Madan no Ou to Vanadis:Volume 02 Chapter 5 - MTL
|This text is a machine translation (MTL).
Be warned that the degree of translation error may be higher than usual.
This page was created before the updated (July 19, 2015) MTL guidelines and has not been reviewed.
Chapter 5 - Cold Snow and Something Warm
Olmutz was located in the southwest portion of Zhcted.
To the north was LeitMeritz, which Ellen governed. To the west were the Vosyes Mountains which acted as a border to Brune Kingdom. Muozinel Kingdom was in view beyond the wilderness, lakes, and mountains to the south.
The ruler of this Dukedom where men and cultures of three countries existed was Ludmira Lurie.
She was a Vanadis called the Michielia[Snow Princess of the Frozen Wave].
At the moment, in her office in her Imperial Palace, Ludmira quietly took tea.
She needed to clear up the work that had built up while she visited that woman from LeitMeritz in the mountains.
Tea was Ludmira's favorite dish, or perhaps it would be best to call it her hobby. She enjoyed brewing it herself and drinking it with others. The jam she mixed into it was also made by herself.
Ludmira stopped her hands suddenly as she looked at the white porcelain tea cup.
“... I believe I said I would treat him to tea.”
Because her interest had disappeared, she almost forgot his name. After pouring more tea, Ludmira finally recalled it.
“It was Vorn, that aristocrat from Brune. Tigrevurmud Vorn.”
It was a long name for a person from Brune. Ludmira had no other impressions.
“Though she told His Majesty she was employed... Would she truly help such a man to defend LeitMeritz from war?”
If it was an issue of love as the rumors had said, it would simply be a bore. Rather, her taste in men would be poor.
--- You are disqualified as a Vanadis if you place your emotions before your country, Eleanora.
Ludmira Lurie's mother was a Vanadis, as was her grandmother and great grandmother.
A person did not choose to be a Vanadis, so there can be no disagreement with the selection of the Vanadis. Though it was surprising the title of Vanadis passed down her generations, it was a pleasant thing. With a Vanadis as a teacher, she learned of what was needed for her position.
However, it was not that simple.
Daughters were not always born, and there was no guarantee they would have the same brilliance. Even if she were talented, there was no guarantee she would grow as expected. Even after surpassing such difficulties, another person suited to being a Vanadis may appear.
Though many Vanadis tried to raise their daughters to become Vanadis, there was rarely any success. There were very few who realized their desires.
There were few enough family lines in which the Vanadis had continued through the generations that it could be counted on one hand.
The Lurie family is one such rare example.
Ludmira had been given an education on how to be a Vanadis from an early age. She was taught how to use a spear and horse, and she was given the knowledge necessary to govern the land of Olmutz.
Ludmira was 14 when her mother suddenly died of a cold which progressed to pneumonia. She departed the world in an unsatisfying manner after sleeping for several days.
The Hajya no Zenkaku[Spear of Evil Death] chose Ludmira as the new Vanadis.
Superficially, Ludmira did not mourn over her mother's death. She did not have the time to spare for it.
Though no one hoped to become the Vanadis governing Olmutz more than Ludmira, there were still people watching her.
She had a strong desire to protect her vassals and carry out her duties as a Vanadis, following her mother and grandmother's footsteps.
Some time later, Ludmira heard of a new Vanadis chosen to take over LeitMeritz.
Furthermore, she was 14, the same age as Ludmira.
She was interested.
The Vanadis of Olmutz and the Vanadis of LeitMeritz had had a bad relationship over many generations.
Though it was natural they be wary of each other, having territories near each other, they had clashed more than just once or twice. Ludmira's mother was also involved in frequent arguments.
--- This person I may fight, I wish to see her with my own eyes.
While Ludmira was cautious, she held some hope as well.
--- If we can become friends, then Olmutz and LeitMeritz will see a light of peace that has not been present since ancient times.
The idea came from her solitude as a ruler. The Vanadis from LeitMeritz was different from her; she was a traveler.
--- Depending on the situation, I can teach her many things.
Ludmira headed to LeitMeritz with such high hopes where she met Ellen. Naturally, they did not get along; rather, they fought.
“You are a person fresh out of the country, an arrogant barbarian who has not a single fragment of modesty or humility.”
That was Ludmira's evaluation of Ellen. Coincidentally, Ellen had a similar appraisal of Ludmira.
“She's a condescending girl with a large attitude who has nothing to boast of but her lineage.”
Though Vanadis, they were 14 year old girls.
Furthermore, Ludmira had been restless, and Ellen was confused, having just become a Vanadis. Perhaps this result was inevitable.
Though they wanted to ignore each other, such a relationship was impossible due to their territories being near one another. Neither wanted to lose to the other, as well.
One year became two, and Ellen had shown her merit on the battlefield and in how she governed LeitMeritz, so Ludmira had no choice but to acknowledge her to some extent. That is why she held an interest in Tigre.
--- I wonder what value that man has.
A knock on the door restored Ludmira to her surroundings. She had been lost in her thoughts for quite a while, as the tea in her white porcelain cup had gone completely cold.
She gently spoke before an elderly chamberlain entered, displaying a reverent attitude. He had worked in the Imperial Palace since her mother's time and was one of Ludmira's trusted subordinates.
“A messenger representing Duke Thenardier has come.”
Ludmira frowned. Honestly, she did not want to meet him.
Her association with Duke Thenardier was from the time of her great grandmother. The Duke at that time was known as a man of character. The household in the present day was known for the tyranny it spread amongst the people under its charge.
However, he was always sincere with his business outside the country, and Ludmira never felt dissatisfaction in her correspondence.
--- I am the Lord of Olmutz. I must not give priority to my personal emotions.
“... I will meet him.”
Ludmira responded calmly and stood from her chair.
Ellen intended to move her soldiers to Brune immediately upon returning to the Imperial Palace, but she received an unexpected report.
“Olmutz soldiers are gathered near the border?”
The soldier reported there were signs of movement in the direction of Olmutz.
“Yes. Approximately two thousand troops are training and preparing for winter.”
“Is Ludmira there?”
“Many of our scouts have confirmed her presence.”
--- Is this a check?
Ellen's face clouded over. Ludmira said she was siding with Duke Thenardier, and she took action immediately.
In addition, a letter from Viscount Augre was sent from Alsace.
[A suspicious traveler was caught in the Vosyes Mountains. He had a strange letter we wanted you to see.]
After the bandits had been swept away, Viscount Augre and his men made numerous trips to the Vosyes Mountains. He was on the lookout for any bandits that may have remained when he caught a traveler.
The letter was addressed from Duke Thenardier to Ludmira.
Removing the formalities and compliments in the letter, it could be easily simplified.
[When Eleanora takes command of her troops and heads to Brune, I want you to immediately attack LeitMeritz as originally planned.]
Tigre headed to the office and showed the letter to Ellen and Lim who were fighting a pile of papers in front of them.
Ellen quickly looked over the letter and snorted.
“Though the son who was killed in Molsheim was an idiot, it seems his father is quite a villain. He's good.”
Tigre looked at Lim who arranged documents next to Ellen. She responded without looking away from the papers.
“Lord Tigrevurmud. Why do you think the Duke sent his messengers up the Vosyes Mountains? Since Viscount Augre is at odds with the Duke, is it not too dangerous to use that path, even if it is the shortest route to Olmutz?”
Tigre felt it was as she said. He was surprised.
“Then... the Duke is trying to provoke us by letting this letter fall into our hands?”
“That is most likely. To fight a Vanadis, it is natural to use another Vanadis.”
Ellen spoke and patted the Arifal's sheath as it leaned against the wall.
“But how did he know Viscount Augre was our ally? If not for the bandits...”
Tigre's words ended there.
--- I see, so he employed them to attack the fields...
He realized why the bandits had remained in the Vosyes Mountains and how they procured the armor from Olmutz.
--- The Duke has connections with Olmutz, so that much should be simple for him. He probably dislikes Viscount Augre for advocating neutrality, so he has no qualms about attacking.
When Tigre stated his reasoning, Lim expressed her approval with light clapping.
“The Duke likely changed his plans. When we defeated the bandits, Territoire allied with us, but our relation with Ludmira-sama became poor. He likely wanted to use this to crush Eleanora-sama.”
“The message Ludmira likely received was asking her to move her soldiers in such a way that they would restrain my movements. Given the length of their relationship, he probably understands exactly how much she will do.”
In order to annoy Ellen, Ludmira moved her soldiers to the border in order to watch for Ellen's departure from LeitMeritz.
Even if she successfully left her territory, she needed to leave her soldiers behind in the case of an emergency.
In order for Thenardier to fight Ganelon without worrying about the third force forming beneath Tigre, he had to crush Tigre before Ellen regained her freedom of action.
“No, if it's her, she might attack once I move away...”
“However, Ludmira-sama will gain nothing if she fights with you, Eleanora-sama.”
She protects her association with Thenardier. The problem is where Ludmira's values lie.
Ellen groaned with her arms crossed. She looked out the window and gazed at the scenery as she planned her actions.
Before long, she returned the longsword to the wall and looked back at Tigre with a small sigh.
“Tigre. You decide.”
Ellen stared at Tigre with her bright red eyes. Tigre returned a look of bewilderment.
