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Reinforcements arrived in the Rhine. Noel had met them in high spirits at the city gates, but her countenance quickly clouded over as Cynthia wasn’t with them. The thousand men she had requested had arrived along with one regiment of military police. In command of the reinforcements was a commander of one thousand under Wilm who was watching the scene with contempt from a short distance away.
Aaah, Major General Wilm got me, eh? It looks like I won’t get to brag about my rug.
She had been lying in wait with the rug in hand so that she could show it off, but, unfortunately, she couldn’t. She began to reflect on how she had been trapped by Wilm. The commander of the military police had a poor complexion wore a dark green uniform and a military cap. He clearly wasn’t Cynthia. His aura was such that if Riglette had turned into a man, she might have looked like him.
“At present, you have been dismissed from your task of capturing Bahar. Again, your proposal to attack Vesta has been rejected. If you refuse to comply with these orders, you will be restrained. These are the written orders of the viceroy!”
Noel nodded without changing her expression when she heard the proclamation of the military police. The papers instructed her to return to Carness as a garrison, and that noncompliance would be viewed as an act of rebellion to be punished severely. The thousand men that had arrived would garrison the Rhine. Noel had, essentially, been sacked. Sighing at the fact that it couldn’t be helped, Noel nodded yet again, expression still unchanged.
“Now then, that means you agree to be redeployed to Carness, does it not?”
“Yes, sir. I have also been ordered by Commander of One Thousand Dirk to comply. I will take my men at once and garrison Carness.”
“Thank you for your cooperation. There are many stories about you, but we military police only believe what we uncover with our own eyes and ears. For this reason, compliance is greatly appreciated. I hope that things will continue to proceed as such.”
“Yes sir, thank you, sir.”
The commander of the military police returned Noel’s salute.
“Be prepared to leave just after noon. The military police here will return with you to Carness.”
“Yes, sir. Understood.”
“Well then, you may commence preparations! We shall be on standby outside the gates!”
The commander of the military police shot to attention and briskly marched his men outside the city gates. It was amusing how synchronised their steps were. That aside, they didn’t seem particularly dangerous. The man’s face was intimidating, but his body was thin, and it did not appear that he had much training. In a direct fight, the White Ant Bloc probably wouldn’t have any trouble defeating them. Thinking that it would be rather amusing to see his face go red if she did try and fight them, Noel returned to the mansion.
Opening the large door, Noel was greeted by a boisterous reception. The men of the White Ant Bloc had all drawn their swords and encircled Riglette, the servants were huddling together, faces pale, and all this had happened within 10 minutes of Noel’s conversation with the military police.
“I ain’t puttin’ up with this any more. I can put up with her insultin’ us ‘cause no matter how you put it, we were really bandits. But I ain’t ever gonna let yer lyin’ about the captain to slide. I hate that kind o’ shameless shit!!”
“I, I haven’t done anything! That’s not a lie, I legitimately don’t know! I-it’s all my father, he’s done everything on his own!”
“Ha? You don’t know nothing? Don’t lie to me! I know you’ve been watchin’ the captain on yer father’s orders! And how you’ve gotten the captain reassigned with yer half-truths.”
“W-wait. P-please hear me out. I didn’t make up anything!!”
“I ain’t gon’ listen to trash like you! I bet you want to imprison her, and then get her executed, but that ain’t going to happen you fucking bitch!”
Barbas lifted Riglette’s chin with the point of his sword as she cried out, half crazed, that it wasn’t true, that there was a misunderstanding, and that she didn’t know. There wasn’t a shadow of her usual haughty attitude. Her face was pale, and her body was trembling. It seemed that her mask had fallen as she stared death in the face.
“I-it’s true that I was ordered to observe her. I’ll acknowledge only that. B-b-but I haven’t secretly colluded with anybody! I just submitted my report as usual this time! There wasn’t even anything suspicious!”
“You’re really an idiot, you know… no, you might know, but keep on pretending. Listen up, Wilm, that son of a bitch, had an easy time making shit up with the letters you wrote him. Almost like you gave him a blank sheet. The problem isn’t what you reported, the mere fact that you were reporting is a betrayal!”
“T-thats… that’s just sophistry! In the first place, how could I go against my father’s, a major general’s orders!?”
