The snow was slowly clearing away as we entered the last month of winter. My eighth birthday had already passed, even though there’s still some time before the birthday celebration.
“What do you think, Theo?”
I asked Theomer, the person who commanded the warriors, to confirm the results of the soldiers’ three month training with the Sill Tribe on how to handle a horse the equestrian way. Theomer watched our travelling formation and course change with a serious expression on his face, then quickly raised one hand when I spoke to him.
“Asyl and Calvin’s squads will probably be fine. They’re quick to respond to commands, and their horses are lined up properly. Gunther’s squad is generally alright as well. Renan and Roch’s squads aren’t very good. They need to get used to riding horses.”
Renan, Roch, and their squad members nodded to those words while being out of breath. These two squads were composed of those who had just joined the army this spring, and their handling of horses was still coarse compared to the other squads. But that wasn’t their fault since they had only just finished their training as squires and began their training as cavalrymen last spring.
Anyway, today’s practice ends here. I tell the soldiers to disperse and also dismount my horse.
Then Theomer thought of something and came over to me. He brought a cloth with him so that I could wipe my sweat. Theomer stated his business while holding the cloth out to me.
“… My Lord, I have a proposition for you.”
“Wait. We also want to make a proposition.”
Before I could reply, I heard a voice from the side. I looked over and saw Gunter coming towards me with Calvin and Asyl.
“Okay, I’ll listen to what you guys have to say. Give me a summary.”
I’ll listen to what they have to say for now and decide which one to give priority to. Theomer and Gunter decided who would go first through eye contact alone, and then Theomer spoke.
“Then I’ll say it. I think it’s better to turn Kaldia’s whole army into cavalry units.”
It’s a simple suggestion. He probably suggested this because of the difference in skill level between the cavalry unit and the other half of the army ――― the infantry unit.
A lot of effort is put into the cavalry unit because it’s a new unit. Soldiers who are suitable for the job will be incorporated into the cavalry according to their overall ability and trained closely with the feudal lord. Thus, the infantry troops are made up of a mixture of soldiers, and both their skill and morale continue to fall.
To begin with, infantry troops and cavalry troops are treated differently in Arxia. Cavalry troops excel in charging and mobility and require special training on how to manipulate their horses, so they usually attain a higher rank than infantry troops. They are equivalent to the knights in the royal army, and soldiers who belong to the cavalry troops even attain the rank of knights.
――― But having an army full of cavalry troops won’t build an army.
“… What’s your proposal Gunter?”
“I want you to make me the commanding officer of the infantry troops.”
Hah? I managed to hold back the dumbfounded sound that nearly escaped from my lips.
Gunther and Theomer glared at each other. Of course, they would; their proposals were solving the problem in completely different ways.
“Gunter, are you alright with that?”
The most surprising thing was that Gunter, who is practically the commanding officer of the cavalry troops, is about to throw that position away and be demoted to the infantry unit.
Until now, the fief army had not instituted detailed ranks due to it being a bandit group formed from my father’s misadministration. Gunter was only placed as the leader of the army because he was the most skilful and used his head. Gunter’s request to make him the commanding officer of the infantry troops meant that he wanted me to create a rank system in the army, which didn’t exist before.
To become the commanding officer of the infantry unit, which was ranked lower than the cavalry unit, would mean that he was stepping down from the top position of the fief army.
“Yeah. I’ll beat the infantry unit back into shape. The cavalry troops will be commanded by Asyl and Calvin, the two of them. The soldiers have a lot of trust in me, since I’ve been in the army the longest, and I’m the oldest.”
A little behind Gunter, the two of them bowed at me. I know that Asyl has been working as Gunter’s assistant, but I’ve never paid much attention to the older man, Calvin. As a soldier ――― and former bandit ――― he is extremely calm. He bowed when our eyes met.
“We need the infantry unit. That’s what I thought during the capture of the bandits last time.”
What Gunter was saying is exactly what I’m thinking.
“Yeah. The fief army is an organisation for maintaining security in the fief, and we can’t just focus on fighting the foe… There are roles that aren’t suited for soldiers who specialise in moving on a horse alone.”
It would be too costly to train the cavalry unit as infantry. Thus, it was still more efficient to divide the cavalry and infantry units.
“The point is the division of roles, right? The problem with the infantry unit’s lack of enthusiasm can be resolved to some extent if I lead them. I was knocked around by Claudia-jouchan, so I know exactly what an infantry’s role is.”
I have nothing to say if he thought about it that much. I’m just thankful that he said it himself in a place where all these soldiers’ eyes and ears are on him. If I had announced this, then I’m sure I would offend someone.
“I don’t know what’s going on, but Gunter will be training the infantry, right? Then you don’t need my suggestion.”
With my nod, Theomer, who had been listening quietly to the conversation, backed down. Theomer is an outsider to the army for now, so his actions were reasonable.
“No, your suggestion was also good. Thank you, Theo. Gunter, can you wait a bit for me to make my decision about this?”
I don’t have enough knowledge to establish an organisation by myself. I wanted him to wait so that I could consult with Earl Thelesia. Gunter understood my intentions and agreed without any particular objections.
I want to make sure that we have a new system in place before the snow thaws, and I also want to take the opportunity to recruit new soldiers. Shall I try recruiting a few in Claria Village, where animosity towards me has eased?
