Tales Of Leo Attiel ~Portrait Of The Headless Prince~ Volume 1 Chapter 2
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Mount Conscon's market was bustling with energy and there were throngs of people. The children who were running around at Percy Leegan's feet had the same innocent expression that was common to children everywhere.
Yet only a small part of the market was officially in use. As evidence of that, there were practically no stalls selling food. According to what he had heard, the temple was now buying up food such as grain, vegetables, fruit and meat in bulk.
As a result, the voices of the hawkers were somewhat subdued. Yet even so, it was crowded with as many people as you would find in any large town, and that was due to the issue surrounding Conscon Temple.
Rows of buildings made of wood or stone encircled the city and, if one's eyes travelled up them, the edge of the temple came into view. A huge cross towered above the top of a slender spire.
It's just like rumours say, thought Percy.
The mountain was not just a temple where monks practiced ascetics, but formed an actual town. And not just any kind of town: it was a fortified citadel.
Percy included, five hundred soldiers had arrived there late the previous evening. The main temple gate was halfway up the mountain, and it was guarded by warrior monks, all of whom were armed with guns and spears.
There were also plenty of armed men to be seen in the market where Percy currently was. Setting aside from the groups of warrior monks who wore their white clerical robes above their chainmail, these were predominantly rough-looking men in dishevelled clothing who each carried a sword at their waist. They were mercenaries temporarily hired by the temple.
Among them, there were devout believers spurred on by righteous indignation, who proclaimed that "We can't just stand by and let our historic temple be burned to the ground!", but they probably made up less than ten percent. Most of them were men who were fed up with a life of manual toil and who had come racing from their farming villages, or else they were penniless thieves or mountain bandits. Actually, just since the previous evening, Percy had heard plenty of them bragging about how "I was stealing over at such-and-such", or "I laid that town to waste", and other similar violent episodes.
Whatever their origins, it was because of mercenaries arriving in force that Mount Conscon was bustling with more energy than usual. There were people who seemed to have brought their own ale with them and who were drinking it together from early morning onwards; people supplying themselves with weapons and armour from the city blacksmiths; and in alleyways hidden from the temple's eyes, there were shopkeepers secretly selling eggs and meat, who were busy haggling prices with customers who spoke with thick accents.
The reason the temple was buying food up in bulk was so that it could be rationed out to the mercenaries as well as to the actual inhabitants of the mountain.
From what he had heard, there were normally less than a thousand people living here. It was now so lively that it was almost impossible to believe than until just a few years ago, the place had essentially been an abandoned ruin.
Conscon Temple, which took its name from the mountain, had been founded by the religion which had always flourished in the eastern part of the continent.
The god they believed in was peculiar for not having a name that could distinguish it from other religions. However, since their temples and other buildings, as well as the clothes that their priests wore, were adorned with may symbols of a cross, their religion was commonly referred to as the "Cross Faith".
According to what Percy's tutor had told him when he was a child, their teachings had existed since before the immigrant ship had arrived on this planet. It had taken root in this new land but, with the long passage of years, factions had developed within it. This would not have been a problem if the various faithful had simply cut ties with one another, but they had soon started fighting as each tried to propagate their own dogmas.
There were nevertheless many ascetics monks who were, by nature, uninterested in missionary activities or in world salvation, and who merely sought through prayer to bring their minds and bodies closer to their god. These monks disdained the secular world, and they had been the first to seclude themselves on this mountain.
Some of those who had come to train at Mount Conscon had later become famous throughout the entire continent, but that had already been some five hundred years ago. The number of monks going into seclusion on the mountain gradually diminished, and their stone-built temple, which in those days had been as sturdy as could be, had time and again been captured by the likes of bandits, or of nobles fleeing their country, until it had gradually crumbled away.
The one who had rebuilt it into its current form was Bishop Rogress, who held the highest position of power in Conscon Temple.
Percy had met him the previous evening. He was a plump man with eyes as vigilant as a fox's, and his age was somewhere above fifty. His appearance, combined with his uniquely deep voice engendered a calm atmosphere, like that of a weighty boulder. Only this dignitary could pick a fight with Allion - that was the kind of impression he gave.
The kingdom of Allion and the temple had once shared a good relationship. In fact, it was Allion which had generously provided the money and manpower to rebuild the temple. That had been about seven years ago. In those seven years, the mountain had once again attracted crowds of ascetic monks and had been reenergised. Accommodations were set up for the carpenters and stonemasons hired to rebuild the temple and, partly because of that, a number of people in various different occupations started to flock to the mountain. When it advertised the fact that trade there was subject neither to taxes nor to cumbersome rules, many merchants also came to open up shop, and Conscon Temple gradually grew in strength.
Then, however, relations suddenly took a turn for the worse.
The reason that was given later was that Bishop Rogress had been setting up a chapel within Allion's castle, but an incident broke out when this temple was set alight. Many of the monks who had been inside it died. The bishop had barely escaped with his life, and he immediately returned to Conscon Temple, from where he demanded that Allion extradite the criminals who had lit the fire.
Allion did not agree to this, but sent a delegation to try to repair relations. One of its members was Hayden Swift, who had stayed at General Claude's manor.
Yet the temple turned them down. Moreover, they flung curses at Allion's royal family.
"If Allion does not deliver the criminals to God's justice, then divine punishment will strike its royal family. It will be cursed for now and all eternity. Newborn children will all be plagued with illness; crops for harvest and prey for hunting will all rot and die; castles and estates will be engulfed in flames. Before long, those who wear splendid clothes and adorn themselves in silver will all be dragged to the gallows."
Allion was enraged. They considered it a declaration of war. The temple, meanwhile, did not back down, showing themselves ready to put up a fight.
The temple did not belong to any country, so it was often the target of brigands. Because of that, it had long since bought weapons - cannons and guns included - from various countries, and most of its young monks, despite being in the priesthood, were armed. When an enemy who blasphemed against God's teachings appeared, they were ever ready to repel them, not with words of prayer or curses but with steel and bullets.
Percy, however, could not help thinking that, Allion is said to be able to mobilise ten thousand troops at all times. The difference compared to Atall is huge. It's not clear how many of those they'll use to threaten the temple, but it won't just be several dozen, or even several hundred.
