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The Girl Who Bore the Flame Ring (Web Novel) - Chapter 33: Grace to the Winner, Death to the Loser

Chapter 33: Grace to the Winner, Death to the Loser

This chapter is updated by Wuxia.Blog

Cynthia corps arrived in Bolbo. Even on the approach, it was obvious just how much they had fortified the city. It was surrounded by a watery moat, sandbags were piled up in place of walls; the heights and depths combined to considerably obstruct any assault made without appropriate preparations. Watchtowers had been erected to observe each city district. In just a short amount of time, they had transformed the fallen city into a battle-ready fortress with fluttering twin hammer banners to demoralize any attacking force.

She’s prepared to fight to the end after all.

Cynthia corps carefully advanced as to not be mistaken for an enemy by the bowmen of the city. Sure enough, a warning bell began to sound as soon as they had been spotted by one of the towers, and Noel’s men lined up along the sandbags at once with bows trained on the approaching force.

Cynthia went at the head of her troop, flying the Coimbran scales, and shouted, “I am Commander of One Thousand, Cynthia of the Coimbran Army! I am not your enemy, gentlemen, please open the gate!”

After a short while, the men lowered their bows in relief and opened the gate. Cynthia ordered her men to stand by, and stepped forth alone. Five thousand Baharan men were waiting behind Cynthia’s, ready to encircle the position if she proved unable to persuade Noel as it seemed that Amil had considered the possibility of Noel suicidally continuing the fight. Their orders were to hold their ground no matter what.

As Cynthia entered the city, she spotted Noel who almost leapt upon her with a joyous expression.

“Long time no see! I’m happy we managed to meet again! I was worried that it might not’ve really been you at first, so I aimed my bow at you, sorry, Cynthia,” Noel rattled off her greetings.

Cynthia quietly assured Noel that, “It’s only natural given the circumstances, so you were justified in that… I’m glad we got to meet, too.”

“You’re as stiff as always! It’s not even a problem since I’m the highest ranking person in the town. Hey, look, look! You got promoted just like I did. See, you’re a commander of one thousand! Now we’re the same again!”

Noel happily showed both her insignia and her teeth as she grinned away.

“That’s true. I didn’t think we’d even out so quickly. As expected of someone feared as a fiend… though this isn’t the time to be congratulating each other.”

Cynthia had spoken in a heavy tone, and she could not laugh again. Considering what she had to say, she couldn’t even smile, and it seemed that Noel had picked up on it as her own laughter was replaced with a sad gaze in an instant. Kai, Barbas, and Riglette were dubious too from beside her.

“Hey, I’d heard that Madress had been encircled. Was that just a rumor?”

“…”

“Did you force your way here? That makes me happy, you know. I haven’t been rescued often, myself.”

Noel offered a dry laugh. Planting her bident in the ground, she looked to Barbas with a signal to shut the gate, most likely to prevent a weakness from being exploited. Once more she raised her hand and the soldiers atop the sandbags lined themselves up.

“I thought you’d notice. You’ve got a good eye after all.”

“Soldiers that aren’t yours are hiding somewhere out there, right? I’d prefer it if they were reinforcements. It’d make breaking back into Madress a breeze if you brought enough men; if we can get to Madress, that is.”

Cynthia decided that it was best not to lie. If she did anything else, it could easily be perceived as a breakdown of negotiations by the Baharan forces.

“I’m going to say it clearly, Noel. I haven’t come here to rescue you. I’m here to insist upon your surrender.”

Her words rippled through the surrounding men. Given their high morale, many of them appeared dissatisfied, and it wasn’t long before boos and jeers began. Obviously, none of them were the type to surrender. No man interested in surrender would have holed himself up in that fortress. There had been plenty of opportunity to run during its construction. Noel held up a hand to quiet her irate subordinates, and trod a single step firmly forward with her favourite warhammer at her waist, and her bident in the ground. Cynthia prepared for the impossible. She didn’t believe it would happen, but she had no intention of dying just yet. That would only doom them all.

“Ahaha, you joke sometimes, too, eh Cynthia? That’s the first one I’ve heard you make since we met.”

“I hate to say it… but this isn’t a joke. The viceroy had decided to surrender, and I was chosen as the messenger to persuade you to stop fighting.”

Noel stamped on the ground indignantly at Cynthia’s admonishing tone.

