Madan no Ou to Vanadis:Volume 06 Chapter 1
Chapter 1 - Emissary
A buck casually walked atop a mountain ridge with an arid wind whistling around it.
The creature stood head and shoulders above its brethren and its right horn grew in a bizarre shape. The beast looked repulsive and monstrous.
To the villagers living at the foothills, it was a monster to be feared. In broad daylight, the creature trampled their fields as it pleased and ate its fill of the crops before disappearing into the mountains.
They could not stop it. Those who dared to give chase, with hoes at the ready, were gored by its horns and suffered grievous wounds. Teams of seasoned hunters were sent to hunt it down. But this buck had a prodigious sense of smell, and leg strength beyond the norm. It saw through every trap and when the hunters drew close, it would leap across cliffs, jump atop the rocky crags, or simply slide down steep slopes to elude them. As a result, even after three days and nights they had not been able to take it down.
And yet one young man was now bringing his bow to bear on this creature.
He could not have seen more than twenty winters and was of average build. But if one espied the arm which peeked out from his sleeves, one could see that he was not lacking in training. There was vigor under his dark red locks and his gaze was keen as it focused on the buck.
From his hiding place in the crags below the stag’s ridge, there was a distance of about 300 alsin. Not a distance for a mere bow. If asked, any seasoned hunter would shake his head and advise to close in sixty, even seventy paces. What's more, this boy was also aiming against the grain of gravity, shooting from a low position to a higher one. A light breeze blew downhill from the ridge to the crag. With this, his approach and attack would be masked from his prey. Yet if he missed, this good fortune would have been in vain.
All this, the young man knew well. But he did not waver. He kept calm, notching a single arrow with an ease born of unceasing practice, following through until he had drawn the bow taut.
The wind ceased for just an instant. The young man, as though foreseeing this, let loose that arrow. It traced an arc through the sky and struck the stag in the neck.
It was an unerring blow, almost as if it was sucked in by some unknown force. And yet the beast did not cry out. Rather it turned and fled in the direction opposite to the young man.
At this, he at last showed consternation. “Looks like that huge frame wasn't just for show...”
Leaving his hiding spot he nocked another arrow as he made his way up the slope. It was not meant for the buck - in his mind, the hunt had been all but ended by his first strike. This arrow was meant for any surprises that might crop up along the way.
*Patata* The sound of flapping wings entered his ears as a creature the size of a large cat passed by his side.
But it was no cat. It was a dragon - its reptilian form was scaled bronze with a greenish hue from head to tail, with horns, coarse sharp teeth, and wings that reminded one of a bat. It flitted about freely, as though disregarding the young man that was its companion.
If they were on level ground, he might have traveled on equal pace with it. But as it was, he stood in the rough of the rocks, only able to smile bitterly at the departing form of the dragon.
Regulating his breathing carefully, he scaled the ridge-
-and was dumbfounded by what he saw.
The area where he had hidden before was naught but a barren rocky wasteland, and yet beyond the ridge sprawled a large forest, filled with trees, bark, and dense greenery.
“Well. It’s not that I can’t find it...but this is going to be a chore.”
He was hesitant to go down. But he could not simply leave the mountain. The villagers would remain uneasy if he merely told them ‘the beast has been taken care of’. He needed proof of his hunt.
“And I still need to find Lunie...”
Lunie, of course, was the dragon who had just left him behind. Thankfully, he knew that he needn’t worry. It was small, but it was a dragon nonetheless. No creature in the woods would dare attack it. And though it was now nowhere to be seen, it was likely that it had gone after the wounded buck.
Making his way down the slope, the young man took great care as he stepped into the thicket. There could be snakes about, and he didn’t want to risk snagging his clothes on the branches. Once past the thicket, the cold air wrapped around him as he stepped into the verdant woods. The sunlight was greatly dimmed by the undergrowth and some trees even snaked along the slope’s surface.
Indeed, there were few things worse than traversing through a forest infested by overgrown weeds and roots.
As he approached cautiously, another *patata* of wings flapping could be heard. He stopped and sure enough, out from deep within the forest’s gloom came Lunie. Recognizing him, the dragon whelp did an artful about-turn in mid-air and went back the way it came.
The young man gave chase and in less then ten paces, found himself standing before the fallen buck. It had long breathed its last, having bled enough from the wound on its neck to stain its fur-coat a deep crimson. Even so he did not relax - there were many tales of seemingly dead beasts using their last ounce of strength to rise up and bring their killers down with them in a rage. And judging from the distance between the ridge and the forest there was still a possibility that more wild beasts would come, having caught the scent of blood.
But Lunie seemed unwilling to humor his cautiousness, plonking itself unceremoniously onto the carcass and spat him with a look of impatience. ‘Hurry up’, it seemed to say.
The young man grimaced, but made no hurried move nonetheless. Slowly he crept up to the buck, making sure that there were no other creatures about. Only when he had been absolutely certain did he return the arrow to its quiver, before kneeling in front of the creature.
“Well done, Lunie,” he said, and at last flashed a genuine smile.
The young man’s name was Tigrevurmund Vorn.
Those close to him called him Tigre.
This year, he would be 17. Half a year had gone by since the day he left the land of his birth in Alsace to live in LeitMeritz, in the neighbouring country of Zhcted.
Tigre had initially thought to bring the buck down the mountain with him, but he’d happily given up on that thought upon realizing that the creature was heavy. Extraordinarily so at that.
So he hung the creature by its legs to a tree using a rope he’d prepared beforehand and prepared to dissect it.
Uncharacteristically, Lunie was curled up at his feet, but Tigre was not fooled. It was there only so it could get at the entrails that fell from the carcass at its convenience. It seemed rather eager to do so too, at that.
“Well, I guess I can only take the pelt back with me.” He definitely needed to bring the oddly-shaped horn back as proof of his success and that was no small amount of baggage to carry by itself. So, unfortunate though it was, he knew that apart from what he would eat, the rest had to be left behind. "Bones—those would work as proof too, but no, too heavy. Meat, it seems like I have to discard them all..."
Suddenly, he became aware of something rubbing against his trousers. As he looked down, he was chagrined to see Lunie stuffing a face full of blood and entrails into the bottom of his pants—its unique way of saying ‘More, please’. Well, nothing to be done about that. With a sigh, Tigre hefted his dagger, slicing off a few more pieces of meat for the hungry whelp.