Although the temple had hurriedly recruited mercenaries, Percy had been wandering about the mountain since early that morning, and at his rough estimate, the number of men available to fight was around seven or eight hundred. Moreover, most of them were not professional soldiers but bandits or the sons of farmers. Among them might even be men who had attacked the temple and more than once been repelled, so it was hard to say that preserving command would be easy.
Quite the opposite: if they had responded to the call for recruitment thinking that it would at least temporarily protect them from rain and hunger, wouldn't most of them run away as fast as they could once the fighting began?
Yet when he had met Bishop Rogress the previous evening, he had seemed as calm as though they were just chatting over tea. Although the difference in strength was obvious, surely, when the time came, God would sweep aside the enemies of the virtuous - the bishop could not possibly naively believe that.
Or else… could Dytiann, in the east, be sending reinforcements?
That thought had been on Percy's mind even before they had come rushing to the temple. The Holy Dytiann Alliance, which existed further east than Atall, was a collection of countries and states gathered under one religion. And that religion was the same one that the temple had been founded on. Currently, Dytiann was regarded as the only equal to Allion's might on the continent.
It would not be surprising if Dytiann sent reinforcements to the temple - not least as a way of restraining Allion, which appeared to be trying to extend its reach eastwards. The previous evening, Percy had obliquely probed around for information about the alliance's participation, but Bishop Rogress did not say what he had expected him to. Seperate from that, however, he had said something interesting.
"I did not curse Allion's royal family," Bishop Rogress had smiled gently. "For one who serves God, uttering curses is anathema. Besides which, God bound Allion's royal family and myself together so that this temple might be rebuilt. I feel nothing but gratitude towards the royal family, and there is no room in my heart for hatred and resentment towards them."
His slender eyes twinkled. "Rather than being about the relation between myself and the royal family, this affair will serve to reveal the wicked designs that some in Allion harbour. They will use any kind of lie and they twist the facts so as to invade and plunder this sacred ground. Is it those repulsive sorcerers, who have made a nest for themselves at the centre of Allion's government, or is it depraved nobles or warriors who hope to taste the delicious fruits of war? Whatever the case, if I know the king of Allion, he won't squander any great amount of money or time on such a meaningless war. After sending troops once for form's sake, he is sure to immediately turn back."
Is it really that simple? No… first of all, does Master Rogress even believe that himself?
Percy could not read his real thoughts. Although this was a situation in which battle could break out at any moment, the bishop seemed proportionally unconcerned about his own life.
Anyway, let's just hope that our Sovereign-Prince of Atall doesn't draw the short end of the stick, while Percy continued to pursue his thoughts, he put the tip of his forefinger into his mouth, then brought his finger, moist with saliva, over both of his eyebrows.
"That's an unusual good-luck charm, Sir Percy," a voice suddenly called out to him from behind.
When he turned to look around, a young warrior monk was standing before him. Over his chainmail, he was wearing a white, knee-length clerical robe that was tied at his waist with a blue cloth. Although Percy realised that the man had been present last night in the room where the meeting with Rogress had taken place, that was not what surprised him.
"You remember my name?"
At the time, the leader of the five hundred soldiers, Nauma Laumarl, had been invited along with several platoon leaders, Percy included. The young warrior monk had not been present for more than a few minutes either.
"Once I meet someone, I never forget their face," far from looking proud, the warrior monk spoke as though blandly stating a fact. "It seems you have been walking around by yourself since early this morning, but have you eaten, Sir Percy?"
Smoke from breakfast fires was rising throughout the town. Mercenaries could be seen lining up along the roadside.
"I'm sorry to treat an officer in command of a unit like an ordinary soldier, but please line up over there if you haven't yet had anything."
"What are you saying? Honestly, there's not much difference between a platoon leader and a rank-and-file soldier. Please don't worry about it."
"Is that so? Still, I feel a bit embarrassed to ask someone of noble blood to line up alongside bandits and burglars." The young warrior monk cast an irritated gaze at the mercenaries who were talking in loud and vulgar voices.
Somehow, he feels kind of fierce for a priest… Percy noted inwardly.
First of all, the man's appearance was ferocious. He had thick eyebrows, sharp eyes that slanted upwards as though pulled by a thread, and cheeks that looked as if they had been hollowed out. Rather than a monk, his face was that of a young warrior burning with ambition. His physique was also impressive, and his height did not compare at all unfavourably with Percy's, who was considered tall among those his age. The spear he carried in his hand was certainly not just for show. From the jaunty swing of his shoulder down to the way he walked, he exuded a certain air of self-confidence. Percy's own strong point was his spearmanship, so he could tell.
It was obvious that he was valiant. So it must be irritating for him to be in a situation where they needed to invite people of doubtful origin into the temple precincts to protect it. It was easy for Percy to tell given that the warrior monk's anger-filled gaze had, for a while now, been turned not only towards the mercenaries, but also towards Percy himself.
As mentioned previously, the one leading Percy's group was a man called Nauma Laumarl. The Laumarl House was a renowned noble family within Atall, and Nauma was the second son. When he had come here, however, he had introduced himself as "Nauma Shalling."
"I was born and raised in a House directly descended from the nobility of the Magic Dynasty, one that has established a castle, albeit a modest one, far to the southeast of here. Up until now, I have simply passed my days in self-indulgence, supported by the good people who still continue to venerate the lineages of those ancient times, but on this occasion, in order to punish Allion for its godless acts, I hastily shook the rust from my spear and armour that were lying idle in storage, hurriedly gathered my retainers, and immediately came to you," he had claimed.
That was of course a complete lie. Percy Leegan had not revealed his family name either. Although the Leegan House was not as famous as the Laumarl family, they had supported the ruling House of Attiel for many generations. The reason they had concealed both of those family names was because they did not wish to reveal that they were 'reinforcements from the principality of Atall'.
- When he had received the request for reinforcements from Conscon Temple, Magrid Attiel, sovereign-prince of Atall, had been tearing his hair out.
With Allion in the west and the Holy Dytiann Alliance in the east, his tiny country was only barely managing to maintain good relations with both of those huge powers. Although they had made the mistake of entering in a skirmish with Allion nearly seven years ago, the difference in power between them was just too great, so in the end, they were forced to negotiate a reconciliation by offering the second-born prince, Leo Attiel, as a hostage.
With Allion in the west and the Holy Dytiann Alliance in the east, his tiny country was only barely managing to maintain good relations with both of those huge powers. Although they had made the mistake of entering in a skirmish with Allion nearly seven years ago, the difference in power between them was just too great, so in the end, they were forced to negotiate a reconciliation by offering the second-born prince, Leo Attiel, as a hostage.
