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The Girl Who Bore the Flame Ring (Web Novel) - Chapter 34: Deathmatch of Star and Sun: A Red Ring Born

Chapter 34: Deathmatch of Star and Sun: A Red Ring Born

This chapter is updated by Wuxia.Blog

Three years had passed since the Coimbran-Baharan War which became popularly known as the Wardka War of Succession. Those three years had rocked the world.

Rebellion had broken out in Coimbra, and the province had split between North and South, with Wilm appointed as viceroy in the South, and Gaddis in the North. Gemb, Giv, and Karmbeeth, though having sided with the Grohl clique, had defied all expectations and were unable to be severely punished. In the heat of victory, Amil announced Operation Light of Dawn —a naval operation against Mundonovo— as soon as Befnam handed him the throne. Many great ships were built in Coimbra and Ribeldam. 100 000 men from each province set forth with their supplies for the southeasterly shores of Mundonovo. Amil made himself the supreme commander, and promoted Falid to be the general of the army. Incidentally, the war expenses were levied as heavy taxes from Coimbra, Gemb, and Giv, which only served to deepen the grudges created in the previous war. The eastern continent that the imperial army landed on was subjugated much more easily than Amil had ever imagined, aided by the fact that the locals in that area were dissatisfied with their leader, the bishop of a certain church of the star. Many local lords had seen an opportunity to grow their own power, siding with the larger force. Few had the will to face the hundred thousand invaders.

“This new land acquisition is but the first step of Operation Light of Dawn. At this rate, it cannot be stopped!”

Amil integrated the local lords who surrendered into the new province of Verdun, greatly expanding his sphere of influence. A powerful local lord named Riger was made viceroy. Ernarz had objected, but Amil had forcefully shut down his proposals. He was no longer on the Libelikan continent. Incidentally, the previous emperor Befnam had been able to spend his days immersed in research as he had hoped, and Amil threw vast amounts of funding towards a continuation of Operation Dawn. In exchange, he agreed to never interfere with Amil’s actions, and to never again become involved in politics. Absorbed in his desires, Befnam had not resurfaced once.

“People of the Empire of the Sun…”

With the taking of new lands in Mundonovo, and the formation of a new Provence, —a feat not achieved since the founding of the empire— Amil became known as the greatest ruler ever since. Nay, he began to be called the greater emperor, for great resources, manpower, treasures of gold and silver, and miracle products were all expected to flow back as a result. Truly, treasures and gold and precious gems were to be had… along with a wave of refugees from the continent. Unfortunately, the resources had been far scarcer than expected. Enough to enrich the entire continent, it was not. Fighting had yet to cease, so there was little surplus, and what little they could send home was eaten up by the costs of transportation.

The church of the star would not sit silently by as it began to lose its place in the world, dispatching at once a punitive force to repel the heathen invaders. Brutal fighting broke out between the allies of the church and the forces of the Horsheido empire, and though the first battle had devastating casualties on both sides, neither was completely knocked out of the war. As the allied forces lacked cohesion, and due to Falid’s stalwart defence, the fighting slowly ground to a stalemate. The war had begun to appear to be one that would not be won by a single decisive blow.

“To ensure that Operation Light of Dawn runs smoothly, we will unleash the super soldiers from our Operation Second Dawn. Let us strike down these false prophets and bring the light of the Sun to the people!”

Amil had increased military expenditure to fund Operation Second Dawn, and he temporarily sent ten thousand conscripts to Verdun. Even raising fifty thousand men from the northeast, and bringing twenty thousand to Mundonovo.

“They have odd technology, but they are not a match for us. Drive out the heathen!!”

Falid’s Black Sun Cavalry had been able to kill or capture several powerful lords, making pointless the great barriers they had erected defensively. The trouble lay in the church of the star that was so desperately protecting its influence; largely because the local lords only cared so long as their own lands were peaceful, and the will of the people was absolutely ignored. The continental north-eastern front, however, was a different matter.

“All units attack. Destroy their fields, and don’t let a single one survive. Not a single one.”

“Yes sir!!”