“Surrender? I’ll never surrender.”

“Noel…”

“I hate surrender. I’d hate to die without a fight. I’ve decided that I’ll fight to the end with everyone here.”

‘That’s right! We’re Noel Corps! Even unto death!”

“If Pops and the captain stick it out, those Baharans ain’t nothin’!”

“The White Ant Bloc can fight in these mines for years!”

“We aren’t just the White Ant Bloc, we’ll show them the power of the Coimbran army too!”

The men were in an uproar after hearing Noel’s words.

“See? They’re all raring to go, so it’s fine. You should fight with us, Cynthia. First we have to break the encirclement, and then we have to rescue the viceroy and the young master. Then we’ll wait in the mines for a good opportunity. If we keep fighting until they make a sound, we’ll eventually win.”

Noel was discussing tactics, but it was dubious as to whether or not she even believed she could do it. Her face clearly lacked confidence, but she wasn’t going to accept defeat. Even if she couldn’t break the encirclement, she could take to the fields and cause great pain to Bahar with a guerilla campaign. Aiming for the weak outposts, they would be a raiding party of fiends. The proof that they could do it lay in the countless towns they had already conquered.

“The gates of Madress have already opened, and the Coimbran Army has laid down its arms. Coimbra is already under Baharan control. The viceroy has decided to bear all the shame himself, and accept his death to save the people, his soldiers, and most of all, his wife and child.”

“Why doesn’t he fight to the end? He could buy more than a year in Madress! And we’re still fighting!”

“He wants to minimise casualties! Do you understand? If you resist any further, the viceroy’s decision will become moot. You’re promises will be scrapped, and his wife and child will both forfeit their lives!”

Noel spoke bitterly now, “Why? Why would that be my fault!? I don’t want to. I won’t surrender, I won’t die without resistance!”

It was childish, but it was very much her style. She hadn’t lost. She hadn’t lost, but she had to surrender. She worked it over in her soul.

“One of the terms of the agreement spares all the lives of Coimbran soldiers. You won’t be killed.”

Noel muttered pleadingly, “I don’t trust them. More importantly, come on, let’s fight together. We’ll win for sure. I’ve got an amazing weapon. If we use it right, we can fry all the Baharan soldiers. Then we’ll save the young master, and work hard, and we’ll become the next major generals.”

At the sight of her frail state, Cynthia’s heart wavered for a moment. She hadn’t accepted the agreement herself yet, but it couldn’t be helped. Nobody would become happy if they fought any longer. They had to respect the last wishes of the viceroy and allow his wife and child to survive.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t do that. I will respect the viceroy’s decision. Madress has already opened its gates so there is no other way. You too should comply with your orders. Throw down your weapons, and open the gates!”

“No. It’s no joke. No matter what you say, Cynthia, I won’t follow that kind of order, ever.”

“I see… then it cannot be helped. I will behead you here!”

Cynthia unsheathed her blade as did the surrounding soldiers in a rush. Noel still hadn’t readied herself, eyes wide without understanding.

“You’re still my friend right, Cynthia? We’re friends right? Right?”

“You are my companion, and my best friend. At the very least, I think you are irreplaceable.”

She spoke the truth with no equivocation. They hadn’t known each other long, but there wasn’t another person she was as close to in the world. Noel messed around, and Cynthia reprimanded her. At some point she had begun to enjoy the time they spent together, and she really didn’t want to turn her blade on her.

“But I am a knight of Coimbra. If you will not comply no matter what, I must kill you. I will become a demon to protect the people.”

“F-friends don’t kill each other. I mean, we’re friends, so… so, turning your blade on me, is just… not right!”

Noel raised her warhammer with trembling hands.

“W-why don’t we calm down and talk, Cynthia? There ain’t no need to fight the captain! That’s just stupid!”

Cynthia scowled at Barbas as he ran between them.

“I’m sorry, but we don’t have the time for that. The Baharan army is watching the negotiations from just outside the city. If I do not return soon, they will launch an all out assault.”

“If… if I really did say that it wasn’t going to happen, would you really kill me Cynthia? Then how could you call me your best friend!? That’s not fair!!”

“Once I kill you… I’m going to follow. I can’t let my friend pass alone. If you kill me, on the other hand, it couldn’t be helped. We’d have both merely been acting out our convictions without ill will.”