As I think about it, I also started to walk back to the newcomers’ tents. Then, Rashiok, who had been following quietly behind me, pressed his cold, wet nose against my hand.
I jumped back slightly, startled by his sudden action. What the fuck is he doing? In response to my raised eyebrow, Rashiok pointed his snake-like tail towards the soldiers as if he was pointing a finger.
“… Eliza-sama! Chief!”
An azure-silver haired boy rushed over to me as he weaved through the soldiers who were returning to the barracks.
I see, so this is the reason why Rashiok stopped me. But couldn’t you have roared or poked me with that dexterous tail of yours…? He did it on purpose, this cheeky draconis. I tried to glare at him, but the cold made me sneeze before I could. Aslan laughed as he rushed over to me and quickly wrapped a long scarf from the Sill Tribe around me, completely covering my neck and head. I already had a scarf wrapped around me, but I was wrapped further with another scarf, so people can probably only see my eyes.
“Thanks, Aslan. What’s wrong? Did something happen?”
“Isn’t training over? We left the tent to play in the snow, so I came to get you. Come with Rashiok, everyone will be happy to see you.”
So, he came to pick me up? I nodded. Returning to an empty tent is a bit awkward.
“Thanks for coming to get me.”
“Ah. It’s alright… I got to see something good.”
Aslan’s smiling gaze was following the soldiers’ backs. The newcomers are living near the barracks, so soldiers aren’t a rare sight… just what was good?
Aslan laughed at me as I tilted my head, but he pulled me to the place where everyone was playing in the snow without telling me anything.
“Hmmm… Around here? Huh?”
Aslan took me to the border of the forest and a hill. There were signs that the children had played in the snow here since I saw a great deal of fallen tree branches.
“Where did they go?”
Rashiok suddenly lowered his posture at the same time Aslan said that dubiously. He’s on alert ――― what happened? I gently pulled Aslan’s hand and stood so that I rested my back on Rashiok’s side. Aslan looked uneasy, and I gestured for him to be quiet, then silently checked my self-defence dagger under my cloak. I didn’t have my sword or spear. If it came down to it, then I would have to pull this out.
I followed Rashiok as he followed the scent while protecting Aslan. The situation did seem strange, but the Sill Tribe tents and adults are far away. I couldn’t let Aslan go back to the tent alone.
Rashiok stepped into the forest. The footsteps of the children were still on the ground although they were hidden by bushes… No, someone had hidden them afterwards. On closer inspection, the scrubs that hid the footsteps looked as if they had been cut off with a blade.
After quietly moving forward, I heard what sounded like the voice of an increasingly annoyed man.
“… Damn it. Don’t… cry… until we reach the village! I’ll… kill you… if you make noise… shut up!”
The sound of a small child’s sobs was mixed in with the fragmented annoyed voice. Aslan and I looked at each other. Aslan paled.
Until we reach the village, is he talking about Milda Village, since he’s heading in that direction? I don’t believe it’s a coincidence since that was the village where we had captured the bandits.
If he’s heading towards Milda Village, then they won’t reach there until midnight since the children have short legs. What kind of person does that voice belong to, and what the fuck does he want?
“… Aslan, how many were playing in the snow?”
I whispered, and after thinking for a while, he replied, “Twenty today.”
The tent that I’m staying in and the tent next to me is full of orphans; they usually help the adults with their work. However, the younger children help less. I’m sure most of the children who played in the snow today are only four or five years old.
“Thiele and Rekha played in the snow too. We were going to play with the three of us today, but the pipsqueaks seemed bored, so we took them with us…”
Aslan added in a trembling voice. That means that everyone who was playing here was under the age of seven.
――― There are probably only one or two kidnappers, but that was too much for Rashiok and I to deal with since we had to protect the children.
“… Aslan, I have a favour to ask. Go back with Rashiok and quickly get the adults. Preferably a soldier from the army. Otherwise, get Theo.”
“Eh… but then you’ll be alone.”
“It’s safer for me to be here alone than to let you go back alone. You know I’ve been on the battlefield before, don’t you?”
I explained and Aslan nodded grimly. Then, urged by Rashiok, they came back the way we arrived.
I watched them for a while, then followed after the voices with bated breath.
The kidnapper repeatedly forced the children to quicken their pace. He yelled at them, grabbed them roughly, swung his fist around, and sometimes, pulled out the sword on his sword and stabbed them with the tip.
Each time these things happened, I had to desperately repress my emotions. I was able to barely hold back because the man didn’t hit them.
“Fuck, hey! I don’t know which one of you brats is the feudal lord, so I won’t hit you now, but my buddies know who the feudal lord is. I’ll tear you to shreds and kill you later if you do anything stupid!!!”
The man’s voice became louder and clear as he yelled at the children; it was as if he thought they were about to run away.
Feudal lord, so that means I’m their target? I bit my lips and struggled to keep my legs from flying out to the guy.
I grew anxious. If he has buddies, then I should save the children before they meet up. Given the circumstances, there was some truth in the man’s words. Otherwise, I don’t know why the man hadn’t raised his hands at the children yet.
Is it because I’m anxious and nervous?
Suddenly, the sound of a large bird passed right from behind me and made me jump up high. I stopped crouching and my outstretched hand hit the bush in front of me. The bush rustled loudly.
I’ve done it. Dammit.