金金金Cynthia’s troupe avoided the conspicuous highways and instead stuck to the forests. Their progress had been slow as they only proceeded once the area ahead of them had been scouted and confirmed to be safe. Once they had sufficiently distanced themselves from Rockbell, they could simply take the highway back to the capital. Cynthia was faced with the choice of fleeing quickly, or escaping cautiously, with her foremost priority being the protection of Grohl’s wife and child. The heavy responsibility of fleeing a land which threatened death was ever pressing on her mind. In the centre of their formation were Sarah, Elgar, the guards, Cynthia, and, for some reason, Noel was also present. Although Cynthia had tried to drive the hindrance away, Noel had nimbly stepped out of her reach, and proceeded forwards. Not wanting to waste unnecessary energy, Cynthia resigned herself to pretending to not notice what she could plainly see.
金金金The rest of the soldiers, forming a circle around their charge, marched cautiously on, with their weapons at the ready. The volunteers, whose ability had yet to be confirmed, were placed in the rear of the formation. Even if they fell behind, they weren’t going to be looked after. The man on point held a torch, and cleared the foliage to create a path, for without light, a journey by night was far too dangerous. To remain concealed, they ceased movements during daylight.
“Lady Sarah, young Prince, how are you feeling at the moment?” Cynthia asked as they walked.
金金金Sarah’s face was haggard; her visage was distinctly fatigued. As they were executing a forced march that was enough to wear down experienced soldiers, that much was only natural. Unfortunately for her, they could not afford regular breaks. It meant death if the enemy caught up with them, so even if she had to be carried, the advance would not stop.
“I am fine; however, Elgar is a little tired.”
Elgar made a face and spouted, “I’m fine too! Please stop treating me like a child!”
金金金His complaints about not being treated like an adult were decidedly childlike. Fixing his hair, Sarah gently patted his head. It was good that he didn’t bemoan such a lengthy trek because he was a healthy young 12 year old boy.
“Sorry for that. You’ve grown into a fine man. You’re gallant much like your father.”
金金金Watching the two, Cynthia’s expression softened. Although all seemed well, a foolish existence meandered into her field of vision. Before her eyes, Noel turned to face the scene with a burning curiosity. Their eyes met, and just as she was wondering what was so fun about the situation, Noel gave her a thumbs up.
金金金This idiot isn’t finished yet!?
金金金The most vigorous of the entire party was Noel. Completely at ease, she moved with an easygoing attitude as though she was out for a stroll.
“Noel, your standing is not the same as these people’s. Know your place.”
“Why are we different?”
Cynthia looked down her nose at Noel and plainly asserted, “Why? Because you’re a pleb. The world of nobility is alien to you, let alone the world of the Waldek house to which Lady Sarah and the young prince belong. If it wasn’t for the current situation, you wouldn’t even be allowed to approach them!”
金金金On the continent, the plebeians were not allowed the honour of a surname. Only those of the knightly or noble class could take up such a name, and a knight had to at least be in command of one hundred men in order to chose a name. Nobles received their names through blood or money. It was possible to buy into a family as a new branch with a suitable investment. Cynthia was not only a knight, but also tentatively a lower ranking noble.
金金金That said, it is true that nobility is just a name. In fact, it even brings along its own troublesome baggage.
“I see, then nobles are super important right?”
“That’s how it is, so if you’ll just realise your standing…”
“Then, you’re important too?”
金金金Noel had, without restraint, asked Elgar a question. Sarah, who was beside him, did not rebuke her, but rather, a confused look floated across her face. During peaceful times it would have been appropriate to shout in response to her insolence; however, the current situation did not allow for such social conventions.
“Did you even hear what I was saying to you Noel!?”
“Isn’t that right, young Prince, you’re super important too?”
“I, I think so. I am the man who will one day rule Coimbra, Elgar Waldek. You will definitely see me become great.”
“Then I’ll give you something good. When you rise it will become your greatest retainer, so be sure to share your happiness with me too okay?”
“A… present? You want to become my subordinate, is that it?”
“Yup, after all, you’ll become great right? So here it is,” smiling broadly, Noel pressed something into the confused Elgar’s chest.
金金金It was the hammer which had earlier smashed the skulls of the Bahar soldiers. The weapon was too large for a child to easily wield; dried blood still adorned its head.