“Even if it means following her provocations, I believe Ludmira should be defeated here. It would be fine if she simply moved to the border to provoke you into action, but you must rid yourself of any anxiety you might have in the future. However... If you wish to head to Brune immediately, I will follow after you.”
Tigre did not respond immediately.
“... You would leave such an important decision to me?”
This decision would significantly impact the future.
She had killed the assassins, who attacked all at once, without much difficulty. It would not be an easy battle. If they fought Ludmira, they would lose time and soldiers.
However, as Ellen said, it was dangerous to return to Brune while ignoring her.
If Ludmira attacked LeitMeritz, even if Ellen returned immediately, the land would be severely damaged. Thenardier would also move in at that time and get rid of Tigre.
Tigre did not think he had the capabilities to judge the situation.
However, Ellen nodded as she stared straight at Tigre.
“It is precisely because this is important that I want you to decide.”
Ellen spoke bluntly and turned away.
Tigre stirred his dull red hair and quietly shut his eyes. He explored his memories, little by little, of the day he met Ludmira. He looked at every expression and recalled every word.
--- That's right. There's no need to hesitate.
Ludmira's words and attitude were clear.
If she judged it necessary, she would fight.
It was not just LeitMeritz that Ludmira was threatening, but Territoire as well, which lay across the Vosyes Mountains.
He could not lose the ally he had just gained.
Tigre opened his eyes with a will to fight and spoke in a dignified manner.
“We will send two messengers to her. We will show her the letter, and if its content is a lie and she truly has no hostility, we will request she have her soldiers stand down as proof.”
“And if you are rejected, or if there is a delay in the response?”
“We will apply a time limit. If she complains, we will remove her by force.”
Ellen laughed as she and Lim looked at each other, hearing Tigre's clear response.
“Then let's do that.”
The next day, three thousand soldiers, led by Tigre, Ellen, and Lim, moved to the south of LeitMeritz and stopped near the border. They sent a messenger to Ludmira, appealing for her retreat.
Ludmira rejected them twice, so the LeitMeritz Army resumed their march.
The fight between Vanadis began.
Ludmira Lurie received a report that the troops of LeitMeritz were approaching.
Ludmira basically used the same housing as the soldiers, and she took the same meals as them. The only thing that could be called an exception was tea. She almost always carried it, and was drinking her tea when she received the report.
“I see. So Eleanora has come.”
The scouts have confirmed her appearance. Furthermore, next to the Vanadis-sama of the Silver Flash, there is a young man with red hair of the same age.
Regardless of who the Lord was, it was customary in Zhcted to pay honor to the Vanadis.
“Red hair... Ah, Tigrevurmud Vorn.”
Ludmira muttered without much interest. Tigre was simply a bonus alongside Ellen; he was a trivial existence.
When the soldier finished the report, Ludmira thanked him for his hard work.
“You must be tired. Have a cup of tea.”
She took a small heated stone placed beside her chair and set an iron kettle filled with hot water atop it. The soldier gave his words of gratitude as Ludmira sat back down and placed two crystal jars before them. One held tea leaves while the other held jam.
The hot water was poured into the white porcelain cups, and the jam melted.
“It is hot. Take care and drink slowly.”
The soldier thanked her again and took the cup graciously. Ludmira watched him with a smile. It was soothing for her to see someone savor the tea she brewed herself.
When the soldier left, her smile disappeared. Ludmira called for her Commanders.
“I will have Eleanora brought before me. I will defeat her myself.”
Ludmira extended her hand and grasped the spear at her side.
The handle of the spear was short, and the tip was surrounded by crystals of ice.
It was the ViraltDragonic Tool which commands the cold, the Frozen Wave Lavias.
“We will move as planned. We will battle her on Burkina Plains and then shut ourselves in the Tatra Mountains.”
There were two Commanders standing before her. One was in his mid 30s and had a much richer experience in combat than Ludmira, who was still 16. He excelled in swordsmanship and horsemanship. He gazed sadly at the girl he served.
“What is it?”
Though Ludmira understood what he wished to say, she still asked.
“Do you truly intend to fight the Silvfrau[Wind Princess of the Silver Flash]?”
“I will do so because it is necessary to show my loyalty to the Duke of another country.”
Ludmira caught their gaze and responded with a grim voice.
“The Lurie family has had connections with Duke Thenardier's household for more than eighty years. I cannot simply cut it off on my own.”
--- I have pride and dignity. I am different from Eleanora...!
That thought supported Ludmira as well as bound her.
In accordance to the commands given by the Vanadis with blue hair, the Olmutz Army took action.
It took approximately half a day after they left LeitMeritz, passing through the lands under direct control of the kingdom, for them to enter Olmutz. They were met with undulated grasslands.
This grassland, the Burkina Plains, overlooked the Tatra Mountains to the east. It was wrapped in the cold wind which flew down from the mountains in the autumn evenings. During the winter, there was an occasional light snowfall.
Ellen led three thousand troops from LeitMeritz. By the time they reached Burkina Plains, everyone wore a thick mantle. The sky was covered in gray clouds, hiding the morning sun. The dismal weather further cooled the air; the soldiers' breath was white.
“The enemy is before us! They number two thousand!”
They finished preparing, and the soldiers were in formation. Ellen smiled fearlessly.
Before long, a black mass appeared in the distance, advancing along the ground. They held spears of wood and iron to the sky. The ZirnitraBlack Dragon Flag could be seen at intervals alongside a fluttering white flag with a blue spear, the banner of the Vanadis.
With a distance of five hundred alsin (approximately five hundred meters) separating the armies, something suddenly fell from the sky.
It was unknown who muttered those words. The snow disappeared before it hit the ground, and was followed by more snow drifting down quietly from the sky. The horn of both armies sounded.
All interest in the snow disappeared as both armies charged.
Several thousand bowstrings trembled, and innumerable arrows poured down over both armies.
Once the battle settled down, Ellen led her army forward.
The cavalry raised their spears and gave a cry before rushing forward. They kicked up the grass and shook the earth. The infantry hardened their bodies on reflex.
The two armies which mutually held the Black Dragon Flag clashed; their spears crossed and their shields collided.
Some soldiers collapsed from the horses' unstoppable charge, while others knocked the cavalry to the ground. Those who had fallen were trampled on or cut down as the soldiers swarmed across the land.
The grass was wet, and the cold disappeared as blood dyed the earth. The heat rapidly escaped from the corpses as they fell, while others were quickly crushed as they tried to stand again.
Though the cavalry under Ellen's control was strong, the soldiers following Ludmira stubbornly resisted.
“First Army, retreat. Move forward, Second Team.”
The first set of cavalry retreated and were closely replaced by the cavalry charging in from behind. Though it was just as energetic as the previous attack, it did not break through Ludmira's heavy infantry.
--- Now then, what should I do...
While Ellen assumed leadership of the LeitMeritz Army, she watched the battle carefully from the rear. She did not think it possible to break the enemy's defense from the front, so she gave Lim the order to attack from the side.
After a while, a report came.
“Limlisha-sama's troops were pushed back.”
“... And Lim?”
“She is alive and well.”
Ellen let out a breath of relief and hit the longsword at her waist. The wind strengthened, as if Arifal was complaining.
“I'll be gone for a moment.”
Tigre, who was next to Ellen, was also commanding the troops. He advanced his horse with his bow in hand.
“Don't do the impossible.”
“I won't die here.”
The cavalry rushed forward again. This time, Tigre did not take command but participated as a soldier. Once he judged he was at an appropriate distance, he fired an arrow.
The arrow pierced the leg of an Olmutz soldier who held his spear up, ready to fight the LeitMeritz Army. The soldier fell to his knee and groaned.
The Commander of the cavalry gave short words of praise as he stood next to Tigre.
“They have good armor.”
Tigre answered with an unpleasant expression. The armor worn by the Olmutz soldiers had very few gaps, and they had a long shield in their left arm. This forced Tigre to aim at their arms and legs.
“Even so, no average soldier can match your reach with an arrow.”
It was clear from the reaction of the Olmutz soldiers. They had closed the distance quickly.
The cavalry collided and pushed one another down. Tigre also shot arrow after arrow, knocking Olmutz soldiers down.
--- Where's the commander? I need to aim at him.
Tigre observed the enemy force and searched for the person in charge. Amongst the swarming soldiers, the glittering swords and spears, and the flying arrows, he could act without hesitation; perhaps it was something uncommon that Tigre possessed.
He found him.
Tigre discovered the person he assumed took lead of the soldiers and fired his bow. However, when the enemy looked as if it were collapsing, other soldiers reinforced their position and the line was repaired.
Though Tigre defeated three people who acted as Commander, the cavalry moved to retreat and abandoned their offense, so he was unable to attack any further.
The LeitMeritz gave up its offensive and retreated. The Olmutz Army also fell back.
By the end of the day, nothing had been settled. Each side had more than one hundred killed in action and fortified their positions five belsta (approximately five kilometers) away.
The snow covered the LeitMeritz Army along with the darkness of the night. Tigre headed to Ellen's tent when the sun was sinking.
Alongside Lim, Ellen had taken to a frugal meal of wine and cheese when she noticed Tigre. She smiled, both appreciation and a desire to tease him mixed within.
“It seems you fought well, according to the reports. How are Ludmira's soldiers?”
It was the first impression he had. Ellen laughed and nodded earnestly.
