Madan no Ou to Vanadis:Volume 03 Chapter 3 - 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 3 - PresuvetBrilliant Princess of the Light Flower
North of the Orange Plains, beyond the river, several villages dotted the surroundings amidst a sea of vast vineyards. The time of the harvest had passed; the earth had a dreary color and was filled with branches barren of all leaves.
Perhaps it was also due to the weather; the mid-afternoon sky was covered in gray clouds.
--- It's not raining. Even if it doesn't today, it will tomorrow. How troublesome.
While riding on horseback along a path through the vineyards, Tigre looked up at the dim sky.
Tigre was visiting the largest village in the area, Saunier. He was amongst ten people without armor; at most, they were dressed lightly wearing only swords at their waist. Since they were all battle hardened, they were a strong fighting force.
“Rather than a village, it feels like a small town.”
Rurick advanced to ride next to Tigre and spoke his thoughts as he looked at the landscape of Saunier. Tigre also returned words of consent.
From above, the village was shaped like a circle. It was surrounded by a stone wall to an adult's height, and the gates were made of three pieces of thick, laminated oak planks, each door at one of four corners of the town. They were painted with plaster to protect against fire.
“Saunier is the center of all the local villages.”
Augre looked on while continuing the explanation. Given how relaxed he looked, it must have been a peaceful village.
“Most village meetings are done here. There is also an open market here, though there are villages closer to the highways than Saunier.”
There were many purposes for Tigre's visit to Saunier. One was to grant some sense of relief to the people by having Augre, their Feudal Lord, appear. Another was to confirm the situation amongst the villages, and the final reason was to determine their future actions.
“Oh, you seem to be in a good mood. Tigre-san, are we staying here longer?”
While looking at the stalls which sold fish-kebabs, a man standing next to Rurick heard them speak. He brushed his disheveled brown hair aside in a clumsy manner, showing his profile. He had a somewhat mischievous expression.
The man's name was Aram, and he was a member of the Zhcted Army. When Tigre was a captive, they had played a variety of games, such as chess, cards, and ninepin, together..
“We will be here for a while. Viscount Augre and I will be heading to the meeting place first.”
He responded to Aram's question made in slight jest; some laughter sounded from the surrounding men.
If he had come only to confirm the safety of the village, even with attendants, Tigre would only require five people.
The reason he came with ten people was due to the existence of Aram's scouting unit.
Although Ellen had ten people scouting the Orange Plains, it was Aram's group of five which discovered the Ganelon Army.
This morning, Tigre called for them and praised them for their distinguished services.
“Although you helped immensely, there is little I can do. Still, I would like to do what I can for you, so long as it is within my abilities.”
Aram responded by saying, “There is a village one koku away. We would like to rest there if possible.”
In a situation in which he had little maneuverability about the Orange Plains and no knowledge as to whether Massas would appear, it was a considerably unreasonable demand. While Aram spoke in a light hearted manner, Tigre took him seriously.
However, Tigre knew Viscount Augre would attend a meeting at Saunier in the morning before he called for them.
“Though it is necessary to receive Viscount Augre's approval, I believe we can go there without armor.”
When he told them Augre had consented, they acted happily like children, despite nearing the age of 30. They had now advanced ahead of Tigre and were looking about in interest.
The streets were flat and average in size. There were fences and pillars found at crossroads, and the streets were lined with rows of stone, brick, and slate houses with circular chimneys.
Children were scribbling on the ground or running about gardens.
Everywhere they looked, the village gave off a rustic impression, but with how well built the gate, tavern, and general store were, it was clear this village had many travelers.
“Although it was true of Tigre-san's land of Alsace, this place also makes me feel that Brune life is not so different from ours.”
“I know what you're talking about. I thought it would be more like Muozinel.”
“Let's eat for the time being. Then we can look for women. I haven't seen a beautiful woman in a long time.”
“That's a good idea. I'd like a good bed, too.”
While listening to the soldiers happily conversing, Tigre arrived at the meeting point.
It was a private house approximately three times the size of the average household in the area, built with stone and bricks; its roof was made of clay.
While helping Viscount Augre dismount his horse, Tigre spoke to Aram and the others.
“You have one and a half koku to do as you wish. Make sure to avoid trouble.”
Hearing they would have time to themselves, their faces changed. They turned and ran without looking back.
Rurick watched in amazement as he watched them leave his sight before shrugging his shoulders.
“Rurick, you can go as well. We will be fine, so why not go join Aram?”
“Thank you for your kind words, but Vanadis-sama and Lord Limlisha would surely kill me if I do.”
Though Rurick spoke jokingly, his eyes were serious.
“Then Batran, you may go relax.”
Even if three people decreased to two, it was not particularly significant, and he would not have much to do if he remained.
Viscount Augre's subordinates accompanied him. Tigre and Rurick passed through the entrance to the meeting place inside the large stone building.
A wool carpet lay at the center of the room with a long table and chairs placed on top. Enshrined in the back wall were statues of the ten Gods.
After greeting all the gathered village leaders, Tigre sat in his seat. Augre was the primary speaker, so Tigre simply remained silent and listened.
Though there were no special conversations in particular, he was able to confirm the good news that there was no damage. The story ended in a half koku and the meeting was disbanded.
--- No information on the King's Capital...
Though it did not show on Tigre's face, he was slightly disappointed.
For those who do not leave their village,travelers and merchants were precious sources of information and entertainment from the outside world. Hotel rooms and meals were offered to them, and the number of villagers requesting to speak to them was hardly a few.
Though Tigre expected to receive some form of information on the King's Capital, nothing was spoken. It ended in a miss.
“It ended early.”
After leaving the meeting place, Rurick scratched his bald head while watching the surroundings. It has only been a half koku since Aram and his men left. They would not return for a while.
“I wonder if I should have arranged for a room to rest in or not.”
Augre smiled wryly as he stroked his chin. Though the village chiefs offered a feast and bedding arrangements, they were planning to return quickly. Though he could call them back and have it arranged, Augre was not a domineering Lord.
“I will find a place to rest. Viscount Augre, you should return to camp early and take a break.”
“If you say so. Earl Vorn, you should also take a break. Even if it is only one koku, it will help you relax.”
Tigre spoke hesitantly and shook his head softly to the old Viscount. Augre nodded with a smile. It was a modest attitude characteristic of a person with much modesty; still, it helped Tigre relax.