“The one talkin’ shit about the captain is your father. Did you know that bastard Wilm sees the captain as a fuckin’ enemy? And you’re his bitch. Captain, I’ll slit this traitor’s throat and we can run from Combra. The White Ant Bloc can kick those wimpy MPs around with ease.”
“Of course we’ll follow Pops and the captain. We’ll follow the two of you anywhere. The reasons we joined the Coimbran army in the first place are falling away.”
Barbas pitched his ideas to Noel, “That’s how it is. What with the captain’s strength, we can take on this province or whatever. We can do better than this. None o’ these retards in the Coimbran army understand the captain’s skill. I know, we can go with Sir Kai to Gemb or wherever.”
“C-captain Noel. I really haven’t reported anything false. Please believe me, I, I really…”
Riglette’s black hair was clinging to the tears and snot on her face, and she desperately reached out her hands for Noel’s help, but she couldn’t move any more than that in the face of Barbas’ longsword.
“Okay, were those your final words? Then I guess it’s about time to say farewell. I’m really glad that I won’t have to hear yer piercing shrieks ever again.”
Barbas raised his longsword and swung it down without hesitation as Riglette screamed, clutching her head, but there wasn’t a splash of blood. The blade had not touched her.
“That’s my Barbas. That was one hell of a strike.”
Noel had forcibly obstructed his blow with her bident. The vibrations in the shaft rocked her whole body.
“I don’t get it. Why are you sticking up for her? I don’t get it at all.”
“It’s because she’s my precious aide. Also, if she hasn’t betrayed us, then she’s still a companion. Hey, Riglette, you haven’t betrayed us, right?”
“N-not at all! I’m really, really, not a traitor! I-it is true that I was observing you, but… but!”
“Then that’s fine. I don’t mind being observed. If I’ve been ordered by your father, moreso since he’s a great major general, it can’t be helped. And I haven’t even done anything particularly bad, right?”
Noel smiled gently as she stroked Riglette’s head. Riglette clung to Noel’s leg with her tear-soaked face. Though she was usually composed, it seemed that staring imminent death in the face had spooked her. It reminded Noel of her former self.
“So, what should we do now, o kind Captain Noel? Surely we won’t just carelessly head back to Carness.”
“Yup, we’ll return to Carness as decreed. I figure we can take it easy there for a while.”
“That’s ridiculous! Sorry, but I won’t do it. We’d just be heading back to be driven into a corner by Wilm’s accusations, and get executed. I can’t let my subordinates get dragged into that!”
Barbas spat and stuck his longsword in the ground.
“It’s just like the first time, I’ll get you guys out of there if it seems dangerous. That’s also a promise. You, of all people, know that I keep my promises, right Barbas?”
“If something happens, I’ll cause a disturbance and you guys can run for it. Isn’t that fine? So let’s all go back together.”
“It’s not that easy! No matter how strong you are, Captain…”
“Ahaha, it’ll work out fine, ‘cause I’ll really give it my all, okay.”
Noel thrust a demanding hand out in front of herself. After being troubled, sighing, and lashing out in anger, Barbas scratched his white hair and finally offered his hand.
“Honestly, you’re one hell of an idiot. You’re stupidly soft on people. I can’t believe you’re protecting this bitch!”
“You think? I mean, she’s a precious companion.”
“Ah, I get it, I understand! I’ve come this far, so I might as well see it through to the end! I’m leaving her neck to you, Captain! Do whatever the fuck you want with it!”
After Barbas returned his longsword to its scabbard as if nothing had happened, he sat down on the spot with folded arms. Riglette was still clinging to Noel’s waist. It seemed like it would be a pain to Noel, but since kicking her off felt a bit harsh, she put up with it for a few minutes.
“That was a pretty intense exchange, eh? If it had happened to me I’d have probably just killed Sir Riglette and the military police on the spot, and commenced negotiations as a new lord. Being recalled without having done anything wrong is a significant blow to the the pride of a military man. I’d try to have it repealed even if I had to fight back.”
“Ahaha, that’s nice and Kai-like, isn’t it? But I’d get everyone involved if I did that. Also…”
“This kind of unacceptable thing is the way of the world, so it can’t be helped.”
Noel gave a weak smile, and Kai looked slightly irritated. After clearing his throat, he gave her a sharp look.
