Tales Of Leo Attiel ~Portrait Of The Headless Prince~ Volume 1 Chapter 5
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I bet the lord sovereign-prince was completely astounded, thought Leo Attiel.
Said sovereign-prince was, of course, Magrid Attiel, ruler of Atall - in other words, Leo's father.
When things had gotten heated between Conscon Temple and Allion, the sovereign-price had sent five hundred soldiers in reinforcement. In a way, he had been earning a favour from the temple, but that would be completely meaningless if the temple were to fall. Leo did not know whether the sovereign-prince was satisfied with just that number of soldiers, or whether he had been preparing to send a next wave of reinforcements.
At any rate, Magrid had dispatched Nauma and had exchanged messengers with the temple, so he should have some level of understanding of the battle situation. He must have been pleased to hear that Allion was having an unexpectedly difficult time. With that, Atall's plan was successfully unfolding towards the situation described by the vassal-lord Oswell when he had first suggested sending reinforcements - namely, that the faithful within Allion would be worried about the fight and would speak up in the temple's defence.
Nevertheless, unexpectedly distressing news had reached Magrid that: "Lord Leo is to be executed within Allion."
When it was discovered that Atall had supported the temple, the army commander for Allion had flown into a rage and had Leo killed. That rumour came from the southwest border area, and slowly seeped out within the territory, so that it reached the capital, Tiwana, a few days later. Magrid had been in the middle of eating, and the spoon he was holding fell to the floor.
It must have seemed impossible.
He had sent his troops with great caution this time. Even the temple's request for help had only been revealed to a few of the vassal-lords and a small number of his own retainers. The soldiers' preparations had also been kept entirely secret, and they had avoided using any piece of armour or weaponry that was characteristic of Atall. For example: Atall's regular soldiers frequently used curved blades, but these soldiers had been strictly forbidden from taking any with them. Moreover, when they had been choosing the men, one of the criteria had been to send only those who did not have an Atallese accent, or those who could hide it.
Yet all that trouble had been in vain. Allion had discovered that Atall had sent reinforcements, and it was said that the hostage Leo had lost his life.
I didn't receive any report from Nauma about anything like this.
For a while, the sovereign-prince was badly shaken up, however, the story of Leo's execution was no more than a rumour. Magrid admonished the people at the castle who were starting to get worked up - "Why are you all running around like this over some groundless rumour?" He skilfully avoided specifying whether that "groundless rumour" referred to the reinforcements or to the story of Leo's execution, but he was going to send a messenger to verify its veracity. It was then that the sovereign-prince was "completely astounded" in the truest sense.
He was once again in the middle of eating when a steward came bursting in, his entire face beaming with joy.
"Lord Leo has safely returned to Tiwana!"
This time, it was a glass that fell from Magrid's hand.
The people of Tiwana had naturally heard the rumour that the prince had been executed. Although Atall had always been a small country compared to Allion, it had an equally long history and, over the generations, a deep affection for the princely house had taken root in that land. The people grieved over the tragic news of the prince's execution, and raised their voices in anger.
It was then that they received the report that Leo had returned. It was said that although it was true that Allion had intended to execute him, but he had succeeded in escaping with the help of the soldiers secretly sent by the sovereign-prince. The people were in a frenzy, and voices all around rose in praise of their compassionate ruler.
In no time at all, a crowd of people was thronging the road along which Leo and his party was supposed to be arriving, and since the prince and his companions actually did happen to be going that way, the people raised cheers of joy, waved their hands, and shouted the names of the prince and sovereign-prince.
Magrid and his retainers came out of the palace to meet them. They had no choice but to do so. If, for example, Leo had been found near the border, the sovereign-prince would immediately have sent out riders with orders to keep him there, thus buying himself some time to check what the actual situation was.
At times like these, a statesman's duty was to give priority to the country's situation, rather than to the affection between father and child. If it had not been true that Allion was going to execute Leo, and if they had no intention of doing so in the future, then there would still have been the possibility of pretending not to know anything about things like reinforcements, and sending Leo back to Allion's domains.
However, Lord Leo, who had once been said to have been executed, had been rescued by the soldiers sent by the sovereign-prince, and had returned safely. When the people saw the young prince before them, they shouted and cheered; the sovereign-prince could not choose to ignore this.
Those men called Percy and Camus… it's all going according to their plan. Lord Leo forgot his own situation and almost smiled.
- Having safely left the mountains from the east, the party had been met by soldiers from Claude's camp.
On the way, he had heard from Percy that Claude apparently hoped to return Leo to Atall. When they had been climbing down the mountain, Leo had been mostly expressionless, but when he had heard that, he had been unable to hold back his tears.
Moreover, Claude's daughter, Florrie Anglatt, had announced that she would accompany him out of the territory - "Until the prince has safely returned to his land."
Naturally, Leo had refused, but he had been struck with an idea: If it comes to it, wouldn't it be a good idea to say that I took her hostage and escaped?
If they did, then this flight would not have been orchestrated by Claude, emphasis would be laid on how Leo had acted alone, and Claude's situation within Allion would not turn any worse than necessary.
Claude gave them horses and provisions, as well as a small amount of travel expenses. Florrie was again seated behind Leo and the entire group travelled east to cross the border.
Well, it was from that point that Percy Leegan and Camus the warrior monk revealed their plan. They were worried that the sovereign-prince would certainly act in the manner mentioned above. Therefore, even after they had entered Atall's territory, they did not immediately head for a town or a castle to ask for protection for the prince, but instead deliberately avoided the highway and aimed straight for the capital.
While hiding the prince's identity, they stayed at village inns and actively spread rumours about Leo's death. As though they were following after those rumours, they slowly took their time to arrive at the capital, and entered it after revealing for the first times their identities as "Leo Attiel and the ones who saved the prince." This time, they intentionally chose the main streets so as to attract attention. Sarah, dressed up as a town girl, had first gone and spread the news that "Lord Leo has returned alive", so there were crowds of people to greet them.
