‘It was like they had wings and flew, or turn invisible and move, no one knew, but they attacked anywhere in the battlefield. They were said to be a few of them but seemed like a lot more. Sometimes it felt they were surrounding with immeasurable amount of people.”
It is a saying representing the fear of enemies of Wolf knights.
‘They were everywhere and nowhere. We could not rest one night in peace. We had to retreat when no one died.’
There were loads of epic poems and tributes for them. People could not tell which rumors were true or not.
Cassel imagined they would have a charisma so strong that he will not be able to look at them directly. However, it was different. Fantasies tend to break when you meet with the real deal, but in case of Cassel, it was big.
Gerald was your generic mercenary giant. He did not seem much different from other mercenaries although he did look cool with his arms crossed. His seldom jokes were seriously bad.
Shaden had more of an intelligent side. His eyes burrowed in thick eyebrows shined transparently. He looked like an office administrator if Cassel did not see him whirling a heavy spear with one hand.
Azwin’s first impression was no mistake. Cassel was breath taken by her white neck reflected by candles when she closed her eyes and held her head high.
‘This is because I’ve rare experience around girls. Any girl would excite me.’
Cassel believe that and gave no second thought. He had no time to be fascinated by beauty.
Another member of White Wolves showed up in the morning. He looked shabby and weak. He was tall, but thin and muscle-less. He appeared silently and gazing Cassel when Cassel was in one of the four beds staying awoke most of the night.
At first, Cassel thought a ghost appeared and screamed. Shaden awoke by the noise and introduced him.
Cassel hastily went for a handshake. His hands were shaking by shock.
He left out the part that he became the new captain. Dunmell merely nodded, not shaking his hand. His hazy brown eyes did not go with his blond hair, and glowed lifelessly as if he did not care anything about Cassel.
Azwin got up with a disheveled hair and spoke.
“Dunmell can’t hear or speak. Say while looking at his face and show the mouthing and you are set. Dunmell always move alone and support us. Right, Dunmell?”
Azwin did thumbs up and Dunmell replied with a dry smile.
Cassel awkwardly smiled. There were two short, thin swords on Dunmell’s waist which he did not let it loose even in the room.
Azwin asked Dunmell.
Dunmell shook his head and made hand gestures.
‘That is the first time I saw sign language.’
Azwin understood from the sign language, complained and lay on bed again.
“That guy is sidetracked again. He must be sleeping somewhere, or forgot what he has to do.”
There was silence for nearly an hour after that. Dunmell was mute, and Shaden did not speak, so Cassel was left to sit there anxiously.
He got some life back when everyone was up and preparing.
“We are heading to earl Gotimer’s mansion. What do we do with Roil?”
Azwin spoke and changed clothes even in the presences of other guys. Cassel was surprised to see Azwin’s bare chest and looked away
“He will come on his own.”
Gerald lazily replied.
Cassel was already fully dressed, so he stood by the window and looked outside. The reflection of White Wolves looked like local bandits. Well, except for the last part when they prepared their arms.
Azwin had a round shield on her back and a broadsword on her waist. Shaden had no way to hide his long spear tip, so he had wrapped it with cloth. Gerald had his axe on his back. Dunmell had wooden sticks which were sharp and pointy on each end. Later Cassel knew it was a bow. They were scribbled with strange letters. Everyone had ochre colored cloak on to hide their weapons.
“Should we go, captain?”
Cassel mentioned about the ‘assassins’ last night.
“It is daylight, yes, but will it be safe?”
“They won’t attack unless they are stupid enough to learn nothing.”
Shaden replied. Cassel knew he was not showing off as he recalled Shaden’s spear knocking two people at the same time.
It was not a long walk. However, someone was tailing them. When Cassel tried to warn them, they were already planning the next stage.
“Should we take them out?”
When no one answered, Shaden poked Cassel on the back.
“She is asking to the captain.”
“Oh, um, you don’t have to ask about fighting problems, do you?”
“There shouldn’t be any confusion. Only one person should be in charge.”
That was more like coercion.
‘Is this a test of my abilities as captain?’
Cassel asked Shaden.
“How many are there?”
“I counted five. Probably more.”
Dunmell corrected him with his sign.
“Seven, according to Dunmell.”
“Are they trying to attack?”
Cassel asked while staring forward carefully.
“Then leave them be.”
“I don’t like someone following me.”
“It is a bad idea to make a scene in the middle of a crowded city. If you disagree, then… ”
“No, we agree.”
Shaden understood and did not elaborate.
Earl’s mansion was small, given that he was the owner of this big city. Walls were high and iron gates were shut tight, but the security was not particularly strong. When Cassel knocked, the gates did not open but a small cover opened in eye level. The person asked.
“What do you want?”
“Came to see the earl.”
“Do you have an appointment?”
“I wasn’t told.”
The guard glanced at the party with suspicion.
“Yes we do have an appointment. Please check.”
“Who should I say you are?”
“Guest from last night.”
He observed Cassel’s face.
“Wait a moment.”
The cover closed, and footsteps echoed away.
While waiting, Cassel asked what he wanted to know before.
“I heard being a Wolf Knight is quite strict. No one knows the exact numbers. How many are there? Is the White Wolves their elite?”
“No one is making it a secret. It is irrelevant information, so we let rumors spread, even if they are untrue.”
Gerald replied, obviously bored and playing with his feet.
“But I must know.”
“Hm? Should I say it?”
Gerald turned to the other three. Azwin merely blinked, Shaden shrugged his shoulders and Dunmell was uninterested. Cassel spoke.
“I know a bit from the books. But I think I should know the detail, shouldn’t I? Like an inside information that an outsider doesn’t know.”
“How should I differentiate what the outsider knows or not when I’m an insider? I would rather say everything. Where to start? The Wolf Knight test. Yes, that makes a good place to start.”
Gerald glanced at the other three, as if he is asking for their agreement, and continued.
