemy soldier who was on the verge of thrusting his spear at Elen. The soldier dropped his weapon after a short scream.
──A stray arrow?
Elen wondered. But she immediately perceived that she was mistaken from the change in the atmosphere passed on through her skin. She could sense the powerful presence of the one approaching this place.
Another arrow flew. Piercing the windpipe of an Osterode soldier near Elen.
Pushing away the fleeing soldiers of Leitmeritz,a single youth appeared while galloping on his horse. In his left hand he held a black bow, in his right hand three arrows between his fingers. In a flash, he shot all three arrows in succession. Three Osterode soldiers received those arrows with their bellies and throats, crumbling down on the spot. Not only was his nocking and firing of the arrows abnormally fast, but so were the arrows themselves.
The soldiers of Osterode stopped, their feet rooted to the ground by shock and fear. Their exaltation of a moment ago was gone like the wind as they looked up to the youth, engulfed in terror and awe. Valentina glared at him, her violet eyes oozing murder.
That youth was, of course, no one other than Tigrevurmud Vorn.
While nocking a new arrow onto his Black Bow, he steered his horse next to Elen. Even Elen was dumbfounded by Tigre’s appearance, but she immediately came to her senses, comprehending what she ought to do next. Running in tune with his horse, she synchronized her breathing with the horse, and then leaped behind Tigre.
Even during that short time, Tigre had shot another Osterode soldier to death.
Tigre turned his horse’s neck around, spurring it into full gallop. Taking heart at last, the Osterode soldiers chased after them, but because they were infantrymen, they couldn’t catch up with Tigre and Elen.
Valentina appeared above Tigre. She swung her scythe down on Tigre’s head.
A strange clank resounded, similar to an iron blade being repelled by a big rock. Tigre had blocked Valentina’s slash with his bow. Valentina immediately understood her blunder. She had been too preoccupied with the Black Bow. She should have killed Elen first.
Elen threw a dagger. In response, Valentina leaped back, dodging the dagger and landing on the ground. The soldiers of Osterode caught up with Valentina, and formed a protective circle around her. Valentina didn’t launch a second attack, probably convinced of her having won this battle.
The collapse of Leitmeritz’s army spread to the center and then the left wing. It didn’t take that much time for the soldiers’ retreat to change into a collapse, and the collapse to even change into a rout. Even Mashas, who had taken over the command of the central unit, and Mila had to invest all their might into making their divisions fall back while somehow maintaining ranks and order. Of course, all of this boosted the enemy’s morale, and they decided to persistently pursue Arma Zirnitra.
———— End of Part 4 ————