Special Side Story: The Beginning of Friendship —— at Lunan

The fortress was surrounded by hordes of enemy soldiers.

 

Ralphus sighed as he surveyed at his surroundings instead of using the watch-towers made specifically for that purpose.

What he saw was a mass of enemy soldiers, numbering several times more than his, packed tightly together.

They were radiating such dense bloodlust that he felt like it was rising up from them like a heat haze.

At this rate, it would be difficult for him and his men to break out of their situation on their own.

“……Boss, our relief sure are takin’ their damn sweet time, huh~”

said Gwen, his giant of an aide who was waiting patiently at his side, nonchalantly.

Gwen might have been panicking on the inside, but his heavily bearded face, which was reminiscent of a mountain bandit’s, did not betray the slightest bit of agitation.

Still, it could not be helped that the flames of anger flared through his large eyes.

 

……They were within their enemy kingdom’s, Lunan’s, territory, at a small fortress located near the border.

The fortress was named Fort Hazam, and a highway passed through right next to it.

However, Ralphus and his men simply called the place, “the Fort.”

High General Ralphus and his men, numbering a little over a thousand, had begun holding the fortress a few days back.

The king and the other two high generals who had invaded Lunan with them had already retreated back into Sunkwoll territory, and only Ralphus’ unit, who had been tasked to the rear guard, remained behind.

They had made it back to the fortress that they had occupied during their initial march, but soon found themselves unable to move any further once they had been surrounded by enemy soldiers.

 

Basically, they had fallen behind while retreating, and had inevitably ended up awaiting rescue from behind the walls of the Fort.

 

However, Ralphus was beginning to think that the decision to hold the fortress had been a mistake.

Their reinforcements had not come no matter how long they waited, despite the fact that the Sunkwoll border was close by, and the number of Lunan soldiers outside only continued to increase.

The enemy soldiers looking up at the lion insignia banner encircled the fortress two, three times, itching to act upon their longstanding grudge against Sunkwoll. They displayed the full force of their vim and morale even at night, as they vigorously burned watch fires in the darkness.

The Fort would fall at this rate.

The difference in numbers between the two armies was too great, and the fortress had originally belonged to the enemy to begin with. In other words, they knew all of the fortress’ weaknesses.

That was why the enemy was eagerly surrounding the fortress. They had full confidence that the fortress would fall with time.

 

Naturally, however, Ralphus was not one to make his grim misgivings public.

Thus, he casually responded to Gwen and said,

“indeed. Well, it can’t be helped that our reinforcements are a tad late. We’re in the middle of enemy territory, so they’ll have to exercise caution as they proceed. Let’s be patient and wait.”

After making sure that he had spoken in a voice that was loud enough for the guards to hear, he began to walk.

Understanding the look that his master had given him, Gwen followed not too far behind.

They met up with Nigel and headed for the great hall inside of the Fort.

There was a map detailing the surrounding region on top of two long tables that had been pushed together.

As he studied the map carefully, Ralphus whispered,

“……looking at it like this, we really aren’t that far from the border.”

The heavily bearded Gwen knit his brows and responded,

“exactly. At full speed, we’d reach the border in an hour tops by horse. So why won’t His Majesty hurry up and send us some reinforcements?”

He began to grumble.

Then, Nigel, who looked so young that it was difficult to believe that he was really a knight, muttered,

“the Fort’s low defense and food stockpiles are going to be a problem. But our greatest issue at hand is probably that we’re almost out of drinking water.”

“Indeed. Who would have thought that the water was supplied from outside of the Fort?”

Ralphus let out a gentle sigh.

As he had said, the Fort, which had originally belonged to Lunan, relied on water from a well that was located outside of the actual fortress.

It seemed to have had been built as a temporary rest-stop for units invading Sunkwoll, or as a measure of surveillance against invaders from across the border.

It had not been built to withstand long term sieges. Moreover, Ralphus’ unit of over a thousand grossly exceeded its intended capacity.

Due to the aforementioned reasons, their stock of water barrels was decreasing day by day. It was still only the beginning of autumn and the harsh lingering summer heat would likely cause the soldiers to dry up if they weren’t given water.

Even Ralphus, who had kept his eyes glued on the hand-drawn map before him, could not come up with a brilliant countermeasure for their situation.