“I’ve thought this for a while now, but sometimes your resignation is difficult to stomach. Well, difficult to stomach, but no more than merely irritating. Why do you just give up without resisting? If everything ‘can’t be helped’ why even live!?”
“Why even live?”
“That’s right, if you’re just coasting along…”
Kai seemed like he was about to continue, but he suddenly stopped as the woman in front of him was giving him a glare to freeze over hell. He felt like she might stab him with her bident at any second.
“Hey, who’s not resisting? I might not be good with the ways of the world, but I’ll resist to the very end. I’ll struggle and struggle and struggle on.”
“I don’t really get in anyone’s way, and I don’t really complain. I don’t care if there’s no meaning. I’ll just do what I feel like. That’s why they call me a fiend, but I don’t care at all. What’s most important is that I survive. If I can’t,” Noel was speaking with a force she had never exhibited before, and yet she stopped her words.
“If you can’t?”
“I couldn’t repay the dead.”
Noel spoke with a chill in her voice and tore Riglette off her leg. Once the still crying Riglette had stood up, Noel turned to Barbas and gave the order to move out, dumping Riglette on him while she was at it. Giving in to the pressure, Barbas meekly accepted and saluted.
“Kai, we’ll be heading back to Carness. You can do whatever you like now. It’s probably fine for you to head back to Lord Grohl if you’ve concluded your business, though it won’t be much of an issue if you remain here. You’re with the Gembi military after all.”
“No, I’m still interested in you, so it can’t be helped. As it can’t be helped, I shall comply, too. Of course, only of you are okay with it.”
“I don’t care either way. Just, if something happens, you can’t complain. If you get caught up in things and die somehow, don’t blame it on me.”
“I don’t intend to die, but that’s fine!”
Kai’s idiotic voice rang out in the mansion, and Noel found herself letting out a little laugh. Giving the terrified servants a sidelong glance, Noel entered the room and began rolling up the rug that she liked. It was the only thing that she had to take back with her as it would bring about a supreme bliss if she could take an afternoon nap on it whilst bathing in the sun. She also wanted to show it to Cynthia.
Just after noon,Noel had left after being seen out in a grand manner by the children of the city. The adults had all looked relieved.
“You’re crazy popular, eh, Captain? It really felt like you’re a hero,” Barbas called out to Noel as usual as she set up her horse.
After she finished waving, Noel turned and fastened the rug to it.
“It’ll be nice if we can meet again.”
“They were scared of me the whole time. Is there some kind of trick to it?”
“It’s cause we’re similar that we get along right away. Basically, I’m a child at heart.”
“So, even you say that about yourself?”
Noel looked to the sky as she spoke again, “Isn’t it fine to stay childlike? It doesn’t seem like being an adult helps much. Actually, it seems like it only adds extra troubles.”
The previous day’s rain had stopped, but she still could not see the sun. The skies were clouded over. It still stank, so she assumed it would begin raining again soon. Having just gotten the rug, if it rained on it, it would be quite the ordeal for her, so she had to be sure to return to Carness with haste.
“Riglette, sound the bugle. You know, that mountaineering song. We finally have the chance, so why don’t we go with some energy?”
Forced along once more, Riglette nervously approached. It was as if she had lost her former self, and had become incredibly frail. The hostility towards her from the White Ant Bloc was the same as ever. Riglette was so detestable that if Noel happened to die in battle at that point, Riglette would certainly have been killed soon thereafter, though she probably wasn’t much happy about it.
“I, I understand.”
Riglette pulled out her bugle and a weak sound ushered forth. Barbas looked annoyed at the sound of the dreary tune, but Noel didn’t mind, and began to hum along with the memory of wanting to capture the Rhine. The soldiers were depressed at first, and perhaps unable to put up with it any longer, one by one began to sing along and the pace of the march gradually increased. Their spirits began to rise. With the two hammer banners of Noel corps flying high, she proceeded with an expression of confidence in a triumphal return.
“I hope we can come back here someday. Right, Barbas? Right Riglette?”
“That’d be nice, yeah.”
“It isn’a promise, so I guess it’s a hope? All we can do is cling to a hope. It’s fine for everyone to slowly build up more hope.”