The scheme worked, and the sovereign-prince was forced to welcome his son.
- That, at any rate, was the public attitude that Magrid adopted, but, of course, his private thoughts were different. For the time being, he shut his son in a room, saying "you should have some rest", after which he got Percy to give him the full details.
Just as he had been asked to, Percy told his story. He told the truth about their planned attack on the enemy headquarters, and about how this had failed and they had been captured by the enemy general, but from that point on, he added a few embellishments as he saw fit.
"We too have no way of knowing if the king of Allion was intending to execute the prince. However, there seemed to be some unrest among Allion's troops when that rumour spread. The prince escaped to the mountains from the mansion where he was being taken care of, along with the young lady of the family. The enemy camp was in complete disarray because of the hunt in the mountains, so thanks to that, we found an opportunity to slip away and successfully met with the prince before anyone else. No matter how much the presence of our reinforcements may have angered Allion, leaving the prince to die would have been the height of disloyalty. That was why I brought the prince with us on nothing but my own judgement."
"I thank you for the trouble you took."
What could Sovereign-Prince Magrid say other than that?
Rather than trouble having been taken, however, it had only just started.
Allion has realised that we supported the temple.
If it had only been that, they could still have come up with some excuse.
Leo, the hostage who had been given to them, escaped by himself.
There was no getting away from that, however.
Rumours of Leo's return had, by now, gone around the whole territory, and was causing ripples all over. At first, the people had welcomed his return, but currently, many shuddered with worry.
"What will happen to our relations with Allion after this?"
"A huge army could march on us at any moment!"
Having heard the rumours, the vassal-lords came running one after another to the capital.
As mentioned previously, these 'vassal-lords' were domain lords who ruled the southern half of Atall, which was divided between them. They had considerable authority within Atall. Although they belonged to the same principality, they kept their personal military forces to protect their lands and assets, and, at times, they would also stand united when addressing the princely house.
An episode which perfectly illustrates that power relationship was an event which happened ten-odd years previously. Two nobles, both vassal-lords, quarrelled over a newly-discover vein of dragonbone. Both hired mercenaries and there were even military clashes, but the ruling house did not intervene. Even if he had tried to, since there were militias in every vassal-lord's territory, the sovereign-prince, despite his position, could not mobilise all of the country's armed forces. It would, of course, have cost money to hire new troops and, at the time, an unusually long spell of rain had lead to repeated flood damage in the northern part of the country, so what with providing aid to the villagers and having to undertake works for flood-control, there were also very few funds left at hand.
Magrid's father, who was the sovereign-prince at the time, made the token effort of sending a letter and envoy, then left things to die down naturally.
Half a year later, although they were still standing-off against each other and there were still the occasional skirmishes, the two sides had finally reached a reconciliation. However, the vassal-lords collectively criticised the sovereign-prince. "The sovereign-prince abandoned the domains and their people."
"His attitude risks being indecisive if the time comes to face off against another country."
"His Majesty is getting on in years. Wouldn't it be about time…?"
Rumours sprang up that soldiers were being gathered in each of the territories. So - "Rather than allow the country to split…" Magrid's father had no choice but to abdicate the throne.
He had not been mistaken in judging that his position was too weak to allow him to intervene in the dispute. Nevertheless, in doing so, he sowed the seeds of trouble. After all, it had set a precedent in which the vassal-lords were able to match House Attiel in strength - or rather, in which they had demonstrated even greater influence than the ruler.
They obeyed their liege, the sovereign-prince's, orders only if these served to protect the territories, people or assets of the vassal-lords, but there was no reason for them to follow orders which did not benefit them. And the recent reinforcements to Conscon Temple was definitely an example of an order which did not benefit the vassal-lords.
Magrid had invited several vassal-lords that he was comparatively close with to discuss the matter, but, apart from Oswell Taholin, all of them had opposed helping the temple. And even though Oswell had recommended sending reinforcements, he had not offered any of his own soldiers. Consequently, it was not merely because he had not wanted Allion to suspect anything that Magrid had not sent any more soldiers than necessary; from the start, he had never been in a position to be able to dispatch a large contingent of reinforcements.
Anyway, one after another, the vassal-lords turned up uninvited at the palace. There were seven of them.
Those who had not known about the reinforcements all expressed anger -
"Why did you send soldiers to the temple?"
"We didn't hear anything about this!"
As for those who had been informed about it -
"I told you so. This is why I was against it."
They too were openly furious.
"This will rekindle the antagonism with Allion. Does the sovereign-prince have any kind of plan to deal with this situation?"
For all that he was their ruler, Magrid had no way to appease them when they pressed him like that one after another.
While his father was caught in that predicament, Leo Attiel had not once been seen in public since returning to the country. Nor had he met with his father except on that first day.
Afterwards, it was his older brother, Branton, who came to visit him. The brother who was two years older than Leo and whom he had not seen in about six years hugged him so tightly he almost couldn't breathe.
"I'm glad you made it back," Branton whispered in tears in his younger brother's ear. "Right now, your situation has a lot about it that must be tough for you, but be patient. Now that you're home, nothing will happen to you, don't worry."
It was only when Leo started choking that he finally released him and took another look at his little brother.
"But you've grown up so fine while I couldn't see you! You'll soon be taller than me," he beamed with joy.
That one occasion was the only family affection that Leo got to experience during those few days. Both his other, younger brother as well as his mother merely had stewards bring him their perfunctory greetings, and did not meet with him.
Even Leo's meals were eaten in solitary silence in his own chambers. There, there was no unkind teasing coming from Walter and Jack, nor was there Claude's booming, bandit-like voice, nor his wife, Ellen, who liked attending to every small detail in the kitchen despite coming from a wealthy merchant family, nor Florrie's smiling face.