“I suppose so. Thank you.”
Thanking him, Tigre and Rurick left the old Viscount.
“What do you want to do, Rurick?”
“If I might have permission, I would first like some alcohol. Either wine or a honey sake would be nice to have.”
“I suppose so. Let's go look for a bar.”
“The inn, general store, and tavern are near the gate. I saw many people entering, and the signboard had a wine bottle. I believe there were many cheerful voices there as well.”
The inside was not particularly wide, and the fire was not lit since there were lamps and the windows were all widely open. Along the shelves were bottles of various shape and size.
Half the seats were filled. Tigre and Rurick went deeper into the shop and sat at a table near the window. A fat, middle aged woman came to take their order.
“Did you want some beer? If you want, we can make you something light to eat as well.”
They ordered some bread and cheese and pickled cabbage to eat.
Soon afterward, pitchers filled to the brim with alcohol and plates with food were placed before them.
After a toast, Rurick drank quickly.
“A good alcohol. Do you like it?”
“It's not bad. It's light and has a good flavor.”
While cheerfully ordering another beer, Rurick reached for the pickled cabbage. After taking a bite, he let out a sound showing his interest. Though Tigre also tried the pickles, he did not find them as interesting.
“Nothing. Though it looks the same, the taste is different from the one of my lands.”
“Same here. It tasted different from when I ate them in LeitMeritz.”
It was not limited to these dishes. Whether it be the bread or soup, though they looked the same, they had a different flavor. Tigre thought it somewhat refreshing; apparently Rurick did as well.
“Still, it is quite good on its own.”
Rurick spoke in a somewhat exaggerated manner upon seeing Tigre suddenly frown.
“You're looking quite glum.”
“Oh? I didn't think it was that easy to see.”
Tigre gave a noncommittal answer as he gazed at the scenery outside the window, though the bald man did not pay any heed.
“Don't make that face and just have a drink... is what I'd like to say, but given your worries, I suppose you can't think about drinking. Well, if you can talk about your worries, then feel free to speak.”
Tigre looked steadily at Rurick after hearing his unexpected words and smiled.
“I thought about this before, but why did you decide to follow me in there earlier?”
Rurick smiled in a pretentious manner.
“Are you anxious?”
Tigre nodded, seemingly with his entire body. Rurick answered after taking a large drink.
“It's an embarrassing story, so I may need to drink a bit more. Simply put, I need to relax some.”
Rurick continued happily as he nibbled on some cheese.
“Before I met you, I was the number one archer of LeitMeritz with a record of two-hundred-seventy alsin. I had never met anyone within Zhcted who could shoot any further than that. Even in the King's Capital of Silesia, the limit anyone could supposedly reach was two-hundred-fifty alsin.”
Rurick continued speaking conceited words.
On the continent, it was said the maximum range of a bow is approximately two-hundred-fifty alsin (approximately two-hundred-fifty meters). The average archer could not even reach one-hundred-fifty.
“But you... in that kind of situation, well, normally you could not even pull out half your abilities. Still, you used such a terrible bow and aimed accurately at the leg of a human running along the ramparts, and you're five years younger than me... There were many things that were destroyed in that moment. In the end, you spared my life.”
It was a story of when Tigre had just become Ellen's captive. One might think it was an old story given how Tigre and Rurick were recalling that time while drinking beer.
“I found you interesting when I talked to you.”
“Thanks for that.”
Hearing a somewhat crooked compliment, Tigre obediently gave his words of thanks. Though both had been drinking, it was still a bit embarrassing.
“By the way, what's worrying you?”
Rurick returned to topic after ordering his third drink. Though his breath was tinged with the smell of alcohol, he looked earnestly at Tigre.
“I suppose I'll ask you seriously – The Zhcted soldiers are following me, but is that really okay?”
“Frankly speaking, that's a difficult question.”
Though his tone was serious, Tigre was at a loss for words. He was ruffling his red hair to reflect that.
“--- Every night, I look at the sky. The empty sky here is different from the empty sky of Alsace. When I remember the night sky I saw in LeitMeritz, it feels so distant.”
He was far from his hometown, continuing a battle in a cold plain during the winter.
They must have been tired both physically and mentally. Although Ellen was commanding them, should it not be for battle, they may have thrown all aside and gone home. Tigre asked himself these questions once again when Aram pointed out his desire to rest in the village.
These doubts could not be cleared by Ellen or Lim, which is why he spoke to Rurick.
It was because he was a soldier. Though he acted as Tigre's escort at times like today, he was still one amongst thousands of soldiers he would command in battle. Basically, Rurick worked hard on a daily basis and was fundamentally no different from the others.
Tigre wanted to have a look at the soldiers that day. He wanted to hear their views and welcomed them to speak without reserve.
“You're thinking too much.”
Rurick dismissed Tigre's worries.
“Vanadis-sama's predecessor lasted for a short two years. Anyone who lasts more than five years is considered to have lasted a long time. In LeitMeritz, we always follow whatever expedition they may undertake. So long as the soldiers have food and a salary, their morale will not fall.”
“And what of an enemy attack?”
“We only need to follow Vanadis-sama. Batran-san said the people of Alsace have a fear of fighting; they lack the courage and will to fight. However, they fought because of their leader. In other words, they fought because they believed in you.”
“I see... So that's how it is.”
Tigre finished his drink in a single gulp and let out a deep breath.
“Are you feeling better after hearing what I said?”
If the number of soldiers had been switched, that is, if soldiers of Brune outnumbered those of Zhcted, their battle in Alsace may have been different.
Naturally, Ellen and Lim commanded Zhcted's soldiers while Augre commanded Brune's soldiers.
Many people had gathered together.
Even then, Tigre was the General. There were many things he needed to know, needed to learn. It was necessary for him to learn the ways of countries other than Brune and Alsace in order to gain trust.
“You don't need to worry. We're fine as we are. By the way---”
Rurick lowered in tone unexpectedly.
“Lord Tigrevurmud. There is one more thing I would like to ask you.”
Tigre had released his attention in his moment of relief. He began to drink his beer as he prompted Rurick to continue speaking.
“Between Lord Limlisha and Miss Teita, who would you choose?”
Tigre spat his beer out slightly.
“Wha, where is this coming from?”
“It's a bit of a hot topic. It seems spring has come for that frigid woman... Excuse me, that was rude. It must be the alcohol.”
