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Chapter 2, Episode 17: Commander
Although the right flank of the Fourth Imperial Army had finished deploying to the left, the morale of the soldiers was extremely low from the marching thus far and the battle with the rebel army. But regardless, not a single complaint is heard, and the ranks of troops are neatly aligned. Had these men been conscripted citizens, they never would have been able to deploy this quickly, and there likely would have been a large number of deserters running in fear.
In that tense atmosphere flowing throughout the right flank, was the Sixth Imperial Princess, entrusted with its command.
Her crimson hair as radiant as the sun, is covered in dust. But that did nothing to take away from her beauty, and her bewitching figure, which was reminiscent of Palladiana, kept morale from falling further.
In front of her, is a young girl. She has dark skin, but it is hidden by a large robe. Furthermore, the hood of her robe hides her entire face in a shadow, keeping you from even guessing at her expression.
The young girl was acting as the leader of the rebel army— the slave liberation army. And so, there are likely many who resent her. For the Lichtein Dukedom, she is someone who they loathe to the point of wanting to kill her, and it’s no different for the Fourth Imperial Army. This is why Liz, the Sixth Imperial Princess, is with her to protect her from any who would cross a line that should not be.
Adding to that scene, the nearby knights were gazing in slight wonderment at Valdite atop her horse.
It probably wasn’t due to their rude stares, but Liz let out a troubled sigh.
Her sigh was filled with affection, like a wife waiting for her husband to return from the battlefield— or a mother eagerly awaiting her child to come home. Her mind was occupied by the thoughts of one young boy.
「Hiro… I wonder if he’s okay.」
「There no need to worry about that boy.」
Tris responded to Liz, his words full of spirit. Though he’s an old soldier, he’s not too old to still actively serve. But considering his age, he doesn’t show a single sign of decline, and he maintains his youthfully muscular body.
Next to him, there was a zorosta with an even more impressive build. He has light, purple skin which is particular to zorostas. He appears to be in his early twenties, but he is slightly past 100, and like the young girl, he is also under the protection of the Sixth Imperial Princess.
The zorosta named Gahda nodded in agreement to Tris’s words.
「I would also say there is no need to worry. Though I leave it to you whether or not to believe the words of a former enemy…」
「See, you know!」
Tris enthusiastically patted the zorosta’s shoulder. Knowing how strong Gahda was, Liz was surprised to see this— or at least she was for a bit, but she was more surprised at the change in Tris. Despite everything he says, Tris has also acknowledged Hiro.
Liz realized this, but she didn’t say anything sarcastic about it.
「But to stop an army’s advance by himself. It’s just reckless, no matter how you look at it.」
She wasn’t able to finish her thought and express how worried she was. This was because the cause of her worries, the young boy, had returned on his 「shiryu」. He’s still a distance away, but it looks like his face is heavily tinted with fatigue. Liz grabbed a water pouch and spoke out.
「Open a path. Let him through!」
Before long, Hiro arrives before Liz.
Liz silently hands him the water pouch. Hiro thanked her, then placed the tip of the water pouch to his mouth. After watching Hiro gulp the water dry, Liz gasped.
The water pouch Hiro is holding right now belongs to her, and she’s placed her lips on it many times.
After realizing what that meant, she blushed and her face turned the same color as her hair.
After letting out a silent cry, she held her head in embarrassment.
Hiro looked confused after seeing the Imperial princess’s strange reaction.
But he soon senses a bloodlust and looks to the side of her.
Tris was glaring at Hiro, clearly displeased.
Confused, Hiro gulps. After wiping the water from the edge of his mouth, he looks around in an attempt to move past the situation.
「O-Oh, is this all?」
It seems Liz didn’t understand what he meant by that.
「Ah, there isn’t enough water, is there?! I’ll go draw some right now!」
She voices her misunderstanding and tries to get more water.
Hiro called out to her and rushes to stop her.
「No, no, wait, wait! That’s not what I meant. There’s still some left, so there’s plenty.」
「… I-I knew that. I was just joking.」
Liz released the grip on her reins and began to stroke Milieu’s head in front of her.
Milieu let her stroke her head quietly, but her head was turned in an uncomfortable direction. She probably reached her limit, as she spoke out in protest.
「Big sis, that hurts.」
「S-Sorry! But it looked like your head was itchy!」
「It’s not really itchy.」
「Of course it is!」
As usual, Liz doesn’t listen and scratches her head through the hood. You couldn’t make out the girl’s expression hidden behind the cowl, but based on how roughly she was being handled, Hiro could easily guess what she was thinking.
The soldiers in the area stare blankly at the sudden change in Liz.
Maybe it was because he couldn’t stand to see the Sixth Imperial Princess acting so shamefully, but…
「Ahem! Princess, the boy is likely asking if we are only left with these soldiers here.」
Tris came in for the rescue.
