“Who could hear us? Also, when I went from tavern to tavern and explained how the sword looked, did I mention that the blade was black? I can’t seem to recall.
The other guy interjected, lamenting.
If you did, you may as well be saying that we lost the sword of Arantia.”
The man seemed to have a bigger build than the other one as well as having shorter hair.
‘I would look like a child next to him’
Surprisingly, the woman did not seem smaller between them, but more poised.
“Hmph, who would believe us?”
“Did you forget someone is after us?”
“Like hell they are! You wandered off all night like a fool, didn’t you? Did you sleep? Wow, look at your soft skin!”
“It shows that I’m capable and fit, unlike you who’s worn out after just one night.”
They grabbed each other by their collars. The curly haired man interjected.
“Both of you, calm down. You guys both well know that it isn’t just a sword we lost. If Roil lost it, he must’ve had a good reason in doing so. It will come back to us when it is time.
“Oh, you speak like a wizard.”
The woman was sarcastic, but the man merely smiled.
“That may be. Now, let us go. Dunmell and Roil are waiting.”
She sighed, and led the way.
“Should I just go back to Arantia? Right after we cross the border we get attacked by assassins, our guide died, we lost the sword, ran out of money… "
Although the darkness of the night covered the majority of the village, Cassel could see that it wasn’t a big village. Even though the full moon lit up the sky, most of the buildings had their lights on. However, most of the buildings were taverns.
The four Black Lion knights, having escorted Cassel to the village, hesitated at the entrance. The laughter from the tavern was contagious and filled them with the desire to drink.
“One drink won’t hurt, will it?”
One of them hesitantly asked.
The other one questioned.
The knight was probably worried about the possibility of being discovered. He knew that it would get ugly if that happened. However, he swallowed his words. After a short debate, the knights headed for the large tavern that was located at the entrance to the village.
A large man stood in front of the tavern, his arms crossed. He wore a sleeveless shirt, which showed off his bare chest. The man approached the knights and asked,
“Will you stay the night, Sir Knights?”
“No, just for a drink.”
“No fighting indoors, even if you see an enemy.”
“We are familiar with the rules here.”
“Then you may enter.”
The large man nodded, and brought their horses to the stable.
The knights took their helmet off and walked inside.
‘If I’m unlucky, I could meet a familiar face here. There should be some mercenaries who survived the battle.’
Cassel paused and spoke,
“Thank you for your grace, Sir Knights, however I think now is a good time for me to leave.”
“What are you saying? We haven't dropped your charges yet.”
The knight laughed loudly, emphasising that it was a joke. He grabbed Cassel’s shoulder and forcefully made him sit.
“Beer for us. You?”
He asked Cassel as the waiter came to take the order.
“I have no money.”
“Consider this a payment for those songs. Five beers. In pint.”
Cassel awkwardly smiled.
‘I survived and got a free beer? Some cost for a stolen song.’
The knight laughed loudly, emphasising that it was a joke. He grabbed Cassel’s shoulder and forcefully made him sit.
Even though it was late at night, the tavern was filled with customer. It was so loud that one could barely hear what the person next to them was saying. There were people in the middle of a heated debate, banging beer jugs on the table, gamblers playing cards, using wooden pieces as chips, and a weird bunch of people covered in black robes, muttering something similar to a spell whilst eating.
None of the customers seemed to care about the identity of the others, and no one seemed to bat an eye at the appearance of the Black Lion knights.
Except one: the man sitting across from Cassel’s table, whose skin was decorated with many cuts and bruises. He was only wearing a ragged cloth. That man, when he saw the Black Lion knights raise their glasses for a toast, left his table.
‘My god. There’s someone here who knows me.’
His name was ‘Coneflower’. The nickname was created by the other mercenaries in order to tease him.
He was in the same unit as Cassel, and was mocked countlessly. The poor guy got all of the mockery meant for Cassel.
Cassel kept his head down while pretending to drink, avoiding Coneflower’s gaze. Fortunately, all of Coneflower’s attention was devoted towards the knights. He hurriedly pulled out his sword.
“What’s that guy doing?”
The knights, uninterested, did not draw swords or put down the beer jugs, but simply asked.
“A runaway from the Red Rose army?”
Shaking, Coneflower opened his mouth.
“I- I- I…”
He aimed his sword at the knight and stuttered. The knights just turned their backs against Coneflower.
“Just finish your drink. Be glad we didn’t face you outside.”