“... We are seen in that way?”
Though he did not realize, he was looking down and was slightly agitated, Tigre carefully asked.
“I honestly don't know. However, Limlisha, as Vanadis-sama's adjutant, has never been close to another man. That's why there's a rumor that she speaks easily with Lord Tigrevurmud. Teita goes without saying.”
Though Rurick responded as if it was someone else's concern, his eyes clearly showed his interest.
“It seems people are making bets as well. Will you choose Limlisha? Or will you choose Teita? Incidentally, since you are an aristocrat, there has been a suggestion of you choosing both.”
Tigre felt a headache and began scratching his head. He could not afford to think about such things when dealing with Thenardier and Ganelon.
Besides, following his contract, both he and Alsace belonged to Ellen, even if it was a verbal promise.
At the moment, Ellen had not made a declaration. Though ambiguous, their relationship could not remain as is indefinitely. Still, it was a relationship far from love when he thought about it.
“By the way, if we bring peace to Alsace, what will you do?”
While Tigre was trying to think of a response to his blunt opponent's question, which had sealed all means of escape. He decided to go with that.
“Me? I will return to LeitMeritz, though there is no telling what will happen after that.”
He responded without hesitation. Though Tigre knew he was popular with women, he was impressed that he spoke without hesitation.
“Oh, like I thought, Tigre-san, Rurick.”
A voice was abruptly heard from outside the window. Aram and the others walked toward him with a smile on their face and either a honeyed kabob or bread and jam in their hands.
“It looks like you're having fun.”
Tigre nodded and laughed. Aram thrust his face toward the window.
“Oh, cabbage. Mind if I try one?”
“How about some of the meat from your skewer then?”
“It's pigeon. It's pretty tough.”
Aram passed Tigre a kabob and pulled out a cabbage. Rurick looked bitterly at him.
“You shouldn't take advantage of Lord Tigrevurmud so much... He's not a prisoner anymore.”
It was true he was not a prisoner of war anymore, but since he had received the pigeon meat, Tigre remained quiet. It certainly was tough, but it had a deep flavor.
“This is delicious. Where do they sell it?”
“I'll show you. By the way, are you going to the Mansion after this, Tigre-san?”
Tension quickly appeared on Tigre's face. On the other hand, Rurick seemed interested.
“They have one in this village?”
“There's a sign showing worship of Iarilo here. There aren't many people, and the girls don't look all that great, but it's cheap.”
Iarilo was one of the divine Goddesses of both Brune and Zhcted who represented a good harvest and lust. Having her on a sign in the village showed there was a facility present.
“... Will you be able to leave the village in a half koku?”
Tigre said that for the time being.
“If it's a half koku, we probably can.”
Rurick gave his response. It seems he completely felt like going.
--- Well, what should I do...
Tigre understood the purpose of Mansions. They were located even in the town of Celesta where his residence was. He also saw them in the camps at Dinant, soliciting the soldiers.
However, Tigre and Ellen had given strict orders that prostitutes were never to be seen amongst the soldiers of the Silver Meteor Army. Rather than calling them fastidious, they were fearful the prostitutes may spread sickness, deteriorate morale, or act as foreign spies.
“So, what will you do, Tigre-san?”
Aram asked, pushing Tigre into a panic.
“No, I'm fine.”
The soldiers behind Aram began to whisper.
“Look, I told you. Tigre-san can already see his family.”
“That's right. He can always see Teita.”
“Also, our second in command never gets angry. The day before yesterday, no, maybe it was before that, she was tugging on Tigre-san's hair when he overslept.”
Certainly, his hair was pulled on, but Teita and Lim's angry faces appeared in his head. Ellen's face appeared as well.
He could not imagine it well. Rather than imagining Ellen scold him, he imagined her staring at him with an ill-humored expression. Her bright, red eyes surpassed rubies of the highest class.
He imagined Teita blotting out the tears in her hazel eyes while complaining to him. As for Lim, though she kept her mind and expression calm, her eyes would show her amazement, contempt, frustration, and dissatisfaction.
“... All of you want to spend the rest or your time like this?”
Ruffling his red hair, Tigre let out a deep sigh as he looked at the Zhcted soldiers.
“While I won't say as much as Lim, I will admit this could lead to a disturbance in military discipline.”
Aram and the others looked at each other. Ignoring their reactions, Tigre continued to speak.
“Now, I feel like being alone, so I'll return to our meeting point. Rurick, I leave them in your care. I will say this once again. Do not cause trouble. Also, don't regret how you spend the money you worked hard to earn. Finally, you will remain on schedule and will not speak of this once we return – got it?”
Aram and the others saluted Tigre in a relaxed manner.
Tigre's words were an implicit sign of his permission. When he told them to not regret how they spent their money, he was telling them to choose a healthy person.
Since Tigre did not feel like joining them, he left Rurick to take charge of them; however, it was true he wanted to be alone so he could think about what Rurick said when he spoke of his troubles.
Tigre rode his horse alone along the prairie at the end of the day. The sky was covered with gray clouds dying the land in shadows.
He suddenly recalled his conversation with Rurick and the others; he let out a deep sigh.
Tigre was a 16 year old man. It was not as if he lacked an interest in women.
However, as the Lord of Alsace, his desire to hunt with his bow was greater, and, now, he did not have the time to think about such things.
--- That's right. I don't have the luxury.
From the time he had met Marquis Greast, Tigre had thought about many things. He had not yet told them to anyone. It was closer to a desire than something he thought feasible.
--- Dukes Thenardier and Ganelon, what can I do about their tyranny?
It was not something for a small aristocrat like Tigre to be concerned with, but he could not help but think it was impossible to avoid battle with them. Such thoughts had lurked in his heart ever since he heard the rumors in the camps at Dinant.
--- If the King recovers from his illness, it might be resolved for the time being.
Still, Duke Thenardier retained his grudge. Though it was an issue which should have been directed only at himself, it was a problem since it was aimed at all people in Alsace.
However, Tigre's thoughts ended here.
After he met with Ellen, Tigre's view of the world extended far beyond Alsace. Though his knowledge was something acquired from Lim's education, he could not take it all in stride. Even if he had a vague idea of what was in store for him in the future, that was his current limit.
The cold wind blew by Tigre, returning him from his thoughts.
--- I'll reach the river soon.