Lending their aid to Conscon Temple against Allion would, inevitably, put an end to that reconciliation. Who knew what would befall the hostage Leo and, more importantly, the next place Allion would send troops to would be Atall. Therefore, when he received the appeal from Conscon Temple, Sovereign-prince Magrid should have turned away the messenger.
And yet, he had been "tearing his hair out".
In plain speech, Conscon Temple was a neutral buffer zone between Allion and Atall. If Allion conquered it and established a military outpost there, for Atall, it would virtually mean having a huge blade thrust beneath their noses.
For some time now, Magrid had heard rumours that Allion was planning to extend its power eastwards, that it was planning an "eastern expedition" so to speak. Atall was not its target; it was only a small power that they would trample through while advancing their troops to destroy Holy Dytiann. And there was someone who persuaded Magrid that Conscon Temple was the first step towards that.
"My Lord Sovereign-prince, if we overlook this, it would be the same as allowing vermin to devour our crops. In no time at all, our people, our assets, our buildings - all will be a harvest for Allion to pillage."
The one who spoke was Oswell, a domain lord with a castle in the south of Atall.
The northern part of the principality was largely governed by Sovereign-Prince Magrid, his relatives and the retainers whose families had been loyal to his for generations. The southern half, however, was divided between the nobles who held lands there. These nobles, who were known as the 'vassal lords', had a somewhat complicated relationship with the ruling House of Attiel. Although theirs was a master-servant relationship, the sovereign-prince could not unilaterally issue commands to them.
Faced with this situation, Magrid had invited several vassal lords to the castle to offer their counsel, but most of them had opposed sending reinforcements.
"There is no need to even think about it," even surrounded by scornful laughter, Oswell had stuck to his opinion. "We should send soldiers. We must hurry, and we cannot afford to lose the time spent here hesitating over this."
"But wouldn't that be handing Allion the perfect excuse to attack us?"
"If Allion feels like attacking us, they'll come up with some excuse to invade us anyway. More importantly, this is Conscon Temple. Now that Shazarn was driven to the north in the last war, the temple is essentially our country's final shield. We shouldn't disregard its religious influence either. Even among Allion's soldiers, there are many who belong to the Cross Faith. Because of the rumours about the royal family having been insulted, national sentiment is currently at fever pitch, but if the war drags on, more and more voices will start defending the temple. But if by then it is already a smouldering ruin, it won't help us any. We have to lend aid to the temple to allow it to hold fast."
Oswell seemed to be implying that the continued existence of the temple in its present form was vital to national interests - not their current interests, but those of Atall's future. Taking into account the process by which he himself had arrived on the throne, Sovereign-prince Magrid placed his trust in Oswell's words.
However, since they had sent a hostage to Allion, they could not allow their soldiers to fly the flag of Atall. Therefore, they informed only Bishop Rogress that Atall agreed to send reinforcements in the form of five hundred soldiers, while the official story was the earlier lie about "Nauma Shalling, who traces his lineage back to the ancient dynasty, etc."
This young warrior monk who had called out to Percy probably knew all about it, however. Given that he had shown up at the meeting, he must be close to the bishop. And that was also why he was looking at Percy with unconcealed irritation.
What a tedious thing to do. Or are you saying that Atall can't be seen to uphold justice?
His annoyance was directly connected to the misgivings that Percy had been feeling earlier about the bishop. In other words, no one could tell where this war - if it even came to war - was heading.
The young warrior monk tore his eyes away from the rowdy men.
"Please feel free to laugh at my ignorance, but I had never heard Lord Shalling's name before. Where is his castle?"
"As his lordship said last night, it's in a land far to the southeast."
"Does that mean that it's further east than Atall's domains? Let's see… if it's near Dytiann, the situation would be a little complicated, but…"
He was implicitly pointing out that - I know what that situation actually is.
At the same time - Does Atall intend to call it quits with a troop of just five hundred? Are there going to be reinforcements or not?
Although aware of the implicit question, Percy avoided answering. It wasn't so much because he had good reason not to answer, as because Percy found it amusing how this man was desperately trying to swallow his annoyance. It was clear from his words that he was educated. And yet, perhaps because of his youth, or because of inborn temperament, it felt as though his emotions were in danger of exploding at any moment. Percy liked his fervour. He was jealous of it, considering that he himself could not work up anything but the minimal amount of enthusiasm for this fight. And because of that, he felt like winding the other up a bit.
Just then -
"Big brother, what are you standing around chatting about so early in the morning? I'm sure it's something interesting. Won't you let me join in?"
A woman called out to the warrior monk from behind him.
Oh - Percy unconsciously sighed in admiration.
That was how beautiful she was.
Given that she called the warrior monk her brother, she must be his little sister. Thinking about it, there was a resemblance in their facial features. The sharp sweep of her eyebrows and the upturned shape of her eyes were as similar to the monk's as though they had been carved by the same sculptor.
What differentiated her from her brother, who was still giving of a savage feeling, were her plump lips. They bulged out ever so slightly, and it gave her smiling face an indefinable charm.
Percy Leegan was dazzled for a moment. She appeared to be seventeen or eighteen years old; the same age as his fiancée back home. Between the two of them, whose figure was… Percy's youth was to blame for that fleeting but unpardonable thought.
"And this gentleman is?"
"Sir Percy. He arrived last night with Lord Shalling," the warrior monk spoke curtly. He then introduced her to Percy in the same brusque tone.
"This is my little sister, Sarah. Like me, she can be a bit clumsy, so please don't be too hard on her."
Percy and Sarah shook hands. From up close, Sarah's deep, dark gaze oscillated. The look in her eyes seemed to be appraising him, and it was a lot like the ones Percy received from the noblewomen that he met at social gatherings.
Tall and muscular. Slightly curly light-brown hair: it suits his handsome face. Didn't they say that he performed remarkably well at the horseback joust? There were rumours at one time about his womanising, but that much can be overlooked in a young man. He's the ideal partner to drive off boredom on nights when my husband isn't around…
Although he casually warded off the silent but bold passes that married noblewomen made at him, Percy had gone through some pretty terrible times.