“I think about five hundred applied. A hundred advanced to the next stage.”
Shaden corrected him.
“Sixty. Oh yeah. And the second stage, less than fifty made it.”
Shaden corrected him again.
“Forty. Yes. And those who were already in the knighthood and able to be in the field joined; they were about twenty.”
Shaden yet interrupted again. Gerald gave a stern look to him and he shrugged and spoke.
Cassel asked hastily, in fear of them fighting.
“So who is the White Wolves?”
“There are elders in that too. Four of them in total, and one of them is master Quayion. Rest of them… we don’t know well.”
Gerald looked around at Shaden, who did not interject this time. Gerald continued.
“Their names are unknown. It isn’t like a secret, but no one wanted to know. Err, and… White Wolves are the elite, yes, but to be exact, we are Quayion’s disciples, future candidates of guardian knight of the queen. There was a secret third test for the former Wolf Knights and we are the only ones who passed.”
“Hey, wasn’t that a secret?”
“Then you tell the story.”
Gerald scratched his back head.
“Well, that’s all there is. White Wolves are Wolf Knights as well. It’s not like we charge in front of them and shout ‘follow me!’ to them.”
“From what I heard there wasn’t White Wolves before in Arantia.”
“Yes I think there was. Was there?”
Gerald asked Azwin.
“Maybe… was there?”
Azwin handed the question over to Shaden.
“There was. It existed, but only became famous after the war ten years ago.”
Shaden said in a final tone.
“Now I know the rough structure. So what is the difference between White Wolves and the other Wolf Knights? A matter of skill if it isn’t about authority?”
Gerald smiled and Azwin chuckled. Only Shaden kept a straight face and replied.
“You don’t want to say about skills. No one in Wolf Knights think they are weaker than White Wolves.”
“So what is it then? Let’s say…”
Cassel tried to find a fitting word and asked.
“How skilled are White Wolves? Truthfully, without any exaggeration or modesty.”
“That we won’t lose anywhere other than Wolf Knights?”
Gerald replied vaguely.
“That is a very adequate answer.”
Cassel could not imagine how strong that was.
“A personal question. What does it take to be a Wolf Knight?”
“You mean what do ‘you’ have to do be one, right?”
Gerald said unexpectedly.
Cassel replied with a hint of embarrassment.
“I don’t know, Azwin. What would you say? Skilled in sword, obviously?”
Azwin had lost interest in this conversation already and was playing with stones. She looked more like a bored commoner than a White Wolf.
“In terms of swords, you are out, Cassel.”
“You declare that with certainty.”
Cassel knew already, but nonetheless let down.
“Yes. How old are you, Cassel? Twenty-one? Two?”
“Really? You are lying. Aren’t you sixteen or eighteen?”
“That makes it even more certain. Everyone in Wolf Knights showed skill in sword before twenty. There is a sixteen-year-old getting even with me. In case of Shaden, he learned a bit late, but knocked a royal knight in Iropeace the first day he wielded a spear.”
Shaden was slightly embarrassed and spoke.
“The knight had no talent whatsoever.”
“It has to be like that. You have to possess skills to defeat a knight representing a country at the first day of your sword training to be one of the Wolf Knights. How did you fare?”
Cassel replied with despair.
“No good at all.”
Gerald continued Azwin’s story.
“Should we say about our test? A lot of people gathered. Various and weird ones. All the people who are said to be skilled in sword. But all of them failed. The first test let some of them pass and the second test made the ones with great potential remain.
For some reason Gerald used the term ‘remain’ instead of ‘pass’ for the second test. That must be just an expression, Cassel thought.
“So I don’t have skills, right?”
“Well, I’m speaking from my experience. I merely said you don’t have the skills in swordsmanship, not that you can’t become a Wolf Knight.”
“Isn’t it the same thing?”
Cassel asked, and Gerald waved his hand.
“Wolf Knights aren’t always picked by sword test. Like Roil, he got added in abruptly. And same goes as well with Dunmell, right?”
Dunmell merely nodded.
“But aren’t they good with swords?”
“Right, they are excellent.”
Cassel was let down by this.
After that, the iron gates opened, three guards and a butler dressed in black suit greeted them. The butler gently spoke.
“Welcome, knights. We didn’t mention it to the guards on purpose which caused some delay. Sorry about that.”
Cassel erased his depressed face and replied.
“We understand. But we would’ve gone through the back if you mentioned it beforehand.”
Azwin made her thumbs up.
“You pass on your expression change skills!”
The butler looked at the couple, confused.
“Where is the earl now?”
Earl Gotimer was waiting for them at the garden. He greeted them with sincerity and seemed to oppress his genuine happiness to see them.
“You are safe. I was worried all night.”
The earl spoke, trying to oppress his smile.
“I made you worry.”
Cassel spoke after seeing the earl’s arm.
“Did you get badly injured?”
“Nothing of concern. If it weren’t for Anfleur I won’t be standing here. Let’s go in. We have much to discuss. Oh, are these your subordinates?”
The earl pointed at Azwin, Gerald, Dunmell and Shaden. They were not offended by the term ‘subordinate’. However, Cassel shook his head.
“We do not have ranks here. These are my friends, and I am merely representing them. To White Wolves, that’s what a captain does.”
The earl was admiring each word and guided them personally. Cassel followed him, and Azwin was next. She tapped Cassel’s shoulders and made thumbs up again. He copied her in reflex, and she smiled. To Cassel, her smile was a reward to this job.
“Weapons here, please.”
The old butler politely requested as soon as they stepped inside the hall. Cassel eyed the others who were reluctant.
They had no choice but to disarm. Azwin gave up the shield and sword, Gerald the axe, Shaden the spear. It was too much for the old butler so guards came to help, but they were having a hard time carrying Shaden’s spear and Gerald’s axe.
“You better not drop my axe.”
The guards were dispirited. Dunmell gave up his two swords, four daggers and the bow. No arrows were present.