Though he was riding through the thicket on his horse, he could still see ahead of him properly. However, since the sky had become dark, he should have been more careful.
With a few dozen strides to the river remaining, he stopped moving and took precaution.
--- The sound of water...
Though he could not see well from the bushes, he knew someone or something was there.
--- It would be good if it was just a small animal coming for some water.
When he thought that, he heard the sound of the water mix with the sound of the wind. The noise of something flapping tickled his ear; something was flying.
As he reached for the bow in his saddle, a black object came flying before his eyes. It was about the size of a puppy. Tigre caught it with both his hands as it stared at him intently.
Though it seemed to be jet black in the darkness, it had rusty green scales, a color he was familiar with. It had horns on the back of its head and wings similar to a bat on its back.
It was a Dragon; a small, infant Dragon, and it was the source of the strange sound he heard a moment ago – the sound of the Dragon flying.
“You... Why am I seeing you here?”
To calm his surprised horse, Tigre covered the young Dragon. It looked like Ellen's pet Dragon, but it should not have been in a place like this.
“You're definitely a distinct Dragon... You're really meek, aren't you. I wonder if all baby Dragons are like this.”
Tigre held the creature in his hand. Though it had sharp eyes and looked as if it were appraising Tigre, it showed no signs of aggression.
A woman's voice called out from somewhere. At that moment, the young Dragon flapped its wings vigorously; its eyes were wide open in fright. When he released his grip momentarily, the young Dragon jumped on Tigre's back and placed its feet on his head, as if hiding its body.
Hearing that, a shadow appeared, shaking the nearby bushes.
It was a woman. She was taller than Tigre and had eyes the color of a beryl and golden hair.
When her eyes met Tigre's, they opened widely. She gasped and was at a loss for words. Tigre stared at her in surprise, unable to move.
She was not wearing a single piece of cloth and stood completely exposed, her body wet with water, to Tigre.
She had delicate shoulders, ample bosom, narrow hips, and long, slender legs.
After a silence reaching a count of ten, Tigre's brain managed to squeeze out some words.
However, his thought process was not normal.
As if reacting to Tigre's voice, the infant Dragon's body began to shake. The woman, also reacting to his words, began moving.
The woman kicked off the ground, chasing after it so it would not escape. She moved as if she had not noticed Tigre's presence and stumbled after her fourth step. With her posture broken, Tigre moved his arms out to catch her on reflex and fell embracing her.
Perhaps due to the chill of the river water, her cold body made him feel warm. He could clearly feel her soft skin and two voluptuous bulges.
Though his back was to the ground, he barely felt it. With the majority of his consciousness taken away, he could not even think of anything else.
Though the two were mutually frozen, Tigre tried to move his hand somehow. His fingers brushed the glossy skin along her hips; a bewitching sound tickled Tigre's ear.
However, it had removed the tension. She finally sat up, drops of water spilling from her golden hair down her collarbone, collecting in the valley between her breasts.
Against the background of the night sky, her beautiful, naked body stole his eyes once again. Though he wanted to offer his clothes so she could conceal herself, it was clearly impossible in this posture. Unable to do anything, he shut his eyes strongly and covered his face with his hand.
“Oh my, I apologize.”
Her gentle voice fell from above; it was impossible for him not to hear it. When he thought he wanted to retreat, he heard a voice from a distance.
“Sophie? Since it's this dark, it will be hard to find Lunie...”
The voice broke off as footsteps approached. Tigre's instincts perceived an unprecedented danger. While Tigre wanted to escape immediately, the woman was still on top of him.
Though he may have been able to escape if he pushed her away, he could not muster any strength.
Hearing a voice tinged with anger, Tigre felt a sense of hopelessness.
He was not scolded or hit.
Even so, contempt was clearly in her voice and gaze. Tigre felt it may have been better if he was beaten, since things had never been this painful.
In the General's tent were five men and women: Tigre, Ellen, Lim, Teita, and Sophie. Tigre sat in a chair, half encircled by the others. He felt he should have gotten Augre to join as well.
Still, the modest old Viscount was tired and was resting early. Though Tigre did not want him to overwork himself, he sincerely felt it was a failure on his part to allow him to leave early.
“Your training is not enough.”
Lim looked down at him with eyes clearly expressing contempt. Ellen, though not as much as Lim, also looked at him in anger and shock.
“You'll fall on the battlefield if you can't react quickly to a surprise. What would you do if a beautiful assassin came? Wouldn't you die?”
Teita had brought snacks for everyone. While pouring wine, Teita looked at Tigre in pity. She called out his name, clearly showing her mental state. It was harsh.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Lord Tigrevurmud. I am one of the Vanadis, Sophia Obertas, and wielder of the Taima no Fukkou[Barrier of Evil Retreat]. You may call me Sophie.”
Ignoring the atmosphere, Sophie introduced herself with a kind smile, as if she were a Goddess of ancient myth.
Her body was wrapped in a light green dress, her golden hair, now dry, waved gently. The various jewels decorating her body only added to her flower-like beauty.
Of the four women present, only she, the victim in a sense, spoke to him with kind words and gentle expressions. It was quite odd.
Lunie was held in her thin arms. The infant Dragon with rusty green scales had lowered its limbs and no longer flapped its wings. It remained obedient like a doll; it had given up on running away.
--- This person is definitely a Vanadis.
Though different from Ellen and Ludmira, she was also a beautiful woman. She had an intimidating demeanor and remained calm before Tigre, despite having been seen naked. Tigre bowed his head and smiled in a carefree manner to calm his nerves.
“I am Tigrevurmud Vorn. I apologize for my rudeness before.”
“Oh my, I should be the one to thank you. You tried to catch me when I fell over.”
“It's a load off my mind if you say that.”
“It was my first time being held so closely by a gentleman, I was surprised. You made quite an impressive first impression.”
The Vanadis giggled, her golden hair shaking. Seeing her gaze directed toward his waist rather than his body, he felt he was unjustly suspected.
“So, why did you show up in a place like this?”
While fiddling with her silver-white hair, Ellen asked in a blunt voice.
“You don't know?”
Tigre asked Ellen in surprise. She was taking a bath in the river. Though he thought their conversation had concluded, it seems he was wrong.
“It seems he returned a half koku early.”
Though Ellen was curious about Sophie's sudden appearance, she was pleased to meet her again.