The local populace had taken the initiative and risen up in volunteer armies, joined by a cavalry corps from the church of the star that bore a white raven banner, and set out to drive back the enemy that had invaded their lands and taken their homes. The main reason for the defeat suffered there by Horsheido was the poor time of the attack. The situation was completely different from when they had the support of the local lords, and the north-eastern forces reached Verdun just according to their plans where they set about relieving the south-eastern corps.

“We must save our strength, but we cannot give up what we have. We shall conquer two continents, and spread the glory of the Empire of the Sun! Just as there is one sun, Horsheido should be one in rule!! Sacrifices must be made for the good of the empire!!”

Young, Amil was naturally impatient with the lack of progress in the expedition. It was his first real setback, and it felt as if all hope had been naught but mirage. He had once thought that he would already be bringing glory back to the Libelikan continent, but the emperor could not accept failure. Admitting to it would prove to become a weakness that would question his authority. One faction of retainers had already suggested that he either suspend the advance, or withdraw.

Eventually, his Second Light of Dawn had managed to desperately protect his holdings, but had been unable to expand his territory. Even the imperial assault had ceased for a time. It might not have been that bad, but it certainly looked that way. The church of the star had been steadily increasing its military power, and so there was a need to ferry more men over due to the limited number of locals they could conscript. Horsheido soldiers also feared the conscripts’ betrayal, so there was a need to levy many Libelikan troops for transport. Military expenditure increased, as a result, along with the taxes and labour demand.

In order to combat dissatisfaction, and no longer able to ignore the mainland, Amil decided to take reparations. They began to use forced labour from prisoners of war with the intention of using them as slaves to quell dissatisfaction. It did assuage some, but rather than being largely effective, it only served to add coals to the fire.

There was one other thing they brought from the continent: a destroyer of the mind they called censugrass. Not only the nobility, but also the common soldier had somehow acquired some, and there were already those who had proved unable to recover. Strict restrictions had been made, but that only drove up the price on the black market, and they knew no end to the demand. This too, Amil wracked his brain to try and resolve. His empire had more territory than ever before, but its foundations were beginning to show cracks.

The conscripts had yet to return from the continent, and as the labour force declined, so too did the harvest yields. Each province’s viceroy had been worrying over the shortage. The people withdrew support, and dissatisfaction with the reigning emperor grew. To curb the dissidents, Amil recalled the most famous man in the empire: Falid. He was to head to Horn Provence to dissuade any rebellious actions from Giv or Gemb. As they were in the North, they could be invaded with the help of Longstorm Provence, and it became the wall that protected the central region from the North.

In that way, a shadow began to form over the imperial administration, but the situation had yet to explode, and though there was much grumbling and discontent, the local lords strongly believed that if they continued to invest, that the venture would pay off as Amil and the newly appointed prime minister Mills were well spoken of for their skillful management. However, there were two provinces in crisis that could not wait for that future —the two provinces that had still not recovered from the previous war:— Northern and Southern Coimbra.

“Wilm, that bastard, I knew it would come to this, but have you ruined me? Even pushing into this land that has already been laid waste, he hasn’t lent any help. That two-faced, cold-hearted bastard!”

The one-legged Gaddis tore up his report as he complained in his castle Evear in Northern Coimbra. Gaddis had rebuilt it from the ground up, and was quite proud of its defences. Theoretically, it was funded by the money Amil had promised him for his assistance. Though he had increased farming yields and trade in small amounts off the back of Perius’ policies, they had needed to halt the construction at the outer wall, and it was only a castle in name. The reason was simple: there was no money. Amil’s promise had been naught but empty words.

I can hardly be called a viceroy without even a castle to my name!

When the north and south split, all of the prosperous cities were in the south, leaving only cities long past their primes, mines, and the destroyed territories of Rockbell and Bolbo. Gaddis too had briefly felt that it was only fair for Wilm to get the advantageous position, but things had gone too far. Gaddis had no money, and no way to generate any. It was true that he had become a viceroy, but he had no methods of resolving the situation.

What should I do? As if there was a man alive who could deal with this situation.