Florrie was apparently currently installed within Tiwana Palace. It seemed that she herself had wanted to remain here.
In a sense, the girl's presence could potentially turn into an even more dangerous burning ember than Lord Leo. Eager to avoid any more trouble than necessary, Sovereign-Prince Magrid had dispatched a messenger to Claude Anglatt's castle, bearing a letter, the gist of which was that, "Miss Florrie Anglatt is welcome as an honoured guest". He added that, "we will send her to you at once if you have made arrangements to receive her", but a few days later, a runner sent ahead of the messenger returned to say that the messenger had not been allowed to cross the border.
Leo thought it was only natural. Claude was not currently in a position where he could afford to be suspected of having any ties to the principality. If rumours spread that they were exchanging secret messengers, that position would become even worse.
Leo calmly surveyed the room in which he had spent his childhood, then went to stand by the window. When he opened the curtains with their slightly childish design, he could just make out the ridgeline of the mountains that lay on the other side of the castle town. He stared hard at them, wondering if they were the same line of mountains that could be see from the Anglatt territory, but he quickly realised that they were different.
Feeling utterly dejected, Leo roughly closed the curtains.
After returning to Tiwana, Percy Leegan had, naturally, gone to stay at his parents' residence. House Leegan had a mansion close to the palace, and compared to Leo Attiel, he received a warm welcome from his family. Even so -
"You did your duty well." - His parents' expressions as they were congratulating him were a lot like Sovereign-Prince Magrid's when he had thanked for the trouble he had taken.
The palace had not yet decided how to assess his actions in helping the prince escape, and his parents and brother had likewise not yet decided what attitude to take. Even when listening with rapt attention to Percy's tales of the battlefield, they could not conceal the worry behind lurking behind their appreciative expressions.
"Will you be going back to the battlefield?" his father asked, trying to make his question seem offhanded.
"If I receive orders to, then I think I would like to head back to Conscon immediately," Percy answered without a moment's hesitation, but he had yet to receive official notice about what was to happen to him next.
It felt a bit anti-climactic. He had imagined that bringing the hostage prince back would stir things up considerably within the country, but the only news was that the vassal-lords had descended onto the palace, and not a single concrete action had been taken.
It was as though both the country's position and Percy's own situation were hanging in mid-air.
Isn't it the same for 'Lord Shalling'?
Nauma Laumarl and his troops were still at Conscon Temple. Given that there were suspicions about Atall's participation, the sovereign-prince naturally very much wanted to pull them out, but if several hundred soldiers were to travel to Atall, the spies at the temple would have their suspicions confirmed. Until the situation had calmed down, Nauma had no choice but to remain where he was as "Lord Shalling".
Nauma must be pretty bewildered as well. Percy was supposed to lead the soldiers in an attack on the enemy headquarters, but instead of accomplishing that mission, he had returned to their own country before anyone else, taking the prince with him as a sort of small souvenir. Not just bewildered, either.
"T-That damn cub from House Leegan has gone and a fool of me all over again! He robbed me of my soldiers and grabbed all the glory!"
Percy could easily imagine that worthy gentleman working himself up into a towering rage.
"Given that it's Lord Nauma, that does seem about right," that pleasant laugh came from Percy's fiancée, Liana. Her curly, raven-black hair danced lightly above her shoulders.
Her father was one of the vassal-lords, and she had travelled with him when he had come to meet with the sovereign-prince. Ever since arriving at Tiwana, Lord Gloucester, who would one day be his father-in-law, had remained at the palace, so Percy had not seen him once since returning.
Lord Gloucester had been one of those that the sovereign-prince had consulted about the matter of the temple, which meant that he was one of those who had opposed sending reinforcements. Not only had his daughter's fiancé been part of the army that the sovereign-prince had sent - overriding those objections - but that fiancé had then brought back a dangerous source of trouble to the country. Percy wondered what Lord Gloucester's expression had been when he had heard of all of that.
The engagement might be broken off if I play my cards badly - it was a danger that he dreaded, but Liana did not mention her father at all. Her manner was exactly the same as usual as she served Percy tea. Her tone was teasing as she continued,
"And since it's Lord Nauma, he might very well tell everyone that you fled back to Atall by yourself."
"Don't say I fled back. If it were possible, I'd want to go back to Conscon as soon as…" Percy started to say, but held his tongue. Going to the battlefield to protect his childish dignity would help neither Atall nor Conscon Temple.
"This gentleman's feelings seem to still be on the battlefield," Liana noted with annoyance, seeing that the crease did not disappear from between Percy's brows.
- It had been about five days since Percy and the others had returned to Tiwana.
He had invited Camus and Kuon to a tavern away from the city's main streets. Both of them had been provided with a room in a high-class inn within the town as a reward for having rescued the Second-born Prince. Apparently, they had even been made the offer of having residences built for them, but both had declined.
Camus was a given, but Percy tried to persuade Kuon.
"You don't have anywhere to go, right? It might not be a bad idea to set up house here."
The boy from the mountains, however, only shook his head ambiguously. Sipping soup that held some meat on the bone, his eyes were as listless as usual. When that normally hot-headed boy was not given anything to do, he would either violently flare up in an instant, or, on the contrary, fall into lethargy.
Percy turned his attention towards Camus.
"Then what about you, Camus? What are you planning on doing from here on?"
"Is that something you should be asking me?" Camus threw a glare at Percy. It was easy to tell that he was irritated. Although he hadn't touched anything to drink, his face was ruddy. "What on earth is Atall intending? The prince who was sent as a hostage was about to be murdered, you know? Now should be the time for the sovereign's family and the people to unite and rise to smite Allion. Instead of which - just how much longer are they going to drag their feet?"
His tone was scathing. It wasn't difficult to imagine how this pious servant of God was getting more irritated by the day. And all the more so since he had expected the principality to take immediate action after the prince had been rescued.