“I was surprised you took Lunie. Honestly, I didn't think Tigre would be back this early, so I gave you time to take a bath to wash off your sweat while we were waiting for him to return. I didn't expect this to happen.”
Ellen's words permitted no chance for him to speak, though the thorns in her words had receded.
“My, I do so love Lunie-chan.”
Noticing her soften, Sophie tilted her head and looked at Ellen.
The last time the two had met was in the King's Capital of Zhcted, Silesia. Ellen asked her a favor and promised she would let Sophie play with Lunie in return. Sophie loved Dragons, especially this baby with a terrible face.
“I got it. You can play with Lunie.”
Though he did not know what happened, Tigre felt a deep sympathy for the young Dragon which was being held. It stared at Teita with an unusual interest.
“I came here with official duties from our country. His Majesty has become impatient with your absence, and he has heard an interesting story from Brune. He ordered I go as a messenger.”
“It happened a few days after we met, probably about ten days.”
Ellen sighed upon hearing Sophie's words.
“Impatient, is he... But is this really the sort of duty he should be giving to you?”
“Well, it was unavoidable.”
Sophie's gaze moved to her bishop staff. The mysterious wand had many circular rings protruding which combined to form an elaborate golden pillar.
“My ZahtLight Flower should work better than yours, right?”
Tigre recognized the word referred to her bishop staff, her Viralt[Dragonic Tool].
--- Certainly, it would be different if Ellen's sword or Ludmira's spear were sent as messengers.
Sophie's bishop staff appeared to have a lower war potential than any other Viralt[Dragonic Tool]. It looked more like a sacred treasure than a weapon.
“Tigre. I'll tell you this now, but if you do anything to Sophie, she may very well hurt you badly. Though it will hurt being cut with a sword, it can be more painful if she crushes your bones.”
Tigre returned to his normal thoughts after hearing Ellen's grumpy voice. Due to her gaze toward him, it was difficult for him to object.
“Oh my, Ellen is quite jealous. This is the first time I have seen this side of you.”
Ellen made a completely sulky face upon hearing Sophie's words as she teased her.
“Jealous? Of course not. He was looking at you in a rude manner. Even you can't feel good about that.”
Placing an index finger to her mouth, Sophie continued to speak gently.
“True, he did see everything.”
Lim, who had remained silent until then, drank some wine. Teita wiped some she spilled in a panic. Ellen's face was hard to comment on at all. Tigre simply bowed his head deeply.
“There is no need to worry so much. I was the one to stumble, after all. It was simply my first time sticking to a man---”
“... Sophia-sama. If possible, let us continue with the more serious business at hand.”
Interrupting Sophie's words, Lim clearly had an expression showing she was enduring a headache. Finally, Tigre and Ellen managed to pull their act together.
“Sophie. It seems you received word from the Royal Palace. I'm a bit anxious, since I assume you came to tell her she is not to interfere with Brune.”
When Tigre spoke, Sophie lowered her eyes and looked at him.
“... That is correct. Though it will hurt to say, the talks did not conclude well.”
“What do you mean?”
“The King of Brune, his majesty is currently ill, and he could not attend. Though we spoke to Prime Minister Bodwin, it seems the largest issue is your position.”
Tigre tilted his head. Ellen was the one to react.
“I was employed by Tigre. This matter should be irrelevant to Zhcted Kingdom.”
“Officially that is true, but they said [The Vanadis is after our territory].”
Sophie laughed and Ellen shrugged with a bitter smile. They heard she had requested his territory for his ransom.
“After that, there was a message they wished to convey to Lord Tigrevurmud.”
Without missing a beat, Sophie spoke her words accurately.
[In face of the sin of rebellion, Vorn has been deprived of all rights as a citizen of Brune, his title, and his family name. Alsace will be run directly by the King. Once the turmoil has settled, a magistrate will be sent from the King's Capital.]
Bringing his hand to his forehead, Tigre spoke that word deeply.
Though he imagined it to be so, his heart felt heavy knowing it was true; still, he was relieved the people under his charge had not been accused.
“Lord Tigrevurmud. A messenger from the Royal Palace will come one day. Other than myself, have you not heard from Lord Massas?”
Tigre involuntarily uttered a sound. Lim and Teita looked to Sophie in wonder.
“You know Lord Massas name. No, may I ask how you know of him?”
“Oh my, he did not tell you.”
Sophie looked on with a smile.
“I became acquainted with him in the King's Capital of Nice. He told me he would take his troops to Lord Tigrevurmud once he returned to his lands. Though I was thinking of coming to meet Ellen with him, I decided to come early since we were close. He should arrive tomorrow afternoon.”
After dinner and the conference was finished, Tigre sat while maintaining his bow.
Sophie had left after telling Batran, who was now sitting at Tigre's side, that Massas was safe.
Ignoring the difference of status between nobleman and villager, both Batran and Massas had known each other from before Tigre was even born. Hearing of Massas' safety, the little old man was more happy than Tigre.
Once he finished his maintenance, Tigre noticed a gaze as he stood up.
“Did you need something, Young Lord?”
“No, there is nothing. I wish to get a bit of fresh air. You won't be going since it's this cold, will you?”
Tigre stopped the elderly man from standing with a joke.
“You should return at once. It won't do to have the General catching a cold.”
“... I'll keep that in mind.”
Tigre left the tent after waving his hand to Batran. Similarly, he waved to the soldiers on watch and began walking without any particular purpose.
His feet took him to a secluded area. The cold winter air and the light of the stars bathed down on Tigre. Massas was safe.
It was good news, but after walking this far, Tigre still could not feel truly happy.
“A traitor, am I...”
He murmured the words. When it came out in his voice, he felt his body tremble from the very core.
It was deemed he had taken arms against the Kingdom of Brune. No, it was not just himself but all the people who followed him.
--- I can't lose now...!
He clenched his teeth and grasped his fist tightly. The Thenardier Army had burned and devastated the town of his birth and attacked the people he cherished. Though he had forced this unreasonable task upon them as their charge, they had followed him and supported each other.
He was doing this to protect them. He could not be negative.
He stared into the darkness, confirming his own determination.
“--- Who is it~?”
Suddenly, something covered his eyes as soon as the warm and calm voice hit his ears. Something soft hit Tigre's back, upon which he pulled away on reflex.
A sweet smell peculiar to a woman's skin stimulated his nose, and her light voice touched his ear.
