Madan no Ou to Vanadis:Volume 05 Chapter 1 - 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 1 - March of the Dragons
In Ormea Plains, in the lands where the Unstoppable Silver Flow[Silver Meteor Army] and Muozinel Army clashed, four days travel to the north was Perucche Fortress. It was built in a place where a highway leading north to south intersected with a highway moving east to west- a strategic location.
The number of soldiers defending the castle there numbered around four thousand.
Many soldiers and horses bearing arms surrounded the castle, staying within countless tents.
Under the gray winter sky nearing dawn, many soldiers could be seen walking about. They were being neither bold nor flashy. Some were wearing iron armor that left no gaps in their defenses. Others wore fur, and yet others wore heavy clothes to withstand the winter cold.
Some tents were worn out, frayed in a variety of places, while other tents looked regal, as if fit for royalty. They were all mixed together.
They all belonged to the Silver Meteor Army. With that said, its configuration was quite chaotic. There were various Knighthoods, whose duties were to protect the nobles and people of Brune from the armies of other nations.
Commanding this rag-tag group was a 16 year old man.
His name was Tigrevurmud Vorn. Those close to him called him Tigre.
In a room in the inner areas of the fortress, Tigre was working hard, surrounded by an array of documents. Beside him was the close friend of his late father, Massas Rodant, who had just turned 55 this year. He was an old Earl who had taken care of Tigre in a number of ways.
“Is it morning already...?”
The warble of a crow could be heard from beyond the open window. Tigre spoke to himself with an exhausted voice. Having worked for two days straight, he was approaching his limit. His dull red hair was disordered from his habit of running his hand through it. Dark circles were faintly visible under his eyes.
“Tigre. You should sleep until the war council later today.”
Massas, who had been helping him, could no longer endure and spoke up. Tigre, without pretense, stood up sleepily and rubbed his eyelids.
“I'll accept your kind offer. Will you be fine, Lord Massas?”
“I took a nap last night. I'll rest after I put this in order a little more.”
After the invading Muozinel Army retreated, many aristocrats offered to cooperate with their private armies, and many merchants proposed a variety of transactions. Along with the interviews, negotiations, and reorganization of the soldiers, there was a fair amount of paperwork required for him to go through.
Besides the aid of Massas, who was present now, Tigre would have broken down from overwork long ago if Limlisha and Gerard were not there to help.
Tigre began to stagger out of the office when Massas called him back.
“Sorry, Tigre. When you head to your room, can you wake up Miss Lurie?”
Miss Lurie referred to Ludmira Lurie from the Kingdom of Zhcted. Her nickname was Mira.
When fighting against the Muozinel Army, she had helped lead the soldiers following Tigre. Mira, who had accompanied the Unstoppable Silver Flow[Silver Meteor Army], was given a guest room in the fortress.
Tigre looked back at the old Earl with a dubious face.
“What do you need her for?”
“I wanted to talk to her about the arrangement of the tents. I almost forgot.”
Many tents and horses surrounded the fortress of Perucche, but they were not allowed entry into the castle. Amongst them were aristocrats at odds with each other. Furthermore, there were soldiers of Zhcted as well.
Having so many people with poor relations with one another in close proximity would inevitably lead to trouble. Thus far, Tigre and the others did their best to arrange them to avoid such an outcome.
--- I guess there's no other way...
Pushing aside the sleepiness attacking him, Tigre left the office understanding what Massas wanted. Tigre wanted to find someone else to take his place, but Mira was a guest, and furthermore, a girl. Unless he had pressing business, he did not wish to leave this duty to others.
--- I've left Teita to take care of all matters dealing with Regin.
He did not want to give even more duties to the chestnut brown-haired maid.
--- It's out of the question to ask Ellen, and if I ask Lim, I'd be afraid of what Ellen might do later...
Mira's room was on the way to his own, which is why Massas asked him.
He waved at the soldiers standing guard in response to their salutes. In this castle fort, Leonard, the leader of the Perucche Knights, increased the number of guards on patrol due to the increase in people roaming about.
When he arrived at Mira's room, he saw a Zhcted soldier standing guard before her door.
“I shall tell her you have arrived.”
The soldier spoke, as if waiting for him. He called out from the door, reporting Tigre's arrival. A blunt voice told him to enter. While confused, Tigre stepped through the open doorway.
It was still night, just before dawn, and the room was still dark. He could vaguely see a bed toward the back. There appeared to be someone moving around it.
“I apologize for coming so early in the morning, but may I enter?”
“Naturally. Even for trivial matters, you would not simply speak to them from the hallway. You are not the type to have others deliver your messages, either.”
It was as she said. Tigre approached the bed. After his eyes had become accustomed to the darkness, he began to recognize the appearance of the blue-haired Vanadis.
Tigre opened his eyes wide in surprise, standing rooted to the spot. His drowsiness was blown away.
Mira sat up on the bed wearing her thin nightclothes. Her slim neck, gently sloping shoulders, even her bosom were lightly exposed.
Mira's body was small compared to Ellen, however her breasts shook slightly with her breathing. The blankets covering her below the waist strangely made her figure visible.
“What is it?”
Mira asked curiously as she looked up at Tigre. After calming down a little, Tigre noticed she spoke in a slightly teasing nature. Tigre could not help but look away unnaturally.
“Are, aren't you cold?”
“No need to worry. I have Lavias here.”
Picking up the short spear leaning against her bed, Mira stroked the tip lovingly. The spear let out small crystals of ice, giving the room a mystical atmosphere.
The Frozen Wave was a weapon whose possession was permitted only to the Vanadis. It was a ViraltDragonic Tool with the power to manipulate the cold.
“But if I do indeed look so cold, would you care to warm me up?”
Tigre understood she was bantering with him, so he retorted while looking away.
“If I said yes, would you let me sleep here?”
It was half his real intention. He was in a mental state where he simply wanted to sleep soundly in bed until midday.
“I do not mind. Just the other day we slept together.”
She responded immediately with a smile. Tigre gave in and rapidly apologized before stating his business. She listened to him seriously and said she would meet with Massas later to deal with the problem.
“Thank you for the hard work. Well, sweet dreams, Tigre.”
After saying good night in return, Tigre turned his back to Mira. Perhaps because she had just awoken, her face was innocent. The image of her smile, bosom, and thighs were imprinted in his eyes.
“By the way, Tigre.”
Tigre was surprised from being called to a stop. Though inevitable, he had seen her in her nightgown. He turned around while waiting for her to say something about it, but she spoke words beyond his expectations.
“I have heard from the soldiers that a ghost has recently come to the fortress these days.”
Tigre frowned after hearing such unexpected words. He had seen many things when hunting in the mountains and forests, but he had not once found something without a reasonable explanation.
However, it was unexpected such a rumor would come about in a fortress full of people.
“It seems to be a ghost of a woman wearing a white dress, though I have seen nothing.”
Tigre tilted his head curiously.
There were five women in the castle: Ellen, Lim, Teita, Mira, and Regin. Of course, none wore a white dress.
--- Did they employ a woman from a nearby village or town and make a mistake? These stories do exist, and there are more workers taking care of chores with the arrival of more people. Even the people from Alsace alone is a lot.
“Thank you. I will investigate this matter.”
After thanking Mira, Tigre left her room.
After he quietly closed the door, Mira calmly looked away.
--- He really is a dull man. Still, I wonder if I was a bit too bold...
The Vanadis of blue hair tried to test Tigre's reaction with her appearance. She had confirmed her distance from him as well as the distance between him and Ellen.
Though she was dissatisfied, she did not have anything to complain about. She was fine with how things were at the moment.
While thinking about what to do in the future, Mira began changing her clothes to clear up the matter Tigre asked her to.
By the time he returned to his room, Mira's image had disappeared from Tigre's head. His drowsiness drove the cold of dawn and the thoughts running through his head away.
After changing his clothes and removing his shoes, he got into bed and covered himself in a blanket. He fell asleep immediately.
In just a half koku, smoke began rising from the fort as cooks began making meals and the noise increased as soldiers ran about their business.
Tigre continued to sleep soundly.
Suddenly, something appeared next to Tigre. Ripples appeared, as if space was distorted.
Tigre did not wake up, and the soldiers keeping watch outside the room did not notice it at all.
From the distorted space, a white figure emerged without warning. Its contours and colors gradually took form from the shadow until a person could be seen.
It was a woman of about 20 years. She had a vivid white rose in her long, black hair with a shade of blue. A dress delicately wrapped about her body, her bosom covered in a crimson fabric, and a purple rose hung from her waist. Her face had a kind smile, exuding a lovely, delicate impression.