“If all those hopes are betrayed, won’t that leave too big a scar?”
“If it happens, it happens. If it does, it’d be best if we don’t fight again. We’re companions after all!”
Launching into a great laugh, Noel began singing in a loud voice, and continued on for three hours until the commander of the military police got annoyed. Noel corps arrived in Carness after a week. On the way, they had passed by the main body of the Coimbran force, but they had told her that she didn’t need to have an audience with the viceroy. Though that was expected, she couldn’t even have a conversation with Cynthia.
“It’s no good after all? That’s too bad!”
“It can’t be helped. What will you do?”
“I’ll be obedient for now. You’d get mad at me otherwise.”
“What did that mean, just now, Captain Noel!?”
“I’m an idiot, so I don’t really know!”
“Is there anyone who would say that with a laugh!? In the first place…”
The main Coimbran force could hear the shouts of the commander of the military police. They received a warning, and the commander gave an earnest apology. Noel tried to console him by letting him know that it’s best to ignore them, but he fainted and started frothing at the mouth a bit. It seemed she had crossed all kinds of boundaries. There were all kinds of people, all very interesting. Talking to them would expand Noel’s world. Noel nodded in satisfaction as she looked over her shoulder at the convulsing man.
According to a messenger, Grohl’s Coimbran army was expanding its sphere of influence well. It also seemed as if they had finally agreed to head east along the highway. Ahead of them stretched the Altvear plains and the Trais river that crossed the highway. Spanning it was the city of Toldo. If they could take the city, they would have a direct shot at the capital of Vesta, but the journey was long, so the Coimbran army was likely still some time away from Toldo. If something was going to happen, it would be somewhere near there. Noel prayed in her heart for the fortunes of war to smile upon Cynthia. As for what Noel herself was doing, she was sitting around obediently in Carness for the military police had informed her that opposition would be punished harshly as an act of rebellion. It wasn’t like she had anywhere she wanted to go, and the sun refused to come out, so she didn’t even want to go out on any walks, but she had suddenly had the idea to do what she could, and with the permission of the military police, she sent the signal to Barbas. They had been preparing as much lumber for constructing a palacade as they could from the nearby trees. She had told the military police that they would send it to the front for defence, but that wasn’t her intention in the slightest. The idea was to prepare the forested region to lure the enemy into at some point. Riglette had prepared a black rope, and they took it with various other goods to conceal it all in the woodlands between the two provinces. They were the provisions and an escape route if the decision was made to execute her in accordance with her promise to Barbas. Riglette’s one strong point was her ability to argue, and so she was in charge of negotiating with the military police.
“Honestly, what’s with your aide!? She even managed to get us military police to help her paint a rope!”
The commander of the military police had begun complaining vaguely about Noel’s aide, refusing to use the name Riglette. Having finally returned to her usual state, it seemed that she was working hard, apparently leveraging her position as Major General Wilm’s daughter to great effect. She had no talent for military arts and was shit at playing the bugle. Riglette was a terrible leader and every time she opened her mouth only sarcasm, cynicism, or abuse came out of it, but she was very good at efficiently carrying out orders. It could even be said that it was the only thing that she could do, though she was also good at spotting weaknesses and angering people. At that she was a natural genius. While Noel was thinking, the commander of the military police raised his finger in the air.
“This thing and that thing, and the next thing are all because of what you ordered your men to do!! It’s all your fault!”
Noel whispered her response as she covered her ears in reaction to his loud voice, “If you don’t like it, you can just say so…”
Seeming not to hear what she had said, the commander gave her a sharp glare.
“Do you think I can say something like that!? If you don’t know, it’s because Commander of One Hundred Riglette is Major General Wilm’s daughter! Basically, she can personally take up any, even minor, things with Lord Wilm. With that in mind, even if she doesn’t explain anything, we still have to play along with her!”
“Aaah, I see. I’d just refuse ‘cause it’s a pain, though. Even though you’re an MP, you’re still weaker than the daughter of a major general, eh? How pitiful.”
Noel managed to enrage the commander with her Riglette impersonation which was as overwhelmingly effective as she had anticipated.
“S-silence! The military police cannot be crossed! Yes, that is how the world works!”