“That's right. She is ridiculously good at defense. She might be the best amongst all Vanadis in defensive battles.”
He sat before the two. Lim prepared wine and cheese for him. He gave his thanks and looked at Ellen while nibbling at the cheese.
“Even if you break through, they recover quickly before their wound expands, and even if you attack from the side and from behind, they will push back. They don't respond to provocation. In essence, she does not take any chances yet still remains aggressive.”
“However, I did not see Ludmira-sama at the head of the attack.”
“I'd rather not see her if possible.”
Tigre recalled her appearance as she killed the assassins in an instant. He looked downward seriously and thought about the battlefield.
“What, it's not like I'll lose. It's a field battle. We'll beat and crush her tomorrow.”
Ellen spoke aggressively, either to encourage Tigre or to inspire herself. Lim looked at Ellen expressionlessly.
“I believe we said it was pointless to advance against her.”
“She probably has no other hands. Ludmira's defenses are harder than before. Tigre took the trouble to kill some of her Commanders, so I doubt she can make the best use of her troops now. Ludmira has no choice but to be killed.”
“Eleanora-sama. Have you looked at Ludmira-sama's current war record?”
Ellen thought for a moment with her arms crossed before sitting upright and responding proudly.
“Two victories, one defeat.”
“That is not the same number we heard when we last spoke to Ludmira-sama.”
“What do you mean?”
Tigre frowned and looked at Lim. Lim took a drink while answering indifferently.
“It is of my opinion that they were at a tie; however, they both insist it was their victory.”
Tigre sighed and looked at Ellen in amazement.
“Your relationship really is a bad one.”
“It's a tradition for LeitMeritz and Olmutz to not get along.”
“The previous Vanadis and the Vanadis from the generation before have always been hostile toward the Lurie family... That is, Ludmira's mother and grandmother.”
Though Ellen replied indignantly, Tigre tilted his head due to something having caught his attention.
“Ludmira's mother and grandmother were Vanadis?”
“Her family line is quite old. She's arrogant because of that.”
“... Are Vanadis hereditary in nature?”
Tigre looked at Ellen with a bewildered face. After that, she muttered quietly, as though convincing herself.
“Well, it should be fine to tell you. Don't tell others, though. The Vanadis are chosen by the ViraltDragonic Tool.”
Tigre was unable to react immediately, having been told such an important thing so easily. Ellen picked up Arifal and placed it over her shoulder. She looked at the sheath of the longsword lovingly, though with sarcasm mixed into her gaze.
“A little over two years ago, this fellow chose me to be his Vanadis.”
“... I don't quite understand.”
Tigre's voice had become hoarse.
--- The weapon chooses its wielder. Though I have seen these in myths and fairy tales, I did not think they actually existed. Weapons are weapons, after all.
However, while Tigre insisted this loudly in his mind, Tigre's memories objected. The longsword in Ellen's hand occasionally playfully hit him with wind.
Also, there was the black bow to his side.
Once before, his bow and Arifal showed a strange resonance. It had spoken to him, and it had done something beyond human knowledge.
--- Maybe that's why Ellen told me.
He felt as though he had stepped into an unknown world in a different dimension. Tigre felt a moment of dismay and wondered if he should even hear this story.
However, Tigre shook it away immediately.
It was something he should know.
One day, he may be confronted with the mystery of his black bow.
He wanted to do more, to be able to help Ellen more in the future.
Ellen laughed happily upon seeing Tigre's expression.
“Good eyes. You're listening seriously.”
“Um, how does the ViraltDragonic Tool chooses the Vanadis?”
“It suddenly appears before the selected person. If the person takes it in her hand, words flow into her head. It's a bit difficult to explain, but it told me I had become a Vanadis and to head to the Imperial Palace. So I was a Vanadis the day I appeared before the Palace.”
Tigre glanced at the black bow beside him. After collecting himself, he returned his eyes to Ellen.
“What became of the previous Vanadis?”
“She retired. These guys---”
Ellen held Arifal up.
“They choose a Vanadis when the previous Vanadis is unworthy of their position. That time is judged by these things. It could happen when they're ill or when they have a severe injury that makes life difficult. It also happens if they become incompatible or die. When I arrived at LeitMeritz, my predecessor's funeral had just ended. The Grand Chamberlain at the Imperial Palace simply bowed before me.”
“... Did the people of the Imperial Palace accept it?”
Though Tigre had succeeded his father two years ago when he became an Earl, he understood the situation was completely different. He had lived in Alsace his entire childhood and knew the surroundings and people. He had the support of everyone there.
“Though there were probably some who didn't like it, this guy chose me, so they couldn't help but accept it.”
Ellen sarcastically laughed as she shrugged her shoulders. A swirl of wind surrounded Arifal, as if it were proud of itself.
“Also the people of LeitMeritz, no, the people of Zhcted, were all accustomed to it. This tradition has been in practice since Zhcted was first established. Rather than the Viralt[Dragonic Tool] choosing the Vanadis, the Vanadis are chosen by some mystic force. That's how most people interpret it.”
While tracing her finger along Arifal's blade, Ellen looked with a disappointed expression.
“However, that's not very convincing with Lavias. It chose the same bloodline; it even chose that Ludmira. I can only think its eyes are rotten.”
Though Tigre was about to say it had no eyes to be rotten, he knew there was some kind of intent in Arifal. It might have eyes unknown to man which lay elsewhere.
“Tigre, what do you think? Do you think that woman who boasts of her lineage is suitable to being a Vanadis? I don't understand why Lavias would choose someone who looks down on others.”
He recalled Ludmira. Tigre nodded to indicate his agreement.
“Lord Tigrevurmud. I should say this now, but please ignore Eleanora-sama's evaluation of Ludmira-sama.”
“Even their first meeting was terrible...”
Two years ago, when LeitMeritz was celebrating Ellen's arrival as the new Vanadis, Ludmira came to visit.
Ellen went out to see what she wanted just shortly after she began learning proper court etiquette. The civil servants were at a loss for words as she somehow managed a proper greeting.
“Oh my, LeitMeritz is quite tolerant.”
Ludmira reacted by speaking with an arrogant tone and a haughty sneer.
“I had some expectations of a Vanadis my age, though I should apologize for doing so without permission. I suppose it cannot be helped. You are welcome to come play in Olmutz if you wish, though you may want to learn your manners first. I believe even you would not want to be laughed at.”
Ludmira brought her hand to her mouth and elegantly laughed; however, her blue eyes clearly looked down on Ellen from a superior position.
She was looking at me like I was some kind of ape, Ellen complained to Lim at a later date.
“Ah, but perhaps I can teach you. If you bow your head down to me, I can teach you anything, including manners, of course.”
“Oh? That's right. Can you teach me how to become taller? Or is that possible? I suppose if you knew of any methods, you would have tried them out long ago.”
Ludmira was one head shorter than Ellen, and it seemed to have touched a nerve, as the blue-haired Vanadis flushed red and shouted childishly.
“I, I was simply being kind!”
“Hm. So those of Olmutz impose their kindness on others. It doesn't seem so great.”
Ludmira flinched and stammered while Ellen mercilessly continued her attack.
“Who was the one to teach you propriety? He certainly must be a splendid person. Maybe I could use him to clean the yard.”
“Wha--- I will not permit you to insult my mother!”
Ellen's bright red eyes and Ludmira's deep blue eyes exploded with hostility.
“I see, so it was your mother. Good. You should come with her and I can teach you both how to properly prostrate yourself.”
“You... How dare you say that, even though you are a Vanadis fresh from the countryside!”
The two girls rolled up their skirts and sleeves and pounced on each other like wild beasts.
“In the end, they were shouting and fighting. It took ten people including me to pull them apart.”
Tigre stared at Lim in sympathy as she finished talking. Ellen had turned away midway and remained silent.
“As a third party, who did you think was at fault?”
“It was a childish fight, so it is difficult to decide.”
Tigre gave his answer as he thought through the story again.
“Ludmira-sama's attitude certainly was maddening to watch to others, but she was not being malicious; she had good intentions. Though I am unsure of how things are now...”
“--- Are you finished with the unpleasant talk?”
Lim smiled bitterly having been interrupted. Ellen turned around without concealing her poor mood.
“Let us return to the topic on hand. Anyway, Ludmira and I will fight one on one tomorrow. I will destroy her impregnable defenses and tear her away from the army. That way, it won't be a repeat of today.”
Though Lim desperately thought of words of rebuttal, she knew they could not spend a significant time on this.
Tigre began to speak.
“If we destroy the enemy, can you pull back immediately? Even if it is in the midst of battle?”
Though Tigre understood Ellen's strength, Ludmira also had the power of a Vanadis. Tigre understood Lim's anxieties.
If they could not propose an alternate plan, they had no other choice but to overwhelm the enemy as quickly as possible to shorten the duration of Ellen and Ludmira's fight.
Though Ellen looked bitter, she looked at Tigre's eyes and Lim's expression and nodded.
The next day, Burkina Plains was covered in the thick, early morning fog which did not allow the sunlight to penetrate through. It was likely due to the cold meadow remaining from the day before.
“This is bad...”
Following Ellen's instructions, the LeitMeritz Army retreated three belsta (approximately three kilometers) back.
The fog derailed everyone's senses. In a state in which the white mist blocked sight just a few steps ahead, many were subject to the illusion of shadows.