“I will hang on to this sword, earl Gotimer. This is more of a treasure than of a weapon.”
Cassel spoke quickly before the butler reached him.
The earl gestured and the butler reluctantly stayed away.
“Let us go to the drawing room. I hope you didn’t have breakfast. Our cook baked some excellent bread. Goes well with tea from Olym.
Earl guided them upstairs with certain excitement. In the drawing room, there was Anfleur looking different from yesterday, cleanly shaven with spotless clothing. However, his eyes were not gentle but sharp, and his oppressive nature was still there.
“I apologize for what happened yesterday, Captain Wolf.”
Anfleur told Cassel, gazing at Gerald.
‘It was Gerald who took his collar, right? It must’ve hurt his pride, dangling in the air like that.’
Cassel thought to himself, and spoke in a bright tone.
“Let’s forget what happened, it was all a misunderstanding. I was to introduce them yesterday; this is Azwin, Shaden, Gerald, Dunmell. Friends, this is Anfleur, the guardian knight of the earl.”
They shook hands lightly and greeted each other.
Anfleur held on to Gerald’s hand for a moment and spoke.
“Quite a mess I’ve been yesterday. I wanted to speak to you properly in the future.”
“Hmm? What mess?”
Gerald lazily spoke and gripped his hand.
“That’s a long handshake, Gerald. Let’s go in.”
Cassel spoke while patting him. He let go quickly.
While everyone else made in to the drawing room, He turned around to face Anfleur and spoke.
“Oh, that? Sorry, just remembered.”
Anfleur narrowly opened his eyes. Cassel anxiously looked back but Gerald came inside without giving a second thought.
There were bread and teacups ready on the table. Everyone sat down, and a young, cute maid put a plate in front of everyone.
The maid politely bowed and left and Anfleur closed the door to stand next to it. Cassel was the first to eat the bread in awkward silence.
The earl, who was glancing at everyone, then smiled and replied.
“This bread was made by the best baker in Coholloon, out of wheat from Ruworune. I am quite fond of cookies and breads so I am strict about these kinds of things.”
Cassel’s throat was clogged by the abrupt mention of his hometown. He drank a sip of water and asked.
“That place has quality wheat. I am in contact with a merchant who deals with that place, so I can have these breads even in dry seasons.”
Cassel was delighted to hear familiar words from another person, in addition from a noble.
“It is quite sudden but I will state my business.”
Cassel wanted to eat more, but earl’s sudden change of expression made him stop. What is more, the strong animosity from the knight Anfleur troubled him. Anfleur was clearly oppressing something. Weirdly enough, it seemed that animosity was direct to Cassel.
‘Hey, it should be Gerald, not me!’
“You should have several questions. I had some plans of how should I start my story but I had this vital problem; I have no idea about you. I need you to understand this; I want to help you.”
Cassel looked around to Shaden, and he gestured with his head.
‘Do what you want to do.’
Cassel made a faint smile and looked at the earl again.
‘If I continued being a farmer, I would’ve had no chance of meeting a noble, yet here I am, eating bread with one.’
It was easy for Cassel, actually. He felt some familiarity for some reason.
“Selfish, aren’t you?”
“What do you mean?”
The earl made a sheepish smile.
“You made us speak first, didn’t you?”
“Not my intention.”
The earl softly smiled, but to Cassel it seemed more like a smirk.
‘Friendly, are we?’
“We were attacked yesterday, but before that we were already attacked by them. Why do you think we were?”
“I wanted to tell you yesterday. It must be the doing of Black Lion earl or Red Rose earl, or both.”
Shaden and Cassel exchanged looks, and Cassel continued.
“You might’ve guessed it. Their war is ultimately to be king themselves and take control of this country.”
“Can’t summarize this war more than that.”
“The king has no allies, no strength. You know that the king of Karmorte can’t have private army. The only army king is allowed to have is the royal knights, but recently they went missing.”
That was new. Cassel knew he was sinking in this matter.
“Now the king only has his name and the support of powerless nobles like me. What is a king’s name to people who doesn’t look up to a king? There was only one way to revive this country.”
“To call reinforcements from foreign countries?”
“Exactly. Only Arantia answered… from what I know. According to rumors, the royal knights were murdered when they went for help to Iropeace or Garnelocke secretly. But what can you do? There is no one who can go against the two earls.”
Anfleur was still gazing Cassel intently. When Cassel glanced back at him, he loosed his arms and made an inaudible sigh. He then excused himself and went outside.
‘Look at Gerald if you are mad, not me.’
“So the king wishes to repel the two earls by foreign forces?”
Cassel asked to confirm his understandings, and the earl nodded.
“Although they are the two strongest forces in Karmorte, it is a different story if foreign countries come into play. But if found out officially, king is in a difficult position.”
“Because a foreign army in a national matter is dangerous.”
“Rightly so. But even I found out, so it is safe to assume every other noble know now. And you being ambushed indicate one of them must know too.”
Cassel forcibly closed his eyes, and opened them.
‘Wow, aren’t I taking a part of a huge incident now?’
The earl asked.
“Are you tired?”
Cassel forced his smile.
The earl nodded, and continued.
“I would rather not reveal that I have met the White Wolves. So when is the army of Arantia coming? Your wolf knights, adding my private army, and the royal knights…”
His hopeful speech was interrupted by Azwin.
“We are it.”
“We are the reinforcements of Arantia, Earl Gotimer. Where is the bathroom? I was holding back for a while now.”
The earl pointed outside.
“Downstairs. Ask any maid.”
“Maids were all pretty. Good for you.”
Azwin left with a vague tone; it was hard to tell if she was being sarcastic or jesting. The door opened and cold air filled the room briefly.
The earl tried to find an appropriate word and continued.
“… a charming lady. A little unfitting to be a knight, frankly.”
“She is also a White Wolf. I think it is better to see the king if things are that serious.”
