Madan no Ou to Vanadis:Volume01 Chapter1
Chapter 1 - Encounter with the Vanadis
The voice of a girl that he had grown used to hearing reached his ears, and he felt his body being shaken. Because of the bright light shining through the window, he knew that morning had come. However, he was still sleepy.
"A little longer... just a little longer."
"How long is 'a little longer,' may I ask?"
"There aren't any plans to go hunting today, so until noon..."
"Cut it out and please wake up!" the girl roared out loud.
He was stripped of his blanket, his shoulders were grabbed, and he was woken up violently.
When he opened his eyes, he saw that the bright red face of the girl, boiling with anger, was in close proximity.
She had a child-like face, which had no intimidating power even when she was angry. Her chestnut-colored hair was tied in twin tails. Her small body was dressed in a uniform with long black sleeves, a black skirt that reached down to her feet, and a white apron that gave off a feeling of cleanliness.
"Ah... morning, Titta."
With a slow, drowsy voice, Tigre called out the name of the maidservant. Seeing that he seemed to be awake at last, Titta released her hand.
"The soldiers have already finished their preparations a long time ago, and are all waiting for Tigre-sama!"
Tigre was confused, and thought about what she had just said.
The blood rushed from his face immediately as the realization sank in.
As though rolling out of his bed, he got up, and Titta held out a set of folded clothes for him. Beside her feet was a small pail filled with water.
"Thank you. You're well prepared, as always."
"That is because I expected this to happen. I will go and prepare breakfast, so please wash your face and get changed in the mean time."
With the anger gone from her face, Titta gave a cheerful smile and bowed, pulling the hem of her skirt slightly upwards in a curtsy, and left the room gracefully.
Tigre washed his face. The cool and refreshing feeling cleansed the lingering drowsiness from him. He dashed out of the room while putting on his clothes, buttoning them up as he ran down the corridor.
"Though I don't have any time left... I still can't slack off."
He originally intended to go straight for the dining room, but instead he headed towards the small room at the end of the corridor.
It was a room small enough that three adults would be unable to sit down inside together at once. Standing at the opposite end of the room to the entrance was an exquisitely decorated rack, and on it was a bow. The bowstring was drawn firm and taut, and it seemed like it was ready to be used at any time. If one were to describe the bow in a single word, it would be "black." The handle, the bowstring -- the entire bow was pure black, without luster or shine. It would not be unbelievable to say that this bow was cut and made from darkness.
―― The mere sight of it gave off an oppressive feeling...
This mysterious bow was a family heirloom of the Vorn family, and was said to have been used by their hunter ancestors.
Tigre's father had left behind a last request regarding the bow.
"Use this bow only when you are truly in need of it. Do not use it under any other circumstance."
After hearing his father's will, Tigre had felt an indescribably eerie feeling from the bow, and decided not to touch it.
Tigre stood up straight, regulated his breathing, placed his clenched fist against his chest and moved it horizontally. Then he bowed for his ancestors. After finishing this action, he quietly left the room and headed to the dining room.
Tigrevurmud Vorn was sixteen this year. He had been born in an earl's house in the Kingdom of Brune, and had succeeded the family name after his father had passed away due to an illness. His name had been passed down by his ancestors who had obtained the position of an earl. But because it was such a mouthful, he himself finding it to be too long and troublesome to say, he asked those close to him to address him as "Tigre."
Tigre stepped into the dining room, and smelled a delicious aroma.
There was ham with fried eggs, rye bread, milk, mushroom soup and others, all hot enough for a faint vapor to waft from them, set on a simple dining table. Titta stood on standby beside the table.
"Just the soup will do," said Tigre.
"That won't do," Titta replied. When it came to food, she was extremely stubborn. "Do you want your stomach to growl in front of everyone? It would be unsightly."
Titta placed her hands on her hips and glared directly at Tigre. It was an intense look, very unlike a maidservant. It was far more frightening than when she had woken him up. Tigre knew well that he could not win this argument, so he gave in readily.
After washing the bread down with milk, he grabbed the plate and gobbled down the fried egg and finished the soup in great gulps.
"Thank you for the meal," he said as he stood up. Titta immediately walked up to him, a comb and napkin in her hands.