「R-Right. I knew that.」
Liz released Milieu’s head and thrusted her finger at Hiro.
「It looks like I spaced out because of the heat! Sorry!」
Hiro forced a smile and shook his head.
「It’s okay, I don’t mind. It was my fault for not being clear.」
「… This sure is a carefree lot.」
Hiro pretends not to have heard Gahda’s scathing words and asked his question once more.
「So… were you only able to gather these numbers? What happened to the reserve unit?」
It was only the right flank which was assembled in a horizontal formation and prepared for an assault.
Hiro is certain he sent a messenger to General Kielo before leaving to inform him that he wanted the reserve unit, but he doesn’t see any sign of them. Behind the right flank, he only caught sight of a few prisoners of war who had taken up arms, and a few soldiers here and there. There were also many among them who were sitting and taking a break.
「I don’t mind this though… if he has some sort of plan.」
It’s not impossible that he wants to feign carelessness… but the men look too unmotivated to have received such instructions.
Hiro looks confused. Liz hesitantly opened her mouth.
「Umm… We received a reply saying, “Because I am the commanding officer, I can not listen to the instructions of the supposed Fourth Imperial Prince”…」
Liz touched her fingertips together and looked apologetic.
「I sent a number of messengers too, but he said things like, 2,000 cavalrymen are plenty against the weak soldiers of the Lichtein Dukedom. We couldn’t convince him… Sorry.」
「I see. You didn’t do anything wrong, Liz. You don’t have to worry about it.」
Maybe it was because of his curt response, but Liz hung her head and looked dejected.
Hiro senses Tris’s anger. It feels like he might draw his sword any second now.
He didn’t have the courage to confirm whether it was towards Hiro’s reply, or General Kielo’s rude response.
「… Liz, for now, let’s go to headquarters. It’s probably best to meet with General Kielo. Plus, it might be difficult to see him without you there with me. I’m counting on you.」
It seems this made her happy.
「Yeah, leave it to me!」
Liz smiled like a blooming flower. Hiro stroked his chest relieved.
「Then, I know this is sudden, but let’s get going.」
「We have to tell him all the good things about you, Hiro.」
「No, a light introduction is fine.」
「Are we taking Milieu, too?」
The wind carried Gahda’s dissatisfied voice.
「Based on what I’ve heard, this General Kielo doesn’t seem like a trustworthy character. Isn’t it dangerous to take Milieu to him?」
「But if we don’t take her with us, you might take her and run.」
Liz glared sidelong at Gahda with hatred emanating from her cold eyes.
「I’ll never forgive you for using a young little girl, so we’re taking her with us. So that you won’t be able to start another war.」
Gahda muttered how harsh she was and shrugged his shoulders.
Then, Hiro took notice of Milieu. He could see her mouth from his angle. Her lips are turned down in a frown as if unhappy, but perhaps she feels Liz has a point as she doesn’t say a word.
It made Hiro think she was a clever girl for her age.
Hiro decides to move things along so as not to let the atmosphere get any darker.
「What is it?」
「Please instruct the soldiers to rest.」
「You don’t mind? The Lichtein Dukedom might come attack us.」
「It’s the opposite. If everyone else is resting and only the right flank is on alert, they’ll realize there’s a break in the chain of command and attack.」
Tris tilted his head.
「Hmm… But if we’re not on alert, won’t they attack us all the more?」
「If the enemy general were daring, they probably would’ve charged already. I actually would’ve been grateful if they did… Anyway, it seems our opponent is very cautious, so if we increase our vigilance, that will actually increase his suspicions. So I think it should be fine as long as we’re able to mobilize at a moment’s notice if something should happen.」
Hiro paused and looked to the east.
His feint attack was a success. As long as they don’t do anything rash, the opponent likely won’t do anything careless either.
「Let’s take advantage of them as much as we can. There are the soldiers, too— but please let the horses rest at least for a bit also.」
It was a miscalculation that General Kielo was reluctant to send out the reserve unit, but it was actually effective in fanning the opponent’s vigilance.
Once Tris was convinced, Hiro lightly patted the 「shiryu」 on the neck.
「I’ll leave the rest to you.」
Tris approached the now moving 「shiryu」 with his horse.
「Mm, leave this to me. Go let that General Kielo have it!」
He gives Hiro a hard slap on the back.
This old style of encouragement left Hiro coughing violently as he headed for headquarters.
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Hot rays of sunlight are blazing down on the Fourth Imperial Army. But the atmosphere around them is relative calm.
It’s such a carefree scene, with soldiers chatting away, that it would hardly suggest the enemy presence was detected nearby.
There was a tent set up in the center to ward off the dust. Inside was a simple table with a map spread atop it, and around it was General Kielo and his staff officers.