“Of course. Wagons, horses and guards are ready to go.”
“When do we depart?”
“Whenever you want to! I will accompany you.”
He was smiling with a hint of a disappointment.
‘Only five knights as reinforcements can cause that.’
“Oh, right. One of us is still in Coholloon, somewhere. We will depart… as soon as he comes.”
Cassel hesitated because he could not find an appropriate word to address White Wolves yet, and continued.
“Earl Gotimer, pardon my manners, but I have a request for you. We did not have breakfast today or dinner yesterday. Is there anything else besides bread?”
“So impolite of me, you should’ve said something before. I will prepare the meals immediately.”
The earl ringed a small bell beside him.
“Please do tell of your favorite menu. The cook can prepare most of meals.”
Instead of answering, Cassel asked the others. Gerald simply replied,
“Meat. A lot.”
His tone made the earl slowly nod. The butler knocked and came inside.
“Did you call me, sir?”
“Tell the cook to fill the table with the quickest meal possible. Is the lamb ready?”
“Yes. The finest quality.”
Cassel suppressed his laughter.
Would someone believe that a White Wolf threatened an earl with words like ‘Meat. A lot’? Cassel felt a little more comfortable around the White Wolves.
Azwin walked along the corridor after she left the room. The corridor had plate armors in display with swords for display. She continued to follow the corridor, not the downstairs with bathroom.
Anfleur was looking outside the window.
Azwin leaned her shoulder against the wall, and asked. Anfleur glanced , lost interest and continued to look outside.
“We did introduce ourselves as White Wolves, so of course I’m a Wolf, aren’t I? Oh, it may be not clear to you.”
“I do know, but I didn’t think the Wolf Knights had a woman.”
“What is so surprising to have a female knight in a country with a queen?”
Azwin put her one hand on her waist, and spoke.
“So Ike, that was some look you were giving to the captain? Something wrong?”
Changing his view, Anfleur spoke.
“Mind your manners between knights, Azwin.”
“So what? I talk like this to the queen and my master. You want a special treatment? In your dreams.”
“Fine, I couldn’t care less.”
“Good attitude, sir knight. How long did you practice sword?”
“You don’t look that old.”
“I started when I was fifteen. You?”
“What do you think?”
“No real experience.”
“I do look young. Not my intention though. Our age difference is not large.”
“So what? What is the meaning of this?”
Anfleur asked with his hand on the windowsill.
“Are you challenging me? Sorry, but I don’t duel swords with a woman.”
Azwin laughed, and asked.
“Who do you think is the best in swords in this continent, Ike?”
“Everyone would say the same person. Master Quayion. Yeah, your master. So do you want to say that you are the best as well?”
“No, you are wrong. The best in this continent is a woman. The sword master who master Quayion acknowledged is a woman, not a man. Got it?”
“… What is your point, Azwin Wolf?”
“You were staring at our captain all along, and I know that look. Your pride was very hurt yesterday when one of us took by your collar. But it would seem petty to take revenge on that. What is the other way? The way to take revenge and show your strength?”
Azwin covered her mouth and laughed silently. Like a prim girl, she approached him and continued.
“Fifteen year? Yes, where would fifteen years of sword training get you to? Where am I placed in this world? Aren’t you curious? And it seemed like opportunity presented itself. But your pride or honor or whatever of a knight is holding you back, isn’t it? It would look bad to pick a fight with a guest from foreign lands in front of your master.”
“Stop saying nonsense.”
Anfleur shouted. Azwin was now close enough to be face-to-face.
“What’s the matter? Request politely, Ike. I don’t refuse. Because I know the feeling. Unfortunately, Shaden or Gerald won’t face you. But I will. What do you say? Hm? Hm? Hmm?”
Anfleur did not retract from Azwin’s gaze and looked at her intently. Somewhere in the corridor he could hear the maids carrying the meal. The sound of horses crying and flags swept by the winds were to be heard.
“I don’t duel impulsively. Don’t take me for a local bandit.”
Anfleur firmly said.
Azwin turned around with a bored look on her face.
“Hmm, really? So be it, what a bore.”
“If I was to duel, I wanted to face your captain. Officially, of course. My sword to his.”
Azwin stopped on her tracks and turned around. Anfleur was touching his sword on his waist. His eyes were burning with strong intent.
“But this will have to do. I too was trained rough. What will it be? Do you require a sword?”
Azwin held a sword for display.
“A sword for display? That will be too heavy for a woman.”
Anfleur threw his cloak on the ground.
“I heard those words a hundred times. A girl trying to fight? With a blunt sword? A child like you facing me? Listen up. Ike. There’s a saying in Wolf Knights.”
Azwin grinned and warned him.
“Only a White Wolf survives from seeing a White Wolf’s fang. Are you good enough to see my fang?”
Anfleur carefully held the sword in one hand and the other beside his chest. His long, thin sword reflected a sharp white light. Azwin was holding a heavy sword, loose on the ground, standing close.
Anfleur did not move for a long time.
“What’s wrong? I thought you are the type who attacks first.”
Azwin asked, but he did not move.
‘Can’t he hear me?’
Azwin talked once more.
“I know a lot of people like you. Experienced and careful. Right. Although you take your time to unsheathe your sword, once it’s out, you don’t hesitate. So what is wrong now?”
“Once, I gave up even after unsheathing my sword.”
“Ten years ago, when Lontarmon’s army came to Coholloon, Earl Gotimer surrendered without a fight. That was when I met captain Welch of Excelron Knights. I couldn’t stop myself and tried to challenge him.”
“Did he accept? Welch?”
“Yes. But I couldn’t move like now. I surrendered.”
“So why tell this? You don’t look the type to talk a lot before a fight.”
“Because I’m telling myself I can’t surrender this time!”
“All right. I will move first, got it?”
Azwin’s sword moved upward an inch. At that moment, Anfleur lunged forward with his sword in reflex. His sharp, thin blade precisely aimed for her chest.