None of you bastards can be counted on. Rather than waiting for you to make a move… it would better to grab a spear and rush back alone to the temple - it would hardly be surprising if he felt that way. No, actually, he might well have decided to do that several times already.
However, Camus was neither reckless nor foolish. What could he accomplish, heroically hurrying back to the temple all by himself? Percy could perfectly understand the monk's feelings.
Just as Liana had said, Percy still longed for the battlefield.
That fiery chaos had disappeared. The strain of never knowing when a cannonball might fall from overhead, or whether luck might finally abandon him, leaving him to be pierced through the chest by an enemy spear, had also vanished, and with it, the cold sense of danger lurking at every moment just beneath the surface of their daily lives, even though they were living in supposed safety, beneath a roof and within the protection of four stone walls.
Not having anything against which he could hurl a sword, a spear, or his own fighting spirit was more frustrating than anything.
Eating a meagre meal around a campfire, getting into wild conversations that somehow seemed like deeply meaningful discussions for the people involved, then falling asleep, exhausted, to be ready for the next day's battles - to Percy, those days had been so dazzling that it hurt.
It's the same for you, isn't it? Then let's go back together - he felt the impulse to grasp Camus's hands and to make him that offer.
Percy, however, was possessed of strong self-control.
"Sending soldiers to the temple was failure on our part," he said with a bitter expression.
"And that's exactly why. Now that they've seen through you, don't be surprised if a group of armed soldiers descends on Tiwana in the near future. It's better if the people here make a move before that happens. Standing around with their arms crossed simply means waiting for Tiwana Palace to be burned to the ground," he said fiercely.
It was a simple way of looking at things, but there was some truth to it. Earlier, Percy had felt that the country's situation was suspended in mid-air, but it was only hanging there by the very thinnest of threads. And the very slightest of breezes would make it sway, cause chaos, and, if things were handled badly, would make it snap. A restlessness born from fear constantly held him in its grip.
…Lord Leo. Maybe I really did bring something truly dangerous back to the country.
Just as Percy was thinking that, Camus asked,
"The prince. What about Lord Leo?"
Percy had the feeling that Camus had read his mind.
"W-What do you mean, what about him?"
"That prince we rescued spent many years in Allion, right? Allion are criminals who would even turn their guns against God. He must have tasted untold hardship, and besides, they were going to murder him in secret. He must have a deep grudge against them. If he issues a command, soldiers might gather. We can set the prince up as our leader and declare war on Allion as quickly as possible."
"Well, as to that…" While measuring Camus's mood and expression, Percy found it strangely humorous that he was talking about 'we'. "I don't think that he does have a grudge against Allion. This is only my own impression, but… it was General Claude Anglatt who was left to take care of the prince. And he saved the prince's life even though it would plunge him into trouble. I don't think he has feelings of wanting revenge so much as he has feelings of gratitude towards the general."
"Right… that man, huh?" Camus hummed and crossed his arms. It looked as though Claude's personality had a profound effect on him. His tone of voice became somewhat subdued. "Hmm, Lord Leo… To start off with, does he even have what it takes to be a leader?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I'm just going by his behaviour in the mountains, but he didn't look like someone who leads soldiers."
"Going by his build, he's no fighter, either," said Kuon. He sucked the bone from which most of the meat had already been picked off.
You're saying that… Percy couldn't help but think. After all, Kuon was still growing.
Camus nodded. "He definitely gave the impression of being a delicate aristocrat who's only suited to scholarship. I'm not sure that anyone would gather if he issued a command," he readily overruled his own earlier remark.
Percy was just going to give a strained laugh when Camus added something that Percy could not let slide, "But the men of Atall are pathetic."
Looking at him closely, his eyes had gone redder than earlier. Perhaps at some point, without his realising it, Camus had emptied Percy's tankard?
"We've been in Tiwana for several days and the men here only seem to be going around wondering what's going to happen next. They shouldn't just be thinking about what's going to happen, but about what they should do. It's not like it's someone else's problem; isn't there a single one who is going to pick up a spear or a sword? At least we, God's faithful, are bravely opposing Allion's tyranny. So in the end, is there nothing that the godless believe in enough to risk their lives for?"
"Camus, you're going too far in saying whatever you want. Everyone follows their own way of life. Saying that picking up a sword and fighting head-on is the only solution is…"
"No!" Camus banged his fist against the table. "That kind of sophistry is just superficial wisdom. At times like these, you want the guts to protect yourself and what's important to you, and to defeat your enemy. That's what the men of Atall are lacking!"
Percy was worried about how Camus's voice was gradually getting louder. Looking around them, there was a group of young men at a table a little apart from theirs. Some of them were repeatedly glancing towards them.
"I'm..." just then, Kuon, who had polished off most of the food but who had not had anything to drink, opened his mouth to speak. "... planning on going back to the temple soon."
Percy and Camus exclaimed together. Kuon seemed to be deliberately talking in a slow, leisurely tone.
"Instead of having a house built, I'll be getting money. With that money, I can buy horses, guns and armour, and, if possible, hire some soldiers to go back to the temple."
"O-Oh," Camus looked deeply moved as his voice escaped from his lips. "Before I even realised it, did you awaken to the divine love that knows no fear of death? As your teacher, I am so happy."
"I don't remember seeing anyone as a teacher." Kuon glared suspiciously at the priest. "But there's no point staying here. Even if I had a house built, it wouldn't earn me a living."
"Don't be ridiculous. You're a hero who saved the prince. If you wanted to, you could be hired as a soldier by any noble."
"Even if I become a soldier, I won't be earning any glory if there's nowhere to fight."
Whether consciously or not, Kuon seemed to be making a cynical statement about Atall, which was not going to take any kind of action despite the fact that the prince's life had been targeted. He crunched on the bone that he still held in his mouth.
"I'm going to the temple. And this time, I'll get the enemy general."