He returned Sarah's gaze, looking at her just as openly as she was him. She was wearing the white robes of novices, so she must be a nun, but those clothes, which were normally supposed to be loose fitting, clung tightly to her and revealed the graceful lines of her body. It must be a sore temptation for young monks. At any rate, the novice habit that she wore was supposed to be a cage of celibacy and poverty, but instead of being locked up within, the girl's youthful figure was already bursting and overflowing from it. Feeling at risk, Percy quickly averted his gaze, and turned to question the older brother.
"You've kindly introduced me to your younger sister, but I have not yet asked you your own name."
"Ah," the young warrior monk looked slightly embarrassed. The ferocity which had filled his face vanished for a second, and a young man's honest face showed through. "I'm called Camus."
Just as the monk had finished giving his name, a commotion suddenly broke out behind him. It was coming from where people had been lining up for breakfast.
"Oi, what the hell is this guy saying?"
In the group which had nothing but rough-looking men, an especially large one spoke in a voice that boomed like a gong.
"I don't get a word you're saying. How about speaking in human language."
It was clear at a glance that he was a bandit. He wore furs over his burly, muscular body, and he had a longsword and gun at his hip. Around him, men who seemed to be his companions struck suitable poses as they watched on, smirking.
Even among the other ruffians, this group seemed to be considered dangerous. Everyone else simple looked on from a distance or hastily turned away ad walked off, even if they had been in the middle of lining up for the meal.
On the other side, one person was squaring off against them on his own. From where he was, Percy could only see his back, but he had a small build for a soldier, and looked completely helpless against the huge man he was confronting. And yet -
"What I said was completely obvious. What part did you not get?"
What surprised Percy was that it wasn't just that he was small, but that it sounded from his voice like he was still a boy. The boy stretched out a swarthy arm and pointed at the men who seemed to be the giant's underlings.
"Those guys lined up three times and handed the food over to you. The rest of the bunch also took turns muscling in. Food is in limited supply. So I told you to stop. If you can't understand that much, then the beasts who can't speak in a human language would be you guys," the boy valiantly fired back, but the men roared with laughter, their wide-open mouths revealing their filthy teeth.
The boy's speech had an atrocious accent. He placed his intonations in a way that Percy had never even heard before. At the very least, he probably wasn't from around here.
While he was being laughed at, the boy remained standing where he was, looking mostly confused. One of the men then stepped forward.
"Bumpkin brat. I bet you ran away from home after stealing from it. Anyway, when the fighting breaks out, a guy like you will be the first to die."
He gave the boy's chest a powerful shove. As he was stumbling backwards, the man threw the bowl he was holding at the boy's face. The soup inside, with its small amount of meat and vegetables, splashed against him.
"If you want to eat, then eat," he laughed again.
The very next moment though, the crowd's voices were ringing out in a different way.
The boy had swiftly rushed towards the man and struck his nose with the top of his head. Blood gushing from his nostrils, the man fell backwards.
"You… You brat!"
"Don't get full of yourself!"
Two others jumped at the boy. Both were far larger than he was. It looked as though it would be the end for him no matter where those fists landed, yet they did not hit him. The boy nimbly dodged them, moving left and right, and slipping below them. With the same easy rhythm, he gave a sharp kick to one man's shin. The man collapsed with a groan. The other one tried to catch him from behind; the boy struck out behind him with the same foot that had just landed the other kick. The movement seemed almost nonchalant, but it hit the man right in the crotch.
"Wow," Percy exclaimed in unintentional admiration. Although the boy was young, he was clearly used to fighting. Percy's cause for surprise, however, was only just starting.
Finally enraged, the men swarmed him from all directions, but the boy continued dodging every one of them. Bending down as he sprinted, sometimes leaping up - one way or another, he never stopped moving. Neither did he miss the opportunity when his opponents were left floundering after they had thrown a punch or tried to ram him, and in that very same moment, with his fist, his elbow, or a kick, he would unerringly hit one of their vital spots.
The wind… He's like wind and lightning, Percy thought feelingly. No one could ever catch the wind. Even when a master wielded a blade, even with a spear that could drill holes through solid rock, the wind would always evade them. The boy's agile movements were exactly that. And when the moment came, he struck his opponents with the speed of lightning. However -
"He's just like a monkey."
Sarah, who was standing beside him, voiced a very different impression. And, now that she mentioned it… it was entirely accurate. Percy was about to smile in spite of himself, but just at that moment, the fight in front of them turned fiercer.
One of the men that the boy had kicked flailed back and fell against the pot of soup. The pot crashed to the ground and its contents went flying. They splashed onto the boss' face and his patience finally snapped. His face flushed bright red and twisted into an expression like a wild beast's as he drew the large sword from at his waist.
"That's it, brat. I'll slaughter you first before Allion's small fry soldiers!"
Perhaps encouraged by that, his fallen men each picked up their own scattered weapons.
That's not… but faster than Percy could step forward -
"Stop, enough!" Camus roared as he pushed through the crowd and dashed towards the centre of the fight. "Do not needlessly spill blood in the temple. You should direct that energy against Allion, who would set fire to these holy grounds. Now step back all of you. Step back!"
Impressive though he was, the over-excited men would not so easily back down. Since he looked as though he was going to get in their way, several among them seemed like they were going to start by dealing with him first.
Camus spun the spear in his hand to bring up the tip - and jabbed the butt end into a ruffian's stomach. He too moved with the speed of wind and lightning. His opponent collapsed without a murmur.
Another man swooped in to attack and was dealt with in the same way.
By that time, Percy had was also rushing in, and he kicked back an opponent who was about to slice at the boy.
You're helping me? said the boy's face as he watched was happening. It was the first time Percy saw him from close up, but just as his voice had indicated, he was young. His eyes held an expression just as sharp as Camus's, but the expression he fleetingly showed in that instant was very young.
The boy was about to immediately kick at the ground and launch himself at another target of prey, when Percy caught him by the shoulder. Completely unprepared for that, the boy turned a startled face towards him. Percy hooked his leg around the boy's knees and collapsed with him to the ground.
"What're you doing!"
As the boy squirmed face downwards, Percy quickly pressed his knee against the centre of the boy's back to stop him from moving.
Just as the ruffians, seeing their chance, started to gather around, he raised his voice to bring them under control.
"You lot cease as well!"
Camus, who had just finished toppling the other men, ran up to Percy's side and took up position as though to defend him. He once again spun his spear, and this time; it was the sharp tip that was pointed towards the men.