Coneflower foolishly stood there. But, soon after, he hastily rushed outside, spurred on by the onlookers’ jeers.
‘Thank god. I don’t think he saw me.’
The knights continued as if nothing happened. They drank their beers and laughed, looking pleased with themselves.
“If we didn’t have this drink we would’ve regretted it tomorrow.”
One of the knight’s words made them laugh. Soon one jug had been finished, and they ordered another. They seemed to have forgotten their previous desire to only have one drink.
Cassel remained silent and slowly drank his beer. The knights’ conversation, influenced by the alcohol, became more uninhibited.
“So this Falcon. Do we have to capture him or not?”
“We don’t have to, but it’s a nuisance to have him around.”
“I say we leave him be. They’ve never attacked us directly.”
“That’s not true. Nowadays they make bold assaults. From what I heard, their tactics far surpass that of ordinary bandits.”
“Greydog fell in the hand of Rose knights. They got a good reputation for it.”
“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean we have to take Falcon out. Falcon’s on a different level than Greydog. They’re on more of an official caliber. There’s no reason to get in a tough fight just for reputation."
Cassel wanted to leave. However their conversation didn’t seem to be ending any time soon. Since he didn’t have a way to cut the conversation short, he just listened.
“I heard rumors of some Rose knights regrouping nearby. Today’s battle was just bait for that.”
“A big battle may happened. All of the Black Lion knights are supposed to be assembled.”
“Isn’t it just going to be like last time? They’re probably scared of those Rose knights gathering mercenaries. They’re of no concern.”
“That’s not true these days. In fact, two months ago two hundred of our infantry was wiped out by a mere ten of their knights.”
“Isn’t that just a rumor? Even if there is a difference between a cavalry and an infantry…”
“It is real. Don’t you remember? That time when…”
“Oi! We aren’t the only ones here.”
One of the knights interrupted the speaker. It was still loud enough that none of the surrounding people could possibly hear them. They were worried about Cassel.
Feeling their gaze upon him, Cassel explained himself.
“I don’t write songs about what I don’t see for myself. If I did, why would I bother going to such dangerous battlefields? I’d just listen to rumors and safely make up songs.”
The knights were drunk and must’ve thought that the conversation held no importance to them, so they moved on. As they were wondering if they should order a third one, Cassel was pondering on how to escape.”
‘All I have to do is walk out that door. Can’t run, of course. I’d get caught instantly. I gotta’ find a way to do it naturally.’
He stared at the door while planning. Suddenly, the door flew open and a woman rushed in.
Her thick brown hair was braided down her back, and she had a cloak that covered her entire body. She was easily noticeable as she was taller than the average man. She quickly drew everyone’s attention, as she had made a loud entrance. Once caught, the numerous gazes didn’t leave.
Even though it was dark and one couldn’t see her face properly, it was easy to tell that she was beautiful. She was slender, had fiery eyes, and when she moved her long legs it showed off her white calves. However, she showed no interest in all of the men who had their gazes fixed upon her.
“Have you seen a knife? I think I’ve left it here.”
She approached the owner of the tavern and asked. Due to the sudden silence, more than half of the people in the tavern were listening.
He slowly answered.
“We don’t have a lost and found here.”
“It’s not to that degree. You’ll know it when you see it… Err, well, so that is...”
She was either poor with words or reluctant to go into details.
Frustrated, the tavern owner asked.
“Well, what does it look like?”
She hesitated, wondering what to say, before spreading her arms out, wider than her shoulder.
“It’s this big, with a blue stone in the handle. It shimmers even in the dark.”
“A magic sword, huh?”
He shook his head and replied, sounding sarcastic.
“Give up. Who would return a jeweled sword to its owner?”
Infuriated, the woman started to search the tavern herself.
She started with the table where Cassel was at. The knights, amused, made way while Cassel helped to look for it under the table.
“N-no problem. I don’t think it is here.”
Just as the owner had said, if someone had found a sword shimmering in the dark the first thing they’d do would be to run outside of the village. The woman moved to another table. However, the man who sat there, instead of moving, spread his legs.
“Do you mind?”
“I don’t. You can crawl under there comfortably.”
The man pointed in between his legs, touching his long moustache.
She smirked seductively and fluttered her cloak once. Suddenly the man collapsed, knocking the chair over. He had fainted
‘Did she just push him!?’
Many other men stood up, with one of them pulling out their sword.
“What is the meaning of this?”
“I told him to make way, didn’t I? Move it!”
