Two days later, Kaede watched in amazement as she stood in the royal audience chamber of Roazhon citadel.
The trumpets sounded with fanfare as the court put forth its full ceremonial welcome. Its focus was a young man who couldn’t have been older than sixteen, who strode in across the gold-trimmed red carpet. His appearance was that of a boy who had yet to finish growing. He was half a head shorter than the average Lotharin man, with milky, fair skin that would make most girls jealous with envy. His cheeks were still pudgy with baby fat, which glowed pink from the cold air outside, while his blonde, windswept hair had a straight cut that almost reached his thin shoulders.
Yet, despite his apparent youth, the young man was flanked by two fur-caped royal armigers and wore a crown of gilded leaves upon his head. His name was Llywelyn ap Gwladys. And he had recently ascended to the throne of Ceredigion without a regency.
“<He’s not what I expected.>” Kaede muttered almost without realizing across the Telepathy channel she shared with Pascal, Sylviane, and Vivienne.
“<Don’t let his age fool you. Ceredigion has not seen a ruler this ambitious since the days of Queen Gwendolen.>” Sylviane cautioned. “<Within just days of his coronation, he has completely reversed the foreign policy of his late brother and pushed out sweeping reforms for greater economic integration with the other Lotharin kingdoms.>”
“<Let’s hope the trend continues and his ambitions prove good for us then.>” Kaede replied with a smile as she watched King Llywelyn stop and make a slight bow.
“Your Majesty, Your Highness.” The youthful king greeted both Queen Katell and Crown Princess Sylviane with a pleasant smile.
“Welcome to Roazhon, Your Majesty.” The pregnant Queen stood up from her seat and descended with a waddle from its platform. Her expression took on a soft, bittersweet smile as she stood before Llywelyn and touched the shoulders of the younger monarch.
“Please have my sincerest condolences for the untimely demise of your brother. He had been a close ally for many years and will be missed.”
By untimely, you mean ‘perfectly timed’. Kaede couldn’t help thinking as she watched Sylviane follow the Queen down.
Sure, Katell may have been allied with King Elisedd in years past. But considering how much bile the Queen had flung towards him since the war began, Kaede was almost surprised that Katell managed to keep a straight face when she offered solace. Hence, the familiar had no doubt that the Queen’s words were anything but ‘sincere’, regardless of how good her acting was.
“I also offer my heartfelt congratulations for Your Majesty’s smooth succession to the throne of Ceredigion.” Katell added. “Your kingdom’s timely reinforcements which relieved my city will forever be remembered and appreciated by the people of Avorica.”
“Thank you, Majesty. Though I cannot take much credit, for it was only possible with the full support and decisive action of General Caradoc.” Llywelyn responded with a nod toward his top general who stood to the side. “And while I would greatly enjoy further conversations as close neighbors and friends, I’m afraid I was only able to peel myself away from the affairs of Ceredigion for one afternoon.”
“I understand,” The Queen nodded. “In that case, please follow me to the main conference room. We have much to discuss.”
—– * * * —–
“– With the defeat of the Caliphate’s western invasion army in the Siege of Roazhon, the infidels are falling back to southern Avorica and the Cataliyan border.” Kaede listened from her seat as Lady Lynette summarized the intelligence her rangers gathered. “We estimate the enemy to still have between twenty to thirty thousand men remaining on this front. However, their actual combat strength will be, at best, a third of what their numbers imply. All of their best formations had been wiped out in the previous battles, while the rest are suffering from heavy casualties, low morale, and a shortage of everything else.”
Nevertheless, the Lotharins themselves had taken appalling losses that scythed through the ranks of its aristocracy and lower classes alike. The fact a Countess, who had never commanded a single Banner before the start of this war, was now the commander of all rangers on the Western front spoke volumes. Duke Lionel was the only senior military leader among the Avorican nobility who survived, and his arm remained in a sling after being pulverized during the Battle of Glywysing.
Regardless, Kaede recognized that the leaders in attendance represented Rhin-Lotharingie’s greatest asset — the deep reservoirs of strength summoned from a people united by a time of crisis.
— And it was this strength that Sylviane now sought to tap.
“Your Majesties, My lords and Ladies.” The Crown Princess began as she stood up from her seat at the white limestone table that was, surprisingly, round. “It is my belief that we have reached a critical stage in this bloody conflict. Thanks to the bravery and sacrifice of our soldiers and commandants, we have brought a moment of peace to Avorica and a lull in the tides of war. And now, we face a difficult choice. The path forward will have far reaching consequences for not only the current conflict, but the future of the Empire of Rhin-Lotharingie as a whole.”