“……In any case, we only have two options,”

he stated his conclusions after a moment of contemplation. He continued,

“one is to remain holed up in the Fort and wait for our reinforcements to arrive. The other is to break through and flee before we die of thirst.”

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“Looks like we’ll be endin’ up with the second option,”

Gwen replied immediately.

Naturally, Ralphus and Nigel had also known this.

Judging by the fact that reinforcements had yet to come, the king was probably planning on abandoning them.

The units of other high generals were stationed near the border, and it should not have taken so long to send reinforcements had he the intent to do so.

The king had either judged that it was impossible to send reinforcements because of Lunan’s heavy defense, or——

Purposefully pushing a certain premonition aside, Ralphus said instead,

“……let’s wait a little longer for now. We can’t be certain that His Majesty won’t send reinforcements yet.”

Ralphus’ two aides saluted him in silence.

No matter how dissatisfied they were with the outcome, they would always defer to Ralphus’ final judgement.

Still, Gwen complained,

“Argh~, if we’d known that this would happen, we would’ve refused to be the rear guard to begin with. You never know what’s goin’ to happen in war.”

“You never know what’s going to happen——was it? No, that’s not always true; or at least it wasn’t this time.”

Ralphus laughed in a self-deprecating manner.

Then, ignoring his aides’ stares, he shook his head.

This time, the future had not been unknown.

At the very least, there had been just one person who had been able to foresee their current situation.

——With precise, pin-point accuracy.

 

Ralphus did not know any more about the man called Rain than he needed to.

They had never interacted with each other before.

Rain had the greatest military record in the Lunan War by far. His unit had never failed to bring back results whenever they sortied. He was a relatively well-known knight, and he used to be called the “Unknown Genius” before he came to Sunkwoll——etc.

To put it simply, Ralphus only knew of the man’s past accomplishments.

He had swiftly risen from squad leader to centurion——and, as surprising as it was, was then promoted directly to high general.

It was difficult to believe that he had really been appointed to that position, despite his overwhelming military achievements. ……Or at least, it was difficult to believe if you took King Douglass’ personality into consideration.

Still, unlike the other five high generals, Ralphus did not particularly dislike the man.

Instead, he was wary of him.

Because Ralphus had the feeling that……that black-clad knight with the most defiant eyes would never truly ally himself with the kingdom.

It was all right as long as Rain, and his overwhelming military might, was on their side.

But, what would happen if Rain happened to turn against them? To put it simply, what would they do if Rain betrayed them? Ralphus could not ignore his quiet apprehensions.

 

 

Nevertheless——

It had been the day that King Douglas had decided upon yet another expedition into Lunan, something he had done many times during his reign.

Someone had called out to Ralphus from the corner of the passageway as Ralphus made to return to his chambers after the war council had safely concluded.

 

“……Why did you cover for me before?”

 

Ralphus instinctively placed a hand on the sword at his side.

He had not felt anyone’s presence until the other party had spoken up.

“……Sir Rain, is it? I can’t say that it’s very admirable of you to approach someone so suddenly from the shadows.”

Rain simply furrowed his brows at Ralphus’ reproach and repeated his question.

“His Majesty yells at me all the time. Why did you stop him at the risk of incurring his displeasure?”

“……Is that so? This was the first time that you’ve attended a war council as a high general, so I hadn’t known.”

Ralphus smiled gently.

Rain looked back at him with a complicated expression on his face——. Then, he glared at him as if he was trying to peer through Ralphus’ heart.

Purposefully ignoring this, Ralphus continued,

“regardless, I thought that your opinion was something to be valued. I understood your point that “the enemy has their own plans, so we should accommodate ours to reflect that.” But, perhaps you could have considered exercising more humility in your diction? I am sure that even His Majesty wouldn’t have become as angry as he was if you had.”

“No, I don’t think my manner of speech really matters.”

Rain lightly rubbed his chin and frowned. He continued,

“so is this how it is? You approved of my opinions, so you held back His Majesty’s temper? ……I thought that most nobles would ignore my humble opinions altogether.”

“Status has no place in a war council,”

Ralphus stated flatly. He continued,

“it’s only natural for a knight to endorse any beneficial advice when faced with war.”

Rain stared at Ralphus’ face in the dim darkness.

