The main fortress of Sunkwoll, Galfort Castle.
A great number of retainers were gathered in the scarlet carpeted hall.
Today, a meeting of the generals was being held.
King Douglas sat in his throne, elevated above the civil servants and military officers spread out before him to the left and the right according to their respective wards.
A majority of them had blond hair and blue eyes…in other words they were the nobility.
Only Rain, kneeling before the king had a different appearance with his black hair and eyes.
As always his eyes seemed to glint mischievously.
No matter the circumstance, he was the kind of man to have the expression of someone who would get into trouble, and it was no different now.
At the very least, that was how Ralphus saw him.
Ralphus was a man who had a stern countenance, and a petite figure. There were no similarities with Rain.
Under ordinary circumstances he had a face which would make the temperature of all the ladies in the room rise, though now it was his face that was flushed with color.
Rain, won’t you stop it already—Unfortunately his prayer never reached his friend.
“As I have explained to you before, walking right into what Zarmine has planned for us is not a proper military strategy. It’s careless to send our soldiers out in this circumstance. Clashing would be the same as jumping head first into a well laid out trap.”
Rain’s raised voice was laced with sarcasm.
King Douglas’s eyes burned fiercely as he glared at this arrogance.
“Rain! Just what purpose do you have with those words! You are not just disagreeing with my plan of battle, you are taking it lightly!”
King Douglas, his cheek scarred from an old wound, shook violently in his anger.
The officials around him shivered but Rain, who was the actual object of this anger, showed no response. Yet, as though he were enjoying himself, the corners of his mouth were upturned in a faint smile.
It wasn’t just his courage…though that itself could be said to be very great.
Ralphus tried making eye contact, but his friend was already turned, facing the front.
And yet again he made an admonition…or perhaps you could call it a complaint.
“Battle strategy? Your Majesty, I don’t believe you could call a plan where ten-thousand of our troops go head to head with forty-thousand enemies, a battle strategy. However, if it was suicide you were after, then it seems a rather certain way to go about it.”
King Douglas ground his teeth ferociously. It seemed his tolerance was wearing thin.
Ralphus had no idea what Rain was trying to accomplish. Of all people Rain should know just how short the King’s fuse was. At this rate it was nothing to joke about. Rain was going to end up beheaded.
Is that how dissatisfied you are with this decision, Rain?
The strong kingdom Zarmine to the north of the continent had devastated Lunan only half a year earlier.
It was a country bordering Sunkwoll to the north, and for a long time had been at odds with them. But before Zarmine, there hadn’t been a chance.
Even though the number of their enemies had lessened, there was no time for celebrating.
However you looked at it, the next target Zarmine would aim for, would most certainly be the small country in the south west corner of the continent, in other words it was none other than this country, Sunkwoll.
As soon as Lunan had fallen, they had immediately started to strengthen their defenses, in hopes of preventing spies from entering. Currently the generals were preparing for war and gathering mercenaries under the command of the King.
At the end of last month, just as it had been assumed, King Leygur finally began mobilizing his impossibly large army for their next expedition.
Under orders of Leygur’s officers, they had begun moving to the south. Even a child could tell you their objective was Sunkwoll.
King Douglas, having decided to use a surprise attack to defeat the impending army in one stroke, had ordered for the seven generals to prepare for war.
Besides Ralphus, the other generals had begun preparing mercenaries and bringing them into Galfort Castle.
―—Rain was the only one ignoring that order, and making a scene by himself. This alone was enough to get him a severe punishment.
Beyond that, his wording bordered on rebellion…it was no shock that Ralphus would be agitated.
“Rain! I have bestowed upon you the title of a general even though you come from common blood! I even gave to you land of the highest qual…!”
In his anger the King choked on his words. Alternately Rain’s response was light.
“Yeah. I’m pretty thankful for that.”
No matter how you heard hit, he didn’t sound appreciative in the least. Alternately it seemed as though he were making fun of the King.
“Why you! Such impudence! Then why! Why won’t you follow orders!”
There was the sound of a heavy sigh.
Of course it was Rain.
“It’s as I have already said. I am opposed to charging at the enemy with inferior military might and no plan. I wouldn’t be able to have you understand?”
He shook his head as if to emphasize the futility of the request.
“Taking a small regiment to collide with a large enemy force and fall gloriously――To someone like myself who worked their way up from a hired mercenary, I have no interest in dying honorably for such a war strategy.”
“What do you mean ‘I’ve no interest’ you fool! Your view is of no importance!”
Voices backing the king could be heard scattered throughout the hall.
It was five voices of all the generals, excluding Ralphus. Rain’s reputation among his peers was quite bad. But the man himself paid no attention.
“The land which once was Lunan is already under Zarmine control, making it enemy land. I can’t call us coolly marching through to perform a surprise attack sanity.”
“How dare you! Is that how you talk to your Ruler!”
King Douglas removed his sword from its sheath.
He rose from his throne, taking large steps to close the distance between him and Rain. A voice resounded in the room, followed by a ringing as though the anticipation of what would happen next was palpable.
There was no way this could be left unchecked!
Ralphus moved quickly from his position to act as a shield in front of Rain, kneeling to the King.
“Please wait, your Majesty!”
“Out of the way, Ralphus! Today of all days there will be no pardon!”
“Even so cutting him here…it’s going too far, is it not!”
“Be silent, Ralphus!”
“No, I cannot remain silent!”
With the full force of his will behind his voice, silence filled the hall. Perhaps surprised by this action even the King lowered his blade.
Ralphus was always a calm man, but occasionally he was known to act altogether differently, as though he were a different person. Right now was one of those times.
Ralphus composed himself and without missing a beat continued.
“Very soon we will be entering into battle, and let’s say you cut down one of your allies. Please think for a moment.”
Replacing the King who had fallen silent in contemplation, the counter came from another.
His cheeks drawn in, one of the generals, Ganoa, had spoken.
“Lord Ralphus, even if you are trying to protect your friend, is not your action too much in the way of refuting His Majesty?”