“You wish to reclaim the Capital at Alis Avern.” The mild-mannered young king interjected just as Sylviane paused for effect.
It caught the Princess’ momentarily off balance as her eyes swelled.
He’s certainly sharp. Kaede thought.
“Yes, exactly.” Sylviane nodded as she swiftly recovered her composure. “The Caliphate’s invasion has been blunted and brought to a standstill. However, it is worth remembering that the other fronts were only able to do so with the onset of winter, and we are already in mid-February. I have no doubt that once the Spring thaw passes, the Caliphate will launch a renewed offensive upon Rhin-Lotharingie. It is imperative that we put an end to the contested state of the Burning Throne now, so that the strength of the Empire might march, united, under a single banner come Spring.
“My proposal,” the Princess continued, “is to borrow 10,000 soldiers, each, from the Kingdoms of Avorica and Ceredigion. With the help of our Weichsen allies and the men entrusted to General Macdonald by my late Father, we shall march upon the capital of Alis Avern. And by the Holy Father’s grace, I will see it reclaimed from that false champion of the Church and puppet of the Imperator.”
“Your Highness asks for the impossible.” Queen Katell frowned as she gave an immediate response. “While I deeply appreciate your aid to my kingdom, the Army of Avorica has been shattered by the Caliphate’s offensive and is in no state to help anyone. Even if we empty Roazhon of its entire garrison and militia, we might at best scratch together 10,000 men.”
Then it’s not impossible. Kaede thought. However, the Samaran girl gave no such response, as it was far too confrontational for her new, diplomatic role. Instead, the familiar looked to Pascal, who usually served as the ‘vanguard’ in Sylviane’s negotiations.
Unfortunately, the young Landgrave who wore a frown beneath his black eyepatch showed no sign that he intended to speak. This forced Sylviane to continue on her own:
“Your Majesty has nearly 2,000 veterans returning from Glywysing, 4,500 garrison and militia left behind after the Battle of Gwilen River, once we subtract Macdonald’s troops, plus 5,000 levies conscripted during the siege. That should be sufficient to create a 10,000 strong army while leaving behind 1,500 as a garrison.”
“A garrison stripped down to bare bones!” Katell retorted unhappily. “Who will defend Roazhon should our enemies strike in early Spring!? Not to mention we need troops to begin the reclamation of Avorica from infidel hands!”
“I understand Your Majesty’s desire to bring swift liberation to your territories.” Sylviane acknowledged Katell’s needs first. “However, Avorica’s winter usually runs until mid-March thanks to the ocean streams, which makes this a poor campaigning season as the first snows have already fallen. Furthermore, with the majority of villages left ungarrisoned by Caliphate troops, Lady Lynette’s rangers have already begun to re-establish control. Only the walled towns still need to be reclaimed, and besieging them would be best delayed until after the Spring thaw.
“On the matter of Roazhon’s defense,” the Princess went on, “I will be leaving behind Lady Edith and her elite Knights Hospitallers to protect the city…”
Kaede nodded along as Sylviane had already discussed this with her. It was well known that the Saint of Crusaders had sworn an oath to never bear arms against fellow Trinitians. Edith might decide that some individuals might warrant punishment, but she would never march against a Trinitan army.
Therefore, the idea of having the Saint in a march against the pretender Gabriel, who was entitled ‘Defender of the Trinitian Faith’ by the Pope, was completely absurd. The fact Edith didn’t raise any objections was as far as her support would go.
“In addition,” Sylviane continued. “The entire forest of Migrating Trees and all the interpreters that we’ve so far been able to train will also remain behind to safeguard your capital.”
The Queen’s eyebrows shot up as she clearly wasn’t expecting this. Apart from rumors of how the Migrating Trees demolished the Caliphate forces in the Battle of Glywysing, the Avoricans and Ceredigiens had already begun to examine the plants’ offensive potential. The Ceredigiens were astounded to discover that in addition to having powerful limbs and ironwood bark, the trees also created a sap that contains powerful neuro-toxins.
…There was already excited talk from the Wildwood Rangers about collecting and diluting this sap. They believed it could create a toxin even more potent than the wyvern poison that they tipped their arrows with.