“T-that’s…”

Noel’s face twisted in despair, eyes dimming, and the warhammer in her hand began to violently tremble.

“Noel, this is the end. Throw down your swords and surrender!”

Cynthia’s scowl turned to Noel who was stepping down from a kill for the first time. Her quaking figure was full of openings and the usual intimidating aura was nowhere to be seen, and Cynthia knew she had an opportunity to kill her. She would have been able to land a fatal blow before the surrounding soldiers could intervene.

“Aaahh…”

Noel’s gaze wandered, a pained sigh escaped from her lips, and powerlessly, she collapsed.

“You’re really unfair, Cynthia.”

“I know… It was the only thing I could do to stop you.”

“If I had killed you, and then the young master was executed, I would have violated two promises at the same time. I couldn’t do that, how could I!? That’s… that’s not fair!!”

“I’m… sorry.”

“Uhhhh, uwwwaaaaaa!”

Limp as she lay, Noel began to cry like a child, her full body shuddering. Something wasn’t right; something was wrong, but Noel didn’t know what. She had given it her all; done everything within her power to do; despite how they laughed at her, despite how they were angry with her, despite how they looked down on her, she had put all of her blood sweat and tears into somehow attaining victory. After all she had done, what remained was this: the sense in her soul that the world was unfair. It was unfair, but the pain remained pain, and the regret remained regret, and as she thought, the tears became unstoppable.

“Again… it rains?”

Cynthia felt cold water on her cheek as she accepted the sword. The pitter-patter of the raindrops echoed all around, growing to a roar in the blink of an eye. Barbas, Kai, and the other soldiers looked to the heavens amidst the downpour, and Riglette averted her eyes in frustration as Noel continued her hoarse cries as if to beg for forgiveness as she lay. Cynthia placed her Coimbran cloak over Noel, and could do no more than to gently pat her sopping red hair.

She personally took the news of the fiend’s surrender to the Baharan force. Cynthia told them that she needed two hours for preparation, and the Baharan commander reluctantly agreed. Noel corps sent over a twin hammer banner as a sign of surrender. As it was highly prized by both the commander and her men, it was the ultimate disgrace to hand it over to the enemy. Knowing that, the Baharan commander was able to put his misgivings aside for two hours.

Noel summoned Barbas and Kai after calming down a bit to them she intended to have them escape after the rain let up. As a Gembite, Kai did not want to get captured, and Barbas had been an insurgent from the start. The two of them risked death in capture. The two of them lined up, prepared to go with her to the end.

“Do you remember your promise with me?”

“Yup. I’ll head over to Gemb to play. I’ll do my best to make sure it happens.”

“It’s fine if you remember. I pray for your safety.”

Kai led his men out the North gate, and Barbas decided to take his men to conceal themselves in the Bolk mountain range. Noel gave Barbas her favourite bident just before he left.

“Hey, will you keep this?”

“Why are you giving it to me? I’ll have to politely refuse if it’s just a memento, since you’re going to come back alive.”

“It’s a reminder that we’ll meet again. I can still fight even without it, so…”

“Even if you say that, I can’t do it. If somebody else held it, he’d probably get burned, Captain.”

“It’s fine, it’s fine! It’l probably be okay this time!”

Noel forced it into his hands. He braced for the heat, but didn’t feel any, managing to touch it even though it was a cursed weapon that burned anyone who wasn’t Noel. It was, however, so unusually heavy that he didn’t think he’d ever be able to use it.

“It’s heavy. I don’t think I’ll be able to use it after all.”

“Ahaha, it might be difficult, but do your best. Also, if I die…”

“Captain!!”

“This is just if. If I die, throw it into the sea. It’ll be a problem if you don’t. I’m sure we’ll meet again.”

She aggressively patted Barbas on the shoulder.

Taken to Madress almost like a criminal with her feet shackled, and her hands bound with a sturdy rope, Noel met with Amil as he sat in what once was Grohl’s throne. Amil, Mills and the other Baharan commanders were lined up, followed by the traitorous Coimbrans Wilm, Leue, Gaddis —now with an artificial leg— and the rest.

“We have captured Noel Bosheit!”

“Well done.”

The guards pressed her forcefully onward with their spears. Her fearsome reputation had spread well among the Baharan soldiers, and the tales of the purgatory of Carness were enough to cause the lower ranking men to quiver in fear, hence they were arrayed more than necessary in case they had to defend themselves.