Either they had heard the commotion or someone had alerted them, but it was at that moment that monks from the temple came rushing up, their footsteps pounding. Even if the men were originally bandits or thieves, here and now, the temple monks were their employers. The man who seemed to be their chief gave a small click of his tongue.
"We're not going to lose work over this. We're off."
His large back heaving, he left with his men. The only ones left were Percy, Camus and the boy who was still shouting "Lemme go, lemme go!" He was the only one who was not about to stop kicking up a racket. Despite his slender frame, he was terrifically strong, and Percy, who was pressing down on him with his full body weight, felt as though he might be sent flying at any moment.
Because of how violently he was acting, the monks took out a rope and trussed him up.
Percy could somewhat sympathise and was about to tell the monks that the fight wasn't entirely his fault. Just then, laughter as clear as a bell rang out.
"Honestly, tied up like that, you really are just like a monkey," Sarah stood next to the boy who was lying prone on the ground.
For some reason or another, she started to take off one of her boots. Her appearance, as she lifted her foot and nimbly unfastened the laces, was most definitely not that of a lady. The young monks looked away from the slender white leg that was now exposed to full view.
The boy, meanwhile, was glaring at her.
"The hell, who's a monkey? Don't go making fun of a man, little girl."
"A man? Where's this man you speak of? Isn't there only a little monkey, screeching and squeaking?"
While speaking in a way that left Percy startled, Sarah went on to do something even more unthinkable. With her now naked foot, she stepped on the boy's head. "You bitch!" as the boy growled, she trod on him once more.
"Don't talk as though you're an adult. Do you know what you just did? The meals that are distributed come from food that belonged to the people who live here. Everyone brought out their own provisions to help feed the soldiers. But you went and overturned the pot. Look at those children over there. Their stomachs are going to go empty until evening. You just go barging in without thinking ahead: how is that not exactly like a monkey?"
With her lovely face and the clerical robes she was wearing, Sarah's figure as she trampled on a ruffian's head was reminiscent of the legend of a saint who had once driven away a group of rowdy gnomes from a barn with nothing but her broom.
The boy gave a low groan but did not protest. Judging by his expression, he had only just realised that he had spilled the contents of the pot.
In the end, the boy, who was still tied up, was hauled away by the monks. Although Percy and Camus explained the circumstances, the rule about not fighting within the temple precincts had to be enforced. He was to be locked up in the temple cellars until the next morning.
"Honestly, what a needless fight," Camus sighed as he brushed clean the hem of his clerical robe.
Percy walked up to him. "Your skill with the spear is amazing. Where were you taught?"
"What are you saying," Camus modestly shook his head. "In the past, a wandering martial arts master happened to stay in the same place where I was. I learned from him as a way of passing the time. That was only for a month, and after that, I just trained by myself."
If what he said about being self-taught was true, then he must have put himself through ridiculously rigorous daily training. Moreover, from what Percy had observed, his movements were free from hesitation and belonged to someone who had actual combat experience.
"Your younger sister also seems to have quite a temperament."
"That's… well, that's how she is," his expression grim, Camus turned his face away. The wild warrior monk seemed to have some trouble handling his little sister.
Sarah, meanwhile, had walked up to the children who had been among those watching the fight. The older ones were comforting a young child who was crying from hunger. Sarah handed each of them an empty bowl.
"Does everyone have one? Then let's go."
"Where to?" asked the children.
"We're going to go around and ask everyone else to share a little bit each," Sarah laughed.
I see, thought Percy. Although she was only a girl, her beauty was already like a flower in full bloom, so if she went with them to plead for food, the men in town would not be able to turn them down. Perhaps even the rough thugs would blushingly offer the contents of their bowls.
"Where are the two of you from," Percy asked casually.
"It doesn't matter where we were born," answered Camus, in a somewhat brusque tone. "This temple is where we are now studying, it's our home, and it's the temple the we must protect even at the cost of our own lives."
Percy gave a nod.
"It hasn't been seven years since the temple was rebuilt. So there wouldn't be any monks who were born and raised here. Everyone has gathered here from different places and with their own circumstance. That rowdy boy must also have had his own reasons. And of course, Lord Shalling and the principality of Atall do to."
Perhaps because Percy was harking back to the conversation they had been having before the boy put on that display, Camus pursed his stubborn-looking lips and stayed silent.
"As far as I know, however, you can take it that the principality of Atall will not take action. Some whimsical noble rushing over here at the head of his private army… that will also only happen this once. To what extent does Bishop Rogress have a plan for what comes next?"
"The bishop isn't one to commit mistakes," Camus said sullenly. "We only need to follow his instructions. If we do, the path will surely be opened before us."
You don't even believe that yourself, Percy almost blurted out, but he kept his mouth shut. Even so, Camus raised the thick eyebrows that revealed his violent temper better than anything else could, and launched into a counterattack.
"Sir Percy, although it may be rude of me to say this to someone who has taken the trouble to come running here, but I can't rid myself of the feeling that you are looking at this from afar. After all, as far as you're concerned, none of this has anything much to do with you. Compared to you, those who gathered here in search of a daily salary and meal are far more implicated in this fight. If you don't have a good reason for putting your life on the line, then war is just meaningless mutual killing. You seem exactly like a sulky child who feels hard done by because you were sent here. You have my sympathy."
I don't need it - Percy stopped himself from saying while almost admiring Camus: he might be a little simplistic, but he was a good judge of people. Percy deliberately avoided thinking about how that was in line with his own bitter feelings.
The boy introduced himself as 'Kuon'.
It was a strange name. That the boy himself turned aside and almost spat it out was probably because he had been laughed at every time he had given it since he was here. In this area, 'kuon' was the sound used when imitating a dog's bark, and puppies especially might childishly be called "kuonkuons".
He said that he was from the mountainous region south of the Kesmai Plains.
Percy felt that things made sense now. He had never been there himself, but maps of the principality depicted a mountain range known as "the Fangs" beyond those plains. Because of how rugged and inaccessible they were, these mountains were cut off from the surrounding countries, and he had heard that they were inhabited by people with unique customs, commonly referred to simply as "the mountain people".