Though they had only met today and had barely spoken to one another, her pleasant and relaxed voice sounding in his ear was immediately identifiable.
After she removed her hands from Tigre's face and separated from him, he turned around to see her smile gently. Sophia Obertas stood before him with golden bishop staff in hand.
“Was it really that easy?”
“You may say that, but there are only four women here, and ignoring all else, your voice is quite beautiful...”
While he answered, Tigre could not help but be wary of the Vanadis in the back of his mind.
He felt no signs. She wore a dress, but there were no sounds of it rustling.
Regardless of battle, she, too, was a Vanadis.
“Oh my, such flattery.”
Sophie gently pat Tigre's head with a smile. Though he often did it to Teita, Tigre felt embarrassed to have it done to himself.
Still, the feeling of her palm and the kindness and warmth in it felt good. Sophie did not stop with just one or two strokes, though. She continued even beyond thirty. As expected of her.
“Why are you here?”
“I wished to talk with you for a bit.”
Sophie obediently answered his question. She had seen Tigre leave his tent and secretly followed after him.
“It will not do if the General goes out alone.”
Rather than scolding him, she spoke with a tone as if she were admonishing a child. Tigre thought to pull away, but Sophie did not notice. She continued to pat Tigre's hair as he looked at her in awkward embarrassment.
“So... What did you wish to speak with me about?”
The sound of her bishop staff rang through the air as she looked up at the starry sky.
“... What is Ellen to you?”
What are you saying so suddenly? Tigre wanted to say that, but he swallowed his words. Sophie looked away from the sky and gazed straight at Tigre in earnest; her smile had disappeared. Her beryl eyes displayed a strong will; she exuded an atmosphere that would allow no deception.
No, Tigre released his tension immediately. There's no need to think about it. I only need to answer frankly.
“For me, Ellen is my benefactor... and if I may be so impudent as to say it, my comrade-in-arms.”
Sophie's bright eyes stared at him. Her bishop staff shook and glittered gold, as if scattering the darkness. Tigre nodded thinking it a natural reaction.
If he had asked a person of Zhcted, they would consider Tigre as Ellen's prisoner of war. To call the Vanadis a comrade would be nothing more than insolence.
However, he fought alongside Ellen.
He also used an abnormal power.
“Do you dislike Ellen?”
Tigre was bewildered hearing a question he had not expected. Sophie continued to speak.
“You are Ellen's prisoner.”
“Ellen lent me her soldiers.”
After giving a prompt answer, Tigre shrugged his shoulders, mischief bleeding from his eyes.
“Ellen calls me Tigre. I call her Ellen. I'm not particularly in the habit of calling people I dislike by their nicknames.”
When Sophie heard Tigre's words, she smiled brightly. It was a smile lit by the light from her bishop staff – a smile attractive enough to fall in love with.
“It seems you really feel that way. I am relieved.”
“How do you know?”
“I cannot say I know. I simply believe. I saw your face; I heard your words. “
Tigre thought she said it like a prayer a Shinto priest or shrine maiden might say. She had clearly seen through him and began to laugh.
“I have seen how Ellen and Lim view you. I have heard how your maid and the soldiers speak of you. Lord Massas Rodant has also told me of you... There was much for me to go on, but, in the end, your facial expressions, your voice, your behavior, those are what allow me to place my faith in you. You truly cherish Ellen.”
Without a sound, her golden hair and green dress fluttered as she walked before Tigre.
“You have become the center of attention even in Zhcted. Why has Ellen associated so much with you, who on earth is this Tigrevurmud Vorn, and so on.”
Her smile disappeared. At a distance of fewer than three steps from Tigre, Sophie stopped walking. It was a suitable distance for her bishop staff.
“The most common rumor is that Ellen fell in love with you at a glance. That, too, is not impossible. The soldiers have never moved for an Earl of a neighboring country and thrust their neck into a civil war. You also fought Mira. How could it not be a large thing? That would normally be impossible.”
Tigre involuntarily turned his gaze to the black bow in his hands. Tigre did not understand the amazing power held in this bow. Still, there was something else that came from Tigre's mouth.
“Your actions when you were bathing, were you testing me?”
“I only tripped then.”
Tigre sincerely thought the woman who smiled with her head inclined was testing him, but it seems he was wrong.
“Still, that is not quite right. You said earlier Ellen was a comrade-in-arms, but those near to you do not necessarily see that. Half see you two as comrades, half see you as more of a pet.”
Is it better to be a prisoner of war or a pet? At the moment, Tigre was more anxious about another issue.
“If we had fallen in love... Would you have stopped Ellen?”
Sophie nodded slowly.
“That is correct. Whether it be as Vanadis or not, I think of Ellen as an important friend. Still, it is a big issue. As an aristocrat, even amongst your friends, do you not separate personal and private affairs?”
The Vanadis Ludmira appeared in Tigre's mind upon hearing her explanation. Their territories bordered one another and she was on bad relations with Ellen.
Even Tigre did not have the greatest of relations with some of the aristocracy in territories neighboring Alsace, but there was no conflict out of mutual interest.
“Ellen must not do anything rash based on her emotions. If necessary, I would have brought her back by force. I would have done the same should I have deemed you to have bound your fate too strongly to Ellen, since that could also be a problem.”
The rings of the bishop staff made a cold sound as it was thrust before Tigre, but it was pulled back immediately. Sophie bowed before Tigre, her hands behind her back.
“But for now, I will place my faith in you. I leave Ellen in your care.”
Tigre nodded strongly in reassurance.
“Though I said it a while ago, Ellen is my benefactor, my comrade-in-arms. I will absolutely defend her.”
Ellen was far more skillful in horsemanship and swordsmanship, and she had the Silver Flash Arifal. It may have been presumptuous to say he would protect her.
Even so, they were Tigre's true thoughts. He was saved by the kindness of her and the people of her territory. Even if they fought each other as enemies, his days spent with her since they met in Dinant only solidified his determination.
Though simple, Sophie's words held much emotion.
After the two returned to the tent, Tigre immediately went to sleep having dispelled his hesitation. Sophie, however, did not.
She covered her body in a blanket and calmly sat outside, waiting for time to pass.
The night grew cold, and many of the soldiers were asleep. Sophie and Ellen slipped out of the women's tent. Away from the soldiers' eyes, the two walked quickly, considering the risk should they be heard.
“I did not think I would meet you in a place like this.”