She acted as if an obstacle was removed and kept looking for it on the floor.
She grumbled. She saw the man with the sword hesitating.
“What, you wanna’ to fight?”
“I don’t fight with a woman!”
He sheathed the sword gallantly. It was painfully obvious that underneath his bravado, he was scared.
“Can everyone please look for this sword under their table? You heard me. It’s a dangerous sword with a curse!”
No one listened.
Cassel looked under the table again. Unfortunately, he could only see a few pieces of dirty meat, a piece of leftover bread, and a courageous rat, who was sticking his head out from the hole in the floor.
She looked in the corner for some time and left, fuming.
The quiet tavern soon returned to its normal state. Some of people resumed their conversations, but most of them seemed to be talking about the woman’s sudden appearance.
Cassel looked around the Black Lion knights. He had some good plans in mind, and was about to test one of them out. However, the knights’ faces turned serious, so he could not speak.
One of the knights spoke first.
“Did you see her swordplay?”
A sword? Cassel, dumbfounded, looked at the door she just exited.
‘Did she pull out a sword?’
The collapsed man didn’t seem to have a sword wound. His companions moved to help him get up. But, a sudden scream pierced the air. The man frantically touched his moustache, apparently in shock.
His long beard was gone.
The Black Lion knights were surprised to see this as well. One of them spoke.
“If I hadn’t heard the sound of a sword unsheathing I would’ve thought that she had just moved her hands in and out from her cloak.”
While the knights were giving their opinions, some customers stood up. The man, whose beard was cut off, left with his companions to catch the women. Another man, having recalled an errand, left despite his friend asking him to stay. In addition to this, the party of strange, black robed men left without finishing their meal.
One of the gamblers hit the other in the face. He believed that, by taking advantage of the commotion, the other man had cheated. They grabbed each other by their collars.
The onlookers, rather than stopping the fight, goaded them on. The owner didn’t seem to care about the fight, either. The knights soon came back to their topic.
“That woman worries me. We should go see her.”
“All of us should go. It could be dangerous.”
“Against one woman?”
“Woman like that won’t travel alone.”
They gathered their weapons and started to get up.
‘This is my chance!’
Cassel got up as well, and spoke.
“I should get going as well. You guys obviously have a secret duty to carry out, and I shouldn’t hold you back. Thank you for protecting me.”
He half sincerely thanked the knights. The knights forced a smile in order to seem sad that they were saying their farewells. They looked as if they had forgotten about him already.
“Someday we will hear your songs, yes?”
“Even when I get famous and you hear my songs everywhere, I wouldn’t earn anything more than what I got today.”
The knights were pleased by this polite goodbye. Cassel left the tavern with the knights, making the goodbye official.
After smelling the fresh night air, a new concern rose for him.
‘Where should I stay the night?’
A bigger concern followed.
‘How do I get back home?’
It was his biggest concern, until he encountered six other knights. Red Rose knights, to be exact. They were just about to enter the tavern.
“Well. look what we have here.”
A Black Lion knight saw them said. The Black Lion knights quickly went into a battle formation. They stepped back, creating some distance between the Red Rose knights. After seeing the Black Lion knights, the Red Rose knights stopped in their tracks.
For a brief moment, they stared at each other. One of the Rose knights spoke first.
“Enjoyed your drink? What happened to your strict code?”
A Black Lion knight taunted back.
“What about you? Aren’t you here to do the same?”
“No, we’re here to capture you.”
Cassel discovered that Coneflower was with them. It was no mere coincidence that they were here.
Coneflower told the Rose knights.
“It’s them. The murderers, who ignore the glorious army of the Red Rose Earl.”
“Silence! You stay out of this.”
The fierce words made Coneflower cower. The Red Rose knights simultaneously pulled out their swords.
“We could wait until you are sober. What say you?”
A Rose knight mocked.
“We could wait until you’ve gotten a drink. You should at least have a last drink before you die.”
A Black Lion knight answered.
The large man in front of the tavern shouted.
“If you want a fight, go fight on the main road. Don’t fight in front of our tavern.”
The man seemed unfazed. It was obvious that he had seen a lot of fights like these.
The knights decided to move to a new place. They didn’t move because of his words, they simply wanted to fight in a brighter setting. A few drunks followed, aiming to watch the fight.
Cassel, who was standing behind the knights, started inching backwards. When the first knight slashed down with his sword, Cassel turned and fled into the darkness. The four black knights continued to fight against the six other knights, an extension of the earlier battle.