Though it was not impossible to advance while taking advantage of the fog, the land was Ludmira's garden, so to speak. She was well informed of the geographical features, so it necessitated caution on Ellen's part. Though the fog cleared up within one koku, something surprising occurred.
Ludmira's Army had disappeared.
Burkina Plains was empty, even with the fog gone. The two thousand troops from Olmutz led by Ludmira were nowhere to be found.
Ellen sent scouts in all directions and soon found the whereabouts of the enemy.
“The colors of the ZirnitraBlack Dragon Flag have been found in the Tatra Mountains. There are many barriers set up along the mountain path. It seems Ludmira-sama is preparing for a siege.”
Ellen heard the report and groaned after sending the soldier away.
“We've been had...”
Ellen muttered to herself. Hearing this, Tigre frowned.
“Was this Ludmira's plan from the start?”
“That's right. Yesterday's fight was to have us focus on this area.”
The LeitMeritz Army quickly moved to the Tatra Mountains before day's end.
By the time they reached the base of the mountains, the day had mostly passed.
“This is no less steep than Vosyes.”
That was Tigre's first impression as he looked up the mountain.
Though it was nowhere as large as the Vosyes Mountain range, it was still quite high. At the end of the slope was a steep cliff.
Dark trees concealed the surface of the mountain. Bare rocks could be seen in various places, and snow covered the land thickly, giving the mountain an even more steep appearance.
The scouts from the LeitMeritz Army were shot at from soldiers in the village at the foot of the mountain. They were forced to give many silver coins to the villagers to extract accurate information on the surroundings. By the time all was done, it was late in the evening.
“It seems Tatra Fortress is located at the summit of the mountain, and it's surrounded by step hills to the right, left, and behind it.”
Lim summarized the information and reported to Ellen in the tent.
“The entire mountain is steep, and when the locals go to hunt and forage for edible plants, they rarely leave the main path. Though there are other roads, they do not come out near the fortress. That is all they can tell us about the known paths.”
“What about a river leading deeper?”
Ellen guessed there would be some source of water leading to the fortress.
“It seems there is a waterfall in the center...”
--- So that's useless as well.
When Lim's report ended, Ellen left the tent and ordered her soldiers to remain on standby. She and Tigre approached the mountains.
The mountain path was heavily fortified as dictated by Ludmira. Large walls were built and wide trenches were dug. Fences made of hardened wood, stone, and soil were erected, and archers were established behind them.
There were many such defensive positions placed on the road.
Ellen spoke to Tigre while watching the path from a distance.
“How would you attack it?”
Tigre observed the defenses for a while and sighed.
--- Even if we make the soldiers charge, they will be hit with a storm of arrows while they move past the fences and trenches.
“It would take time, but what about some sort of battering ram or catapult?”
“That won't cut it with her. Ludmira could freeze the key locations with Lavias, and her gate will be harder than a poor castle gate. Can you reach the archers with your bow at that height?”
“Though it's possible, there wouldn't be much point in it.”
From that height, they could simply obtain iron shields and defend themselves while shooting from the gaps. They would probably have replacements for anyone that was shot down, as well.
“What about the thing you used to kill the SuroEarth Dragon?”
Ludmira had already used Lavias' power. There was no reason for her not to use her own.
“Eh? Ah... The Veda[Dragonic Skill]. I can't do it.”
While holding her silver-white hair, which had been disturbed by the wind, Ellen shrugged her shoulders deftly.
“You've seen it once. Do you know the weakness of my Dragonic Skill?”
Tigre tilted his head and looked up at the gray sky in thought.
He thought about how the Dragonic Skill which could obliterate a Dragon could have a weakness.
Seeing Tigre unable to come up with an answer for a long time, Ellen smiled and pointed at him with her finger.
“The first weakness is distance. It won't reach an enemy that is too far away. If we assume I use my Dragonic Skill before a trench, I would destroy the trench and blow away the fences and the walls; however, it would not reach the hill behind them. As for the other one---”
Ellen put up her second finger.
“The Dragonic Skill collects the surrounding winds. In that instant, the defense I have from the wind will not be effective. If arrows are shot at me during that time, I can't block them.”
Tigre frowned. The location seemed to have been built specifically to oppose Ellen. Ellen noticed Tigre's face and shrugged her shoulders and smiled cynically.
“It's something Ludmira's grandmother thought of. She calculated that position specifically to counter Arifal, so it seems my predecessors suffered.”
The next day, the LeitMeritz Army attacked the mountain path upon which snow drifted about on countless occasions.
The enemy's arrows were blocked by shields, and the crossbows and arbalest prepared were not as effective as they expected.
Even if they managed to destroy the fence, a new one was installed, and with the frozen earth and cold air, further pursuit was impossible.
The Olmutz Army had no intent of leaving their position to fight. Those not fighting brought soil and stones to further strengthen the walls.
Furthermore, they had built a catapult to throw large rocks and barrels full of earth and sand. The LeitMeritz Army was forced to retreat.
The LeitMeritz Army repeatedly advanced and retreated in restless waves. The Olmutz Army stood like a large stone, neither moving forward nor backward.
It was simply a waste of time.
The battle had simply become a standoff. After several days, Ellen had become impatient.
On that day, their attack had ended in a failure. Tigre returned with the weary soldiers and gave words of appreciation before heading to the Commander's tent.
Once it came into view, he frowned. There should have been a few soldiers standing guard around it, but there was no one on watch.
Furthermore, he could hear quarreling inside.
His pace naturally quickened and he entered the tent.
“Then what else can we do!?”
Suddenly, Ellen's angry voice roared throughout the tent, taking Tigre by surprise.
Ellen had a passionate attitude as her bright red eyes glared at Lim. The adjutant with golden hair stood resolutely before the pressure exuded by the Vanadis.
“What's wrong? I can hear you even from outside.”
Ellen looked at Tigre with a frown. Her expression quickly returned to one of a sulking child before she stomped her way across the tent and grabbed a bottle of wine in the corner. She quickly opened the bottle and drank its contents.
He did not dare to lower his voice when he asked Lim. Lim responded with a relieved expression.
“Lord Tigrevurmud, please stop her. Eleanora-sama wants to attack their defensive position alone.”
Tigre's mouth was half open in amazement. Tigre looked at Lim in blank surprise; there was no way the General of an army would be allowed to attack alone.
“It can't be helped.”
While gripping the bottle of wine, Ellen looked at Tigre with a sullen face.
“If it's me, I can fly over with Arifal. I can get behind their defense and cut down all the Olmutz soldiers.”
Tigre looked at her unreasonably. Naturally, Lim put a stop to her words.
“It is useless.”
“Then come up with another plan.”
“Though I have no other proposal, It is still useless.”
Though he thought it no different from a childish quarrel, Tigre spoke and made his assertion with a strong tone.
“Ludmira's grandmother thought of that. You said that yourself, right? In that case, even if you have many soldiers prepared, it wouldn't be a simple task.”
“But we have no other choice! Many days have passed, and our situation has not changed. You should have faith in my swordsmanship.”
Ellen was not budging at all. She stared at Tigre and walked forward. Using both hands, she grabbed Tigre's head, preventing him from moving.
“Did I let you go free too much? Tigre. Surely you haven't forgotten already. Who do you belong to?”
It was an intense atmosphere, and she pressed strongly against his skin. Tigre breathed slowly and answered.
“I belong to you.”
“That's right. In that case, you should believe in me and let me do this, right?”
The passion in her red eyes nearly suffocated Tigre.
What Ellen said, while worrisome, was reasonable.
However, she was the General of the army. Even if the possibility of failure was small, she could not be recklessly exposed to danger.
--- Even if I told her to stop, she wouldn't. But we don't have any other plan, so what can I do?
He hesitated, but after some worrying, Tigre extended his hands. He shut his eyes and sandwiched Ellen's face with his hands as she had done to him. With Ellen's movements stopped for a moment, he quietly brought his head forward to hers. It was not an action he thought about, but something done naturally.
Ellen was surprised, confused, and panicked. He could feel it in her voice through his palm.
Tigre let out a breath of relief in his mind because he did not feel anger from Ellen.
--- Since I did this so suddenly, I was prepared to get hit.
Even with such an abrupt reaction, he was not rejected; she trusted him. All that remained was for him to force his words out through the tension.
He would properly communicate his feelings.
“You are important to me. Even if I were not yours, I don't think anything would change. It was my decision that pulled you to the battlefield, so I know I'm being selfish, but I don't want you to do anything reckless.”
Silence fell upon the tent. Since Tigre's eyes were closed, he could not understand Ellen's reaction.
Before long, Ellen's hands parted from Tigre.
It was a small, trembling voice which reached Tigre's ear.
“Do you really cherish me?”
“Do you cherish me the most?”
He found himself at a loss for words.
“... What did you just think of right now?”
Though it was not visible to Tigre, Lim was glaring at him from a distance. Tigre responded honestly in the dangerous atmosphere.
He heard a sigh. The two parted and Ellen took a step back. Tigre opened his eyes after losing the feel of her on his hand and saw Ellen smiling bitterly with her hands on her waist.
“You're a man with a strong love for his home. Well, that's fine. Alsace is mine as well.”
Just a moment ago, she was in such a bad mood that he would hesitate to call out to her, but it had vanished. Her cheerful smile and bright red eyes returned.