“I was taken off of this expedition…… But if you’d like, I have a piece of advice, no, a warning for you. Care to listen to my unwarranted meddling?”

“I’ll listen. ——But this isn’t the kind of talk we should be having in the middle of a hallway. You should join me in my chambers.”

 

Thus, Ralphus listened after they had changed locations. To all of the ‘opinions’ that Rain had to share.

Rain explained his predictions as readily as if he was describing his own hands.

 

“During this expedition, Lunan will lose on purpose at first, and retreat to their capital.

However, they will not have actually lost.

No matter how far the battle progresses, and even if it looks like the expedition’s succeeded, it’ll all have been just for show.

Their real aim will be to lure the enemy——in other words, the Sunkwoll army deep into their own territory and turn the tables on us.

While retreating, the Lunan army will secretly launch a flying column and will cut us off from behind. Once they’ve completely encircled us, the force that’d been retreating will also turn around to counterattack……for sure.”

Rain flashed a grin from across the table as Ralphus strained his eyes and ears to listen. He continued,

“so, well, that’s based off of the information I got from my spies, and the rest of it from here on out is just my guess.”

“Hold on a moment! If you got that information from your spies, then why haven’t you reported this to His Majesty?”

Rain leaned back heavily on his chair.

“……You probably didn’t know this either. I’ve given His Majesty a similar report before. For a different strategy. But, not only did he yell at me, he even told me to stop using petty tricks? I’ve just gone ahead and did recon on my own ever since. Got a problem with that?”

Even Ralphus could not respond to that.

“No, I don’t…… Please continue.”

“Cool. These are just my guesses, or rather, my predictions from here on. Listen, Ralphus. His Majesty will start a war council once he realizes that he’s in danger and will say something along the lines of this: “won’t anyone take upon the duty of being the rear guard?” Considering the lineup of the other high generals who are participating in battle, not a single one of them will stand up and commendably declare, “I will!” If there was to be someone who’d do that, it’d probably only be you. But listen carefully, this next part is important.”

 

“——When that time comes, don’t even think about volunteering yourself. Even if you happen to get nominated, stand your ground and refuse.”

 

Silencing Ralphus with his eyes, Rain continued,

“and another warning —don’t volunteer to be the vanguard when you depart for the expedition either. Stay as far back as you can. There’ll be plenty of idiots who’ll be more than willing to volunteer to be vanguard as long as they can’t figure out that the enemy’s set up a trap, so it shouldn’t be hard.”

Rain continued to list his ‘predictions’.

He had even managed to predict which enemy commander would lead the unit that would pursue them and what kinds of tactics he would take. His predictions were so detailed and precise that Ralphus would have believed him if he said that he had just walked out of the enemy camp mere moments ago.

Once Rain had finally finished talking, Ralphus asked,

“are you saying not to volunteer to be vanguard because the vanguard is the most likely to be tasked to be the rear guard when we have to retreat?”

“Exactly. It’s only logical that if you lead the way there, you’ll fall back to the end when you leave. Well, it wouldn’t be a problem if you had the time to rearrange ranks. But, as far as I can tell, there won’t be much time between the time that His Majesty notices the enemy’s trap and the time that the counterattack will begin. If things go poorly, you might not even have enough time to arrange for a war council.”

“……I understand that part. But, will it really be that bad to volunteer to be the rear guard? It should still be possible to reorganize after His Majesty retreats and reinforcements arrive to support us, no? The reinforcements don’t even have to be from His Majesty’s army; Gilles’ and Safir’s army, who guard the border, would also serve the purpose just fine. It would be simple enough to send support from Cordelion or Greatark (their respective castles).”

“There won’t be any support!”

Rain declared bluntly. He continued,

“His Majesty won’t permit it. And Gilles and Safir won’t feel the need to incur His Majesty’s displeasure just to help you. In other words, you most definitely won’t have any reinforcements.”

When Ralphus found himself unable to respond, Rain began to speak to him in a quiet voice.

He spoke not with his usual fearless expression, but with a more solemn one.

“——Ralphus Juliard Sunkwoll, you are a noble man. You are always true to your beliefs, you are not hesitant to express your opinions, and you have the resolve to see them through. You anguish over the kingdom without a shred of self-interest, so when you propose something on her behalf, you are always correct. And because you’re always correct, you’re a nuisance to those who aren’t. ……You’d do best not to forget that.”