They made their living by hunting and by fishing in the bay that lay further south of the mountain range. The young men also had another task. Bandits, outlaws being chased by their countries, the occasional group belonging to fallen nobles... - exactly like Conscon Temple, there were plenty of people who tried to invade that land which lay apart from other countries. Every time, the young men would pick up their swords and guns. Because they had constructed a small harbour in the bay, they had their own independent trade routes, and so it was easy for them to obtain weapons. They were a tribe which did not accept being ruled by others: they had a strong sense of autonomy, and they would bravely oppose any group that threatened their way of life.
Kuon probably also had a history of taking arms and fighting invaders. The precision of his movements suddenly made sense if it had been honed through actual combat.
When he asked him his age, "Eighteen," was the answer he got back.
"That's a lie to make it easier to get yourself hired, isn't it?" Percy retorted as they walked alongside each other. "I'd put you at about sixteen."
Kuon didn't reply but, for a second, his eyes opened wide. Bull's eye, Percy decided.
It was the morning after the brawl. Percy Leegan had waited outside the temple for Kuon to be released. If he left him by himself, those bandits might aim for him. Although aware that he was meddling, Percy had paced around waiting for him since early in the morning, feeling that he was acting precious. Perhaps it was a way of refuting Camus's accusation that he looked on coldly at other people's affairs.
Kuon had appeared, escorted out by two warrior monks armed with spears. The second he had seen Percy, his eyes narrowed. He had not forgotten the previous day's grudge.
Here I was, waiting in the same frame of mind as I would a lover, and you're being so cold… Deciding not to say that, Percy lined himself up beside the boy and took a look at him.
His frame was small, but judging from yesterday's affair, those arms and legs concealed unexpected amounts of strength. He was still only a teenage boy. If he grew well, he would probably fill out impressively within two or three years.
Although his features still had a trace of childishness, his eyes smouldered with constant irritation and dissatisfaction. Be it Camus - the young monk that he had met the previous day - or Percy himself, there wasn't a single young man who would feel anything except displeased over the current situation, but Kuon's displeasure seemed particularly pronounced.
As they walked, Percy tossed him what he had been holding.
"Breakfast," he explained, and produced his own portion.
It was a kind of orange that grew on the mountain, commonly called 'Raya's fruit' in honour of a saint from the temple who had become famous in his own lifetime. The skin was comparatively cold and had a very sour taste, so children tended to spit it out as soon as they put it in their mouths.
They started to walk side-by-side.
"Raya's fruit has hard skin," Percy took out a knife and deftly peeled his orange. Just as he was about to offer to do Kuon's too, the boy started to gnaw at the peel directly with his teeth, chomping as he rotated it.
Cute, thought Percy.
"What? Why are you grinning? It's creepy," Kuon said as he spat out the orange peel. Since earlier, he had been walking fast to try and leave Percy behind, but Percy had matched him and stuck with him.
"Heh. I was just thinking about my lover."
Percy chuckled as he turned his eyes away from the boy who was glaring at him again. He understood perfectly well why he was interested in the kid.
Yesterday's incident had surprised Percy, but at the same time, he had found it - interesting. At the very least, it wasn't the sort of thing that could have happened in the normal course of Percy Leegan's life up until then.
The Leegan family had, for generations, owned a residence in Tiwana, Atall's capital city. Although they were a fairly prestigious family within the principality, they did not have a fixed territory. As the second son, Percy would neither inherit the residence nor become the head of the family, so instead, his father had recommended that he assist his older brother, who would one day inherit both.
"You could be a scholar. You have the eyes to bravely see to the bottom of things," he told his son, but Percy was unable to meekly go along with it. Ever since he had been very young, he had been the sort of boy to prefer exhausting himself at martial arts rather than at studying. He could brag of being above average at the handling of sword, spear, horse and gun.
Seven years ago, he had taken part in his first military campaign. Both his body and soul had been throbbing with excitement. However, because it was his first campaign, he had been stationed on standby in the rear, and he was only entrusted with meaningless tasks such as conveying messages even further back, or scouting out areas that the enemy wasn't anywhere near. In the end, he had barely sniffed the air of the battlefield before Atall and Allion had reached a peace agreement.
Percy had cursed his bad luck. Thirteen was not too young to take part in his first campaign, but it was far too young to be able to take the head of an enemy general. Perhaps Atall's fighting spirit had been crushed in that war, but from then on, there had been no other opportunity to go to war. A year passed, and then another, and while his body grew sturdier, he was left with bitter feelings.
If only I was given a place to shine, I would accomplish more for the country than anyone.
His hazy longing for the battlefield wreaked havoc on his heart and mind. The few years of his mid-teens were a past Percy did not particularly want to look back on. He had gone to the pleasure quarters with several other youths who felt the same kind gloominess as he did, got into fights, and paid frequent visits to the house of a prostitute who was more than twenty years older than him.
That prostitute had taught Percy a lot. People would probably have roared with laughter if they had known that she lived according to certain religious precepts. He had seen her laugh scornfully at herself for that very reason, yet among the many things that she had taught him, she had passed on a great many good-luck charms to him. Still, there was no denying that most of the things he had learned from her were related to night-time activities.
The pleasure of debauchery and the boundless self-confidence that came from wanting to believe that he was special: those two elements competed within him for three years, during his period of puberty.
It was also around about that time that he had met his now fiancée, Liana.
He had got to know her at a ball held by her father, who was one of the vassal lords. Her wisdom, her liveliness and, above all, her beauty caused mayhem among the young men of his age. As bad luck would have it, that day, Percy had gotten completely drunk. Egged on by his companions, he had written Liana a love letter as a joke. He had lined up magnificently intricate phrases, which were ostensibly quoting masterpieces from poetry of the ages, but which actually had been filled with hidden s.e.xual metaphors. He and his companions had laughed uncontrollably as they passed it around.
He had not thought that they would actually convey the letter to her.
When he found out about it the next morning, Percy had turned pale. After thrashing the friend who had sent the letter, he had hurriedly requested to meet her. Kneeling before her, he had apologised for his rudeness. All the alcohol he had drunk the previous evening turned into a cold sweat that dissipated from his body. After this, he would have had no room to complain even if his house had disowned him. He would have brought it on himself.
"Please lift up your head," Liana had said. "And first of all, please don't worry. Since I'm a very lazy student, I really don't know understand these 'words of unparalleled vulgarity' that you are apologising for. I was impressed by the person who had written such a difficult, fastidious and old-fashioned letter. Since I am so lacking in education, won't you go over and explain your lines one-by-one?"
