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Imperial Calendar – Year 429, Beginning of November
The wagon with Chrono on top was advancing east along the main road. Almost no wind was going, and the sun was pleasantly warm. Every once in a while, a bird could be heard tweeting.
Chrono gazed at the landscape from the open load tray. The land along the road was covered by lengthy weeds and grasses with trees dotting the area here and there.
“What nice weather. The perfect day for a picnic, I’d say,” Chrono muttered while fighting off his drowsiness which was induced by the warm sun rays and the monotonous scenery.
It might be nice to nap just like this.
Just as he thought that――
“Chrono, is there anything interesting out there?”
Once Chrono turned in the direction of the voice, a plump, bespectacled youth was staring at him.
Hugo Edwards ― a classmate at the military academy ― was competing with Chrono for last place in practical skills as neither had any results to show, but ever since enrolling at the academy, he’d been second ranked in their grade when it came to his marks in theory.
“Despite me having no choice but to be depressed, you appear to be quite composed.”
“It’s not like I’m all that composed.”
“You do have the composure to enjoy the scenery, don’t you?”
He thought that this was clearly a false accusation, but he didn’t rebut it. He knew that it’d only be a waste of time and effort, now that Hugo had become like this.
“Damn it! A live combat exercise is nothing but a bad joke,” mumbled Hugo while chewing on his thumbnail.
Live combat exercise ― that was the reason for Chrono currently sitting on this wagon. Today they’d carry out a battle ― basically a capture-the-flag match ― on the training ground in the outskirts of the capital. Of course, it wasn’t as though it had been scheduled all of a sudden.
Rather, they were taught about it at a fairly early stage ― during their first class after advancing to their current grade.
“Even though I’ll be forced to pay for new glasses out of my own pocket money if these are broken…are you listening to me!?” Hugo yelled shrilly at Chrono, causing their classmates on the same wagon to chuckle.
Only one among them, a guy, didn’t laugh. He was a boy with a nasty look and a ball-shaped nose.
Simon Alden ― his marks in theory were devastatingly bad, but he was absurdly good when it came to anything related to practical skills. You could probably say that he excelled in violence.
“I have doubts about this. Why must we do something so savag――”
“Hugo! Shut your trap for a bit, will you!?” Simon interrupted Hugo’s whining.
“I’ve been only stating my personal views on this.”
“I told you to stuff it,” Simon stood up and swung a fist down at Hugo.
“W-Why did you punch me?”
“If you don’t shut up, you’ll get another.”
Hugo bickered with teary eyes, but once Simon raised his fist, he immediately fell silent.
“Everyone, listen! We’re definitely going to win today’s exercise!” Simon shouted while standing in the middle of the loading tray. “Today’s exercise is going to influence our career! If we perform well, it should be possible for all of us to become imperial knights!”
I wonder whether it’ll really go that smoothly, Chrono retorted in his mind while looking to the front.
Their carriages advanced along the road while forming a long line, but the front half of their column consisted of box-shaped carriages ridden by the high-ranking nobles.
For this time’s exercise, Chrono’s group ― the low-ranking nobles ― would act as attackers while the high-ranking nobles would be the defenders.
Far from only seeming like it’s intentional, it’s plain obvious to have been set up like this. Though it looks like I’m not the only one thinking so, Chrono let his eyes wander.
Some in his group were agreeing with Simon, but those lacking any motivation clearly formed the majority. Then again, it was someone else’s problem for all those students who had no confidence in their practical skills.
“This is going to be our last chance to score off those high-ranking nobles!” Seemingly sensing the unreceptive mood, Simon had changed his approach. “Those nobles have been looking down on us all the time! Always telling us to switch places with them when it came to drinking water, or demanding us to let them win the next match…they’ve been totally treating us like servants!”
Chrono admired him for being quite an unexpected schemer. Simon was talking about something all of them had experienced, trying to wake a feeling of fellowship amongst his classmates. And Chrono thought that you could call this a mission accomplished since even Huge was lending an ear to his words.
“But! Today’s exercise is set to be live combat! Being high-ranking nobles won’t do them any good whatsoever! How about we win this and graduate in a great mood!?”