Neither Rain nor Ralphus spoke for a while after Rain had finished speaking.

Then, Rain got up as if he was shaking off the veil of silence that hung between them.

Just before he left the room, he turned around and said,

“you’ll probably volunteer to be the rear guard and end up getting surrounded by the enemy despite the fact that you believe my advice. ……It’ll probably be at the fortress near the border? In any case, stall for as much time as you can when that happens. I’ll try to get His Majesty to do something to help too.”

When he said this, Ralphus broke out into a smile before he realized what he was doing.

Rain’s predictions had been terrifyingly perceptive, and he felt that they had glimpsed through the truth.

Even now, he had been thinking through every possible scenario in his head and had resolved to act as the rear guard.

Because, at the end of the day, it was a role that somebody had to take on.

Since I can’t heed Rain’s warning, I suppose I’ll simply have to fight my way through this one.

Still smiling, Ralphus asked his peer who had his back toward him,

“why are you doing so much to help me?”

Rain turned back around and the edges of his lips curled upwards.

It was a truly bold smile, the kind that you would only expect to see in a dream.

“Thanks for asking! If you owe me a favor, then I’ll get the better end of the deal in the future……or so I thought. So, if I do end up helping, you better make sure to remember how I warned you tonight. Alright?”

“Understood; I’ll repay my debt without fail if I survive.”

Ralphus sent Rain out on his way with a big nod.

His smile deepened once the door had closed behind Rain.

“You want to use me, you say? You’re such……a big liar.”

Ralphus’ personal evaluation of Rain had risen in heaps and bounds ever since that day.

He felt that he finally understood a little……of what kind of man Rain really was.

 

 

“Boss?”

“Lord Ralphus?”

Ralphus stopped searching through his memories at the sound of his aides’ voices.

“It’s nothing; I was simply thinking of something that happened before we departed.”

He proceeded to tell them about Rain without leaving out a single detail.

Surprise slowly began to color Gwen’s and Nigel’s faces.

 

~~*~~*~~*~~

 

While Ralphus was thinking about Rain in the Fort, the person in question had arrived at Greatark, High General Safir’s castle.

It was lined up next to Gilles’ castle, Cordelion, and held an important position near the border.

King Douglas had successfully retreated and was resting his soldiers there.

 

After waiting for half a day to gain an audience with the king——. Rain was finally able to enter the room where he was staying.

The king was sitting heavily in the room that had originally belonged to Safir.

He stared haughtily at Rain from the end of an amber table that was large enough to dance on.

His mustache had been trimmed, and he donned a luxurious, brand-new vermilion mantle.

It was hard to believe that he barely escaped with his life only a few days prior.

“——What do you want at a place like this?”

Ugh, I don’t want to deal with him…… was written all over his face.

Rain made a show of bowing low to the ground.

“I must offer up my most sincere felicitations upon your gloriously safe return, Your most majestic Majesty.”

Deep wrinkles furrowed in Douglas’ brow at Rain’s frighteningly sarcastic greetings.

However, Rain’s face was the very picture of sincerity, so he could not find any faults to complain about.

Ultimately, he was forced to nod with a sour look on his face.

“……Indeed. I am sure it was due to the divine protection I received from my ancestors and from the war goddess Myusra.”

“Oh? And here I thought that Ralphus had played the biggest part in it,”

Rain raised his head and said indifferently.

There was a faint smile on his face.

A jolt of electricity ran through the king’s eyes.

“What is it that you want to say, Rain?”

“May I sit before I begin? It’s hard to talk while kneeling or standing on ceremony.”

The king’s mood only worsened after Rain’s shameless request, but he allowed it for the time being.

“……Very well. But I am tired. Make it short.”

“Then, allow me to be frank.”

Rain sat down at the same table as the king with a flop and stared directly at him.

His daring smile disappeared, and his ever-clear black eyes thoroughly enraptured his opponent.

It was so effective that the king, who had been sitting sloppily, corrected his posture before he knew what he was doing.

“Why aren’t you sending Ralphus reinforcements? There are four thousand soldiers between this castle and Cordelion, and ten thousand if you include the soldiers that retreated back with you. I find it difficult to believe that there aren’t enough soldiers to send as reinforcements. And the number of enemies surrounding Ralphus will only increase as time goes by?”