By the time he actually finished the whole process, the sun had already reached its zenith. The removal of the horns had taken a large amount of time due to their size. He tied the pelt, still ringed with residual flesh and fats, with a rope of hemp, and put it into a backpack. Afterward, he washed his hands using the water in his canteen and got on to start a campfire. That done, he dug a trench, into which he dumped and buried the arbitrarily sized remains of the carcass.
While he was doing all this, Lunie, having eaten its fill, was lying asleep beside the campfire.
Half a year ago, when the breath of spring had only just begun its reign, Tigre had come to LeitMeritz. There, a chill wind still blew upon the plains, as a sign of Zhcted’s coming springtime, albeit late, when compared to his homeland Brune.
He had waited for the mountains of LeitMeritz to thaw before trekking across them, hoping to see with his own eyes the land he now lived in, to feel with his hands and feet its depths and heights—or so he claimed; in actuality all he simply wanted was to experience to the fullest the thrills of hunting in unknown terrain.
Interestingly, for all the interactions together during his time as a captive in the court, or even later as a guest commander, he had never once enjoyed Lunie’s favor. Rather, that honor was given by the dragon to his servant-girl, Teita. Yet it insisted on being by his side when he went hunting. It would even sit on the horse that Tigre rode on when he went hunting, insisting that it be brought along regardless.
And how did the silver-haired Vanadis, who was the whelp’s master, reply when asked for her opinion on this strange turn of affairs?
“This fellow is probably bored to tears from being cooped up in a world of stone walls, so if you would be willing to bring him along...”
She even tacked a joke onto the request, “Don’t go returning to the wild now...”
Though he was unwilling, it was impossible to refuse her. Not when she looked upon the dragon she petted with an expression of both affection and regret at her inability to satisfy its desire to fly freely in the skies. She wasn’t all that different from the dragon, Tigre realized. She too was a person who could not live and do as she pleased.
In any case, he had the excuse of studying the geography of LeitMeritz. Of course, he wasn’t just there to hunt. So he had ended up bringing Lunie along anyway. And it had exceeded all his expectations—well, at least his expectations for a companion in battle anyway, like during this buck hunt. The rest of the time, it did not display any such attitude. In fact, Tigre fully expected that it would start treating him akin to a roadside pebble once they got off this mountain.
A regrettable situation. But despite his disappointment, Tigre made no move to improve their working relationship. After all, this wasn’t a human he was dealing with. Lunie may still be just a stripling, but it was still a dragon.
---I can’t understand for the life of me why it follows me at all. Maybe for now I should keep my distance.
Tigre thought as he watched the dragon snoozing by the fireside.
And as he continued to keep watch, well fed on a meal of venison, his thoughts turned to the events that led up to the present day.
He was born as the heir to Earl Vorn of Alsace in the northwest of Brune. He had inherited the title, together with the stigma of being of the lowest rank of nobles in the land, at the tender age of 14 when his father succumbed to illness.
But his life would change on a battlefield at summer’s end.
At Dinant, the nations of Zhcted and Brune had clashed over the right to control the stream along the borders, and Brune had been defeated. Tigre had led a hundred men in that battle, and there he had encountered the commander-in-chief of Zhcted’s forces—silver haired Eleanora Viltaria, whom they called [MeltisDanseuse of the Sword] and [SilvfrahlWind Princess of the Silverflash], one of the Seven Vanadis.
His attempt to assassinate her had failed, but Ellen was taken by his skill with the bow and took him as a captive.
In the aftermath of the battle, the rivalry between Dukes Ganelon and Thenardier—the two foremost nobles of Brune—came to a head, and Alsace was swept up by the wave of turmoil into the fires of war. Upon hearing this news from his father’s loyal servant Batran, Tigre borrowed soldiers from Ellen to save the place of his birth, eventually avenging himself upon Thenardier after a great many battles to the death.
And yet even after all this, there was no happy conclusion. He had only achieved a brief time of peace, and would have remained Ellen’s captive, if not for the new ruler of Brune, the king’s daughter Regin, helping to intercede on his behalf. Under the terms negotiated, he was to be returned to his homeland after spending three years as a guest commandant in Zhcted. That was the best that could be done for now. And so with the promise that he would return to them in three year’s time, Tigre bid farewell to the people of Brune and crossed the border into Zhcted, with his only companion being his maid Teita.
Half a year had passed since that day. The tardy spring had gone swiftly by, and now even the summer would soon pass. Indeed, the brief nature of Zhcted’s summer compared to Brune’s was enough to leave an impression in and of itself.
His life in LeitMeritz so far had not been easy. One half of that he’d expected and the other of it he’d experienced. He had to learn how to speak, write, and to immerse himself in the local culture.
There was also no shortage of important personages from Zhcted who wished to meet with him. And though most of these chose to send emissaries rather than come in person, Tigre knew that establishing good relations with them was a necessity. In any case, failure was not an option; any failing on his part would smear the name of Ellen, who had given him a place to stay, and he couldn’t rightly allow that to happen.
Adding to his litany of woes were the almost daily assignments left to him by Ellen’s second-in-command Limlisha. The topics were of a grand scale, ranging from governance to military affairs—under governance, the subject could be anything between internal governance and multilateral relations.
She would also enlist his aid in her work often. This was a cause for some complaint on his part. But he went along with it anyway. For one thing, the knowledge he gained while accompanying her would be useful in developing Alsace upon his return.
And for another, she wasn’t all work and no play. Under the guise of ‘inspections’ or ‘reviews’, she would sometimes allow him some free time to roam.
At last, dawn broke.
Smothering the fire with mud, Tigre shouldered his backpack and set out. Antlers in his right hand, a bow in his left, and alongside him, Lunie flew with its trademark *Patata* resounding. They reached the village in the foothills by the afternoon. There they presented the antler and pelt to much rejoicing and eased many minds among the villagers. However, among those who had been counted with the hunters, there were many wide eyes.
“So he really managed to bring it down, eh...” The village chief, who had been responsible for leading the hunters, had only this to say.
He had gone into the mountains three mornings ago, alone. Having turned down the offer that the villagers made to have their hunters serve as his guides.
“For a hunt like this, I alone will be enough.” He’d said that even as he gazed up at the foothills from the village. “And with more people we run a greater risk of the buck getting wind of us, whether it be by sight or sound.”
It wasn’t arrogance, of course. And besides, he had subsequently grilled both the chief and the hunters for detailed information concerning the mountain.
Seeing this, the village chief had mixed feelings. On one hand he thought it was to be expected of a knight of the court. And yet on the other, he felt that the boy was only 17. Could he really be relied upon?