“Let’s do it!”
“Yeah! Time for payback!”
Some classmates voiced their support. Simon nodded in satisfaction, and sat down next to Chrono.
“Chrono, take it seriously, okay?”
“How rude. I’ve also been taking things seriously,” Chrono retorted huffily.
“Sorry,” Simon honestly apologized.
He was a ruffian, but he also had his rational parts.
“What I want to say is that I’d like you to cooperate here.”
“I don’t have any intentions to play the party-pooper.”
“Really?” Simon furrowed his eyebrows in doubt.
“I do think that I’m a team player, though?”
“On the surface, sure. It’s just, you’re a guy who seems to be looking elsewhere while facing the same direction as everyone else,” Simon spat out with a sigh.
Their convoy arrived at the maneuvering ground just past noon. Half of the ground was covered by a hill with the rest being flat, empty land. It wasn’t visible from a distance, but the hill’s inclination was actually pretty steep.
Sure gives me bad vibes, Chrono thought as he watched the high-ranking nobles move uphill.
“…Wasn’t the side encamped on higher ground clearly at advantage in situations like this?”
Even if it’s inevitable for the defending side to take advantageous ground, how should we actually capture the flag?
“I guess I should make sure in advance, just in case.”
“Where do you plan to go?” Simon grabbed his shoulder the instant Chrono started to walk.
“I thought I should check the terrain around here first.”
“Already? Hardly that you’ve promised to cooperate?” Simon frowned. “You promised that you’d work with us, didn’t you?”
“And that’s my intention.”
Chrono let his eyes wander. The maneuvering ground’s area was blanketed by long grasses.
“Simon, do you think the grassland is also a part of the exercise grounds?”
“What’s the point in making sure of something like that?” Simon asked, irritated.
“If the grassland is part of the training field, we can escape into it at a time when it looks like we’re about to lose, right?”
“And why would you now think about what happens when we lose?”
“No one can win 100 out of 100 battles, so you should also include the possibility of a loss in your plans.”
“That’s a lamer’s thinking. You obviously got way too influenced by Assistant Teacher Wiseman.”
“Rather, what did you actually learn from Wiseman?” Chrono retorted sullenly.
Wiseman ― Arthur Wiseman ― was an assistant teacher at the military academy. He was also called Teacher in Charge of the Supplementary Classes since he hadn’t been assigned to any normal classes.
He helped out Chrono a lot since his enrollment, and Simon also had to rely on his teachings many times over.
“Hiding in grasses is a tactic unworthy of a noble. Know some shame.”
“If you could win with a nice ideology, my Dad would be a complete failure as a noble.”
“What are you arguing for?”
A dignified voice resounded just when Simon had raised his fist. When they looked in the direction, a woman with pretty, tied blond hair was coming their way.
For both it was unnecessary to wonder who this might be.
Imperial Princess Tilia ― daughter of Emperor Ramal the Fifth and first successor to the crown. They might have been in the same grade as her, but they might have as well lived on different planets since neither ever talked with her so far. But, that was only natural. Although Chrono was labeled as a noble, he was just a puny, low-ranking noble. From the very start, he’d have no chance to get close to a princess.
Even at this moment, she wasn’t looking at Chrono. For her Chrono had to be part of the scenery.
Princess Tilia came to a halt in front of Simon. Probably because she had put on perfume, a sweet and yet refreshing scent tickled the guys’ noses.
“Are you Simon?”
“Yes! That is correct!”
Simon lowered his arm and straightened his back.
“I heard you’ll act as commander, but there’s no doubt about that?”
“Yes! It is just as you say.”
Chrono wondered just when Simon had become the commander, but he didn’t voice it out.
“I’ll take command for our side, but you don’t need to humble yourself just because I’m a princess. Let us have a fair and square battle, okay?” Tilia said while stressing the part about fair and square, probably as restraint of sorts.
“Of course! Please allow us to challenge you fair and square with all our power!”
“Sure. I’m looking forward to the battle then,” Princess Tilia nodded generously, turned on her heels, and headed for the hill.