――In other words, Shut-it and watch! is what he wanted to say.
Lord Gilles beside him nodded in agreement. Differing from the slim yet sturdy countenance of Ganoa, Gilles was as round as a barrel. Both of them had strong ties to nobility and its traditions, and were on the worst of terms with Rain.
There was no doubt they were heatedly hoping that Rain would be cut down and die. Ralphus was also from a long line of nobility dating back to the start of the Kingdom, and had always disliked these two.
He cut in.
“If Rain were to die here, the only ones rejoicing would be our enemies! Don’t you see this!?”
Ganoa made as though he were about to say something in retort, but closed his open mouth after seeing the expression in Ralphus’s eyes. It was the same for Gilles.
With a pained expression King Douglas returned his sword to its scabbard. He probably felt as though that last statement had been directed at himself. He returned to his throne with large strides, staring irritatedly at Ralphus and Rain as he sat.
“It’s over. What would be gained from his execution.”
“Right, that’s it.”
Rain said lightly, as though he were speaking about someone else.
Deep wrinkles etched themselves between the King’s eyebrows.
Ralphus held up a hand, as though telling Rain to be quiet.
He knelt beside his friend.
“Your Majesty, I thank you deeply for you understanding…However, though he leads soldiers, he came here with none.”
“Ignoring an order is still ignoring an order. It might happen again.”
There is no way his crime can be completely overlooked.”
“That’s true but…”
Ralphus, struggling with the situation threw a glance at Rain, but all he received in return was a look that seemed to say ‘It doesn’t concern me.’
Even though it concerned him, he just couldn’t take it seriously.
Ralphus continued exasperatedly.
“Your Majesty, how do you find ordering Rain to be put under house arrest, instead?”
“Hrmm. House arrest…”
“Yes. For this fight there is no way to know when events will unfold, so I believe this to be the best solution.”
King Douglas stroked his beard, his expression contemplating.
He didn’t like it, but because of Ralphus’s standing as a high ranking noble with great authority, he couldn’t refuse the suggestion out of hand.
Even though he was King, he had an inferiority in ancestry when compared with Ralphus’s noble bloodline.
“Yet I find it lacking in terms of punishment.”
The King’s reply was thick in his throat.
“That is not so.”
Ralphus lost no time in pushing something he himself did not believe.
“If Your Majesty leads us into complete victory against Zarmine, then even Rain cannot continue to refute the fact that there are things even he doesn’t know. He will also lose face against us as well. There is no harsher punishment for a warrior who has made a name for himself than this.”
Rain seemed about to snort through his nose at the comment about a warrior’s honor, but even so that was how Ralphus worded it.
“Hrmm….Well, that is…”
“So let us proceed as such. Your Majesty, your decision please.”
Urged such, the King gave his order as though he had just chewed on sand.
“Well then, so be it. Rain, you are to be kept under house arrest in your fortress. You should be grateful that your punishment is no more severe than this!”
“Haha! I am truly thankful and joyous!!”
With a magnificently boisterous voice, Rain lowered his head in a gesture that was merely physical.
He glanced to the side at Ralphus, also with his head lowered, and winked, smiling brightly.
No way, he hadn’t planned on things turning out this way, had he…
If that was the case there was no helping him.
Ralphus could only give a pained smile.
But, well…for a close friend to be safe, there really was nothing better.
Because no matter how one looked at it, there really was no hope of winning.
At that moment both Ganoa and Gilles looked at him with cold eyes. Whether it was good fortune or bad, Ralphus never noticed.
Without any more opinions being offered, the meeting came to a close soon after.
Ralphus invited Rain to a private room within the castle.
If war was next, then this could be their last parting.
“Would you care for a drink?”
“Ah, now that sounds like a plan.”
Rain laughed refreshingly.
Entering the room, Rain sat down heavily upon the sofa.
He crossed his legs high in the air, kicking off his shoes.
Ralphus took a bottle of alcohol and two glasses from a cabinet atop the bookcase, filling them to the brim.
After pouring, he took a seat across from Rain.
Finishing it in one go, Rain poured himself another round.
It was the way he always drank.
Ralphus tilted the glass to his lips, drinking slowly as he contemplated his friends face.
He had a young countenance, unchanged from the first time they had met.
At the very least, though he was twenty-five, the same age as Ralphus, he didn’t look it.
He looked to be about eighteen or twenty.
There was a rumor that Ralphus, in whose veins flowed the blood of the founding nobles, was descended from elves. The lifespan of which is longer than man, and their aging also is slower. But as to why his friend should appear so young, Ralphus could only guess.
As he thought about it, he realized just how much he didn’t know about Rain.
Just then Rain spoke.
“By the way, sorry about earlier.”
“What are you talking about? You aren’t talking about the house arrest are you? I see, you were counting on my intervention weren’t you?”
“Yeah, I’d planned for it.”
“In that case you should have told me beforehand. What would you have done had I not jumped in to stop His Majesty?”
“I trusted you would definitely stop him for me. Besides, how could I confide in someone who is a terrible actor?”
“Hmph. That is true though.”
Ralphus understood completely.
Most certainly if he had heard ahead of time, it would have showed up on his face.
“Still I couldn’t believe you would be so opposed to this war. Do you really think there’s no way to win the upcoming expedition?”
“At this rate there isn’t even the tip of a pinky finger in plans that would help.”
Rain’s response was direct and guaranteed.
“This is completely and totally Zarmine’s trap. The speed of mobilizing our army being so slow also seems a determining factor. After walking right into the bosom of the enemy, the idea is to rip them apart from the inside?”
“……Seems that way. It’s just, if that’s the plan then what do you think we should do? Even if we left them alone, one day they will come to invade.”
“In that case we would defend ourselves in our land, Sunkwoll. Only if things came to that, either you or I would have to come up with the military strategy. On top of that, we would be responsible for mobilizing and directing troops…”
King Douglas intensely disliked anyone giving him advice on military strategy.
