Going through the castle’s plazas and looking at the gathered soldiers with a side glance, Fin went towards the king’s office, taking Lachesis with him.
Lachesis carried in her arms a one-month-old baby. The child was squirming uncomfortably, perhaps feeling the smell of battle in the air.
“I wonder what does His Majesty want from a foreigner like me?”
Walking at a fast pace, Lachesis repeated yet again the question she had been making ever since the previous day’s night.
“I don’t know either, but I believe it’s related to Lord Leaf.”
It was clear that Lachesis was feeling something in that tense situation, so they grew taciturn. Fin even thought of her as reliable.
In the office, lying in the innermost part of the castle, people were moving around hurriedly.
“Your Majesty, I’ve brought Lady Lachesis.”
In front of the open door, Fin asked King Calf, who was inside, for instructions.
As he entered the room, he saw King Calf, wearing his body armor. Other protective items were being prepared.
“I heard Your Majesty called me, so I came. I thank you for your kindness and for allowing me to take shelter here… if there is anything I can do, please ask.”
Fin was standing in front of the door, in a way not to hinder those who went in and out of the room, and watching Lachesis. She greeted King Calf gracefully, as the princess of Nodion – someone precious to King Eltshan, as he knew. She wore practical clothes like any knight, but, for an instant, it felt as if she was in a dress.
The image he had of her, built based on Prince Cuan’s description of what he heard from King Eltshan, crumbled when they first met; however, her behavior full of grace and elegance fit the stories he had heard perfectly.
“I have an important request to make, but please wait for an instant.
Everyone, this is enough. Go back to your own tasks.”
King Calf instructed the servants to leave the room.
Fin was leaving as well, but the king called him.
“Fin, this concerns you as well. Stay and listen.”
As King Calf, Lachesis and Fin were alone in the room, Fin closed the door. The king turned to the only open window and looked outside.
“My request couldn’t be different…
it’s about Leaf.”
“I will sortie now. By looking at our situation, you can tell that our chances of victory are fifty-fifty. So, I want to take all the measures I can… so that our Lenster keeps on existing…”
King Calf asked Lachesis to sit down, and then did the same himself, facing her. He also instructed Fin to sit down next to Lachesis.
“If Manster and Conote fall, they’ll probably come for Lenster next. He’s a man who won’t let an opportunity slip… that’s why we must repel him at Manster, without fail.”
“If Your Majesty is going, then we are sure to be victorious.”
“Fin, we are going to simply attack them. However, we don’t have enough elites to drive Thracia’s army from Manster. Cuan’s death was a heavy blow to us.”
King Calf quietly remonstrated Fin, who wanted to believe in victory.
“Are you asking me to help Prince Leaf escape if the worst happens?”
“You’re sharp… I want to ask you to take care of Leaf alongside Fin. If news of our defeat reaches your ears, don’t hesitate; leave this castle and go towards Alster. They might not be taking part in the battle, but I don’t think they’ll reject refugees…”
Fin didn’t realize it, despite King Calf’s gloomy face.
“Is there anything bothering…”
“No, it’s just that the king of Alster won’t take part in the battle…. But you should still be able to flee to Alster safely.”
King Calf seemed to be lost in his memories, but Fin was unable to figure out what he was thinking.
“… I understand. If you believe I can be of use, then I shall do whatever I can.”
“Fin, for Prince Leaf’s sake, you cannot die. That’s the mission your king gave to you… to live and protect Prince Leaf… an important task.”
“I understand. Your Majesty, please depart without worries.”
“You had a morbid expression yesterday… but regardless, I’m sincerely counting on you.”
“Good luck, Your Majesty.”
“I shall await your safe return, Your Majesty, King Calf.”
In order to take back the baby they left in the care of a servant along the way, Fin and Lachesis went to Prince Leaf’s room, where she said she’d be.
That was in the floor below the office, in a room facing the courtyard, away from the soldiers’ noise. Inside, the queen made Leaf company.
“Your Highness, I’m glad to see you in high spirits…”
“You’ve finished your business with His Majesty, right?”
“Yes, I am to go to Prince Leaf’s place together with Fin.”
“I know. You don’t need to speak like this… what did he say…?”
The queen’s smile disappeared, revealing a deep sorrow.
“This child is your daughter, am I correct? I wonder if you could kindly tell me her name?”
“Yes, I called her Nanna.”
“Then, little Nanna… take care of Leaf, okay? Watch out for him so doesn’t do rash things like Cuan did.”
“And Altenna…ah, poor girl…”
“Her corpse wasn’t found yet, Your Highness. There is a possibility that she is still alive.”
“She was captured by that Trabant. We know well enough it is better to resignate.”
The queen fell silent after that note, and resumed watching Prince Leaf’s playful figure.