He had approached Wilm to try and gain funds, but he was rejected under the premise that there was no surplus in the south either. Crisis struck with the requirement to fund the expedition. As a final effort, he had forced those who could not pay their taxes to work in the mines. If only they could strike gold, they would be able to escape from their woes. What resulted was a revival of the late Grohl’s dream; the dream which even Gaddis had cynically rebelled against. Losing their breadwinners caused even more dissatisfaction in North Coimbra, and still no gold was found. Many men escaped the labour, unable to bear it, and on top of it all, collapses from overwork became common as more and more lives began to be lost.

Oh, so the ore just explodes when struck? Those inspectors are trying to fool me. Soldiers can’t eat without their salaries, and they even went as far as to abandon their posts. What should I do now that both the emperor and my allies have betrayed me?

There had been no large insurrection, likely due to the memory of what happened to the red circle army, but resentment had built up even more than before. Gaddis could no longer do anything about it.

“If only… if only we could strike gold, everything would go well. If we could… I could set things straight! Why, why can’t we find it!? Has god abandoned me!?!? Just like that Grohl!”

Driven into a corner, Gaddis’ mind began to unravel. He left everything to his subordinates, and shut himself up in his room for days on end. All his retainers were north-men, many of whom —along with Cynthia and Elgar— had been loyal to Grohl. Being both a southerner and a traitor, Gaddis had been sleeping on a bed of nails, and there were recent rumors of assassins. Spooked, Gaddis would not let anyone near his person which only caused a further decline in public order.

South Coimbra was also a disaster. Wilm, with his high opinion of Amil, had raised many funds for the expedition, and cooperated with Ribeldam to become the launching point of the operation. Dreams of conquering the entire continent with only one hundred thousand men had swirled through his head. He had counted his chickens before they had hatched, and had easily agreed to massive investments assuming that the profits in prisoners and booty would more than make up for it. Perius, hoping for Grohl’s will to live on, had made countless reports, and constantly politicked to try and persuade Wilm against it, but to no avail. Formerly a military man, Wilm could not help himself when he thought of how the expedition would go down in Coimbran history. He lusted after the chance to immortalize his name and bring about great prosperity.

“Has the Emperor responded yet, Perius?”

“Unfortunately, not yet. We have likely been ignored this time. His Majesty most likely wishes to retain every scrap of gold right now. I don’t think he has even forgiven us. In fact, he might actually intend to further squeeze us.”

“It would be impossible to squeeze the province any more. No matter how much he pressures the people, only blood can come out now because there is nothing else left!”

“That is correct.”

“Just what does His Majesty think of this!? Is he just telling us to die!?!?”

Perius looked upon the irate Wilm with cold eyes.

“Viceroy, I warned you many times before the expedition. We should only take on what we can handle, but you wanted the impossible in fear of being abandoned by His Majesty. This is the result. We retainers are equally to blame for this catastrophe for being unable to stop you.”

“Have I… made a mistake? Was my loyalty to Lord Amil… His Majesty, a mistake?”

“Your foremost responsibility must be to Coimbra. That is the position you have been given. You cannot run away.”

“Lord Amil was obviously the correct choice back then! Grohl unthinkingly went to war! He launched that attack for his own pride, not for the benefit of the people! Or am I wrong, Perius!?”

“True, it cannot be denied that Lord Grohl made a mistake. We should have stopped him, even at the cost of our own lives.”

“Oh really!? I did what I had to do. What fool could say otherwise!?”

“Viceroy… the people are suffering and could easily complain. Lord Grohl is already dead, and you are now the viceroy of South Coimbra. Please do all that you can for their sake. If you cannot do that, then step down from your position at once. I do not believe you could afford a comfortable retirement, though.”

Only destruction awaited Wilm if he stepped down, be it the death sentence from Amil for misgovernment, or retribution from the sword of the people.