“Chrono, right now I’m deeply moved.”
“Her Highness the Princess personally addressed me, didn’t she?”
“I think that was a part of her overall strategy.”
“You don’t get it, do you?” Simon spat out with a sigh. “Her Highness approved of me.”
“…Oh really,” Chrono agreed while looking apathetic.
If Princess Tilia called out to Simon with the intention of restraining him, it had been a huge success. He had splendidly fallen for her trick.
“So, what are we going to do about the strategy?”
“I’ll challenge them from the front.”
“Isn’t that way too irresponsible after riling up everyone?”
“Her Highness told me to fight her square and fair, didn’t she?”
“I told you it was part of her overall strategy.”
“That cannot be true. I trust Her Highness.”
“It’s not like I don’t get where you’re coming from, but…”
…I can already see the outcome of this, Chrono sighed. Trusting someone is a noble notion, but at the same time, it comes with risks. At times when a betrayal could cause damage beyond permissible levels, one shouldn’t trust others.
“Seeing how the opponent has a locational advantage, we won’t be able to win unless we come up with a strategy.”
“What’s the point in winning through some cunning trick? If you can’t win while fighting your enemy head-on, you won’t ever be able to become an imperial knight, let alone pay back those assholes.”
“A strategy is necessary.”
“Stop being such a pain.”
As anyone would likely be able to predict, Simon’s answer was negative. Chrono lost all interest in this whole exercise. He hadn’t been all that eager about this exercise to begin with, but thought he’d give it his best shot within his own capabilities. This was also the reason why he wanted to check the terrain.
Chrono sighed and turned around. But, Simon grabbed his shoulder once more.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to ask whether the grassland is also treated as part of the maneuvering ground.”
“I won’t allow you to do that!” Simon raised his voice.
But, Chrono shook off Simon’s hand.
Chrono started to walk off in silence. It’d be ridiculous to get injured despite having no chance for victory.
When Chrono returned to his camp after having ascertained with a teacher that the grassland would be treated as part of the maneuvering ground, Simon and the others had already armed themselves with spears and shields, forming a phalanx. The shields were real, but the spears should rather be described as wooden sticks with no pointed ends.
As he was confused as to where he should line up, Simon told him, “…Arm yourself and take a position at the very rear.”
Simon had barked that instruction without so much as taking a look at Chrono. Chrono sighed, grabbed a spear and shield, and took a position in the last line, next to Hugo.
“We’re going to advance as soon as the starting bell rings!” Simon yelled.
Chrono’s grademates ― his comrades ― hoisted their spears.
“Chrono, are you an idiot?” Hugo asked in a whisper.
At first, Chrono didn’t know what he was talking about, but after a while he realized that it was about his argument with Simon.
“I just wanted to put some effort into this for the sake of victory.”
“I know that, but the outcome of this exercise is irrelevant to you, isn’t it?”
“No, it’s not irrelevant.”
“Okay, let me rephrase that. The outcome of this exercise won’t bring any benefit to you, will it?” Hugo tried once more with a sigh.
“Well, that’s true,” nodded Chrono.
Even if he produced great results during this exercise, it would likely have no impact on Chrono’s overall assessment. Then again, he wasn’t planning to become an imperial knight anyway, and he didn’t plan to make a career in the army either.
“Bloody hell, there are limits to how much you should meddle in things that won’t benefit you in any way. Also, giving advice is wasted on Simon who doesn’t listen to people either way…” Hugo bickered with a quiet voice.
Although he had been whispering, their comrades should have heard what he said, but no one blamed him for it.
“Hugo, I thought you were motivated.”
“Yes, I was motivated. Until I heard about this silly strategy, that is,” Hugo answered apathetically.
“Right now, I’m only praying that my glasses will survive this.”
“Glasses are expensive, so that makes sense.”
“Yep. They’re definitely no cheap purchase for my family,” Hugo consented while pushing up his glasses.
Because the Empire didn’t know the production method for glass, imperial citizens had to import glasses from the Free City States. Of course this came at a hefty price.
“As long as my glasses stay fine, the outcome of this exercise――”
A bell tolled as if to interrupt Hugo.