“Your Highness, it’s time for His Majesty’s departure.”
A servant notified her of the time, from outside the room.
“Come, Leaf. Your grandfather is leaving for battle. You’re coming with us to see him off, right?”
“Is he going?”
“Will he come back?”
“He probably will.”
Leaf grumbled in response, as if in understanding, possibly since his parents didn’t come back after all… when listening to that dialogue, Fin felt a pain inside his chest.
“Fin, hug me?”
Evading the servant who was going to take him, Prince Leaf rushed to Fin.
“Fin, you’re loved by both Altenna and Leaf, aren’t you? I remember that even though Cuan assigned you as Altenna’s guard, we always said you were becoming her playmate.”
Seeing Fin’s embarrassment, the queen laughed softly.
“Come with us, Fin. Please hold Leaf, yes?”
As asked by the queen, Fin held Prince Leaf in his arms and went to the front garden.
The soldiers announcing the king’s departure were gathered in the front garden. Those who would stay to defend the castle surrounded the plaza, while those who were going to the front were organized in ranks.
The queen, after spotting King Calf at the castle’s entranceway, went to his side.
“Good luck, Your Majesty.”
“I leave the castle in your hands.”
Those were brief words, but well enough for them, who looked fixedly into each other’s eyes.
As the door opened, the soldiers, who had been waiting so long, let out cheers.
“Long live Lenster!”
“Let’s take down Thracia!”
“This is the revenge for Lord Cuan!”
King Calf controlled the unanimously shouting soldiers with a gesture.
“Our sworn ally, Manster, has been surrounded by Thracia, and we’ve received a letter from them seeking reinforcements.
We shall now depart, to help a long-time sworn friend and take down the detestable Thracia!”
There was a loud cheer, as the soldiers’ morale raised.
“May the blessings of Noba be with you.”
Following the queen’s words, the soldiers’ voltage raised, and their excitement reached the peak.
The king mounted on his horse, and brandished his lance over his head.
Accompanied by a loud cheer, the king and the royal guards who protected him ran through the castle gate. Afterwards, the lance and bow knights followed, making the earth rumble as they rode forward. Lastly, the infantry, composed of armor knights and low rank soldiers, began their march.
The sortie of Lenster’s almost entire army was indeed spectacular. The knights who saw them off had no doubts that they would be victorious; only the king and his wife considered the worst.
Fin, who already knew of that, forgot the time and kept on staring at the castle gate even after the king had left.
“Fin, let’s go back!”
Prince Leaf pulled Fin’s hair.
“Yes, Lord Leaf.”
Cradled in Fin’s arms, Leaf was impatient, even though the knight was already going back.
“Let me off!”
Fin softly let Leaf off, in the now almost deserted corridor. As he did, Leaf started running.
“Lord Leaf, please don’t run. It’s dangerous!”
Fin chased him nervously. This happened often back when he was taking care of Altenna as well, but she would always soon return to Fin. Leaf, however, ran to his destination without looking around. Because of that, chasing him while paying attention to the surroundings was a pain.
In the end, he wasn’t able to catch up with Leaf until the bottom of the nearest stairs going to the prince’s room. Leaf was waiting for him there, and laughed.
“There is no need for me to remain is this castle, right?”
That was Lachesis’s rebuttal to Fin, when he found out she was going to leave and tried to prevent it.
“It should be enough if you notify me in case something happens. There’s also Nanna, and there’s nothing I can do here right now…”
Her expression when looking at Nanna was the same as Ethlin’s when looking at Leaf, so Fin was unable to detain her any further.
“Why the brooding face? I do want to do what I can for Lenster, who accepted me even though I was part of Lord Sigurd’s so-called rebel army. However, that might not even happen. I’d better stay home, like I have until now.”
“… to go so far…”
“My, I’m lord brother Elto’s younger sister, didn’t you know that already?”
Lachesis giggled and let out a smile. Nanna, who was sleeping soundly, seemed to be opening her eyes.
“Oh, no! If she wakes up now, she won’t be able to fall asleep again tonight. Good night, Fin.”
“… Good night, Lady Lachesis.”
Fin saw the hurried Lachesis off, and then went to Leaf’s room.
After the departure to the front, Fin was called by the queen and told to stay in the castle. Since he lost his parents early and was entrusted to the castle, this castle used to feel like his home, but when he reached the status of knight he obtained a house outside. Although it was right outside of the castle…
Even though he was Prince Cuan’s favorite servant and ended up serving his children as well, he couldn’t keep on living in the castle forever. Therefore, he asked Cuan for permission to buy that house.
“I must go get something urgently, as well…”
While going towards where Fin stood alone, General Dorias and Glade were talking about something.