But Tigre had surpassed all their expectations, setting out alone and returning triumphant, having shot the beast down brilliantly.
He had succeeded where a group of six—including the chief himself—had failed throughout their five day long hunt. And he did not waste his breath on swaggering or on boasting about his ability.
Rather, Tigre just asked for a bed he could borrow for the night, which the chief obliged. He turned in rather early too.
When Tigre rose the next morning, the sky was still dark. It was a tad early for ‘morning’—even those whose farms were their livelihood had barely gotten out their beds.
“I’m sorry to wake you at this hour,” he said as he called the village chief forth from dreamland before informing him of his decision to leave.
The chief seemed shocked, and even a little disappointed. “If it is convenient for you, sir knight, please do tarry another day in our good village. We will prepare a feast for you as much as we may with our meager means.”
He asked once again. However, soon after expressing both gratitude and pushing a gentle refusal, Tigre quietly left the village and went on his way. The horse galloped along the path under a brightening sky, though it wasn’t very fast with both Tigre and Lunie sitting on it.
“What a waste...” Tigre mumbled to himself as he gazed heavenward. “...It’s not like I had anything urgent to do anyway.”
He was, of course, bemoaning the missed opportunity in the village chief’s offer. If this was Alsace, he might just have taken the proffered boon, but here he had Ellen to consider. She might have been alright with it, but she did not speak for all her subordinates. Particularly for those who already held a certain dislike for Tigre himself.
He couldn’t care less if they criticized him, but he would not allow them to do the same to Ellen.
The sun was already falling into the west when they arrived at the capitol. They rode in via a side road constructed for the exclusive use of those in official service—with Lunie around the two of them would have made a sight for sore eyes in the crowded main streets of the city.
“Tigre-sama!” Just as they passed the gates, a familiar voice reached their ears, calling the youth’s name. It was Teita, chestnut hair tied behind her head, running towards them. She dressed after her usual fashion, long-sleeved one-piece dress falling into black folds below her legs and a clean white apron over it. Notably, she had discarded her old twin-tailed hairstyle for a single ponytail, which Tigre believed looked well on her too.
Of their immediate reactions, Lunie’s was the greater. It took to the air with a *Patata* and flew into her arms. Tigre merely exchanged smiles with her.
“I’m home, Teita.”
Upon catching Lunie, she held it close and it snuggled in her embrace. While doing so, she walked over to the youth.
“Welcome home, Tigre-sama.”
“Are you alright? You don’t have to carry it like that if it’s too heavy, you know?”
“Thank you. But Lunie’s not as heavy as it appears. I might get my clothes dirty though.” So she said, but if she was distressed, it did not show. Instead, like a mother beguiling a child, she petted the little dragon whelp.
This sixteen-year old girl, who like him was born in Alsace, had served him in the capacity of a maidservant since she was 11 till today, and even when he was set to live in LeitMeritz, she had insisted on following him.
This had been his wish as well, and Ellen had acquiesced. Nonetheless, he had worried at first that she, whom he treated like a sister, might not be able to adapt to the new environment. She had rendered his concerns moot, however, breaking the ice easily with the ladies of the court and their maids. Indeed, naught but a few days had passed before they all loved her.
Upon hearing this, Ellen had grimaced before saying thus.
“You’re quite something yourself, but it seems Teita hasn’t fallen behind. Quite the unexpected catch, isn’t she?” These words relieved Tigre greatly.
“Oh, yes. Tigre-sama, Eleanora-sama and Limlisha-san have important matters to discuss with you.”
“Important matters? With me?”
“Indeed. Ellen-sama instructed me to inform you of this upon your return.”
Upon hearing Teita recall her previous conversation with the Vanadis and her second, Tigre set his head askew in thought as he dismounted. It was all very odd. He had just returned, and had yet to greet anyone yet. Moreover, he was required to report to Ellen anyway.
Therefore, it must have been something of extraordinary importance, for her to have left him such specific instructions.
“Are they going to remind you not to take so many detours?” Teita asked.
Naturally, she did not say this in earnest. Those mischievous words were only meant to lighten his mood, Tigre guessed as he patted the younger girl on the head.
“Hmmm. That’s possible...” He did after all have a history of chatting Rurick up in the halls for too long while en route to the administration office. This habit which had earned him many a stern earful from Lim, and at times some nattering from the officials who disliked him whenever they could catch him. “In any case, I’ll head up there. Thank you, Teita.”
After handing both horse and dragon over to her, he headed up to the administration office. In the dying light of day, the corridors were dim, lit only by the flames of pinewood torches. But Ellen would be in there at this hour, he knew. He walked up to the door and knocked lightly, calling out as he did so. Sure enough, a moment later a ‘come in’ could be heard.
Opening the door, Tigre’s eyes were met by a familiar scenery. A modestly-sized room, a table of black sandalwood piled high with a veritable mountain of books, and two ladies attending to the paperwork.
The first of them sported waist-length silver hair and a blue-based silk dress. Her crimson eyes burned with vigor, and against a wall close within reach, she laid a longsword by. She was so fair of face, it was hard to imagine her as a skilled sword maiden capable of holding any man at bay. Yet she was, and more. She was the administrator of this capitol, ruler of LeitMeritz and one of the seven Vanadis of Zhcted, seventeen year-old Eleanora Viltaria.
The other was golden-haired Limlisha—Lim, as both he and Ellen would normally address her—, Ellen’s second-in-command and confidante. Tall, twenty and well-endowed, her look of detached stoicism as she silently perused the documents before her was quite the opposite of Ellen’s.
“Looks like you made it back safely.”
After looking him up and down for a moment, Ellen’s expression relaxed visibly, and Lim greeted him with an upward quirk of her lips.
“I’m back indeed,” Tigre noted, before closing the door and pulling a chair over to sit on.
Ellen’s eyes glittered. “And how did the deal with the buck go?”
He gave a simple explanation of what had transpired in the village and on the mountain while Lim prepared wine for three. Naturally, the whole request had been their doing; Ellen had dispatched him to deal with the problem after the village had informed them of its plight.
Stopping the work in their hands, the three offered up a small toast in celebration of this success, and after having finished his explanation, Tigre switched topics.
“So I hear from Teita that you have important affairs to discuss with me.” At this, the two ladies exchanged glances, and Ellen dipped her gaze to the cup in her hands, as though considering her reply. A moment later, she lifted her eyes once again.