“I would have expected Your Highness to bring the Migrating Trees along on your march to Alis Avern.” Katell replied with a puzzled frown. “Surely, their combat power far exceeds what 10,000 of my soldiers could offer.”
“That is true.” The Princess nodded in agreement. “However, the Migrating Trees expended much energy during the Battle of Glywysing and their march to relieve Roazhon. They need to root back into the soil and replenish that energy. A trip to the heartlands and back for them is out of the question. However, they would be more than able to fight locally in defense of Roazhon should the Caliphate surprise us with another force.”
In other words, for all their power and vitality, the trees have a severe weakness in strategic mobility. Kaede realized.
In hindsight, she should have expected it. After all, power, endurance, and mobility formed the ‘impossible triangle’ of military equipment and forces. Reality was always a choice between trade-offs, and even sentient plants created by ancient sorcery proved no exception to this.
“I can also station the remainder of the Army of Ceredigion near Roazhon to provide for its defense.” The youthful King Llywelyn assured Katell before turning to Sylviane. “However, even with 10,000 men from both Avorica and Ceredigion, plus the remaining 2,500 of General Macdonald’s army…”
A wince twitched across Macdonald’s usually stoic expression as he had arrived in Avorica with four times that number. It was a tribute to his discipline and training that his men could even fight down to their last twenty-five percent, as most forces would have fallen apart long beforehand.
“But Your Highness will still command a force less than the pretender Gabriel, whose army numbers over 30,000.” Llywelyn frowned. “And that is not even counting the fact that most of Avorica’s remaining units are of poor quality, as they have bled harshly in their brave fight and are in bad need of reorganization.”
“I acknowledge that my forces will be inferior to Gabriel’s army. But that is only if he manages to keep his forces together, which I doubt.” Sylviane declared with a thin smile as she pointed to the three-dimensional illusory map projected on top of the limestone table. “The intelligence provided by our Weichsen allies have noted that the Heartland territories are on the brink of revolt.”
However, as Kaede watched the Princess speak, she also saw a frown enter the expression of Pascal’s intelligence officer, the Weichsen Major Hans Ostergalen.
“Your Highness…” the Major interjected before twisting his lips even further. His prolonged pause seemed like a recognition that he was speaking out of turn and was unsure of how to frame his argument to avoid a potential offense.
Sylviane didn’t exactly look happy to hear his objecting tone. But she nevertheless nodded towards the commoner officer to let him speak.
“I must caution against premature conclusions.” Hans spoke carefully with a frown of uncertainty, even as he began to summarize Weichsel’s report which he must have read over several times. “Yes, the Black Eagles have uncovered signs of discontent among residents of the capital and its surrounding territories. Duke Gabriel’s new edicts to levy an additional, and quite hefty ‘war tax’, as well as the broadening of Church sales of indulgences, have provoked displeasure across all social classes…”
“Wait.” General Caradoc cut in with a raised hand. His eyebrows shot up as he seemed amazed to the point of barking laughter. “Even more indulgences? Just how despicable is the Trinitian Church willing to sink!?”
Both Saint Edith and Lady Anne scowled with expressions of revulsion intermixed with anger. However, neither of them could even bring themselves to retort, as their downcast eyes were filled with shame for the Church that their knightly order officially served.
Kaede had heard that the Princess had shown the Black Eagles’ report to both yesterday. The two had initially been so upset that they claimed it to be propaganda. However, this only created more cognitive dissonance when Sylviane pointed out that the information came from King Leopold, the ‘Warden of the Northern March’ whom most crusaders respected.
“I’m afraid that the new line of ‘religious products’ being pushed out by the priesthood include everything from ‘holy trinkets’ supposedly stained by saints’ blood, to the outright purchase of remissions which ‘forgave’ even the most deplorable of sins.” Major Hans Ostergalen spoke with a nauseous look himself. “Worse yet, Gabriel had even signed into law that appropriate indulgences could even provide legal absolution.”
Where is Jan Hus when you need him? A disgusted Kaede thought of the Czech theologian who sparked the Bohemian Reformation which led to the Hussite Wars. The familiar might not believe in either Hyperion or Jesus, but she had always had a positive view of religion. And this…
This is nothing more than a cult to Capitalism! It’s an affront to the very definition of religion!
In fact, as the familiar looked around the table, almost everyone had the same reaction to the news as her. The only exception was King Llywelyn, who frowned with only mild disapproval, and General Caradoc, who looked almost gleeful with his lopsided, wolfish smirk.