“What are you trying to give him!? Young Prince, you have no obligation to accept something like that!”
“I have one too, so now we match, see?”
金金金She took up the hammer she still had from behind her. After making a motion as if performing a toast, she whirled the hammer around. It was unmistakably what one of Ned’s subordinates had been carrying. At some point she must to have picked it up without anyone noticing. The criteria for Noel’s treasures were unknown considering the how hammer, which was in no way out of the ordinary, somehow qualified. It had proven highly effective in battle, but Noel’s skill had been more responsible for that.
“What made you decide to give this to me?”
“Because it’s the hammer that saved you and your mum. It might prove super handy later. Hey, can you see how it could be a magical weapon?”
“Hmm, even if you say so, would that make it true? Somehow, it has good weight, and I think I could get used to wielding it.”
金金金While grasping it in both hands, Elgar raised an eyebrow. Obviously, because it was a hammer it held significant heft, and fabric was wrapped around the shaft to ensure a good grip. He accepted it even as it seemed he was still pondering whether or not it would be a good idea. Taking a string, she skillfully fastened it to his belt.
“Young Prince, please don’t keep such a filthy thing. That girl is a fool who doesn’t know the ways of the world, so you don’t have to play along.”
“My life was not saved by such a filthy thing. It is from the hand of a fool who doesn’t understand the world.”
“Outer appearance doesn’t matter. What is important is whether or not you can use it now, or at a later time. Learn about the things surrounding you, that is how I gained some truly wonderful experiences.”
金金金Elgar stopped Cynthia with his hand, and turned to face Noel.
“Your name was Noel right?”
“You have my thanks. I was unable to express my gratitude earlier. Volunteer Soldier Noel, thank you for saving me and my mother. You have my uttermost appreciation for what you have done.”
“It’s fine. In return, don’t forget about earlier, okay?”
“Okay, it’s a deal. I, Elgar Waldek swear to uphold my agreement with Noel. You have the oath of a noble, which will never be broken.”
“That’s great. I look forward to that time.”
金金金Noel and Elgar shared a happy smile as though they had completely forgotten how they were frantically attempting to escape an ever nearing doom. They did not heed the difference in social standing between the nobility and plebeians, but the time when discrimination fell by the wayside was only temporary, and the old ways would later return.
金金金Is it because he is still a child? No, he sincerely gave his thanks, and he was more adult about the situation than I was.
金金金Although she was uncertain of her own feelings, Cynthia’s life had also been spared. Without Noel, she would have surely died. Because of her useless pride, she had yet to give proper thanks.
“Elgar, where did you learn that manner of speech? I could have mistaken you for your father.”
“I have studied many things. I cannot remain a child forever.”
“I’m studying too. I have been in quandary over the discovery of interminable happiness. It’s been trial and error every day,” spouting difficult words, Noel expressed the ridiculous yet again.
金金金It was hard to decide whether or not she was truly an idiot.
金金金I don’t understand. I don’t understand her at all.
“Hmm, philosophy, eh? I will make sure to consider it later. Our castle’s library contains many books. With enough searching I should be able to find what you seek.”
“Really? Thank you, young Prince!”
金金金Eyes aglow, Noel grasped Elgar’s hands while he blushed in embarrassment. Whatever his expression was, from what Sarah could see, it seemed to be a happy one. At a glance they were both being children together; Noel the sister, Elgar the brother; elder and younger.
“… Could you please consider your position. That’s right, when you understand, if you understand, say ‘yes’.”
“… Yes, I understand,” Noel bowed whilst rubbing the cheek which had been pinched.
金金金The surrounding soldiers, and even Sarah, smiled at the exchange. Cynthia glared at the soldiers, and marched ahead of them.
金金金They continued on in silence for some time. Tree leaves rustled in the wind, and the the silence became intermingled with the sound of rain.
“Yup, well this is the worst. A~h, seriously the worst.”
“This is a fateful accident; a blessed rain. It should wash away our tracks.”
“Well, I don’t like it.”
金金金Noel had twisted her face to the limit, and tutting, covered her head with a cloth. Even her speech had become irritated. She truly detested the rain; not even able to stand the feeling of it dripping on her, she consciously walked near the trees.
“O-oi, don’t stray from the formation.”