Azwin dodged, and hit his sides with her sword. His body was sent flying a bit, then crashed to the wall.
The plate armor was crushed into pieces by the collision and was dropped on the floor. His sword lay with the pieces.
He could not breath for a moment. He could not stand. He tried to find his sword but found a woman’s hand instead.
“You all right?”
It was Azwin.
He laid on the floor.
“No, I’m not.”
“That’s what my blow was supposed to do.”
Azwin sat beside him. He looked up to her, barely breathing.
“How did you dodge?”
“Ike, can you explain how you performed an attack when you attack someone? I can never do that.”
Azwin smiled, slightly opening her eyes.
“I feel like a fool.”
“That was a warning. Do not test our captain.”
“I wanted to ask you before. How did you know I was going to?”
“Just a hunch. I saw a lot of people like you.”
The loud noise attracted the servants, found the two, and screamed. Azwin waved at them and spoke.
“You explain. I don’t want any misunderstanding.”
He got up instead of an answer and put his hands forward to Azwin. She took his hand and got up too.
“So that attack was the White Wolf’s fang?”
“If you see one, you won’t be alive. And you are alive.”
She smirked and turned around.
He shook his head, dumbfounded.
“Are you all right?”
The servants approached.
“Nothing happened. Go back to your stations.”
Lunch meal was prepared so sumptuously that no one thought it was rushed. Anfleur was out because of stomachache, but the rest of them sat on the table. Even wine was prepared and the earl made a toast.
“To your fortune for coming all the way to Karmorte.”
“For Karmorte’s honor.”
Cassel replied and after the toast, they began the feast. Shaden and Gerald were eating gently although they were hungry, and Azwin and Dunmell were merely enjoying their wine.
“An excellent wine. Haven’t had one like this in Arantia.”
Azwin said in awe.
“Thank you, lady Azwin. Of course, this wine is nothing to your beauty. There are other superb wines. Would you like softer wines?”
Earl Gotimer led the conversation, and Azwin did not turn down.
“No, this wine will do. One more for me, please.”
The butler filled her glass with clean motion. Dunmell emptied his glass in silence and tapped the glass. The butler filled his glass as well and went back.
“Lady Azwin? Didn’t you hate that title?”
Gerald asked in a sarcastic tone.
Azwin ignored him and talked with the earl.
“But Arantia’s wine is better. The soil is different, the soil. Karmorte is a bit barren for grapes to grow.”
“Not true, Lady Azwin. The wine from the right side region of Sheran River is the best of this continent.”
“But I heard a rumor of their wine was a mixture containing water.”
“Ooh, a tragedy. Suppliers are letting down wine maker’s pride. If I was their lord, I would punish them severely.”
Their wine talk ensued.
Cassel was eyeing how other people used their knife and fork. Fortunately, there was not much to be careful about table manners. Only Shaden was familiar with this. Everyone else did not seem to care, especially Gerald, who was using his bare hands to eat and suck on his fingers.
‘I got nothing to lose to learn about this.’
Cassel observed Earl Gotimer’s hands. It was the same gesture, but oddly noble. He learned from it. The earl’s soft tone and behavior had certain quality that was hard to copy.
He learned something when he copied the earl’s behavior.
‘It seems familiar for some reason.’
He had never seen a noble dine before. It was natural to be awkward, but he already tried to copy these actions once. His father.
‘My father is a farmer all along, just like the village elders said. Don’t think anything else.”
After the meal, there were fruits for dessert. Cassel laid his back on the chair with his insides full. The earl was looking at him closely.
‘Hm, did I let my guard down too much?
He looked at the other White Wolves’ pose. Azwin was sitting with her two legs on the chair, shaking her upper body, and Gerald looked like a laborer who just finished his meal. Dunmell was still drinking wine and Shaden was the only one who was sitting straight.
‘What posture should I be doing?’
Cassel had to take his posture into account, considering what he was about to say. His father emphasized that persuasion comes from one’s behavior, not words.
‘Don’t flick your hands while persuading someone. You look unconfident.’
Cassel recalled the posture Falcon took.
‘That was a threat, but it was effective to me. I should try it.’
He finally made a pose.
“Earl Gotimer, I got one thing to check with you.”
He spoke while clasping his fingers together on his chest.
“What is it, Captain Wolf?”
He then lean on the table, looking a bit closer to the earl’s eyes. His handsome features hid strength disguised as softness.
“You intend to help us, but is it for the king, or for your own safety?”
The earl’s eyes shook a bit for a moment.
“An unpleasant question. I showed you my sincerity several times, and have to prove the same way I did before even if you ask that again.”
“I am asking about our radius of action.”
“Radius of action, what is that?”
“I will be asking the same question to the king. If we are to choose from the country or the king, which way should we go?”
The earl gave this a serious thought, and shook his head.
“That is for the king to decided, not my decision to make.”
“There will be a time to think about that.”
Cassel concluded in a grave tone.
The dessert finished in silence.
All five of them gathered on the place the earl offered. Four of them looked upon Cassel. He gazed them back foolishly and shrugged his shoulders.
“Was there something I didn’t do right today?”
“No, it was good.”
Azwin spoke while licking her lips.
Shaden praised him.
“In truth, well done. Everyone would believe you were our captain.”
Dunmell was pouring wine in the glass. He must have took from the feast, The fragrance of good quality wine filled the room.
“But why did you bring that up?”
“The part about choosing a side. You didn’t have to talk about that, did you? What did you want the earl to answer?”
“Gerald Wolf, I wanted the earl…”
“You can leave out ‘Wolf’.”
Azwin pointed out as well.
“You are too polite to us.”
“Not an easy problem to fix. Besides, a polite captain is good, right?”
Cassel shrugged his shoulders.
“Whatever you want.”
Azwin agreed swiftly.
“As I was saying, I wanted the earl to say nothing. So he said exactly what I wanted him to say.”