Cassel had no desire to see the outcome of the battle.
He hid between the few houses that had their lights off. Cassel couldn’t hear the sound of swords clattering nor the cries of the knights, however he could hear people chatting despite the time.
He soon lost strength in his legs and collapsed, leaning on the wall. It had been a hard day. He had the urge to sleep for three days in a comfortable bed.
‘I should leave and go far away. I can’t expect luck to always stay on my side.’
Cassel couldn’t think of a place to go. He knew that he couldn’t stay in the village forever, but leaving was far more dangerous.
“What do I do? What do I do?”
He tried to recall his father’s advice but failed. He was too tired. Even though he was on a cold floor holding his knees, he couldn’t fight off his sleepiness.
‘Miserable. How can you fall asleep in a situation like this?’
A drunk’s laugh was heard from afar. It sounded as if it was mocking him. He was offended but he couldn’t find the strength to get up.
Shortly after he fell asleep, someone rummaged his body. He felt it, but couldn’t resist. It would be more dangerous to let the looter know he was awake. Besides, his body felt too heavy to move.
‘Take whatever you want, there’s nothing there.’
Fortunately, after the looter went away, grumbling all the while, no one else came. Even though his posture was uncomfortable, the floor was hard, and it was getting cold he still managed to sleep. Inwardly, he thanked his his military life.
He lay down and soon fell into a deep sleep, as if he was lying on the most comfortable bed in the world.
He was half-awake and his stomach ached with hunger.
Someone’s small voice could be heard. It didn’t seem to be a man or woman. It didn’t even seem to be human. Moreover, he couldn’t make out what it was saying.
‘Kumu du mo…’
Its voice was soft, almost as if it was gently stroking him. The voice woke him up and brought him back to reality.
‘Ifutu,,, Zodu mo…’
A white flash stopped right in front of Cassel’s nose just before he opened his eyes.
That white flash appeared to be a huge beast with shining fur.
Surprised, Cassel opened his eyes. Nothing seemed to have changed, it was still the same alleyway as before, with nothing in sight. The only difference was that, instead of the moonlight, the sun illuminated the alleway. His body was wet from the morning dew.
It seemed like it had only been a minute since he had closed his eyes, however it was already morning. Cassel shivered and brought his arms closer to his body.
‘What was that noise?’
His body was heavy almost as though someone had hit him with a stick, and his eyes were stiff, akin to the feeling of reading a book under candlelight all night long. The noise from last night was gone.
A homeless man was hugging a sword. He couldn’t remember if the man had been there before he slept or after.
‘Filthy. But I should be no better.’
Cassel looked up to the sky, his eyes half-closed.
‘Well, I survived the night. What happened to the knights yesterday? Should I go look?’
He shook his head.
‘It doesn’t concern me now. Let’s head home. Follow the main road during the day. If I’m lucky, I won’t run into any bandits. Think positively. At least I’m not headed towards a warzone. It’s over.’
He was surprised as he thought his inner thoughts had come out.
But the voice belonged to the woman passing by the alleyway.
“If we don’t die by fatigue, our master will finish us off instead. Let’s forget about it.”
Cassel slowly raised his body up and crawled to the entrance of the alleyway. He saw the woman that had barged into the tavern yesterday. She had two men with her. Both of the men were tall with broad shoulders.
She continued to be hysterical.
“Ugh, what is this Roil guy doing when I am suffering like this?”
A man with black curly hair to his shoulders said in a calm voice.
“Roil is having a hard time as well. He feels guilty about losing the sword.”
“Guilty? Hey, Shedy, do you think he knows the word guilt?”
“Hey now, calm down. It isn’t that serious.”
“It isn’t serious!? Oh, you must’ve gone mad after what we went through last night. This is about a country’s honor!”
She said forcefully.
“Will you keep it down, everyone will hear you.”
meone deliberately targeting us? One more bad thing and I may as well just go home.
The short haired man agreed. It was funny to see how they could agree with each other, even though it hadn’t been a minute since they fought.
Their voices faded away, and the last part of the conversation was hard to make out.
“Arantia’s White Wolves lost a sword. People wouldn’t believe this even if they saw it”
They walked past the alley. Cassel recalled their words.
“What did they just say…?”
He rubbed his dry eyes and sat up straight. He could not believe his ears.
‘Arantia’s White Wolves? Does that mean those three are the Wolf knights?’
