Tales Of Leo Attiel ~Portrait Of The Headless Prince~ Volume 1 Chapter 3
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Although the violence Rigaund had committed had come to light - the name of his victim was kept concealed as much as possible however - Sarah could not escape censure, and she was locked away in the same cellar where Kuon had been kept overnight.
Even so, it was an exception for wartime. Normally, a trial would have been held at the temple. Since Conscon did not fall under any country's jurisdiction, its laws originated from the temple. She could have been stripped of her position as a nun, but, in all honesty, the temple could not currently afford to be fussy over one criminal. In fact, since Sarah had demonstrated her skill with a gun, she actually became sought-after as a soldier.
She was probably not going to be shut away for long. During that time, the group which was now headed by Matthew remained quiet; which was partly because the monks kept a strict eye on them. Their weapons were to remain confiscated unless an emergency arose.
With that, Conscon Temple returned to calm for the time being - but just as that seemed to be the case, things suddenly started moving.
It had been three days since Sarah had been imprisoned. Early that evening, just when it would soon be time for the night watchmen to go on duty, a man came rushing up, gasping for breath. He was from a unit which had been scouting out the area around the mountain.
"Troops from Allion have been sighted!" he shouted out loud.
According to what he said, there were twenty or thirty cavalrymen, followed by about twice that many ordinary soldiers. It looked as though they were a large reconnaissance force.
The mountain erupted into action. The clang of swords and armour rang like the drums of war, with the men's deep voices acting as the chorus. Then, without waiting for instructions from the temple, the mercenaries wilfully advanced down the mountain paths. Since there was no set organisation of troops apart from the lookouts and the scouting units, those who could take action did so with enthusiasm. It wasn't that there was absolutely no chain of command, but it was a fact that it took time for the higher-ups at the temple to respond, and it was made clear that both those handing down the orders and those receiving them were novices at this.
Although Percy Leegan did worry fleetingly about that fact, his youthful blood thrilled with wild excitement. He issued commands to his own platoon and chose no more than twenty as an attack force. There was no time to pull on armour. Each soldier held a lantern aloft as they raced down, and the enemy troops were detected in a village near the foot of the mountain. In their unit, only Percy was on horseback.
With just one word, they plunged towards the enemy group. His heart was beating wildly, and he had the illusion that it was doing so in step with the way his entire body was jolted up and down on horseback. The instant he saw an enemy face appear in sight within the red light of the flames, Percy thrust his spear at them.
The enemy weren't wearing armour either, perhaps because they wanted to be able to move lightly while on reconnaissance. When the spearhead was swallowed away out of Percy's field of vision, he felt a heavy resistance, and, from his elbow to his shoulder, and then by way of his chest, the sound of a thud reverberated down to the pit of his stomach. That was the moment in which he took an enemy's life for the first time.
He did not shout out that he had done it, and it was only within his own heart that Percy yelled for joy.
I won't slip up when I'm grasping a spear. I can do it. I'm strong. I can slaughter my enemies. I can survive.
Camus and Kuon's warrior-like appearance were vividly in his mind. He felt that he hadn't lost to them.
There was no leeway afterwards to think of anything. There was nothing but blindly jabbing at the enemy and desperately parrying the swords or spears with which the enemy lunged at him. Time and again, he felt the enemy's breath on his face. He saw endless scenes of steel striking down heads or limbs. Amidst it all, he repeatedly heard something that sounded like gunshots ringing in the distance.
Allies, probably. They can shoot at fleeing enemies, but they're holding back from firing into those fighting because of the confusion, he though in the one small corner of his brain that was still capable of rational thinking.
He heard from afar a voice that seemed to belong to an Allian soldier, and the rough fight came to an end.
The result of it was that Percy had killed two enemies. The first was the mounted soldier from right at the start, and the other had been a foot soldier wielding a halberd. Apart from that, he had also wounded several, but not fatally.
"You fight well."
He suddenly realised that Camus was standing by his horse, which was snorting roughly, and stroking its neck. His clerical garb and the chainmail he wore beneath it were stained red. That of victims, no doubt; the person himself was smiling and seemed entirely healthy.
"Despite how you look, your way of fighting is impressive. Your way of handling your spear and horse is still a bit rough, but with some more experience, you'll be taking plenty of enemy heads."
He spoke just like a general. His expression was filled with even more energy and self-confidence than usual, which was proof that he too had brought down several enemies. It really was a shame that he was a monk. And then there was -
What about Kuon? He wondered about the boy who hid a wild pride within his heart. Turning his head this way and that from horseback, he could not catch sight of him. He was sure that Kuon must have been among the first to come rushing as soon as he heard that there were enemies.
He can't possibly… just as he was looking towards the figures that had fallen to the ground, Camus exclaimed, "over there!" and started to run.
It was the same direction as the one the enemy had fled in. Urging his horse forward, Percy overtook him and caught up with Kuon, who was running at terrifying speed. Sure enough, his sword was drenched in blood.
"Chasing too far is forbidden, Kuon. The enemy might have set up camp."
With Percy blocking him from horseback and Camus also having caught up and restraining him, Kuon reluctantly came to a halt. His breathing was uneven, but he did not seem particularly worn out.
"How many did you kill?"
"Three or four. And I injured a guy who looked like a commander. If I'd caught with him, I could've finished him off," Kuon looked thoroughly annoyed as he spoke. His fighting spirit was practically pouring out of his pair of shinning eyes.
"There's no point if you end up having the tables turned on you. Are you injured?"
At Percy's questions, Kuon looked over his own arms and legs. His nose wrinkled up as though in dislike from the smell of blood, but his answer was a simple "no". Percy smiled, thinking that this guy was really just adorable.
"If you want to rake up achievements, why don't you fight with my unit from now on? It would be more efficient than fighting at random by yourself," he invited him.
After pondering for a moment, Kuon replied, "I'm fine wherever. As long as you don't go on about too much annoying stuff."
"It's a deal, then. Camus, how about you? I'm still new at this, so would you help me to accumulate experience?"
"It is the duty of the faithful to guide young people down the right path," Camus spoke with solemn reverence, although he was, in fact, a year younger than Percy.
That day, in the temple that was drunk on victory, Percy announced that he had incorporated Kuon and Camus into his unit. The temple was unused to organising military formations, which also meant that it was not very strict about it. In that sense, it was very flexible.