The Ellen Tigre and Lim were accustomed to seeing stood before them.
“By the way, if you had said a woman's name, you would be one head shorter. You've exercised your wisdom well. I'll praise you for that.”
Tigre shrugged his shoulders silently, though he was curious in the back of his mind. Ellen was a little red and spoke more rapidly than usual.
Tigre was a pubescent man of marriageable age, so he may have been aware of Ellen as a member of the opposite sex.
However, there were other things to do first. He needed to tie up all loose ends.
“By the way, I had a favor I wanted to ask of you.”
Each time he took a step forward, a heavy sound echoed from below. The sky had not changed at all, and an almost pure-white snow covered the ground. Occasionally, his feet slid against ice rather than snow.
His body was wrapped in a fur mantle as he walked along the frozen surface. Tigre vaguely thought the fur was double layered to keep the cold away. The white breath he expelled was nearly invisible against the snow.
His hat was made from the head of a bear. To be more exact, the entire headpiece was fashioned to act as headgear. Holes were placed in the eyes and ears to allow him to see and hear, and the mouth was open so he could speak.
It was something Lim lent to him.
“This is what I brought as protection against the cold.”
She told Tigre this as she covered his head. Though it was a little tight, he could barely feel the cold seeping up from his neck.
He carefully progressed toward a tree not buried in snow. He leaned against it to rest when he reached it and was tempted to sit down.
He took a flask from his waist and drank some water.
--- This is the third day.
That was how long it had been since Tigre entered the Tatra Mountains.
He asked Ellen to allow him to search for a mountain path that would head to the top of the mountain.
“Weren't you just trying to prevent me from acting alone?”
Ellen spoke sarcastically, though her tone was slightly peevish. Eventually she consented.
“However... Will you really be fine?”
She glanced at him anxiously. Tigre simply struck his chest proudly to reassure her.
It was not a lie. He was accustomed to climbing steep mountains in Alsace.
Even if he was found by the enemy, he could evade them by acting as a hunter. His form was that of a hunter, and he had knowledge as a hunter himself. He had confirmed there were snow leopards throughout the mountains by asking the people in the village.
He was suddenly hit by a bout of drowsiness, and his body leaned over.
Tigre put strength to his legs and hit his head to awaken himself. The cold had sapped his stamina, and the weight of the snow only made him more fatigued.
--- I don't have much food. There's enough water, since I found a river...
He was anxious as well. After leaving Alsace, many days had passed, and Duke Thenardier would soon begin his movements.
--- But I came here of my own accord.
When looking down from a cliff overhead, Tigre had learned he had come quite a ways up the mountain.
--- I have one day left at most...
After finishing his rest, Tigre resumed his walk through the snow.
He saw a fox far away. It was about five chet (approximately fifty centimeters) in size.
Perhaps it had been distracted by something, as it had stopped in its place. After secretly hiding his body with a nearby tree, Tigre quickly nocked an arrow.
If he killed it, it would give him a sufficient amount of food.
The distance to the fox was two hundred alsin (approximately two hundred meters). It would be no problem, even if it was slightly higher on the gentle slope.
He bent his bowstring and shot the arrow.
By the time his bowstring stopped vibrating, the arrow had pierced the fox's head.
Tigre tilted his head. The fox collapsed in an odd way. At any rate, Tigre continued to walk toward it while paying careful attention to his steps. When he had walked half the distance, he noticed a small shadow appear near where the fox fell. It was a petite girl.
She was the stern girl he had met in Rodnick and was now his enemy, the blue-haired Vanadis. Though it was odd to see a casually dressed girl in the snow-covered mountains, he could accept it if it were her.
Tigre stopped his feet and intently observed her. Ludmira noticed him and remained where she stood.
--- Is she waiting for me?
Though he thought of running away, he would only seem suspicious.
--- My face is hidden, and I'm disguised as a hunter as we planned.
He was truly grateful to Lim for the bear headgear and wished to thank her from the bottom of his heart. The snow sounded noisily as Tigre climbed the slope.
Like he thought, it was Ludmira.
She wore the same blue clothes decorated with red and gold. In her hand was a commonplace bow. Her spear of ice was thrust violently into the nearby ground.
She smiled in a carefree manner, without malice or hostility.
She seemed not to have noticed that it was Tigre.
“Did you shoot this arrow?”
Ludmira spoke in a tone many would consider haughty as she pointed to the fox. The fox had an arrow through its head and in the scruff of its neck. Her finger pointed to the arrow in its head.
--- So that's how it is.
Ludmira was keeping an eye on this fox as well. Their arrows had hit at nearly the same time. Though unusual, it was not unique.
Tigre tilted his quiver to show his arrows. It was clear to understand seeing the fletching on his arrows.
--- Even so...
Tigre spoke, his voice clearly showing his worry.
“Um... Aren't you cold?”
Though she wore clothes with luxurious decorations, her arms, legs, and abdomen were exposed. It was not suitable for walking through the snowy mountains.
“I am fine, because I am a special existence.”
Ludmira pushed her chest forward slightly and answered proudly. Tigre was taken aback as she looked at him with shining eyes the color of the deep sea.
“By the way, you seemed to have walked a fair distance. Where did you hit this beast from?”
Tigre looked back to where he walked from and pointed at the tree where he hid and took aim at the fox. Ludmira's expression rapidly became sharp.
“Stop lying, commoner. That is beyond two hundred alsin, is it not? And such small game...”
Tigre shrugged his shoulders and retrieved an arrow from his quiver. He knew at times like this that it would be best to show her directly.
The bowstring trembled as he fired the arrow. He struck the tree as intended, shaking the snow which had accumulated on the branches.
As he looked back, he felt a childish sense of satisfaction. Ludmira stared at the arrow with her mouth half open.
Before long, Ludmira turned back and apologized to Tigre in an awkward manner.
“... I, I apologize. I doubted your words.”
--- Like I thought, this girl can admit her own errors.
Tigre was glad to have learned of her merits, if only a little bit.
“By the way, how should we divide this? Shall we divide it in two?”
Ludmira pointed to the fox with the bow in her hand. Her arrow was stuck in the fox's neck.
“... I suppose we should divide it evenly in this situation.”
“That is fine with me. Ah, I will give the meat to you, since it is unnecessary. I simply want the fur.”
“Then you may have the fur. I will take the rest.”
He could eat the meat and entrails and cut the bones down into arrowheads. There were other uses as well. Though he would like the fur, it was not a problem if he did not have it.
Ludmira smiled brightly and held out her hand. Tigre grasped it tightly as he recalled Ellen's cheerful smile.
He removed the fox meat, chopped it up, and cooked it in a small pan.
They had moved a short distance from where they met, closer to the river. The two decided to take a rest while Tigre took care of the fox.
Though it took time to ignite the firewood in the snow, he had managed to get it started. In the mountains, after the sun had passed its zenith and began to descend, the two surrounded the pan.
“Why is it that you do not take off your headgear? You should have no problem with the snow or cold when you are near me.”
Ludmira asked Tigre curiously as he skinned the fox.
As she had said, they were free from the cold, unrelated to the fire.
--- Most likely, this is the power of her ViraltDragonic Tool.
It was a spear that manipulated the cold and the reason Ludmira could walk around the snowy mountains in such light clothing.
“Could it be... you are a Vanadis?”
It would seem unnatural not to question Ludmira's words, so Tigre carefully asked her. She looked at Tigre in dissatisfaction.
“Though you are right... You have no sense of humility, really.”
Tigre hesitated and thought about what he should do. He thought it may have been best to prostrate himself before her.
“No matter. I will pardon it out of respect for your skill with the bow. I shall forgive your rudeness.”
Tigre let out a breath of relief and bowed slightly. After that, he noticed Ludmira's glance and placed his finger to his headgear.
“In my village, we are not to take this off while hunting in the mountains.”
It was an old story he heard from his father. Tigre gave an appropriate response using the information he could remember.
“I see. How regrettable. I would like to see your face.”
Ludmira spoke earnestly. Tigre remained silent, but he was sweating beneath the mask.
If she learned of his identity, he would not escape the mountain alive. Even if she took mercy on him on a whim, she would certainly confine him in the castle dungeon.
--- She really hasn't noticed.
She simply thought of him as a simple hunter and stopped pursuing the matter. The only thing between the two was a small pan.
If she were further from the spear and he caught her off guard, he could pin her down. As soon as he thought that far, however, Tigre shook the thought out of his head. His chances of victory were too slim, and he could not easily ambush this girl who spoke to him sincerely and kindly. Ludmira suddenly called out to Tigre.
“What is your name?”
Tigre used his father's name.
“I see. Urz. Serve me.”
Ludmira spoke as if it were a matter of course.
“Your skill with the bow is wonderful. That alone is valuable enough to allow you to serve me.”
“... I am not a hunter from nearby. I came from far away.”
He spoke in intervals, but Tigre was able to squeeze out his words.
“I see. It would be strange not to have heard of you if you were a man from Olmutz.”
“I have no plans of leaving my home.”
Tigre was able to speak his true feelings without telling a lie.
Tigre felt guilty using his father's name to lie to Ludmira.
--- This girl, her attitude aside, she frankly accepted me.
Ludmira's words contained no lies. Perhaps because she thought of Tigre as a commoner, she was, in her own way, receiving him on equal footing.