If it was the Excelron knights who showed him the way of a true knight ten years ago, the ones who gave him a vain dream of being a knight were the Wolf knights. He was familiar with all of the knights in every country, not just Karmorte. He knew all the names of captains.
According to bards, the top three knights of the continent were Iropeace’s Royal Knights, Garnelocke’s Dragon knights and Lontarmon’s Excelron knights. The value of those names far surpassed that of the Black Lion knights or the Red Rose knights, who had made him cower in fear yesterday. However, above those top three was the legendary Wolf knights.
Rumour has it that they had a recruitment test four or five years ago. A thousand men applied but less than hundred made it. Sure, there should be some exaggeration but still, it was quite impressive. However, the White Wolves are the elites of the Wolf knights.
They were beings beyond reach for Cassel, who was a rookie holding a spear, just one low-ranked knight of the Rose, out of three hundred of them. A knight behind ten mercenaries, taking orders from thirty squad commanders, whose superior was the likes of Lucci. Even if those people were the real deal, he couldn’t find the courage to follow them and ask.
‘But why are they here in Karmorte?’
He imagined following them and saying, ‘Let me accompany you, I cook very well.’
As he started to wake up, he calmed down. His sword was even rejected by a common mercenary of a small village. His thought of joining them with those kind of skills made him laugh with hopelessness. He felt embarrassed of his own thoughts.
‘Wake up, Cassel. You can’t be a knight. Look at you. A drunk homeless man next to you, and you’re lamenting your situation.’
The cold was hard to endure. The man next to him held on tightly to the sword, as if it was a blanket.
‘That looks like a nice sword? He doesn’t seem like a knight or a mercenary.’
He didn’t. Cassel observed the sword. It had a blue stone on the handle. Its luxurious light showed that it was no ordinary stone.
‘Isn’t that the sword she lost?’
It was troubling that the sword was right in front of him. It was like a nasty trick to test him.
He wanted to check if it was the sword. He came beside the man and touched the handle. A leather string was holding the sheath and sword together. A white wolf could be seen on the end of the handle.
‘Is this real? The sword that she lost? Nonsense! How could this sword just appear in front of me?’
He had to think. What if this was the sword of Arantia? What if they were the real White Wolves and had lost the sword here? He should return the sword to them, before this man sells the sword to some blacksmith and melts it.
He slowly tried to pull the sword away from the man.
The man was holding tightly, and Cassel tried with more strength.
‘Kumu… Ifutu zodu mo.’
He heard the voice from his sleep again. His eyes widened. It wasn’t coming from somewhere else.
‘The sword is talking?’
While he was surprised, the man stood up and took a few steps back, before brandishing a dagger. Cassel came to his senses and let go of the sword.
He tried to run but his legs got cramps.
The man, his eyes half open, raised the dagger forward. Cassel held his hands up. Just now he was dreaming about becoming a great knight, but when he came in front of a knife he reverted back to being a cowardly farmer.
“How many fingers do you want to lose, you maggot!?”
The man had a beard, which covered half of his face, and a phlegm-filled voice which seemed quite threatening. He let out a long burp after sticking his non-weapon hand to his mouth to clear out yesterday’s food. His sword was scary, but his breath seemed even more fearsome.
“I would prefer…”
Cassel was ready to say ‘to do this quietly’ when he remembered the words.
‘Do not stand in a middle of a fight.’
Words will not work on the man and his cramped legs made him unable to run. There were two ways. Get out of this situation somehow to bring the White Wolves back, or get his fingers chopped off by this man.
Once again, he had to turn the position of the fight. He clenched his teeth and slowly dropped his hands. He continued his words in a quiet voice, sounding non-threatening.
“to not kill you.”
“What did you say?”
The man’s eyes went wide.
‘He would just shank me with no hesitation if he realizes I am a runaway with no weapon.’
Cassel tried to look comfortable and spoke.
“Do you have any idea what that sword is?”
He has fooled a bard, bandits and a group of knights. It had been a streak of fierce battles for him.
‘Anyone can kill me, it doesn’t matter if they’re a homeless man, a Black Lion knight, or a group of bandits. I have to do my best to fight back, no matter who the opponent is.’
The man snickered and replied.
“An expensive one, that is. So expensive that a weaponless bard like you would attempt to steal it, even if you had to put your life at risk.”
“Do you know a country called Arantia?”
“What are you, nuts? Tell me a country I don’t know!”
“So you should know the Wolf knights.”
