金金金Grohl’s jeering echoed through the room during the audience. The red faced middle aged man who knelt before him was none other than the commander of the punitive force, Gaddis. His social status was equal to Wilm’s and he was a reliable man due to his aptitude for effective strategies.
“You fool! Why did you think I sent you ahead!? Was it not so you could protect Rockbell from the rebels!?!?”
“With all due respect, viceroy. We had to clear a path for each day’s march. With the time we had, nobody could have made it before Rockbell fell.”
金金金Gaddis seemed like he was on the verge of anger, but he desperately endured whilst explaining his actions. Insulted by a young man who had never before commanded troops in front of the other retainers, his face strained as his pride as a commander was wounded.
“Is that the way a commander of ten thousand speaks!? What I was asking was why you didn’t recapture Rockbell! You failure, nice try flapping your tongue into excuses!”
“Then I will tell you. Count Barel was already dead, and the population was completely suppressed; however, the silver lining is that we were able to rescue Lady Sarah and the young prince. It was best to immediately fall back and prepare for the coming rebels. A prolonged forced march would only tire out the men, and I made the decision to avoid an unsustainable assault.”
金金金Gaddis had only been in control of three thousand, and the Red Circle Army had around five thousand. They could get reinforcements from elsewhere in the province, but there was also a need to consider the fatigue of the men, and the fortified enemy. Their opponents had also proven to be much more effective in battle than what had been anticipated from the disorganised rabble that they were. Grohl only half-heartedly acknowledged that. All he wanted was to see the rebel forces retreat. It was unknown how far from reality his thoughts were. Causing a rebellion was the greatest shame, and the highly conceited Grohl could not bear it.
“What pathetic reasoning. It is under your command that the Coimbra military gained a reputation for weakness. Listen well, Elgar, this cowardly senility must never be tolerated!” he firmly declared to comfort Elgar who was not looking well beside him.
金金金To prepare the twelve year old who was to one day become the viceroy, he sometimes participated in meetings. So as not to damage relations with Gaddis, for he did not yet know him, and because he did not know what to say, Elgar responded ambiguously. On the other hand, Gaddis had already been insulted, and had his explanations spat upon. His cautious approach had not been in self interest.
“Viceroy, please wait! I have not behaved as one who has lost his nerve! To ensure our victory I…”
“Next up are our soldiers! I don’t need a commander who hesitates like a brigand! You should retire!”
“Viceroy, that isn’t…”
“Yes my lord.”
金金金Grohl roared, interrupting Gaddis’ words, sending him back to the end of the row of retainers which had lined up. Everyone could see that he was trembling with rage and shame as he quickly strode to his place. After checking on Gaddis with a sidelong glance, Wilm took one step forward and gave his report.
“Viceroy, here is the guard responsible for bringing Lady Sarah to safety, Commander of One Hundred, Cynthia Edrich. This is the report of the aforementioned situation. Would it be acceptable to summon her?”
“Yes, I don’t care. Hurry and bring her.”
金金金Grohl nodded, and the guards opened the solemn door for Cynthia who tensely entered with Noel. At the meeting, only the most high ranking officials of the province were allowed to be there so Cynthia had no experience in such lofty affairs. The lowest among them were senior commanders of one thousand, and so proposing anything was absolutely forbidden. Present were the two at the top of the military, ones who could directly advise the viceroy, Gaddis and Wilm. There could even have been officials capable of hastening promotions. In the first place, all those with direct access to Grohl had already been awarded great things in the past. What ruined Cynthia’s mood was that any one of them could lightly remove her from her position.
金金金They were there under the pretext of explaining the situation, but it may have been about questioning the guard’s ability to protect the woman and child. It was as nerve wracking as her first time accompanying the quiet Sarah. He was the eldest son of the great house of Waldek, and the one who was once the first in line for the throne so worrying whether he would respond positively or negatively caused Cynthia to become stiff. Conscious of the gazes from the line of retainers, Cynthia walked before Grohl and dropped to one knee. Noel too, took up a similar attitude from slightly beside and behind her. There was a vague sense that she was having fun, but for the moment it was subdued.