“… Is that so?”
“Even if we’re talking about Thracia, they aren’t simply going to cross that mountain and attack Lenster at once, don’t you think?”
It seemed that the two hadn’t noticed Fin, but once they got close to him, Glade called Fin.
“What do you two happen to be arguing about, General Dorias?”
“Right now, His Majesty’s battle formation.”
So said General Dorias. His tone indicated that, if there were a table around, he would punch it.
“Somebody inexperienced like me is unable to understand what His Majesty is thinking, but it seems he plans to drive them away before they reach Lenster. I wonder if there’s something we don’t know.”
Fin made a great effort to behave calmly in front of that perceptive general.
“No, it’s just that there were too many archers left behind. Since we don’t have many mages in Lenster, archers would be our main force if we were to fight Thracia. And the large amount of archers left here worries me.”
“There are Conote and Manster as well. Besides, even though I think it isn’t going to happen, we would be defenseless if the dragon knights came to Lenster and we lacked archers.”
General Dorias’s worries were well founded as well. However, Fin told him not to worry, since apparently the king’s worries were different.
After seeing off General Dorias, Fin walked the corridor in order to return to the prepared room. Then, Glade called him to a halt, from behind.
“Were you serious back then, Fin?”
Glade inquired Fin, his expression leaving it clear that he wouldn’t accept an evasive reply.
“Back then… ah, when talking to General Dorias? Didn’t I tell you I don’t know?”
“Then, why did you have a gloomy face yesterday?”
“That’s… didn’t I tell you about it yesterday already? I felt that the duty of protecting Lord Leaf was too heavy, and…”
“It can’t be just that.”
Fin, who didn’t think his sometimes perceptive friend would feel his own uneasiness, stumbled when replying. That said, he hesitated to put his uneasiness into words.
“Just like you said before as well, I don’t think His Majesty is going to lose. However, I can’t picture those Thracians coming and making a direct frontal attack… don’t you agree?”
“So that’s why you’re uneasy? But you said General Dorias staying behind was a relief…”
“Yeah… if the ones besieging are infantry soldiers, then what are the dragon knights doing? Don’t you think they’re heading to Conote, or even to this Lenster, as we speak?”
“Well… you have a point.”
“This is something I heard from His Majesty, by the way. He was saying something like that in Lord Leaf’s room. ‘We can’t make light of Thracia’…”
Glade listened to what Fin said, thoroughly impressed. However, as Fin talked, his own uneasiness worsened drastically.
The army that left Lenster’s castle reorganized its ranks and advanced towards Conote. On the way, voluntary soldiers joined from towns and villages, and thus Lenster’s army swelled considerably.
“Your Majesty, we are about to enter Conote’s territory.”
“Yes, tell the troops to halt. I’ll send a messenger to Conote.”
“All troops, halt!”
The order was given, and the entire army stopped. Comments of relief could be heard among the voluntary soldiers, who weren’t used to their equipments.
King Calf sent a person with many acquaintances in Conote as a messenger, and directed all kinds of preparations to make camp at that place. However, after a short while, the messenger heading to Conote returned.
“Your Majesty, it seems that the king of Conote, His Majesty Carl wants to meet you, and is heading in this direction.”
Those around King Calf grow noisy, because of the unexpected event.
“Stretch the tents right away, and prepare for the meeting.”
He directed his servants, and made his own preparations for the audience.
“Why would the king of a country leave the castle at such a time… even though he’s young, didn’t those around him say anything…?”
King Calf felt a hint of uneasiness. He praised to the Crusader Nova, asking for that what he told Fin before leaving not to happen.
“King Calf, I wanted to meet you. Are you aware of how reassuring your coming here is?”
The young king of Conote, who blushed while talking, was pretty much a child.
“After my father died, I’ve been target of countless assassination attempts from a faction that would rather see my uncle as the king. However, God sided with the legitimate successor. Starting with Leidrick, the amount of people supporting me increased, and finally I was able to be recognized as king.”
“Then, who’s guarding the castle now?”
“Leidrick. I cannot go to the front, but the soldiers who can are waiting in the castle for my return…
together with you.”
King Calf looked, somewhat amazed, at the king of Conote, who talked as if he were dreaming. After the previous king’s sudden death, he heard there was a dispute between the king’s younger brother’s faction and the prince’s faction. How did this young man gather such support? He heard the king’s younger brother had greater military power.
“King Calf, please decide the battle plans with the generals. I’ve left it in their hands. I can stay at ease in the castle because they’re reliable people.”
King Calf felt a light headache from watching that king’s innocent attitude. Even if Conote’s generals were excellent, should the king they’re supposed to serve rely on them this much? That could become a problem.