"There is still a little bit left on your mouth. Please wipe it properly." She spoke as though she was a little angry, as she wiped his mouth clean with the napkin for him. "You have some bed-hair as well." She reached up with the hand that held the comb and thoroughly brushed Tigre's hair. "Look, even your collar's crooked." She placed the comb and napkin down on the table and arranged his collar neatly. Tigre quietly accepted this all the while.
" ―― Tigre-sama."
"What is it?"
Titta's voice had suddenly lost its strictness, becoming rather feminine. She called out to Tigre gently. Because she was a year younger than him, he had always thought of her as his younger sister.
"Why does Tigre-sama have to go out and do battle?"
Tigre's expression became a little troubled. He ran his hand through his dark red hair. There were times when Titta would ask these kinds of difficult questions, and he would find himself at a loss trying to come up with an answer.
"It's because of His Majesty's military draft," Tigre replied. "It is only natural that the house of Earl Vorn do its part for the Kingdom of Brune."
"B-but..." Titta looked up at Tigre with teary eyes, and she argued back vehemently," It wasn't easy for us to muster even a hundred soldiers..."
There were many different types of nobles. Among them, Tigre's house, while not "poor," could be described as "simple." Other similar adjectives would not be far off the mark as well. Such was the state of the noble family of Vorn.
The territory House Vorn governed was called Alsace, which was situated in the countryside far from the central areas of the kingdom. Not only was it a small piece of land, but it was also dominated by forests and mountains, and thus there was little to reap profits from. As a result, Tigre's lifestyle was far from what one might expect from a noble. It lacked in both luxury and grandeur. The house that he lived in was not large. The fact that Titta alone could manage all of the domestic chores in the house was proof of that.
"Furthermore," Titta continued, "I've heard that the enemy is the Kingdom of Zhcted. If that's the case, shouldn't Tigre-sama stay here? After all, Zhcted and Alsace are only separated by a mountain."
"That may be so, but this is a place that's as rural as it gets. Not even Zhcted would think of invading here."
To Tigre, the fact that Alsace would not be turned into a battlefield was a good thing.
"W-what's more... don't they always make a fool out of Tigre-sama for your archery skills?"
"It is impossible to leave behind a chanson de geste with the bow, after all."
"It's fine even without a chanson de geste!" Titta insisted loudly, before burying her face into Tigre's chest. "My only... wish is that you do not push yourself too hard, and that no injuries should befall you, and that you return in good health, please."
The slender maidservant embraced Tigre lightly.
"Don't worry too much," he said. "Didn't I return unharmed from my first battle two years ago?"
"That time, Urs-sama was..."
Titta's voice trailed off halfway. Urs was Tigre's late father.
In order to ease Titta's heart, Tigre patted her lightly on the head.
"In this battle, my unit will be located behind the main forces," he said. "It's a safe place to be. And no matter what happens, I'll think of something."
Tigre brought his hand up to wipe the tears from the corner of Titta's eyes.
"I understand," she nodded. Then she said, "L-listen well, Tigre-sama. Please don't oversleep on the battlefield."
"The way you say it makes it sound like I'm always oversleeping."
"It's true," Titta rebutted. "Isn't the only time that Tigre-sama wakes up on time is when you go hunting?"
Despite her words, Tigre knew that Titta was cheering for him with all her heart. Tigre hugged her again, while Titta relaxed her body and let Tigre hold her. He could feel the warmth of her body even through her clothes, and her chestnut hair gave off a faint fragrance. Although he would have liked to stay like this for a little while longer, he did not have time. Tigre reluctantly released her.
"I'm counting on you to watch the house, Titta."
Titta wiped her tears away with her sleeve and said, smiling:
"Please leave it to me, Tigre-sama. Take care of yourself too."
As Tigre walked out of the front door while hefting his bow and quiver on his back, he saw that the soldiers were already in formation waiting for him. A short old man wearing leather armor walked up to him and bowed his head.
"Young master, everyone has been assembled. The preparations are also complete."
"Well done, Bertrand."
This old man was Tigre's aide. Compared to the young Tigre, he had far more experience in battle, and within this unit he was the only person besides Tigre who was trained in equestrianism.
As for the rest, they were all soldiers wearing leather armor with swords on their hips and spears in their hands.
"I sure have gathered a fair number."
Tigre heaved a sigh. Some of the more experienced soldiers said, half-jokingly:
"Milord, there's naught to be worried about. Though we've not fought in a war for three years, we've spent our days working with the plough, and as such our bodies have grown tough, aye."