For some reason he had started speaking rather arrogantly, and it was unbecoming of him. It was important for the army to grant authority to its military police, but it wasn’t something that should be said, as that wasn’t his job.
“But I think it’s perfect for killing time! That’s right, do you want me to help too?”
“You can’t! You must not leave this room! Those are the viceroy’s orders!”
“Eeeeh, no matter what?”
“No matter what!”
“What a square.”
“I am simply diligent in regards to my orders! I haven’t breached orders like you have even once!”
The man puffed up his chest with pride. As he did so, his cap began to slip, and Noel caught a glimpse of his balding head. Going red, he quickly fixed his headwear and cleared his throat. At first she had thought he was just a disagreeable person, but the more she spoke with him, the more surprisingly interesting he seemed. Every single one of his reactions was exaggerated and Noel never tired of it, though if she told him that, he’d get angry at her, so she had to hold it in.
“Anyway, just stay here! I’ll do your part! The military police must be swift in its duties!”
“Okay, I understand,” Noel answered absentmindedly before turning to face her bed as she shut the door.
Starting to walk towards her bed, she thought about how the rooms in the fortress were very plain. It was enough to qualify as an officer’s quarters, but it was small and dark and full of dust; extremely different from Noel’s room in Madress. Her quarters there were overflowing with enough of her treasures to bathe her in a sense of satisfaction unlike any other place.
“Aaaaah, I’m bored… but he said I can’t go outside. That’s it, I just thought of the old picture book.”
Thoughts of the book that she had given to Cal wafted through her mind; the treasure she had received from the girl numbered 150. It wasn’t with her, but it was one of her precious treasures. Her favourite story was the one where a rabbit went to exterminate ogres and befriended an ogre who had changed his ways. In the end, they all got along well, and lived happily ever after.
“That was fun, but it wouldn’t happen in the real world.”
Noel sighed. The real world wouldn’t let everyone live happily ever after. If someone became happy, others would appear to gobble it all up in a way that reminded her of the scales emblazoned on the banners of Coimbra. There were two categories of people: winners and losers. Homogeneity was impossible. Noel thought that everyone wanted happiness, and that it was for that very reason that conflict continued to arise. No matter what anyone did, he wouldn’t gain anything unless he won a fight. The losers would become jealous of the winners and would strike up a conflict with all their might to try and take their positions for themselves. Noel felt that the world was just such a never ending cycle.
“Hmmmm, but I haven’t met a single person who’s so happy it makes me jealous…”
Jealousy was envy, and she had heard somewhere that covetousness was a sin, though it was probably at that church. She got the feeling that they had used it to conclude that it was therefore good to innocently devote one’s self to the emperor. She had no intentions of doing so, but the initial words might have held some truth to them. Those kinds of wicked thoughts had once been common for Noel, but she felt that recently they had been in decline. She had been called a fiend, but it might just have been on account of her lacking human weakness. Noel began to contemplate that her body might not have been normal after all, but nobody had ever told her as much so she couldn’t say for certain. Cynthia would probably just respond with a fist if she asked.
“Aaah, I want to find happiness. The best in the world. That way I can share it with everyone,” Noel murmured to no one in particular.
She was sure that it was directed at all her companions that surrounded her. After tossing and turning about on the hard bed, feeling slightly depressed, Noel jumped to her feet and flung open the window. Raising her eyes to the skies, she confirmed that the sun was still hidden. She wondered how many days had passed since she had seen the sun, forlorn in her heavy melancholy.
“It’ll rain again. It’s the same shitty smell from back then.”
The rot of a corpse wafted faintly by, ferrying in a vivid image of her companion’s dead expressions; horrible, collapsed, faces that were crawling with maggots. Their blank eyes focused on some distant point, unable to know that Noel was the only survivor. They simply stared into some unknown place. Noel pitied them from the depths of her heart, and then, the rain fell as if to cover the filth, washing away the mud, beating incessantly on their bodies.; on her body. It was enough that she wanted to say that she’d never go outside again. That was why she hated the rain.
Noel employed the tut she had learned from Riglette, and slammed the window shut. The rain that fell was no longer simple rain, but had become rain of the worst kind; just like that day.
This time Miss Riglette narrowly escaped death.
With this there shouldn’t be any problems if it seems like she starts to mend her ways.
That’s how it is.
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