“Damn you…… How do you know so…”

Douglas stopped himself mid-sentence in annoyance. Perhaps he had discerned that playing along with Rain’s sarcasm would only be to his disadvantage.

Instead, he angrily cut in,

“unlike you, I must decide upon things after taking the larger picture into consideration. Our army suffered a serious blow from the enemy’s cowardly trap. I cannot say that doing anything that would risk increasing our losses would be a good move. And the enemy is already waiting and prepared for us. I will have to carefully examine the situation even should I send out reinforcements.”

Then, Douglas spat out his next words, fuming,

“and why are you so worried about Ralphus? I happen to remember you saying that you disliked the nobility.”

“Well, my preferences don’t really matter right now. So, in short, you’re waiting for Ralphus’ time limit to be up?”

The fearless smile had returned to Rain’s visage. He smirked brazenly at the king despite being a mere retainer and continued without hesitation,

“I suppose the reason that you’re abandoning Ralphus is either because his admonitions were finally getting on your nerves——or because you were worried about your seat on the throne. He’s popular for a retainer, after all.”

Finally, Douglas stood up with so much force that he knocked over his chair.

He grabbed his sword, which was leaning against the wall, and approached Rain with his face burning red with anger.

“How dare you speak to me that way, when I made you a high general just a few days ago?!”

Rain’s expression did not change even as the king spat out at him. He calmly stared up at his ruler without breaking his tenacious smile.

His response was whispered quietly.

Only, he had already had placed his right hand near his hips in the meanwhile.

“Are you planning on cutting me down here? I thought you were the one who investigated my past and scouted me to this kingdom……Your Majesty. Do you really think you’re capable of killing me?”

“You……bastard,”

Douglas growled.

The hand he used to hold up his longsword began to quiver.

“You’ll need my strength for the rest of the Lunan war, a sticky situation that you don’t know how to resolve on your own……no? Wouldn’t it only be your loss, Your Majesty, to give in to your temper right now?”

Douglas glared at Rain so hard that he could have used his gaze to stab a lesser man to death——

But, ultimately, he returned to his seat.

“It’s true that I have acknowledged your strength. I’ve seen that you’re able to back up your claims time and time again. But Rain, don’t you ever forget. You promised me that you’d “make Lunan fall within five years.” I promoted you for this very reason. I won’t let you off so easily if you don’t fulfill your promise.”

“You’ve got it a little wrong there,”

Rain replied without missing a beat. He continued,

“I predicted that “Lunan will fall within five years.” It’s similar to what you said before, but completely different. Well, not that it matters much.”

Rain got up from his seat and looked down at Douglas, who looked thirsty for blood.

Then, he offered a few words of farewell.

“I guess my appeal for reinforcements was to no avail. ……And you clearly don’t want me here anyway, so I’ll take my leave.”

The king called out to Rain with an ill-tempered voice as the latter swiftly turned his back to him.

“Hold it right there, Rain! I don’t think you’d dare, but I will not allow you to send reinforcements for Ralphus. You will refrain from acting upon your selfish whims! If you break through the border with your troops in tow, I will consider you an enemy to attack on sight.”

Rain, who had stopped moving while the king said his piece, simply opened the door without bothering to turning around.

And with his back still to the king, he said,

“as you will. But, I’ve left my soldiers at my castle. So there’s no need for you to worry about that, Your Majesty.”

After saying his piece in a mocking tone, he left the room.

 

 

A single woman appeared just as Rain exited the room.

She was a blonde woman with a smart-looking mien, and you could tell that she was a bonafide noble just by looking at her eyes.

She was probably at least around twenty.

She looked at Rain while moving her long blonde hair out of the way and stopped in her tracks in mild surprise.

She was probably thinking something along the lines of, what is a commoner doing here?!

“……Sir Rain, I take it? What are you doing here?”

“Well, His Majesty basically asked me the same thing just now. But——”

Rain scrutinized the girl, who was dressed in white silk, from head to toe.

Her clothes were first-class, but did not convey any unnecessary affectation, perhaps because the wearer did not have a liking for pomp.

“You nobles can be pretty rude. Tell me your name first. Shouldn’t that take precedence before you ask something of me?”