Nevertheless, even the General had enough tact to not say anything else, which would only rub salt upon the Trinitians’ wounds.
“Regardless of such blatant corruption, what we do not know is how far these measures have pushed the populace. Complaints and grumbling heard in a tavern do not equate to a willingness to take up arms in open rebellion. We must be careful to not make hasty presumptions.” Major Ostergalen declared before he looked around with a stern warning:
“Information is not intelligence. Data does not necessarily permit a conclusion.”
It was a moment that made Kaede blink. I need to remember that.
The familiar pulled out her archivist book, opened its first page — which she had started using as her ‘whiteboard’ — and jotted down the line, including the person who quoted it.
“I thank you for your words of caution, Major.” Sylviane nodded thoughtfully and appreciatively towards Hans Ostergalen.
— Though by this point, Kaede could tell it was one of the Princess’ courtesy smiles, one which she used to be polite and hide her actual feelings.
“You are correct that my beliefs may be an exaggeration.” She continued. “Still, with discontent stirring in the Heartlands, I think Gabriel would be foolish not to spread some of his more reliable troops out, to garrison the towns and villages and keep a watch on things. And even if that is not a reliable means of dispersing his strength, I have also requested King Leopold of Weichsel for military support. Colonel Hammerstein?”
“Yer Highness.” The gruff, snarly-faced colonel of the Weichsel Expeditionary Force responded. “His Majesty, King Leopold, has dispatched a Weichsen army of 15,000 soldiers — one cavalry and two infantry brigades — into Rhin-Lotharingie. They are crossing from Nordkreuz to the Duchy of Baguette even as we speak, where they’ll be joined by Duke Mathias and his Lotharins.”
That’s why he’s here Kaede thought as she turned towards Perceval, whose presence at the table had come to her as a surprise. However, as Sylviane nodded to the young lord who was Duke Mathias’ grandchild and the heir to the Duchy of Baguette, it suddenly made perfect sense to everyone why he was invited.
“As everyone knows, the Belgae territories form Gabriel’s base of political support, which he depends upon for supplies.” Perceval spoke as everyone looked at him. “And with his home base threatened and his supply lines cut, he will have no choice but to turn at least a portion of his army around to resolve the crisis in his rear.”
The young man tried to look confident. But Kaede could see his fingers’ tight grasp on the table’s edge which exposed his nervousness.
“And that is when we will strike.” Sylviane finished with confidence, before she looked around at both King Llywelyn and Queen Katell.
“The reason I want both Avorican and Ceredigion troops is to show the people of Rhin-Lotharingie, in no uncertain terms, that it is I — the great-granddaughter of the founding Emperor Charles the Bold and the rightful successor to the Burning Throne — who has the support of the Empire at large. I plan to keep my distance until after Gabriel splits his army. And at that moment, I will strike and crush him.”
However, King Llywelyn still had his brows in a furrow as he still didn’t seem convinced.
“Even if Gabriel sends 10,000 of his men north, he will still have near parity with Your Highness. That is a sixty-forty odds at best.” He commented before meeting the Princess’ gaze. “I am willing to send an additional 5,000 of Ceredigion’s soldiers with Your Highness in place of Queen Katell’s raw recruits. But I must be confident that your odds of success with them are at least eighty percent.”
A victorious army wins first and then seeks battle; a defeated army fights first and then seeks victory. Kaede thought of the famous quote from Sun Tzu. There was no doubt that regardless of his experiences, the young king had been well schooled in the art of war.
In addition, King Llywelyn had also used the opportunity to bequeath a political favor to his Avorican neighbor. And judging by the brief nods and courteous smiles exchanged by the two monarchs, it was clear that both of them recognized the game.
“King Alistair has also promised that he will be back with more reinforcements by then.” Vivienne spoke next. “Assuming he brings the same as last time, which is a good bet, that’s another nine hundred elite Galloglaigh shock infantry from the Glens.”
“Yes, and with the King himself to lead their highland charge.” Sylviane nodded as she beamed at the reminder. “And lastly, I have a second plan, which is to send an emissary to Rhetie and petition for the support of Duke Hugh de La Tours.” She added as she felt compelled to reveal her last play. “The Duke has mobilized his forces but sent very little to the south to support Marshal Cosette on the Garona front. I’m hoping to convince him to support me instead by creating a third prong in the offensive to retake Alis Avern.”