Azwin asked while sitting on the bed, stretching her legs and waist. It was as if to show off her slender body.
“That was the answer you wanted?”
“The earl does not trust us yet.”
Cassel looked at Gerald to overlook Azwin lifting her pant sleeves because it was hot.
“His disbelief sparked especially when we mentioned that we five, I mean six, are the only reinforcements for them. Right now he says about trust and all but he will try to use us, and maybe toss us out if we become worthless to him.”
“Do you think that man is the type?”
“He drew a line, in a way.”
“This will be a long one. First, we can’t let our numbers be a weakness. Don’t get me wrong. It is more important to let them know that we are representing Arantia than to persuade them that our numbers mean nothing. You remember me asking about the time of choice?”
“That was to indirectly indicate that we will be at their side when they make a vital decision of Karmorte’s fate. Secondly, it was to imply that he can’t interfere at the time of decision. Only the king and us will overcome this nation’s crisis and the earl is to support us.”
“What if he chose one of the other? For example, let’s say he chose the king. Our king is the best! So what then?”
“Whatever he said, I was going to scold him, saying ‘do you have such authority to do so?’ Then our position would’ve been more solid. It could have meant that we won’t get the support from Earl Gotimer, but there are other earls besides him.”
“Yesterday you said like Earl Gotimer was the only way, did you not?”
“He gave me a hint. Reputation like White Wolves can get the help of other earls.”
Everyone looked at each other.
“So what you are saying is that you will ditch an earl who just served you a meal if he becomes unhelpful, is that right?”
Azwin frowned and asked.
“That sounds about right.”
“Does that seem cold?”
“I can’t believe it.”
He thought she was saying about his personality being cold.
“How did you calculate all that? Did you really thought about all of those?
He was relived in several ways.
“It was a sudden revelation. There is a book called ‘King and the knights of the land’ and it wasn’t fun to read but it had an impressive scene. A king became a prisoner, and killed himself in front of his army who were about to surrender because of him. I copied from that. Original lines were like this.”
Cassel let out a cough, and spoke in a thick voice.
“I would gladly choose the country when someone asks me to choose between the country and the king!”
He switched to his original voice and spoke.
“In truth, I was worried that I copied from it as it is quite common in books.”
Azwin got up.
“Who memorizes novel lines?”
Cassel found her words stranger.
“Is it that strange? My father does that daily.”
Shaden laughed out loud.
“It is nothing strange to memorize novel lines. What is incredible is to use them at the right time. Same goes for swords. Fully utilizing known moves is hard.”
Gerald shook his head and spoke.
“Come to think of it, this guy said all those stuff although being captured by White Wolves while trembling in fear. Normally people can’t say anything even with a silver tongue in a situation like that.”
Cassel could not figure out whether they were complimenting him or insulting him, so he resorted to starting at the sword of Arantia on his lap. He spoke again when he thought the mood was getting gloomy in silence.
“So in the future… should we continue like this?”
“Of course. Well, discuss the important parts, but you can do the rest.”
“What if I do something against your will?”
“There won’t be many problems if you continue like this. But if a huge problem erupts, you do remember the declaration yesterday can be denounced when all of us agree. I started to like you, but if you betray that you have to test your sword skills against me.”
Azwin said with finality. Cassel had no intentions of using a sword against her, even if she wasn’t a sword master.
“I will keep that in mind.”
Gerald yawned extensively, and asked Dunmell, who was standing beside the window all along.
“Is outside quiet? No eavesdroppers?”
Dunmell shook his head. Gerald patted his mute companion’s shoulder and threw himself on bed.
“I have to get some sleep. The sleep at dawn was too short.”
The rebound from that shook Azwin, who was sitting on the same bed.
Azwin threw her head on top of Gerald’s stomach. Gerald let out a short moan. Azwin moved his body like he was a pillow.
Gerald did not say anything and got pushed as she pleased, but not giving up the bed. They made several attempts to get some wider space on the bed but eventually fell asleep like a happy couple who just got married.
Cassel was envious of Gerald.
“Dunmell and Cassel, you guys should get some sleep too. You guys didn’t sleep properly last night.”
After Shaden spoke, Dunmell nodded and laid on the wide bed that no one touched while Azwin and Gerald lay on the same bed.
“What about you, Cassel?”
“I’m fine. Does Azwin always sleep in the same room?”
Shaden blinked, as if to ask why, then realized his question and laughed.
“Oh, because she’s a woman.”
There was no malice in his laughter but made Cassel baffled a bit nonetheless. Cassel replied.
“Nothing wrong with that…”
He hung on those words.
Azwin, up close, had rough skins and her hairs were not glowing but to Cassel, she was a beauty, and weak. He could not get use to the sight of her sleeping between these men unguarded.
“She doesn’t want to think herself apart from us. Sometimes she bathe with us.”
Shaden smiled like a teenage prankster. There was no sight of brutality of a man using his spear to knock enemies back.
Cassel was surprised, and Shaden waved his hand.
“Azwin made us forget how woman should be acting, but once we said that she should be acting more like ‘woman’ and you know what she said? She said that she liked looking at naked guy’s muscular body. What can we say when she puts it that way? We can’t object.”
Shaden laid on the chair.
“There is another woman called Sildere in Wolf Knights, and she feels it is a woman’s shame when Azwin acts like that. But as you can see, Azwin doesn’t listen to others.”
Cassel looked at Azwin’s stretched limbs oppressing Gerald’s chest and sighed.
“I thought that a woman like that would be inapproachable, but seems I was wrong.”
“A good case to break certain fantasy, But she has a consistency in her behavior.”
“Teamwork. She doesn’t do anything that hurts teamwork, and do anything to strengthen it. She is very sincere that she acts as a grouping point to weirdoes like us. We all like her and she likes us all. She sometimes call me Shadi. Gerald as Gery, Geral, or something else. We leave her be because it is fun and cute. But when she enters battle with a sword in her hand…”
Shaden stopped for a moment for a dramatic effect, and continued.