The beauty looked openly offended, but she honestly responded,

“……my apologies. My name is Senoa Amelia Esterhart. I am pleased to make your acquaintance. And, may I have an answer to my question now?”

“Well, sure. I came here to complain to His Majesty and ask, “why aren’t you sending Ralphus reinforcements?””

To his surprise, the beauty——Senoa softened up a little after hearing his answer.

Her eyes, the symbol of her pure-blooded lineage, sparkled as she nodded over and over. She looked incredibly satisfied.

“……I see. Your wording was a little discourteous, but I am here for the same reason.”

“Then, give it up for now. His Majesty’s in a pretty foul mood.”

She responded by tilting her head to the side, as if she was asking why, so Rain explained the situation to her.

“Hmmm……”

Senoa bit her lips with a serious expression on her face.

Several seconds passed, and she asked a question as if she was anticipating something great from him.

“So, what are you planning to do, Sir Rain? Naturally, you’ll ignore His Majesty’s orders and send for reinforcements from Cortecreas Castle, yes?”

“Nope, not at all,”

Rain replied flatly.

Besides, he had no idea what was so ‘natural’ about the idea. He continued,

“think of the distance from here to Astel. We wouldn’t make it in time. Besides, that’d get me in more trouble with His Majesty.”

The blonde beauty, Senoa, was rendered speechless.

Moreover, even Rain was surprised with how angry she became next.

She swung around a stylish longsword while trembling and passionately exclaimed,

“how could you say such pathetic things?! And here I thought you’d put your life on the line to aid a colleague——I’m so disappointed in you!”

“What do you mean you’re disappointed in me?! And why do you even know my name to begin with?”

“W, who cares about that?!”

Senoa suddenly fell into a panic and blushed.

Then, she quickly turned around and left in a huff.

 

The hell……was that about?

 

Rain crooked his head to the side as he followed the slender retreating figure with his eyes.

 

~~*~~*~~*~~

 

Several days had passed as they impatiently waited for their relief to come.

They were in a situation where they could not afford to wait any longer.

One reason for that was because they only had about a day’s worth of drinking water left.

In addition, another unfavorable condition had arisen.

Ralphus had received a report from a spy who had barely made it back to him alive.

It appeared that more enemy reinforcements were en route. It would become impossible to escape if they arrived, especially since the enemy already greatly overpowered them.

They had no choice but to break through.

They could not wait any longer.

 

“I suppose it’s about time.”

Ralphus looked upon his two aides in the great hall they were using as a command post.

Both of them boldly smiled rather happily.

“Aight! I’ve been gettin’ bored with all this waitin’!”

Gwen began stomping his feet, and Nigel shared his sentiment for once.

“……I’m glad we’ll no longer be standing by for no reason.”

Alright, in that case——

There was a knock on the door right as Ralphus opened his mouth to speak. When Ralphus gave his permission to enter, Baldos, a centurion, saluted and came in.

He looked rather bewildered.

“General, a letter affixed to an arrow came in just now……”

He handed Ralphus a crumpled piece of paper.

In extremely sloppy handwriting, the letter read:

 

I’m sure that you’re just about at the end of your patience, but I think you’ll be super happy if you waited just one more hour.

 

Gwen twisted his bandit-like face into a frown.

“Ya’ll be super happy…… The heck is this? What does it mean?”

Ralphus started laughing before he knew it.

He had recollection of this particularly unique handwriting.

“Alright, we’ll wait for an hour. It would’ve taken us about that much time to prepare to break through anyhow.”

 

 

Exactly one hour later, Ralphus’ unit opened up the southern gate and charged out on horseback.

Their enemies roared and immediately rushed at them.

Holding his pike up high, Ralphus encouraged his men with a voice that reached the heavens.

“All units, advance! Show them how stubborn we can be!!”

 

Woooah!!

 

With a thunderous cheer, the cavalry began to move as one.

“How impudent! Do you really think we’ll just let you leave when we’ve cornered you this far?”

Ralphus roared at the first enemy who talked back.

“Enough with your nonsense! If you’re going to babble, then at least do it with your spear!”

Then, Ralphus’ favored pike howled through the air.

The enemy staggered as his spear flew into the sky with the first blow.

With the second, his still-helmeted head followed suit, spewing blood.