Unless it dealt with something other than battle, the King wouldn’t even try to ask for Ralphus’s opinion.
“You know that’s impossible. Then there’s nothing to be done. It’s over. Basically because this is a world-wide conflict, it’s the numbers that give the commands.”
His last response was rather weak, but he understood what Rain was saying.
The analysis was cold but accurate.
Putting aside King Douglas’s personal skills, his ability to look at the entire situation and develop an appropriate strategy was lacking.
No matter how you looked at it, the end was predictable.
“Putting all that aside for the moment. I am not the type to throw away my life mindlessly following His Majesty. Especially for something like a special attack when there is no chance of victory.”
Ralphus tilted his glass in silence.
At least what he was saying was not wrong, even if the way he said it put others on edge.
The King’s harsh orders had often driven Rain into difficult situations, and it would be strange to see him sacrifice himself for the King, given all that.
First off, there is no basis for any kind of faithfulness towards the kingdom for someone who had once been a mercenary.
Depending on the situation, there might not be any at all.
But all people were different.
If there were fools who would plant their feet in the ground and remain to fight, then that was alright….
Rain stared intently at Ralphus.
“……With an expression like that, advising you to remain away from the expedition would be pointless, huh.”
“Yeah. I’m glad that you’re worried about me though.”
“—-not really. Only, not having someone around to banter with is disappointing, that’s all.”
Ralphus laughed quietly.
Draining the last of his glass, Rain stood up abruptly.
“Well then. It’s about time I head out. After all, I am under house arrest.”
“Yeah. Be sure to take good care of yourself, would you. It might be wasted words on you though.”
“Nah, you’re the one who has to take better care of themselves.”
For just a moment Ralphus thought he caught a glimpse of Rain’s apprehension, but in the next moment it was gone.
Without showing a hint of his dampened emotions, he left the room as though leaving an important meeting that was still in progress.
Ralphus followed him into the hall to see him off.
Stopping in his tracks, Rain turned around, remembering something.
“I wanted to ask you before but, do you know a girl named Michelle? She’d be about sixteen, and is of noble blood.”
“Michelle? Can’t say….Is there some special trait besides a name you can give me?”
“Let me see… She has straight blond hair that goes down to her waist, and a face so pretty it’s hard to believe…her voice is pretty too.”
“With a description like that it’s a little hard to place. There are a large number of nobles, after all.”
Ralphus said, sounding not a little irritated.
“But no matter how I look at it there is just too much of a gap between your ages. Certainly I may not know a lot about relationships between a man and a woman, but…”
“NO! Don’t misunderstand me! It’s not like that. I’m not interested in that. It’s just, there’s a promise I’ve made.”
“Nothing. If you don’t know it doesn’t matter. Also I kinda know a place we might be able to meet.”
Waving his hand to dismiss the matter, Rain turned and continue walking away as though it were nothing.
He never once looked back.
Returning to the private quarters, Ralphus drank away the thoughts of his departed friend.
His thoughts turned to the unfavorable battle before him, and without a great movement in his destiny, he would probably never see that carefree man again…
Deeply submerged in his thoughts, Ralphus heard timid knocking at the door.
With this level of timidity, it was hard to think it could be the aide, Gwen.
“Come in. …The――Princess!”
Opening the door easily, and standing on the other side was Princess Shelfa.
Blond hair reached down to her waist, and her skin was so pale it was almost transparent.
Her eyes which were one size larger than any one else's, were so cute they made one feel like a lowly subordinate, entranced by their lucidity.
Today her expression was excited, different from her usual, lonely expression.
To Ralphus who had reflexively gone down on one knee, she extended a small hand.
“You needn’t pay heed, Sir Ralphus. Uhm…Do you have a moment?”
“Of course. Please, go ahead.”
Lost in his confusion, Ralphus beckoned the Princess to enter.
He had heard that she had quite a dislike for people, so what she wanted with him….
The princess had turned 16 this year, though Ralphus had never really become acquainted.
At most, when they had crossed paths in the palace he had bowed to her.
It wasn’t that Ralphus had been purposely avoiding her, it’s simply that the Princess was always in the inner rooms of the palace.
Though it seemed it wasn’t her decision, but that of her father, King Douglas.
Still, this meeting was unexpected.
Sitting on the sofa, the Princess looked around the room as if she were looking for something.
“So, what brings the Princess here?”
“Well…Is it true that you, Ralphus, are a friend of Rain? At least that’s what I’ve heard from the female attendants.”
“….Yes, it’s true that he is a friend of mine.”
To call Rain by his name? It seems overly familiar…
Ralphus grew further confused about the situation.
“Then, you wouldn’t happen to know where he is, would you? He should have come to the palace, but no matter where I search, I can’t find him.”
Ralphus must have had an expression that said “uncommon things happen,” on his face.
In a small voice Shelfa added,
“It’s a secret from Father. I snuck out of my chambers after all. I just really wanted to meet Rain.”
“――I see. To meet Rain.”
That is all he could muster in response.
The beautiful face of the Princess who was speaking openly with him, flushed red.
Whoever looked at her, it wasn’t hard to see how important Rain was to her.
That guy, when did he become acquainted with her?
It was one of those mysteries.
In the first place, Rain hardly ever came to Galfort Castle.
“He was just here until a moment ago…but as he’s been placed under house arrest, I’m afraid he has returned to his castle.”
Ralphus worried that this young girl might burst out into tears from this news.
“It can’t be helped. Perhaps it is best for him that things turned out this way.”
Sympathizing with her, Ralphus told her in detail about the events of the meeting and how Rain had been placed under house arrest, warning her not to tell anyone.
He told her everything, including Rain’s aim in doing so.
“I…see. If Rain is taking that course of action, then there must be no hope left for this country.”
In her words, a sense of absolute trust in Rain was conveyed.
“Though it is something one doesn’t want to admit.”
Giving a deep sigh, the Princess for some reason pulled out a pendant from within the bosom of her white robes, looking intently at it.
Attached to a silver chain was an old coin with a hole to attach it.