“Tigre. Have you heard of Asvarre?”
The sudden question came as a surprise, but Tigre recovered quickly. “It’s situated northwest of Brune, across the western sea of Zhcted, I think. It’s best known for its agriculture-based economy, but a few generations ago, they had a queen who led many campaigns of expansion into the continent.”
In actuality, the number of things he knew for sure about Asvarre could be counted off on one hand, and all that, he had learnt from Massas. But being in the northeast, Alsace had no stake in that country. So for all he knew of Asvarre, it could be a fairy tale land—only the story of the conquering queen had made any lasting impression on him.
Once again, the two women exchanged looks. But these were looks of unease.
Draining her cup, Ellen spoke. “A certain someone has requested your presence in Asvarre.”
At this Tigre furrowed his brow. He did so not so much in surprise as he had in consternation. Judging from her tone, this request must be awfully hard to refuse. And there were only so many people in this world who could cause a Vanadis apprehension of this level. “And who might that be?”
“His majesty, the King,” Lim replied coolly.
Tigre’s eyes widened.
Victor, King of Zhcted. He had met the man once, when he was living in Zhcted following the conclusion of Brune’s civil strife. It was a formality that no official guest could avoid, especially not one staying for 3 years in the country, and in any case, he had heard from Ellen that the king desired to see him.
But for all that was worth the audience itself was frightfully short. The king had merely saw fit to praise his talents, and assure him that he would be given full freedom in Zhcted—with that, their meeting had come to an abrupt end.
Within that brief time, he had indeed felt the oppressive stateliness and authority emanating from the man on the throne. But what had struck him most profoundly had been the man’s eyes. Victor’s eyes were tranquil, yet cold and subdued. It made one think of the inmost depths of a dark forest, bereft of sunlight for a hundred years; like a deep bog without breath or sound of life.
But such thoughts about the monarch of a nation could not be shared with anyone, and so Tigre hid them, buried them deep in his heart.
Honestly, he didn’t make a good impression, Tigre thought. ‘An enigmatic old man’ was the most honest summary he could give on his thoughts concerning that man.
And now this person was ordering him to go to Asvarre.
“So what does he want me to do there?”
“Essentially, he wants you to serve as a secret envoy.”
At this point, Ellen put her cup down and folded her arms, a distressed look on her face.
“Tigre. What do you know about Asvarre’s situation, really?”
“Well, that there’s people in it, and they sing, dance and hunt all day long?”
“Indeed, and they slaughter their own people with axe and sword while they’re at it too.” He’d actually expected this, but still it seemed there was no chance that this would be a comfortable topic.
Lim put her still unfinished cup on the table, and then proceeded to retrieve a piece of parchment from a drawer beneath the table.
“...I suppose I’ve never really told you about Asvarre either, Tigre. I’ll try to make this brief.”
“Please do, sensei.” Tigre said mischievously.
Ellen laughed. “Yes, please do, sensei.”
With a sigh, Lim turned to the parchment and began to draw a simple map. “Now, until half a year ago, King Zechariah was still on the throne of Asvarre. At that time, there was intelligence suggesting that he planned to invade Brune, but due to his own poor health, he ultimately decided to sit back for a while and observe the situation.”
Tigre’s breath caught in his throat. He had underestimated till now just how much Brune had been like a sheep thrown among wolves during those times of turmoil half a year ago. True, Sachstein was repulsed by Roland, and he himself had driven Muozinel back. But if Asvarre had invaded from the west at that time...heaven only knew what would have happened then.
“A short time after the civil war in Brune ended,” Lim continued, “King Zechariah breathed his last. I can’t really say how exactly he died. Some say he died in an accident, others say he died of food poisoning.”
Now, the King of Asvarre had six children. His eldest, Germaine, was to ascend the throne. And that was where the madness began.
“A few days before the coronation ceremony, Germaine called his siblings together and had them executed on counts of treason.”
“Heh, or so we heard afterward,” Ellen added drily, supplementing Lim’s lecture with her own comments. “It seems Germaine is quite the arrogant character, and paranoid as well. I guess he hid his true colors while his father still lived, but with the throne in sight he must have decided to take action.”
This subject was repugnant to Tigre, but he nodded for Lim to continue anyway.
“However, two of the king’s children escaped Germaine’s grasp—the second prince, Elliot, and the first princess, Guinevere.”
The larger part of the details that Lim mentioned afterward could be summarized as such: After making his way to safety, Elliot had begun a revolt against his brother. Despite the succession having been the king’s will, there were many among the nobility who had opposed Germaine’s kin-slaying, and the revolt had been a success. Germaine was forced to abandon the palace and flee.
“So now Asvarre is split into two—” Lim broke off as she concluded, “no, perhaps you could say three parts. Germaine has hired mercenaries from Sachstein to bolster his own forces, while Elliot has done much the same by bringing the pirates of the coast into his ranks. Asvarre is in a state of chaos.”
“What about the princess Guinevere?” It was strange that she was not mentioned, so he asked.
“Rumors say that she is indifferent to either side, and has retired to a more quiet life. Most likely, she will not make any moves until the conflict between her brothers has been settled,” Lim said.
“And till now Zhcted has been supporting Elliot,” Ellen added.
“Oh yes. There’s that,” Lim said. “Okay, let’s stop talking about Asvarre for now.” With that, she produced another parchment, and began drawing up a map of the continent. Zhcted in the center, Asvarre west of the sea, Muozinel to the south on land and Brune to the southwest.
“Tigrevurmund.” Lim’s voice was scholarly and stern, like a teacher asking a question of her pupil. That meant that if he answered wrong, he was sure to be reprimanded. “Who, in your opinion, is the greatest threat to Zhcted at this time?”
“Muozinel, I suppose.”
“Correct.” Lim confirmed, unsmiling, as though this answer was a given.
“So you see, the situation in Asvarre is as we stated before. And in Brune, the scars left by the civil war have yet to heal. At best, it would take two or three years for it to make a full comeback.”
Needless to say, the next major factor was Muozinel. Even though they had been beaten back during their assault on Brune six months ago, in reality, only their navy had been dealt any significant casualties. Their land army—footsoldiers and cavalry both—had withdrawn before a decisive battle could be fought, as such minimizing their losses.