However, the item grasped in her hand gave off a completely different image.
It was a large scythe. Its long, curved blade was jet black and crimson. It gave off a mysterious and dreadful atmosphere and was as large as a Dragon's claw.
Such a large weapon was disproportionate to the delicate girl, but when grasped in her hand, she gave off an appearance as if she had come out of a fantasy.
Her dress fluttered softly, and, like a fairy dancing in the wind, she landed gently. Even when her shoes adorned with red roses contacted with the floor, there was no sound elicited.
She took one step, two steps, her pure smile still on her face. Even when standing before Tigre's bed, he did not wake up.
No matter how tired he was, he would wake up immediately with any signs of excitement or hostility, and he would react to any sense of insecurity. His longtime hunting instincts forged through the battlefield would immediately rouse him from his rest.
The dark-haired beauty had so perfectly erased her presence that, even with her large scythe, she did not wake Tigre up. She looked at Tigre's sleeping face.
While looking down at him, she had the urge to poke his cheek and talk to him, but if she did that, it would cause problems.
She decided to run away quietly. This fort had two Vanadis, and it would be troublesome if they found out about her.
Also, she had played around too much.
Because she had spent a number of days trying to grasp Tigre's actions, schedule, and the structure of the fortress, a rumor of the ghost of a woman in a white dress was circulating. She had achieved her goal of seeing the face of Tigrevurmud Vorn up close.
"Just why are those two so interested in this man..."
Tigre struck her in return. He had reached out, grasping her ample bosom wrapped in a dress, with his hand.
She began to laugh involuntarily. Though she had left him alone and was certain he was asleep, he had still touched her chest.
“--- If you were awake, this crime of lese majeste would be punishable by death.”
While brandishing the large scythe in her left hand, she poked Tigre with her finger. The space between them began to distort, and, in the same manner as she had appeared, her figure faded and her colors became pale.
After a moment, her figure disappeared without leaving a single trace of her presence.
Tigre had not noticed at all and remained asleep until midday.
The clouds gradually scattered as the sun was rising, weakly illuminating the winter earth.
It was still a little too early to call it daytime. Two young girls, both about 16 or 17 years old. They both wore a military uniform. One had a sword at her waist while the other had a spear in her arms.
The spear was held by Mira, and she was a Vanadis of Zhcted Kingdom like the girl holding the sword.
With silver-white hair down to her waist and bright red eyes full of energy, the woman left a strong impression on all who saw her. She was Eleanora Viltaria, and she was called Ellen by people close to her, like Tigre.
The two looked at the countless soldiers and horses outside the castle moving about the tents.
“When I see this, it feels like I've returned to Zhcted. Hopefully it will let my men relax.”
“That may be the case for you, but it has been several months since we returned to LeitMeritz. Do you think this long duration away will cause a problem soon?”
Ellen sighed in frustration while Mira smiled provocatively and spoke sarcastically.
Originally, the Vanadis knelt before and gave fealty only to the King of Zhcted. Of course, there was moderate speculation and reasons present.
However, if one were to think of a single reason for their presence, it would be that Ellen and Mira were lending strength to a single young man.
Anyway, Ellen took Mira's provocation and looked down at her men sharply.
“... I'm grateful for your worries, but my subordinates are quite talented. They're not the type to be anxious about returning to LeitMeritz. What about you? Are your men crying to return to their home town?”
“... Oh my. I am quite worried about this, Eleanora. It is an essential thing in war.”
Mira, who was shorter than Ellen, looked up and tilted her neck slightly. As if provoking the Silvfrau[Wind Princess of the Silver Flash], the Michelia[Snow Princess of the Frozen Wave] spoke with a thorny voice. The two had a dangerous relationship, like a wolf and a fox, ever since they met.
By the way, their voices were small enough such that only they themselves could hear each other, and their expressions were full of dignity, so those looking at them simply thought they were discussing future strategies.
That was not particularly a mistake, however. Ellen and Mira set side their emotions and avoided a large fight. The two understood the impact it would have on morale if they openly fought one another.
“Essential to war... That's right. Certainly, you're right.”
Ellen's voice suddenly lost its strength and came out weakly. Mira, who was waiting for a counterattack, was surprised. She turned around involuntarily to the Vanadis with silver-white hair.
“From what I heard, Tigre may not have survived long enough for the Knights of Brune to help him if it were not for you. Thank you, Ludmira.”
Mira showed signs of panic after hearing Ellen's words of gratitude, full of sincerity. While thinking about what kind of words to respond with, Ellen opened her mouth yet again.
“That's why, your work is done here. You can go home back to Olmutz and spend the rest of your life recalling these good memories while drinking your favorite tea. Get going, get going.”
Ellen waved her hand, as if shooing her away, while speaking in a stony voice. She did not forget to conceal her hand gesture from the soldiers' gaze.
Mira's face went from one of blank surprise to one of anger.
“Y, you should know some shame! Here, I finally believed you finally had the heart of a Vanadis, and you simply trample over it with your infantile behavior!”
Mira shouted at Ellen with her voice as subdued as possible. Ellen also quietly spoke indignantly.
“I should say those words to you! You should reflect on those words, though I suppose they match those childish breasts of yours! Ah~ I'm sorry you have such a small chest.”
Ellen, with a calm voice and a gentle look in her red eyes, looked down at Mira's chest. Obviously, they were not as large as Ellen's.
“Are, are you sure your breasts are not larger than necessary?”
“Are you thinking clearly? This is quite different from your usual thoughts of loss and gain.”
Ellen laughed while shrugging. Mira turned red, the Vanadis with blue hair embarrassed that she was seen through. She quickly thought of twenty, thirty words of abuse, but she quickly forced them down. She could not carelessly speak them aloud.
Ellen and Mira were both close with the Vanadis Sophia Obertas. She was the owner of more ample bosoms than Ellen, and if she carelessly spoke, it was possible something unnecessary might be said to her.
“By the way... Tigre hasn't made a move yet.”
As she looked at the smoke of food being cooked rise from around the tents of the countless soldiers and horses, Mira awkwardly changed the subject. Ellen, also collecting herself, responded seriously.
“It's about time. Lim just went to check on him a bit ago... If possible, I'd like to let that guy laze about as he wants every once in a while.”
Mira's blue pupils showed signs of her surprise. She moved her head slightly and looked up at Ellen. The Vanadis with silver-white hair looked apologetic and unusually gentle.
Though Ellen was sincerely worried about the young man with dull red hair, she was irritated that she was hardly able to alleviate his heavy burdens.
Mira began to comfort her but swallowed her words.
A man and woman approached them. Ellen looked over and smiled as she lightly waved at Tigre.
The man with dull red hair showed no signs of fatigue. He was wearing leather armor and hempen clothes which gave him a simple appearance. In his left hand was his jet-black bow, and a quiver was at his waist.
The girl accompanying him was Limlisha, Ellen's adjutant. Her nickname was Lim, and she was 19 years old, three years Tigre's senior. She had her hair tied up on the left side of her head, but because she was tall, she still retained her sense of balance. Her eyes and face were unfriendly, and she was quiet, though in a manner different from Mira.
Lim saw the face of her Lord and bowed without changing her expression. She then bowed politely to Mira who was standing next to her.
“You've worked hard, Lim.”
After giving her stiff adjutant words of appreciation, Ellen looked at Tigre with a smile.
“How are you? Did you get some sleep?”
“Yeah. Lim also made some soup, so I'm wide awake.”
Ellen looked at her adjutant in curiosity. Lim looked toward the floor and responded quickly.
“Because the war council would begin soon, I thought he should wake up as quickly as possible... It would not look good if he were yawning like he did yesterday.”
Both the first half and the latter half of her dialogue were spoken somewhat unnaturally. In the middle of their meeting yesterday, it was true Tigre had done this, but the way she spoke seemed odd.
“Soup, is it? How nice. I'll have to prepare some for Tigre next time.”
Ellen smiled and spoke jokingly as she cut Lim's words short. Lim looked back up, expressionless as usual.
“Eleanora-sama, rumors would appear if you were to do such a thing. Please leave such tasks to me.”
“I see, how regrettable. But Lim, even if you want him to eat your soup that much, remember your main duties are to deal with our subordinates.”
Lim's expression broke slightly when she noticed she was being teased. Her cheeks were slightly tinged red.
“You can cook soup, Ellen?”
Tigre asked this of the silver-white haired Vanadis both in curiosity and to help Lim. Ellen puffed out her chest and responded with pride.