Though there was neither moon nor stars in the sky, Sophie's Light Flower radiated a golden light. The cold night air was inhibited by the Silver Flash at Ellen's waist.
“Same here. If it were not for my meeting with Lord Massas, I would have returned to Zhcted this evening.”
“Why did you come? Though you came to see me, it doesn't exactly mean you're not under suspicion.”
Ellen looked doubtful. If she thought of Sophie's position as a messenger of Zhcted, it was far too dangerous to meet Ellen today.
“There are a few reasons. I wished to speak to Lord Tigrevurmud whom you so fondly speak of having love affairs with. I was also worried about you and wondered if you had prepared a means of escape.”
“I don't remember talking about love affairs with Tigre.”
Ellen replied with a sharp answer. Sophie smiled in amusement and giggled. She held Ellen closely and stroked her silver-white hair.
“He really is cute. He resembles Lunie-chan a little.”
“... You never praise people.”
Ellen shook off Sophie's arms and looked at her. Her shoulders were shaking in laughter.
When Sophie looked up, she held a serious expression. The future conversation was the specific reason she left the camp.
“Elizavetta seems to have deep ties to both Dukes Ganelon and Thenardier.”
Ellen's bright red eyes shined strongly. Elizavetta was yet another Vanadis. Ellen strongly disliked her and evaluated her poorly.
“I cannot tell you much about Valentina, but her territory is the furthest from Brune, so I do not believe she has an intimate association with them. Olga is missing.”
“She left on a journey with her ViraltDragonic Tool and left only a letter behind.”
Ellen stood with her mouth half open, unable to say anything for a while.
Valentina and Olga were both Vanadis; however, Ellen had only met them once or twice and was not familiar with their personalities.
“... Has the Dragonic Tool abandoned Olga?”
Sophie simply shrugged her shoulders, as it seemed like it was possible to have happened.
“There is no telling what a Dragonic Tool thinks. There is that issue with Sasha as well...”
Sophie shook her head, her golden hair waving, as Ellen frowned.
“Any news on Sasha?”
“There have been no changes... though that is only from when I last left Zhcted.”
Ellen's eyes sank. Sasha – Alexandra – was also a Vanadis, and she was someone who could be called Ellen's partner and best friend. She had an illness that affected her body, even before the two met. Even with that, Ellen had not yet defeated Sasha with the sword.
“Sasha would not wish for you to worry about her. It is true she cannot be cured, but I doubt she would want you to stop for that.”
Sophie spoke to Ellen with care. Realizing this, Ellen bowed her head in assent.
“For the time being, you need to keep your thoughts on Elizavetta.”
Elizavetta's territory was far from LeitMeritz which Ellen governed. Though it was unlikely problems would occur like they had with Ludmira, it was best to take precaution.
“Also, I apologize. Regarding the Dragons used by Duke Thenardier, I have not yet found anything.”
“There's no need to find out immediately. Do as you see fit.”
“Thank you. I am glad I came here nonetheless. I was able to see that man you have such interest in.”
Sophie slouched a little as she laughed. Her bishop staff swayed as its golden light spilled from the tip.
“Like I told you, with his upbringing, it would be disgraceful---”
“Yet you still spend so much time together?”
Rather than it being a slip of the tongue, it felt like she was stopped while she had taken a deep breath. Ellen began to speak to deny her accusations as she turned her head away, but she could find no words to say; she was hesitant to deny it. So she changed the topic.
“... So what did you think of Tigre when you met him?”
“He is such a lovely child. Though serious, he is honest.”
I already knew that, Ellen muttered in her mind.
--- It can't be helped. They met only half a day ago... No, perhaps she heard stories of him before she came here.
Incidentally, it had been about a half koku since Sophie and Tigre spoke.
Sophie began to speak more.
“Though he has a solid appearance, I cannot find anything particularly noteworthy in him. I do not understand why you choose to help him, so I am a bit curious.”
“I haven't heard those words in a while.”
Though the golden haired Vanadis expressed interest in everything out of curiosity, she rarely spoke of it. When she purposely said it, it meant she had a considerably strong degree of interest. The last time Ellen heard those words was when she spoke about Lunie.
“I'll tell you now, though. That guy is mine.”
“It really is love, after all.”
“... We have a contract.”
“If it is simply a contract, then you should not mind lending him to me for a bit. I will make sure to return him; of course, he will be washed properly if I get him a little dirty.”
Thinking about her nature, Ellen looked at Sophie in amazement.
“Don't approach Tigre while you're here. It's too dangerous.”
She spoke those joking words seriously while the two spoke of him as if he were an object to be used.
Tigre was able to invite the next morning in a calm manner, the first time in a long while.
Based on their victory over Marquis Greast and Sophie's words, Massas would appear today.
--- I'm worried about leading the soldiers. The audience did not go well. If that's the case, what will I do next...
The King knew of the situation, and, currently, all roads other than war had disappeared. Still, it was good that Massas was safe.
He was a close friend to his late father and a reliable adviser who took care of him in a variety of ways. His role could not be replaced by Teita, Batran, Ellen, or Lim.
He changed his clothes and left the tent to wash his face.
Though the early morning air of the camp was filled with silence, the atmosphere still felt noisy. As he approached Ellen's tent, he saw Batran run from a distance. Having found Tigre, Batran relaxed his tense, wrinkle-filled face. He ran to Tigre, out of breath, then inhaled deeply before speaking.
“Young Lord, the enemy is stationed to the west, approximately fifteen or sixteen belsta away.”
His peaceful morning had been disturbed early.
The soldiers, after having a quick breakfast, hastily vacated the camp. Inside Tigre's tent were four people – Tigre, Ellen, Lim, and Augre. Ellen thought to call Sophie but hesitated. After all, she was still an outsider.
“They're different. They're the Navarre Army...”
Viscount Augre confirmed the scout's report and had a grim expression.
“I wish to confirm this. How are the Knighthoods of Brune different from the soldiers?”
Seeing Augre's tense countenance, Ellen tilted her head in doubt.
“The Knights of Brune have undergone a trial.”
After wetting his throat with wine, Augre continued his explanation.
“The Knights are well versed in the military arts and culture. Their military arts are focused on the art of the sword, spear, and equestrian skills; their culture is based on the spirit of Knighthood, reading and writing, strategy, and heraldry. Once a year, they undergo a trial to measure these abilities in the King's Capital, and those who pass this trial may become a Knight.”