Although Nauma Laumarl had not taken part in the fighting, he was absolutely delighted that his 'subordinate' had accomplished such a feat.
"At my command, they…" he commented at length to the bishops about the battlefield that he had not personally witnessed.
Of course, while it was a victory, they had done no more than repel a single enemy reconnaissance unit. Since this proved that Allion had started to take military action, the mountain, separate from its ecstatic atmosphere, was also increasingly starting to fill with nervous tension. Percy Leegan had prepared himself in body and mind for the attack that was sure to come in the near future.
And yet -
While everyone expected Allion to advance in force, from the next day onward, they chose a completely different course of action. One after another, they pillaged the villages that were dotted around the base of Mount Conscon.
From out of nowhere, armed groups suddenly appeared, laying waste to the fields and stealing the harvest and the livestock. The men who tried to oppose them were run through with spears thrust from horseback, or were pierced with arrows through the chest. When they ran out, the defenceless wives and daughters of the farmers were also snatched away.
The villagers speculated that it was the work of bandits, or perhaps of marauding soldiers.
Although these 'marauders' were sometimes also soldiers employed by the local domain lords, their salaries were low compared to those stationed at the castles. In compensation for that, in the border areas where it was difficult to extend any country's authority, they were allowed to demand a toll from merchants and wayfarers, in the name of "providing a secure escort during your travels". The rulers tacitly consented to this. In practice, the merchants could indeed travel safely under their escort. Moreover, the marauders occasionally proceeded to neighbouring countries and attacked the villages there. They pillaged, set fire, murdered and kidnapped. They hid where they came from, pretending to be outlaws or armed fishermen. These raids that earned them both profit and combat training could be carried out on the orders of their ruler. The military aim behind them included such things as attacking a foreign power, provoking them or providing a distraction.
In Atall, the local domain lords frequently hired marauders to ravage other territories within their same country. Among them was a man whose infamy struck fear even in the House of the sovereign-prince, but those details can be left for later.
In this current case, there was no doubt that these were Allion's forces. Either it was their troops disguising themselves as bandits, or they were employing local marauders. Since the villages around the temple did not belong to any country, once they were attacked, the only place the villagers could escape to in search of protection was the temple. The provisions which were sent from the villages to the mountain's markets were cut off, and on top of that, the temple had to care for a great deal more people.
"Stamp out the thieves," Bishop Rogress ordered.
By then, as was to be expected, the arrangement of units had been set. Every one of them were sent out to intercept them.
Most of the marauders fled immediately when the encountered the temple's soldiers. The speed of their movements proved that they had good leadership. That made things difficult when the situation turned into a battle. While the warrior monks would protect the temple at all cost, the mish-mash groups of ruffians would, on the other hand, be the ones to first to flee if the opponents showed any resistance. And those opponents did not miss those signs of weakness.
"Now, give chase. Pursue, pursue!" They tore through those weak links and, as a result, instead of protecting the villages, the temple suffered a number of defeats.
Percy's platoon was frequently sent out to clean up after these fights. Perhaps Nauma Laumarl found it the perfect way to get satisfaction since he touted him as 'a reliable commander', and sent him off into successive battles. Although unhappy about it, Percy could not go against orders. It was also a fact that nobody obtained better results than they did.
Day and night Percy was pressed into service and made to ride out. As soon as the marauders decided that this was a strong opponent, they would flee. They seemed to scatter in every direction, yet next time they appeared, their movements once again displayed that they had leadership. Thinking they were about to press forward, the temple's side prepared to fight back, only to have them pull back again. It was a constant repetition of wasted effort.
"Damn them," Camus ground his teeth in frustration. "They act like cowards. It should be more dignified."
What should? Percy wondered silently. War was not only about powerful forces mutually colliding. There were plenty of cases that started and ended with nothing but diversions. This too was war. Yet at the same time, he could not help thinking that Allion's troops were behaving strangely.
Perhaps they don't have the manpower to encircle the area around Mount Conscon. Or else, maybe their supply train doesn't have much leeway? Both are possible, he considered.
He remembered what Bishop Rogress had once said: that Allion was not necessarily eager to suppress the temple. Perhaps only one portion within the country was fervently in favour of doing so. In which case, they would certainly not have any large amount of troops. It was doubtful that they even amounted to a thousand.
Still, the temple was undeniably being made to endure hardship.
If we stay on the defensive like this, the temple will continue suffer. Sooner or later, the food will run out and the mercenaries will be quick to turn traitor.
On Bishop Rogress' orders, troops were to be stationed immediately within the villages. Again at Nauma's command, Percy's unit was to be among them. It was the same harsh workload as ever, but, for now, Percy had no objections. It wasn't just about preventing further damage to the villages: if the villagers grew weary of the fighting and surrendered to Allion, the foot of the mountain would instantly turn into an advance base from which to capture the temple. Going directly to the villages to offer the inhabitants peace of mind was part of the soldiers' duties.
The village was surrounded by forest and numbered a few hundred households.
Percy had a watchtower built, and sent scouts out to survey the area with greater secrecy than before. Before his departure for the front, the Leegan House had provided him with war funds which he now made free use of, buying a number of horses as well as various other things he wanted, which brought profit to the village blacksmiths and harness makers.
Occasionally, he allowed the soldiers to go to the village's only tavern. Since they were forbidden from brawling with the villagers, a few people always had to remain sober. Camus was one of those who took on that responsibility. He had never had any great affinity for liquor. If some of the soldiers got too drunk and seemed about to cause trouble, his stout arms would remove them to the outside one after another.
Then there was his other boon companion, Kuon, who even when he didn't have any ale in him was always at the centre of every fight.
It was great that he had joined the unit but, at first, whenever Kuon caused a ruckus, Percy had to come rushing. The reasons for the fights were trivial. Things like: he had gotten laughed at for his name or for his accent, he had been cheated when gambling at dice, or, conversely, it could be because his careless manner of speaking earned him the antipathy of some of the younger soldiers.
"Nobody is particularly making fun of you," Camus lectured him every time, "it's just that you're unusual for them. If you leave it be, they'll soon get used to you. Unless you get upset at every little thing and swing your fists." Kuon, flushed red from belligerence, stayed silent.