The enemy captain, who had gallantly challenged Ralphus, fell from his horse with nothing to show for his efforts.

Furthermore, the Sunkwoll cavalry passed through, and even his corpse had immediately disappeared from sight.

Many other captain-ranked Lunan knights came to challenge Ralphus, but like the first, were all quickly defeated. The only difference in the manner of their defeat was where they were wounded.

Ralphus’ spinning pike called forth a whirlwind of blood and only continued to draw more blood from its enemies.

Its wielder’s silver-white armor was soon dyed with crimson blotches.

Initially, the Lunan soldiers lost ground to Ralphus’ furious fighting, which had made him greatly renown as a knight.

Ralphus’ allies roared as they gained momentum, while his enemies cowered at his skill and were forced into retreat.

When a tear had opened up within the enemy ranks, Ralphus, who boasted a sharp tactical eye, barked out orders.

“Everyone, to meee!”

They began to desperately push their way through the small opening where the enemy lines had collapsed.

Their enemies were centered in the direction of their homeland, but Ralphus’ unit, spearheaded by Ralphus himself, wedged their way through enemy ranks like a drill.

All they had to do was to keep attacking the weak spot they had created.

 

——However.

Once they had recovered from the fear brought on by the initial momentum, the veteran Lunan knights immediately regained their composure.

The commanding officer of the Lunan army, Ahmur, who had thick brows, gave his troops a shout of encouragement.

“Don’t falter! Our army is five times larger than the enemy’s. It’s impossible for us to lose! Close the path to Sunkwoll! All units, converge! The enemy is sure to fall if we prevent their escape!”

This command greatly turned the tides of the battle.

All of the enemy soldiers, including the reserve troops, moved to encircle Ralphus’ unit in a half-circle with their backs toward Sunkwoll.

Moreover, they packed multiples lines of soldiers together to create a thick wall of defense.

All with the intention of encircling Ralphus’ unit so they could not escape.

After all, it was easy to come up with a counterplan if you knew exactly what your opponent wanted to do.

A moan of despair filled the Sunkwoll army as they saw the Lunan army get into formation.

 

“Hmph!”

Ralphus continued to spin his pike around like a waterwheel, but his enemies simply kept coming one after another.

The difference in the two armies’ sizes had been obvious to begin with.

Gwen and Nigel had kept up right by Ralphus’ side, and were gradually beginning to show signs of fatigue.

Moreover, the enemy’s insurance plan had arrived.

Ralphus finally looked up to the heavens as he saw the enemy soldiers that had been posted at the Fort’s northern gate approach while kicking up a cloud of dust behind them.

……I guess this is it.

At this rate, it would have been the end. However, the scales tipped yet again.

 

“Uwaaah!!

 

Ralphus and his men exchanged looks upon hearing a sudden cheer.

 

 

The Lunan army was just as confused, and Ahmur looked up and barked, “what was that?!”

That cheer, which seemed to shake the heavens, had come from the opposite direction——from north of the Fort.

Their allies that had been coming from the north were disconcerted, and multiple screams of panic and confusion reverberated throughout their ranks.

It was only natural.

No matter what happens, we will not be attacked from the north.

The entire Lunan army had had utmost confidence in this belief.

And thus, the unit stationed to the north had been comparatively weaker.

“A messenger, someone send a messenger to the northern gate!”

However, Ahmur’s orders were soon lost in a sea of distressed screams.

Several of them had cried out from various places within the Lunan army’s ranks.

 

“We’re in troublee! The enemy has appeared from the noorth!”

“It’s the reinforcements from Sunkwoll; their reinforcements are here! And their army’s huge!”

“They’re trying to block the path back to the capital. They’re not planning to let us escaape!”

 

In any other situation, Ahmur would have found it suspicious.

It was suspicious that an ordinary soldier had grasped and shouted out information before the commanding officer had.

The direction where the enemy had arrived from was also suspicious. Why had they come from the north, instead of the south?

Still, Ahmur gave a strict order to, “beware of the enemy reinforcements!” because a very believable rumor that ‘Rain will come to Ralphus’ aide’ had been circulating through their ranks for the past several days.

Both the rumor and the numerous warning cries had been the doing of the spies that Rain had planted in the Lunan army as a part of his bigger plan, and Ahmur had fallen for both.