“C-Cynthia E-e, Edrich, Co-Commander of One Hundred. T-tasked with the important duty of protecting Lady Sarah and the young prince, the c-c-clumsy mismanagement of…”
金金金The tightly wound Cynthia’s rapid words were interrupted by Grohl’s sarcastic laugh.
“Wait, wait. We aren’t here to question the responsibility of your guards. Although Sarah did suffer a wound, she was returned safely, and my son Elgar returned with no serious wounds at all. Do not be ashamed of your Edrich house as I have heard that you did a praiseworthy job. You have done justice to the term guard.”
“A-a, ah, I, I, I most humbly accept your honourable words!”
金金金She desperately fumbled her way through expressing her gratitude. Now that the fear of being held responsible for any failures had passed, Cynthia took a deep breath to calm herself down.
“Now then, you seem to have something to directly report to me. Don’t hold back, tell me.”
“Yes, the truth is, um, that is, at Se-sepdef fort, th-the one called N-Noel, that is, um, ah, sh-she…”
金金金The words she had gathered up to summarise the events became intracranial butterflies, causing the words flowing from her mouth to become unintelligible. She knew that the retainers were leaking smirks, and furthermore she hadn’t a clue why it was happening to her. For some reason her surroundings began to spin, and from one knee her body began to tremble. Checking again, her mouth still wasn’t working correctly. The figure of Grohl raising an eyebrow in her field of vision caused the world around her to spiral even faster as despair filled her very being.
金金金Seeing this, with a stern look, Wilm warned, “Cynthia, Commander of One Hundred, there is nothing to be so nervous about. This is about the events which happened earlier; now is the time to report to the viceroy. You are an honoured member of the Coimbra military, be proud as a person of knightly status. Regardless of the situation it is unbecoming to lose composure!”
“Yes sir, of course!”
金金金Although she had answered with vigour, her mind was already blank. Just what exactly she was to say, or where she was to go with it, she had absolutely no idea. Normally she would have carefully prepared her report before hand, but getting Noel presentable had taken all of her available time. With things having turned out how they had, she regretted not writing what she needed to say down beforehand. Boiling inside her head were desperate attempts to formulate summarial sentences. Nothing settled at all.
金金金Several, no some tens of seconds later, as the dreaded silence flowed through the room, somebody lightly patted Cynthia’s left shoulder. Turning to look without thinking, she saw Noel, with glasses on, quickly wink with an elated expression.
“With her fear, I find myself worried about Sir Cynthia’s ability to report; however, it contains some things which must be said. Would it be acceptable, therefore, if I received the honour of continuing?”
“Who might you be?”
金金金Noel answered Wilms question after saluting.
“Sir, I was promoted to volunteer soldier by Sir Cynthia, I am Noel from the village of Zoim. So that the viceroy would reward us for our actions, I took command of the other villagers and we hastened to join the Coimbra forces. For convenience, I have temporarily borrowed the uniform of one in charge of ten. Please forgive me of this much.”
金金金Noel stated a heavily embellished version of the truth. Cynthia could only widen her eyes as she wondered from whose mouth did that statement come. Elgar, who understood the situation, found his mouth ajar as he was made speechless in shock. It was unavoidable that she looked like a completely different person. At first he hadn’t even recognised it was Noel. With her characteristic red hair, and facial expressions, there was little doubt that it was her. It was the real Noel, but that only confused him even more.
“There is no problem with that, but this means we now have volunteer reinforcements if that is the case. It is difficult to suddenly believe that though. Is this true Cynthia?”
金金金Grohl had a doubtful expression. He was aware of how unpopular he was with the populace. It wasn’t only Grohl, but the lined up retainers and civil officials all made similar faces for it was a well known fact that Grohl did not enjoy the trust of his people.
“I-it is. Um, well, without mistake, it is true.”
金金金It was most likely true, as given how nervous Cynthia was, she would have most likely confessed had it been false. She couldn’t bring herself to say that they had once been rebels but due to the circumstances had happened to switch sides. Furthermore, even though she felt about to burst, her mouth would not say that she had lost in single combat to the northern girl. If word got around that a commander of one hundred lost a fight with a commoner, the already poor reputation of the Coimbra military would further plummet, so with heart wrenching thoughts, Cynthia continued her big lie. For Cynthia who was not a person to tell lies, it showed in the form of pain on her face, but fortunately nobody noticed.