“…”

Wilm averted his eyes. With no rebuttal, he could only remain silent. He could insult Perius, but the civil officials wouldn’t let that stand. Once Wilm had become viceroy, the first thing he noticed was the lack of capable staff. All those who had followed Wilm had been acting only in self interest, and there were essentially none left who would work desperately for the sake of the province. No longer able to trust them, Wilm was robbed of the majority of his political power, and he began placing direct family members in prominent positions. Though he knew full well that it was necessary if he wanted to carry out his plans, he was bitterly aware that his actions were worse than even Grohl’s had been.

“We will not forgive any complaints at this point. We should do what we can, and deal with one problem at a time. First is the matter of curbing the spread of the plague. If we can feed the people better, it should lessen the spread of the disease. We should use the stores for the expedition, release the people from their labour, and lower the taxes. We can’t buy much time, but it should serve as an emergency measure.”

“That… I cannot do.”

“If you fear going against His Majesty that much, we shall never recover!! You surely understand just how bad this situation is!”

Perius spoke truth, but Wilm could not do anything. Wilm’s only backing was from those who also supported Amil. If he lost them, he lost his position as viceroy, and there were already countless potential successors.

“That’s too bad. You can’t do it after all.”

Perius let out an exhausted sigh. They couldn’t do anything without money. He had given his arguments and could do nothing more than wait. He had to open Wilm’s eyes. If he could see reality, he would save the people even at the cost of his own destruction. It was nothing to pay to save countless thousands, or even tens of thousands of lives.

The Gembi say that it seldom rains but it pours, and that couldn’t be more right.

An epidemic of unknown origins had broken out in South Coimbra and Ribeldam as a result of all the traffic from the continental fleet. It was a feared disease that rotted musculature and viscera that became known as “rot”. Those in good health could survive, but the rest died, leading to serious damage in the highly malnourished South Coimbra.

“Viceroy, we have received an express messenger from North Coimbra!”

“If they want aid, send him away. I’ve had enough of his complaints!”

All of Gaddis’ messengers had been requesting aide. Wilm knew that the north was suffering, but he could do nothing about it, and even if he had the surplus for it, he would focus on enriching his own province.

“It is not! A rebellion has arisen in North Coimbra’s mountain region! Calling themselves the Red Circle Army, they are marching on Lord Gaddis’ Castle Evear! This is an urgent request for assistance!”

“Ha, the Red Circle Army? That Red Circle Army came back!?”

Wilm’s eyes had gone wide. It was the former army that had been forcibly raised as a part of Amil’s plans, and had been the first step to the destruction of Grohl. Mysteriously, it had come back to haunt Wilm who was in a similar situation, and the name was even the same.

“What’s the scale of this rebellion!? Just who is leading it!?” Perius enquired in a loud voice.

“Yes sir! The Red Circle Army is headed by Grohl’s son Elgar Ludwig! Furthermore, he has over ten thousand men, and the plebeians on his side! They have terrific strength and cannot be stopped. Even the North Coimbran soldiers join them and their numbers swell by the day!”

“Are you absolutely sure that the young master is leading the rebellion?”

The soldier nodded to Perius’ question. The late Grohl’s orphan, Elgar had lived quietly in his mansion in North Coimbra for three years. North Coimbran Commander of One Thousand Cynthia Edrich was in charge of looking after him. It was easy to imagine that he had developed some kind of a scheme, but Gaddis had overlooked it, likely due to his declining mental health. The tales of his seclusion had even reached the south.

“There is no mistake! Scales fly in the red circle of their flag. He has decreed that he will deliver them from the traitors, and save the soldiers from misrule!”

“What a situation. How of it, Viceroy? The rebellion cannot be quelled, but we cannot send reinforcements. If Madress is undermanned, the sympathizers may join the rebellion.

Perius began to feel a headache, but he somehow managed to conceal his true feelings. He would genuinely prefer to fight under Elgar. Though he served Wilm now, he hated the man; but overthrowing the government with force was not something that Perius was capable of. He believed that was a road that could not be morally overlooked, so he would do all he could to help the people of Madress as a Coimbran retainer.

Wilm mustered his willpower, and gave his orders, “Summon Leue urgently at once; we must fortify the defences at the Kanan highway. Too bad for Gaddis, we cannot look after North Coimbra, but we simply cannot leave this as it is. Request a punitive force from His Majesty at once!”