“So you are the one feared as the fiend? You have caused me quite a lot of trouble, but as far as I can tell by looking, you are just a girl. Falid, are you sure there’s no mistake?”

“No mistakes, sir. She has tremendous ability, enough to easily contend with the Black Sun Cavalry. She survived my spear.”

“Hmmm, then did she really kill all those Baharan soldiers and Coimbran lords? If she did, the crime is worthy of death.”

Amil gazed down at her with great interest. She stood, bound, with an expressionless face that betrayed no emotion. No signs of fear or indications that she would beg for her life were visible for she simply knelt silently with her eyes downcast. Her firey red hair showed her true thoughts.

“But could not your sins be forgiven if you work for me? I will grant you the position of commander of one thousand, and some land in Coimbra.”

His words shocked Wilm and Gaddis because she really had committed crimes worthy of capital punishment.

“Please wait! We cannot trust her. She is a monster that we cannot predict. I believe she must be dealt with now to uproot the seeds of evil.”

“I… agree with Wilm. We cannot make use of a fiendish person. That much would be obvious had you seen Carness! The fiend should be dealt with harshly to appease the souls of the dead!”

The Baharan commanders found themselves smiling wryly at the statements from Wilm and Gaddis. At the end of the day, traitors were traitors. They had much more sympathy for Noel’s fight to the end than they did for those two dishonourable men. She had killed many of their coworkers, but such was the way of war. Though they knew to fear her, they felt sympathy when they saw her pitiful state.

“What do you find strange? Have I said something wrong?”

“Hahaha… My apologies. I could not help myself since I cannot trust you traitors. I just couldn’t hold it in.”

“Hehe, it does make one want to laugh. Just how much will they flap their tongues?”

Wilm and Gaddis’ faces went red with the strong abuse from the Baharan officers.

“S-silence! We were justified! My duty is to the Emperor above all, including the viceroy! I will not accept any insolence!”

“Hahaha, we Baharans will not cower to such threats.”

“Oh, how loyal of you two Coimbrans! You should learn a thing or two from our gallant Sir Noel here! If you wish to commit suicide, I’ll be sure to lend a hand!”

“Do not mock the Coimbran army you bastards!”

A torrent of insults spewed forth in response. Some of the Baharans even laid hands on their sabres as relations had always been poor between the two provinces. They were allies for now, though, and that could not be quickly changed. Amil raised a hand to stop the situation from going critical.

“How unsightly. Can none of you remain calm? We all serve the Horsheido Empire so we should not argue more than needed to settle a dispute. Is that not so?”

“Yes Sir. You have my apologies!”

“I, I humbly apologise.”

The tumult returned to silence. If they defied him now, they would forfeit the glory they had so recently attained. The generals of both sides shut their mouths and held their grudges. Amil gave Falid a signal with a glance, and he began to take steady steps.

Falid took a knee facing Noel and gave a polite invitation, “Sir Noel, Lord Amil has taken the glory this time. Because he has, he can now lead a great many people to happiness. Will you not lend us your military prowess to assist? As far as I have seen, he is a man who will reward anyone for good services rendered.”

Though she had lost to him in a fight, she had ability that surpassed Rebecca. In strength alone they were most likely equals, but she clearly had the superior leadership ability. She was the kind of capable staff that Amil desired. More importantly, that memorable red hair of hers had lit a spark in Falid’s heart, or so he thought. The expression she had made was unmistakably one of the girl who should have died in Operation Daybreak: Number 13.

“I am sorry, but I must decline. I have already promised my services to Lord Elgar, and I cannot violate my word.”

Amil nodded at her quiet yet clear response. Falid saw no reason for her to die pointlessly there, and he grabbed her shoulder to try and persuade her once more.

“Please consider it carefully. Nothing will come of remaining obstinate.”

“I must decline.”

Amil interrupted Falid before he could attempt any further arguments, “Promises are something to be protected as you say, even to the point of attempting the unreasonable, but we cannot simply ignore your crimes.”

“The capital punishment should suffice! She should be executed right here! We cannot let the roots of future calamity be!”

“Sir Wilm,” Falid rebutted with a hostile glare, “Lord Amil has promised to protect the lives of all Lord Grohl’s soldiers. Would you go against his decision?”