「According to the scout report, it seems the Lichtein Dukedom’s army has retreated—」
One of the staff officers places a piece on the map.
「And is surveying the situation here. It seems the opponent has sent out scouts as well, and we believe they are sending back detailed information on our situation.」
The staff officer lifted his face and looked at General Kielo.
「Was that truly the right decision? The orders from the Fourth Imperial Prince were to send out the reserve unit…」
「I don’t care. There’s no need to listen to the instructions of one whose position is questionable. What would you do if that was the work of an enemy spy? 」
「But it’s a fact that the Lichtein Dukedom’s army is at this location. No matter how you look at it, do you not think the situation to be worrisome with just 2,000 cavalrymen?」
「You worry too much. Kigui wouldn’t have said such a thing.」
Kigui— The name of the aide who assisted General Kielo.
He recklessly stood against the zorosta and died in battle.
When he found out about his death, General Kielo was about to lose himself in rage, but the staff officers made desperate attempts to pacify him and managed to avoid any problems.
「Besides, wasn’t that so called Fourth Imperial Prince flying the crest of the Second Emperor?」
「That is what I heard.」
「If he truly is a descendant of the Second Emperor, he should be able to live up to the legends.」
「With 10,000 men, none in heaven can stand against him. With a 1,000 men, none on earth can stand against him. The stratagems of 「Mars」 rule the entire universe— was it?」
「Indeed. That story is nonsense, but if he is a descendant, 2,000 should be plenty for him. None on earth should be able to stand against him.」
General Kielo stifled a laugh. It’s clear he’s making a fool of him.
The staff officer felt it to be in bad taste, but he didn’t show that in his expression as he spoke indifferently.
「That is myth. We do not know what the reality was. More importantly, what will you do if he really is a descendant of 「Mars」? The citizens are a given, but there are many in the Fourth Imperial Army who worship him. If they found out, your position would be in jeopardy, General Kielo.」
The fact that this staff officer is also a worshipper is clearly conveyed in each of his words.
General Kielo’s smile disappeared and his anger swelled.
「Silence. What’s your rank?」
「Second grade enlisted officer.」
「Good, then you may stand down.」
General Kielo waved his hand in an exaggerated manner, prompting him to leave.
「Go cool your head. It seems the air in here is a bit heavy for you.」
「Understood… Excuse me.」
The other staff officers watch him with pitiful eyes as he heads out.
General Kielo huffed and puffed, then glared at the staff officers around him.
「Does anyone else have any objections? If not, regarding our strategy moving forward—」
General Kielo came to a pause. His gaze was fixated on the staff officer who was prompted to leave, who was now standing still at the entrance.
「Hey, what are you—」
He swallowed his last word.
「I have an objection.」
There was a young girl standing at the entrance of the tent.
She was a crimson haired young girl. With the appearance of 「Valadite」, all the staff officers bowed. Even General Kielo nodded slightly. Then, after clucking his tongue, he constructed a fake smile.
「What brings you here…? I’m pretty sure you mobilized the right flank of your own accord to prepare for the Lichtein Dukedom’s assault.」
Liz scowled angrily at his sarcastic words.
「I want to talk to you regarding that. Why won’t you hand over the reserve unit despite repeated requests?」
「You are not the commanding officer of the Fourth Imperial Army. There is no reason other than that.」
General Kielo snorted slightly to belittle her, then noticed the presence of a young boy next to the Sixth Imperial Princess.
「It is problematic if you bring in outsiders to this place.」
Looking closer, there was still another person behind the Sixth Imperial Princess.
He couldn’t tell if they were male or female because of the hood, but based on their height, he guessed they were a child or a woman.
He glares at the three displeased.
「If you were a common soldier, you would have been severely punished. But unfortunately, you’re a member of the Imperial family and I can not lay a hand on you. We’ll just say it never happened. Please be careful from now on.」
General Kielo sighed forcefully, then waved his hand as if shooing away a dog.
「If you understand, return to your command of the right flank. This is not a playground.」
「General Kielo, you’re—」
Liz starts to approach him, but the young boy next to her placed his hand on her shoulder and stopped her.
Hearing the young boy call the Sixth Imperial Princess by her nickname, General Kielo looks at him questioningly.
But before he’s able to come up with an answer, with a somewhat cold smile, the young boy had come right before him.
「It’s nice to meet you. Are you General Kielo?」
Black hair and black eyes. They call this 「twin black」 in the Grantz Grand Empire, and no human in this world possesses these colors. What’s even stranger, is that an eyepatch is covering half the young boy’s face, and his figure wrapped in black clothes stirs the image of 「Mars」 from the legends.
「My name is Hiro Schwarz von Grantz. I am the Fourth Imperial Prince of the Grantz Grand Empire.」
Hiro extended his right hand for a handshake.