This guy - Percy went pale. He knew perfectly well that it wasn't in Kuon's nature to make jokes. Which meant that he was being serious. Although he had said earlier that: "It's fine as long as I can eat", the fact that he was pursuing such reckless thoughts probably meant there was reason why he wanted to earn fame quickly.
Camus, meanwhile, was practically moved to tears.
"Is it true? Have you decided? Right, then I've also made up my mind. Between master and disciple, it should be the master who guides the disciple, but there is no doubt that you have shown me the way. It's a waste of time to take too long to think about it. God will surely grant us His protection as we face forward. Let us go together and die together, Disciple."
"I told you: I'm not your disciple. And I'm not planning on dying."
"W-Wait," Percy half-stood up from his chair as he hurriedly tried to stop the other two. "What can the two of you do if you back to the temple? You'd basically just be going back to die."
"My brethren are still fighting in that place of death! The blades are at their throats, and after all, how could the men of Atall, who turn their eyes away from that fact, even begin to understand our courage!?"
Camus's booming voice finally reverberated throughout the room. Percy one again worried about the people around them, but it was already too late. Men were gathering to their table. They were locals who were all of them drunk, and who were, moreover, all of them young.
"We heard what you were saying."
"The prince - was it you, by any chance? Are you the ones who brought Lord Leo back?"
"And if we were, what of it?" Camus proudly stuck out his chest.
The men looked at each other.
"What do you mean, 'what of it'? You goddamned priest, doing something so stupid!"
"Stupid?" Camus opened his always large eyes even wider. "On Mount Conscon, men are losing their lives one after another; yesterday it was my brothers, today it will be my friends. And everyone always knows that 'tomorrow, it might be me', yet even so, they all grasp their spear and their guns, and they fight! It was the same for the soldiers from Atall who went as reinforcements. They risked their lives in your place to fight against Allion's tyranny. They were not members of the faith, but all of them fell protecting Conscon. Just like the faithful, they have received God's blessing and have been called to Heaven. And that is stupid? Who dares say so?"
"Guys who want to die can just die. The bastards just went off and did whatever they wanted anyway. But I'm saying not to get us involved!"
For a moment, Percy looked up towards the ceiling, stained black from soot.
Caught up in the mood, they were just saying things to hurt their opponents. It wasn't what they really thought. But although he clearly understood that, he still had hard time swallowing back the dark feelings that rose in his throat.
However - if Percy had a hard time, it meant that for those who had never had any intention of making any such effort, those words were the same as pouring oil over a burning fire. Camus's eyebrows bristled like flames and, next to him, Kuon's previously listless eyes opened wide.
Who was it who made the first move?
There was the sound of a blow landing along with cries of pain.
"Right, you're on."
A chair flew over Percy's head at the same time as all the men erupted with rage. Angry roars echoed in time to the sound of fists been slammed.
"Stop. Stop it!"
As he was trying to calm things down, Percy got splashed in the face with the froth from a tankard of beer. Coincidentally, at the same time, he was hit hard in the chest and staggered back a few steps.
Percy wiped the froth from his eyes and licked the drops which clung around his mouth.
After which -
- Was all he said. One young man had his back turned towards him, and Percy put all his strength into kicking him in the backside.
Percy desperately dragged Kuon and Camus, who were still swinging their fists and their legs, from the inn.
It had turned into a truly massive brawl, with even people who didn't really know the details joining in. But seeing outsiders acting up, men who took pride in their own strength and youths who usually felt dispirited waded in.
With the number of their opponents swelling into a crowd, not even the three of them could get out of it uninjured. Their clothes were torn all over, and blood was oozing from their face and limbs. Camus's eyes had already gone black and swollen.
Checking behind them as he went, Percy staggered into a narrow alleyway and, for the time being, remained gasping for breath by the edge of a building.
Good grief. My family's going to be getting a shock again.
Although he did have that thought, for some reason, the weight that had been pressing down on his chest seemed to have lightened.
"Damn those unbelievers. Why can't they show the same anger and guts that they turned against us to Allion?"
"Oh, that's our master priest alright," Percy spoke without thinking. "So then, Camus, were you putting your body on the line to teach them?"
"…Really? Are you an idiot?" Kuon said scathingly, standing next to Camus who was puffing his chest out. He spat a mouthful of blood from his torn lips. "Then all I've got to say is wipe your own arse. In the mountains where I'm from, even babies known that much."
"Oh? From where I was looking, you were the first to hit them."
"Don't be stupid. I don't know what you're talking about." Kuon looked away.
Percy laughed and clapped the two of them on the shoulder.
The stars were sprinkled overhead.
Afterwards, Percy crept home with stealthy footsteps. He hadn't wanted his family to see him with a swollen face, but when he got there, he learned that Atall's palace had received news that threatened to send it into uproar.
A messenger from Allion was said to be coming. His name was Hayden Swift.
Leo, of course, remembered Hayden. They had met each other at Claude's mansion and he had heard that Hayden had raised an army in order to attack Conscon Temple. As for Percy, when he had been captured at Claude's camp, he had heard that the enemy commander was called Hayden.
It was said that man would be visiting Tiwana, the capital of Atall, as an official envoy from Allion.
While it might have been thought that he was, for now, giving up on capturing Conscon, there was also a report that soldiers remained at the fortress. In other words, the commander was personally leaving the headquarters even though the battle front was being maintained. Moreover, according to hearsay, this was not an order from above, but something that Hayden himself had apparently applied for.
His behaviour isn't normal - Percy and Leo shared the same impression.
It had been the same when Lord Leo escaped into the mountains with Florrie. Even though it happened right after he had sent a great many of his soldiers out from their headquarters, Hayden had been so badly shaken by the news that, even though it meant leaving the camp empty, he had mobilised most of the remaining soldiers to go hunt in the mountains.
On top of that, it was clear that he had given the soldiers orders to 'secretly kill Lord Leo'.