Cassel made himself comfortable as he talked, and waited for his cramped legs to heal.
“I have heard of them.”
The man was looking a little uneasy. Cassel prayed that this man was as dumb as the bandits he saw yesterday. These guys forfeit when they realize their lives are at stake.
“And the White Wolves?”
Cassel pressed on.
“I-I know them. What of it?”
“And the mark of the Wolf knights?”
The man did not answer, and Cassel asked again.
“What is the mark on the sword?”
The man hesitated for a second, before looking at the sword. He stared at Cassel’s face.
“The jewel on the handle shimmers even in darkness. I think I lost it in the first tavern by the village entrance, am I right? I’m not sure. I went to someplace else as well. Where did you find it? I looked for it everywhere, all night long, and here you are holding it.”
“Big words from a worm who makes a living singing songs…”
“I showed by face to you, even though I’m on a secret mission. What should I do to you? I didn’t want to trouble myself by committing a murder in a foreign country. In addition to this, I have nothing to gain by killing you.”
Cassel spoke quickly, not giving the man time to think.
“If I had just quietly taken the sword you would’ve just lamented that you had lost a valuable possession. But you woke up and saw me. What should I do to you? Your ferocious behavior indicates I have to show who I truly am, and you don’t seem to be much of a secret keeper.”
The man’s eyes started to fill with fear. Cassel did not let his guard down. It was dangerous to assume that the man would back down and give him the sword willingly. He had to manipulate the man to make a decision before the man goes crazy and decides to stab him.
“Despite this, I’d prefer to acquire the sword without trouble. So, would you let a dirty bard have the sword and forget about it, or would you prefer to hear my name?”
The man lowered the dagger.
“B-but… I retrieved the sword. I-if you are the real owner of the sword, t-then show me proof…”
The man did not let go of the expensive sword, but let go of the idea of harming Cassel. Cassel prepared himself for the next stage.
“You ever unsheathed the sword?”
He smiled while saying that. His father had taught him that a smiling face is the scariest face you can make to a fearful opponent.
“No, I haven’t loosened this leather strip yet.”
“Good. From Arantia to here I’ve never had to unsheathe that sword. I don’t like others doing so either, however, I will allow it now. Draw it. The blade should be black.”
The man started to loosen the leather strip.
“What happens if it’s not? Do I die to a man with an expensive sword?”
Cassel looked at the man with dispassionate eyes. The man scanned him before drawing the sword.
The man dropped to his knees, unable to draw it. He offered up the sword, and said in a shaking voice.
“Please don’t kill me. I won’t tell anyone about you, Sir Knight.”
Cassel scratched his nose at this unexpected outcome, and asked.
“Don’t you have to see the blade? If I was lying, the sword is yours.”
He really didn’t expect this intense reaction.
“No, Sir. How dare will I suspect you?”
“Draw it. You suspected me the whole time, so why won’t you check it?”
“Forgive me, Sir. I am just a poor wanderer.”
“Please, Sir Knight. If I draw this sword, you’ll slash me with it, won’t you? I know. Please, Sir Knight. Please… “
The man was on the verge of tears. Cassel finally accepted the offer.
To mask his relief, he spoke in stern voice.
“I won’t forget about the promise. I don’t want your blood to dirty this sword. Now go.”
The man left the alley, looking back a few times.
‘Don’t be careless. Somewhere he could be watching.’
Cassel stood up, and rubbed his legs a few times. He tried to look like a knight. He wasn’t too sure if he did it right.
Outside the alley, the man was nowhere to be seen.
‘Yes, I did it! Now I have to bring this sword to the owner.’
He hastily ran off to the direction of the three White Wolves.
‘I’ve got an excuse to meet them!’
It wasn’t hard to find their trails. Everyone knew who the woman was, at least, as she went everywhere last night.
The last stop they went to was a inn in the corner of the village.
“They came to stay the night, but someone took them.”
Said the innkeeper in a displeased voice.
Cassel hastily asked.
“Did they say where they were headed?”
“They wanted to go to Koholrune. I told them where they could get a wagon ride. Look, will you stay, or not?”
“I won’t, but thank you.”
Cassel left the inn and made his way to the stables. The stable keeper recognized their description as well.
“Oh, one woman and four men?”
‘Four men? They must’ve regrouped.’
Cassel nodded, and spoke.
“Yes. The woman had braided hair and was something of a beauty. The rest of them are huge.”
“Right, right. The other two were quite big as well, but they were so huge that the others seemed small. They left in a wagon. They’ll be quite far away by now.”