Realizing Ralphus’s stare, she held out the coin in a white hand for him to see.
“I will show it to you special, because you are a friend of Rain’s.”
“This coin I received from Rain, is my treasure.”
“It is an honor. It seems to be a very old item, yes? It doesn’t seem to be something of much value though.”
It would have been more appropriate to call it worn out rather than old.
It looked like an average silver coin, but on the dingy surface were words carved in a language Rain probably knew.
“This is a magic coin.”
“Magic, you say?”
“Mhmm. Because of a promise he couldn’t tell me what sort of effect the coin has, but whenever I am upset and look at it, I become energetic again. It’s just he told me the magic would only work once.”
A magic item was so scarce in this day and age, that the value would be tremendous.
The main reason was that the Rune Masters, people who could imbue items with magical abilities, were almost non-existent anymore.
But something didn’t sit well with him….Ralphus felt a shiver run down his spine.
Actually Ralphus himself had received a magical item before.
It was a time when they were still at war with Lunan.
After having received an order from the King to march out to the battlefield, Ralphus had spent the night before he was to leave drinking with Rain, and it was then that Rain told him he would give him something nice.
“Yep. It’s something I found by chance while exploring some ruins in the Northern Lands….well, just take a look.”
What he held out was, no matter how you looked at it, a piece of a rock.
Yet there was a tinge of green.
“Hmm? I see nothing but an ordinary stone though.”
“Ah, that’s why amateurs are such…This is something you can only use once, but when the bearer is in mortal danger, it will bear that danger instead. It’s true, I’m not lying.”
Ralphus let out an impressed laugh.
“I’ll give it to you as a precaution. Take it with you when you go to fight. Don’t sweat it, don’t sweat it. You don’t have to be so reserved. In return for it, tonight’s drinks are on you.”
One last time Rain told him he wasn’t lying.
Ralphus was very grateful, and brought the stone with him to the battlefield.
He even thought the stone had helped him.
In the midst of a terrible battle, an enemy arrow had pierced his neck.
But, just by applying a small bandage to his neck, he had escaped a dangerous situation.
Afterward, he couldn’t find the stone and so had completely thought it was thanks to it.
It was just that upon returning, Ralphus invited Rain out to drink with him to convey his gratitude, when Rain responded, saying
“Oh. That was just a stone. It was something I picked up off the roadside.”
“….What was that?!”
“Geez, no need to get upset. After all, it gave you courage didn’t it. Battles are, whats the expression, fought from the strength of the heart, or something. But wow, isn’t that great! It’s a happy ending!”
Giving him a thunderous pat on the back, Ralphus spewed his drink all over….
Reflecting back on that time, Ralphus cleared his throat.
Fearfully he asked the Princess, who was beaming with joy.
“By the way Princess, Rain didn’t happen to mention anything about that silver coin, did he?”
The Princess blinked several times before responding,
“Let’s see…Rain seems to have seen the other side of the world, and in regards to this item, said that he found it quite by accident while exploring some ruins in the Northern Lands.”
“I, I see!”
That dirty little!
Ralphus broke out into a cold sweat.
Not recognizing Ralphus’s internal struggle, the Princess continued happily.
“Rain is really strange you know. It’s not like I ever doubted him or anything, but he just kept insisting he wasn’t lying.”
“Ha, hah…..that really is strange….haha, hahaha.”
She brought her hand daintily to her lips, still laughing gently, but Ralphus wasn’t the least bit taken in.
All the alcohol he had imbibed earlier turned into sweat.
At the very least, he decided to change the topic.
If he ever had a chance to meet with Rain again, that was something he would most definitely ask.
“Well, if it’s ability can only be used once, I think it would be wise to keep it safe and save it, don’t you?”
“Yes, I feel the same way.”
“I am relieved to hear that.”
“Ah, it’s n, nothing. That’s right. Princess, would you happen to know someone by the name of Michelle?”
It was a name he gave without much thought in order to change the topic, but the Princess jumped in astonishment.
“Why do you know that name? Rain!? You heard it from Rain, didn’t you.”
All he could do was nod feebly in the face of such force.
If the Princess had romantic feelings for Rain, then he never should have brought up another woman’s name.
But contrary to his expectations, the Princess smiled in much the same manner as a flower opening its petals.
She gently folded her hands, and spoke as though seeing a dream.
“Rain has been thinking of Michelle, hasn’t he, Sir Ralphus.”
“Well….I s, suppose. I was only asked if I knew her. Only that…”
It seemed the Princess wasn’t listening anymore.
Her cheeks colored as she said things like ‘I see,’ and ‘Rain did…’
She had completely turned into a day-dreaming maiden. Most likely she wasn’t conscious of Ralphus anymore.
I just can’t understand women after all. Ralphus thought to himself.
A faint whistling could be heard, riding on the wind.
Yet again Yuri thought about skipping a stone across the lakes surface from atop her horse, but for the sake of her mission, held herself back.
She was a girl of sixteen or seventeen, wearing a light blue blouse with a white skirt.
Black hair smooth enough to easily run her fingers though fell gracefully to her shoulders. Her eyes, which had the look of a squirrel searching for something, were glowing in victory. The person she was watching had a face many would regard as cute, but due to her current disgust with him, his ranking was quite low in her book.
…My word, how long does he intend to keep on singing so badly! On top of that, he’s only wearing a shirt and pants even though it’s so cold out. Lovers take heed, lovers!
There’s no way someone can be this tone deaf! He was singing a song that would make anyone’s ears sore. Apparently the lyrics told of the love between a man and a woman, but it only sounded like noise to her.
The more she listened, the more she felt as though her lifespan were shortening.
I can’t believe it’s this bad.
Holding back the urge to cover her ears, she maintained a constant distance and continued to follow the singer.
The man, Rain, one of the leading Generals of this country, was called the “unknown genius” in Zarmine.
Currently however, he was famous enough that only a few still called him such. At the very least, there was no mistake that he was highly regarded in other countries. His military exploits were sometimes called the greatest under heaven.
