Year 761 of the Jugdral calendar.
The prince of Lenster, Cuan, after learning that Sigurd of Chalphy, his wife’s elder brother and his best friend, had been branded a rebel and was fighting, took with him the elite of Lenster’s army – the Lanzeritter – and passed through the Yied Desert in order to take part in the battle.
Knowing this, King Trabant, who had been looking for a chance to pay back for the repeated disgraceful invasions from the Manster district, at Northern Thracia, launched a rear attack and annihilated them. Trabant then returned to his country, taking their daughter, Altenna, who was travelling together with Ethlin, and the Earth Lance Gae Bolg, held by Cuan, as spoils of war.
The four countries of the Manster district, Lenster, Alster, Manster and Conote, kept a military alliance. However, the king of Lenster didn’t stop Prince Cuan when the other three countries opposed his actions, and, as a result, heavy losses were suffered, and the leading power of the Manster District fell from glory.
With the impetus from crushing Lenster’s Lanzeritter, King Trabant, seeing that the neighboring country of Grandbell was in chaos and noticing the good opportunity, started the invasion of Manster, which he had considered an annoyance for a long time.
Manster, which had been belligerent against Thracia since before as well, closed the gates of its towns and castles firmly to prepare for the incoming siege battle.
To Trabant, the siege preparations were largely pointless, since his dragon knights could attack from above. However, being targeted and badly beaten by archers and mages didn’t sound good. After this, there was still the battle against Conote and Lenster; the final objective was the unification of Thracia.
“Your Majesty, we have been informed that Manster is being besieged by Thracia. Moreover, they have requested reinforcements.”
After the news of Prince Cuan’s death, the sorrow-filled castle was suddenly thrown into chaos.
While calming down the young soldiers who wanted to avenge Cuan and planning to corner Thracia diplomatically, they ended up losing the initiative, surely; Thracia’s invasion had begun.
“So, what’s the situation?”
“Aren’t they attacking with almost their entire army? As far as dragons go, 30 were confirmed. 10 heavy cavalry divisions, and with regards to the infantry…”
“Why doesn’t Manster counterattack?”
“In the outset of battle, the dragon knights and archers attacked each other ferociously, and their main generals died. Since the troops that remain in the castle are mostly composed of the mages and archers, the dragon knights don’t approach but, meanwhile, they’ve been completely surrounded by infantry units.”
There was a commotion among the gathered generals. They had never faced a large-scale invasion before.
“30 dragon knights… damn that Trabant, he called back all those who were doing mercenary service!”
“What should we do, Your Majesty?”
“Since we have to fulfill our oath, we have no choice but to go. Moreover, this will be a battle of revenge for Cuan.”
After hearing King Calf’s words, the young generals that were there cheered.
“We’ll take down that damn Trabant for sure!”
“We’ll teach those Thracian clowns a lesson!”
“Do not make light of Trabant…!”
General Ranz, a lance knight taking charge of the education of the younger knights, scolded them for their excitement.
“Your Majesty… even if we join the siege battle, I can’t see Trabant slowing down his invasion. If we take our entire army and strike at them, we will have neither a chance nor means to turn back.”
Insightful as ever, Lurvin offered that counsel.
“Indeed. If we rise alongside Conote and Alster now, we have nothing to fear from Thracia… however, if one of these falls, it’ll be the other way around: we’ll be in trouble…”
Once King Calf said those serious words, the previously agitated room became quiet.
“If only Lord Cuan were here…” – that’s what everyone thought.
“However, we cannot simply stand by and watch. There was a request for reinforcements, and it is Lenster’s, our duty to respond. Call the army. Organize the troops, we’re heading to Conote.
There, after joining forces with Conote’s army, we’ll take down Thracia at Manster.”
As King Calf made this decision, Lenster’s army’s morale was raised.
Leaving the throne, King Calf went to Leaf’s place instead of going back to his own room. There were the queen, Leaf’s nanny, and Fin, who had been designated as Leaf’s guard by Cuan.
“At the worst moment…”
“Ah, damn that Trabant… he really didn’t waste his chance.”
The king’s face and bitter smile showed his desolation.
“I wanted to see Leaf’s growth, but I don’t know how things will turn out in these troubled times.”
“Your Majesty, I shall accompany you…”
“You mustn’t. Cuan entrusted Leaf to you. If we wish Lenster’s royal family to continue existing, Leaf’s safety is essential. I entrust that to you, Fin.”
King Calf’s powerful tone made Fin cast down his eyes.
“I wonder if I’m fit for such an important mission…”
“It’s alright, I am sure you’ll have Crusader Noba’s protection.”
Even the queen’s gentle words were powerless in front of the heavy duty he had been given.
“He who has one who trusts him and whom he must protect, is strong against the adversities that appear before him.”
Leaf, who was sleeping in the nanny’s arms, began to grumble, as if uncomfortable.
“Oh look, even Leaf has begun to feel uneasy. Fin, Leaf can feel your uneasiness, as you’re the one always by his side.”
“Therefore, please promise that you’ll protect Leaf…”
“I swear it. I shall protect Lord Leaf, without fail.”
Leaf, who was thought to have woken up, went back to sleeping soundly.