“It’s fine, so leave me alone.”
“What are you, a child?”
金金金Cynthia was surprised. She again became aware of the fear which she had once felt towards Noel. There was almost no remaining trace of the naive girl who had spoken to them earlier. Her detached character and shameless eccentricity had all but washed away in the rain that now caused her to hunch over, but the filthy clothes she still wore attested to the fact that the earlier scene had not been a lie. Her hair which was still red, now appeared like a stained pelt. Although the stench of blood was fading, it could still be sensed; the girl who acted appropriately for her age concealed a vicious, ruthless beast. From her innocence, cruelty could spring at any time, only to disappear as suddenly as it had appeared.
金金金I didn’t think I had understood her, but this still took me by surprise. It was certain that she had been in the rebel army. With the way things have progressed so far, my fears will probably prove baseless, but…
金金金For the moment, she planned on thanking her if they made it back safely. Cynthia determined so in her heart. Up ahead, a lone soldier burst out before their formation. He was one of the scouts who had been sent ahead to investigate the situation in Rockbell. If reinforcements had already arrived, it was unlikely for them to have been repulsed by the rebels, but the news that he brought was a report of the worst possible situation.
“Rockbell has fallen! The traitors have pillaged it, and flames roar above the district!”
“It fell too quickly. Was the enemy force even large enough for that? I want a full report!”
“The enemy was unusually alert to danger, and I was unable to safely ascertain much information. It is unknown if Count Barel was able to escape to safety!”
金金金At the news, Sarah and Elgar made mournful expressions. Count Barel was probably already dead. Rockbell had low walls, and if surrounded could probably only survive several days’ incessant attacks. The danger was greater than usual considering that the rebels would continue, even if their leader was to die.
“I see, if the leader is an officer from Bahar it would be obvious for them to have the knowledge on how to properly prepare a siege. Damn those cowardly Baharans!”
金金金Most likely, the Red Circle Army had prepared siege equipment in advance, and had persistently attacked. It probably wasn’t too hard for them to breach the gates, and overthrow the minimal garrison stationed in Rockbell. Count Barel had probably attempted to break through the encirclement to escape, but failed miserably, meeting a pathetic end. When the flags of the Red Circle Army were raised above Rockbell, they flapped in the breeze of a hellish scene of pillage and massacre.
“Knight Cynthia, whatever shall we do!?”
“We will carry out our mission! Whatever happens, we will escort you safely to Madress!”
金金金At the exact moment that Cynthia turned to encourage her soldiers, a large number of flaming arrows blazed through the darkness. In the rain, there was no way for the flames to spread, but the light revealed their formation.
“Shit! Why here…”
“They probably followed the scout back.”
金金金Just as Noel had guessed, the enemy approached from behind the scout. They had probably allowed him to leave with the intent of following him. Cynthia cursed her own carelessness as the enemy soldiers closed the distance.
“To think I doubted it! It’s probably these guys! Don’t let them escape!!”
“Absolutely make sure the woman and child remain alive! On Sir Ristih’s orders!”
金金金With voices raised, the enemy descended upon them.
“Lady Sarah, young Prince, do not become separated from me! All right men, do not let them approach!”
“But, at this rate, their advance will crush us!”
“Silence! Do not break the circle! Just hold on!”
“See, I said it. Rainy days are the worst,” Noel muttered disgruntledly.
金金金Her tone was so harsh it was impossible to read the emotion in it.
“Now is not the time! Stop messing around and form up!”
“Hey, can I maybe borrow that fluttery thing? You can have mine in exchange.”
“It’s fine, hurry up. If you want to die here, just do whatever,” coldly stating her mind, Noel roughly grabbed Sarah’s coat, put it on, and dressed Sarah in her own rags.
金金金Noel donned the luxurious coat, and took up her bag in her left hand. She wasn’t very tall, and so was unable to properly see her surroundings.
“Exactly what are you trying to do!?”
“I don’t have time to explain. If I do this well, be sure to reward me for it, okay? We’re in agreement?”
金金金Immediately after finishing her words, Noel took up her bident, and ran into the forest. A roaring flame at the end of her bident, she held it high for the enemy to see. As she charged into the darkness, she cried out in a loud voice.
“What? A woman’s voice?”