「Ahh… right. Even if I am the Fourth Imperial Prince, my rank is a third grade enlisted officer.」
He said pleasantly after taking a quick glance at the staff officer who was urged to leave, then returning his gaze to General Kielo.
「Are you unable to shake my hand because I’m of a lower rank?」
「N-No, not… at all.」
He maintained his distrustful gaze, but General Kielo took his hand.
After a light introduction, they finish shaking hands. A tense silence fell between the two.
General Kielo was the first to open his mouth.
「Pardon me, but do you have any proof of your identity?」
If he allows any time to pass, his doubt will likely grow stronger. Hiro spoke up without a moment’s hesitation.
「I want to offer my hair and eyes as proof, but that becomes meaningless once I’m accused of wearing a disguise… So, these black clothes will serve as proof.」
As Hiro struck his chest— as he struck 「Cameilla」, the hem became as sharp as an arrow and flicked itself toward General Kielo.
He’s unable to defend himself at the sudden action. General Kielo’s body fell hard onto the ground.
He gasps out loud as saliva flies out of his mouth. But as might be expected from all his training, General Kielo stood right up. But perhaps because he couldn’t catch his breath, his body was staggering and his face twisted in pain.
「Wh-What are you doing?!」
As General Kielo unleashes his wrath, the staff officers around him regained their senses. They reached their hands out to the handles of the swords on their waists, but a calm voice makes them stay their ground.
「My apologies. It seems it’s in a bad mood and so acted belligerently. Also, 「Camellia」 here scares easily. If you draw your swords, nothing will keep it calm. Even as her master, I won’t be able to stop it if it acts out.」
Hiro smiled quietly and looked around at the staff officers.
「Would you like to test it?」
Not a single person nods. Rather, perhaps because they recall hearing the name 「Camellia」 before, everyone except Hiro is spellbound by the black cloth. It seems they are dumbfounded from seeing the 「regalia」 which only the Second Emperor was allowed to wear from such a close distance.
Hiro waited until the bloodlust in the air disappeared, then fished through his breast pocket to take out a single parchment and called General Kielo.
「If you won’t believe me even with 「Camellia」, I think reading this should do it.」
General Kielo steps carefully as he approaches. It was comical how he fell silent so suddenly when he was just so tyrannical. But considering the attack he received, his behavior is only natural.
General Kielo took the parchment in hand and grimaced. He probably realized it was a letter from the emperor. He quickly scanned through the letter, and as he did, his face grew pale.
General Kielo slowly lifted his face and looked at Hiro bewildered.
「… This is…」
He didn’t know how to put his thoughts into words… General Kielo’s eyes looked disturbed.
Hiro lightly patted General Kielo’s shoulders. Then, he took back the letter from the emperor, rolled the parchment up, and spoke with an apathetic expression.
「These are orders from his majesty to transfer the right of command if you are deemed worthless. I’m thinking of making Sixth Imperial Princess Celia Estreya the new commanding officer and myself her aide…」
「D-Don’t be ridiculous!」
General Kielo’s body shook in rage as he interrupted Hiro.
「Are you telling me to relinquish the right of command to a greenhorn like you?!」
「Not me, but Sixth Imperial Princess Celia Estreya.」
「That’s the same thing!」
The air was already hot and muggy, but with General Kielo getting roused up, it added to the heat in the surrounding air. He was more enraged than when he received the attack from 「Camellia」.
The staff officers were huddled up nervously looking at the two.
Hiro shrugged his shoulders, then put his right pointer finger to his mouth.
「What…? Wh-Who do you think you’re…」
「Shouting isn’t going to change anything. Be quiet and accept it.」
「S-Such humiliation…! I absolutely can not accept this!」
「I told you to shut your mouth.」
All you could see was a glittering white light. By the time he noticed, it was already too late. There was a blade drawn along General Kielo’s neck.
「I gave you numerous chances. But all you did was take on foolish actions which only dragged us down. Someone as incompetent as you shouldn’t be talking back.」
「You’ll be dealt with later. Now isn’t the time for that.」
Hiro returned 「Excalibur」 and turned his back to General Kielo. He turned towards the staff officers.
「By simply obeying your commander and not challenging him, you all are guilty of the same offenses. If you’re just going to nod your head yes, there’s no need for staff officers.」
Hiro placed his hands on the table.
「If you understand what I’m saying, I’ll have you all listen to what I’m about to say.」
There was an intensity in him that didn’t allow anyone to say a word.
He is a boy much younger than themselves. But the sense of intimidation emanating from him is that of a heroic god. The staff officers all gulped and nodded with fear in their faces.
General Kielo stood in a stupor. There’s the fact that his plans to move up in society went awry, but he was also completely told off by Hiro, who could be considered a young novice. That’s when Hiro went in for the final blow.
「I don’t mind if you want to go outside to cool your head.」
General Kielo crumbled right there on the spot in silence.