Wilm wanted to take his head in both of his hands, but that behavior was unacceptable for the supreme commander of the province.

“Yes sir. We’ll send for him at once!”

Just as Perius acknowledged it, another messenger came into the room, shaking and horribly pale.

“It, it’s terrible!! This is urgent!!”

“What is it this time? Calm down and do your job!”

“Gemb province has declared independence from the empire, and commenced an invasion of Longstorm! At the same time, Giv and Karmbeeth both also declared independence and invaded Horn! Battles have already started!!”

“W-what?”

Looking askance at the dumbfounded Perius, the messenger gave the last of his message, “The three northwestern provinces have rebelled against Horsheido!!!”

“…”

Wilm, upon hearing it all, dropped the letter in his hand. Two calamities had occurred at once. Such a storm would undoubtedly drag South Coimbra into the fray. Wishing he could slump over and be propped up by a nearby soldier, Wilm thought back to the late lord.

Just what will become of the empire? What will become of Coimbra? And what will become of me? I… can no longer even guess.

In the Red Circle Army headquarters, Elgar’s army was a gathering of many people from various walks of life, staffed by former Coimbran soldiers, the White Ant Bloc, Mundonovan emigrants of the Ir sect, and was half comprised of North Coimbran soldiers. Rage fanned the flames of their morale high, but that said nothing about their training or equipment, and they could not move in unity. The only combat effective units were probably the troops led by Cynthia, the White Ant Bloc, and those of the Ir sect.

“Lord Elgar, the garrison of the fort we’ve targeted has opened their gates and added themselves to our number. Our strategy is proceeding well!”

“Is that so? Make sure you deal with them the same as the rest. While the fort has fallen, our objective is gaining soldiers. Feed them without reservation.”

“It will be done.”

Elgar gave his orders to Irvan, a man in a green robe with a strange crest. The man had taken the initiative and abandoned the Mundonovan continent. Those of the Ir sect had been continually oppressed, and they were eagerly awaiting a chance to strike back. It was for this chance that he had made the decision to take all his wealth and those of his sect to emigrate. The first adherents that made the journey had fallen into slavery, but he covered up the knowledge and bodies, and continued to desperately market himself in search of a partner.

That partner was Elgar. In exchange for assets and knowledge of the continental affairs, he had promised the protection of the sect members, and freedom to propagate the religion. Irvan’s daughter Illum’s engagement to Elgar served as the proof of that contract. There were only around one thousand members of the Ir sect, but it had been thanks to their support that the rebel army had managed to get off the ground, and the food they imported such as their kyuros potato and the censugrass were enough to save the starving and desperate people of North Coimbra. Elgar knew that he was sowing the seeds of future troubles, but he allowed their propagation and cultivation of the censugrass. He did have some problems with it, but it had to be accepted if he was going to stock his kitchen.

“Young master,” Cynthia spoke as she knelt with her helmet in hand.

“That’s enough, stop it with that young master thing. I am the supreme commander of the Red Circle Army. If it seems like my subordinates make light of me, the total morale will suffer.”

“M-my apologies.”

Cynthia’s face went red. That sincerity of hers had not changed, but her face had become gaunt with the harsh life they had lived.

“Now then, down to business.”

“Yes sir, we have somehow managed to arm all of our soldiers. Also, we have restored order again, having executed the offenders as an example.”

Countless mercenaries, hooligans, and the like were the ones who would join a rebellion. Though they were well used to battle, they were quick to pillage which meant the rules had to be strictly enforced to maintain discipline.

“That’s fine. If we fell into the same rut as the previous Red Circle Army, the people would abandon us quickly. Show no mercy to those that plunder. Judge them as strictly as the enemy.”

“Yes sir!”

“Also, send out the scouts in secret so that we don’t lose sight of Evear castle even for a moment. If Gaddis gets desperate, he might sally forth. It seems like his mind hasn’t been in good health recently, so he might do anything.”

Elgar gave his orders disinterestedly, and stood without waiting for a response.