Cassel clenched his fists and asked.
“Do you know where they’re headed?”
“They said their goal was Norumant. They did say they would be passing through Koholrune. Why? You know these guys?”
“Not really, but they left an item here.”
Cassel lied, and asked again.
“When’s the next wagon for Koholrune?”
“Tomorrow at the same time.”
“Not right now?”
“If you’re in a hurry, you could rent the whole wagon with a gold coin. Extra three silver dimes for the stable boy.”
“W-what about tomorrow?”
“Just three silvers.”
“I’ll come back tomorrow then.”
Cassel gave up and left. He didn’t have three silver coins, so, even if he wanted to, he couldn’t catch up to the wagon anyway.
‘Koholrune? Is that within walking distance?’
Putting the issue of distance aside, even just thinking about yesterday's meeting with the bandits made him scared to leave this village alone.
He was wandering around foolishly, trying to think of a way to leave, when he saw a familiar face.
Cassel and him questioned loudly simultaneously.
It was Coneflower.
He called the others beside him. There were three of them, recognizable by their cloaks. The Rose knights. The three Black Lion knights lay in front of the tavern, forgotten, as there was no one to move the corpses.
“You. You were with the Black Lion knights yesterday, weren’t you? What’s your relationship with them?”
The Rose knight asked in a threatening manner.
Cassel put his hands forward, and spoke.
“I am a bard. I just got a beer from them, that’s all.”
“Is that so?”
The knight quickly let go of his suspicions, tilting his head a bit. However, Coneflower ratted Cassel out.
“He is no bard, Sir. He’s a rookie in the same unit as mine. It’s a lie.”
Cassel thought about of all the misfortunes that had happened since yesterday, and admitted that what Coneflower just said topped them all by far.
They were there when the Black Lion knights were killed. It would make them mad when they saw a bard, supposed to be a neutral person, affiliated with a side, but to realize the bard was actually a rookie of their own army? A Rose knight approached him angrily, looking as if even a hundred Cassels wouldn’t be enough to soothe the rage in his heart.
Cassel looked at them, holding the sword. He scratched his neck, and put one hand on his waist to hide any fear or bewilderment.
He carefully positioned himself, making sure he exuded bravado. It didn’t matter if it was like a kitten tightening its fur, or a mice revealing its teeth to a lion.
‘Careful. I may look like a kitten but I’m actually a lion. A strong lion. I am a Iion.’
His father had once told him that, in some cases, he should react the opposite of the opponent’s threats. If you are facing a five-year-old girl wielding a awl, you can run away. If you are facing a sixteen-year-old boy who wants to show off, you should fear him. However, when you are facing a leader of a hundred-thousand men army, you do not need to fear him.
His father answered.
‘It is because that when you are on certain level, you worry about the outcomes of your actions.’
You do not need to worry about a knight killing a bard in a village. But, what if the bard wasn’t a mere bard? What if it was someone else? A Rose knight, although not the same as a leader of a hundred-thousand men army, was still in a similar position. A Rose knight was certainly at the level where you couldn’t kill just anyone, without regard for the consequences.
‘This is not a warzone, but the middle of a village. You don’t kill rashly even if it is a rookie!’
Cassel ignored the knight, gazed upon Coneflower. He asked.
“Do I know you? I don’t know you and yet you claim to know me.”
“Who am I? I am Coneflower, you idiot.”
He yelled threateningly.
Cassel yelled as well.
“Yeah? Then, if I was indeed in your unit, tell me my name.”
Of course, Cassel had never told Coneflower his name. Their unit called each other by nicknames and, because he was too rarely talked with them, he didn’t earn one.
Coneflower was bewildered.
“Y-you didn’t have a name.”
He spoke to the knight, trying to explain.
“My unit did not call each other by our names.”
“What a rubbish army. Do Karmorte men have no names?”
The knight stopped, and asked.
“Who are you? Which army do you belong to that qualifies yourself to say these things?”
‘I’m sure they’ve never met the Wolf knights of Arantia.’
Cassel was confident about this, and replied.
“I’m from Arantia.”
“Sir, it is a lie. He’s a mere rookie who was holding a short spear next to me. I’m sure of it. A rookie, a worm who can’t even use a sword…”
Cassel continued in a loud voice.
“How long will you listen to his nonsense? I’ve been having a hard time since yesterday, and I do not wish to go through any more hardship. I’m tired of fighting and tired of this disguise. I wish to hurry and move to Norumant. So I want to say something to you. Will you listen to me, or listen to him?”