Eventually, rushed by that king, King Calf entered Conote’s territory. He told each knight divisions’ commanders to rest, then entered Conote Castle with his escorts.
“Welcome back, Your Majesty. Thank you for coming, Your Majesty the King of Lenster.”
A man, probably a vassal, came to greet them. King Calf didn’t have a good impression of him, but Conote’s King Carl seemed to trust him.
“So you’ve come to greet us? King Calf, he is Leidrick, whom I told you about. He’s a quite experienced man, so he’s been doing a lot for Conote. He’s being of great help to me.”
“As already introduced, I am Leidrick, Your Majesty. I have been waiting to meet you ever since I heard you’d personally take part in the battle to support Manster.”
There wasn’t anything wrong with what he had said so far, but thinking about what was behind his words, he noticed his eyes were too sharp. He had the intuition that those were the eyes of somebody who was thinking things he shouldn’t and considered informing King Carl of that; however, concluding that would just dampen his humor, he remained silent.
“Please leave the rear support to my knights. All of Conote’s knights will be happy to fight alongside Lenster’s army.”
“He’s probably not lying,” King Calf told himself. King Carl looked at Leidrick as if trusting him completely, but the mature King Calf found it strange. However, if they weren’t to cooperate with each other, driving off that big Thracian army would become quite hard.
In order to counter the anxiety that arose inside his chest, King Calf returned to where his own army was at a quick pace.
“How was it, Your Majesty?”
Lurvin, one of King Calf’s most trusted men, greeted him. Although younger than himself, this general’s perception and insight were definitely impressive; because of that, the king entrusted the role of military strategist to him.
“Have you met with that Leidrick before?”
“No, I haven’t, what about that man…?”
After confirming that he wasn’t well-known, King Calf approached Lurvin more closely and proceeded.
“He’s very close to King Carl, but I feel he’s suspicious. It seems King Carl trusts him quite deeply, but I can’t help but think he’s up to something.”
“I understand. I’ll have somebody look into that. However, no matter how worried Your Majesty might be, we’ll probably not be able to catch his tail if the King of Conote doesn’t notice it. We might also lack enough time…”
Lurvin’s thoughts became clouded.
“Indeed. We must depart and head to Manster as soon as possible… they’ll make their move after that, right? We’ll only know when we’re already battling against Thracia…”
“Either way, now we must devote ourselves to taking down the enemy in front of our eyes. Once we destroy a part of Thracia’s siege, we’ll be able to naturally see the way. It’s no use to worry about something that might not happen. I was planning to leave the rear guard to you…”
“Please leave it to me. No matter what disaster may happen, I’ll make arrangements as Your Majesty requested.”
Even though his behavior was peaceful, it was clear that he was at his wit’s end.
After Lurvin left, King Calf stayed alone inside the tent. The reported number of dragon knights was increasing, compared to when he received the communication. Even though it was to be expected, it felt like he was confronting a military force kept in store for God knew how much time… Trabant’s ambition.
Once a communication that a war council was to be held came from Conote’s side, King Calf entered Conote Castle with his main generals. Naturally, Lurvin was among them.
There, the soldiers were divided between those who would stay in Conote Castle and those who would go to the front with Lenster’s, so it looked like things were going as Leidrick wished. Conote’s generals were anxious about King Carl’s future, but apparently Leidrick coaxed them well.
“This man called Leidrick has an evil mind… it seems he’s up to quite a few frauds.”
After a meeting that was a war council only in name, Lurvin casually approached King Calf and handed him a memo – “It seems Thracians have slipped in.” After returning to his tent, King Calf burned the so written memo in the camp’s bonfire and called Lurvin.
“Is that true?”
“Yes, it seems they’re moving around quite a lot for some reason. Apparently some of them kept contact with local nobles, but I still haven’t found out who…”
The usually evasive Lurvin said direct words. He probably investigated it on short notice, and yet had apparently reached the core of it already.
“We’ll get up early tomorrow. You should rest already.”
“No, I still have to wait for a report, so until that comes…”
After saying that, Lurvin left the tent.
Early in the morning, the entire army gathered and started marching towards Manster. Its full command was entrusted to Lenster’s king, while the king of Conote saw them off from the castle.
“Since I’m here, the rear guard will be alright.”
His words were promising, but it was impossible to fully trust them. Even so, now he had no choice but to trust those words and march forward.
Before the departure, Lurvin, already using his armor, informed King Calf that he didn’t get any news of his contact, so he couldn’t know what Leidrick and the Thracians were planning.
Lenster’s soldiers felt exalted, but King Calf and Lurvin alone grew depressed due to their increasing uneasiness.
The people of Conote saw the biggest army they had ever seen off with wild enthusiasm, as it passed by. “There’s no way they’ll lose to Thracia,” everyone said.