Muozinel now had an axe to grind against Zhcted as well—Tigre had the help of Zhcted troops in his rout of their advance army. Moreover, currently, Zhcted held Agnes, originally part of Brune, as their own territory, thus forming a strip of land belonging to Zhcted that Muozinel had to pass through first before it could attack. As such, Muozinel could only attack via sea, and that was impossible with their damaged navy: it could hardly even defend against an enemy attack as it was, let alone launch an invasion. So they could only sit on their hands and watch Brune recover.
“Sooner or later, we and Muozinel will surely clash. But when that will happen, no one knows. It could be three, even ten years from now.”
So saying, Ellen gazed at the wall behind her and the two flags that adorned it.
A silver sword upon black, for LeitMeritz, and for Zhcted the black dragon.
“The balance of power hangs on Asvarre’s decision—whether to join hands with Muozinel, or with us.”
Upon hearing Ellen’s words, Tigre at last understood. If Asvarre were to align itself with Zhcted, then the latter could concentrate all its energy on Muozinel. But if Asvarre were to make Muozinel its ally instead, then Zhcted would be beleaguered from both the south and the west, and it would have to divide its forces to tackle such a dire situation.
“As we were saying before, we would have preferred Elliot, but it seems he personally leans towards Muozinel. As such we shall have to support Germaine instead.”
“So, this secret envoy you speak of...” Tigre trailed off.
Ellen looked distinctly apologetic. Seeing her struggle to reply, Lim stood in for the silver-haired Vanadis. “Tigrevurmund. I believe we had said before that this is the King’s request, not that of Eleanora-sama.”
“I know. There is no way Ellen would ask something like this of me.” He answered decisively to reassure them. It worked. Almost immediately the tension in the room decreased several fold. Both women loosed smiles, and Ellen heaved a sigh of relief while still hanging her head in apology.
“I’m sorry, Tigre.”
“You needn’t be, Ellen,” Tigre said. “More importantly, what does King Victor hope to achieve by sending me?” He didn’t have the foggiest idea about how Asvarre was. He hadn’t even been there. Ever. The king’s intentions were unfathomable in this regard.
“From a certain point of view you could say he wants to recruit you,” Ellen noted while passing her now empty cup back to Lim. “It’s basically selling favors, giving you honor and glory in exchange for your services. Isn’t that practice quite common in Brune as well?”
Tigre set his head askew—he still could not accept this. “But I am not King Victor’s subject, I am a citizen of Brune, a guest who will return to Brune in 3 years time, no?”
“And that’s precisely why he wants you. Think about it—do you really expect to live off the fat of the land once you get back after 3 years? If it were up to me, I’d make you a military advisor. That way you wouldn’t ever leave the palace even after a few years.”
Upon hearing Ellen speak so solemnly, Tigre could only contemplate in silence. It was true, for he was undeniably a person of meritorious deeds.
“Having received the title of [SilvrashStar Shooter] and [LumiereKnight of the Moonlight] from an enemy general and your own king respectively, you are someone who will definitely be in an important position once you get home. So as far as the King of Zhcted is concerned, selling you favors is the right thing to do.” Lim added coolly after pouring Ellen some more wine.
For her part, the Vanadis pulled open a drawer on her own desk, and from there retrieved a letter, two rings and a sleek tube.
The tube was half an arm long, and covered by a dark black cloth. On its cap, the seal of the King of Zhcted was engraved and inlaid in gold.
“This contains a secret message to Prince Germaine, and the rings will be proof of your identity as the King’s envoy. But what I really want to show you is this—the king’s letter.” Taking the letter, Tigre read it carefully. The words of a king could not be ignored, not a single one.
It started with the normal salutations, with the King giving some praise for his gallantry in Brune and celebrating the newly forged peace between Brune and Zhcted before diving straight into the main topic.
—You are proof of the strong ties between Zhcted and Brune, and thus able to represent both nations before the Prince Germaine. No one is more suited than you are to accomplish this task.
Written below are instructions as to how far we are willing to support the prince in terms of finances and in the sending of troops, as well as the duration for which we shall do so. There are contingencies should extenuating circumstances force you to deviate from the initial plan, but you should return immediately should the situation go too far out of hand.—
So, Tigre mused. He wants to use me as a bargaining chip then.
At the end of the letter, there were instructions as to how he should enter Asvarre. He would travel from LeitMeritz to Regnis, and then from there he would rendezvous with some men the King sent before setting out together for Asvarre. He was flabbergasted at the sheer amount of detail the letter went into. It even mentioned what street he should be travelling by.
Suggesting that both Zhcted and Brune were in support of Prince Germaine—quite clever of the King, really, Tigre thought.
Still. He glanced up from the letter and gave Ellen a look of unease. “Was Brune told of this?”
Ellen shook her head. “I doubt it.”
Lim nodded in agreement. “If it were so, Queen Regin would have passed the orders down to you herself, Tigrevurmund.”
She was right. In the end he was still a guest commandant, and not under any obligation to obey King Victor. Even the letter itself closed with these words—
“I, the King of Zhcted, earnestly ask of you—”
—meaning that this was no order, but a request.
And yet he could not so flippantly refuse. It was a request from a king, after all.
“...Aside from me, is there no one else who can take on this task?”
“Zhcted doesn’t lack for such people. But to the king, he couldn’t claim to be doing you a favor without at least asking you to do this much.”
Tigre tried to contemplate this for a few seconds, and then gave up, shrugging. Immediately, Lim scolded him in a low voice, and then proceeded to explain.
“You see, something like rooting out mountain bandits wouldn’t be adding any additional feathers to your cap. Your role in the Brune civil war has already demonstrated your bravery, and therefore your worth, enough.”
“There are other ways of winning honor, yes, but these would mostly involve you becoming a counsellor to the king. And that would put you in a precarious position—most of our nobles would oppose the idea of Brune interfering in affairs of governance, and it would undermine the king’s authority. So a diplomatic assignment would be the best option.” Ellen sighed.
It was true, Tigre knew. The advantages of sending him were exactly as King Victor had stated—and in those regards no one in Zhcted could compete with him.
“...And that’s how it is. Assuming that the King bears you no ill-will in the first place.” Ellen griped, leaning back in her chair.
Her casual posture relieved the young archer greatly, and he smiled. “I don’t remember ever doing anything to incur his ill-will.”
“If a country has a skilled general, do you not think that his very presence will cause the surrounding nations to be on their guard?” Lim noted coolly, remaining upright and altogether serious despite them. “In our country, there are many people who are displeased by your presence, Tigrevurmund...although I am not saying the king is one of these.”
“But the negotiations are important to Zhcted. Failure would be disastrous—so why would he give the task to me if he has enmity towards me?”