"Kuon, a man of ambition doesn't care who laughs at him. You left your home with sword in hand, so there must be something that your heart is set on. If you keep getting yourself involved in trifling quarrels, you won't accomplish anything."
"Ambition or not accomplishing anything has sod all to do with me," when Kuon occasionally opened his mouth, it was only to let it pour out abuse. "If I can get something good to eat today, then it's all good. That's it. What's wrong about that?"
"If you're driven out from where you've finally found work, then they'll be no question of getting something good to eat," Percy felt a bit like laughing at himself for using that kind of persuasion.
Looking at Kuon was exactly like looking at his own past self. Without even understanding his own worth, he hated above all else to have other people look down on him. Everyone around him was laughing at the man who had not been able to do anything during his first campaign, and who practiced with the spear while boasting that he would one day achieve great things - that was how he had felt.
Looking at the boy who was so exactly like him, he felt that he had been given the role of an old man, and felt like laughing again.
Anyway, this was how, at the start, Kuon had Percy running all over the place. However, when he stood on the battlefield, Kuon changed entirely. Since the boy was usually a hothead, Percy worried about whether he would actually move according to orders, but during actual combat, he was unexpectedly obedient and went about his work quickly and efficiently.
After being on the battlefield with him, the way his surroundings looked at him started to change.
"That guy's still only small, but his way with the sword is terrifying."
"He's got nerve. He runs straight towards the enemy without any fear."
As the attitude of those around him transformed, Kuon also change somewhat.
Perhaps because he had grown up in the mountains, he had sharp night-vision, so he often volunteered for night watch duty. Also, occasionally, he would seem to go wandering off alone all day in the mountains, but when he came back, he would be carrying huge quantities of herbs in both hands. He would then line them up on the ground and divide them up into those that could be eaten, and those that could be used as medicine. He personally mashed those latter ones and handed the medicine to the wounded soldiers.
"Oh, the boy's changed, hasn't he?"
The soldiers, who had long served the Leegan House, were impressed. Nowadays, they would chase away the village children who gathered around the watchtower, telling them "Kuon's dangerous." The children thought both his accent and his name, which sounded like a dog's bark, were funny, so they took every chance they got to incessantly call out "Kuonkuon, Kuonkuon" to him.
"I wonder… Rather than saying he's changed," Percy tilted his head, "Given that he's now on the stage of battle, there's no need for him to go looking for fights."
Originally, Kuon had spent each day fighting against invaders alongside his companions in the land of his birth. It was obvious that they didn't each fight individually against the advancing enemy but that they had their own tactics and traps, and Kuon must have learned from birth about the strict rules of fighting as part of a group. Do not leave your post whatever what happens; do not so much as take a single useless breath; once the order has been given, charge at the enemy troops without hesitation…
Thinking about it, it was only natural that Kuon should prove himself to be a capable soldier. He was probably bewildered because of being in an unfamiliar culture, yet right now it wasn't that he had "changed" but that this was how he had always been.
One evening, Percy spotted him among his men, who were in a cheerful ring around the fire. One of them, who was good at telling jokes, was telling stories about his past woes with women while everyone else roared with laughter. Kuon was also holding his sides with mirth. Percy was relieved to see his boyish side but, the next day, Kuon was polishing a sword some distance away from everyone else, his expression sullen.
He was a difficult man to please. Or perhaps it was better to say that he was at a difficult age?
Percy felt that he would like to hear from Kuon about his time in the mountains and about his experiences when he left them. In other words, he was starting to harbour the hope that - if he survives, maybe we could become lifelong friends.
After taking up his station, Percy Leegan was not simply waiting for the enemy to strike.
He asked people from the village to get him maps of the surroundings. Since these, however, were made for those from the area, Percy and his men, who were strangers there, found them hard to read. Accordingly, he sent out several of his subordinates on horseback to investigate the terrain. More and more lines were added to the maps and once the features of the landscape were revealed, Percy marked with a cross the places where the marauders frequently appeared.
The enemy seemed to be appearing at random and scattering haphazardly when they fled, but in fact, their actions were orderly. Which meant that they must have built bases around the mountain where they could keep their horses, even though those bases wouldn't be anything as big as fortresses or castles. And judging by how frequently this village was being attacked, there were definitely one or two nearby.
Percy asked Camus to go around the neighbouring villages. As a monk from the temple, Camus's presence was helpful for gaining the villagers' trust and, when he made the appeal, people from all over gathered to help. Percy had them cut down trees from the nearby forest.
With the lumber, he had them build a simple watchtower in each village, as well as fences. Referencing a book he had once read, Percy drove the sharpened tips of the stakes into the ground, and fastened several of these together with ropes. He had them set up at various points to create what was essentially a horse-repelling barrier. It didn't need to be particularly high, since, by nature, the horses would not want to cross the low fence.
Moreover, Percy had pits dug in the surroundings and had them covered with straw. He also used the soil that had been dug up to plug the gaps in the anti-horse palisades, creating a defensive wall in wattle-and-daube.
Since most of the enemy's raids occurred at night, the fences, the improvised walls and the traps should prove quite effective.
Percy naturally also mobilised his own soldiers for cutting down the trees, building the fences and walls, and digging the pits. All of them worked all day long, covered in dirt and drenched in sweat. This too was only second-hand knowledge from books, but Percy understood that in war, the great majority of time was spent in engineering works.
He had arrows made from the wood left over from constructing the fences. Women also helped out with that work, and Percy was surprised to see Sarah joining in, as bold as could be. She had been released and some point and, upon learning of her brother's whereabouts, she had gone down the mountain to them.
Predictably, she and Camus quarrelled over trifling things and - equally predictably - Sarah came out the winner. Besides that, she was a sociable creature and very soon gained the villagers' affection. For the children especially, she became a favourite playmate.
"Let's all train together so that we're ready for when the time comes!" she said, then gathered up the youngest villagers and went galloping off - and even the naughtiest children, who usually gave their parents a hard time, would join in. Sarah also took part, and the girl who ran about with her breath uneven and the hem of her clerical robes fluttering was watched by all of the villagers.
"I'm first!" she panted, as she reached the goal that she herself had decided on.
Her eyes suddenly met Kuon's, who was polishing his sword under the eaves of a house. For a moment, they were enveloped in a strange mood.
Kuon was the first to look away. "You run just like a man," his tone held neither criticism nor praise.