--- If she looked down on commoners, I would have probably been made to leave quickly without the fox. No, it would be possible she would have forced me to carry it to the fortress.
If an aristocrat in Brune were greedy, such as Duke Thenardier, he may have been punished for damaging the fox.
Eventually, Tigre finished dismantling the fox. Though he was tired and cut corners on occasion, 70% of the skin still remained. Tigre explained the circumstances to Ludmira.
“For the fine details, please give it to a specialist to handle.”
“I understand. Thank you for your work.”
After that, Tigre and Ludmira ate a little of the fox meat. He washed away the blood and seasoned it with salt. Ludmira did not particularly complain.
The pan was easily washed with melted snow before being placed in his bag. The extra meat and offal were buried in a hole. In the meantime, Ludmira put a new pot to boil after washing it out with water.
--- Is she drinking hot water?
Though Tigre thought that, he felt it was something different after a time. Ludmira opened two crystal bottles held at her waist and placed what appeared to be dry, black seeds into a cup.
When she poured the hot water into it, the water became slightly red.
She then scooped jam from the other bottle and placed it in the hot red water and waited for it to melt away.
“Have a drink.”
Tigre received the steaming cup. Perhaps it was due to the natural atmosphere, or perhaps it was her attitude, for some reason, he was unable to refuse.
“It is tea. It will warm your body and your mind.”
Tigre took care not to burn himself and gingerly sipped the tea.
A mysterious smell stimulated his nasal cavity. The bitterness and sweetness spread to his tongue. The fatigue collected in his body seemed to disappear all at once.
“... It's delicious.”
Without thinking, he muttered those words. Ludmira's face quickly glowed with joy.
“It is, right? If you want another drink, I will especially pour it for you.”
Ludmira's chest puffed out with pride as she smiled innocently. Tigre asked for another cup upon her insistence.
--- So she can smile like this as well.
Whenever he took a sip, his body was warmed from the inside. Ludmira watched Tigre drink the tea with an elated expression.
After they had finally rested, Ludmira turned to look at Tigre with interest.
“Urz. Why are you here? You should have some idea of what is going on. There are many soldiers walking about the mountain paths, and it is clear this is a battlefield.”
“There are certain animals lurking about the mountains that only appear at these times.”
“I am amazed. I did not think a person would come to such a place. I will have to rethink things.”
Though dangerous words were about to come out of his mouth, he swallowed them back down.
“Why is a Vanadis here? Why would you come here without your attendants?”
“... It is an exception.”
Ludmira, who had always held a high-handed attitude, showed a weak expression for the first time. Her short blue hair shook as she gazed into the distance.
“I just wanted to relax.”
“... If you are satisfied with me, I will listen.”
After hesitating, Tigre said those words.
If he were to bid farewell, he would have to leave quickly. He could not overlook Ludmira's lonely profile.
Ludmira looked at Tigre in surprise.
“If you can't speak, then vent into the hollow of a tree. It is an old saying.”
“--- You are quite gentle for a bear.”
Ludmira held her knees and gazed upward at Tigre. It was a gesture matching a normal young girl.
Before long, Ludmira gradually spoke.
She had pride as a Vanadis that succeeded down the generations of her family. Because of her position, she had subdued her own emotions to maintain relations with a person she hated.
In particular, Ludmira vented her anger like a raging fire when she spoke of Duke Thenardier handing out the armor from her territory to the bandits.
“I was able to hunt alone today... I think the soldiers will forgive me. I need at least a little time to relax and distract myself.”
Though there were places Tigre appeared in her story, he never spoke up. He simply nodded and responded to her occasional question.
Even if it was for his own safety, he hid his identity from her.
Speaking any more simply seemed cowardly.
“Urz. I will remember your name. You are always welcome to come to the Imperial Palace in Olmutz.”
Ludmira left him with those words as the two separated. She held the fox with her spear and walked away at a light pace along the snowy ground.
--- Is that also the power of the spear? She can walk so easily on this snow-covered mountain.
After her figure had become distant, Tigre changed his thought process and began to follow her footsteps. Ludmira would not likely notice at this distance, but he still remained cautious as he slowly advanced.
The sun had hidden itself on the other side of the mountain. Only its afterglow illuminated the hill.
--- Not good. Once the sun sets, I won't be able to follow her.
While fighting his impatience, Tigre kept his pace and advanced, little by little. This was his last chance.
His legs lacked strength, and his breath was frozen.
By the time the sun set, Tigre stood atop a cliff. There was a fortress beneath his eyes.
He quietly spent the night in the mountains and descended in the morning.
“You have a terrible face.”
They were the words Ellen greeted Tigre with when he returned. Tigre's words were not normal, either.
“Please let me sleep for half a day.”
He had put off shaving, eating, and changing his clothes. Tigre collapsed the moment he entered the tent and slept as he was.
The position of the LeitMeritz Army had not changed while Tigre was climbing the mountain. Though they had not changed their method of attacking the mountain path, they had not achieved any significant results. They had not even made their way past the first defensive line.
Still, Ellen and Lim continued to attack to provide as much support as possible for Tigre while he surveyed the mountain.
The sun had set, and the attack that day had ended in a pointless manner. Tigre finally awoke.
He quickly ate fish soup alone and shaved himself, leaving a few scratches along his jaw. When Tigre was finally finished, he returned to the tent and sat in a circle with Ellen and Lim.
“... I'm back.”
Ellen teased him with her gaze at this late hour and listened to him seriously.
“You slept and ate quite well. So how did it go? Did you find anything?”
“Two hundred... no, one hundred people can be taken up to the castle. Then we need to take the gate down.”
Perhaps because the defense of the mountain path was not perfect, the defense of the fort itself was not particularly special. The defenses which had plagued Ellen were not installed around the fort, nor were there many soldiers standing guard at the gate or patrolling the walls.
Even without siege weapons like battering rams, they could pass the wall by using a hook and a rope ladder according to Tigre's judgment.
After hearing his story, Ellen gave her evaluation and hit Tigre's shoulder. She then cheerfully spoke her instructions to Lim.
“... Is it fine? With only one hundred people?”
“It will be enough. They have two thousand troops, and at least half of them are on the mountain path, leaving fewer than one thousand within the fortress. They are likely guarding the other mountain paths on shifts. This should not change if we continue our attacks here. At that time---”
Ellen shut one eye, but her other eye had enough spirit to fill both.
“When the time comes, I will prove to you that I can hold down Ludmira and her one thousand men. I will show you the strength of the Vanadis.”
Ellen's mood lifted when it came to a fight. Tigre noticed it had happened to him before he was aware of it.
After that, Tigre told them he met Ludmira.
“Were you noticed?”
“I owe it to this headpiece.”
While he replied jokingly, Lim looked down in silence with a red face. Tigre smiled wryly seeing her reaction and returned to the conversation. He did not specifically speak of their conversation, but told them he had been treated to tea. Though Ellen clearly frowned, she did not complain; however, she did speak up at the end.
“Carrying tea and jam at a time like that. She really is funny.”
Tigre was also in agreement.
They quickly made preparations. Early the next morning one hundred LeitMeritz cavalry, led by Tigre and Ellen, used the morning mist to approach the foot of the Tatra Mountains.
Lim took command of the remaining soldiers and attacked the mountain path. Though dissatisfaction clearly showed in her blue eyes, she followed directions while maintaining her expressionless facade.
Though there were only one hundred cavalry, it was difficult to travel along the mountain without a road. The soldiers did not wear armor but a combination of fur and leather. There were many who were injured as their feet slipped and the rocks fell on top of them.
They tied their bodies together with rope as they advanced up the slopes which had been covered in ice halfway up. Ellen encouraged the soldiers, and Tigre directed the work. Slowly, the LeitMeritz soldiers moved across the snow-covered mountain.
When the eastern sky was dyed indigo and the sun invaded the western sky, they had reached where Tigre stood several days ago.
They looked down at the castle fort before their eyes.
However, something unexpected occurred.
“... Tigre, you said the security wasn't tight.”
When Tigre had looked at the gate on the other side of the fortress days ago, there was no one in sight.
However, a defensive line had been constructed before the gate. Though there were no hills, and the trenches were not deep, the threat it provided still remained.
In addition, the number of soldiers on the rampart had increased. Some remained stationary with bow in hand.
“Strange. There was nothing like that before.”
“Ludmira probably came up with the idea when she met you.”
Ellen looked down at the fortress with a grim expression.
Though he had a superior skill as a hunter, he was a free person who was not a Vanadis. All alone, he had managed to climb the mountain on a snow-covered path. Seeing this, Ludmira had changed her defenses. It was not a mystery at all.
“What should we do? Give up and return?”
Tigre carefully asked her. Ellen folded her arms and shook her head strongly as she refused him.
“If we turn back here, all our efforts would come to waste. I absolutely do not want that.”
Tigre gazed at Ellen in surprise having heard her make such a frank declaration. Ellen looked back and spoke once again.
“I will destroy the gate.”
“It is too dangerous. They will hit you with arrows from the ramparts.”
Tigre gripped Ellen's shoulder and stared at her.
“What, it's not like I'll be injured.”
Ellen waved her hand as if pushing the matter aside. She grasped Tigre's neck and drew him closer as Tigre tried to argue again.
Ellen lightly pressed her forehead against his.
“You need to give me the chance to look good on occasion.”