Wilm was overpowered; for a moment.

“H-however, she is undoubtedly the fiend! Releasing her will only be a liability! This much I’m sure you understand!”

As the future ruler of Coimbra, Wilm was vehement about keeping future enemies from being created. Noel likely held a grudge against him as he had targeted her from the start. With that in mind, he had to kill her.

Assuming as much, Mills made a proposal of his own as it seemed like Noel would prove interesting in the coming days: “I understand your position, Lord Wilm, but Amil will one day rise to the highest of seats. I do not think it prudent to treat promises as scraps of paper before he does.”

“Sir Mills, before the future, the present must be…”

Amil stopped Wilm’s objection with a gesture. There were no more people to be feared in Coimbra. The only source of future problems, Grohl, had been crushed, and Amil was on his way to ascending the throne. There was no reason to eliminate useful pawns. He was young and had plenty of time so there was no reason to rush.

“Mills’ opinion is justified. I see no merit in needlessly staining my own name; conversely, I should demonstrate my forgiveness.”

“We still cannot make light of her crimes. Fueheh, how does banishment sound? Send the fiend to an island until she reforms. So that she can be looked after.”

“Banishment, is it? That would prevent her from doing anything unreasonable.”

“Yes, and if you keep your word, even for the dreaded fiend, it will only serve to further spread the knowledge of your magnanimity.”

Once Amil had thought over Mills’ proposal and fully digested it, he could see that the Baharan officers also thought it to be a valid solution. He personally felt no real threat from Noel, but did not want to further anger the traitorous Wilm and Gaddis.

And so, Noel’s life was spared. Amil decided to let her live as a part of his intention to make use of capable men. It was how he had gathered so many talented men, and how he would continue to gather more. It was important to show the people his tolerance.

“Yes, that seems to be for the best. Noel, there is a small island to the south-west of Coimbra known as Willa. You are to go there and pray in repentance to the Sun God. Once we believe you to have atoned for your sins, I will ask you again. Remember that I want your strength. I promise you fair treatment.”

Noel accepted it without objection, but a simple, “I understand.”

Faced with Noel being taken once more to prison, Rebecca made an irritated expression. Others of the Black Sun Cavalry were with her. They had forced aside the palace guards and landed a sharp punch to Noel’s abdomen, and continued to forcefully kick her while she was down. Surrounding her, they continued to kick as they rained down insults upon her. The guards made no moves to stop them. She was the second in command of Bahar’s pride and joy, the Black Sun Cavalry, so they knew there was nothing they could do to stop her. Rebecca grabbed Noel by the hair and lifted her up menacingly.

“Oi, you bitch. Are you fucking wagging your tail since Lord Amil saved your fucking life? Even though you’ve fucking killed so many of my brothers! Show me your convictions by dying here! Die, just die!!”

“…”

“This fucking bitch has no words? Can’t fucking speak? So should we keep kicking until you want to speak? Haaa!?”

They struck her hard on the temple, and she only angered them more by remaining responseless. Rebecca could not hide her anger as she lifted Noel’s face once more to pummel with her fist. When she collapsed back to the ground they kicked her head with all their strength over and over and over and over again.

“Rebecca, sir, she’s going to die if we keep this up, but that isn’t a problem is it?”

The Black Sun Cavalry sought final confirmation, and the corners of Rebecca’s mouth twisted.

“What- if we just say she was running away, nobody will complain. Let’s fucking kill her right now. Hehe, we’ll feed your fucking corpse to the dogs! They’ll even eat the bones!”

Rebecca took up her sword, and just as she did, a voice called out behind her for restraint. It was calm, yet plainly angry.

“What exactly are you doing? I thought I ordered you to patrol the castle’s perimeter? Is there some emergency?”

“L-lord Falid!?”

“T-this, this is…”

Rebecca cut off the confused responses of the Black Sun Cavalry as she stepped forth, “That’s not it, brother! I thought I’d erase the regret of our fallen brothers! As if we could just let her be without taking revenge! In the first place, why don’t you just let the small fry deal with such a trivial job!?”

“Madress has only just recently fallen and the sparks of rebellion have not yet died out. That is why I ordered the elite Black Sun Cavalry to patrol. Are you saying that the protection of our Lord Amil is trivial?”

“W-we’ll finish her off and get right back to it!! Is that fine!?”