Facing him, Sarah looked as though she wasn't sure what to say.
"Won't you come and run too? Since you're from the mountains, you should have good legs, right? In that case, why don't we compete against each other and bet tonight's dinner?" she suggested, provokingly.
The edge of Kuon's lips curled and he stood up. His face was reflected in the surface of the sword he had just polished as he started to leave.
"What, are you running away?"
"I don't compete against women," said Kuon, and Sarah's cheeks puffed into a pout. The next moment, it turned into a smile.
"You're scared of losing. Listen up, everyone, Kuonkuon's a coward!" Sarah incited the children to make fun of him.
Kuon aspired to be a 'man', but he wasn't able to keep up the right attitude for long. A few seconds later, he was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Sarah and, once the command was given, they both started to run.
The result went without saying.
"I ran just before," Sarah scowled at Kuon, her shoulders heaving. "One more time… No, since it'd just be the same, after a break."
"You're so annoying!"
Percy pretended not to understand the plea for help that Kuon's gaze was sending his way. Just then, Sarah noticed his presence and her expression, seen from over Kuon's shoulder, changed. The childish impression vanished, and she became entirely ladylike. She was a girl whose expression was constantly changing.
A few days later, Kuon spotted enemies at around about the time when the sun was setting. Normally, he would have called out loud to alert everyone, but this time, he quickly climbed down the watchtower and went to inform Percy, just as he had been ordered to do.
Percy nodded. He had been thinking that it will soon be time.
Erecting a fence and digging traps had of course been done to strengthen the village's defences, but it had also been so that they could cope with an attack with fewer soldiers than before. And as for what they would be doing with the soldiers than had been subtracted from the usual number -
"We'll launch ourselves out from here."
- Right, they would be used to attack.
Percy issued his commands, thirty riders following behind him. Kuon was among them; he was well used to horses. Camus and Sarah, meanwhile, were helping defend the village.
Percy and the others departed in the direction opposite from where the enemy was expected to attack, and rode out into the dusk. To assail the enemy from behind… was not the plan.
The noise from the village faded. Percy's aim was to go closer to the root and to strike one of the enemy bases. He had surmised its location from the places and times that the enemy had appeared at up until then.
As expected, the base was on the other side of a narrow stream, hidden amongst densely-growing trees. With the mounted soldiers having gone out to attack, there were not many people there.
Percy's heart pounded with excitement. During those seven years in Atall's capital, there had not been a single night when he had not hoped against hope to shine on the battlefield. And the scenes he had pictured inside his head on every one of those nightmarish nights when his blood had been burning, was exactly the one that was now unfolding before his eyes.
"Now!" Percy bellowed and had the men stoke huge fires.
When the soldiers at the base noticed those flames, the first to come out to see what was happening were mowed down by twenty riders, led by Percy.
"Enemy attack, enemy attack!"
As the foot soldiers came crawling out, Percy and the others took up position to intercept them. At the same time, ten hand-picked and especially skilled men, Kuon among them, raided the simple, log-built building from the side. They took control of the base, which was now even shorter on hands than it had been earlier since the soldiers were all out.
Chasing away the soldiers, they set themselves up within the base. They waited for the unit that had gone to raid the village to return, then attacked it ferociously.
It was a one-sided slaughter.
The outcome of the battle was that Percy Leegan obtained large amounts of food, weapons - including guns - and seven prisoners of war, all without loosing a single allied soldier.
These results earned high praise from the temple. For a while, Percy was extolled as a minor hero. And with that, Nauma Laumarl, his superior officer, once again strutted around triumphantly. He spent several busy days explaining how he himself had taught Percy tactics, and was showered with acclaim and expectations for the future.
Percy himself was also in high spirits. It felt as though the regrets over his first campaign which had accumulated in his chest for the past seven years had cleared a little. With that said, Percy Leegan's military fame would not resound far and wide from this, and nor did he believe that they would win just because of this. The seven prisoners they had taken were, after all, no more than marauding soldiers who had been hired for a pittance, and although one of the men had been acting as a liaison with another base, whose location they had gotten him to cough up, their overall situation did not improve even after they had seized that one too.
From then on, the enemy's actions changed again.
Allion's regular soldiers finally started to move. Firstly, their armaments changed: they were fully equipped and had a great number of guns. More importantly, the echo of the clattering sound of wheels indicated that they had even brought cannons.
On the temple side, they had carried in the contents from the second enemy base, and were in the process of remodelling it into one of their own fortifications, but it was recaptured before they had time to blink They had of course guessed that the enemy would try to reclaim the base, so they had planned to strengthen its defences and to use the moment when their opponents had been lured out to deploy an attack force and to capture them in a pincer movement, but the enemy acted too quickly for them.
Before anyone knew what was going on, Allion's main forces, armed with cannons, had arrived at the foot of the mountain. Although the temple also sent out rapid waves of clean-up troops, the opponents were different from the marauders they had faced up until then. By dint of repeated three-way charges down the paths and the side of the hill, they were just barely able to push them back, but it was the temple's side which sustained the greatest number of casualties.
Each day was a series of fierce battles. Percy's unit was also temporarily recalled from where it had been stationed, and they were sent out to those battles time and time again. Most of the soldiers could no longer move because of their wounds. Although Percy himself, as well as Kuon and Camus, all remained unharmed, they could not hide the exhaustion in their faces every time the unit returned.
Atall's soldiers and the temple's armed monks continued to fight hard, but the worry that Percy had long held had become reality: once they saw that the situation was turning unfavourable, the mercenaries, who were mostly outlaws, lost their nerve. In the middle of battle, they would abandon their allies and flee without a qualm. There was nothing tactical about it, and they were no use in a head-on fight.
"Damn cowards," Camus barked one evening, the light from the nearby bonfires casting its bright glow on his face. The bowl of thin wheat gruel in his hands was shaking. Apart from a few slices of turnip, there was nothing else in the broth. "This is God's holy crusade to extinguish evil. From now on, we need to gather everyone at the temple to explain God's teachings to them. If everyone here fights without fear and uses their bodies as shields in our holy cause, we could annihilate that bunch in no time."
"So those teachings will cure everyone of their fear of death if you preach them for one night?" Percy knew full well that this wasn't the case, but he felt like making fun of this virtuous fellow. "Those are some really handy teachings. But then, the priests who spend their every day disciplining themselves sure are bad at gaining wisdom. Forget one night, it looks like they can't achieve the right state of mind in ten or even twenty years."