“…brutal. Sometimes she acts like a child, sometimes a mother. Roil, who was child-like, grew up to be a member all because of her. Maybe same goes for me. Why, do you fancy her?”
His eyes glowed like he was ready to give out advice. Cassel quickly waved his hand.
“I did. She is pretty. But I wouldn’t dream of it. She is too lively and free.”
“What men would dare to dream of it?”
Shaden laughed out loud.
Azwin got up suddenly and burst her anger.
And she went back to sleep, her head on Gerald’s stomach.
“There is one, Gerald.”
“They seem very close now. Or is it the opposite?”
Cassel whispered as well.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they get married or they fight to kill one other. It is their decision and they fit well, but feel out of place sometimes.
Shaden spoke like a mathematician facing world’s hardest problem.
Roil, the last White Wolf, did not come back, even at night. Everyone woke up from a short nap and spending a bored night. They turned down the earl’s offer of a feast and ate dinner from simple foods from the butler.
“So when are we getting our weapons back?”
Gerald frowned as if to threaten to throw him away if he did not.
“The only person allowed having weapons here is knight Anfleur.”
The butler left unfazed.
Gerald spoke in a worried tone.
“My god, my threats are starting to be ineffective. Is my face too soft now?”
“Don’t worry, it is threatening.”
Azwin consoled him.
Gerald said, depressed.
Shaden spoke while wiping his mouth with a napkin.
“Let’s go find Roil now.”
Azwin hit the table and agreed.
“Let’s. We don’t know when he will be back if we let him be. Maybe he has amnesia and on a journey to find himself, cleaning the stables?”
“That sounds like some novel material!”
Gerald needlessly said in wonder.
“We don’t need everyone. Dunmell, me, and Azwin should go. Gerald should stay here and guard.”
Shaden split up the team.
“What is there to guard in this boring place?”
To answer Gerald’s complaint, Shaden pointed at Cassel.
“Oh, right. Captain’s bodyguard.”
Gerald put a hand on Cassel’s shoulder.
Cassel withstood Gerald’s heavy hand and spoke.
“Won’t it look suspicious to have a bodyguard?”
Shaden shook his head.
“It is common to have a bodyguard for the likes of you. Our master bring three Wolves to an official meeting, when our master does not need a bodyguard.”
Shaden asked, facing Dunmell.
“It seems they are still outside. How is it, Dunmell?”
Dunmell made a four with his finger. Shaden nodded, and looked around everyone.
“They were here from morning. According to their patterns, they will try to contact us at night.”
Cassel found it frightening to describe that horrifying ambush as ‘contact’.
“A good opportunity. Let’s capture one while we find Roil.”
Azwin said confidently while Shaden gave a light warning.
“Don’t think this will be easy. Assassins always attack unexpectedly.”
“You say like you’re the only one who knows that!”
Azwin complained while Shaden spoke to Gerald.
“Be careful here too.”
“Just fetch Roil in one piece.”
Gerald replied forcefully.
While everyone was finishing up their preparation, Cassel was thinking about how he should open a statement.
“Got anything to say, Captain?”
Shaden thankfully noticed him, and even added the title ‘Captain.’
“It is slightly savage…”
“I like savage stories.”
Azwin allowed it.
“Is it only me? I mean…. Do you guys really trust the earl?”
Cassel asked carefully.
Azwin’s eyebrows soared up.
“Go straight to the point.”
“Truthfully, he is now in the position where he can easily kill us. I didn’t think the wine or food was really safe.”
After his words, the four knights looked at each other. Cassel retracted his shoulders and made a sorry face.
“I’m sorry. It’s just that the situation is dire.”
“If he wanted to kill us, we would’ve been vomiting in the bathroom and died. But as we are still alive, he is to be trusted, is that it?”
“Not like that.”
Cassel’s words sounded almost like a whisper.
“Wait, Cassel must have some thought on the matter. Speak.”
“I wanted to say Earl Gotimer’s current situation and position. For example.”
He recollected his thoughts and spoke.
“The assassins tried at least two times to kill White Wolves, but failed. To their point of view, it is highly unlikely that they will succeed when we are in full alert. But there is now a person in position who can easily dispose of White Wolves.”
Shaden was the first to catch his intentions.
“So they might use the earl?”
“It is possible. I don’t think anything has happened yet. But you never know.”
“There can be something going on tonight, then?”
“I thought we should consider all this. Am I over thinking this?”
Cassel kept glancing at Azwin. Dunmell made some signs and Shaden interpreted for him.
“According to Dunmell, it is worth looking into. They won’t kill the earl, but might threaten him, and that time will be tonight.”
The conversation concluded after Shaden added his opinion.
“Let’s move according to the plan. Gerald, you take the mansion. If anything happens, we will be right back.”
The earl was surprised when they told they were heading out.
“Where are you going in the middle of the night?”
“We were worried about our companion, as he have not returned, so we are going to look for him.”
“I will be staying.”
“That so? I was worried that you were leaving without a decent hospitality.”
“Your hospitality is already appreciated. Anyway, when he returns, we will go straight to the king.”
“I will be ready also to leave in moment’s notice.”
The earl called the butler to pack immediately.
‘An earl with this amount of land can be great help to the king.’
Still something was off for Cassel. He did not know why.
“Continue your dinner. And my friends would like their weapons back.”
“Oh, right. Butler, return their precious weapons.”
The butler, with other servants, gave out the unharmed weapons carefully. Gerald complained to himself that he does not get his axe.
“We will be back before midnight.”
After Shaden spoke, the party followed the garden’s path to the gate. Cassel and Gerald gazed upon them until they were gone.
“So let’s lay back until they come back, shall we?”
Gerald scratched his head and went inside.
Cassel followed him and asked him once they were inside.
“Gerald, I got a question.”
Gerald sat on the bed, hands on his back head.