She whispered and smiled brightly as she removed her hand from Tigre.
“Watch, Tigre. I will destroy everything before the castle gate in a single blow. I will take care of the gate with my second attack.”
Certainly, under the present circumstances, there was no other hand they could play. Tigre bit down on his lips, strong enough that blood began to flow, and glared at the black bow in his hand.
--- What do I need to do to get you to help me again?
He understood it was a selfish wish to ask of something he feared.
Tigre wanted to do something for Ellen.
Soon, the sun sank completely.
Under the cover of darkness, the LeitMeritz troops carefully moved down the steep slope. They used rope to prevent themselves from falling and covered their swords in dirt to cover their shine.
When all members were set and their numbers confirmed by Ellen and Tigre, Ellen spoke to her soldiers in her typical tone.
“I will wrench the gate open. You will rush in at that time.”
Her words were short, and there was no other feasible plan. The soldiers did not object, nor did they show any doubt. They had complete faith in Ellen, the SilvfrauWind Princess of the Silver Flash.
“May the Dragon bring us victory.”
After completing her instructions, Ellen turned to the castle gate.
She made her soldiers stand aside and quietly walked forward alone.
In the light of the bonfire near the gates, the Olmutz soldiers noticed Ellen. As they began to call out and prepare their weapons, Ellen ran lightly across the snow and frozen ground and unsheathed the longsword at her waist.
Following her cry, the blade of the longsword glowed with a pale light. The frozen air was stolen from the mountains and surrounded the sword. A loud groan was heard, and the glowing light drew a brilliant trajectory in the darkness.
“Ley AdmosCleave the Wind!”
The wind condensed to a point and turned into an invisible iron hammer that was thrown forward. The earth and sand was blown away, the trenches were buried in dirt, and the fences were shattered. As the wind closed in on the city gate, it scattered in all directions, losing its power.
Many shouts were heard on the ramparts as they shot their arrows at Ellen.
Ellen did not move from her position as she protected her head with her empty left arm. She did not use the wind to defend herself as she continued to collect the wind with her longsword.
Several arrows grazed her arms and legs as they fell from above.
Mud was thrown aside as Tigre ran and jumped at Ellen from behind. He pushed her down to provide cover for her. An arrow glanced off his shoulder as he fell. Inside the torrent of arrows, Tigre grabbed Ellen's body and dragged her to a distance the arrows would not reach.
“What are you doing, Tigre. My second attack---”
Ellen began protesting in frustration but was silenced by Tigre's voice.
“Why did you lie to me?”
“... I just didn't tell you.”
Ellen looked like a sulking child as she turned away, causing Tigre to speak in irritation.
“Your VedaDragonic Skill, you can't use it continuously?”
Ellen frowned and closed her mouth, but, pressured by Tigre's glance, she reluctantly answered him.
“I need about a ten count...”
Tigre had to force down the anger welling from the bottom of his heart. If he did not, he may have hit Ellen.
“Why didn't you tell me?”
“We don't have any time.”
Tigre shut his mouth and his anger disappeared in an instant. It was not Ellen that lacked time, but Tigre.
Ellen did something unreasonable for Tigre and resorted to keeping it a secret.
Torches could be seen dotting the ramparts as soldiers began gathering.
--- What should I do? I need to do something.
Tigre grasped his bow tightly, enough to feel pain in his hand. His hand was stained red from the blood that flowed down from his shoulder.
He wanted to repay her kindness, but he needed power. He needed the same strength she used when she felled the Dragon. He needed the strength he had when they killed the Dragon together.
At that moment, Tigre stopped breathing.
--- Maybe I can.
Tigre removed his gaze from Ellen and looked at the Silver Flash in her hand.
“I'm asking you. Your power. Please lend it to me.”
Tigre desperately appealed to the longsword.
“Your Master is Ellen. Though your relation with Ellen is good, there is no direct connection between us; however, I know you have your own will. I'm asking you. You may not be able to hear what I say, you may not want to hear---”
At that time, a breeze stroked Tigre's dull red hair.
Tigre thought it was the Silver Flash's answer.
“Can you stand?”
While supporting Ellen's body, Tigre stared at the castle gate. Ellen seemed puzzled as she looked between Tigre and the sword in her hand.
After taking a breath, Ellen firmly stood and smiled at Tigre.
“I was right to cooperate with you.”
She pointed the Silver Flash at the castle gate.
“At this distance, my VedaDragonic Skill won't reach, but that should be fine.”
The next attack would not be her Dragonic Skill. At least, it would not be done by Ellen.
“Arifal. I'm disappointed at how flirtatious you're being... Well, it's fine if it's just this guy.”
Her bright red eyes glittered with determination. The long sword called the Silver Flash let loose a pale blue light once again. Tigre and Ellen stood beside one another and stared at the castle gate.
One nocked an arrow to his bow and drew the bowstring back. The other extended her hand which held a shining sword. Their aim was the thick iron gate.
The soldiers on the rampart stopped firing as they looked curiously at Tigre. They knew the power of the Silver Flash would not reach them, let alone a bow and arrow.
The next moment, they stood aghast as if they had seen a nightmare.
A wind flowed from the Silver Flash to the arrow nocked in Tigre's bow.
A glowing air current surrounded the arrow; the light pulsated, spreading radially from the arrowhead.
--- I didn't hear a voice this time, but...
It was enough. Tigre firmly believed in his bow and arrow.
The arrow was silent the moment he released it.
The light changed from a circle to a line as it followed the speeding arrow. A shrill sound tore through the atmosphere as it cut across the air.
The debris of the fences and walls were torn aside without a sound, and a deep groove was born.
The ground was split, and the arrow pierced the center of the castle gate. There was a jarring metallic sound as a light vibration was felt across the rampart.
Several soldiers looked at the walls suspiciously.
There was no abnormality in the castle gate, though it was only for a single instant.
Suddenly, a circular light spread from the arrow. As if following after the light, the iron gate became hollow. The bolts supporting it from the inside were cleanly cut.
The iron door had hollowed out and was cleanly divided between the two doors. The fragments fell to the ground, shaking the earth in the process.
The soldiers looked in shock as they looked at the circular hole in the gate. Their thoughts stopped; no one could take action.
The gate was made of three iron sheets sandwiched between thick oak planks. Even then, it had a hole in it, as if it were cut by a cookie cutter.
The hole was large enough that a wagon could pass through with room to spare. The freezing wind easily blew inside.
Ellen was the first to collect herself. She did not miss the pause in the enemy's movements and lifted the Silver Flash to the sky while giving a cry.
Next to her, Tigre nocked a new arrow. One hundred cavalry followed the two inside.
The night battle in the Tatra Mountains had just begun.
One man watched the dogfight with a gloomy expression from behind. However, his target was not her but the man with dull red hair.
Six of his companions were gone. He was now alone. Even so, the man focused his mind on the enormous prey, the Vanadis.
Along the man's left arm was a tattoo of a large chain.
Ludmira was surprised when she received the report that Ellen appeared in the castle interior; however, she was rendered speechless when she found how they had passed the castle gate. She stood stunned for a short time.
--- What is the meaning of this? Eleanora should not have been able to break through so soon...!
However, there was no time to be surprised, nor was there room to think. Ludmira quickly dashed out of the command room while gripping the Frozen Wave. She ran at full speed toward the battlefield.
Elsewhere, the Olmutz soldiers near the gates took appropriate action once they recovered from their surprise. In other words, they abandoned the gates.
Even if they left the castle gate, there was a canal through which the river passed. There was a bridge over the canal; they would fend off the enemy there.
However, if it came to an exchange of sword and spear, the LeitMeritz soldiers would be stronger. They did not think they could fight this number so easily, so there was a hint of distress.
Each had become a ferocious beast as they violently attacked the enemy. They battered the enemy's helmet or pierced through them with a spear. Even if their swords were broken, they fought on with what little blade remained or brandished weapons they took from the surrounding corpses.
The Olmutz soldiers would not back away either. They had been invaded, so they could not possibly retreat. They crushed the enemy with battle axes and slammed into them with broken shields.
Corpses from both sides dropped one after another into the moat. It would soon be completely full.
However, the battle was not even.
Though the Olmutz troops fought back, they were forced to retreat repeatedly.
The LeitMeritz soldiers were energetic because Ellen, the Silver Flash, had taken lead.
Her hair of silver white fluttered through the air and brilliantly reflected the light. Olmutz soldiers fell one after the other as her longsword glittered. Her movements were like a dance. Every person could see the beauty in her ghastly actions.
Tigre stood next to Ellen, shooting arrows. Every time his bowstring sounded, a soldier or Commander from the rear was sent to his death.
His accuracy was frightening. In the darkness of the night, with only the dim light of the surrounding torches, Tigre's arrows brought a guaranteed slaughter to the soldiers in the back. Tigre's arrows killed with certainty.
There were some who noticed Tigre's existence. Though some tried to shoot him, their arrows fell short or were deflected into the moat, leaving only a modest sound as they fell into the water.
Unexpectedly, the Olmutz soldiers divided to the right and left, forming a narrow road.
It was a shout of anger. Lavias was held upward as Ludmira charged forward on her horse.
The longsword clashed with the spear. A screeching sound split the atmosphere, and a flash burned the soldiers' eyes.