“It’s a woman, she’s running away! It has to be Sarah! Catch her!”
“She’s carrying something! It’s probably the kid! All right, the reward is mine!”
“Oi, what about these guys!?”
“Ignore them! They’re just the remnants of a defeated army!”
金金金Chasing after the blazing light, all at once, the encirclement dissolved.
金金金So that’s it! She came up with that quickly! How reckless…
金金金Having thought that far, there wasn’t enough time to explain.
Raising her sword, she ordered, “Now is the time! Break out, on me!!”
金金金Having broken through the encirclement with all of her might, Cynthia had left the forest, and advanced as far as Coimbra’s Milan highway. Nearer to the capital, they confirmed that it was safe to march while flying the Coimbra flag. With that their mission was complete. Her legs like wooden clubs, barely managing to stand, Cynthia made her report.
“Somehow, we seem to have escaped. Quickly, send a runner to the advanced party.”
“A-are we safe? But, Noel…”
“Cynthia, and all you soldiers, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. That heroic girl as well.”
金金金Sarah closed her eyes. Elgar, breathing heavily, frantically checked his surroundings. They all knew without him telling them that he was searching for Noel.
“Waiting for Noel is… no good after all?”
金金金Even though they had used a decoy, such a thing was not what they had expected to do. They had only thought to fight to the death, but that reasoning could have only led to failure. The one who had paved the way to the success of their mission had not been a soldier, but that girl. It would be nigh impossible to escape alive when acting as a decoy under those circumstances. With so many pursuers it was only a matter of time before they surrounded her; furthermore, she was hunted by lustful traitors. They didn’t want to imagine her fate.
金金金At the least, it would be good if she died while maintaining her human dignity. I never was able to thank her for what she’d done.
金金金Cynthia had held on to her doubts right until the end despite having been saved by her twice. She felt like the worst kind of person.
“Ah, um, Knight Cynthia. Noel…”
“She was most likely captured or killed. Either way, it can’t have been good.”
“No way, there’s no way, she wouldn’t just simply die like…”
金金金Mirut stood still, unable to find words.
“Sorry, but at least we can inform the viceroy of her accomplishments. Her name and honour…”
“That doesn’t mean anything if she’s dead. Why… why did this happen!?”
金金金Interrupting his words, Mirut’s face revealed the tears that leaked out despite his turning aside. Perhaps he had harboured special feelings towards her. Not only the faces of the people from her village, but also the faces of the soldiers were darkened. Her slightly detached, bottomless positivity had at some point or another, captivated every one of them. Elgar, Sarah, and even Cynthia herself were included.
金金金Sadness doesn’t help anybody. I am this lot’s commanding officer. Unless I lead them all the way to the end of our mission, how will they fight?
金金金Cynthia unsheathed her sword, and stepped before the party.
“Thanks to the valiant efforts of Volunteer Soldier Noel, we were able to escape a land of death! We have brought Lady Sarah and the young Prince to safety!”
金金金To fix her voice which had become dry, she paused for a beat before continuing to express her feelings.
“Volunteer Soldier Noel, we pray that as you have laid down your life for the success of our mission, you will rest in peace with your fellow soldiers. Everyone, salute!”
金金金Cynthia held her sword before her, and the soldiers, in perfect order, saluted the forest. Sarah and Elgar offered up a prayer. The sun seemed to impulsively show itself. They had been running frantically, and so hadn’t noticed that the rain had stopped. With much weighing on her mind, Cynthia closed her eyes. After paying respects for about a minute, a sound was heard behind them. Worried something may have happened, Cynthia opened her eyes, and carefully turned around.
金金金Turning around, something thick was smeared on her. A gritty substance entered her mouth. There was no mistake that it was mud.
“Don’t just kill people off like that. More importantly, it would be a massive waste to die on such a sunny day.”
“Y-you were alive!?”
金金金Mirut’s voice was a combination of surprise and joy. The other soldiers were the same.
“Yup, I won’t die in a place like that. Wait, did I miss out on a posthumous promotion? Does that even happen for volunteer soldiers? Like, would I have been a senior volunteer soldier? Hey, do those exist?”