“I used to do it all the time in the old days. Though it's a bit flat, I can guarantee its flavor.”
“Tigre. Soup is not bad, but what of tea? It has such an elegant taste and smell...”
“You don't understand Tigre at all. It's best to give Tigre something simple and familiar first thing in the morning.”
Ellen brushed off Mira's words with a laugh. Mira, rather than backing down, retorted with an aggressive appearance.
“If you wish to say that much, then we should have Tigre compare your crude soup with my tea. He can just have whichever he finds most delicious from now on.”
“Fine. Tigre and I have made meals plenty of times. Against someone who has no experience in the kitchen, I won't lose.”
Unable to respond to Ellen's words, Mira frowned and sunk into silence. It was true she was not used to working in the kitchen. Tigre and Lim simply looked at each other.
“... What should we do about this?”
Lim was Tigre's reliable teacher and knew many things he did not. His teacher, three years his senior, had a face full of distress, her voice clearly strained.
“Please endure for now. Put this aside for as long as you can. Lord Tigrevurmud, you are busy, so make do with what you have, and if these two make you drink whatever it is they may make... Please withhold your answer to avoid harming their feelings.”
“So avoid giving them victory or defeat, is it?”
“Though I would like Eleanora-sama to win, this is not the time for such a trivial game of skill. Ideally, this can be done after everything has been settled.”
Though she had no way of telling how serious Mira was, she clearly knew Ellen was, and if she were being serious, victory or defeat would have a major impact on any and all future battles. Though Lim did not dare to put this into words, Tigre understood.
“--- I understand. Though I think it unfair not to give them an answer, I'll let it be for now.”
Lim sighed as she looked to her side at the Vanadis with silver-white hair. Though Ellen was confident, she had no basis for her confidence.
--- Like I thought, it must be something about Lord Tigrevurmud...
Lim shook her head as she began thinking. Her thoughts would stray elsewhere if she started.
Compared to winning the war, deciding between their soup and tea was an impossible task.
Tigre was a small aristocrat in the Kingdom of Brune.
To be accurate, he used to be. He was accused of leading the troops from Zhcted, the neighboring country, into his lands. Tigre was deprived of his title and his lands.
However, Tigre did not waver. He had a reason for doing this.
It started in Dinant at the beginning of autumn. The Brune Army was at war with the Zhcted Army. Tigre fought Ellen and was defeated, becoming her captive.
In order to get him back, it was necessary to pay a ransom; however, there were no signs of one being prepared. If nothing happened, Tigre would have been sold away.
In his absence, Duke Thenardier sent his troops to Alsace. Tigre learned of this.
Tigre borrowed the strength of Ellen and her soldiers to defend Alsace, the lands he governed, from Duke Thenardier's troops. During that conflict, Tigre killed Zaien, the eldest child of the Duke, who was the Commander. It was a necessary fight.
--- That's right. Not even half a year has passed...
While walking along the ramparts of Perucche Castle, Tigre thought of everything that happened until then. While he had been fighting for less than six months, it was a time full of blood, far more dense than any of the other sixteen years of his life.
The territory he ruled was full of mountains and forests and had a few hundred soldiers at most.
On the other hand, Duke Thenardier was a large aristocrat who represented Brune. He could easily gather ten thousand soldiers beneath him.
Speaking normally, one would not think they would fight each other, but Duke Thenardier would not permit the man who killed his son to live. Tigre would only have the choice to flee or fall to ruin.
If he chose either, the land of Alsace where he was born and raised would be overrun.
However, Tigre had gathered the power necessary to face the Duke.
When winter began, Muozinel, with a large army, invaded from the southeast. The nearby aristocrats and Knighthoods did not move immediately. Tigre held off the Muozinel Army of twenty thousand with little more than two thousand.
Through a number of twists and turns, Tigre borrowed the strength of the Vanadis Ludmira, and, due to Massas and Augre's efforts, many allies were made from the nobles and Knights in the vicinity. They succeeded in pushing the Muozinel Army back once again. This happened just a few days ago.
“This fortress guarded by the Knighthood of Perucche is a few days north from where our battle took place. Though I can't say it is uncomfortable, I would rather spend my time in the grasslands.”
Emir, who commanded the Perucche Knights, ran to his aid; Tigre accepted it gratefully.
Tigre led the Unstoppable Silver Flow[Silver Meteor Army], the Zhcted Army, and the various aristocrats cooperated with him to visit Perucche fortress.
In a room deep inside the castle, six people sat around a table.
They were Tigre, Ellen, Lim, Mira, and Massas.
The sixth person had golden hair cut to an even length to her shoulders and clear azure eyes. She had neat features and appeared slightly tense. She felt a little unreliable compared to the other women.
Her name was Regin. She was raised as a Prince named Regnas; she was the Princess of Brune.
However, the people who knew she was a Princess were few in number. It would be a source of trouble for the Unstoppable Silver Flow[Silver Meteor Army].
“--- The troops have prepared for departure. We can leave tomorrow if you are so inclined.”
Massas, with his stout body wrapped in cloth, solemnly reported as he looked at everyone. This old Knight acted as a mediator to the aristocrats and Knights who recently offered their cooperation to Tigre.
To be accurate, there was no other option. The army was made in haste. There were Knights and aristocrats who stood up in this chaotic state, calling for movement against Dukes Thenardier and Ganelon due to their displeasure with the current situation.
Those against Thenardier and Ganelon were cooperating with Tigre because they could not support the large aristocrats. Though they had offered their services, they followed Tigre because of their mistreatment.
Furthermore, there were not only Brune citizens but members from Zhcted in the encampment, divided into the LeitMeritz Army led by Ellen and the Olmutz Army led by Ludmira.
Standing above them all was a young 16 year old man. Until as recent as six months ago, he was an Earl of a distant territory who led one hundred men at the most.
There were people beside Massas who praised Tigre's individual ability and courage and followed after him. Viscount Augre and Auguste of the Calvados Knights, as well as Shaie of the Lutece Knights, Emir and the leader of the Perucche Knights, Leonard did as well.
However, there were still too few people.
It was because of Massas' dignity and insight that the Silver Meteor Army had yet to collapse.
“How many soldiers?”
“We have four thousand Knights from Brune. With the Zhcted Army, we have an additional six thousand infantry and three thousand cavalry.”
Massas responded to Regin's question politely, unable to remove his attitude as a retainer.
Hearing the numbers from the old Earl, Ellen threw a questioning look to Mira. The three thousand cavalry came from the LeitMeritz Army alone.
“Three hundred of my men have returned to Olmutz. We were not originally prepared for a long-term expedition.”
Mira answered as if it were natural. Ellen frowned; the three hundred that returned were acting more as Mira's bodyguards, originally.
“It would be nice if you went home as well.”
Ellen laughed bitterly, her mouth smiling sarcastically.
“That would be impossible. I am here as an inspector, after all.”
“I don't recall asking for one.”
Though Ellen retorted in disappointment, she continued to frown and fold her arms. Unable to comprehend the two, Tigre looked to Lim for help. She quietly looked back at him.
“Eleanora-sama, when you report to His Majesty on the progress of this war, any lies or misconduct will be pointed out by an inspector. Because it is well known you are on poor terms with Ludmira-sama, she is the perfect person for this position.”
“Is it really that big a problem?”
“There have been examples in the past where inspectors who were intimate with the person in question were accused of lying.”
To be more concrete, there was an example of embezzling war funds. Should the Commander win the inspector over, he could split the profits in return for a favorable evaluation. It was not unusual to think such things might happen, so an individual typically not on good relations with the person in question was chosen.
Tigre seemed convinced. Regin, to his right, looked doubtful.
“So in total, we have thirteen thousand... There seem to be more soldiers in this castle, though.”
Massas nodded to the Princess in light surprise.
“It is as Her Highness says. If we include the soldiers in this fortress and exclude Lord Ludmira's men, there is a total of seventeen thousand; however, considering those required to defend the castle and accounting for food, fuel, armor, and a variety of supplies, we cannot take them all.”
“Indeed... I understand. Please continue.”
Massas unrolled a map of Brune on the table.
“Even if we give the word to leave, it will take at least seven days before we can actually depart from this fortress.”
“There are two reasons.”
Lim opened her mouth in response to Massas' words.
“The first reason is due to the battle between Duke Thenardier and Duke Ganelon. According to our information, they began fighting near the capital, but Duke Thenardier was forced to retreat many times. At present, they are near Nemetacum.”
“Who is leading their armies? Who are acting as their eyes?”
Ellen asked from the side as Lim was pointing to the map. Massas stroked his beard and shook his head.