“What a thing to say. Among the province, not all of the people were ungrateful? Did you hear that Wilm?”
金金金At the news of unanticipated reinforcements, Grohl’s expression unexpectedly loosened. He knew most of the populace hated him. He had exhausted himself trying to reverse the situation, but all of his efforts had backfired. Grohl’s temperament was unfortunate, but a tyrant he was not. Whether or not he was any good at governing was another matter, however.
“Yes. Your continued benevolence and governing has reached the hearts of a few of the people. This Wilm is most impressed. This is surely the proof that we have been on the correct path.”
“I had continued to fight the rumors that the Sun God had not blessed us, but this seems to have helped a little. Now, Noel, exactly what was it that Cynthia was too nervous to report? I don’t mind, tell me without reserve.”
“Sir, this is a report on the high probability that Baharans are participating in the current rebellion.”
“What was that?”
“For that reason, Sir Cynthia has hesitated so. Whatever happens, it is an important matter to report.”
金金金At Noel’s words, in one moment, the room filled in an uproar. For an instant, Grohl’s face went pale, then his expression changed and he stood.
“Baharans! So the Baharans, no, Amil is behind this rebellion!?”
“Don’t do anything rash! Our relations with Bahar may be chilly, but we are still brethren serving the great Horsheido empire! So why can they not help but attempt to deceive us!? Noel, you had better not be lying!”
金金金As one officer raised his voice, instantly, the civil officials rebutted.
“But if we rethink our relations, we have nothing to gain! It is no lie that we have put great efforts into relations before!”
“Can you quiet down!? Viceroy, please calm yourself! Noel, state the grounds for what you have said! This is a place for the viceroy and high ranking officials, if what you have said is something like a lie or a joke, that is inexcusable!”
金金金After turning to the room and raising his voice, Wilm gave Noel a stern glare.
“T-this is m-my turn to report!”
金金金Cynthia rose and stood. After all the noise had lifted, it became possible to think calmly. Nervously, but without error, she explained what had happened up until that point. Although she was pushed to the limit, the rebels had advanced on the unknown Sebtem fort. Among them was Neddicas, who had been in charge of ten in Coimbra, but had fled to Bahar and several of them had Baharan accents. It was something he had not only attempted to kill Cynthia to keep secret, but also some of his own subordinates.
“How could they? As I thought, any way you look at it, this is Amil’s doing! How vulgar of him to attempt to trick his own elder brother to his own advantage! He brings shame to the great house of Waldek.”
“Please wait! It is dangerous to trust what they have said. It is mere speculation that Bahar is behind this all, we don’t have any definite proof!”
金金金Wilm risked his life to ease the tension. What Noel and Cynthia were saying was completely true, but he could not afford to overlook it. Normally that kind of thing would not be instantly believed, but Grohl was different.
“Definitive proof you say? So far this has all been enough reason to believe it though! What do you think they’ve been doing up until now!”
金金金The one who had taken trade with the southern islands from Coimbra in conjunction with Ribeldam had been none other than Amil. On top of all that, it had been recorded by their father Befnam, further spoke against Amil. Because of that, he had lost his place as next in line for the throne, and gained instead infamy. Even though he was his younger brother, he held a hatred for him that could not be sated even by killing him many times over.
“Viceroy, we do not need reckless action. I don’t understand from where you have heard of this.”
“I am Emperor Befnam’s son, his firstborn Grohl Wardka! Why hold back for my brother!?”
“Pardon me. I had simply wanted definitive proof, would it be acceptable to capture the rebel leader Ristih? He should without a doubt have some information. He may even be a knight from Bahar.”
金金金At those simple words, Noel’s mouth curved in amusement. Her expression which was overflowing with confidence did not look like one of a volunteer soldier, but rather like a tactician watching a well planned trap sprung. Her glasses gleamed in the light, reflecting a subtle radiance. She had an intimidating air which was not at all like one of a young girl.