“Lord Amil has guaranteed the lives of every Coimbran soldier. Are you saying that you wish to violate this?”

Unable to keep his emotions in check, Falid got confirmation twice. Rebecca did still fear him, but the anger and desire to take revenge had outstripped it in their extremity.

“So are you just going to forgive her!?”

“For the sin of disobeying my orders… and for the crime of going against Lord Amil’s decree, the death penalty must be issued. I’m truly sorry.”

“B-brother?”

Falid took out a dagger from his cloak and tossed it down at Rebecca’s feet.

“There, go ahead and die. Hurry up and kill yourself. I’ve said this before, but we have no need for people who can’t follow orders. You all are wasted on the Black Sun Cavalry.”

“T-that’s…”

“No need to speak. Just kill yourself.”

“I, I’m sorry! I don’t want to die over something like this!!”

“So?”

“Ughhhh, I, I was wrong! I won’t do it again, so please forgive me! I really am, it’s really true!”

“It’s fine as long as you understand, but the next time this happens, I’ll kill you. It has been decided that Sir Noel will be exiled to Willa island. There is no need to raise a hand against her! If you’ve figured it out, get back to your duties at once!”

The Black Sun Cavalry trembled like frightened dogs at Falid’s harsh rebuke.

“Y-yes sir!”

“I, I get it! I, I’m not going to kill myself! I never will!!”

With those final words, Rebecca and the Black Sun Cavalrymen turned and ran. Retrieving his dagger, Falid apologised to Noel and helped her up. The blows had been quite harsh, but Noel didn’t appear to have put up with much, only sporting bruises on her face, and some blood running from her lip which Falid wiped with his handkerchief. There was a chance that some bones had been broken.

“Are you alright? If you need medical attention, we can arrange for it immediately.”

“I’m fine.”

“I’m truly sorry. Rebecca isn’t a bad girl, but she gets angry too easily. Well, it can’t be helped that it turned out this way.”

Noel raised her face at Falid’s sentimental words.

“Is that so?”

“May I ask just one thing? Have you ever heard of Operation Daybreak?”

“Operation… daybreak…”

“It was an operation that ended in tragedy in a church of the Sun in the imperial capital. I thought that you might know of it.”

Noel thought over his genuine question for a short while, and simply answered that she didn’t.

“I… see. Sorry for asking you strange things, only there is a chance that you’ve simply forgotten. If you remember, I would like you to let me know.”

Falid smiled, and Noel tilted her head in mystery.

“…”

“Back to what we were talking about earlier, I know that Lord Amil will surely lead us all to happiness. That’s what I believe. Once you’ve calmed down on Willa Island, why don’t you think it over some more? I’m sure that you’ll realise how taking up the sword for Lord Amil is the right thing to do.”

“Yup, I got it. Someday I’ll take up my sword for Lord Amil. I promise.”

“Do you? Yes, I’m looking forward to it. I cannot wait for the day that we can fight together. Let’s make sure to talk more when that time comes.”

“Yup, I’ll see you then.”

Noel smiled as she spoke, and began to slowly walk as she was taken away by the guards. After seeing them off, Flalid’s thoughts turned to the girl for whom he once harboured special feelings. She was Number 13 after all, and he was very glad that she had survived because he had thought that everyone else had died.

But you said you didn’t know. Have you forgotten, or are you feigning ignorance? Either way, you’re still here, and nothing can change that. Yeah, I really look forward to fighting side by side.

For a moment, Falid dropped the mask of the Black Sun Cavalry and smiled as innocently as a child.

On the following day, the former Viceroy of Coimbra, son of Emperor Befnam, Grohl Wardka was sentenced to death. Made to confess his crimes, the scene played out with Grohl begging for mercy as he knelt before Amil. The execution was to take place later that day, and they had already prepared a guillotine in Madress’ main square. A single jeer ignited a large chorus of cries for his death.

“So this is what I pay for my incompetence? Elgar, Sarah, please forgive me, and Noel… I’m truly…”

After Grohl had finished muttering, the gleaming blade came down with a dull thud, and his head jumped into the awaiting bucket. The executioner held up the head as it dripped blood, thrusting it to the heavens as a sign that Amil had won the war of succession. The crowd erupted in a roaring applause as he did, going further than insulting the Lords who were closest to Grohl by slinging stones at those who had not been able to stop the decline of the province. It was a pathetic end to the man who had once been the closest to the throne. His wife Sarah, though spared, lay comatose as her husband died, and passed away herself without ever finding out. Perhaps that was a small mercy for her, but Elgar was left behind, placed under house arrest in a small northern town, and stripped of his Wardka name, forced to take on his mother’s maiden name: Ludwig.