Although he couldn't say that it had completely transformed him, that was definitely when something in him had changed.
Having reached twenty, he had managed a reconciliation with Lady Liana, with his parents - who had deplored his debauched ways -, and with his own childish inner turmoil, but the blood still boiled inside him.
Which was why he had been excited when he had received orders to "go to Conscon Temple as reinforcement".
His position would be a platoon under the command of Lord Nauma Laumarl. In the Principality of Atall, only nobles had the right to lead troops. Percy was able to bring fifty men from the soldiers that his house had in its employ. Compared to other houses, which had hired soldiers temporarily, his men had honed their skills through training. He was certain that he would definitely be able to play an active role in the fighting.
But when he heard about things in detail, it appeared that the identity of Atall's troops were to be concealed. He was given strict orders not to hoist the flag of the principality - naturally - but also to avoid flying any flag bearing the crest of the House of Leegan.
Which means I won't be able to increase either my military fame or my family honour.
Percy's plans had fallen through. There was, of course, no splendid seeing off of the troops. The five hundred soldiers under Nauma Laumarl's command each left, concealing themselves from public view, and met up in a forest someway apart from the highway, before silently carrying on towards the temple. Most of the soldiers did not talk even when they stopped to take rest. Only their commander, Nauma, had cracked cheerful jokes.
"I wonder if we should also wear masks to hide our faces. That'll make us look much more mysterious and threatening," he had suggested to the retainers. The story about being descended from one of the noble families of the Magic Dynasty was also an idea that he had dreamed up during the march.
On top of all of that, what Percy was the most fed up with, was how Nauma Laumarl took every opportunity to summon him and give him chores to do. He would order him to gather firewood, to draw water from tiny brooks, or to do yet another head count of the soldiers.
From time immemorial, the people of Houses Laumarl and Leegan had been on bad terms. It was said that back in the days of Percy's grandfather, while heading together towards the same battlefield, they had been so zealous about tripping each other up that the sovereign-prince had eventually given them a direct reprimand.
Since they were both proud families, they had, in recent times, avoided letting things come to a head, but two years ago, at a horseback joust held in Atall's capital city, an unfortunate opportunity had arisen.
Crowds of representatives from each house, or their proxies, took part in that tournament. Percy, who had only just put the vices of his puberty behind him, had also been told to participate by his father.
He had always been confident in his own martial prowess, and he was proven right when he won in the quarterfinals against Nauma. There were many who knew about the relationship between the two families; the enthusiasm swelled to fever-pitch on the competition grounds, and that excitement had set young Percy's blood boiling.
The two armour-clad opponents drove their horses towards one another, carrying blunt spears. Contestants received a point if, after they struck them with their spear, their opponent was either unseated from their horse or their posture was thrown too greatly off-balance. Whoever was the first to earn two points was the winner.
Percy brilliantly took the first point. If he had wanted to, he could easily have taken the second as well. However, Percy went through the motions of swinging his spear, but when Nauma flinched, he did not strike him, and instead, when they were passing by each other, he had plucked the feather attached to Nauma's helmet. He then brandished it towards the surroundings that burst into cheers and applause. What particularly appealed to them was that it could only have been done if there was a considerable difference in skill between the contestants.
Percy had absolutely not acted out of maliciousness towards Nauma or the Laumarl House. It was simply that he had wanted to respond to the excitement on the competition grounds, and that it was the perfect opportunity to dispel his own gloomy feelings. Naturally, however, the other party did not see it that way.
"That was obnoxious."
With that declaration, Nauma had dismounted and left the competition grounds. It was not a gracious withdrawal, but Percy's attitude had not been praiseworthy either, and as a result, the verdict that was handed down was that both families were to be banned from the tournament for a year.
Since then, the relation between the two houses had grown stormy again.
For Nauma, who harboured a personal hatred towards Percy, this mission was an unexpectedly lucky opportunity. Even though his unhappiness at having to hide his family name was identical to Percy's, the main point was that the man he detested had been placed under him. The consequence of that was the above-mentioned treatment that Percy was receiving.
If this continues throughout the war… Percy bitterly resented the entire situation. To make matters worse, when they arrived at the temple, they found that its troops were lacking and were, to put it bluntly, a disorderly mob. Nor could they expect any further reinforcements.
We're going to lose.
That was his honest opinion. If Allion took up battle positions and advanced, forget a month, they wouldn't last ten days. It was true that the temple had positioned canons on the high ground and had deployed soldiers armed with guns by the main gates, so they did have something resembling a battle formation, but at the end of the day, because they had widely recruited mercenaries, there were plenty of people of dubious origin here, and among them there were probably - or rather, there were absolutely certainly - any number of spies from Allion.
Percy's cause for bitterness just kept growing deeper. Yesterday, Camus had told him that: "I feel that you are keeping your distance from other people's affairs, and that you have the attitude of a sulky child," but it was only natural that Percy's heart should be far from elated at the prospect of a basically useless battlefield, where he would have no chance of gaining fame, and where defeat was clear from the start.
Percy looked towards Kuon, who was eating an orange next to him. His clothes and the area around his mouth were covered in juice. Percy was seized by the impulse to personally wipe it off.
Could you call it paternal love? Smiling at his own ridiculous thoughts, he continued his conversation with Kuon.
"When did you leave the mountain?"
Considering that he didn't seem used to this area, though, Percy guessed that it couldn't even have been a month since he had left his native land.
"Why did you leave?"
"Are you thinking of making your fortune with a sword?"
"Who knows," Kuon repeated again.
Percy did not give up.
"It doesn't look like you have any weapons. Did you leave with nothing but yourself?"
"I brought a sword and a bow. But the bow got broken along the way, and the sword… I got so hungry, I sold it in a village while I was travelling."
"You sold it? That not…" Percy shrugged, genuinely at a loss. "Stop by my unit later. I can give you a sword at least. I'll lend you a bow, too, if you need it. And with that, you can forgive me for yesterday."
"I really don't get it."
"The one who was wrong was that big guy who acting like an idiot. So why was I the only one caught like an escaped monkey… dog, and shoved into a cellar?"
Percy grinned in spite of himself. He felt like he knew why Kuon had corrected himself when he said "monkey".
"Well, that, huh? If Camus and me hadn't seized you back there, things would have gotten a lot worse."
"I wouldn't have lost."
"That's not what it was about."
Percy's smile was starting to get strained again when Kuon stopped.