"What?" his ire roused, Camus glared at Percy, but right then even Kuon, who was lying near the fire, wrapped up in a blanket, chimed in.
"I agree. I've seen plenty of priests tremble just from hearing the sound of gunshots, then scampering away at the same time as those bandits," he said.
Camus gritted his teeth before raising his voice compellingly.
"Anyway! We're more or less even. So that means whoever shows the most spirit, wins!"
I wonder… Percy was doubtful, but this time, he did not say anything.
Each day, their side got battered bloody, but it didn't feel as though the enemy was taking any real damage. The enemy pulled back when pushed, pulled forward and was pushed back, and repeat. That was probably because they still had plentiful supplies of food, bullets, arrows and so on. To misquote Camus: Allion's side doesn't need to show spirit.
Whether they had come to that conclusion through crossing blades with them, or through information obtained by the spies that had slipped into the temple, Allion's forces seemed to have decided that there was no need to run any risks. Their repeated advances and retreats were enough to drive the temple to exhaustion, and it would soon destroy itself.
On top of that, rumours that Allion was advancing with cannons was having a bad effect on the villages at the foot of the mountain. Fearing that their houses might be burned down, the villagers all fled to the temple. The cost of supplying food increased, and the temple's situation would, of course, only get worse. Percy looked down into his own wooden bowl: up until a few days ago, the thin gruel had also contained meat.
Fortunately, he had been correct in his assessment that the enemy did not have sufficient numbers to lay siege to the mountain. Bishop Rogress had horses sent out to the towns and villages to buy provisions, but even then, their funds were not limitless. Besides, they could not travel under heavy guard, so when they were spotted by marauders - be they Allion's patrols or not - money and food were both stolen.
Soon, there wouldn't even be turnips floating in the gruel. Once that happened, and given the number of violent-tempered people around, quarrels were sure to erupt over the distribution of food. People would start to run away one after another.
"They say that Heaven helps those who help themselves. If we demonstrate that we will not yield to injustice, then naturally, we will walk the path of righteousness that God's teachings have granted us." Camus's enthusiasm, however, remained undiminished.
Although Percy was beginning to think that he was half saying that to convince himself, he couldn't help but envy Camus's ability to think that way. And also -
"What's so difficult? What's important is the enemy general. If we can hunt him down, we can win the fight."
He also felt jealous of Kuon's simple way of looking at things. On this violent field, those beliefs might be like a blade that cleaved through adversity.
Percy's superior officer, Nauma Laumarl, on the other hand, was trembling in terror. As though his bragging only a few days ago had never happened, he secluded himself indoors and had Atall's soldiers keep a tight watch around the building.
"Will it soon be time?" he asked when he summoned Percy, his tone almost that of one beseeching permission.
Nauma was so mentally cornered that he even sought advice from Percy - whom he hated - as though he were an expert about the battlefield.
"We've fought enough. We've sufficiently accomplished our duty as reinforcements. Perhaps we should send our lord sovereign-prince a messenger asking for permission to withdraw," he added.
He could not necessarily be blamed. Percy himself had thought time and again that this is after all a fight with no hope of victory and which won't even bring military fame. It was not worth risking their lives for. He knew what was meant by it "soon being time". Yet even so, his heart could not immediately let go.
Isn't there something… some kind of plan?
The enemy's formation was not spread out before them like some impregnable iron wall. Allion was Allion, but it seemed that for some reason, they had not been able to bring a large number of troops here. Which was why Percy could not just give up. In a way, it would have been preferable if they had brought an army so huge that even Percy would be forced to think any more than this and we will lose our soldiers for nothing.
Right now, there should still be something that they could do. But the man carrying the responsibility of command was acting weak-kneed.
"How can you be so cowardly!" Percy tried rebuking him.
He hit the table hard. Nauma Laumarl stared open-mouthed at him for a moment, then an angry crimson flush started to come over his face. He was about to stand up, but Percy forestalled him by taking a step forward to stand right in front of him. Nauma, apparently thinking he might really be about to cut him down, backed away with a panicked cry.
"If you leave here now, the temple will be just like a building which has lost its supporting pillar and which is about to collapse into rubble at any moment. For everyone here, it's because Lord Nauma Shalling is with them, and because they're bathing in his brilliant military renown, that they're able to remain cheerful and full of courage."
"O-Oh… Is that right? No… I mean, that's right!" Nauma Laumarl had been blinking in confusion from beginning to end.
"Then pardon me," was all Percy said before leaving the room.
Honestly… Talking so grandly - am I being influenced by Camus? He had a hard time preventing himself from smiling.
On the evening of the same day, a messenger came from Allion's side. A single horseman, who came galloping right up to the gate as soon as he had raised his flag.
"I request an audience with His Excellency the Bishop," he proclaimed in a loud voice.
Bishop Rogress agreed to the meeting. He did not, however, prepare for them to talk alone, and their encounter took place in the public square in front of the temple. As the two faced each other, they were, of course, surrounded by a crowd of people. Percy, Camus and Sarah were all among them.
Percy could easily guess what the messenger would say. And just as expected, he advised them to surrender. He said that if Bishop Rogress alone surrendered to their general, no further damage would be inflicted upon the mountain.
"This is the royal decision, Your Excellency."
More than his words, what impressed Percy was the messenger's dignified attitude and the deep, reverberating timbre of his voice. In appearance, he looked exactly like a bandit chief, but judging from his calm and collected manner, there was no doubt that he must be a renowned military commander.
That's surprising… And just by himself.
There was nothing unusual about choosing someone of some standing to deliver the suggestion of surrender. Conscon Temple, however, was not a country. Yet even so, and even knowing that it had employed outlaws as mercenaries, this messenger was showing the utmost courtesy to those opposite him.
Nevertheless, the bishop's response was not favourable. That too was only to be expected. It had been predictable from the very fact that he had decided to meet the messenger before a large crowd.
"I thank you for your exceptional concern. I can tell that you are a decent man, and I honour you for that. However, with justice and righteousness on my side, I will stand firm against the evildoers who repeat those vile, slanderous rumours that I spoke curses. The wise already understand who it is who really wishes for this fight, and what their designs are."