Ellen furrowed her brows as she spoke, her displeasure plain to see.“Well, since there is a contingency in place you will most likely be held responsible for any failure.”
“Of course, success would still be best, but if you were to fail, getting rid of you would eliminate some future concerns. Depending on the situation, the blame could also be shifted onto Brune.” At this, Ellen swung back upright with a *BANG*, ignoring Lim, who cocked an eyebrow at her. “Actually, don’t you find it all very strange? If I were in the king’s place, I would throw you a banquet with someone else as the host, and make my request while the host distracts the rest of the guests.”
That was true. Tigre thought. He and the King had only met once—they weren’t friends by any means. There should have at least been some sort of party thrown to improve their relationship.
“It would only take a simple check to know that you’ve never been to Asvarre. Sending you there is like asking a child who doesn’t know left from right to go to a neighbouring village to buy something. And then there’s the men the king sent. We have no details on them. The whole thing practically screams ‘this is suspicious’!”
Indeed, it was getting quite hard to think that the king had given him this job for his ability.
“But King Victor has yet to reveal what he thinks of me, correct?” Tigre asked cautiously.
Both Lim and Ellen nodded.
“I can only think of 3 reasons why this was assigned to you. One would be to do you a favor by letting you take the honor of being a diplomat. The other might be to destroy you by putting you in a situation where you would be helpless. And the last would be to gauge your abilities.”
“Gauging my abilities?”
Ellen held up a hand. “In short, he wants to know if you are merely a person who is skilled in warfare, or if you have other skills besides. I still can’t tell if he wants you on his side, or if he wants to destroy you. But whatever it is, he definitely wants to use you.”
The silver-haired young woman chuckled a little, causing Tigre to grouse silently. None of the three options was anything to be glad about.
“And if he has any other design,” Ellen noted in a low, more serious tone, “it’s most likely to use your actions to see how the Vanadis—myself included—and the Queen of Brune will act.”
“Ellen, what should I—”
“Tigrevurmund,” Lim said in a stern voice, cutting him off. “Do not ask that of us.”
Ellen shook her head bitterly. “No matter what your decision is, I will respect it and do my utmost to help you. But it is you who must make the decision, Tigre.”
He could refuse. But that would lower the king’s opinion of him, and it would also affect Ellen and Brune. Turning to the map, Tigre thought about what was just said. He did not like Prince Germaine, whom Zhcted was planning to support. And yet if his rival Elliot were to ascend to the throne, his alliance with Muozinel would threaten both Zhcted and Brune, for Brune and Asvarre shared a border.
And then there was the alliance with Zhcted to think about.
For the sake of our countries, must I support a foreign tyrant?
By virtue of lending support to Germaine, it might be possible to request that he mend his ways. But he was not the King of Zhcted, Tigre knew. His words would most likely have no significant impact.
But he had to move past that. Sighing, he asked another question. “What sort of person is Prince Elliot, then?”
“Rumor has it that he’s not all that different from his brother. But at least he didn’t kill his whole family.”
“But previously you said that he roped pirates into his army to make up for his lack of numbers. Doesn’t that mean the army is no more than a band of thieves?”
King Victor must really want me to disappear, asking me to go into such a place alone.
“Will you refuse, then?”
“Might as well go. It might be a good opportunity to visit Asvarre anyway.” He meant this in earnest, but more because he did not wish to further burden the similarly-aged Vanadis. “But isn’t this a rather roundabout method? Asking me to be a secret envoy, and yet openly supporting Prince Elliot at the same time?”
“Playing both sides isn’t an uncommon tactic. Ludmira was like that during the last war.” Ellen said.
“What?” Tigre asked, not comprehending her intent. “I thought Mira was a more straightforward person than that.”
Mira of course referred to Ludmira Lurie, [MicheliaSnow Princess of the Frozen Wave] of the seven Vanadis and the governor of Olmutz, a province to the south of LeitMeritz.
“You forget that she was Duke Thenardier’s ally at first, which was why she led troops to constrain us. In addition, she continued her pursuit even when we offered to retreat. In order to fulfill her obligations to the duke, she even fought a duel with me.” Ellen’s eyebrows arched in annoyance as she said this, but Tigre could not tell if it was his casual mention of Ludmira’s nickname, or general displeasure at his reply that caused her to act this way.
“But she protected Eleanora-sama from the assassin’s blade that time, even going so far as to risk her own life.” Lim pointed out stoically.
“W-Well, that was just her trying to make me owe her a favor!” Ellen blustered, her expression that of one caught off-guard. “Even if she didn’t think about it that way at the time, when the need arises, she will definitely find an excuse to bring it up!”
“It’s only natural to do that in negotiations,” Lim reminded.
Ellen ignored her, instead turning to Tigre. “And there was that battle against Muozinel. She didn’t come to help you right away, did she? She held off to observe, right? That’s not helping you, that was just her waiting for the moment where she could make you most indebted to her. And she only severed ties with Thenardier after that incident, don’t you forget!”
With that, she downed her cup of wine with much gusto.
Tigre, for his part, understood. This Machiavellian aspect to Ludmira’s character was probably so deeply ingrained that she did not think any worse of herself despite it. Still, given that she had been forced into a conflict due to her rival’s character, it was not surprising that Ellen would be so angry.
If it was Mira, how would she respond to this request?
During his time at LeitMeritz, Ludmira Lurie had paid three visits to the capitol, and she came for three reasons. Firstly, to inquire about the state of the mountain road in Vosyes and Brune in general; secondly, to make a show of being on excellent terms with Ellen. Lastly, she came to prevail upon Tigre to join her.
Every time Ellen received a report of her arrival, she would say ‘tell her not to come again’. But who would dare say that to a Vanadis? And in any case she was half joking. They needed the information that Ludmira regularly brought them concerning Muozinel, and a petty rivalry was no reason to hinder important exchanges of intelligence.
Following her meetings with Ellen she would go looking for Tigre. The first time, she attempted to use the promise of money to win him over, and failed. From then on, she would simply come to make small talk. She did try to invite him on a hunt, but Ellen had turned her down.
If it were her, she would hint at agreeing while avoiding giving a direct answer, all the while gathering intelligence as best she could in the background. And when the critical moment came she would refuse decisively.
Perhaps this is only the first of more difficult requests to come.
He still didn’t like the given task, but he could see it for its uses. And in any case, his complaints were best kept to himself.
After staring at the door Tigre had closed after his exit for a while, Ellen let out a sigh.