"Going against His Majesty's command would be like disobeying the ol' missus, no? In that case, we are left with no choice but to obey."
"Your words are much appreciated. Why don't we simply bring your wife along as well? A few angry roars from her would be enough to scare off even a thousand or two of the enemy soldiers, eh?"
The soldiers laughed uproariously.
"It would be best to give up on that, young master. This man's missus differentiates not between friend and foe!"
Bertrand had interjected with banter of his own, and Tigre ended this conversation with a shrug of his shoulders.
―― It looked like morale was not going to be a problem.
After waiting for their laughter to subside, Tigre saluted. Then he mounted the horse that Bertrand had brought over and raised his right hand up in the air and gave a command.
"Our destination is the Plains of Dinant. En-route, we will be joining up with Lord Mashas's forces."
The soldiers raised the war flags up high.
They carried two different flags. One had a blue base with a white half-moon and shooting star ― the war flag of House Vorn. The other was of Bayarl ― a sacred horse with a black mane and crimson body, the symbol of the Kingdom of Brune.
"With that, let us move out!"
The Kingdom of Brune shared its eastern border with the Kingdom of Zhcted. The two countries have had their swords at one another's throats for over twenty years.
The reason for the conflict this time was due to the flooding of the river that served as the border of the two countries caused by torrential rain.
Firstly, the victims of the flood were quick to point fingers at the other country, saying "'Tis all because those fellows from yonder haven't been doing their job with the river," which served as the sparks that started the fire.
Next, both countries, having been petitioned to by the victims, maintained the stance that "there are problems with their flood control solutions," which fanned the flames of hostility even more, and finally resulted in a full-scale conflict.
If it was just that, Tigre should not have been summoned to the battlefield.
"The enemy forces number roughly five thousand, but our own forces number over twenty five thousand. 'Tis pleasant news, truly."
The one who spoke with sarcasm in his voice from beside Tigre was a knight that was already past his middle ages, Mashas Rodant.
Mashas was a friend of Tigre's father, and had often taken care of Tigre as his benefactor.
"Have you heard?" Tigre asked. "They say it's because His Royal Highness is riding into battle for the first time."
"'Tis likely to be true. His Majesty does dote on him, after all."
Mashas's portly body was equipped with iron armor and helmet, and he stroked his mustache in displeasure.
"The conflict this time round is almost like a squabble between children, resulting in their parents having to step in. It is not something that would drastically alter the country's future. Based on that, we are merely decorations for His Highness's ― Prince Regnas ― first battle. To be precise, this is for him to gain some experience."
For his beloved son's first battle, the king must have wanted him to win a glorious victory.
The king had sent out all of the knights directly under him. The nobles that lived near the Plains of Dinant had all received the call to war, too.
This included even minor nobles, like Tigre and Mashas.
Those assembled numbered over twenty five thousand. The forces commanded by Mashas were about three hundred men strong. Within that, there were around fifty knights. Though the number was not small, compared to the entire twenty five thousand strong army, they were but a drop in the ocean, and the same went for Tigre. It was for this reason that both of them had been assigned to the rear end of the formation.
"The odds favor those who gather the greater army ― 'tis but the basics of war. One day, Prince Regnas will succeed the throne. His Majesty was not wrong to do so, was he?"
Tigre patted the old knight on the shoulder in consolation.
Those words that he had said was just rhetoric. If he did not say it out loud, he might have lost his will to fight.
"No doubt we are but minor nobles. We only have to wait obediently in the back. If everyone bears the same mindset that this is an assured victory and lunge headfirst into battle for glory... that reminds me, Tigre, have you heard of the Princesses of War?"
Mashas asked as though he had suddenly recalled something. Tigre tilted his head.
"You mean the Seven Vanadis of Zhcted?"
"Yes, that's the one all right. It seems that the enemy forces are being lead by one of the Vanadis. Though only sixteen years old, she is undefeated, attaining victory after victory. An excellent swordswoman, she stands at the forefront of battle, cutting down all before her. She is known and feared as the [MeltisDanseuse of the Sword] and the [SilvfrahlWind Princess of the Silverflash]."
The Kingdom of Zhcted was ruled by a king and the Seven Vanadis.
―― The same age as me, huh?