“A man called Steid is commanding Duke Thenardier's Army, and he is a close aide. Marquis Greast is commanding Duke Ganelon's Army. He is also very close to Lord Ganelon.”
“Greast... That man.”
Tigre and Ellen recalled the man from memory. Before their battles with the Black Knight Roland, he appeared on behalf of Ganelon.
Ellen in particular had a sharp expression.
“He seems quite carefree with Muozinel Army attacking, or did Duke Ganelon know this and move his soldiers then?”
A cold emotion was visible in Mira's blue eyes. Massas nodded in assent.
“That is most likely. The Muozinel Army moved its troops by land and by sea. Tigre... Earl Vorn repulsed their ground troops while Duke Thenardier fought off their navy.”
“Duke Thenardier's influence is spread throughout the southern part of Brune, centered around Nemetacum. Duke Ganelon decided to make a large move, attacking what remained from Muozinel's invasion. He was exploiting that.”
Tigre had mixed feelings hearing Lim and Massas' explanation.
--- I unwittingly helped Duke Thenardier...
He had fought, and Muozinel's ground troops had retreated, but it was in no way irrelevant compared to the battle at sea. Since it was still a part of Duke Thenardier's lands, he would have fought both the forces on land and at sea.
“With the Muozinel Army gone, Thenardier will focus on Duke Ganelon's attack. There is no reason we need to appear there.”
Massas pointed to the map as he spoke. It was a basic strategy to wait for the enemy to fall or to finish him off when weakened.
“The second reason?”
Lim responded to Tigre's question.
“When the Muozinel Army withdrew, they praised you, Lord Tigrevurmud. Afterward, they made your activities known to the public of Brune Kingdom.”
“So the fight between Thenardier and Ganelon will prolong in the confusion with the appearance of Tigre as a third force.”
Massas looked bitter. The current situation was a provocation to the old Knight.
Though Tigre had rapidly been established as a third force, it would only add to the unfavorable criticism of being a weak family of nobles who brought in the Zhcted Army for aid.
On the other hand, both Thenardier and Ganelon governed the rich lands of Nemetacum and Lutetia and had the power to mobilize many people.
Tigre could barely manage to gather ten thousand soldiers while they could find double that without much trouble.
“Could my name play a role?”
Regin asked with a slightly regretful expression. Though alive, everyone thought she had died in the battle at Dinant, and outside the people present, only a few knew she was actually a woman. Though she lived as the Prince, she was a woman.
“Though we have a plan for that, we decided not to use it.”
Ellen spoke as if it were a trivial issue. Regin asked her more out of curiosity.
“I thought you wished to let others know a member of the Royal Family was with you.”
When it was revealed that the method to prove Regin was a Princess was in Artishem, it was Ellen who brought up the idea of spreading the knowledge.
“It's too naïve a plan.”
She responded curtly with disappointment. Regin frowned in embarrassment and turned to Tigre for help. Seeing that, Massas cleared his throat.
“If I may be so presumptuous as to explain---”
“Lord Massas, allow me to explain.”
Interrupting the old Earl's words, Tigre turned to Regin with a bright expression. Though it was unpleasant, he felt it necessary to explain with his own logic.
“Since the Muozinel Army retreated, ever since we came to this fortress from Ormea Plains... I have spoken to many of the aristocrats, Knights, and merchants.”
Being careful to not demean himself, Tigre continued his words.
“Many have their reasons for coming to this fortress. Some recognized my fight against the Muozinel Army, and others came to fight for my cause. Even so, I understand... I have yet to earn their trust.”
Regin looked at him with her blue eyes.
“I brought the Zhcted Army within the country and have been stripped of my title. There are many who wish to see what kind of person I am.”
At first, Tigre did not realize this, but after speaking to Lim and Massas, he began to choose his words carefully.
“If I announced to them in this situation that I would like to go to Artishem, they would be suspicious. They would not follow my lead.”
As Ellen had said, it was a naïve plan.
The strategy they had considered was as follows.
First, they would publicly announce Regin's presence and move toward Artishem. Naturally, Ganelon and Thenardier would temporarily ally themselves and move their soldiers forward in order to silence Regin.
Though the two would ally, they were initially at odds with one another. They would have problems and, even if their combined army was two, or three times the strength, they could take advantage of the disorganization.
However, the strategy had the major premise that they allied with one another.
It also depended on the aristocrats and Knighthoods not having ulterior motives and trusting Tigre, even with any potential speculation.
However, the current situation was not like that.
If the one who betrayed his country and brought in the Zhcted Army into his country were to claim the deceased Prince was with him, it would only look like he brought in a girl with a similar appearance...
This gossip would run rampant in the military and would only drive their will to fight away.
“Given our situation, it is best we save your name for a later time.”
“... Later time?”
Though Regin looked downcast in sorrow, she looked up upon hearing Tigre's words.
“When we emerge victorious. To make it a more positive thing, we will use Your Highness' name.”
Regin looked at the face of the young man for a while and sat down like a child.
“I understand. I was relying on you in the first place, so I will leave the decision to you.”
“Thank you, Your Highness. However – though it may be contradictory for me to say this now – It could be possible... we may need to claim that that we are [Protecting a Woman from the Royal Family] sooner...”
Should Thenardier and Ganelon learn of Regin, they may claim [Tigrevurmud Vorn has given shelter to a certain member of the Royal Family and has concealed it for his own self-interests]. If that is exposed, no matter what excuse he might give, it would not be accepted.
“We cannot just hide it, but it is dangerous to conceal it as well. It is a difficult situation...”
“I will do my best so harm does not befall you.”
Massas looked at Tigre with concern as he smiled toward the Princess so she would not worry. It was clear he would not expose the Princess, but there was another reason Tigre did not tell her.
Regin was a powerful weapon.
--- She is actually a Princess, yet she has lived as the Prince until now. That alone is enough to shake the people...
Her name would have the powerful ability to gain political or military powers, and they could use it to show Thenardier and Ganelon's lack of loyalty.
For example, if Roland's assassination by Ganelon was known to Regin, Massas may have strongly recommended revealing her identity because it would be needed to maintain the calmness of the people afterward.
Of course, he would have done this for sure if he and Augre had been unable to successfully repel the Muozinel Army with Tigre.
So long as the allies did not fall into confusion, it would be a large advantage for them.
However, they had to use all their pieces effectively. Even the present condition was a blessing compared to what they had a few months ago.
Soon afterward, the war council ended.
To conceal Regin's position, it was necessary to limit her contact with others as much as possible.
In Perucche Castle, there were many Knights and aristocrats. Naturally, there would be people who recognized Regnas' face. If they followed their intuition, they might have discovered something upon seeing Regin.
Because of this, she stayed deep within the castle and rarely left the room provided for her, and Regin did not seem to have positive interactions with others.
With that said, she could not be left alone as the Princess of a nation. The duty to take care of her personal effects was left to Teita.
When Regin's identity was revealed to her, Teita was greatly surprised and clung to Tigre out of anxiety and tension.
“Tigre-sama... I can't handle such an important task.”
“I thought you might say that. It would be difficult on you, after all. Certainly, you have had little opportunity to meet other aristocrats, let alone someone of the Royal Family.”
Tigre smiled bitterly and pat the head of Teita who had stood completely stiff. The maid with chestnut hair gently watched him as he continued to speak.
“But if it's you, I don't think I need to worry much. Even if she is the Princess, in this situation, you do not need to treat her as such. Please take care of her as you have taken care of me. If there are any problems, I'll find some way to deal with it.”
He hugged Teita and lightly tapped her back to ease her mind. Teita made her decision then.
In fact, there had not been any problems since they began living in the fortress. Regin was quiet and doll-like. Though she quietly asked Teita to do a few small things for her, Teita carried them out sincerely but in a way that would not bother her.
At this time, Teita was wiping Regin's body. The Princess was currently sitting naked on the carpeted floor with her back to the maid who was squeezing hot water out of the cloth in her hand.
In the room was a simple bed and a desk and chair. A candlestick was burning to provide light. With the simplicity of the accommodations, one would not think her to be the Princess of this very country.
--- She looks used to this...
Teita thought a variety of things after seeing the Princess acting so calmly.
To the man on the street, a bath was a costly recreation. Usually they would squeeze hot water out of cloth and wipe their body. Teita, as a maid, took efforts to keep her body clean, but she had rarely entered a bath.
Having enough firewood to heat up enough water to fill a tub was a luxury offered at festivals which came one, two times a year.