“Is this really alright?” Lim asked.
“We don’t have a choice, do we?” Ellen replied brusquely.
She’d agreed to let him go to Asvarre after their meeting. It was an odd thing—actually, she had been prepared to give way should he refuse adamantly, but as it turned out, he gave an unexpectedly decisive answer. She should have been glad about that, but her heart still felt heavy. Unwilling.
“I’m sorry about just now, Lim,” Ellen said with an apologetic smile. ‘Just now’ naturally referred to the point when Lim had butted in to stop Tigre from asking for her help in deciding. “I...probably wouldn’t have been able to answer him.”
In her heart of hearts, she wanted to say ‘don’t go’. But to deny the king’s request, they needed a viable alternative. Another way to foster closer ties between Zhcted and Asvarre. Or even someone to replace Tigre. But there was no such option. With regards to the king’s requirements there was none better than him, and she would be hard pressed to find such a substitute.
During Brune’s civil war, she was able to mollify the king by claiming that she had no choice but to do battle. And it had been a sweet deal overall. Brune footed much of the war bill, Zhcted had gained Agnes in the south, and Ellen had gained Tigre’s services through her co-ruling of Alsace.
This time, she had no such cards to play—as such, even a Vanadis must obey her king.
So despite herself, she could not tell him to stay. Supporting him was the only thing she could do now.
Turning her face to the window, Ellen gazed out at the scenery. The slow breeze of late summer blew across a land where the descent of darkness was nigh complete, with only a little sun peeking out from beyond the western horizon. The stars too, though she could not see them, must have already come out.
“When he came, the snowdrops were still in bloom...”
Snowdrops grew everywhere in Zhcted, and they were the herald of springtime. But spring had passed them by in a hurry. She spent hers governing, and he spent his getting accustomed to the land. And now, even summer was drawing to a close.
With a sigh, Ellen shook her head vigorously. Clearing her mind, she turned back to Lim once more, with a smile on her face. “Well, since he has decided to go, we should pave the way for him. I’ll be counting on you, Lim. This is the king’s request, so people can’t speak ill of it anyway.”
“Yes.” Lim flashed a rare smile, her voice ringing clearer than usual. But it seemed some anxiety came upon her, casting a shadow over her turquoise eyes. “Yet there is still much to worry about. Becoming a secret envoy to an unknown country, with only one other person following...”
“Let us trust him,” Ellen said brightly, her words and eyes brimming with confidence. “He has shown us many miracles during this year we spent together. Yes, you could call it luck, but without the skill to use such good-fortune there would have been no miracles, and he has that sort of ability.”
That was exaggerating somewhat, but that was because she too felt uneasy. She could not help but worry. Indeed, perhaps she had even wished for him to refuse back then.
“He will return successful. We will send him off smiling, and we will receive him with that same smile. We can do that much, even if we can neither officially celebrate his designation as envoy due to its secret nature, nor reward him easily due to his status as a citizen of Brune.”
“Indeed.” Lim said, glad that her master had erased her worries.
With that they returned to their duties. But as Ellen sorted through the papers, a sudden thought came to her.
I wonder, has the distance between him and I lessened any?
Though she was busy most of the day, and Tigre was under constant scrutiny by the court officials, they still spent their free time together often. When the weather was good they would take afternoon naps on the roof, sometimes even sneaking out the palace under the noses of Lim and the other officials to roam the city streets. During official breaks, they would have tea and refreshments with Lim and Teita. These were all small, but important memories.
We even danced together in the city once.
In the tradition of Zhcted, such festivals always began with everyone singing and dancing together, and only later would couples form and dance alone. Apparently, this had originally been a way for men to choose their brides, but that custom had long been phased out, leaving behind only that fragment of knowledge and the form of the dance itself.
When they had found out about the origins of the practice, they had both gone red in the face, but did not stop holding hands as they departed. (Of course, no one else knew, for both of them were too embarrassed to speak of it.)
They never crossed the line, each having understood the other’s position. But the silver-haired Vanadis recalled those memories of their daily lives together, and she felt her heart grow warmer.
Tigre’s room was somewhere in the bowels of the palace. Here, unlike outside where the employees of the palace still milled about even after sunset, there was relative peace. This had been one of Ellen’s considerations, for as a guest, he drew significantly more attention than when he had been a captive.
It was not a particularly luxurious place, but the deep green carpet, brick fireplace and an oak table-and-chair set gave it a relaxing atmosphere. There was no lack of necessities either; in the corner there was a cabinet draped with grapevine as well as a long table.
Upon entry, Tigre lit the lamp by the doorway, and hit the bell on the table.
Before long, footsteps approached the door. Teita’s footsteps.
“Tigre-sama, may I enter?”
“You needn’t be so uptight, I’m the only one here,” Tigre replied in a gentle tone.
The door opened, the chestnut-haired maid entering with a curtsy before lifting her head and sticking her tongue out at him. “I’m used to it already. And besides, I’m away from home.”
Back in Alsace, they had been even less formal with one another. Tigre favored shouting across the hallway to ringing a bell anytime, and Teita, for her part, would inquire clearly as to his requirements before entering, sparing them a lot of hassle. But this was not Alsace, and there were many officials here who disliked him for being so close to the likes of Ellen, Lim and Rurick. In front of such people, they had to pay more attention to such formalities.
“So,” Teita asked after receiving Tigre’s outer coat, “have you finished speaking to Eleanora-sama on the matter?”
A dark look crept over his face. “Do you have some time, Teita? I have some things I need to tell you concerning that.”
She nodded, perplexed.
Seeing that, Tigre walked over to the cabinet and took out a bottle of wine and a pair of wine glasses. This would be worrying to her, he knew, but nonetheless, he wanted her to know the truth.
After having her take a seat, he poured the wine. First for her, then for himself.
He downed a mouthful.
And then made his announcement.
“I need to go out for a time. I’ll be counting on you to take care of this place.”
Her eyes shot open, staring into the depths of the glass before her, the crimson fluids reflected her depression.
“This isn’t a hunt, is it?”
She was right. If this was a hunt or just some inspection in a nearby city, he would have spoken differently. He had done his best to sound calm, but there was no way he could completely hide the anxiety of stepping into unknown territory. Not from Teita, who had been serving him for so long.
So he didn’t bother playing dumb, merely lowering his gaze to meet hers.
“I know you won’t say unnecessary things to others. So I need you to keep a secret for me.”