That was no longer just a case of unusual behaviour: both of them also recognised that - There's something completely off about Hayden himself.
Needless to say, Sovereign-Prince Magrid Attiel did not turn away an envoy who was right at their gates.
Atall possessed three air carriers, but all of these ships were sent elsewhere to clear the port so that it could receive the vessel that Hayden was sailing on.
In those days, dragonstone ships were getting larger in size. Up until then, single-seat airships had often been used for messengers or in surprise attacks, but when it came to ships large enough to transport personnel or goods, there was still a lot of work to be done to optimise the engines and their ether consumption.
At the time this story takes places, technology in each country was starting to show rapid progress. Techniques for refining weightless dragonstone metal or for extracting high-quality ether, or else, basic engine technology… the rate of growth in each of these miraculously coincided, and the various countries were starting to build large-scale ships. Moreover, this, in itself, would influence the fates of both Lord Leo and of the Principality of Atall. From then on, and until the King of Allion took possession of the country, ships would continue to increase in size, but the era during which ships and small-sized crafts would be able to sweep over the battlefield would be very short… - But that is a story of a later time.
At that point in time, it could be said that large ships were still rare, just as they were when Leo and Florrie had gone especially to see one, and that these ships served to showcase new technology and to demonstrate a country's power.
This particular ship, which was a size bigger than any that Atall possessed, alighted in the narrow landing space in a superb demonstration of skill at handling a boat.
Sovereign-Prince Magrid of Atall and the envoy, Hayden Swift, immediately sat together in conference.
Hayden went first.
"Your country sought peace with our Allion in the previous war. Yet even so, you sent soldiers to Conscon Temple without any kind of notification to us; this clearly shows your intentions. Supporting the temple which laid curses on Allion's exalted royal family is essentially the same as pointing a blade towards our king."
He cut straight into things.
"I find myself greatly amazed," opposite him, the sovereign-prince held firm, "as there is no such thing. To start with, do you have any clear proof that my country sent soldiers to the temple?"
Hayden did not so much as flinch at the retaliation.
"Both when battle was joined and when we were at camp, we showed considerable mercy towards the soldiers who had surrendered to us. Which is how we received multiple testimonies from the soldiers who came to us. Quite naturally, they did not openly speak of the Principality of Atall, but, well, perhaps you have heard of 'Lord Shalling'? According to the information we obtained, there is a strange resemblance between him and a certain gentleman of your country, Nauma Laumarl," he pressed forward.
For the sovereign-prince, Nauma's name being known to Hayden was the same as having his headquarters come under attack. Nevertheless, the Principality of Atall could not recognise the fact that they had sent reinforcements.
"I am not aware of it."
"In that case, why not invite Lord Laumarl here? How long would it take for him to arrive? Would he be here this afternoon, or tomorrow? Or would it need about ten days to call him back from the temple?"
The sovereign-prince was being buffeted by the incessant onslaught, but Atall also had an arrow with which to retaliate against Allion.
"Well then, how do you explain that my child, Leo, was going to be executed within Allion's domains?" he asked, but, of course, Hayden had clearly already prepared an answer beforehand, and his words never faltered.
"Your accusation is completely unfounded. Once Atall's betrayal became known, there were certainly wild rumours within our territory concerning how to handle Lord Leo, but there is no truth to the tale that we would have dragged the prince to the gallows. With all due respect, it would appear that when the prince heard the rumours, he grew frightened and planned his own escape. It also seems that soldiers from Atall, who had trespassed into our territory, helped him do so."
There were several recesses throughout. Each time, the sovereign-prince gathered his hereditary retainers and they racked they brains. They could play with words however much they wanted, but the fact was that their national power was far different from Allion's. It was also true that their position was weakened since they had sent soldiers to an entity which was hostile to Allion, despite their relationship as allies with the kingdom.
If, in the end, the discussion turned incandescent and things developed into Hayden declaring that "we will make you understand through sheer strength," Atall would not be able to do anything.
They had hoped popular opinion would rise up to oppose the attack on the temple, but, at this point, the smouldering hostility against the temple might well be entirely turned against Atall instead.
Where can I find an opening to put an end to this?
While they were exchanging words, the sovereign-prince scrutinised his opponent's mood, and as he was doing so, he suddenly realised that there was something strange about Hayden Swift.
Simply put, he lacked drive. He had lost the tone of voice, so sharp that it could have sliced through Magrid, that he had when they first met, and his gaze, which had been like a tightly drawn bow ready to release its arrows, was turned downwards. Perhaps he had already used up most of the words that he had prepared beforehand as he tended now to sink into silence.
Faced with the envoy's wavering attitude, the sovereign-prince put his reasoning to work.
Does this mean that he never intended to attack Atall from the start - or rather, that Allion hasn't yet decided what attitude to take towards us? In that case, he might just have come to give us a warning not to interfere anymore with regards to the temple.
The implicit threat was, of course, still there, but, at the very least, it seemed that they were not at a point where a huge army of several tens of thousands was about to descend upon them with its banners raised high.
Magrid continued to pay close attention to Hayden's expression.
"It seems as though there is an unfortunate mutual misunderstanding between ourselves and Allion," he tried a conciliatory approach.
The envoy seemed exhausted from the perfunctory and fruitless argument, and, taking heart from his somewhat relieved expression, Magrid continued,
"Sir Hayden, won't you do us the honour of staying a while in Atall? I feel sure that as we breathe the same air, eat the same food, and speak together at leisure and at length, the misunderstanding between us will surely vanish."
"My liege is in no particular hurry to reach a conclusion, either. And he is sincere in wishing to maintain good relations with Atall. I will accept your kind offer."
The next day, the sovereign-prince announced that "Three days from now, we will hold a banquet in the palace's great hall."
It was to be a huge event, to which the retainers with residences in Tiwana were invited as a matter of course, and which would also include the vassal-lords who were currently staying in the capital, as well as many of the leading figures in the city who regularly paid heavy taxes.