This time, it was the bishop's words which made a deep impression on the faithful. Each of them raised the swords or spears that they held in their hands.
"Allion savages, go back to your country!"
"Do you think you can fool us by promising peace in exchange of His Excellency, the Bishop?"
They all raised rousing cries. The bishop lifted his hand to have them quieten back down while the messenger looked mortified.
"It seems that there is a misunderstanding between Your Excellency and ourselves. Which is why, Bishop Rogress, if you would come back to Allion and explain things in your own words…"
"My chapel was set alight, and innocent worshippers who were pursuing their work as servants of God perished in the flames. Their souls have received no lack of prayers to guide them safely over the horizon, but I do not wish to set foot in the place where the criminal who lit the fire is allowed to unconcernedly live his life."
There was no trace of violent emotion in either the bishop's expression or in his voice, but being stared at with those eyes that were like cut glass must have been a nerve-wracking experience for the messenger. It was even for Percy Leegan, who was watching from the side.
It was solely thanks to Bishop Rogress that Conscon Temple had become a power strong enough to worry even Allion and, at the same time, he had achieved that with Allion's help.
- It had been about seven years ago.
A prince was born in the Kingdom of Allion. Before the king had been crowned, a woman from a merchant house had borne him a bastard, but this was his first child from his legitimate wife. But the baby was premature, and immediately after birth, he hovered between life and death. Although he managed to pull through after a few days, he often fell sick afterwards and he gradually grew so weak that it became difficult even to give him milk.
The king and his wife were distraught. Although, naturally, that was partly out of love for their child, it was also because in Allion, it was considered an evil omen for the eldest son of the legal wife to die young. In the very worst case, other members of the royal family, who had previously given up on their ambition for the throne, might even claim that "our current king has incurred the hatred of the spirits, and we fear that the country might fall into chaos because of it", and use that as a righteous pretext to raise armies.
The king gathered doctors from throughout the land and mobilised every sorcerer in the country. He even summoned before him shamans rumoured among the common people to have 'spiritual abilities', or priestess serving gods that no one had ever heard of.
Rogress was also among them. In those days, he had been employed as a chaplain to a castle lord within Allion. In the past, he had instantaneously cured the castle lord's wife, who had been confined to her bed because of illness and so, although Allion's royalty had no relation with the Cross Faith, the king had clutched at this fact.
"I have never had anything more than a superficial knowledge of medicine. It is entirely thanks to God's gracious revelation that one such as I was able to heal the castle lord's lady," Rogress had announced in a clear voice before the king. "Charity, unselfish love and selfless devotion to God are needed to receive divine revelation."
Rogress went on to talk about an old temple that was falling in ruin beyond Allion's territory.
The king no longer had any more straws to clutch at; for the time being, he sent just enough money and people to rebuild the chapel within the temple. A mere seven days later, Rogress was praying without sleep or rest within that chapel. A further seven days later, he returned carrying "a miracle drug which was made in accordance with the divine revelation". Although it was first tasted for poison, there was no reluctance to having the baby suckle on it. In fact, because the child had already reached the last extremities of weakness, the king personally fed him the medicine.
Whereupon, as though by miracle, the prince's health rapidly improved. He regained the strength to suck at his mother's breast, his body started to grow plump, and he cried so lustily at night that those taking care of him didn't know what to do with him.
The king was overjoyed.
Just as Rogress had requested, he sent money to continue rebuilding the temple. He had an impressive temple built within the capital city, and allowed Rogress to proselytise on a large scale. That close relationship with the royal family lasted for almost seven years.
As the number of faithful within the kingdom increased, Rogress took on the role of an advisor to the royal family and frequently made politically-loaded remarks. He criticised how Allion was constantly in a state of war with the neighbouring powers, and he also condemned the aristocracy for their dissolute way of life. His presence started to be seen as an annoyance, and, at court, movements opposing him were born. These banded together and claimed firstly that Conscon Temple was gathering merchants to make money, and secondly that they were providing foreign enemies with weapons.
They spread rumours that, "Within our lands, Rogress preaches divine love, but outside of them, he is training armed groups. He is taking advantage of the king's affection for him and plans to take over both Allion's military and its politics."
Even so, Rogress had the support of countless faithful and the king's backing, but when he opposed those voices, the aforementioned fire occurred, and he had no choice but to flee to the temple.
Which brings us to the current situation.
- That was Bishop Rogress. The attitude towards the messenger was that of someone who was dignified and measured in both his manner and his actions. His expression showed no emotion, but behind, it was easy to see that he was determined not to flee anymore.
Percy couldn't help wondering again whether the bishop could somehow see the future, or whether it was simply that he felt no fear in dying for his god.
The warrior monks' spirits were roused to such fervour that steam was practically rising from them. Not far from him, Camus was moved to tears. To a man, they would undoubtedly wield their spears at the bishop's side and would continue to fight against Allion until their chests were pierced through with bullets.
The messenger probably shared that impression; he left a few polite words to the bishop then jumped back on his horse. As he was leaving, the soldiers hurled violent insults at his retreating back.
As rude as was to be expected, thought Percy and he ran up to the messenger, took his horse's bit, and offered to lead him out. The messenger smiled atop his horse.
"I beg your pardon, but I did not catch your name. May I ask you what it is?"
"It's nothing grand, but I am called Claude Anglett."
Wait… that Claude?
Percy was surprised but, at the same time, he had no difficulty believing it given the man's dignified demeanour.
There was a link between Claude and the Principality of Atall, or perhaps better said, a fated connection. Percy had hear that in the war, it was this man who had earned the greatest achievements.
At the very end, as he was leaving through the temple gates, Percy called out to him:
"You did a fine job of carrying out your duty as a messenger."
Claude gave a sincere smile and a single nod, then whipped his horse and galloped away.
I heard that he rose through the ranks from a simple soldier. Atall probably can't breed that kind of man.
It was because of his own youthfulness that he could think that way of the warriors from his own country.
A certain restlessness made itself felt within his heart, and the regrets over his first campaign were not far from him. It occurred to him that the other side might not even recognise them as 'enemies', and the feelings that immediately starting churning inside him at the thought were like black rainclouds.
And it was just after he had reprimanded Nauma, too.
We'll win. …I can't go as far as saying that, but at least… At least… Percy's feelings shook within him.