“Considering that the Duke still hadn’t made his position clear, that would be a gamble.” Queen Katell assessed. “Ultimately, I believe it will come down to Your Highness’ ability to win a decisive battle against the pretender Gabriel in the field.”
Despite addressing the Princess, the Queen, along with several others including Kaede, all turned towards Pascal. As the de facto commander behind the battles of Gwilen River and Glywysing, everyone in the room knew whom the Princess relied on for her operational tactics.
However, Pascal said nothing in return. His dour expression only continued to fixate upon the illusory map of Rhin-Lotharingie.
“<Pascal!>” Kaede cried out over their telepathy before the young Lord looked up at last. “<Please say something! Promise them that you will deliver a victory as you always have!>”
“Yes…” Pascal replied with a sigh. “I agree that it will ultimately fall upon us to see a victory brought through.”
His tone, however, was anything but the voice of confidence that they had all sought.
“Your Majesty, if I may.” General Caradoc spoke next as he cut through the uncomfortable atmosphere with a grin. “I request partaking in Her Highness’ campaign as the leader of the Ceredigion contingent.”
And potentially the military leader in charge. Kaede immediately recognized the opportunity that Caradoc seized upon. With Llywelyn’s additional pledge, his soldiers would form over half of the army.
The familiar wasn’t sure if she should be thankful for Caradoc stepping into Pascal’s vacant shoes, or if she should be worried about the young lord’s position being snatched from him.
The Samaran girl then met Princess Sylviane’s frowning gaze before she remembered what was most at stake.
Victory first, prestige later.
Meanwhile, the General’s smile turned wolfish as he bared his teeth and grinned. “I will be happy to tear those self-righteous Trinitian Crusaders a new asshole and send them fleeing.”
His declaration made both Queen Katell and Saint Edith frown with disapproval. However, the youthful King Llywelyn simply smiled politely before he addressed the Princess:
“What do you think, Your Highness?”
“I must admit, I had anticipated leaving General Caradoc behind, along with Lady Edith, to hold the Avorican front.” Sylviane noted as she pressed her index finger against her lips in deep thought.
That’s a terrible idea. Kaede immediately recognized as she looked between Caradoc’s vicious grin and Edith’s antagonistic gaze.
“Your Highness.” The newly appointed Grand Squire spoke up for the first time at this meeting. It was also the first time she had the standing to speak in a meeting between royals and monarchs. “I believe bringing General Caradoc along, and leaving General Macdonald behind to train Avorica’s new recruits would be a good idea. As you no doubt know, General Macdonald is a firm disciplinarian and at his best when training new troops. And General Caradoc is the only senior commander present who has an excellent grasp of Ceredigion’s chariot tactics.”
“<And furthermore,>” Kaede made her last argument over private telepathy rather than in public. “<Leaving Caradoc and Edith together in joint command of a theater is a disaster waiting to happen.>”
Kaede couldn’t even count all the military disasters that happened in Earth history, when two senior commanders hated and refused to support each other. The disastrous Russian defeat during the Battle of Tannenberg in WWI was one such example.
The Samaran girl once more met the Princess’ wisteria gaze before the latter nodded. Sylviane then turned back to King Llywelyn with an appreciative smile:
“Kaede makes an excellent point. I will be honored to have General Caradoc join me on my campaign to retake Alis Avern.”
“Then it’s decided.” The youthful king smiled back. “You will have the full support of Ceredigion in this endeavor, including both my best general and 20,000 of my kingdom’s soldiers.”
It was double of what Sylviane had originally asked for. And the Princess’ eyes swelled as 20,000 meant Llywelyn had just wagered the entire Ceredigion army on helping her retake the throne.
And unlike Queen Katell who owed Sylviane for the Princess’ aid, Llywelyn owed Sylviane nothing and was under no obligation to contribute any forces to an heir who wasn’t even crowned. Thus, it almost surprised Kaede until she realized that this was why Llywelyn had required additional convincing.
To raise his investments while reducing his risks. Talk about scoring a windfall of political capital and leverage.
In that moment, Kaede fully understood why the Princess warned not to underestimate the boy monarch. There was no doubt that the new ruler of Ceredigion was born to play at the table of kings.
—– * * * —–
Later that evening, Kaede was helping Pascal return to his room when she was stopped by a voice calling her from behind.
“Your Grace, Your Excellency.”