In fact, Yuri had been extremely nervous up until she had actually laid eyes on him. Now, there was no longer a fraction of awe left in her.
I want to just forget about this and go home—was what she was thinking, but since it was an order from the top, she couldn’t just do as she pleased.
Yuri sighed deeply. In the end no matter how much she disliked it, she had to follow this man wherever he went.
Oblivious to Yuri’s contemplations, Rain continued singing his song in a broken bell sort of voice, while riding atop his finely groomed white stallion.
He seemed to pay no heed to the fact that he was amidst shops in the very center of the merchants district of the capital city. He was completely ignoring the laughter, directed at him, of the people walking along the main road. He might even be famous in a different meaning of the word.
Nevertheless, Yuri had no intention of getting involved with him, even for a fraction of a second.
Even now she was trying to put as much distance as possible between them so she wouldn’t be mistaken as an acquaintance of his by those around. After all, someone like him was just a stranger to her.
Suddenly, Rain stopped his murderous singing, muttering something. Yuri bent her hears, listening intently.
“How about it Chris, you hungry?”
It was strange, but it was what she had heard.
She looked at the sky in exasperation.
Yet she kept hearing the same thing repeated again and again, so she couldn’t just dismiss it by saying “Who’s Chris? There isn’t anybody else around, geez!”
Finally it dawned on her that Chris was the name of the horse he was riding. In other words, the genius swordsman, Rain, had a hobby of talking with healthy young horses.
He was a hard puzzle to figure out.
Why do I have to tail this guy that has useless rumors about him floating around?
Even though it was pointless no matter how much he talked, Rain kept speaking to his horse. It must have been a coincidence, but the horse shook its head lightly.
Right after, Rain spoke, seemingly satisfied.
“Gotcha, gotcha. Food can wait til after, huh Chris.”
Then, as though nothing had interrupted him, he began singing that murderous tune again.
Without thinking, Yuri uttered a curse under her breath. This was the first time she had ever thought a mission could be so totally pointless.
It wasn’t just the song.
Besides, Rain was supposed to be one of the leading Generals, so why was he looking into each of the peasant’s shops as he passed? The answer seemed to be that if the shop keeper was female, Rain’s interest increased with the beauty of the woman.
He wouldn’t move on until he had spoken one or two words with them.
This guy’s a loser who’s got a weak spot for a pretty face.
Rain’s rating in Yuri’s book continued to worsen, deepening to a point where recovery seemed all but impossible.
As she was thinking this, Rain rode past a tavern, turning suddenly down a side street.
Yet again you're planning on something like that…!
Closing the distance, Yuri hurriedly turned the corner after him.
She almost ran headlong into Rain.
He should have proceeded ahead, but instead he had dismounted and was leaning against the taverns wall. Looking at Yuri, he raised his hand and gave her a light greeting.
“Hey! Could we talk for a bit?”
Crap! He couldn’t know I was tailing…….no, wait…I can still fix this! He’s an idiot after all.
Her face having finished cycling through a whirlwind of color, she adjusted her expression and took on the role of an innocent young girl. Opening her eyes as wide as they would go, she spoke.
“Wha?! You must have mistaken me for someone else, good Sir Knight.”
Rain gave Yuri a searching look, then shrugged his shoulders.
“Well, it isn’t much of a problem even if I’m mistaken. Could you dismount your horse for a moment? There’s something I’d like to talk about.”
She was only lost for a moment. There was no way she could be under suspicion at this point. In the end, she dismounted reluctantly.
“So, what is it?”
“Nothing really. Just, I’d like to hear the reason you’ve been ‘coincidentally’ following me ever since I left the castle.”
Rain stressed the word coincidentally.
Yuri stiffened. He had been a laughing stock in her mind, but it seemed he had known ever since leaving Galfort Castle that she had been tailing him. Of course it would be impossible to clean this up as a ‘simple coincidence.’
T, this could be bad……Breaking out in sweat, Yuri began planning her next move.
“U, ummm……I’ll tell you because it’s come to this, you see I, well I, had my heart stolen by you Sir Knight the moment I first saw you, and followed you because I wanted to be close to you.”
Fighting the urge to grind her teeth, Yuri gathered herself together.
“Hoh, you fell for me at first sight, huh…” said Rain, laughing. Following his lead, Yuri let out a “tehehe,” in response.
After laughing hard, Rain stopped abruptly, defying her statement.
“You little liar.”
“Ehhh!? It’s truuue! That handsome all black look.”
“You can go on, can’t you. Listen, it’s true that I’m handsome.”
What a self-conscious idiot, was added to Yuri’s internal ranking of him.
“Even so, I just can’t accept such a lame excuse.”
“Ehh~, but I’m telling the truth, gee! I have completely, about you……”
Rain swiftly lifted one hand, and Yuri’s mouth closed. After sighing resignedly, Rain went straight to the heart of the matter.
“Look, if you’re going to feign ignorance, then I’ll spell it out for you. You’re really a spy for Zarmine, right? Be truthful about it.”
I’ve been found out!
The moment she felt her cover had been blown, she reached behind her skirt to where a dagger was hidden, preparing to leap back. She had confidence in her ability to run away, and even if it turned into a fight, she was prepared to fight much more vehemently than that swordsman. She hadn’t been trained in Zarmine for nothing.
Anyway, that was how Yuri felt at the moment.
――But, there was no time for her to retreat.
Together with a faintly piercing wind, she glimpsed the afterimage of a moving black shadow.
A collection of points of light drew a half-circle through the air, and a blueish, gleaming light entered Yuri’s range of vision.
Before she realized it, she had become unable to move.
It seemed before he had even decided to reach towards his waist, in a feat of speed no eye could match, he was already holding his sword at her.
It was no ordinary longsword at that. It was giving off an aura of magical light….a magic sword.
From the blade itself a wavering blue-white light arose, and one could hear a humming sound as though of many insects flying around.