Behind him, the warrior monks were still roaring all together. Sarah stepped away from that crowd. She kept turning her head to look back.
"I sometimes wonder, do men see things that women don't? Or is that men don't see what women do?"
"That's been a puzzle since the dawn of time," Percy replied with a studiously grave face.
What Sarah basically wanted to say was that: men are fools. No doubt she saw things somewhat more realistically than her older brother, which made Percy curious about one thing:
"But, Miss, even though you see this war differently from men, you don't seem to want to run away from it."
"Miss? You are being very distant, Lord Percy. You may address me simply as Sarah," she said in deliberately formal language. Yet when she said her own name, the expression in her eyes was slightly bashful.
She was a thoroughly mysterious girl. When she was bickering with Kuon, she was exactly like a child, but when it was just the two of them talking, he caught glimpses of a young woman, and there was also that time when she had fired straight at the forehead of a man who had injured a friend of hers. Needless to say, she was hardly the kind of girl that could be found at court.
Sarah kept glancing around her and patting down her hair, looking agitated. She seemed to want to say something more, but Percy deliberately refrained from tossing her a line and stayed silent. So after prefixing her next words with an unnatural-sounding "speaking of which…" -
"Where did that idiot go?" she asked, unable to bear it any longer. This time, Percy had a hard time stopping himself from smiling.
"That idiot? There's no one I know who deserves to be called that so mercilessly."
"Right, I apologise for calling him an idiot. A more usual way of talking about him would be to call him a wild monkey and a country bumpkin. I haven't seen him around recently, has been any chance been killed? No… if he had, my brother would have said something, but I don't remember hearing anything like that. Or did maybe get scared of the fighting and go scurrying back to his mountain?"
"Are you talking about Kuon?" Although the answer was obvious, Percy asked the question in a quiet voice as he looked down towards the ground. Sarah gave a sudden gasp at the sight of that and he glanced towards her. "He… Right, he… truly, a brave man."
"It can't be… Are you serious?"
"It's because of that courage..."
"Don't… Don't say anymore," Sarah's long hair swayed as she fiercely shook her head. "I made fun of him and called him an idiot and a wild monkey. But Percy, I would never have believed that he could die so easily."
"If something like this was going to happen, I should have been kinder. That regret will never leave me. And to think that I had always hoped that this temple could be like a warm fire for children who are shivering from cold and from hunger. Kuon too… Right, he was just like a child. If I'd been able to clearly see him as such from the start, maybe I could even have loved him like a child…"
"Kuon… His soul must be at peace. Now that the filthy earth is holding him in its embrace, I can only hope that this prayer offered to God will be enough."
As Sarah recited the words of a prayer, her long eyelashes sweeping downwards, she looked lie the very image of a saint, but a voice kept calling out "oi" with far too much insistence.
"What?" The saintly image vanished to who knew where and she looked up with eyes like those of a snarling wolf.
"I told you to move it. You're standing right in the middle of the road. You want to be trampled to death?" Kuon repeated harshly from on horseback.
"Heya," said Percy nonchalantly as he raised a hand, while the blood drained from Sarah's face. "You were faster than expected. What's the result? The enemy didn't see you, right?"
"I passed by several scouting parties, but it's like those guys are as blind as bats in the dark. They don't think and just raise their torches, and they only look at the parts that are lit up."
"No surprises, then. My eye for choosing you was completely unerring."
Percy puffed out his chest just like Kuon on horseback was doing, but a something kept poking him on the shoulder. He didn't need to turn around. A presence like that of roaring flames was flaring behind him.
"Say, Mr Percy, Sir Percy, Lord Percy?" Sarah's expressionless face was right next to his. "Please, won't you continue with your story from earlier? 'A brave man. And because of that courage…' what were you going to say next?"
"No… Well, I wanted to say that because he was brave, I was giving him a special mission."
Did I joke around a bit too much? This time, it was the bit on Kuon's horse that Percy hurriedly grabbed hold of before hastily starting to walk away.
"Now then, tell me the whole story. But not here. I've given it some thought, and I don't want too many other people hearing this."
"Got it," Kuon followed him obediently. It would have been nice if he had continued being that docile, but he turned back towards Sarah, who was standing ramrod straight, and deliberately called out to her with another "oi".
"I heard you, you know. If it's to be loved like a child by you, I'd a hundred times rather jump straight at enemies armed with guns."
"Huh? Huh, right, that's right," instead of glaring at Kuon, Sarah grinned defiantly, displaying her white teeth. "By all means, please do so in the next fight. And if you nonchalantly survive and come back, I'll happily fire through your forehead."
Kuon had started to add things on the map that was spread out before him. Percy and Camus, who had been called over, stared intently at what he was doing.
The reason why Kuon had been absent from the temple for the past few days was because Percy had given him instructions to conduct independent reconnaissance action, on the grounds that he had been raised in the mountains and forests, and had sharp night vision. From the location of the enemy bases that they had found up until then, Percy wanted to work out where Allion had set up its headquarters. Kuon's mission had been to verify that location and to investigate its surrounding terrain.
As expected, Percy's eyes crinkled as he smiled. The thick lines that Kuon was drawing roughly matched the place that he himself had guessed at. Mountains stretched out along the whole area northwest of the temple, and there was only place that was open plain. Kuon had not been able to observe it from close up, but that was probably where Allion had erected its stronghold.
They were close to Allion's territory; which had expanded into this land in the war, seven years ago. Consequently, the north was dotted with keeps meant to ensure the borders' safety, but the routes leading south to those castles were all but barricaded by the steep mountains and deep valleys. Therefore, they were probably having things like provisions and materials be transported to them from further west. It would be a different story if they had air carriers prepared but, at least while Kuon had been watching, he had not been able to confirm the presence of even a single ship.
Further proof that Allion hasn't gone all out with this.
Using air carriers was costly for two reasons: because the technology was still developing, and because ether, its source of power, was drying up worldwide.
If we could attack them there…
With their supply route cut off, the frontline troops would have no choice but to pull back. No… even if they didn't actually capture the headquarters, the fact that it had been attacked would definitely have an effect on the frontlines.
Emotion blazed within Percy's eyes. He had not yet made his decision when he had given Kuon orders to go on reconnaissance and had only wanted any extra information they could get about the enemy to help defend the temple. However…
"Oh, are we going to attack them there?" peering at Percy's face, Camus seemed surprised.