Wilm, however, unexpectedly responded under the pressure, “Just one soldier, no, a commoner shouldn’t speak like that! The Bahar province is famous, vigourous, and has great fortitude; its military has dauntless courage. That respect is impossible to attain through lies! Do not speak so poorly of Bahar’s ruling Viceroy Amil!”
“Whoever our opponent is, they will obviously have to take responsibility for it. We will capture Ristih and torture him until the truth is brought to light. There will be no problems. He will be judged for his sins,” speaking thus, Noel again took a knee.
“It is as Noel has said. Once Ristih is captured, everything will be made clear. If what she says is true, she will be rewarded!”
“Wilm, Rockbell must be recaptured first. You can also come with me. Have the troops been fully assembled?”
“Gaddis, I entrust the defence of the capital Madress to you! A second failure is not allowed, carefully carry out your duty !”
金金金Gaddis expressed his comprehension and left the room.
“Cynthia, thank you for your good work. I will be sure to reward you later. From now on, I expect you to work hard for the sake of Coimbra.”
“I apologise for my earlier manner of speech!”
金金金Cynthia bowed deeply. She was full of relief that her audience was coming to a close. Nothing could compare with how she felt.
“Now, Noel, from what I’ve seen, you are a rather self-respecting individual. If you are okay with it, would you like to become a leader of ten in the Coimbra military? Of course there are no problems with wanting to return to your old life in the village. We would compensate you with a different reward that way.”
“I would love to, thank you very much.”
“Then you may retire for the day. You’ve done a great service.”
“Yes, sir. Then shall we go sightseeing, sir Cynthia.”
金金金Removing her glasses, loosening her expression, Noel reached out to Cynthia’s hand. It was an elegant motion as though offering her a dance. Cynthia scowled as she took the offered hand and stood, and the two of them left the room together. Watching them leave, Grohl forgot his earlier rage, and found himself laughing unexpectedly.
“This world sure has some strange girls. Don’t you agree, Wilm?”
“Yes. I have never seen ones like this before; such is the nature of humanity. I’ve lived a long life, eh?”
“To match you, a dignified great general, she’s a courageous one. Didn’t she also seem capable and intelligent? She is a truly interesting girl.”
“Remember that as we do not know her history, we must not let our guard down. I cannot think that she is a simple village girl. For the moment, caution is necessary.”
“I get it, I get it, you’re overanxious, aren’t you.”
金金金While outwardly responding to the conversation, Wilm’s inner thoughts kept strong vigilance. It would be easy to underestimate her as a simple young girl, but he felt from her an unpleasant premonition. Her eyes which seemed to peer well beyond her years, carried a sense that they saw through all. There were times when Wilm had to change his mind. After fifty years of life, he had become perceptive and hardworking, and he had cultivated his eye for people. It was that sense which was violently ringing alarm bells. He had to be sure to absolutely never be deceived by her appearance. It was highly likely that under a human’s skin, something else lurked inside of her.
金金金But, how much of the plan did she discover, and what could a mere leader of ten do? Without bringing along social status with her, her work could never accomplish much.
金金金As though to vomit out his unease, he breathed deeply to calm himself down. If he could somehow bring her over to his side that would be good. From what he saw she would be the type to understand what he had to say. She seemed to be the kind of girl who would take advantage of anything profitable. That type of person would never board a sinking ship. They would not value high morals, justice, or other such things.
金金金The most troubling ones were those obsessed with hatred. That type wouldn’t listen to words, and could at any time do something unnecessary, often aggravating situations. The best example he could come up with was the viceroy Grohl. While thinking to himself, Wilm’s cold gaze looked out before him.
“It seems that the meeting has ended. Everyone, we don’t have much time, hurry and prepare for the day we take the field. Our next battle must absolutely not end in a loss.”
金金金Responding to his words, the retainers quietly left.
“Father, I have a request. A once in a lifetime request.”
“Why are you being so formal Elgar? Also, isn’t it rare for you to try to coax something out of me? I don’t need to say this, but it is alright to just tell me. If it is within my abilities I will grant your request.”
金金金The viceroy, with the expression of a father leaned in towards his son happily.
“If Noel is to serve Coimbra, could she become my subordinate?”