“Begin the advance!”
Chrono and the others started to march in accordance to Simon’s command. They were doing this without prior training, but since it was just walking, their ranks didn’t fall apart. And just like that, they began to climb the hill.
“I have a bad feeling about this.”
“Me too,” Chrono agreed with Hugo.
Even though they had reached halfway up the hill, the enemy side ― the defenders ― hadn’t launched any attacks at them so far. But, at that point, the enemy showed themselves.
“Raise your shields!” Simon shouted.
Chrono followed suit, and lifted his shield. In the next moment, he could feel small impacts hammering against his shield. The defenders had unleashed a volley of arrows. Moreover, it was a fairly big amount of arrows.
“Aghyaaaaaaa!” Hugo screamed next to Chrono.
He had readied his shield, but was trembling all over.
Even though they had just started, this was already the limit of what he could mentally handle.
Even though it must sound nasty, but thanks to Hugo panicking, I was able to calm down.
“They’ll soon run out of arrows! Hold out until then!” Simon encouraged his comrades while holding up his own shield, but the arrows showed no sign of easing up.
Around the time when Chrono had stopped feeling his arm, the attack finally came to a stop. Chrono lowered his shield and looked up ahead.
Seemingly having shot all their arrows, the enemy was gone.
“Now is our chance! Advance! Move!”
Following Simon’s order, Chrono and those around him advanced in a trot. Even Hugo advanced, despite his face being a complete mess due to all the tears and snot.
Their ranks fell drastically apart, but they’d have a chance at winning this if they could enter a melee.
Just when they had almost reached the hill’s summit, the enemy appeared again. Not archers, but cavalrymen with long, heavy lances. They had formed a line with Princess Tilia situated at the furthest edge.
“Ready your spears! Form a spear line!” Simon screamed hysterically, but his comrades’ movements were too slow.
“N-Noo whey, atch phull forshh――”
“I’m sure they’re going to hold back on us,” Chrono soothed Hugo whose voice had become clogged up, but no matter how he looked at it, he couldn’t get rid of his bad feeling.
“Princess Tilia lifted her wooden sword.”
“Run them down!”
As soon as she swung down her sword, the enemy cavalry roared and galloped downhill. The stomach-churning thundering of the horse’s hooves and the sight of knights rapidly growing big in front of them fanned their fear. And yet, Chrono’s comrades readied their spears with Simon in their center.
The cavalry crashed into their file that was overwhelmingly lacking in numbers to be described as spear formation. Simon and those around him were easily routed, tumbling to the ground.
And with that victory had been decided…or it should have been, but the enemy cavalrymen didn’t stop their attack.
“Run away! Run down the hill and hide in the grass!” Chrono yelled, threw his shield away, and started to flee.
Seeing him do that, his comrades imitated his actions.
“Don’t run! We’re going to fight!”
“Shut the fuck up! As if we can win against cavalrymen with these ridiculous toothpicks!”
“Run! Throw away your weapons and run!”
“Only a moron would talk about fighting straight from the front! There ain’t no way we can win this without any plan whatsoever!”
Simon tried to hold the ground, but no one obeyed his commands. Meanwhile, Chrono had turned his back on the enemy and was now sprinting downhill at full speed.
He heard a scream behind him, and little later, Hugo passed Chrono, tumbling down the hill.
“Retreat! Fall back to the grass!” Chrono shouted while running.
“What fair and square fight!? That fucking, lying bitch! Go and die in a ditch,” Chrono cursed at Princess Tilia while hiding himself in the grass.
The enemy ― Tilia’s defenders had utterly overrun Chrono’s group. First they had chased them around with the cavalry, and once they were done with that, they’d been shooting arrows at them. Chrono couldn’t imagine that to be the way you’d act towards your grademates.
It’s nothing short of what you’d expect of demons, but…
“…even if I whine about it, it won’t change anything.”
Chrono laid down, deciding to take a nap here until the military exercise was over. He could hear groans from all over the place. And sobbings that weren’t just groans.