“Why was Azwin mad when I previously spoke about Earl Gotimer?”
“She was jealous that you thought of things she didn’t.”
Gerald made an easy conclusion and continued.
“Any other questions? We got time, so any questions about being a captain are welcome. I don’t usually go in depth, so I’d rather have you asking me in detail.”
Cassel tried to forget Azwin’s mad face and asked.
“Master Quayion, what is he like?”
“Wow, a tough one from the start. How should I explain? What do you know about him?”
“A guardian knight of queen of Arantia. The best in this continent or the sword master, I heard those rumors.”
“He doesn’t like those rumors. Only people like to rank stuff calls him that. He would prefer to be known as one of the Arantia’s knights.”
“That is some confidence. Normally people tend to give special meaning to their status. For example, calling themselves as the best knight in a region or the best mage in a country…”
“I was one of them.”
Gerald admitted truthfully.
Cassel amended his words
“I didn’t mean that is bad.”
“But you are right. That self-confidence led me to Arantia. The best swordsman hand-picking his subordinate knights? What if I defeat him, this Quayion? In truth, most of the applicants had the same idea, I think.”
“So what happened?”
Cassel widen his eyes and sat on the chair.
“What? Did you just pose as a person listening to old tales of an elder?”
Gerald’s indication made Cassel blush.
“D-don’t stop and talk.”
“Fine. I will. Frankly, these stories are better to be told by Azwin or Shaden. I’m no better at words than Dunmell.”
“Dunmell is a mute.”
“He knows the virtue of silence. My speech can’t win his silence.”
Cassel clapped a bit.
“Those words show the virtue of speech.”
“That is some praise. Right, I will tell you about our master. Please ask Azwin about anything else. Azwin loves to talk about this stuff but there is no one to hear these things.”
Gerald was stressed by Cassel’s glowing eyes, but pressed on.
“Some of the rumors about him are right. He is excellent with swords. I only blocked his attacks once. In the recent past. Before that, it was straight to the hospital after failing to block. I did it at last, I blocked once.”
Gerald talked as if he was recalling something ancient.
‘A training to block a blow?’
Cassel might have misunderstood if he had not seen how Shaden fares with the spear and Gerald’s overpowering of Anfleur with one hand.
“I remember when I was first struck with my master’s blow.”
Gerald put his hand on the chest.
“Right here. I didn’t think I was hit. Later, when I came to my senses, it was purple and was hard to breathe; I found out two ribs were broken later. Azwin tried to block with a shield, only her arm to be broken with the shield. Shaden lost grip of the spear and surrendered. Dunmell retracted without attacking. The top four of us from the talent-filled people couldn’t withstand his wooden sword attack.”
“What about the other guy? Roil, I mean.”
“Oh yes, Roil was quite fearless. He went offense to offense. The price was his injured hand; he could not wield sword for a while. Roil might’ve won if it was fight for survival. But if master was using a real sword, would Roil have blocked the blow? I don’t think so.”
Winds came roaring inside by the open window. Gerald shoved the curtain and closed the window. To his surprise, Cassel found out that Gerald is agile.
There were mercenaries like Gerald who were huge, but they had huge shoulder muscles which made them sluggish. However, Gerald was different. His arms were bulky and had broad shoulders, but his limbs were long and waist was slender.
When Gerald moved the curtains back, Cassel asked.
“So Roil, what is he like?”
“What do you mean? I said in details, details!”
“He seems to have a drastic reputation. He seems to be very stupid or very good with swords.”
“They are both correct.”
“A stupid sword master?”
Gerald laughed out loud.
“When you see Roil, any genius doubts their ingenuity. Azwin, the most confident person in this group, acknowledged of him. According to Roil, he is no genius, but a hard worker, and I agree. The second test of Wolf Knights was focused on Roil.”
“To see if you can withstand Roil. That was the essence of the test.”
Gerald quickly went serious after laughing.
“But that does not mean I lose to Roil. We five do not have an edge in terms of skill. That’s why it is even here. The initial gap of skill was closed by our master’s training. It is some work to train unique people like us. It’s like cooking a perfect meal with totally different ingredients, do you see?”
Cassel shook his head, as if to show his bind.
“You don’t see? I quit. My speech can’t explain stuff like this.”
Gerald seemed perplexed, and waved.
“I get that master Quayion is something. I want to see him myself. Can I? I know it will be hard to meet a guardian knight of the queen.”
“Don’t you think you will have a chance to meet him once? You are in fact the captain of us. Frankly, he is idle most of the time. You will meet him.”
Cassel was genuinely happy.
“Oh, and it is no secret that master that cannot withstand a certain person.”
“That kind of person exists?”
Cassel’s eyes glowed with curiosity.
“Who do you think? He was one of the White Wolves in the past. Like us, he had members with equal skill. You know, the White Wolves in the past.”
“They are still alive?”
Cassel was shocked to hear this, and asked.
“Hmm? Is there a rumor of them dead in Karmorte? Of course not! They retired, but much alive and didn’t let go of the sword.”
“So it is. It was as if to talk about a person hundred years ago when we talk about living legends.”
“Ask the details to others. I did not wish to know the other past White Wolves, but the others might know. Oh, I know one.”
Gerald patted with his fists.
“I heard of the person because Azwin admired that person. To my master’s dismay, Azwin will run off to call the person her master if she makes an appearance.”
“Right, how did you know? One of the past White Wolves is a female, like now. And she was to be said to be the real guardian knight of the queen. That was how strong she was. Azwin was a long admirer of her, being the same gender. Unlike me, who admired ‘White Wolves’ or ‘Wolf Knights’. I want to see her too.”
Although Cassel was fond of old tales and knight stories, this was quite a lot to consume.
‘The best in the trade, White Wolves have a master, and a person equal to that master.’
Cassel stopped to ask about the Wolf Knights. Now, instead of rushing, he wanted to take time and listen. Like Gerald said, in detail!