Tigre had an inexplicable feeling about this yet unmet enemy general. Though they were of the same age, and though she was even a female, she had far more battle experience and had performed many heroic feats, and commanded a five thousand strong army.
In the Kingdom of Brune, women were not allowed to become knights, except for those born to high nobility.
So far in this war, Tigre had not seen a even single female knight. But because of that, he felt excited.
"What name does she go by, this Vanadis?"
"If my memory doesn't fail me, she's called Eleonora Viltaria. The rumors say that she's a real beauty. If one were to place a precious gemstone next to her, it would pale in comparison."
"Is she really that beautiful?"
"It's great that you're excited hearing about beauties, but remember to keep it in moderation. Otherwise, Titta'll get jealous."
Mashas's grey mustache trembled with laughter.
"Why did Titta's name suddenly get mentioned?" Tigre replied sullenly. "She's only like a sister ―― "
"Ever since you were kids, people have said that the two of you were like a lazy older brother and a capable younger sister."
Even though he put it that way, Tigre could not make a rebuttal. Scratching his dark red hair, he changed the topic.
"If the Vanadis is truly as great of a general as the rumors say, then we're in for a hard battle, aren't we?"
"That may be so, but the difference in military strength is simply too great. Even with a specialist of war leading them, they probably wouldn't be able to overcome this disparity."
No matter how hard the Vanadis fought, they would not be able to make up for the overwhelming difference in numbers.
Tigre would have liked to voice his agreement, but for some reason he could not do so. He had an ominous, foreboding feeling. In the region around the back of his neck, he felt a sensation as though he was being burned. This was not the first time he had experienced this kind of feeling. It was like the times when, as he was out hunting, he was surrounded by wolves due to his carelessness ― or when he ran into dragons while in the mountains.
Or when he woke up in the morning and was sporting some major morning wood, and Titta came to wake him up like she always did.
In any case, when he had this kind of feeling, something bad was about to happen.
"You don't seem too overjoyed."
He had been wearing his true feelings on his face, it seemed, and Mashas looked over in concern.
"Are you worried about something? You don't seem like your usual carefree self."
"What carefree self?" Tigre said unhappily. "Aren't there other ways to describe me, like imperturbable?"
Mashas smiled. "It's fine even if you try to brush it off with difficult vocabulary. As for me, I remember the day that you succeeded Urs two years ago as though it was just yesterday."
"I... did I say something then?"
"When the representatives of the towns and villages asked you how to manage Alsace, didn't you answer them with a 'well, it'll work out somehow?' If that isn't carefree, what is?"
Tigre did not reply. He only shrugged his shoulders. However, Mashas did not stop there.
"When Urs was still with us, he had always praised you as someone who was 'calm and steadfast, though a little optimistic. He makes good judgments and has a strong body.' Those were exactly the words of a father favoring his son, weren't they?"
"Even if you say that, I do have confidence in my way of doing things."
Only after Mashas had finished speaking, did Tigre answer.
It was the truth that no major problems had occurred in Alsace.
Though it was slow, their assets has been growing at a steady pace. Those representatives who had been stunned by his casual statement got along pretty well with him after that.
"Aside from those days where you go hunting, are you able to wake up on your own, without Titta's help?"
"... No, about that..."
"I've heard from Titta that if you have two or three days off, you grab your bow and quiver and head off into the forests or mountains to hunt."
Tigre's shoulder sagged in his silence, he could not refute that fact.
"Forget I ever said anything. It's good enough that you are performing your duties as a governor. That you can tell just by seeing their faces."
Mashas looked over his shoulders, back at the soldiers.
Their fighting spirits were low due to being deployed at the rear, but not a single person had voiced his unhappiness or anger over it.
"Tigre, our job is to bring these men back home safely, not to think about how to win this battle. I'm not sure what you're thinking about, but don't worry too much about it."
"Thank you for your concern," Tigre expressed his gratitude.
It was as he had said: there was no point thinking too much about it. Although it was frustrating, they had only been called to the battlefield as decorations for the Royal Prince. No one expected them to contribute to the battle, nor did Tigre or Mashas expect anyone to make use of their forces.
A few days later, Tigre and company had arrived at Dinant.
The twenty thousand strong main force, the vanguard, was lined up at the foot of the hill. The five thousand strong rearguard was commanded by Prince Regnas and was on standby at the top of the hill. Tigre and Mashas were part of the rearguard.