It looked incredibly sharp. At the very least it wasn’t something she had any desire to have tested on her.
Yuri swallowed the lump in her throat.
“I, impossible… such speed…”
“Of course, after all I am a genius.”
Rain said, pushing back his bangs with one hand. He really got on her nerves, but now was not the time for retorts.
On top of that the silent horse, Chris, looked at her as though she were an idiot, causing Yuri’s stomach to churn.
Well, that’s just coincidence.
“How did I know? Well you know, I’m just sorta sensitive to people’s presence, so something like tailing could never work, and besides, your movement is nothing like an ordinary girl's.”
“Hmph! It just means you’re twenty years too young to try and deceive these eyes.”
There was no limit to how much he wanted to brag. Yuri wanted more than anything to just punch him right there, but besides now not being the time for it, she was about to lose her life.
A spy was hated no matter what country one was in. If one were caught, it was execution. Though more often a spy was cut down the moment they were discovered. In other words, this was an impossibly bad situation.
I’m in serious trouble! If I die here, then who’s going to take care of my little sister! I’ve got to turn this around somehow, anyhow!
If I ask for help……Ahhh! But what if, what if in return he wants me to do ‘this’ or ‘that!’ After all, this guy’s got a weak head and seems like the lecherous type.
As Yuri was envisioning this, Rain questioned her lazily.
“So. What’s your name?”
“Yuri huh. I guess it’s okay. It kind of dampens the mood though.”
Mind your own business! She wanted to say, but Rain continued, asking her for her age.
It wouldn’t mean anything even if she were to hide it now, so she responded with a “sixteen” while taking care to never move her gaze from the magic sword.
Rubbing his chin, Rain seemed oblivious to the fact that she was in a defenseless position.
You don’t have to worry about me, I’m just as upset with how things turned out.
“Well, next time if you would just wear a shorter skirt. One that just nearly covers, you know.”
Rain returned the magic sword back to its sheath.
In a daze, Yuri watched as Rain began walking back towards his horse, humming.
“Chris, in just a bit we’ll have some food, okay.”
“…..wait a second…”
“I know, we should go to one of the inns outside town, huh Chris.”
“Right! You're in agreement then. Alright, then you’re treating till I drop!”
Yuri took in as much air as she could before she yelled with all her might,
“LISTEN UP YOOOU!! LISTEN TO WHAT I HAVE TO SAY, NOT THE HORSE!!!”
As though surprised, Rain turned around.
His black eyes were opened wide.
“You know, you shouldn’t just suddenly yell like that. After all, I like pretty voices.”
“What are you talking about, pretty voice! Y, you know, when someone is shaking, scared to death of being sliced to pieces, don’t be talking to your horse like nothing is wrong!!”
“When were you shaking? When? You were always just looking for a chance to run away. It’s fifty years too early for you to try and outrun me.”
Rain responded pridefully.
Ignoring the rest of your comment, you just increased the amount by thirty years from last time.
“Besides, you’ve seen my face up close so your business should be over, so why don’t you just hurry up and scat. Shoo, shoo.”
He waved his hand, as though chasing out a fly.
What, so you stopped just so I could see your face up close? Yuri brought her hands to her mouth to stifle another yell.
“Eh….it couldn’t be, you’re letting me go?”
“What would it matter if I’d killed you. All that would happen is another guy would come right? If so, then just cutting one down won’t change anything.”
“T, that’s true I guess…so you’re really letting me go.”
This guy, he’s a little better than I gave him credit for.
Yuri looked at Rain in a new light. Under any other circumstance she would be dead by now, and if not she would be taken as a slave, and in the end, killed anyway.
Up until then she hadn’t looked at his face once, but now, she saw beneath his jagged black bangs, a face with determination engraved on it. His black eyes especially left a lasting impression. They were sharp enough to belong to the wolves in the forests.
Yeah, he might just be handsome――it’s not the time for this!
Remembering something important, Yuri again grew dark.
It was great that her life was spared, but the mission she had been given to follow Rain was in shambles. This alone is really bad. Returning to Zarmine after failing her mission, she would definitely be punished. It was also possible her neck was on the line.
“What’s wrong? You’re making such a gloomy face again.”
Rain asked, sitting atop his horse.
Instead of telling him to shove off, Yuri began telling him everything. After all she was indebted to him for sparing her life, and besides, she couldn’t refrain herself from talking.
After listening to her story, Rain spoke.
“Then it’s best for you to come with me, isn’t it.”
Surprised, Yuri lifted her gaze to meet his.
“You’ve got a mission after all, right? So there shouldn’t be any problem then if you come with me.”
“Eh?! Eh?! But my mission is information gathering. If we go together, then won’t you be in trouble?”
Yuri asked, her eyes opened wide. Rain only laughed in response.
“I’m not going to be in trouble just by having you tag along. After all, I’m on my way back to my castle because I’ve just been put under house arrest.”
“Like I said, house arrest. You know, the kind where I can’t leave my castle. So I guess it’s castle arrest, haha.”
Rain told her, as though enjoying himself.
“Without preparing my soldiers I went by myself to the council and told everyone, “Hey, if we can’t win even if we fight, why not just quit?” and the result of that is as I have just told you. So I’m on my way back to my castle, where I plan on taking a nice, long nap.”
Watching Rain laugh himself hoarse, Yuri looked at him in disbelief. It wasn’t a line any self-respecting honor-bound knight would ever be caught saying.
“D, departing and returning alone, I thought there was something up, but…”
Her head started to ache.
He was just an idiot after all.
“So, Yuri. What’ll you do? You gonna come with me?”
She heard his voice from afar.
It was hard for her to keep from telling him 'go on alone!' and in the end Yuri didn’t have the right to choose anyway.
“Uuuu! I’m going with you…”
Yuri responded, halfway to tears.
It must have been a coincidence, but Chris neighed, as though laughing at her.
Gradually, the scent of trees began mixing in with the chilling air.
From the metropolis to Astel, Rain’s province, it took three days by horse.