His intentions having apparently been seen through, Percy outwardly returned to calm.
"Kuon is good at getting around in the mountains ad at night. He's investigated the terrain beforehand. Kuon, going through the mountains, how long would I take to get to the enemy stronghold?"
On level ground, it was a distance that galloping horses could cover in three days, but after thinking for a moment, Kuon declared, "You'd have to count ten days."
"No, we could take the horses as far as where these two rivers meet," said Camus. "Leave them at the fishing village there, and take the mountain path that veers off to the north."
"It would take a day to get there, then five more days from there."
"Three days at a flat march."
Percy checked with Kuon. "Would that work?"
"It'd work. But there would be guys who'd fall by the wayside. And we'd have to abandon any heavy equipment."
Percy gazed down at the map and above his head, Kuon and Camus exchanged glances filled with an unusual mutual understanding. Is he serious? - That feeling connected them. Percy raised his head and smiled.
"I'm not saying we should do it just by ourselves. Obviously, we'll need the numbers. A hundred… no, two hundred. Thereabouts. More than that would just slow down the march."
"Two hundred? But how many enemy soldiers are there at their headquarters?"
"We'll lure them away."
Oh? This time, it was Camus who smiled as he realised that Percy had already drawn up a plan in his mind.
"Luckily, the enemy has offered us a chance to surrender at just the right time. Allion was turned down and they'll be sore about it, so if we send them bait, there's a very high probability that they will go and attack it in force."
"And we'll attack from behind?"
Percy nodded. They sank into silence. Percy was somewhat surprised by it: although Camus and Kuon were different in many ways, one thing they both had in common was they were both excitable. He had been sure that as soon as he explained even just one part of his plan, they would jump on board, happy that - with this, we don't just have to wait for the enemy to attack us. And yet, for some reason, the two of them seemed to be hesitating. Impatience welled up within him.
"What, have you gotten cold feet at this point?" In spite of himself, anger had crept into his voice. "This is a one in a million opportunity. If we let it slip away, the only one of two things can happen: either the temple will be overwhelmed, or it will gradually waste away from the inside until it collapses in on itself. I would never have believed that the bravest pair in Conscon's army would resign themselves to that kind of fate!"
"No, nono," Camus hurriedly shook his head at Percy's fiery expression and tone.
Kuon carried on, "We'll do it if you say to. But… is it alright for you to be saying that?"
"What? Your problem is with me? If you doubt whether I'm serious, then..."
On the verge of getting even angrier, Percy suddenly shut his mouth. He had realised that the other two were staring at him wide-eyed.
Laughter bubbled up next. The other two's expression changed quickly, becoming serious.
"Is it alright?"
"Things might get hairy in the next few battles."
"Idiots," said Percy, laughter rumbling in his throat. "D-Don't be so stupid."
At that moment, Percy understood the real reason why he was so intent on staying here, even to the point of sharply reprimanding Nauma, his superior officer.
Regrets over his first campaign? That wasn't it. Those had already vanished at some point without his realising it.
Then… anger towards Allion for their violence towards the temple? Not that either.
This land of Conscon was where he had fought his first battle, where he had first killed an enemy soldier, where he had captured his first enemy base, where he had first seen allies die close to him. He remembered how a nun had fired a gun, how a warrior monk skilfully wielded a spear, and how a boy swung a sword. After the fire was lit and when he went to sleep by it, wrapped up in a blanket, he did so accompanied by the chattering voices of innumerable men and their beast-like odour. Percy felt an almost painful connection to that atmosphere of savagery and chaos that he would not have experienced at the Leegan family's mansion, and to the many people - enemies included - that he had met. You could also call it affection.
It was as simple as that.
He found himself ridiculous. Bundling his current self with his past self, who had set his heart on achieving great feats and becoming the greatest hero in Atall, he laughed them all away. He was no longer thinking of earning fame in this land. Now, Percy only had one single thought: Just one blow. Just one blow hard enough to make them regret turning their blades against the temple. It was, in the end, just a childish and foolish thought, born from being unable to stomach the difference in power, from being unable to strike them. He just wanted to punch Allion in the nose.
Although he found himself ridiculous, he was filled with laughter at the sight of how Kuon ad Percy opened their eyes wide when he suggested giving that punch.
Originally, I might not have cared about you guys, but now I'm the one who can't just stand by and watch indifferently - that was how he now truly felt about the situation.
Under the influence of the two people who were in a radically different position from him, Percy had reformed.
"Then if you're doing it, I'm doing it," Camus suddenly made up his mind. "I believe in God's divine protection, but I don't believe that we simply have to pray and wait for divine punishment to smite our enemies from the heavens. God grants protection to the braves who fight without regard for their own lives."
"Right, exactly right, Camus. How about you, Kuon? You might be able to catch the enemy general at their headquarters. You wanted an achievement and you won't be able to get one any greater than that," Percy said, face flushed with more excitement than he had ever shown before then.
"I'll do it," nodded Kuon. His words were terse but his eyes were sparkling. Then -
"Honestly, there's something wrong here," he grinned, showing his teeth. "You're making me forget the time the two of you tied me up. Maybe you civilised people and devout believers have changed this mountain monkey a bit."
First was getting soldiers. Including Kuon and Camus, there were only twenty people who were still mobile in Percy's unit and if it came to a route march through the mountains, then only ten would be able to keep up. Because of that, they decided that Percy would sound out Nauma Laumarl.
Nauma's attitude was already indecisive, so he was unable to hide how startled he felt, but Percy patiently explained that "this is the perfect chance to accomplish something impressive." It was only natural though that the commander's blood was not roused in this situation where he had to hide both his name and his origins. However -
"If Lord Shalling's fame starts to resound, our lord, the sovereign-prince, will of course hear about it too. There will probably be a reward. Besides, once the situation has calmed down, the real identity of the mysterious hero will be talked about throughout this land. If, by any chance, everyone started to whisper that his real name was Nauma Laumarl, they will look at you with even more respect for not having spoken about until then."
As Percy patiently worked to persuade him, Nauma was gradually won ove
Tales Of Leo Attiel ~Portrait Of The Headless Prince~ Volume 1 Chapter 3
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Tales Of Leo Attiel ~Portrait Of The Headless Prince~ Volume 1 Chapter 3 summary
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