Eventually he heard one of those from right next to him. Of course, it’d also be fine for him to ignore it, but he’d be in a bind if that person was seriously injured.
Accepting his fate, he headed towards the source. Once he pushed the grasses aside, he found a man curled up on the ground.
Simon. Simon was crying.
Hearing Chrono’s voice, Simon lifted his face which was stained with tears and snot.
“Did you suffer an injury?”
“…No,” Simon shook his head powerlessly. “In the end, it was just as you’d said. It’d have been better if we’d decided on a strategy first.”
Chrono wondered about the point in mentioning it now after all went downhill, but since he didn’t have a hobby of beating dead horses, he silently listened to Simon’s whining.
“I-I was happy that Her Highness the Princess had called out to me. I was really happy, got all ecstatic and ended up acting like a dolt.”
Simon broke out into loud weeping again.
“I lost the trust of my friends. I cannot stand the idea of what they must be thinking of me now. I…I totally made a fool out of myself. Now I only want to disappear.”
Simon cried while covering his face.
While watching him, anger welled up within Chrono, “Don’t cry, Simon.”
“…Chrono,” Simon lifted his face and stared at Chrono.
“We can still turn this around.”
“First we’ve got to get everyone together,” Chrono said, ignoring Simon’s question.
It’d be impossible to come up with a strategy, if they didn’t know how many of their grademates were still with them.
“But, my words――”
“Doesn’t matter. Let’s do this!” Chrono thundered at Simon who seemed to be completely discouraged.
Just as Simon had feared, they could only gather less than thirty people. All of them were looking at Simon full of hate and disgust. Especially Hugo was glaring at Simon with the expression of a fiend. One of his glasses’ lenses had been cracked.
“We’re going to hold a strategy meeting.”
“Give me a break, man.”
“I wanna go home, so have them wrap this up quickly.”
Chrono’s grademates commented in annoyance when he broached the topic. He could painfully well understand their feelings. He knew the mortification of having your pride hurt and the wretchedness of losing better than anyone else here. And because of that, he understood what he had to say.
“Aren’t you guys frustrated?”
“H-Hey, Chrono,” Simon tried to stop him, but Chrono continued without a care.
The answer to how he’d be able to get them to fight was simple. They just needed to become angry.
“Let me ask you once more: aren’t you guys frustrated?”
“Oi, any further than that is bad news.”
Chrono shook off Simon’s restraint and stood up.
“Aren’t you pissed to be tricked with such an unfair scheme and get chased around like cattle? Are you okay to lose like this without doing anything?”
“Chrono, stop it. Please, I beg you, stop it.”
“If we accept our defeat just like that, people will say that we ignored our own shortcomings. That we gave up despite having had a chance,” Chrono continued while ignoring Simon’s begging.
“Chrono, please stop it already. The victor has been decided.”
“I should calm down? Hugo, haven’t you calmed down way too much?” Chrono scowled at Hugo. “Aren’t you mortified that your precious glasses were broken?”
“…I am,” Hugo muttered while averting his face.
“I couldn’t hear you. Are you mortified or are you not? Speak up.”
“Why are you mumbling like that!? Raise your voice!”
“I’m mortified!” Hugo responded to Chrono’s yelling with a shout of his own.
“Then get angry!”
“M-My glasses were broken! They got destroyed! D-Damn it! I-I’ll do it! I-I’ll get my revenge! I’ll butcher all of them!” Hugo shouted as if he’d gone crazy.
Afterwards, Chrono insulted each and every one of his classmates. He also insulted those who arrived late after hearing all the noise. It almost turned into a brawl on several occasions, but each time Simon stepped in.
And yet, not a single person tried to leave. The frustration of being verbally abused by a misfit like Chrono made them stay. And before they realized, their numbers had exceeded fifty.
In the evening, Chrono jumped out of the grass together with forty of his comrades. They formed up a horizontal line and readied their wooden swords.
His grademates silently nodded.
“Then, let’s go!”
As soon as Chrono started to run, his comrades did the same while raising war cries. Their group kept running uphill just like that.
Of course, the enemy didn’t just let them do whatever they wanted either. A rain of arrows poured down on the attackers.