In other words, it was deep in the countryside. Or, as it was commonly referred to, the sticks.
Even so, out of all the province-holding generals, Rain was the only one who had no nobility in his lineage, and had risen from the level of an ordinary commoner. After all, King Douglas took the social hierarchy very seriously.
The long branches of southern cedars were all around, turning the area into a small forest. The region of Astel was either made up of either open plains, or forests like this.
Scattered throughout such terrain, were small towns and villages. It was countryside all around, and nothing more.
“We’ll be arriving at my castle soon, but do you got it? You’re a knight in training, so you can’t talk casually in front of me. Don’t even say a word.”
Anybody watching would have seen Yuri struggling to voice her agreement.
Rain and Yuri agreed to say that their fathers knew each other. Which meant the setting was that Yuri was under Rain’s tutelage to become a knight.
Though the number of female knights were few, it wasn’t unheard of so the story itself wasn’t too strange. Actually, it was a fact that of Rain’s two Commanding Officers, one was female.
“What’s with that face? I’m saying this for your sake you know. And it’s okay to talk casually when no one else is around, so I’d rather you were thankful about it.”
“Well I am thankful……It’s just I’m not good with all the formal talk.”
“It can’t be helped though, can it? I haven’t heard you say you want to be separated from me after all.”
“Ugh. Don’t put it that way!”
“But it’s true, right?”
Rain said, coolly.
Rain smiled complacently at Yuri as she fell into silence, a wrinkle creasing her brow. Then suddenly, his expression turned sullen.
“Nothing, just remembered something unpleasant.”
“So, why don’t you just tell me already?”
“Xenoa, one of my Commanding Officers. When she finds out I’m under house arrest, I’m never gonna hear the end of it.”
“Xenoa… …Isn’t she the daughter of really powerful nobles, and one of the corners of the Five Houses?”
Yuri tilted her head to the side slightly. Rain was impressed that she was so well-versed, even if it was a strange thing to be knowledgeable about.
“Well, that is my job after all. Anyway, is she going to be that outspoken? The officer that is.”
“Absolutely. Unbearably so as a matter of fact. She’s a real beauty and has an excellent sense of style, but her rattling on really takes a toll on her charming points. I thought I’d really found something though when she first came to me about half a year back.”
“You know, your way of wording things is, really odd……”
“It’s fine, isn’t it? More than that, we’re about to come into view of the castle. Just after we get out of this part…look!”
In that moment they passed out of the forest, they were greeted by a spacious and grand scene. Yuri strained her eyes, following the direction Rain was pointing.
……But that extended finger froze suddenly.
Yuri’s jaw dropped.
“What’s all this about!”
“What’s going on!”
Their two voices blended beautifully.
Cortecreas Castle was Rain’s castle and while it was small, a moat surrounded the high walls with defenses that would surely guarantee excellent protection.
Many spires jutted into the sky, the peaks of whitely painted towers.
A drawbridge led to the gate of the castle, and currently that bridge was down.
That was alright.
The problem was the plaza before the castle gate.
In that space there were two-thousand combined knights and foot soldiers, a mighty regiment.
Come war, and the troops would organize into ranks, marching out of this area.
The soldiers were packed into the open areas. From foot soldier to knight, it seemed the entire military strength of the castle was gathered here.
All of them were heavily clad in armor, and armed with spears and swords. It looked as though they were ready to march out for battle at any moment.
What’s more, as though this amount were still insufficient, carts filled with weapons and provisions came one after another out from the castle.
The strange thing was, everyone was continuing their work in silence, seemingly exhausted in some way.
“You’ve been lying to me!”
Out of nowhere Yuri screamed in a shrill voice.
Rain turned his head around jerkily, as though his neck were a badly rusted metal joint.
“Just what’s that!? They’re preparing to sortie! All you’ve said about being under house arrest has been a lie! Saying whatever you wanted at the start, you were planning on locking me away somewhere and then doing whatever you wanted!”
“Cripes you’re noisy! Don’t go making up your own erotic fantasies!”
Before she could finish, Rain interrupted.
“Who would do something that bothersome just to push you down!? Cool your head, idiot!! I’ve got no idea what’s going on same as you! I’m in the middle of figuring it out myself! Got it!?”
Yuri responded by raising her voice and shouting all the louder. It would seem she hadn’t understood.
Unable to take it anymore, Rain covered his ears with both hands, and used his feet to get Chris to move forward.
Right now he needed to find out what the reason for all this was.
Proceeding quickly into the plaza, a man clanking in his armor, most likely recognizing Rain came towards him from the middle of the group.
Shortly trimmed blond hair and blue eyes……But those eyes were different from a nobles in that the white part of the eye was in fact, white. His face was well groomed, but a youthfulness emanated from his expression, giving off an aura of unreliability.
He was one of Rain’s officers, Leni. His real name was actually Lelbyni, but it was too troublesome for Rain to say, so he had shortened it to Leni. Each of his two officers were captains of a thousand.
This Leni, even though the cold season was about to start, wiped sweat from his brow as he ran towards Rain. His eyes darting around everywhere was especially suspicious.
“Hey, Leni! What’s going on? It’s not Zarmine is it? They haven’t come this far already, have they? Hey!”
Rain asked hurriedly, but Leni avoided meeting Rain’s gaze, and at length began making excuses.
“I told her, I did. To stop. And that this was moving too fast…”
“……Hah? What are you saying, Leni?”
“N, no. What I mean is, I really tried to stop her. Something like this shouldn’t be started until after the General gets back, I said.”
Rain was lost.
Frustrated, he dismounted from Chris and grabbed Leni by both his shoulders, shaking him violently.
“Listen! Tell me in a way I can understand!”
“No! What I mean is, if you could just know that I’m not the one at fault……Ah!”
He was stumbling over his words when he noticed Yuri riding up, and his attention flew out to her.
“General! Who is that very pretty girl with you?”
“Listen, won’t you! My question comes first.”