After taking a deep breath, Augre's expression became even more deep.
“The Navarre Knights that approach us now are lead by Roland, the [Black Knight] said to be the strongest in Brune.”
Tigre reacted for the first time. He understood Augre's attitude.
“I have heard of Roland as well.”
A sound of admiration leaked from Ellen's mouth. Her bright red eyes shined with interest.
“Even Tigre has heard of him in his rural town. His strength sounds interesting.”
“Roland took the trial and became a Knight at the age of 13. Though his skill in culture was appropriate for his age, his military skills far surpassed expectations. Though there were many others who aspired to Knighthood, all of whom had considerable influence, Roland confronted them all and took victory.”
A 13 year old boy who defeated many experienced Knights. This elicited a bitter reaction from both Ellen and Lim.
“That seems a bit too much to believe...”
“It is a fact.”
Augre's tone made it impossible not to believe.
“After reaching the peak, Roland had yet to lose. He emerged victorious from the Kingdom sponsored games for three consecutive years, and he always defeated the enemy when he came out on the battlefield. His Majesty was quite pleased with him and appointed him leader of the Navarre Knights. The same year, he gave him the Kingdom's sacred blade, Durandal.”
At this point, Augre frowned, his body was visibly shaking.
“The Knights of Navarre have their fortress established along the most important place on the Western Border where Brune meets Sachstein and Asvarre.”
“The border disputes have never ended there?”
Augre nodded gravely to Lim's doubtfully asked question.
“He is no stranger to skirmishes with forces exceeding ten thousand in number, so all his soldiers are accustomed to war. Roland has led the Knights of Navarre through these battles for many years.”
“... I see.”
At last, Ellen looked serious. In a place where one devotes his time to fight every day, the leader could not be a halfway capable individual.
“But why are they here?”
Tigre raised a question.
“The Knights of the Kingdom swear allegiance to His Majesty. They swear upon their honor before the Gods and fundamentally accept commands only from the King...”
“It is difficult to believe His Majesty gave this order. Most likely either Dukes Thenardier or Ganelon managed to mobilize him in some way.”
“It does not matter. Make preparations to fight against those that come to us. We cannot solve this only with vigilance.”
Ellen spoke. Augre bowed deeply in gratitude.
A messenger was sent out for negotiation but came back dejected after only a half koku.
“Their answer was [We will not exchange words with the enemy. We will only accept surrender], and [If you wish to surrender, throw away all your arms].”
“So we must surrender if we wish to talk.”
“That's a new one.”
Ellen was impressed with the enemy General's blunt attitude. Her bright red pupils were filled with the urge to fight. A smile floated to her mouth, and the air in the surroundings stirred, as if the longsword Arifal was reacting to her will.
On the other side, Tigre, Augre, and Lim wore expressions as if they had headaches. They looked at each other; it was not the time for this kind of talk.
“Send a messenger from me.”
Tigre chose two people from Alsace from amongst his soldiers and had them go to the Knights. If they could not enter a negotiation still, they would at least be able to form a consensus. To this end, they were buying time for Massas to arrive.
However, the results did not change. They were pushed away without receiving a single word.
“They didn't even listen to us.”
They solemnly reported to Tigre. The four briefly conferred and finished their meeting.
Ellen and Lim left the tent to gather the Zhcted Army. At that point, Augre's son, Gerard, entered.
“Are you well, Earl Vorn, Father?”
After the Viscount nodded, several men appeared with Gerard; they were Brune aristocrats who were cooperating with Viscount Augre.
“Earl Vorn, will you please explain the situation.”
What seemed the most senior of the men advanced. He appeared to be in his mid forties, his large body was wrapped in hempen clothes and a fur mantle. He, too, was a Viscount, just like Augre.
“Our enemies were Dukes Thenardier and Ganelon. Why is it that the Knights of the Sword has come to us?”
Tigre was hesitant to say he was branded a rebel; however, before Tigre opened his mouth, Viscount Augre laughed and answered.
“It seems they saw the Zhcted Army and believe we are leading a rebellion. It appears they will not listen to us lest we surrender.”
The men were shaken.
“Then it is necessary that we throw aside our arms to speak. The Knights of Navarre are led by Roland. We have no chance of victory.”
“They are Knights. They are different from Duke Thenardier; surely they would understand should you say you are protecting yourself. If we surrender our weapons, they will listen to us. Surely they will understand our position should we explain Sir Thenardier's cruelty.”
One person spoke, probably following the momentum of the conversation.
“How do you propose we do this? Do you believe the Zhcted Army will throw aside their weapons?”
Tigre asked them with an indifferent voice as he spoke.
“No matter who we may cooperate with, it will be the blood of Brune that flows.”
Tigre read their minds.
--- First the Zhcted Army... Now they wish to rely on the Knights of Navarre.
He did not know what they thought. Though the Zhcted Army was helping Tigre and Augre to defend their territories, it was not so for them. They were defending themselves from Duke Thenardier and were looking for people they could trust to defend them.
“If you wish, please leave the battlefield. You may cross the river to the north or through the forest to the south. I do not care. You may discard your weapons there and speak to the Navarre Knights. However...”
Tigre continued with a stronger tone.
“I do not believe the Navarre Knights will protect you from Duke Thenardier. If I were to surrender, then the Zhcted Army would simply return to their lands and the Navarre Knighthood would return to the west to defend the borders of Brune.”
“No, to say that...”
Tigre took a step toward the man who wished to say something.
“The cruelty of Dukes Thenardier and Ganelon did not start yesterday. The Knights appeared today. Has anyone in Brune denounced them?”
“That's... But the Knights only move by His Majesty's command...”
“Honestly, this is exactly why we are placing our faith in the Zhcted Army.”
Hearing the man speak, Augre stepped in to calm the situation down. Tigre was aware he was losing his patience and stepped back to allow Augre to take his place.
“Your fear of fighting the Navarre Knighthood is justified; however, I can only think this is a result of Duke Thenardier's plans. By using them, he can manipulate how the Zhcted Army moves. Really, Thenardier is a troublesome opponent.”
Tigre and Augre were not speaking in a particularly nasty manner, they were simply stating facts. The men turned pale, unable to counter them.
In a half koku, the Silver Meteor Army finished lining up in the center of the Orange Plains.
For the time being, there were no signs of backing down.
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