However, there were facilities in large cities where hot water was collected and people could soak their bodies, the so called public bath house. Rich merchants and aristocrats would head there on a daily basis to cleanse themselves. Of course, such a facility would be present in the Royal Palace.
“--- Teita... was it?”
With her name suddenly called, Teita's shoulders shook in surprise. She tried to answer, but only a small sound left her. She made a mistake without realizing it.
While Teita was crimson and panicking, the white back of the Princess gradually began to shake. It seems she was laughing quite a lot.
“You do not need to be so surprised. I simply wished to express my gratitude to you. I apologize that I have so little to offer you for helping me today.”
“There, there is no need for such a thing...”
Teita shook her head vigorously, having heard such unthinkable words. It was not simply because of what she said, but because it was the Princess who said them; she realized it may have been impolite to refuse. While Teita was conflicted over this, Regin spoke in a quiet voice.
“I have heard you served Earl Vorn for many years.”
“Ah, yes. Um, I have served Tigre-sama since I was 11, so it has been four years now.”
“Tigre...? Come to think of it, others refer to him in such a way...”
Regin looked baffled. Teita briefly described the origin of his name. Regin listened happily as she learned Tigre shortened his name because it was troublesome otherwise.
“Do you mind telling me more about him? It does not matter if it is something trivial. I wish to know more about the person who is lending his power to me.”
Though the latter half of her words were spoken as though she was giving an excuse, Teita did not mind. She was simply happy that the Princess liked him.
“I see, that's right. Well then, three years ago...”
While Teita told the Princess stories, the two became friends.
Lutetia, which Duke Ganelon governed, was located in the northern part of Brune.
It was known for its cool climate, and apples were grown instead of grapes.
Though the wine produced in Brune was widely considered to be delicious, even in neighboring countries, cider was brewed so as not to be outdone. Its slight acidity and exquisite sweetness left a cooling sensation in the throat. Some said it was better than the wine.
Charon Anquetil Greast let out a small breath while drinking apple cider in Lutetia.
He was a man in his early twenties. The color of fatigue blurred the young noble's face, and his normally straight hair had fallen into disorder. Mud was blotted about his luxurious silk clothing.
“Though I just returned from ten days of backbreaking work on the battlefield, this feels rather rewarding on its own.”
Across the walnut table, sitting opposite to Greast was a man the size of a 14 or 15 year old child. He wore a silk hat over his bald head and fine, ornate clothing. Though his eyes were large, his eyelids were small.
The man's name was Maximilian Bennusa Ganelon. He was one of the great powers of Brune alongside Duke Thenardier.
Ganelon's residence was located in Artishem, the capital of Lutetia. It was decorated by fine furniture handcrafted by famous artisans. Even Greast could not help but let out a breath of admiration, even when he was uninterested in such things.
Greast and Ganelon held crystal cups with jewels embedded within.
“Though I am certain it was hard, was it difficult to sleep in the carriage for so long?”
While drinking the apple cider, Ganelon smiled thinly. Greast responded with his own wry smile as he placed his cup on the table. At that moment, the smile disappeared from his face.
“So what did you want? You ordered me to return at once.”
Several days ago, Greast had reached Nemetacum in southern Brune.
Ganelon entrusted command of the troops to him. He had aggressively confronted Thenardier's troops from the vicinity of the King's Capital until he drove them back to Nemetacum.
He roughly understood Steid's, the Commander of Thenardier's Army, personality and how he would move his soldiers. He would have buried him in the next battle.
However, a messenger from Ganelon came to him while he was ordering his troops to march. He was told to [Wait for the Occasion. Have the soldiers remain on standby and return to Artishem at once, even if a single koku early].
Though Greast was given permission to lead the soldiers, and he was about to begin a pleasant campaign, in the end, he only commanded them under Ganelon's permission. Above all, it was not his place to act against orders against the Duke.
“There have been a few interesting things happening recently.”
Ganelon took a sip of the apple cider in the crystal cup before speaking once again.
“First of all, the [Bow] has been used. It seems it is currently in Tigrevurmud Vorn's possession.”
Even Greast let out a small sound of admiration.
--- How unusual for this country. To think he would be a user of that bow...
Greast had not seen Tigre's bow. When he was at the meeting representing Ganelon, Tigre naturally did not have his weapon. In the battle afterward, Greast had quickly left the battlefield.
--- I had heard he repulsed the Muozinel Army to the southeast... Could that have been because of the power of the [Bow]?
As soon as he began thinking that, Greast quickly shook the thought away.
--- If that were so, Kreshu would not have spread word of his success. If he becomes stronger by relying on the power of his bow, he would be easy to get rid of. For now, I will withhold my judgment.
The gray-haired Marquis knew of the [Bow] because Ganelon had taught him. Even so, he still did not have a clear picture of it.
“The second issue is... The girl has fallen into Earl Vorn's hands.”
He referred to Regin. Greast tilted his neck.
“Like I thought, we should have killed her ourselves.”
“If we made a move, Thenardier would have seen through it long ago. That man has a keen sense of smell. It is precisely because we have kept our distance that this ended without him realizing the lass is alive. Still, I must admit I played around too much.”
Ganelon brought his hand to the scruff of his neck. His attitude and voice sounded as if he had committed a trivial blunder.
The means to prove she was a Princess lay in Artishem. Regin was the daughter of King Faron. Ganelon had not killed her thinking he would have the opportunity to use her some day.
Also, Regin was an opponent Ganelon thought little of. She had little credibility, and her origins acted as a large shackle to restrict her movements. That is why he underestimated her.
The timing for Muozinel's invasion was also bad. During that time, Ganelon's subordinates lost sight of Regin.
“Really, Faron did a troublesome thing.”
Ganelon smiled bitterly as he called the King without any honorary titles. It was an unusual thing.
“Most likely, he was not going to make her succeed the throne. He was probably building her reputation up and concocted some plan to have her appear ill so she could live in the monastery. He would be able to defend the honor of his daughter and her mother.”
“So what is Earl Vorn planning to do with her?”
“He is most likely looking for an opportunity. Also, I thought you heard this on your way back, but Drekavac has sent the Dragon to Thenardier.”
He spoke, once again, without any sign of tension. Greast misinterpreted this and made a mild complaint.
“Regrettably, I was unable to see it. I have only heard rumors that it is a Gara DovaDouble Headed Dragon.”
“I apologize about that. Do you have any method of killing the Dragon?”
“I'll borrow your head. Do you have an idea, Your Excellency?”
Greast did not respond eagerly as he spoke to Ganelon. The bald Duke with a small body placed his crystal cup on the table and opened his right hand. A miniature sculpture of a Dragon's head was in his palm.
“I have only heard of five – no, six Double Headed Dragons. To think one would appear here.”
A chill went down Greast's backbone as Ganelon responded with a smile. The marquis with gray hair understood the meaning of Ganelon's gesture.
He crushed the Dragon's head in his hand. Ganelon had done so in all seriousness. Greast knew well enough that Ganelon could do this easily if he had the urge to. At the same moment, Greast guessed what Ganelon had in mind for the future.
“What will you do in the future, Your Excellency?”
“I wonder what I should do. Although the situation seems like a deadlock, Thenardier has a Dragon, and Vorn has the [Bow] and the Vanadis, while I have nothing.”
“It will be your victory if you can bring the two together to fight.”
It was not flattery; Greast seriously believed so. He had no confidence of winning against Thenardier and Tigre, even with more soldiers.
“Aside from Thenardier, Vorn...”
Drinking up the apple cider in his crystal cup, Ganelon shook his head. “There is a chance here. Unlike that frog who eats gold, if the [Bow] or the ViraltDragonic Tool is destroyed, they can't be recovered, and I do not know what Vorn plans to do right now. I would like to get the bow in my grasp---”
While pouring new cider into his crystal goblet, Ganelon continued regretfully.
“I've roughly accomplished my goals here. There is no specific reason for me to remain.”
Greast finally understood. Ganelon had no interest in the throne. Though he may have had some interest in the person in question, he was simply competing with Thenardier to kill time.
“I now understand who has the [Bow]. I would like to see him, so it would be a waste if Drekavac killed him. Then again, he took care of Durandal's user. If he comes here, it would only become troublesome.”
“Is there a possibility of finding a new user for Durandal?”
“As it is, it is only a large sword. I do not think anyone will come for at least another one or two years. I do not believe people from other countries can use it.”
Greast understood what Ganelon was thinking.
“Burn him. I leave the command to you.”
“This is like Roland. It was flashy, but had a hidden purpose.”