If this had been a real battle, they’d have died at that point, but in the end, this was a practice.
“Don’t pay any heed! It just stings a bit if you’re hit!”
Next to Chrono was Hugo. He was running without flinching at all when hit by an arrow.
Far from it――
“I-I had my glasses broken! D-Damn it! I’ll slaughter you all!” He was plunging through the shower of arrows, his eyes bloodshot and foam bubbling around his mouth.
Once they had run up half the hill, the cavalry made its entry once more. When Chrono pointed his sword at them, Princess Tilia laughed. It was a ferocious laugh you would never expect of a princess.
That fucking sadist, Chrono cursed in his mind.
“Run them down!”
“Heehaaaww!”, shouted the enemy cavalrymen, formed a line and had their horses dash downhill.
“Let’s go! Show them the backbone of low-ranking nobles!”
“Yeeaaah!!”, answered Chrono’s comrades, charging at Princess Tilia together with Chrono.
The cavalry’s line was thrown into disarray because everyone tried to protect the princess.
“Change the targets! Aim at those who’ve become isolated!”
Chrono and his friends swooped down on the enemy cavalry.
“Were you the one who broke my glassessssss!?”
Even while being hit, Hugo grabbed the cavalryman, and powerfully pulled him off his horse. Hugo had been kicked squarely in the face, but as some weird switch had apparently been flipped inside him, he didn’t falter at all.
Although they took down a few cavalrymen, the damage was negligible for the enemy. The cavalry pulled back while Chrono’s group fixed its formation.
“Run them down!”
“One more time!”
Chrono’s group charged at Princess Tilia, but this time the enemy line didn’t fall apart. As they got kicked about by the cavalry, enemies with spears joined in the fray.
Apparently Princess Tilia intended to crush them while using all her force.
Even though they fought back, it was in vain. Chrono’s group was ganged up upon and beaten blue and black, before being dragged in front of the princess.
Princess Tilia looked down at Chrono and his happy band of madmen from her horse.
“You’re Chrono, aren’t you?”
“You got that right.”
When Chrono answered with an edge in his voice, Princess Tilia looked daunted. Chrono knew that he was rude, but him being beaten up happened just moments ago. Telling him to answer politely with a smile would be expecting too much of him.
“Your ability to rally your men was outstanding, but it’s our victory. We defeated you with all our force.”
“Pfft,” Chrono burst into laughter. And so did all of his comrades, including Hugo.
“W-What’s so funny about this!?”
Tilia got off her horse and grabbed Chrono’s collar.
“Defeating us with all your force was dumb.”
“What was that!? Don’t tell me――!”
Once Tilia turned around, Simon was standing atop the hill while waving the flag. In short, Chrono’s group was simply a diversion. Simon had used the opportunity when the others were fighting to lead a small, detached unit uphill and steal the flag. That was the whole extent behind their strategy.
“Serves you right,” laughed Chrono into the face of Princess Tilia who was groaning in frustration.
One week later ―― Chrono was walking through the hallway of the school building. Everyone passing him stared at Chrono, or to be precise, at the person next to him.
When Chrono moved his eyes sideways, he found Princess Tilia there.
“Umm, Your Highness?”
“What, didn’t I tell you to call me Tilia?” Princess Tilia ― now Tilia ― protested while puffing out her cheeks in discontent.
This caused a stir among the students around them. When she was looking sullen because he had called her with her honorific title despite having told him before to leave it at Tilia, Chrono wondered how things had turned out like this.
“Umm, you see, a princess walking together with someone like me is…”
“We’re classmates, aren’t we? Is there any problem with classmates walking with each other?”
Realizing that it’d be pointless, no matter what he told her, Chrono sighed. Tili had been following him around ever since the military exercise. And if he was honest, he felt like running away. No, it’d probably be more accurate to say that he felt like running away, if only he could run away.
Given that Tilia’s physical abilities surpassed Chrono’s, she’d immediately catch him, even if he ran away.
As he was wondering what he should do to get away
“Chrono, don’t waste your time on trying to escape. It’s futile,” Tilia said with a daring smile on her lips.
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