After confirming her assent, he told her of the trip to Asvarre.
“I can’t tell you the details, but this is a very troublesome matter. While I’m gone, you will tell anyone who asks that I have gone to Silesia,” Tigre said. “And...oh yes. Take care of Lunie while I’m out.”
“I understand the part about Lunie. But ‘to the capitol’?” Teita shook her head, uncomprehending.
“Don’t worry, Lim and Ellen are the ones cooking up the cover story. You just need to tally your account to theirs,” he assured her. “I did think of claiming illness to avoid meeting people, though.”
“That wouldn’t have been like you at all, Tigre-sama. I mean, those aren’t the sort of words a person who would go out during deep winter in furs to hunt would say. And I don’t think I could fool everyone like that,” she said, displaying her resolve in an ironic sort of way, to which he could only scratch his head, at a loss.
Seeing this, she smiled. “Tigre-sama. How far away is this Asvarre?”
“I don’t know. It’s my first time going there too. All I know is that I need to go northwest from here, and then head there by ship.”
“Ship. Sea,” Teita muttered, her eyes wide. Neither of them had ever even seen anything like those. The closest they had come was in images stirred up by the songs of a wandering troubadour, or from the stories of travelling artists who had been as far as Celeste, a town in Asvarre.
She bit her lip, her fists tightening about her apron as she tried to restrain the unease welling up inside her. Reaching for her cup, she downed it all in one go—
—and with a sigh she stood, placing the cup back on the table, hazel eyes locking on his.
“I don’t really understand how important this task is. But you must come back safely, Tigre-sama.”
Tigre placed his own cup aside, and held her lightly, the fragrance of her hair wafting into his nose as he did so.
You’ve grown taller...
“I will come back,” he repeated over again. “I’ll definitely return safely.”
Tigre left the palace before the dawn of the next day. He would travel not as Tigrevurmund Vorn, but as a common soldier of LeitMeritz. He had said his farewells to Lim and Teita, but not to Ellen.
I wish I could have said goodbye to Rurick and the others as well.
These things left him quite a few regrets, but as a secret envoy, his departure needed to be made known to as few people as was possible. Perhaps Rurick might figure it out on his own, though.
He also had to leave by the back gate, instead of from the front. At the side of the gate, a saddled horse was already awaiting him—Lim’s handiwork, most likely.
Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Tigre placed his black bow on the saddle and secured a quiver full of arrows to his luggage—if one could call a small pack with a bear doll tied to it ‘luggage’—behind.
The bear had been obtained from Lim the night before, when she had come to check on his luggage to confirm that he had brought everything.
“Well then, take everything out.” She had said this rather strictly, and he had complied, laying out each item on the table. Food and water for several days, a stone flint, a dagger with a bottle of oil, and a purse full of silver and copper coins.
There was also a letter Ellen had written to her friend Alexandra Arshven, the Vanadis Sasha. She had done this in a hurry, and had given instructions for him to see her friend when he passed through Legnica.
“Sasha will give you additional guidance on my behalf, so it doesn’t matter if you are late by one or even two days—You must go to see her. Understood?” And with that, she had given the letter to him.
Lastly, there were the two rings as well as the silk-covered tube that contained a secret message in the king’s own hand. The surface of the tube had been rolled over with a tanned hide painted black, rendering it completely waterproof.
After inspecting everything item by item, Lim had told him to wait, and left the room for a while.
Before long, she returned, carrying between her arms quite a few new items: a bag of herbs, a bottle of ointment, ropes of hemp and straw, needle, thread and even a hand mirror.
“Bring these along too.”
She said this matter of factly even as she let him help her to arrange these additional things, much to Tigre’s shock.
“Isn’t this a little overdone?” Actually, all of these should have been necessities for travel as well, but he hadn’t thought to bring them with him initially. When he got to the port town at Legnica, he could just purchase all of those trifling things there.
“And what will you do if something happens before you get to Legnica?”
His suggestion had been coldly rejected. He knew she meant well though, and didn’t argue.
But his thoughts inadvertently spilled out into words. “It feels like you’re my mother or something.”
“M-Mother?!” Lim’s stoic mask shattered outright, her eyes going wide as she stared at Tigre, dismayed. In the face of this unexpectedly strong response, Tigre quickly backed down.
“I’m really sorry if that made you unhappy. Teita’s mother was like this too—she would inspect my luggage very scrupulously every time I headed out of town.” Here, he paused for a moment, barely stopping short of calling her naggy. “You reminded me of her.”
“I understand. Still, you should watch how you say things,” Lim said. She seemed to have regained her composure after a few moments, but Tigre still felt terrible about calling a twenty-year old woman ‘mother’.
“In that case, take this with you.”
At this moment, Lim put something into Tigre’s hand. Into his hand, not onto the table—it was a small bear doll.
“It’s a charm. Mothers always give them to their children when they go off travelling, so take it. —I don’t remember having a child this old, though,” she said roughly as his shocked gaze alternated between her and the doll. Perhaps if the room had been brighter lit he might have seen her blushing right up to her hair.
Honestly speaking, it was embarrassing to have to hang a bear doll onto his luggage. But when he thought of Lim’s feelings, he could not bear to take it off.
Leaping into the saddle, Tigre trotted the horse forward a few steps. Then suddenly he turned, gazing atop the city walls. It was still dark, and the contours of the palace walls were silhouetted against the darkness. But he could feel someone watching him.
Straining his vision, he caught a small movement.
It wasn’t a soldier—a soldier would be carrying a torch at this hour. But it was not an intruder either. He could not feel the person trying to conceal his or her breathing.
A gust of wind blew in.
It did not come from the left or the right. It came rushing down from above, blowing his hair every which way and forcing him to squint.
In the midst of the gale, he caught sight of an object hurtling towards him, glittering faintly as it caught the light. About the size of an insect, but not as fast. He reached out and caught it.
It was a silver coin, and on closer inspection there were words written in ink on it.
His eyes scanned across the walls again, but that person was gone.
Glancing at the coin once more, he put it into his waist-pocket with great care. That done, he grabbed the reins and rode out into the streets, his form enveloped by the darkness.
He knew who the one standing on the walls was. The Vanadis who commanded the winds.
She could not send him off openly, and so she had chosen this method instead.
His drowsiness was far behind him now, gone with the wind. He felt warm, and full of vigor.
I will definitely return safely.
He would give her a pleasing result with his own hands.
So decided, he spurred his horse forward, through the streets at the crack of dawn.
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