金金金Cackling away, Noel patted Cynthia gently on the back. Rather than Noel dying horribly, she had tossed her opponents around like beanbags. Not only were the rebel’s pursuit troops chasing her in the dark, but the branches of the thick foliage had entangled their torches making it almost impossible for them to even see what they were after. The light at the end of her spear served not only to distract the enemy, but also to lead them into traps. She would sneak up on isolated men and gift them her hammer in the form of a single strike such that the number of bodies could not be said to be few by the time morning came. After waiting for the rain to cease under the cover of a tree, and having confirmed that the sun had come out, she walked the shortest rout to the highway. Having made her way to the rendezvous point, she found that the others had decided on their own that she was dead, and were even offering up a silent prayer in remembrance of her, so she had taken the opportunity to mess with them. She proudly explained the events which had led up to their current situation.
“T-this mischievous girl! I am, for the moment, your superior officer you know! I am a commander of one hundred men, and a member of the illustrious Coimbra Knighthood! What were you thinking to smear my face with mud!?”
金金金Indignantly wiping the mud from her face, which had flushed red, Cynthia had raised an angry voice.
“I have no excuses, sir! Um, I salute Captain Cynthia!”
金金金Noel stiffly saluted with muddy hands. The salute itself was as flawless as ever, but her expression didn’t match it.
“I won’t forgive you just because you started acting appropriately just now! When we get you to the capital, I’ll make sure you’re thoroughly educated!”
“As a volunteer soldier, I will show appropriate restraint! So I can receive my reward, let us make haste to return. I ran pretty fast to get here though, so I wonder if it’ll be okay to just continue like that even though I’m pretty tired…”
金金金Already bored of her performance, Noel released a large sigh.
“Silence! You are under my command now! That is what I have decided! We’ll beat that cowardly attitude out of you, and start again from scratch!”
“C-captain. That is a little excessive. Noel is still only a volunteer soldier you know.”
金金金Her subordinate advocated for restraint, and naturally, she ignored him.
“Silence! We shall meet with reinforcements! Follow me!”
金金金Cynthia dragged Noel down the highway by the scruff of her neck. It was nearly impossible to see her as being a soldier capable of easily defeating enemies, and safely returning. The soldiers were dumbfounded while watching the receding shape the two made.
“I-it would be pretty bad if we didn’t catch up…”
“Was the captain always like this? She always seemed more rigid, and irritable…”
金金金Cynthia had no friends who were of a similar age to her own. She had always been one to quietly train and angrily shout so as not to be made light of by the soldiers. Despite that, she managed to accrue great jealousy from her peers. For the soldiers, it was their first glimpse of the ups and downs that Cynthia had always experienced.
“True. But… she seems to get along with that girl. Don’t they seem like old friends?”
“I, I guess I can see that? Well, it feels like she’s been through a lot, at least the captain does.”
“That makes sense. I do have a good eye for people after all.”
Elgar glanced at the exited soldiers, and said, “Mother, we too should follow. The time to rest shall soon be upon us.”
“That’s right Elgar. Then let us make haste. Honoured men, please look after us until the end.”
金金金At Sarah’s encouragement, the soldiers assembled into their formation.
“Leave it to us!”
“It seems you are quite fascinated by that hammer.”
“Yes,” Elgar confirmed as he gazed after the distant Noel, “This shall be my treasure. To never give up a fight to the end, that is what this hammer has taught me. I wish to follow that example myself.”
“As I thought, that stupid woman won’t die even if she’s been killed.”
“You must be relieved Mirut.”
“Shut up. Well, I do feel better.”
金金金Embarrassedly wiping his eyes, Mirut smacked his mouth which had been loosely blabbering. It was well known how much Mirut cared for Noel. The others were even betting on whether Fraser, or he would fall for her first. He himself was the only one unaware of this.
“You really aren’t honest, eh? Well, we still aren’t finished with our job. I’m exhausted.”
“Yeah, after the rebellion is suppressed, I’ll surely head back to my village.”
“Do you think that Fraser and Kraft are okay? Even considering that they took Rockbell…”
“If things get bad, they’ll probably run. They aren’t too stupid.”
“That’s true, and man am I hungry.”
金金金Spouting such frivolous things, Mirut and the other villagers began to walk along the highway. Noel and Cynthia who had gone ahead, seemed to have already met up with the reinforcements.
金金金In Mirut’s heart, he felt that: She really is an energetic one.