“You want Noel as your subordinate?”
“Yes, other than that, I don’t need anything. I just wanted her to be my subordinate. This is a once in a lifetime wish, and I won’t make another one like it, father,” Elgar implored with a serious face.
金金金More than anything it was what he wanted. He thought of the hammer which she had seized and used, and that she had been quickly used as a decoy and had the bravery to survive and return. Later she returned, easily mistakable for a staff officer. He wondered which one was the true Noel, he wanted to know no matter what. He had unknowingly become fascinated by her and her carefree attitude which was sometimes masked by an alien form.
“If it is that, you don’t even need to plead for it. Is that really a suitable wish?”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“You are the man who will inherit Coimbra; no, if possible, the empire. At that time, all the retainers will serve you. Noel too.”
“You don’t need to rush. Train yourself and become a man who will lose to no one. Before that day comes, to the best of my ability, I will clear all obstacles before you to build up a solid foundation for your future. I will bare all of the people’s wrath. The one who will change Coimbra, will be you Elgar.”
金金金With those words Grohl strongly smoothed Elgar’s hair, a mix of resolution and resignation on his face. Elgar affirmed his words and accepted his silent father’s hand.
“What is this? The viceroy heard only lies! For such a horrible sin one should be thrown in jail! But Sir Wilm, that he would use such language! Who do you think you are!?”
金金金Dragging her away as though to throw her in prison, Cynthia grilled Noel. Her brow was wrinkled, and a vein bulged on her forehead.
“I wasn’t thinking…”
“Be serious, you idiot!!”
金金金Seriously an unbelievable woman! In front of the viceroy, even the dust should be nervous!
金金金She had frantically worried about how to introduce Noel, but then she brazenly spread lies. With her smooth tongue and confident air, there was not a person who would have doubted her. It seemed like she had just thought of something, and quickly after a mischievous smile floated across her face, she smothered it with a serious expression.
“C-Cynthia Edrich, Commander of One Hundred here~. T-this journey with Lady Sarah and the young prince is isht charanchara…”
金金金Noel rattled off her Cynthia imitations whilst standing stiffly. Even minor muscle spasms were recreated, and she magnificently reenacted the earlier events.
“T-that is in imitation of me!? What a deflection!”
金金金With her face completely red, clutching her uniform just above the stomach, Noel’s expression slowly paled in response. She had been too engrossed in teasing and had forgotten to secure an escape rout.
“T-this is awkward. C-Cynthia, I, I just suddenly thought to help you with some troublesome things is all,” Noel used swindler’s words.
“Silence, don’t ‘just suddenly’ me!”
金金金Noel surrendered with both hands, and Cynthia’s anger dispersed. She felt foolish herself for having expressed her anger through physical force.
“Now then, what are you going to do!?”
“What will I do, about what?”
“As I was saying, you know, what the viceroy said about entering the army or returning to your village!”
金金金With those words she released Noel, and took a moment to breath and calm down. From the start, her status as a volunteer soldier had been just a title, and was only provisional until the guards had completed their mission. Noel and the others had technically been relieved from service. For Noel who had stated her intentions, it seemed that she wished to join the military. She was the kind of person to cause all sorts of trouble with her unbridled carefree attitude, but her prowess in battle was undeniable, and her head seemed mostly to work correctly.
金金金If she asked the person herself, Cynthia felt that she would get a: ‘because I had my curious glasses on’ style non-answer. To put it plainly, Noel was a person she could not understand. They were both women, however, and seemed to be no more than four years apart in age. Of course, their ability to get on the same wavelength from time to time was inhibited by their incompatible personalities. If anything, she felt that it might be fine if things stayed that way.
“Yup, I wonder what I’ll do.”
“You wonder what you’ll do, aren’t you fine with whatever.”
“It doesn’t matter where I am, or what I do so long as I find happiness~.”
“Ha… Think more seriously about your own affairs.”
金金金Cynthia was amazed. Joining the military came with all kinds of restrictions, but food wouldn’t be a problem. Once the rebellion was put down it would become a relatively stable career, although her life would be in danger.