This was because Ahmur was sure that the cheers from the north had most definitely belonged to the enemy.

“Th, the enemy’s here? Who’s the commanding officer?!”

Right then, as if responding to Ahmur’s question, lightning suddenly began to dance through the azure skies.

There was not a single cloud in sight, but countless bolts of lightning had suddenly appeared and attacked the army.

——For some reason, they only targeted Lunan soldiers.

 

Crackle crackle crackle!

 

Numerous bolts of lightning landed on panicked Lunan soldiers and finished them off.

Then, a single warrior rushed into the midst of the Lunan army, which had become a melting pot of chaos, atop a white horse.

It was as if he had been summoned by the lightning.

 

“Listen up, Lunan soldiers! I, Rain, will have your heads! Come at me if you wanna die!”

 

With an arousing shout, the black-clad man jumped into the fray like the gale wind.

“R, Rain…… He came!”

Ahmur had spoken in a voice so soft that it could have been a whisper, but Rain looked squarely at him.

“So there you are, Ahmur! Alright, today’s the day I’ll have your head, so don’t you dare move, you hear?!”

And with that, the black shadow promptly charged with a force like raging waves.

He swept away or crushed the soldiers who blocked his path (because they could not flee in time) like paper dolls. None could stand before him, and onlookers wondered what on earth he had eaten to grow so strong.

He closed the distance in an instant.

No one could stop the charge of this lone man.

The tip of his spear gleamed like a nightmare.

“Re, retreat. Retreeeat!”

 

Ahmur, a general known for his valor, decided to call for a retreat——

 

 

They had already crossed over the border by the time that Ralphus found a chance to talk with Rain.

He was able to fall in with next to Rain on horse just before the Jigrem River when the latter had finally caught up.

After Ralphus gave his thanks, he asked,

“the way you surprised the enemy by coming at them from their capital was magnificent. However, the men with you——”

He turned to the group that had followed behind them.

While they were armored, one close look made it clear that they were dressed in makeshift gear. Their equipment was too shoddy to have been made for war.

“They’re clearly not our soldiers, no?”

“……They’re ‘grass.’”

“Grass?”

“Don’t you know? When you win over enemy citizens and secretly organize a resistance against the royal authority governing them…… It’s likened to sowing seeds for the purpose of growing grass.”

“No, I already know what the tactic entails. But, doesn’t it take a long time to organize and put into effect?”

Rain flashed a grin.

He looked as fearless as ever.

“Hey, you underestimate me. I had plenty of time, you know? How long do you think it’s been since I first came to this kingdom? I always have cards to play in times of crisis——mostly for my own benefit.”

Rain gave Ralphus a sidelong glance and softly sighed as the latter voiced his admiration. He continued,

“but, all the grass I’ve been growing up till now have come across the border thanks to the strategy I used. There’s no~thing left to use. I’ll have to start over from scratch.”

Then he smiled a tell-tale smile and added,

“……so you better thank me for devoting my everything to rescue you. I told you before about how I was planning on having you owe me a favor, remember? Be my trusted, sturdy shield when I need you, alright?”

Instead of playing along with Rain’s antics, Ralphus fixed his posture atop his saddle.

No matter what the former said, Ralphus understood that Rain had risked his life to save him.

Ralphus reached out and grasped his friend’s hand.

“I understand.”

He stared deeply into Rain’s black eyes and kept his grasp firm, despite how much Rain seemed to dislike it.

“I’ll never forget what you’ve done for me today for as long as I live.”

Rain turned the other way looking visibly uncomfortable.

 

 

After they had returned home——

The king had found himself unable to punish Rain. The reason being was that Douglas had declared that he would not allow Rain to “break through the border with his troops in tow,” and technically, Rain had not disobeyed his orders this time around.

——And the person who had split hairs to insist upon this was none other than Ralphus himself.

King Douglas, who not only harbored a guilty conscience for refusing to rescue Ralphus, but was also intimidated by the silent pressure radiating from Ralphus’ blue eyes (although he was simply imagining it), could only nod in agreement.

 

On another note, Senoa only learned of what had happened after the fact and immensely regretted her actions while being so moved that she trembled with emotion.

Afterwards, she would run to Rain’s side……but that would only happen a little while later.


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