“Oh my. Pretty? I’m really not so……”
Yuri put her hands to her cheeks, intentionally acting cute and ignoring Rain. It seemed the misunderstanding had been cleared and her bad mood was taken care of.
“Well, I am here to train under Rain by my father’s introduction. My name is Yuri. Nice to meet you~.”
In his youthful way, Rain interrupted Yuri, who had been speaking in an enchanting tone, lavished with charm.
“Hey, hey! Don’t wave your hand around, your hand! I mean, Leni! Don’t you be drawn in either! Hurry up and explain the situation to me, now!”
But Leni didn’t live up to Rain’s expectations. Fawning over the smiling Yuri, he was completely distracted. Deciding to look for someone else, Rain turned his gaze to the open courtyard just in time to see a group of soldiers split in two, and something unsteady on its feet come staggering towards him.
To describe it simply, it was a heap of armor.
It was a silver-white glinting heavy equipment armor, and completely covered from head to feet. But perhaps because whoever wore it had little physical strength, or because they weren’t used to using heavy armor, their feet were quite unstable. If one ever went to battle in that state, it would only serve as ample target practice for the enemy.
He wanted to know who the idiot was, but unfortunately the face was covered by the helmet’s face guard.
The riddle of a knight staggered its way over, constantly fixing its bearing, slowly approaching Rain. It was quite ghastly to watch.
“Leni, who is that idiot?”
“Eh? Well, that is…uhm.”
“Never mind. Just wait a moment. I don’t think I want to know. I don’t want to hear who it is wearing that armor!”
As though by divine inspiration, Rain who had suddenly realized who it was under the armor, shook his head in negation. Even though he knew shaking his head wouldn’t make any difference.
As expected, Leni’s next words were spoken in pity.
“If that is your request, then I shall not push the information on you. But no matter, as you’re about to know soon enough.”
“Uuhh. I know…”
Letting out a heavy sigh, the one staggering as though drunk approached Rain and the others, finally coming to stand before him with heaving shoulders.
Like a late autumn bug, the voice that spoke next had a very fine tone.
“Haah Haah…General…Welcome, back…I have, been…eagerly, awaiting…your return.”
“It must be hard to breath, take your helmet off, your helmet! So irritating.”
Interrupting the long speech, the person before him let out a gasp as they, clanking, took off their helmet.
Blond hair that was in waves, and blue eyes which were the marks of nobility appeared out from within the helmet.
She was an exceptional beauty that could widen anyone’s eyes.
“Haa Haa… …For now, congratulations on your return, General.”
“Yeah. You haven’t changed, Xenoa.”
Rain looked down the other of his adjutants, clearly upset.
“So, has your breathing gone back to normal?”
“Yes, sir. Something of this caliber is nothing I can’t handle.”
“Ah, I see…well that’s good then.”
“There is no use for your concern. By the way, General.”
Xenoa looked stiffly at Yuri, standing behind Rain.
“And who would this be?”
“Eh, Ahh….Her name’s Yuri. I was asked by her father to put her in my care, so from today she’s going to be learning what it takes to be a knight.”
After lightly making the introductions, he added that their fathers both knew each other.
Only Leni happily nodded his head, while Xenoa maintained her stiff expression.
“Is that how it is……If your name is Yuri, then mine is Xenoa Amelia Easterheart. My middle name, Amelia, is not my mother’s, it’s my childhood name. When you address me, ‘Commanding Officer’ will do.”
Xenoa who’s name was as long as you’d expect from any noble, was even in Rain’s eyes, speaking in a disdainful tone.
Yuri felt the same way, so she responded with ‘pleased to meet you’ in a very unfriendly manner. It seemed almost as though small fireworks were exploding between the two girls’ eyes.
“Hey now, don’t start off with so much tension. But that aside, Xenoa could you tell me what’s going on here?”
“Hm? Explain…you say?”
“You’re really looking at me as though you don’t understand…I’m talking about this state where it looks like we’re ready to head off to battle at any moment, explain that!”
Upset, Rain waved his arm to indicate the field packed with soldiers.
Tilting her head to one side, Xenoa let out a faint ‘oh, that’s what you meant,’ followed up with her puffing out her chest in pride.
“Naturally, since we would be moving out the moment the General returned, I had us all get prepared to move out.”
Rain looked silently at the beautiful face of Xenoa, feeling ever so pleased with herself.
And then just one sentence.
“Are you really that idiotic.”
“Don’t ‘wh, what!’ me. Who said you could go ahead and do as you like! It’s fine not doing anything you don’t need to!”
Rain continued his lecture to the taken aback Xenoa.
“Besides, what are you going to do after you’ve gathered all the castle’s military power into one place. You at least need a regiment to keep watch over the castle don’t you? Do you not understand at least that!?”
“Don’t ‘b, but’ me! Send the groups back into the castle this instant!”
“Well, just a moment, General.”
Leni held up his two hands as though to keep Rain from advancing on Xenoa. That’s when Rain turned to him.
“……Leni. I’ll be docking half your pay next month for negligence of supervision.”
“Wha! That’s too cruel! I honestly tried to stop her!”
Leni raised his voice almost to tears.
As though done with the matter, Rain proceed to walk towards the castle.
“Well, I suppose I’ll let it go then. In return, get me in contact with Günter as quickly as you can. I have something I need to talk to him about.”
“I, I will contact him at once.”
Leni removed his hand from over his heart.
Yuri followed after Chris and Rain, while Leni turned around and headed off in a different direction.
For a moment it seemed the matter was at a rest.
But for some reason things just didn’t work out that easily.
“Please wait a moment!”
Xenoa said in a raised voice.
“What is it? I want to hurry up and sleep in my room already.”
“I will admit I went overboard.”
Rain turned to face her, yet without paying attention to his comment, Xenoa continued.
“We will be moving out against Zarmine anyway are we not? In that case it would be ridiculous to release the soldiers right now.”
Ugh, it’s here.
Rain shook his head.
He couldn’t keep quiet about the fact of his house arrest, especially as Xenoa was one o