Just from these facts alone, the odds of them having to enter the fray were minuscule.
It was just before daybreak. Under the dark sky, a thousand soldiers were advancing in silence.
They dulled the metal of their swords and spears with mud to stop the reflection from giving them away, and made their horses bite on boards and wrapped their hooves with cotton cloth. These were extreme measures of caution. But in this manner, they arrived at the side of the hill, undiscovered by the enemy. If they climbed its gentle slopes, they would be able to see the enemy forces ― the rearguard of the Brune army had night sentries, after all. The flames of the campfires flickered and burned.
" ―― Let us rest. Begin the preparations."
The silver-haired girl at the forefront, the one leading all of these knights, smiled lightly. The soldiers did as she bade and started to rest, and they retrieved the boards and cloth from their horses.
Before long, the scouts that they had sent out earlier returned.
Hearing from the scouts that the enemies were sound asleep and had not noticed their movements, the girl turned around and faced the knights. Drawing the longsword at her waist, she raised it high in the air as a light wind blew.
"The enemies right before our eyes number five thousand ― five times our number. A rearguard it may be, but if that is where their supreme commander is positioned, then it would be reasonable to assume the presence of many elites." However, the girl's crimson eyes were filled with fighting spirit, and she continued. "Even so, I will go, and thus achieve victory. Will you follow me?"
The knights silently raised their arms, pointing their swords and spears toward the sky.
The girl turned her head in the direction of the enemy, driving her horse forward, and brought her longsword down in an arc.
"Begin the assault!"
Their war flags billowed in the wind. The shape of Zirnitra ― a pitch-black dragon, the symbol of the Kingdom of Zhcted ― adorned the flags.
The air rushed as they advanced. The knights held swords and spears or bows as they followed the girl's lead, galloping on their horses to the hilltop.
Hearing the sound of the hooves striking the ground, as though the earth itself was crying out, the soldiers on sentry duty finally noticed the enemy assault.
"The enemy ―― "
With a flash of her sword, the girl changed what escaped from the soldier's throat from a warning cry to a fountain of spurting blood.
Against the background of the gradually brightening sky, the girl led a force of a thousand men directly into the enemy camp and created wanton destruction. The army of Brune fell into chaos. There were even those who threw down their weapons as they fled for their lives. And although there were still soldiers who bravely tried to mount a resistance, the difference in the impetus of their assault was too great.
But above all else, there was the valiant girl who led the forces of Zhcted. With her longsword, she stood at the frontlines of battle, overwhelming in her strength.
With just one assault, hordes of enemy soldiers had been slain or crushed beneath the hooves of horses. Even so, not a single drop of blood stained her body. Every time her longsword caused the wind to howl, the bodies that littered the ground increased.
Her silvery-white hair swaying with the wind, the girl attacked the enemy camp in this fashion with the horde of knights that had followed her lead.
At this point, victory and defeat looked certain for the respective sides.
His ears were ringing.
Screams, shrieks, death cries, hooves clacking on the ground and the sound of weapons clashing against each other filled his ears.
He woke up.
Spread out wide before his eyes was the blue sky, so vast that it seemed like it would suck one in.
Tigre pushed away the weight that was resting upon his body and got up.
When the ringing in his ears was gone, he could hear the sound of the wind and faint fading moans, and the rustling of the pieces of broken war flags and trampled grass. Dust crept along the ground in the wind, and the smell of blood reached his nose.
"Did I lose consciousness...?"
Tottering, he rose to his feet. What greeted him was the sight of corpses as far as the eyes could see ― a hill of death.
The grass was stained with blood, and the land was buried with hundreds or even thousands of corpses scattered about. A wave of nausea came over him. He covered his mouth with his hand. He felt a moist sensation, and he saw that his hand was dyed red.
He checked his face and his entire head, but it appeared that he was not wounded.
"Somebody else's blood, huh?"
It seemed that Tigre had somehow been buried underneath a few corpses. Because of that, he had managed to escape the eyes of the enemy.
"Bertrand! Lord Mashas!"
He called out the names of his aide and the old knight he was close with, but there was no reply. He tried calling out the names of the soldiers that were under him, but as expected there was no response.
"If they got away, then it's fine, I suppose."