The marquis with gray hair spoke his thoughts. Ganelon's cruel method of killing Roland using the bee prison was truly done to kill the user of Durandal.
If Roland had not been able to manipulate Durandal, Ganelon may not have killed him. Since no one realized Ganelon had killed him, it was publicized to be a murder performed in madness.
Ganelon smiled hearing Greast's words.
“Please carry my entire fortune out of Artishem. Bring the soldiers to the south and fight Thenardier's soldiers. We will make it seem like I set fire to Artishem in my madness.”
“... Do you think they will believe this?”
Greast looked doubtful. Ganelon's abnormality was known amongst the aristocrats.
“It is fine if it is only a rumor. The truth will be difficult to find if there is any reason to doubt it. Even if this city burns, Regin will come. Thenardier will learn of her existence, but he will not be able to act.”
--- Tens of thousands will face each other in the ruined city, is it?
Greast imagined a gruesome, ugly spectacle and smiled in excitement.
“So you will hide and wait for it to end. What will happen afterward?”
“As soon as Thenardier has declared victory, we will collect the [Bow] and Durandal. If Vorn wins, then I will move to another country. Right now, perhaps Asvarre or Zhcted would be best... Well, I will think of it when the time comes.”
Ganelon's attitude was akin to a child who happily looked forward to a trip.
“That's right. Let's assume there are many traps underground. I would like to see if Regin has exhausted all her luck simply by finding Vorn.”
Ganelon hit his hands as if he had come up with something. Greast looked doubtful.
“Do you plan to appear then?”
“This won't take much effort. I'll do it. I wonder what will happen...”
Hearing Ganelon's thoughts, Greast looked on in dissatisfaction.
--- It's a bad habit of his. In order to enjoy himself, he does things that lack certainty...
However, that was very much like Ganelon. Greast planned the next steps, one after another, after coming up with an idea.
Greast suddenly recalled, while forming his plans, something he had forgotten.
“What will you do with King Faron?”
Greast did not call the King without his title, like Ganelon, but his tone held no respect.
“After Your Excellency leaves the King's Capital, after a number of days pass, that should take effect...”
“--- Leave it.”
Ganelon spoke as if he was talking about a broken toy.
“I have left instructions in the palace to have him drink everything, but it will be done in small amounts. As you said, it will take some time, probably around ten days... However, it is already too late. His flesh and blood aside, it has already seeped into his bones.”
A violent smile appeared on Ganelon's face.
“He will realize it when he wakes up after many days. He may think that man's motive is to crush a troublesome aristocrat. How sweet it will be.”
After emptying the crystal cup he played with, Ganelon laughed, looking at his reflection in the chalice.
“I will not allow any blade that may turn against me to remain.”
It was at the same time as when Ganelon and Greast were speaking cheerfully to each other.
In Montauban, a few days south of Artishem, Thenardier had caused a one-sided slaughter.
Montauban was a grassland which spread north of Nemetacum. Though it was very flat, there was a river and a few hills. It was a suitable place for large armies to confront one another.
Since the Thenardier Army, led by Steid, clashed with Ganelon's Army back near the King's Capital, they had continued to lose. They finally began to fight back. In these vast plains, Thenardier's twenty-five thousand strong army fought against Ganelon's army of thirty thousand people.
The Ganelon Army dispersed, having just encountered an overwhelming defeat.
The plains burst into flames in various places due to the fires vomited by the PraniFire Drake. The grass, which was sparse in the dead of winter, was now completely burnt away. If it were spring or summer, it is possible all of Montauban would have been wrapped in flames.
Amongst the men, five small mountains moved about the land.
They were covered with scales, sharp fangs, and claws. They were large Dragons which towered over all else. Five Dragons fiercely attacked the Ganelon Army. Despite their swords and spears, the enemy was crushed.
The soldiers were turned to lumps of flesh, the ground was red and black, covered in blood and brains. The Ganelon Army had already collapsed. The tough scales of the Dragons were impervious to any blade, and a simple movement could cause a human to be crushed underfoot, bone, flesh, and all.
The horses cried in fear, and every time they were approached by a beast, they were broken and thrown about. Corpses littered the meadow.
Even the officers and men of the Thenardier Army who fought on the victorious side had chills down their spine seeing the tragic spectacle. The only ones not to move a single eyebrow were Duke Thenardier and his aide, Steid.
Felix Aaron Thenardier looked at the battle from his horse. He was tall and had broad shoulders and a thick chest. His rugged face held sharp eyes. He was a man of 42 years.
He had fought off the Muozinel Army in the sea to the south. After driving them back, he went north, stopping only to receive the Dragons from Drekavac, and to meet up with Steid in Montauban to fight the Ganelon Army.
The war began in the winter morning and ended before day's end.
The sun had not even approached its peak. The meadow was bathed in sunlight. Innumerable corpses and massive amounts of blood littered the ground, while small flames and black smoke colored the sky.
Thenardier silently looked over the field.
In his head, the next fight had already begun.
Three thousand from Ganelon's Army were killed in battle.
One thousand were eaten by the Dragons, and one thousand more died. The final one thousand were trampled to death as their allies ran away.
Though it may seem ridiculous, it was quite close at the time. While the Dragons would eat men whole, there were already a considerable amount dead before they arrived.
When the men of the Ganelon Army saw the Dragons, they turned to retreat.
The soldiers who ran away numbered six thousand. The number who surrendered to Thenardier's Army numbered more than twenty thousand.
In comparison, the damage to the Thenardier Army was negligible. The number dead was fewer than five hundred, while the number injured was three thousand at the most.
There was a feast held on a hill to the north of Montauban to celebrate their victory. The aristocrats following Thenardier visited his tent one after another. Thenardier nodded in appreciation and then asked a question.
“--- What do you think is the cause of this upcoming war?”
There were roughly two answers.
“It is probably a result of your brilliant command.”
“Really, to think you have Dragons. I cannot believe you have such uncontrollable monsters fighting for you.”
Their praise for Thenardier was mixed with fear of the Dragons. They would not make any unnecessary remarks before Thenardier after the five Dragons planted such a strong impression in them.
As the night grew old, the feast drew to a close. Thenardier left his tent and looked at the silver crescent moon floating in the sky, illuminating the darkness with its brilliance. He felt the lukewarm wind.
“Where are you going, Your Excellency?”
When the lookout looked at him curiously, the baffled soldier continued to speak curtly.
“I am prepared to receive punishment, your Excellency, but please refrain from careless actions.”
“Please return to your tent.”
Ignoring the soldiers looking at him, Thenardier walked away. Though many guards saw Thenardier, they could only watch him with impatience and confusion as he moved away.
After he passed through countless gazes in the encampment, after walking a short distance away, he was in an area full of soil.
It was a moat used to buy time for if a Dragon broke free. Inside were rare Dragons surrounded by double fences and many layers of earth. Rather than protecting them, they were built to protect the humans outside.
From a floating bridge crossing the moat, Steid appeared with torch in hand from the darkness. He remained expressionless as usual and carried a sword at his waist.
“What is it, Your Excellency?”
“I wish to see the Dragons.”
He answered naturally. Steid followed quickly behind Thenardier.
They passed a second moat and the fences. Thenardier and Steid advanced quickly under the light of the moon and the stars as well as the torch held in Steid's hand.
Soon after they passed the second moat, they came into view of a large tent which housed the Dragons.
Beyond the moats, only two humans, Thenardier and Steid, existed.
Chains were wrapped around the Gara DovaDouble Headed Dragon which was held down by stakes driven deep into the earth. Most Dragons would not be stopped by something like this, but it relieved some of the soldiers' anxieties.
Under the large tent, which was the size of twenty tents used by the soldiers, within a fence, all the Dragons woke up and gazed at Thenardier and Steid as they approached.
“Steid. They really are like cats.”
Thenardier suddenly said those words. His right hand man with fair hair, who had been expressionless until then, showed surprise on his face. The Duke continued to speak without turning around.
“No need to be afraid. They will not just eat you in a moment.”
“... Thank you for the consideration.”
Thenardier looked at the Double Headed Dragon in the back of the tent. Its overwhelming form clearly showed it was not an existence that could be stood up to by trivial creatures like man. Its four eyes shined brightly in the darkness as it looked down at Thenardier in apathy.
It turned its heads to a bloody mound of meat on the floor. Steid divided it and set it before the two heads.
Thenardier stood at the foot of the Double Headed Dragon, his hand placed on its thick scales. Though the Double Headed Dragon remained motionless, the sound of black chains rang throughout.
“Steid. What do you think is the reason for our victory today?”
Thenardier asked Steid a question while confirming the feeling beneath his palm.