“I know now that I want to live my life to atone for the grave sins of my father, and I swear once more to be a loyal servant of Your Majesty the Emperor.”

After the young Elgar watched his father’s death, he knelt politely before Amil. Even the traitorous Wilm and Gaddis had apologised for the crimes of his father, and had admirably claimed that they would labour and toil for Coimbra’s sake. He hid the blade of hatred and revenge deep within his heart which boiled with the fires of hell. He knew that one day he would surely have to repay them for what they had done; they who had laughed at his father’s death; they who had egged his father on.

Those who would see Noel off were waiting at Madress harbour on the day that she was to depart for her exile. Cynthia was drained, Elgar was melancholy, and Noel Corps was standing by in civilian clothes.

“We can’t talk much now, Noel. To be honest, I can hardly face you… one day, when you return, I’ll accept full responsibility. Until then, I will live in shame, so be sure to come back.”

Cynthia had turned down Wilm’s offers, and decided to serve Elgar. Rough days lay in wait, but it was the only thing Cynthia thought she could do.

“You don’t have to be so down. I’m not really mad anymore, see, you’re in front of the young master, so you’ve got to cheer up!”

Cynthia remained unmoved by Noel’s jokes. Deciding it was hopeless, Noel turned her attention to Elgar.

“Hey, sorry I couldn’t help with your dad. Even though I did my best.”

“Not at all, Noel. You did very well… my father was apologising before his execution. He wanted to believe in you at the end, at least. I’d never seen him so sad before. The last thing he told me before he died was to make sure that I could see people’s true intentions.”

Noel pretended to hug him in consolation, and whispered into his ear in such a way as to make it look like a dear parting. She didn’t want the nearby Baharan soldiers to hear her.

“It’s fine to give what we got. Isn’t that right? I mean, we’re still alive to do it.”

“N-Noel, just… what are you…”

She smiled at the now beet-red Elgar.

“I’m definitely going to return. Until then, make sure to keep that promise. It’ll be fine, it isn’t a loss as long as we’re alive.”

“Okay. I’ll train hard while I wait, so make sure you really do come back.”

Noel sadly, but brightly waved goodbye, “Yup. Well, it’s about time I head out then. Take care of the young master, Cynthia. Stay well until I come back!”

With a slight frown, Cynthia simply muttered that she would as Noel boarded the Baharan ship. Her ankles were shackled, but her hands were free. Waving heartily at everyone who was seeing her off, she watched Noel Corps begin to gather together in formation.

“Noel Corps! Salute!! We will wait until your return!!”

“Don’t worry, Captain! We’ll wait for you!!”

“Noel Corps, forward march! Band, commence!!”

As the ship departed, they unveiled their small, concealed bugles and drums to begin a musical performance that was as loud and lively as if Noel was departing for the front. When they were discovered by the nearby Baharan soldiers, they began to be jostled as they were ordered to stop. Noel watched her amusing, and very fun, companions until they were out of sight.

Once they were completely out of sight, Noel found herself alone on deck. All of the Baharan soldiers knew that Noel was known as the fiend and didn’t want to get any closer to her than they had to. Naturally, she had no conversation partners. All she could hear were the songs of the sea birds. She could smell the sea air, but her mood wasn’t very good.

“Haaah, alone again, eh? It’s a little boring. I get lonely after all.”

Even if she was with people, having nobody to talk to or play with was boring. Noel gave a dejected sigh.

“That’s too bad. It looks like it’ll get in the way.”

Looming over where Noel lay was a displeased face that she knew. Tutting with a nasty expression, Riglette’s long black hair fluttered in the breeze. She was wearing the uniform of the Coimbran military police.

“Oh, so you were here, Riglette? I figured nobody would talk to me since I’m hated here.”

“So you greet me with that. It’s fine, you really are hated, after all.”

“You’re dressed as an MP.”

“I was told to. My job is to observe you.”

Riglette gave a snort. Getting up, Noel looked at her in amazement.