“I’d really like to avoid a situation in which we much entrust everything to this young child. But perhaps we have no choice.”
“Fin… please protect Leaf… for Cuan and Ethlin, please protect this child…”
Probably shocked by their lieges’ words, which revealed that they were prepared to die, Fin and the nanny were at a loss for words.
“We’ll probably be in Conote by tomorrow. There won’t be many soldiers left in the castle…”
“I am alright. Dear, do it full-heartedly. Fin, why don’t you call over that person who is by your place?”
“Are you talking about… Lady Lachesis?”
Surprised by the queen’s unexpected comment, he ended up giving a foolish reply.
“Yes – Lady Lachesis, Cuan’s friend and Eltshan’s younger sister. I’ve heard she’s carrying a child in her arms, as well… Leaf won’t be lonely if he or she becomes his friend, don’t you think? Moreover, she came here to avoid that war…”
“A mother who has conceived a child becomes even stronger than a regular woman… for her drive to live is much stronger than when she was alone…”
The queen’s smile was tarnished. King Calf embraced her shoulders and held her hands.
“Fin, this is enough for today. Retire.”
King Calf, staring at the silenced queen, directed his words only at Fin.
After gazing at Leaf, who was well asleep, Fin left the room.
The king was taking measures thinking of the worst; Fin couldn’t believe that. You could even think of that as a betrayal towards the knights, who were in high spirits. However, at the same time, that could only mean that Thracia was a strong enemy. He felt deeply the duty of assuring the continuity of Lenster’s royal family and keeping Noba’s lineage from being eradicated.
“It’s too heavy for me. Your Majesty, Lord Cuan…”
That’s what Fin murmured, alone in a corridor. That time, too, he thought he would go with Cuan, but ended up remaining in Lenster. Altenna should have stayed back with him, but she cried endlessly when separated from Ethlin, so Fin could only keep Leaf with himself. And now, while hearing comments about a battle of revenge for Prince Cuan, he yet again had to stay back, bound by the order of his king to protect Leaf. That pained him.
“Why me, Lord Cuan?”
“Why the long face right before departure, Fin?”
His best friend, Glade, appeared from the shadows of the corridor. He was a hard worker, who would always practice daily at the designated hour, and they had been in good terms ever since they started their training for knighthood. Even in their youth, the knights who trained them would acknowledge Fin’s better perception and ability to notice a gap, but Glade’s enthusiasm was often noticed.
There were many times when Glade helped Fin when he was shunned by the other knights of their age. That was only until Fin went to Chalphy with Cuan; after that, they recognized his worth. His number of friends increased, but Glade was still the only he could call a close one.
“Tomorrow is near, are you going Fin?”
“… No, His Majesty told me to stay in the castle.”
“Lord Leaf, huh? That’s because he’s becoming attached to you, I guess.”
As they exited the corridor and entered the courtyard, the other soldiers, who were starting to make preparations for the next day, lowered their heads to the two. Glade waved his hand lightly, while Fin returned the greeting with his eyes.
“Are you going to the front, Glade?”
“No, General Dorias appointed me to defend the castle, so I’ll remain here as well.”
“That’s reassuring. General Dorias is a loyal and kind individual, and if even you are going to stay then there’s no way this castle is going to fall.”
“Hey, hey! Aren’t you talking like His Majesty is going to lose? Are you saying that Thracia is going to come so far?”
Fin was apparently influenced by His Majesty’s pessimistic words. However, after being laughed at by his enthusiastic friend, he let the dark thoughts go.
“My bad. First I was told by Lord Cuan to protect Lord Leaf, and now His Majesty did the same thing…
perhaps I saw Lord Cuan in His Majesty.”
“It can’t be helped, since they’re father and son. But more importantly, do you mean that His Majesty is going to die just like Lord Cuan? This is an insult, you know?”
As Glade’s grim face suddenly drew closer, Fin let out a laugh.
Fin’s legs stopped, as he couldn’t contain his laughter anymore.
“… Sorry… it was like… I was the only one left behi…”
He tried to explain it to his friend, who should be already getting annoyed, while dealing with his own laughter.
Glade was shocked at Fin, who wouldn’t stop laughing. What was even odder was that Fin’s spasm of laughter became worse, and even his back was trembling.
After a while, Fin finally stopped laughing. He then apologized to Glade, who looked at him with a shocked face.
“I’m sorry. I was sulking because it seems like I am always the only one left behind when important battles happen. Even though I have the important mission of guarding Prince Leaf… no, perhaps I was trying to flee from it because it was too important.”
“Why so miserable? Isn’t it an honor, to be relied on like this?”
“That’s why I was a fool. Thinking of a mission that doesn’t require putting my life on the line as a mere load and feeling dissatisfied over it… I was indeed a fool.”
There were tears in the edges of his eyes from laughing too much. However, his expression was cheerful.
“What a weird guy…”
Following that smile, Glade ended up smiling as well. This friend of his had only been brooding ever since Cuan died, so seeing him smile once again was definitely refreshing.
“So, I should be going already… Glade must go back home as well, right?”
“Yeah… I’ll go back home after dropping by the weapon storehouse and checking the infantry’s weapons.”
The two went together until near the exit of the castle, and then followed their own ways.