The guest of honour would be Hayden Swift, the envoy who had travelled from Allion.
When they heard about it, the retainers, who had been waiting on tenterhooks for the result of the interview between their ruler and the envoy, and the populace who had been worried that their very lives might come under threat at any moment, all heaved the same sigh of relief.
It was clear that the envoy had not come to present a declaration of war. Sovereign-Prince Magrid of Atall had successfully managed to put him off and buy time.
That was what many people, Magrid included, believed, but actually, it was Hayden Swift who had wanted to stall for time.
There were two reasons for this.
Allion had sent spies, whose mission had been to focus on gathering intelligence, even further east than Atall. Among the reports that Hayden had received while at the camp, there was one that he could not afford to overlook.
There are movements in Dytiann that do not look good.
The Holy Dytiann Alliance was basically Conscon Temple's religious bedrock. What Allion feared the most right now was Dytiann getting involved in this fight. Dytiann was regarded as the only power on the continent currently capable of opposing Allion, so if that federation of religious countries took action to assist the temple, Allion would not be able to remain indifferent.
And the country that lay between Allion and Dytiann was none other than Atall.
Right now, you cannot drive Atall into a corner, Hayden had received that warning from the king through an attendant.
There was a fear that if Atall decided that it could no longer avoid a conflict with Allion, it might be receptive to Dytiann, who wished to prevent Allion from advancing east, and the two might ally themselves on the pretext of assisting Conscon Temple.
And therefore, during his discussion with the sovereign-prince, Hayden had deliberately displayed a hesitant attitude, which contained the leeway to reach a peaceful agreement. His stay in Atall would also serve as a way of keeping Dytiann in check.
Hayden did not fail to find this irritating. That he, a noble from mighty Allion, needed to pay attention to the mood of an insignificant little country infuriated him. But that would only be for a very short time, and Hayden had one other reason for needing to spend time in Atall.
The next day, Hayden went to pay a visit to Florrie Anglatt's parlour.
It was an extremely natural development that he, as a guest, should go and check up on a young lady from his country who was being taken care of in Atall. For Atall, it was also a way of proving that they had not treated her roughly, so permission was granted readily for the two of them to meet.
"We seem to share a strange fate, Miss Florrie. Since meeting you in your home, I have found it painful to be separated from you, but to think we would meet beyond the border, in Atall." Hayden tactfully opened the conversation. "I would very much like to hear you sing again."
"I do not feel like doing so at the moment."
Florrie's behaviour had changed completely from that of the innocent young girl at the Anglatt manor, and when she answered him, the expression on her face and the tone of her voice was exactly those of an adult woman. Her very caution, however, proved that she was still a young girl.
Hayden did not lose his smile. "Your father must certainly be worried. A few days from now, I will be returning to Allion. Won't you ride back with me on the air carrier and give your family peace of mind?"
Even though he urged her to return home in the proper manner, Florrie did not nod in consent.
That day, Hayden left after no more than a few minutes.
The way he saw it, this will need time. If he tried to hurry things too much, it would end in failure. Which was why he felt the need for a lengthy stay in Atall. He had judged that it would take at least ten days, but, by the second day, his self-control was already reaching its limits.
Florrie Anglatt, whom he had pictured in his mind even when he was in a military camp, was now right in front of him. And not as an illusion. He could feel her body temperature close by. Her voice reached his eardrums. If he stretched out his hand, he would be able to touch her black hair. He could draw her body, which had never been polluted by anybody's hands, to him.
The passion that had long remained dormant within Hayden had converged to flow towards one single point. It was only by keeping a tight grip on his self-control that he just barely managed to maintain outward appearances. If Florrie were to sense his intense interest in her, her caution against him would increase noticeably.
Hayden's abilities in every area far surpassed that of the average person, yet the one thing that he could not handle was his own passion.
Florrie's caution did not abate by the second day. That was expected. Today, he intended simply to chat, without urging her to return to their home country. He would start with asking her if she was not bored in Atall, then tomorrow, he would present her with the poetry anthologies and illustration books that he had purposefully brought with him from Allion. That was the plan.
But even though it was expected, Hayden could not endure Florrie's obstinate attitude. Why didn't she immediately show him a smile? Why wouldn't she sing like she had before - but this time only for him? Even though there was no future for Florrie Anglatt other than one in his arms!
Hayden wanted to make Florrie realise that she should never, not even for a second, take her gaze away from him. It was a feeling close to hatred.
His strict tone had Florrie turn a startled gaze towards him.
"Although your father might be master of a castle, at the end of the day, he's just an upstart come from nowhere. You don't seem to understand your own position."
"Are you insulting my father?"
Even though up until a moment ago, she wouldn't meet his eyes, now Florrie was scowling straight at him as hard as she could. Hayden's blood boiled as it pounded in his ears. Urged on by that heat, he chose the most dangerous of the weapons that he had at hand.
"You're just like a child, and you know nothing: neither about your dear father, nor about anything else. You are aware that I can mobilise the army, right? And even a child like yourself should be able to understand what kind of situation Atall is in right now. Not only did it betray Allion and send soldiers to our opponent, but Lord Leo, who was a hostage, used you as a shield and escaped from the country. That's more than enough provocation. Right - the fate of a tiny country like Atall rests entirely in my hands."
The blood rapidly drained from Florrie's face. After which, colour violently returned to it and her large eyes filled with tears.
"Are you threatening me?" she asked in a stiff voice.
Hayden's heart ached painfully. Yet even so, that pain still felt sweet as it had been given to him by his beloved lady.
"I merely stated the facts. Whether the nobles and people of Atall, as well as its prince, will be able to continue to happily live their lives tomorrow, or whether those lives will be swallowed up in a sea of flames in an instant, and all of their happiness be reduced to ashes… that all depends entirely on your attitude."