“What is your advice on taking the castle?”

Elgar responded without changing his expression, “You don’t need any. If you go for it, they’ll probably surrender. Of course, I won’t accept anything other than unconditional surrender. This is what they asked for. They will pay with their lives.”

After Grohl had died, Elgar had done nothing but temper himself, he chose to deny himself and hide his rage. On the off chance that Gaddis suspected a rebellion, he would have attacked. Buried deep inside was his true intent, as he waited for the right time. There were many shady opportunities, but Elgar had endured. They had not been enough to bring Gaddis down.

Truly, truly my days of disgrace have been long.

Before the failure of Amil’s expedition, the misgovernment of Wilm and Gaddis, the arrival of Irvan with the other members of the Ir sect, and the cooperation secured from Gemb, Elgar had lived in shame; he was now fifteen years of age. It had only been three years, but they had been long. Essentially, the Red Circle Army was being used by Gemb —aiming for the reconquest of Longstorm without a care for what became of Coimbra,— but their aid was easily sold in return for support and a few attacks from the south. So long as Coimbra was in turmoil, Gemb could pressure Longstorm. Furthermore, Elgar was a fifteen year old leader with no experience, which could only be seen as a good thing by Siden, in the prime of life; underestimating the ease of rule. Elgar was well aware that he was inferior in terms of ability, experience, and looks, yet he took action still. If they were going to move, he would take advantage of it as much as he could.

I will do anything it takes to resuscitate Coimbra. That is what I’ve decided.

Wanting to avoid seeming too much like being no more than a return of Grohl, Elgar’s most trusted confidants were Najj, a plebeian; and Barbas of the White Ant Bloc. The plebeians did not infight as much as the nobility, preferring to aide those who understood their grievances. As such, he had to be a mediator and cast aside his personal whims. In order to take the steady path, he had accepted his engagement to Irvan’s daughter. Everything was for the revival of Coimbra. It couldn’t be avoided if he was to gain the trust of the adherents of Ir, but his proactivity also brought in goods unexpectedly quickly.

“Father, Mother, it won’t be long. I will show you how I’ll take back Coimbra from the traitors… I won’t ask you to lend me your power, but please watch.”

After he thought of his mother, father, and Noel who had been exiled to Willa island, Elgar returned his attention to military affairs.

“Men of the Red Circle Army! Advance! Take back the cities from those traitors!! Eradicate those parasites that live off the blood of their fellows!!”

“Huzzah!!”

The Red Circle Army’s grand offensive had begun, sweeping across North Coimbra like a grand cloud of locusts, quickly taking the resistant local lords prisoner. It was not like the previous Red Circle Army, as they forgave all those who surrendered peaceably. Plundering fellow Coimbrans was prohibited, and all those who violated that rule were swiftly executed for the same crimes as Gaddis and Wilm. Somehow, order was maintained in the patchwork army, most likely due to the great efforts of the plebeian commanders Barbas and Najj, and the limited food supplies. Men without food simply acted as beasts without thought.

Gaddis did not counter attack, holing himself up in his castle. His requests for fighting men from the neighbouring provinces had all been denied, and he no longer had any way of fighting back, spending each passing day with his retainers at a distance; not even letting family close to avoid being betrayed. Gradually, the Red Circle Army drew near Evear castle. Elgar and his high command felt that it would be possible to take the provincial capital in a single strike as if it wasn’t defended.

“Lord Elgar, the time has finally come. There haven’t been any problems yet, and the people have given us their support. We have been accepted as a mouthpiece of the people and not just a self-serving rebellion.”

“Good, but what is important is what happens from here on out; how Wilm in the South, and how Amil in the capital respond.”

“Your will be done. Lord Elgar…”

“What is it?”

“Do not forget your promise when our dawn is come. This is our final resting place. We have nowhere to run, and no further assets. If we lose this here, everything will be gone, and a death by the wayside awaits. Please save our sect.”