“It was the Dragon's strength and the enemy's poor movements.”
Thenardier's loyal subject answered in that manner.
“Though I don't understand the reason, Marquis Greast was suddenly ordered to return to Lutetia. The enemy's movements were dull because of that.”
He explained the reasons to Steid as he recalled the battle.
Ganelon's army was deployed in the fields of Montauban in a faithful manner. Thirteen thousand were in the center, seven thousand on each flank, and two thousand in the rear.
It was not necessarily wrong. When fighting in a plain without many troughs and crests, they would fight them head on with their superior numbers.
Thenardier, on the other hand, had a similar setup; however, he had five thousand in the center, six thousand in reserve, and seven thousand on each wing. Furthermore, the reserve troops was far behind the main force.
The five Dragons were located between the central unit and the reserve forces.
When the fight began, the Ganelon Army fiercely broke through the center, since it was five thousand against thirteen thousand. The troops to the left and right were naturally holding the rest of Thenardier's Army off as they broke through.
The five thousand troops that made the core of the troops could not stand against Ganelon's numbers and threw their arms aside. They ran away and scattered. The Ganelon Army turned to aid its other units, most likely trying to end the battle early.
After their first victory near the King's Capital, the Ganelon Army remained on the offensive. Thenardier's Army continued to retreat ungracefully and were accustomed to moving back.
The moment they had pushed through the center, the Dragons were simultaneously released and they attacked the Ganelon soldiers. Six roars were sounded through the air, drowning out the screams of humans.
The thirteen thousand Ganelon soldiers fell into a state of panic and retreated. Both the flanks also began to surrender.
In addition, there was a group blocking the path of retreat of the Ganelon Army. It was the six thousand strong reserve force. As soon as the fight began, Steid commanded them to move around the outskirts of the battlefield.
This was the bet Thenardier made when using the Dragons.
“If Marquis Greast commanded the men today, we may very well have been defeated.”
Steid said those words. If the Ganelon Army was under Greast's command, they would have moved and acted more carefully. It was also because they moved poorly during their retreat that Thenardier was able to take advantage of them.
“Greast would have cut off our path of retreat earlier on if he were in charge.”
Steid became silent, supporting Thenardier's words. His humility was somewhat unsatisfactory for Thenardier. Though he was an excellent man who stood out above other aristocrats, he was unable to think of a plan or two when using Dragons.
“Steid. I have told you many times that it is natural for the excellent and powerful to stand above others. We need to clearly show our strength every once in a while to show the world our superiority.”
Steid answered indifferently. It was a conversation frequently exchanged between the two. Thenardier sighed in his mind, hearing Steid's usual response, and continued to speak.
“If you were leading, how would you deal with the Dragons?”
Steid quickly responded. By melee, he meant he would bring friend and foe together, preventing the enemy from using the Dragons.
“And what if they retreat?”
“I will not allow them to retreat. If they try, I would use that opportunity to pierce through their defenses and aim at the General.”
“Assume you are the General of my army and the enemy does this. What would you do in return?”
This time, Steid could not respond promptly. While he thought of a reply, Thenardier stood quietly, calmly touching the Dragon's scales.
His figure showed no signs of fear. There were many who disliked Thenardier, but even they would have to say he was bold.
“My son went to Alsace with two Dragons and died.”
He spoke of Zaien. Thenardier's voice was full of strong emotions. The Dragon moved its neck in response to it, while Steid found himself unconsciously stiffening up from the tension.
“Do not worry, Steid. I am calm.”
Steid was not a man who would be relieved simply with those words. He remained Thenardier's trusted confidante because he could keep his fear and doubt in check.
That is why he asked once again.
“Really, you still wish to do that? Tigrevurmud Vorn seems such an insignificant existence before Your Excellency.”
He avoided bringing up revenge.
Thenardier accepted Steid's words frankly. How unusual, he thought as he looked upon his superior's pale face. Thenardier continued to speak.
“I will not accept it unless I see it with my eyes. I don't know anything about that brat, but if he had no strength, he would have run out of luck long ago and died.”
Thenardier had gathered information on Tigre and Ganelon. He analyzed it and kept thinking on it. Of course, he knew of Tigre's activities.
“He lived through the Battle of Dinant. What's more, he came back to Brune with Zhcted's cooperation.”
He had been in one desperate fight after another since then. He swept away the bases in the Vosyes Mountains, defeated the assassins Thenardier hired, Repelled the Black Knight Roland and the Navarre Knighthood, and even pushed back the Muozinel Army.
After thinking that far, Thenardier remembered one more thing.
--- Rumor has it he's giving shelter to Regin...
He was not sure of the facts, but when he heard word that Tigre was protecting the daughter of the Royal Family, Thenardier felt an impact throughout his body, as if he were struck by lightning.
If he had been told Tigre was protecting the prince, he would have laughed it off.
However, Prince Regnas was, so to speak, a virtual image. Thenardier knew he was truly the Princess, Regin.
This small Earl from a frontier territory could not be made light of. Felix Aaron Thenardier knew he must bury the man. If he was left alone any longer, he would become a formidable enemy.
“The soldiers of Zhcted are strong, so it would be best to avoid having them fight against the Dragons. The soldiers of Alsace are out of the question. I wonder where we should attack.”
Though it was an abrupt change in topic, Steid understood immediately that he was talking about how to fight against Tigre.
On their side, the key to victory were their Dragons. For the enemy, it was the Vanadis.
“I heard from those that took part in battle that the Vanadis with a sword blew the Dragon away.”
--- I thought it was nonsense when I saw the report.
However, he could do nothing but consent, seeing the strength of a Dragon before him. Only a supernatural power would be able to destroy such a creature. It was not something Thenardier, Steid, or even those with superior military skills could handle.
Thenardier's hand stopped moving and he looked back at Steid. A cruel, cold passion dyed Thenardier's eyes, his violent face projecting through the darkness.
“Steid, Our next battle will be against Vorn. Prepare to take measures.”
A horse, one koku away, ran toward Perucche Castle. He saw the highway, his back to the forests and mountains. There were many small lakes and hunting villages in the region.
Tigre had heard of the area from the soldiers in the fortress, but only showed a tepid reaction when they spoke of it.
Before long, the day grew dark. Late at night, everyone would be asleep.
In a room deep in the castle, Tigre quickly changed his clothes and prepared his bow and arrows. He wrapped a cloth about his head so only his eyes were visible.
Batran, who had served him, would remain here and take care of Tigre's duties, saying Tigre was in poor condition and was resting.
--- If I leave the castle now, I'll get to the forest before dawn. I can walk around for a koku and come back before mid day.
Because they had been at Perucche Castle for ten days, he roughly knew its structure, and he had made preparations for it. Using a rope, he climbed out the window and landed on the ground. Carefully erasing his presence, Tigre made his way through the fortress. He had headed toward the back gate to the north and already had an excuse prepared. In his bosom was a letter signed by the General, Tigrevurmud Vorn; it had a seal, so it was the real thing. After all, he, the person in question, prepared it.
He entered a room with a chair and desk that had a window open to the back gate. However, as soon as he opened the window, Tigre heard a voice behind him.
“Where are you going so late at night?”
Hearing a cold voice cross examine him, Tigre cringed on reflex. The next voice he heard, however, had a mixture of laughter and amazement.
When he turned around, he saw Ellen and Lim standing before him. Ellen smiled cheerfully, and Lim appeared antisocial as usual.
“... How did you know?”
Ellen began explaining boastfully with her arms crossed.
“Lim noticed it. If you were going to slip out, you would use the back gate, and you would need to pass through this room. She's been pretty worried about you for the last few days. Honestly, she's ready to become a bride.”
“Wha... What are you saying, so suddenly!”
Hearing her Lord's thoughts, Lim's flat expression broke away immediately and became red. Tigre looked at Ellen and Lim, also embarrassed.
“Is it bad? Tigre may be a Brune person, but when he comes to live in Zhcted, it wouldn't be bad for him to find someone. Isn't it fine, it's not like you two are unfamiliar with each other's body, right?”
She spoke bluntly. Both Tigre and Lim were at a loss for words.
Lim had seen Tigre when he was bathing once before, and Lim's clothes were removed when Tigre sucked out the poison from her body.
Tigre gazed at Lim. Because she was typically stone faced, her panic seemed refreshing.
Perhaps misunderstanding Tigre's gaze, Lim looked at him angrily and covered her chest as she remembered what had happened before.
Tigre opened his mouth to clear up the misunderstanding, but he could not think of anything appropriate to say. This, of course, had the opposite effect.