金金金If she went back to the village, she wouldn’t have to hold back. She knew the hardships of taking up the sword as a woman better than anyone. Enquiring further, she found that Noel had not originally lived in the village, and she had settled down in the middle of a journey. She didn’t really understand, but played along anyway. Either way it was possible for Noel to live a good life. She seemed to be the type of carefree girl to smile lightly in any circumstances.
“Hey, Cynthia, do you know any methods of attaining happiness?”
金金金Noel had abruptly asked her, and although she scoffed at it initially, her serious expression pulled her in.
“The methods to becoming happy? That is so vague it becomes difficult to answer you know.”
“What I’ve heard up until now is to: eat well, sleep well, become skilled, gain many friends and companions, amass treasures, and continue winning. I have lots of others too, but many of those turned out to be no good. I’m not sure because there were so many people.”
金金金She removed a notebook from her breast pocket to confirm.
“Hmm, for me, I haven’t thought about it much so I don’t really understand.”
“Then why did you enter the military, Cynthia? Do you like fighting?”
“It isn’t that I particularly enjoy battle. It is because I inherited my family name, and I wanted to protect its knightly status.”
金金金She didn’t have the desire to protect the people or the province. It was for her own sake at the time, but she had kicked such vices from her heart. It was the duty of the knight to serve the province and its people.
“If I do that, will I achieve happiness?”
“No, it isn’t really for that reason.”
金金金She was viewed as stupid by outsiders, endured scorn, and frantically trained. She could defend her pride and honour, but those and happiness were different things. In the first place, she couldn’t understand well what happiness even was. Was it to find a loving family, and raise children in a warm environment? If that was the case, wouldn’t becoming a knight have been a negative thing? Why had she even taken up the sword? She built up the strength to ask herself.
“You don’t know either, Cynthia?”
“Yeah. What is happiness? It is a complicated and difficult question. Sorry, but I don’t really know after all.”
“I see. Then let’s search together? We’ll definitely find out if we search together,” saying so, Noel held out her hand.
“B-but, I just met you.”
“That doesn’t matter. What is important is the opportunity, the opportunity you know. It’s been like that from the start.”
金金金Noel quickly urged her to shake hands, and Cynthia considered while looking at it.
“What is important is the opportunity, eh?”
“Yup. Ah, but I can’t do everything by myself so look after me well, okay. That’s it, that’s it, undefeatable invulnerability and the like. It’s not a huge goal.”
“Then, from that undefeatable invulnerability, a big one will come, eh? You did say to continue winning, but that isn’t a simple thing. Firstly this undefeatable invulnerability, I don’t think either of us would be qualified to speak about it so lightly…”
“As I said, we’ll stick together. Come on, Captain Cynthia.”
金金金She seemed exceedingly buoyant as she spouted words; truly a carefree individual. As expected this was the original, and the other facade had been acting. It must have been the glasses just as she claimed.
“Together with you, eh?”
“That’s right. Together we’ll aim for undefeatable invulnerability. First come the great general’s hundred victories so we’ll match it and bring about: the corps’ two hundred wins.”
金金金Noel drolly flashed her white teeth. While she thought it was all foolishness, she had grown to find that it wasn’t entirely bad. After all there was nothing preventing her from taking the hand. It was true that increasing the number of people increased the chance of the target being found. What they could feasibly accomplish, she didn’t know, but the point was that they were acknowledging their friendship. Cynthia nodded once and grasped Noel’s right hand. She decided it was alright to ignore the small details of how things would work out in a friendship between a superior officer and a subordinate. Noel was that kind of person after all.
“I, I’ll be counting on you.”
“Yup, together we shall continue to win, and achieve happiness!”
金金金Hearing the phrase that was similar to the words from the killer’s story earlier, Cynthia made a wry smile, then she remembered what she had to do. If she had to say, it was that moment that was the best so far.
“There is one thing I forgot to say.”
“What is it?”
“However things turn out, the fact that you helped will remain. That is, that… tentatively you have my thanks. Yeah.”
“Ah, don’t worry about it.”
“There is no way that will happen! I will seriously…”
“I see. Then always care. It doesn’t bother me.”
金金金Noel, with a smile, grasped her glasses and flew from the room.