Wherever he looked, there were only corpses. Among the corpses were scattered swords, broken spears, and the remnants of ruined flags. Vision was limited by the morning fog that obscured the far distance, but nothing moved in his field of vision. No allies nor enemies.
Anger and hatred for the enemy did not gush out from within him. More than that, he was dragged down by the weight of fatigue and exhaustion. He sighed.
"It was a terrible battle..."
Roughly around dawn, a surprise attack had been launched against the Brune army. In the ensuing mayhem, their vanguard came under attack as well, and with that came the downfall of the army of twenty five thousand.
―― Yesterday, before midnight, our army had confirmed that the enemy forces were directly in front of us. In other words, Zhcted had split their army in two. A two-pronged assault on both the rearguard and the vanguard.
Tigre felt chills run down his spine.
The plan was simple. Even a child could have come up with it.
―― What was fearsome was their calm execution of the plan, against forces five times their number.
They had fewer soldiers, and, on top of that, split their forces. One small mistake, and their entire force would have been crushed. The soldiers must have been against it, to no small degree.
―― However, it was a splendid success.
The Brune army had been routed.
Washed away with the stampede of fleeing allies, Tigre had been unable to take command of the soldiers. Falling from his horse, he had then fainted.
It seemed like Tigre's unit had been done in more by their own allies than their enemies.
Tigre remembered. The one who stood at the front of the enemy forces, her longsword flashing, the silver-haired girl who cut down the Brune soldiers one by one without pause ― he had only caught a short glimpse of her.
"Was that the Vanadis?"
The Princess of War, the Vanadis, was always at the frontline of battle ― that was what Mashas had said.
The inappropriate memory of her beauty surfaced in Tigre's mind. He ruffled his dark red hair as though reflecting upon it.
Fortunately, his bow had fallen close by.
Picking it up, he plucked the bowstring while feeling a measure of uneasiness and anxiety.
"... It's working fine."
He was relieved. If the bow had been bent, the bowstring would slacken, rendering it useless.
There were still a few arrows left in his quiver.
He raised his head skywards and calculated the directions based on the position of the sun.
"That way's west, eh?"
From this battlefield, going west would lead one to Brune; east, to Zhcted.
Enduring the pain coursing through his entire body, Tigre slowly walked westward. Noticing something moving within his field of vision, he stopped.
A lone knight on a horse was galloping towards him, sword brandished.
Tigre entered a stance with his bow and drew a single arrow.
The knight's horse trampled on or leapt over the corpses lying all around, drawing closer to Tigre. When the distance between them had been shortened to thirty alcin (approximately thirty meters), the knight suddenly roared out.
"A survivor of the Brune army? I'll have your head!"
Tigre remained silent, nocking an arrow to his bow. Casually, he released the arrow.
It was a blur.
When the thud was heard, an arrow could be seen piercing the knight's throat.
It was with amazing speed and calmness.
Completely unable to respond, the knight's body spasmed and lurched to the side, falling to the ground with a thump.
Having lost its rider, the horse let out a high-pitched neigh. Before Tigre could even walk over to it, it had galloped away into the distance.
"I give up... things aren't going my way at all."
He sighed. If he had a horse, he could have escaped from the battlefield with ease.
Trudging forward, Tigre resumed his journey on foot. But it was not even ten steps before he came to a stop again.
"Are they enemies?"
Three hundred alcin (approximately three hundred meters) ahead, he could see a group of knights. If they spotted him, he would be chased down immediately.
"... There's seven of them."
Tigre was born with a pair of good eyes. Those eyes of his had been further trained by hunting, to the point that even at three hundred alcin, he could distinguish the facial features of a person.
He ascertained the contents of his quiver. There were only four arrows left.
Though he had confidence in his skill with the bow, he probably would not be able to take down two men with a single arrow. If all of them charged at him like that knight did earlier, there was nothing he could do.
―― Let them be my allies.
While praying that, Tigre observed the knights. When he saw the face of the leading knight, his eyes widened in shock.
When the Zhcted forces had launched the surprise attack, she was the one who led attack from the front.
Tigre was so charmed by her that he forgot to draw breath.
She was a young maiden of the same age as him. Her silver hair reached down to her waist, uncovered by armor, and shimmering in the rays of sunlight. In those crimson eyes there was radiance and dignity. Her arms were slender, fitting for a girl her age, yet it seemed inexplicably suited for the longsword that she grasped in her hand.