After watching the two for a while, Ellen turned to Tigre and smiled gently.
“Don't let it trouble you too much.”
Tigre bowed obediently. It would not do for the General to lose himself to his desires and go hunting late at night.
“All right. Let's go, then.”
Ellen cheerfully said goodbye as she waved to him. Tigre turned around vacantly.
“I can't say hunting is useful right now, but I'm sure you need a good walk to clear your mind. Also, I'll go with you... and sorry for what I said.”
Ellen walked away with a gentle smile as she left. Lim walked quietly after her, and, Tigre, after panicking, followed the two.
The three walked to the back gate. The night wind blew, making Tigre duck his head on reflex.
Countless stars and the moon could be seen in the sky. Due to the dark clouds in the sky, there were more along the horizon.
Tigre walked down the road using the moonlight and the stars to light his way. The air was still cold, even as the end of winter approached.
--- It's been a long time since I felt like this.
Tigre realized how at ease he felt simply walking through the darkness. With the Muozinel Army's invasion, the situation had not settled down until today. He had had no spare time since then.
What Tigre would do could very well influence the entire country, and the future battle could also influence Zhcted. Without him realizing, many emotions had accumulated.
“To think I would ally with a Vanadis.”
Tigre spoke in a tone akin to a monologue, but he spoke to Ellen rather than himself. She kneeled only before her King and had the power to slaughter a Dragon. How much pressure was placed upon a Vanadis?
“The only one you could sincerely trust was Lim. The vassals led by your predecessor were all excellent, and though I supported you, it was selfish of me to not notice your burden immediately. Really, you've worked so hard.”
Ellen looked at Tigre with gentle eyes.
“The burden you bear is not something I can take, but I can give you support. Lim and I, and Teita as well, so just hold on a little longer.”
“--- That's right. I'll hold off on the fun a little longer.”
After that, Tigre gave his thanks. He felt he must become stronger for the people supporting him.
Suddenly, the longsword at Ellen's waist blew a wind through her hair. The Vanadis with ruby eyes smiled bitterly. After combing her silver-white hair with her hand, she calmed the longsword by tapping its sheathe.
“Of course, this guy trusts you as well. Still, our first meeting was rather sudden.”
Her sword manipulated the wind, as if complaining about Ellen's words, complaining that it was not included.
Seeing Ellen and Arifal communicate with each other, Tigre turned his gaze to the black bow in his saddle. Knowing it was a family heirloom given to him at birth, he felt it eerie and avoided it as much as possible.
--- Ellen trusts Arifal. I wonder if I can trust this guy.
Complex emotions ran through his chest. He had relied on the bow's power many times, but Tigre did not trust it completely. Somewhere in his heart, he felt it was dangerous and feared it.
Although he did not feel the odd sensation he once had, he was unable to release his anger that the Goddess of Darkness, Tir na Fa, which had some relation to the bow, had possessed Teita.
--- Will I understand this bow before I head to LeitMeritz?
He tried to think about it again. Both Brune and Zhcted had a common religion. There may be a clue on Tir na Fa in Zhcted.
Unexpectedly, Ellen called his name out. The Vanadis looked back at Tigre with an earnest expression.
“Do you remember the words you told me the evening you decided to fight?”
It was the middle of autumn, and it was a night that changed Tigre's fate. He would change from prisoner to something else in a few days. Tigre wiped all idle thoughts from his head and nodded.
“In return for borrowing your soldiers, Alsace would become yours.”
“That's right. Just for the record, you're mine. Given your recent attitude toward Ludmira, it seems you've forgotten your position.”
After blatantly reminding him, Ellen stopped walking and looked at the night sky.
“If I obtain your territory, I will present it to the King. I was able to move my army on the premise that he would have any land I might receive. Alsace's grounds will be under direct control of the King's troops.”
“Though I have heard this before... Is the King of Zhcted good in governing his territories?”
In response to Tigre's question, Ellen smiled ironically.
“Basically, you will govern the territory yourself; however, that doesn't mean there won't be any restrictions. He may grant the Alsace to someone with distinguished services, depending on negotiations with Brune.”
Hearing an answer far from optimal, Tigre made a difficult face and looked at the ground. The light did not reach his feet, as if that very shadow was wrapping about Tigre's future.
He suddenly wondered why she began talking about this.
Suddenly, Ellen gazed straight at Tigre.
“It's a good opportunity, so I'll keep talking.”
Tigre had been wondering since that day. Ellen had loaned her soldiers to him, but he did not know in what way she benefited from it.
With war came consumption of food and fuel. Armor, horses, men, all were lost. If she did not have something to gain, she would not have done all this.
Even looking back at all these past battles, even if Ellen gained control of Alsace, she would still be left with a large deficit.
“My aim was control over Vosyes. That was the only reason, at least at first.”
She spoke with a bitter smile. Tigre tilted his neck. Vosyes referred to the sequence of steep mountains which ran between Brune and Zhcted. There were a few trails and some places where bandits lived, but there was nothing particularly valuable.
“Let me change the topic for a bit. You know that tea Ludmira is always drinking? It comes from Muozinel. The merchants from Muozinel must first head through those mountains to enter Olmutz. The path is well maintained and the security is good.”
Ellen's smile disappeared. She continued without any sign of interest in her appearance.
“Draw a map in your head. When they leave Olmutz, where do they go?”
It was the Royal Capital of Zhcted Kingdom and the most prosperous city in the country, so merchants travel there.
“That's right. They don't go to LeitMeritz where I govern. Naturally, they would go to Silesia because the flow of money is good there. The market is crowded and there are products from many countries there, including Brune. I also direct merchants toward Silesia.”
When Ellen looked away from the sky, she folded her arms and looked at Tigre. Her red eyes looked at him in interest. Tigre, not knowing her intention, looked away in embarrassment. Lim, who had remained silent, came to his rescue.
“Lord Tigrevurmud. The other time, when Eleanora-sama rushed to Legnica, there were merchants from Brune and Asvarre who were visiting from across the sea.”
Hearing her words without explanation, Tigre ran through the map in his head once again. Merchants from Muozinel, Olmutz, Legnica...
He was startled. Tigre clapped his hands without thought. Ellen smiled upon seeing his reaction. The young Lord of Alsace turned to the Vanadis with silver-white hair to confirm his answer.
“Your purpose is to make Brune pay for a mountain path between Alsace and LeitMeritz through the Vosyes Mountains?”
Ellen smiled brightly. Apparently it was the correct answer.
“Not quite perfect, but you pass. My LeitMeritz is not poor, but the inflow of goods from other countries is inferior to the other territories.”
“Though merchants from the King's Capital visit LeitMeritz, the price is still higher compared to other lands, and we do not get much, either. Though, because of this, LeitMeritz has retained all its local cultures.”
Lim added with a gentle voice.
“This is a problem that has existed since the previous Vanadis. We've been keeping an eye on the mountain paths of Vosyes. If it's further maintained and security is improved, it will become the shortest path connecting Nice and Silesia.”
There must have been a reason it had remained untouched until then.
It takes money, time, and people for maintenance. Furthermore, the Vosyes Mountains were on the western edge of LeitMeritz, so the burden would be massive.
Since it was near the border, any attempts to maintain the highway would stimulate Brune. Since it was along the border, they would undoubtedly have doubts about being invaded.
“It won't go just because we think about it. Though I had thought about working on it for some time, well, it turned out the way it is.”
Ellen smiled bitterly.
“It isn't a war to obtain territory but a war to gain new ties.”
If Thenardier is defeated, his money would be used to maintain the paths across Vosyes. Of course, it would receive the official recognition of Brune Kingdom. This would be the cheapest way to have this done in comparison, though she would have to keep an eye out for obstructions and delays.
The King of Zhcted would also allow it. To keep an eye out on Brune, he would protect Alsace, which was under his direct control.
“Why did you wait until now to tell me?”
“Even if I told you before, I'm not sure if you would understand.”
Ellen responded as if unconcerned. Tigre shrugged his shoulders bitterly. Though she said it bluntly, he did not mind at all. He was sure he would not understand in those days where his eyes were only on Alsace.
“And more than anything – I just wanted you to know.”
Ellen said those words with her back turned to Tigre.
After that, they walked for a quarter koku and returned to the castle.
However, he had no chance to rest. Surprising information appeared unexpectedly.
“The scout who returned from Lutetia a short time ago reported that Artishem has been burnt... It has burned to the ground.”
Tigre was unable to understand his words for a moment. After taking three breaths, he finally understood and stood in stunned surprise.
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