Irvan looked slightly agitated. From what he had heard, Irvan seemed to also be a man who had fled from terrible oppression and had experienced hell. Only forty years of age, his hair had all fallen out, and his face was as withered as an old man’s in a testament to the hard times he had survived. The words he spat up like blood were by no means a lie. If Elgar violated the deal, all of the members of the Ir sect would meet their deaths at the end of a blade. Even Elgar could tell how deep the roots of their faith ran.

“Of course, I understand. I will uphold my word as I have said before. My friend Noel Bosheit taught me that. I will never betray you.”

“I… am greatly comforted by your words. Please pardon my rude remark. I am a weak man, and so I cling to God’s salvation to survive, nay, not I alone, but all of my sect are also. We are not yet accustomed to trusting men.”

“It is not a problem. If you have any doubts, come and ask about them. I’ll tell you no lies, for I know that suspicion among allies can bear no good fruits. Feel free to let me know of any of the slightest troubles for the people of your sect.”

After responding, Elgar left his pavilion. The time of rest had passed, and the time of the assault on Evear had come. Gaddis had not surrendered, and he would reap the consequences.

“Lord Elgar!! Urgent news! Something is wrong with Evear Castle!!”

The man in charge of managing the soldiers, Nejj, came running up with spear in hand. At first he had just been a man who stood out, but Barbas and Cynthia had been able to whip him into shape. He was a man trusted by the plebeians who was bright in times of trouble, and undaunted by any opponent. As the mouthpiece of the people, he usually spoke his mind without holding back. Elgar noticed that he was more suited to be a civil official than a military officer. A man who could feel the will of the people was hard to find.

“Calm down Nejj. What is wrong?”

“Captain Cynthia’s force is already coming back, but the castle’s banner isn’t North Coimbran! Something has to be up!”

“What?”

Gaddis’ North Coimbran flag should have absolutely been flying above his Evear castle, the crest of which was naturally Gaddis’ own. Something had to have happened if that wasn’t the case. Elgar began to feel exhilarated, but desperately restraining himself, he slowly walked forward as Cynthia rushed in at an incredible speed to hurriedly give her report.

“I, I have a report! The capital of North Coimbra, Evear Castle, has already fallen!! It now flies the twin hammer banner of Noel Bosheit!!!”

“Noel, you say?” Elgar sought confirmation, “Is there no mistake!?”

“No mistake, sir! That Noel is back and she has magnificently taken the castle! Please take a look! That happy-go-lucky girl is happily playing her trumpet!”

Cynthia was beaming from ear to ear and Elgar ran to a place where he could see the castle and quickly confirmed with his telescope. The twin hammer banner flew, and the men on the walls gave victory cheers in South Coimbran equipment, but the Coimbran scales were nowhere to be seen. What could be seen were the twin hammer banners beside twin harpoon banners. Elgar did not recognise the crest.

“It appears as if they have total control of the castle. The guards are waving a flag of surrender, but we should give a warning just in case.”

Irvan’s advice was calm, but Elgar wasn’t hearing anything anymore.

“Noel, that girl, has kept her promise and come back, eh?”

“That is correct. She has likely returned with soldiers from Willa island. She is strangely popular, after all. To think she took the castle with her own force.”

They may have gained entry to the castle under the pretense of being South Coimbran reinforcements. That much would be simple, considering Noel.

“Cynthia… I feel like I have gained the strength of a hundred men. I also think I’m rather happy. Yes, if my father was here today, he would surely have been deeply moved.”

Elgar thought of his late father’s face, how he had hung his head with a face full of regret. There was a burning in his eyes, but he did not cry. The tears of a commander were ill omened.

“You should tell that to her yourself. Well then, let us head to Evear ourselves!”

At Cynthia’s urging, Elgar wiped his eyes, and nodded strongly.

“Yes, let’s. Make haste… All men, we’re entering the castle!! North Coimbra is free!”

“Huzzah!”

A cry of victory arose from the men, and there was no reason to stop them. Elgar began to walk to the castle amid the shouts of joy from the soldiers, gazing up at the unfinished, and fallen castle. Bathing in the sunlight, Noel and her displeased aide played a song of victory.

Author’s Note:

A secret retcon: southwest→southeast.

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