―― Lord Mashas had once said that she possessed a beauty unmatched by all but a few.
It was just as he had said. To judge that beauty based on normality was out of the question. The more he looked at her, the more he had to agree with that statement.
Finally, Tigre snapped back to his senses. He shook his head, shaking off his idle thoughts, and calmly focused his sight upon the Vanadis's group.
The other knights were her escort, it seemed. As though protecting her, they moved their horses forward.
―― If he slew the Vanadis...
There was no reversing the overwhelming defeat suffered by his side. Right now, the Zhcted forces should be chasing down the fleeing Brune army in a large-scale pursuit.
"... But, should I strike her down, the pursuit would have to cease."
If Mashas, Bertrand, and the other soldiers that came from Alsace had survived, then it would greatly increase the likelihood of them making it out alive.
Fighting spirit welled up inside him. The hand that grasped his bow filled with strength.
"I'll do it."
Tigre drew an arrow and nocked it.
"O Eris, goddess of wind and storm..."
The creaking sound of the tightening, tense bowstring filled his eardrums.
On this continent, the maximum range for the bow was two hundred and fifty alcin (approximately two hundred and fifty meters).
This number merely represented how far the arrow could fly ― a calculated distance. If one wished to inflict bodily harm upon the target, the distance would be far less than that.
At the moment, the Vanadis was still about three hundred alcin (approximately three hundred metres) away from Tigre.
Even so, he still released the arrow.
The arrow tore through the wind, and embedded itself into the head of a horse being ridden by a knight next to the Vanadis.
As the horse collapsed onto the ground, bringing the knight down along with it, Tigre let loose a second arrow.
That arrow pierced the area between a knight's brows.
At last, with two of the escorts down, a path was cleared ― a path to the silver-haired, crimson-eyed Vanadis, an opening for an arrow to reach her.
"The real thing starts from here."
Tigre extended his hand into his quiver. His breath grew heavy and hot.
Even while in the depths of the mountains, where sunlight did not reach, facing off against SlōEarth Dragons, which were over forty chet (approximately four metres) long, he had not experienced as much nervousness as he did now.
―― Assuming that the other knights wanted to protect her, they would be hindered by the fallen horse and knights. To get around them would take some time.
Although that time was rather short, indeed, it was enough for Tigre.
―― In this situation, the actions she could take was to either lie face-down on the horse or get off the horse entirely.
On both her left and right were escorts, hence she could not move in those directions. There was a route to her back, but only for a few steps; it was not a viable route for evasive action. And at her front were her fallen subordinates and a horse. It would be difficult to cross over them without a running long jump, and horses disliked that.
Even if this Vanadis managed that, from the start of the jump till the landing, there would surely be a small interval of opening.
And then Tigre, who had once again been focusing his gaze on the Vanadis, was assailed by an intense chill.
The Vanadis was smiling.
She was clearly looking at him, and in excitement.
Tigre grit his teeth. Evidently, she was not taking him seriously. He drew the remaining two arrows from his quiver. One he held with his teeth; the other he nocked to his bow.
But what happened at that moment was an unbelievable sight.
The horse the Vanadis rode on gently soared into the air, far above the fallen subordinates. That height was about twenty chet (around two metres).
To Tigre, it seemed almost as if the horse had grown a pair of wings and flew. It was not a "jump," but closer to "flight."
"What was that, earlier...?"
Fear and dread wracked Tigre's body. He almost thought that his eyes were deceiving him.
A horse that carried a rider should not have been able to jump a height of twenty chet without a running start.
Yet the Vanadis had, and with a calmness as though nothing ever happened, she galloped in his direction.
―― Do not fear...!
He rebuked himself. I was merely seeing things.
Scowling at her, Tigre released the third arrow.
Riding upon the wind, the arrow traveled through the air. Just as it was about to hit dead center on her forehead, it was struck down by a flash of silver.
"... No way."
Tigre's eyes widened with his jaws agape.
She had struck down an arrow that came flying from over a hundred alcin at high speed with her sword. Feats of that degree came only from the likes of chanson de geste, legends of braves and heroes. It was not something normal humans were capable of.
He nocked the last arrow.
He had absolute confidence in his bow. To say nothing of the fact that the opponent was charging straight towards him and the distance of three hundred alcin had almost been closed...