“I’m accompanying you on your glorious island exile. That man was able to… get rid of a nuisance. Unfortunately, if I didn’t follow along, I would have been killed. He distrusts me with good reason.”

“So that’s how it is.”

“Yes.”

Riglette was curt. Noel was lonely at their parting, but Riglette had probably wanted to come along too.

Feeling a little better, Noel turned to Riglette, “Oh, by the way, what is this Willa island like?”

“My research suggests that aside from manor on the island, it’s just a simple fishing village. There is a historic church, so that is where you will be reflecting on things. In summary, it is a shitty, pointless place for me to be.”

“That’s too bad.”

“Too bad indeed. Well, I have to make sure you are as good as dead. It would be a bother if you just died on your own, so try to hold back.”

“All right!”

Noel responded energetically and began to look for her nearby large bag of luggage. Weapons or dangerous items had been forbidden, but she had received permission to bring everything else. Along for the ride were all the treasures she had bought in Madress, a gameboard, some toys, her trumpet, and the warhammer that she had secretly smuggled in among the various crates on the ship with the help of Noel Corps. Noel retrieved the board for the black and white game out of her bag, and set it down in front of Riglette.

“What’s this? You are a criminal, so please be quiet.”

“Let’s play since we’re free. We’ve got lots of time ahead. We’ll be on this ship for at least five more days you know.”

“I must decline. Even with five more days, if I was your partner, I’d die of overwork.”

“Oh, I guess it can’t be helped that you’re scared of losing.”

“Hmph, I’m not worried at all. Listen up, I’ll play you just once.”

Noel set up the pieces two at a time, ready to play the now provoked Riglette. Her win rate had been about 80% up until that point. She would lose her concentration when she got bored, and lose like that. It was true that she had lost the fight for Coimbra, but, taking the big picture into account, she hadn’t yet suffered a total defeat. As to why: neither she nor Cynthia nor Elgar nor Barbas, nor even Riglette had yet died. Kai too had returned to Gemb, so things had only just begun.

“If you don’t play we can’t start.”

“I was just thinking for a bit.”

“Thinking so much about the first move… could it be you’re an idiot?”

“If you lose, Riglette, that’ll mean you’re even more of an idiot.”

Riglette tutted as Noel jauntily placed her white piece with great force. The real match began then. She would rest for a time and strengthen herself so that she would not lose to that redheaded man.

“I just thought of this, but…”

Raising her own piece, Riglette responded in irritation, “What?”

“Well, I hate rainy days, right?”

“I know. You’re really childish after all. Try to fix that while we’re on the island.”

“The worst, yuckiest stuff happens, but if I really think it through, I survive the day even if it rains. I thought I’d die for sure this time, but I just barely made it out. Isn’t that surprising?”

“What?”

“I’m lucky to survive. It might be that rainy days aren’t only full of bad things.”

“It wouldn’t be funny if our fates were determined by the weather. How ridiculous.”

Noel acknowledged that much and continued the game. In the end, it was a crushing victory for Noel as she wound up owning all the pieces on the board. Riglette rattled off tut after tut as Noel grinned before challenging her to a rematch. It was fun to go after opponents who weren’t thinking straight. She wasn’t going to lose any time soon.

“But sunny days have the best mood.”

“Right now my mood is supremely terrible.”

“I hope it’s sunny when we go back.”

A smile floated across Noel’s face as she gazed at the distant Madress castle, and she knew that the fight wasn’t over.

Author’s Note:

Our fight has only just begun!! This is not the end. It will continue just a little longer. I won’t update daily, so please don’t be too impatient while you wait. There are plenty of things I still want to write!

Q: Noel promised to take up her sword for Amil, so does that mean she’ll become his retainer?

A: Noel will protect her promises, but she’s a sophist. Reference for this behavior can be found in her exchange with the enemy in chapter 17. I did that kind of thing as a child.

“I’ll give this to you. (I lift this up to you)” → “Really!?” → *Raises thing over head. “See.”

– The Demon’s Voice

It’s fine to end it here. Everything’s been tied up, and doesn’t this kind of thing happen all the time? On to the next story, the next!

– The Angel’s Voice

It ain’t over yet. The foreshadowing ain’t paid off, and there’re all sorts of things you can’t just leave.

– The Reaper’s Voice

Eat first, then think it out.

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