Coneflower tried to retaliate, but one of the knight stopped him with a hand gesture. The knight asked in a low voice.
“What is it that you want to say?”
Cassel felt as if one obstacle was out of the way. Finally, the Rose knights were worried about the backlash.
“My look is a mess, so he must’ve mistaken me for someone else, but I am indeed from Arantia. I was secretly trying to contact the Black Lion knights but failed when you intervened.”
“With the Black Lion knights? What for?”
Cassel put the sword forward.
“My turn to test you. I do not wish to prolong this conversation, you should recognize me after seeing my sword. You are not the only ones who took a beating yesterday.
The knight took two steps forward and looked at the sheathed sword Cassel held. He tilted his head. He showed the same reaction that the homeless man had shown.
“Mark of the Wolf.”
The knight took two steps back, lowering his sword. His voice shook a little in the end.
“Wolf knights in Karmorte? We didn’t hear about it.”
“I did say ‘secretly’, didn’t I?”
Cassel showed confidence until the end.
Finally, the knight sheathed his sword.
“This is not the place to talk then. Let us guide to our camp.”
Cassel nodded as if he was satisfied, then realized his mistake.
‘God, what am I going to do there?’
Coneflower was not so sure about his memory now, and continued to look at Cassel. The problem was far beyond the scope of just Coneflower now. There were probably a lot of soldiers that could recognize him in that camp.
Cassel was not out of danger yet. He tried to think of a plan, an excuse to tell the knights. He couldn’t think of any. The knights weren’t some homeless man, nor were they alone.
The Rose knights gave Cassel the a spare horse. He assumed it had once belonged to a dead comrade.
Coneflower was left to walk. They soon left the village.
The knights did not say a word. Cassel was slightly anxious but did not speak. ‘Maintaining silence should pressure them’, he thought. There shouldn’t be any more last minute incidents like yesterday. Luck wouldn’t smile upon him for a second time.
Upon arriving at the camp, Cassel realised that there was no need worrying about meeting a familiar face.
There was no one left in this camp. They were all dead. They used to be a rear support unit, consisting of twenty men, five of which were knights.
The three knights quickly went around looking for survivors. The camp was on fire, with men having died by either arrows or swords.
“Is this the Black Lion’s doing?”
The knight swallowed, then replied.
“I don’t know. Something’s different. They were ambushed.”
One of them pulled out an arrow from the corpse, and spoke.
“My god, this is an arrow from our army.”
“You mean we were attacked by our own men?”
“No. It means whoever stole our weapons did it.”
Cassel was scared of this ominous atmosphere.
“They stole our horses.”
“And our supplies and weapons.”
“It must be the bandits doing. Remember? Two days ago, our supply unit was raided by some bandits. The arrows used here is probably from that raid.”
Coneflower, who had made it to the camp, shouted in a cowering voice.
“Sir Knights, here, here…”
He ran hurriedly and collapsed in a weird position. There were two arrows sticking out of his back.
Suddenly, war cries echoed out from all sides. Bandits appeared from nearby bushes, wielding swords, and archers appeared on the hill. There were about fifty men surrounding the knights.
The knights pulled out their swords, but there were too many archers aiming at them. Even to Cassel, who was oblivious when it came to such tactics, found their movements surprisingly quick. Rather than bandits, they seemed more like well-trained soldiers. A man, riding on a handsome horse, approached them.
“Drop your swords, Red Rose knights. Your comrades are dead and you are surrounded.”
The man had a cleanly grown beard, a broad chest and a scar across one of his blue eyes. He carried a giant sword across his back.
“Do you know what have you done? A mere bandit attacking an army. You will pay for this.”
The Rose knight shouted in spite of the situation.
“I’ve attacked a lot of armies, yet I’ve never seen one retaliation.”
The man replied,disinterestedly.
The Rose knight shouted back.
“It’s only a matter of time, Falcon! Greydog was captured by us and hung in some nameless town.”
The man called Falcon swore and interrupted the knight’s words.
“Greydog, Rough Reaver, Black Bear! How many bandits are there in this region?”
Falcon coughed, and continued.
“For your sake, it’d be wise not to lump me together with those cheap bandits. I’m not afraid of a noble’s army. Especially not the type who don’t care about civilian’s safety, and who fight amongst themselves for their own greed. This is your last warning. Drop your weapons.”