―― It's impossible to miss.
He aimed the arrow straight at her forehead, like earlier. But in the same manner as before, it was deflected.
During this interval, the horse, spurred on by the Vanadis, did not slow even for a moment, and approached him as fiercely as before. In about ten seconds, she would reach him.
"Is this the end?"
He had used up all of his arrows, and he had no other weapon. Escaping from a horse on foot was also impossible.
Grasping his bow tightly, Tigre stood up and gathered strength in his legs. He did not want to look too unsightly.
The Vanadis came before Tigre, and stopped her horse.
The young girl's silver hair was dirtied by neither blood nor sand. She had white skin that made him recall the perpetual snow that piled up at the mountains of his hometown. A refined appearance, with a well-featured nose and moist, bewitching lips that gave one the impression of a top-grade sculpture. However, the crimson eyes overflowing with vitality reminded one that she was a flesh-and-blood human.
She thrust the tip of her longsword at Tigre.
"Throw aside your bow."
He had no choice but to do as told. Nodding her head as though satisfied, the Vanadis said, with a smile:
"You have good skills."
Tigre only realized after a while that she had been referring to him.
―― I'm being complimented...? Even though I'm someone who had been aiming his arrows at her just a moment ago?
More than being pleased, he felt bewildered.
"I am Eleonora Viltaria. And you are?"
"Are you a noble? Of what rank?"
Within various countries, including the Kingdoms of Brune and Zhcted, those that bore surnames were of nobility. Aside from a few exceptions, those who were not of nobility had no surname.
Tigre answered that he was an Earl, and her smile widened.
"Very well, Earl Vorn."
While sheathing her longsword into the scabbard at her waist, Eleonora cheerfully told him.
"From now on, you belong to me as my prisoner of war."
While he was dumbfounded by those unexpected words, her escorts had finally caught up.
They completely surrounded Tigre, pointing their swords and spears at him, but when Eleonora waved her hand, they withdrew their weapons with a surprised look.
"Lim, let him ride behind you. He's my captive. I don't mind if you rough him up a bit, but don't seriously wound him."
The knight named Lim nodded in silence. Because the knight's entire head was covered by a helmet, Tigre could not see their reaction.
"Get on quickly."
Looking down at Tigre, Lim spoke in a low voice from within the helmet. Tigre quickly realized why he felt that Lim's voice towards him bore a degree of anger.
Lim was the knight whose horse he had slain earlier.
―― Was the horse borrowed from the other knights? Even amongst the other escorts, this person ought to be a step above them.
"Is it alright if I take my bow as well?" Tigre asked, pointing at the bow he had thrown down on the ground earlier. "It's important to me."
He pointed out his lack of hostility by showing his empty quiver. Lim extended a hand down towards him.
"Fine by me. However, I'll be holding on to it."
Tigre handed his bow over to Lim, and got up on the rear of the horse. He then placed his hands on Lim's waist.
Suddenly, Lim's neck bent backwards. The back of the helmet struck Tigre in the face, hard.
"What're you doing!" Tigre protested, suppressing his reddening nose.
Eleonora laughed, her shoulders trembling.
"Lim, for the time being, he's my captive. Be a little more gentle with him."
"... I hear and obey."
Although the voice was clearly oozing with dissatisfaction, Lim obeyed anyway.
"If you dare to do something weird, I'll immediately throw you off the horse and trample you to death."
Tigre sighed, partly because of Lim's tremendous anger towards him, but also because of his own uncertainty over his future prospects.
Turning towards the knights, Eleonora proclaimed exultantly:
"Though it was a dull battle, I was able to enjoy myself at the end. ―― Well then, let us withdraw."
The Battle at the Plains of Dinant ended with the one-sided victory of the Kingdom of Zhcted.
Zhcted suffered less than a hundred deaths, whereas Brune had a death count of over five thousand in the the war, with the injured counting for more than twice the number of deaths.
However, the losses were not limited to just that. Brune concealed something, a fact that would be difficult to keep secret no matter how hard they tried.
It was the death of the supreme commander in battle ― the heir to the throne, Prince Regnas.
Translator's Notes and References
- Chanson de geste "songs of heroic deeds" are epic poems in Old French, often regarding military prowess or legendary battles.
- Pronounced as Mah-ss-ha-ss
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