Camus was in a grassy patch to the left of the mountain path that the two of them were walking along. He was swinging a spear by himself. He almost seemed to be soaring as he shifted the position of his feet, and he was repeatedly adjusting his grip and jabbing at the empty air. There was whistle of wind as he did so. He was stripped naked to the waist and sweat was flying from where his muscles were vigorously flexing and contracting. He stopped when he noticed them.
"Ah, Boy. Were you let out? That was quick. Oh, Sir Percy as well."
"Even though I went out of my way to go and meet him, he's been giving me nothing but indifference."
Perhaps because of what had happened the previous day, both Percy and Camus had unbent a little. Incidentally, aside from Kuon being sixteen, Percy was twenty and Camus, according to what was said yesterday, was apparently nineteen. Probably because his eyebrows were constantly set at a stern angle, Camus tended to look five or six years older than his actual age.
Percy introduced the boy to Camus as 'Kuon'.
"Well then Kuon, you have us to thank. You came from the countryside so you probably don't know your way around at all. But if you let your instinct get you into fights, then sooner or later, some bandit or another will catch you napping and kill you. Or maybe you'll find yourself left with only the shirt on your back, and I wouldn't be surprised if two or three days after that, you didn't end up joining a band of ruffians and working as a robber yourself."
Kuon flushed red.
"Don't you call me a robber. I've already carved up any number of those bastards."
"In the case of enemies, obviously, killing them isn't a problem," said Percy. "But everyone here is, more or less, an ally. Since we're going to be facing a powerful foe, it's best not to quarrel with friends, you know?"
"As soon as he made fun of me and threw food at me, that guy became an enemy," Kuon erupted angrily. "He wouldn't have had any right to complain even if I'd killed him on the spot."
"That must be how things are done where you're from," Camus's spoke in a vaguely interested tone as he wiped away his sweat. "But when you go to a different place, the way of doing things is, naturally, also different. In your case, you probably have neither creed nor faith, so you need to learn how things are done here if you want to live long. With your way of doing things, you'll make ten new enemies in a day. In ten days, there'll be a hundred. Even you can't cut down a hundred or a thousand enemies."
"If I kill them on the day they become enemies, then there won't be a hundred after ten days."
"What's this? This guy has an answer to everything."
They traded retorts. By no means did Camus seem like a patient person, and his eyebrows were already starting to bristle. Sensing that fact, Kuon jumped backwards.
"You want to bring it on? You meddled with my fight yesterday, so that means that you're also part of the enemies I made yesterday."
"Aha, ha, ha, ha," Camus bent his head backwards and laughed heartily. That was probably because Kuon's taunts sounded completely wrong in his high-pitched voice. No doubt Camus found it cute.
Kuon, however, was sensitive to being laughed at after yesterday. His expression changed entirely and he leaped towards Camus.
Camus avoided the fist at the last second, but his expression had changed. He spun the spear he was holding and aimed its handle at the bridge of Kuon's nose. The way Kuon suddenly drew back his head and avoided it looked, just as Sarah had said, more like the movement of a wild beast than of a warrior.
"Don't mess with me, boy. Next time, I won't miss."
"You didn't miss, I dodged. But same here, next time, I'll bloody your face for you."
"This guy's always got more to say," Camus, half-wrathful, half-astounded, seemed genuinely fascinated by this almost feral boy. His expression changed once more.
"You really seem like a lost cause, but it is to ignorant men like you that we need to preach God's teachings. Kuon, would you not receive baptism and the revelation of God? Your hardened heart may find some comfort from them. Through that comfort, your heart will be nourished and, with an enriched heart and mind, you will be able to find meaning to your life. If you continue on in this situation, biting anyone around you, only the life of a stray dog awaits you."
His appeal at least had the effect of leaving Percy flabbergasted.
"God, huh? The mountain had a mountain god," for some reason, Kuon's tone grew even more vicious and he shook off the hand that Camus was about to touch his shoulder with. "Even though God uses people to carry out the punishments that he hands down, he never grants the desperate prayers that people send up."
"It is not for God to grant prayers, Kuon. To love God is first to face oneself. Once your heart is filled with modesty, it will be emptied and, in every phenomenon that you encounter, you will be able to find God."
On the evening of the day that strange exchange took place, another incident occurred. One that again involved Kuon, Camus and Percy.
Percy had returned to his unit for a while to check on the soldiers. Nauma, his superior officer, had been summoned to the temple. It was for a council of war, but Percy did not know what exactly they were meeting to talk about. Broadly speaking, it was Bishop Rogress who was in full command: the warrior monks were certainly full of spirit, but they were amateurs in actual military affairs.
Once Percy returned to town, he found that Kuon and Camus were still together.
Oh? Is really is trying to make Kuon into a servant of God?
A brand-new sword was hanging at the boy's back: Percy had given it to him, just as he had promised. Camus, a book in one hand, was about to launch into some sort of impassioned speech, whereas Kuon had was resting his chin in his hands and was staring absentmindedly at where children were playing in front of the houses.
You can preach, but he isn't listening to a single word.
Percy's lips formed into a smile. Still, when he was daydreaming, Kuon looked defenceless and very young. The irritation and displeasure that were constantly blazing in his gaze seemed to lose some of their intensity. Percy could remember: young people sometimes didn't know what to do with the forcefulness of their emotions, and would go as still as a cat sleeping in the sun.
Percy was about to call out to the two of them but swallowed his words before he could do so. The people walking along the street had stepped back to either side of it, making way for the band of ruffians who were swaggering boldly down the centre. It was the same bunch that had stirred up trouble with Kuon the previous day.
Rigaund, wasn't it?
After what had happened yesterday, Percy had been gathering information. Their chief was called Rigaund, and he had previously been a mercenary in a different country. However, when it had come to light that he was secretly receiving funds from the enemy, he had promptly escaped over the border. There, he had joined a group of bandits and, in barely a year, he had gathered two hundred subordinates.
More than half of them, though, had originally belonged to a different band; Rigaund had killed their chief and absorbed the rest of them into his own group. The bald man who was currently sauntering at his side had once been an underling in that other gang, and it was said th
Tales Of Leo Attiel ~Portrait Of The Headless Prince~ Volume 1 Chapter 2
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Tales Of Leo Attiel ~Portrait Of The Headless Prince~ Volume 1 Chapter 2 summary
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