No one knew whether Eleanora or Ludmira said the words. Perhaps they had given the order simultaneously.
The soldiers stopped fighting and spread out, forming a ring. They would not interfere with the duel between their Lords.
Though Tigre had stopped, he did not move away from the bridge.
Though closer than anyone else, he could not follow the fight.
“To think you would show up personally, and with such an ungraceful appearance, as well?”
“I came to give my thanks. I'm indebted to you for that time.”
While measuring the distance, Ellen responded with a serious expression. After confirming Ludmira's suspicious expression, the Vanadis with silver-white hair smiled audaciously.
“By the way, I've brought you a present. Please accept your defeat gracefully.”
“--- I will refuse. I will send you back to LeitMeritz encased in ice!”
Again the two clashed. A blinding light was released with every exchange of blows. The sword and spear drew white arcs in the darkness. The pressure caused wounds, and the collisions deafened the ear.
The exchange of offense and defense continued. Heat and light were emitted by the two, and the cold air was sucked into the darkness of the night.
--- Has there ever been a person to fight with Ellen for so long?
Tigre held his breath as he watched the battle between the two Vanadis. When he fought in the fortress, and when he fought against the Thenardier Army, there was never a person who had exchanged blows with Ellen more than ten times.
Ludmira skillfully manipulated her short spear, and violently thrust her weapon before her, clashing with Ellen's own attack.
After the unexpected collision between ViraltDragonic Tools, Ellen and Ludmira jumped back simultaneously.
A fearless smile floated to Ellen's lips.
“Ley AdmosCleave the Wind!”
Arifal inhaled the winds in the surroundings and formed a brutal blade that shot forward; however, it was not aimed toward Ludmira. The bridge was crushed, and debris fell into the water below.
The bridge had been torn in half.
Ignoring the disastrous scene before her, Ludmira began to run. Even with the gap before her, she showed no signs of hesitation.
“Shero Zam KafaFreeze the Sky!”
The air froze in an instant and large blocks of ice connected to form a bridge. Rather than staying put, Ellen stepped forward and moved along the ice bridge before her. Several spears of ice formed and attacked her while Ludmira slid along the ice and approached Ellen, her spear thrust before her.
Ellen's feet left the bridge and were wrapped in wind. She avoided the spear of ice and gripped Ludmira's sleeve as she passed to the side, dragging her down from the bridge.
Ludmira gazed at the water as her body approached the surface. She brought the tip of her spear forcefully into the surface of the water where it stuck.
“--- AizbilkSilent World”
Beginning at the tip of Lavias, the water froze at a frightening speed. Using her spear as a fulcrum, Ludmira twisted her body and landed on the icy scaffold.
“As always, you fight in such an unrefined manner.”
Ludmira looked at Ellen with icy eyes. Ellen brought her longsword to her shoulder and responded calmly.
“I fight to win. I don't bother choosing a specific method, nor am I burdened by such useless things. Regardless---”
She laughed scornfully as she looked down at Ludmira.
“As someone who always looks down on others, how does it feel to be looked down upon? No, I suppose if you consider our heights, this is the same as always.”
Ludmira responded with fury and grasped the handle of her spear. She disappeared in an instant as the handle of her spear grew, rising above the bridge with surprising swiftness. She danced high above in the air.
While in midair, the spear shaft returned to its former short length. Ludmira yelled aloud as she fell toward Ellen, using the momentum of her fall to aid her.
Lavias froze the surrounding air. In an instant, a huge blade of ice appeared at the tip of the spear.
Ellen thought to avoid it and held the Silver Flash toward Ludmira in anticipation.
However, Ellen's energy had been quite spent, so she decided not to dodge.
Arifal inhaled the wind, clothing its argent blade in numerous swirls. A large blade of wind in no way inferior to Lavias was formed.
--- This is the end!
--- I will take victory!
“Cut and Sever, ArifalSilver Flash!”
“Pierce, LaviasFrozen Wave!”
The torrent of wind crushed all in its wake; the large crystals drilled into all that was touched.
The storm prevented the ice from piercing Ellen, while the blocks of ice prevented the storm from attacking Ludmira.
The two huge beasts tore at each others' flesh.
The beasts were exhausted at the same moment.
The air expanded, and a sound, similar to a thunderstorm, burst through the air. Ellen was blown away and fell to her knee. Ludmira landed on the bridge in a similar pose.
Though Tigre stepped forward to help Ellen stand, the Vanadis with argent hair shouted, sensing his movements.
“Stay away, Tigre.”
Tigre stopped moving.
“Relax. It's over already.”
Ellen stood up unsteadily and gazed at Ludmira. Ludmira used her spear to support her as she rose. She controlled her subordinates with her hand as they rushed to help her.
The two dragged their injured bodies within distance. Their arms trembled in exhaustion.
At that time, one man ran out from amongst the LeitMeritz soldiers who watched the battle in silence. Though he wore soldier's garment, he carried a dagger soaked in poison; he was clearly not a soldier.
Ludmira noticed the man's existence before Ellen.
The Vanadis with blue hair, without any hesitation, summoned all her strength and ran to Ellen's side. She stood behind Ellen, protecting her back. Cries of grief and despair were heard from soldiers of both armies.
Even if Ludmira interfered, the man would not hesitate. The blade in his hand glittered as he posed to stab Ludmira.
The next moment, the man's body flew sideways.
He smashed into the bridge with an arrow piercing through his head before falling into the moat. Ludmira saw the shape of the feathers.
--- Just now...
Ludmira turned her gaze to where the arrow was shot from.
One young man with dull red hair stood posed, a black bow in his hand.
“That was close, Tigre.”
Ellen's words contained joy. Ludmira looked at Tigre with a vacant face before turning back to Ellen.
“What's with that face? Don't tell me you forgot what Tigre looked like.”
Ludmira did not listen to Ellen's words to the end. She walked up to Tigre and looked up at him with anger clearly visible in her eyes the color of the deep sea.
“You lied to me, Urz.”
Tigre turned pale and was at a loss for words after seeing Ludmira's expression. Ludmira continued to speak quietly.
“I saw the arrows.”
Ludmira mercilessly beat Tigre as he bowed.
“Why are you apologizing? Why did you help me here? With your bow arm, you could have easily waited for me to die before killing the assassin. Why did you help me?”
She looked at him sharply. Tigre churned his dull red hair with a somber expression.
“It was a show of my gratitude, I guess.”
Ludmira frowned. Tigre continued speaking after he gave his preface.
“--- The tea was delicious. It isn't simple flattery. It really was good.”
Tigre was tired, and Ludmira was good at brewing tea. However, more than anything, Ludmira had spoken to Tigre as a girl, not as a Vanadis.
That is why the tea was so delicious.
Ludmira quietly looked at Tigre's face for a time. She would not overlook any change in his emotions.
Eventually, she sighed as her body lost strength.
“Earl Vorn. What is it you request of me?”
Ludmira was not asking in an arrogant manner but with a character befitting a graceful princess.
“Do you wish for me to fight Duke Thenardier with you?”
Tigre shook his head.
“Declare your neutrality and do not move. There is nothing more I desire.”
“... Only that?”
Ludmira frowned beautifully, hearing an unconvincing answer.
“Do you not need allies?”
“I do; however, there is nothing beneficial if you were to fight alongside me. I could not possibly ask this of you when you have nothing to gain.”
“In other words, you do not have any intent to fight for your personal gain?”
“Honestly, even Alsace is too wide for me. I'm fine so long as it is peaceful.”
Ludmira looked surprised. After staring intently at Tigre for a time, Ludmira smiled bitterly.
“Are you seriously saying that?”
He gave an immediate response. Ludmira looked down. Her shoulders shook, little by little, until she burst into laughter. The soldiers, Ellen, and Tigre watched in astonishment.
After a short period of time, Ludmira finished laughing. She looked up with an expression as sharp and cold as her spear.
“Earl Vorn. Sincerity is important, but it does not work in every situation.”
Though Tigre did not show it on his face, he was filled with bitter emotions. He thought about whether it was useless. While deep in thought, Ludmira smiled musingly at Tigre.
“However, your sincerity is enough this time. For this civil war in Brune, I will declare neutrality from this moment forward and will not cooperate with any power – is that enough?”
Tigre felt relieved. While he began to give his thanks, Ellen stood before Tigre, pushing Ludmira aside.
“Wait, Tigre. Don't decide without talking to me first.”
Her hands were at her waist and she was clearly dissatisfied. No doubt, it was resentment that came from his neglect at the moment; however, Ludmira detected a certain emotion within her words.
“Oh? Could you be jealous, Eleanora?”
“I'll knock you down, shorty.”
With another clash between the two about to unfold, Tigre broke into a panic and stood between them. He felt as though he stood between a wolf and a leopard.
“Ludmira, I would like to say one more thing.”
Tigre spoke hastily, which softened the dangerous atmosphere. Feeling relief, Tigre turned to the Vanadis with blue hair and bowed with a smile.
“Thank you. For protecting Ellen.”
Ludmira was aware of the action she had performed before. She blushed, and her eyes wandered about the surroundings. Ellen walked in front of Ludmira with an indescribably awkward expression.
“... Th, Thank you.”
Though she stammered, she still gave thanks.
Ludmira overreacted and cried out with enough vigor that saliva flew through the air.
“I, I do not need you to thank me!”
The war had finally ended.
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