He could only laugh sardonically. At times like these, there was no choice but to stray from one's real feelings and choose words that would shake the other person. He was putting into practice what Percy Leegan had called to mind a few days earlier.
Something other than tears also welled up within Florrie's eyes. Vehement anger.
"You coward!" She shouted.
In that instant, Hayden felt her anger pierce through his chest like an arrow. Florrie was sweetness itself, yet it felt as though her emotions were thrusting his heart into the burning agony of the hellfire that was spoken of at temples.
What am I doing?
For the first time in his life, he felt something like self-reproach. Everything he handled had always gone according to his expectations, so he had lived life without knowing remorse. Hayden was as overwhelmed as a child by the fact that he could show off neither these first emotions of his, nor his own talents as much as he would have wanted to.
"N-No, that.... That was just an example," the voice that spilled from his lips also sounded like a child's. "That wasn't what I really meant. I just wanted to explain to you how dangerous your position is, and…"
With the sudden change in Hayden, Florrie forgot her anger and was left astounded. She did not, by nature, have a violent personality. On the contrary, she had lived a life unrelated to hatred and anger. As anger receded, something like pity for this man welled up within her in its place.
In a sense, that too - let us purposely write down the words, despite knowing that tedious repetition is inelegant - was proof of how young Florrie was.
Her showing compassion for the man who had threatened her did not only stem for her natural kindness. Florrie naturally knew that after spending just one night at the Anglatt manor, Hayden had approached her father to say that he wanted to take her back to the royal capital. What was the roundabout meaning behind it?
This man liked her. He saw her as a woman. That fact made her feel so embarrassed that she wanted to just vanish, but, at the same time, it made her feel just a little bit happy and encouraged. Because Florrie was at that age to be interested in love and to long for it.
It could not be said, however, that she had much experience with it. If she had dealt with it, even just once or twice, she might have dealt with the situation better, pushing Hayden by the shoulders while telling him, "at any rate, please go back. I will pretend that I never heard what you just said."
At that moment, she found herself in a dominant emotional position towards a man who was considerably older than her. Therefore, she pitied him and, just like Hayden, she did not know how to handle emotions that she was encountering for the first time.
"If there is something you want, you are the kind of gentleman who will do anything to get it," Florrie continued to attack the already despairing man. "I don't know about other people - but my feelings will never be stirred by a man like you!"
In a way, Florrie was almost in rapture, and her words sent Hayden Swift's feelings into upheaval again. He drew up towards her with a look of fury. Without giving her time to make a sound, Hayden seized her by the shoulders then twisted one of her arms behind her.
"How fragile," Hayden growled. "It feels like I just need to put some strength into it to snap it off. Little girl, were you just making fun of a man from the House of Swift?"
"L-Let go - Let me go!"
Florrie struggled desperately and, in doing so, her free hand struck Hayden's chin. The next second, a slap flew across her cheek.
Florrie had never received that kind of treatment before, not even from her parents. It was an extremely light blow, but the shock it caused her was more than sufficient.
The dark presence of violence swirled next to her. And its unexpected appearance made her remember the scene in the mountains when she had witnessed someone being killed for the first time. Swords and spears gleamed, there was the sound of flesh and bone being torn, screams of pain, sprays of dark blood flying…
Florrie's entire body trembled and her teeth chattered.
Hayden stared down intently at the girl who had stopped resisting.
The sight of a damaged flower is also nice… the blood inside him was pounding loudly.
Sensing Florrie's terrified gaze on him, he himself had the impression that his was an existence which towered over everyone, so much so that his early weakness seemed unreal.
He released Florrie's arm and took hold of her dainty chin instead.
"Don't go too far in bothering adults, Florrie. Never speak like that in front of me again."
With her chin still in his grasp, Florrie indicated her consent.
"You will also be attending tomorrow's banquet. And there, you will announce that you will be returning with me. If you do not, Atall will be engulfed in the flames of hell, and will perish within a single night. I am ready to use whatever power is needed to make that happen. Do you understand?" he whispered into her rose-tinted ear.
Florrie nodded again. Large teardrops spilled from her eyes. As though entranced by the way they shimmered, Hayden once more brought his face next to hers, moving to suck on Florrie's lips.
She shuddered violently. For a moment, it seemed as though she wouldn't react but then, at the very last moment, just as their lips were about to touch, she weakly shook her head.
Hayden had seemed about take them by force, but Florrie's compliance allowed the heat of his blood to abate. He released her after having only brushed his lips against her cheek and ear.
When he left the room, his chest seemed about to burst with joy.
All that he had done had almost been for naught, but, in the end, it had turned out well.
He had held the girl he loved in his own arms; not an illusion or a pretence, but her actual flesh-and-blood body. He even felt that there had been awe in her gaze as she looked at him.
The excitement of having treated her harshly provoked a new feeling of arousal within him. As far as Hayden was concerned, that warped arousal did not contradict the love he had for Florrie: if she was going to be hurt, then of course it had to be at his own hands.
Once I have Florrie, this tiny country will have no more use. Once I'm done with the temple, I'll find some excuse to level it to the ground.
He had that power.
Hayden Swift felt that the long time during which he had almost lost all enthusiasm for anything was more than made up for by the force with which it had come sweeping back to him in this short space of time.
Tales Of Leo Attiel ~Portrait Of The Headless Prince~ Volume 1 Chapter 5
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Tales Of Leo Attiel ~Portrait Of The Headless Prince~ Volume 1 Chapter 5 summary
You're reading Tales Of Leo Attiel ~Portrait Of The Headless Prince~ Volume 1 Chapter 5. This novel has been translated by Updating. Author: Sugihara Tomonori, 杉原 智則 already has 194 views.
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- Related chapter:
- Tales Of Leo Attiel ~Portrait Of The Headless Prince~ Volume 1 Preface
- Tales Of Leo Attiel ~Portrait Of The Headless Prince~ Volume 1 Chapter 6