Kaede blinked as she still wasn’t used to being called by that style. Only a few officers and servants had called her that so far. And frankly, it felt way more pompous than she was comfortable with.
However, the individual who called out this time was none other than Saint Edith-Estellise. Her fast march saw her quickly catch up with the young Landgrave and his familiar-turned-crown-officer.
They had just come from another royal banquet, where all the senior military commanders had dined together. It was the first time Pascal had been in attendance. Though he spoke very little, even when prompted by Queen Katell with questions on the battles he had fought.
Kaede helped Pascal turn around before she let go of his arm and dipped down in a curtsy. “Milady.”
The familiar honestly wasn’t sure if she still needed to do that. Court etiquette was all about recognizing the differences between social ranks, and she had no idea how ‘Grand Squire’ matched against ‘Saint’. Regardless, it was always safer to be courteous and not accidentally insult someone.
The Landgrave also repeated the greeting with an impassive nod. His good, left arm leaned on a mahogany cane with a silver handle to hold himself steady.
“Your Grace, Her Highness has informed me that you’ve been having doubts in regard to your actions at Glywysing.” Edith went straight to the point. “Is that true?”
“Of course it is.” Pascal almost snarled. “I rushed a spell into action and its miscast killed hundreds of my own soldiers and left me a cripple. Can there be a more obvious blunder?”
“I’m sorry, Your Grace, but I disagree.” Edith replied calmly. “While it’s true that your spell had mixed results, it ultimately did achieve its goal at Glywysing. Interrogation of our prisoners has since revealed that the infidels had placed their strongest brigade on their right wing. Meanwhile on our side, your left wing was by far the weakest, as you had deprived yourself of soldiers to reinforce me and Her Highness.”
The Saint smiled with gratitude even as she laid down the blunt truth:
“There was no possible way you could have held onto the eastern flank without that spell. And without the extra troops, there was no way we could have held on for as long as we did. Had you not cast that spell, the infidels would have smashed through our left flank and collapsed the rest of our line. And the army’s morale would have crumbled long before the magic unleashed during the battle could have woken up the forest that Queen Gwendolen left behind.”
“Are you saying that the men had to die then?” Pascal retorted as he stared back with a tumultuous gaze.
Kaede could almost sense the hopeful relief that lit Pascal’s thoughts for a moment, before it was shuttered and his eyes hardened from searching to denial. It was as though he wanted to accept Edith’s words, yet his stubborn defensiveness couldn’t let go of his self-criticism.
…It reminded Kaede of what the late Sir Robert had told her — that depression had a cyclical effect and it wasn’t easy for people to break out of it.
“No, Your Grace.” Edith’s smile did not fade as she shook her head. “I’m simply pointing out that your choice to cast the spell itself was not a mistake. Yes, the botched sorcery took the lives of hundreds on our side. But you could not have known that before you tried. What you did know was that — had you not cast that spell, even more good Trinitians would have died that day as we would have suffered a crushing defeat. And with that in mind, I do not doubt that Your Grace made the correct choice.”
Kaede bit down on her lips as she fought back her instinctive urge to retort. The topic of ‘atomic warfare’ simply weighed too negatively upon her mind, as it drew memories of horrific images that she had personally witnessed. Nevertheless, she recognized that with the absence of a ‘nuclear taboo’ on Hyperion and without significant civilian casualties, Edith’s breakdown of Pascal’s choice did make logical sense…
“Your Grace is not an angel sent by the Holy Father.” Edith beamed with a slightly amused look as she continued. “You are imperfect, just like the rest of us. You can only perform what you are able, to reach for the best result that you can see. That is all any of us can do. The rest… is the Holy Father’s will.”
Then, before either the perplexed Pascal or his speechless familiar could respond, the Saint bowed before the Landgrave.
“Imperfect though it may be, I thank you for your aid at Glywysing. It was you, not I, who brought forth the miracle that day. So please…” she looked up with a soft, almost pleading smile. “Do not torment yourself like this.
“We all hope for your speedy recovery, for the campaign in Avorica could not have been won without your help.”
—– * * * —–
“Edith really is as straight as they come.” Pascal heard Sylviane comment after Kaede told the Princess what had happened in their room. “She never hesitates to do what she believes is right. And in this case, I owe her a debt of gratitude for it.”
His fiancée had dropped by for a chat before they turned in for the night.
Pascal still wasn’t sure if he agreed with Edith. But there was no doubt that the lady’s words brought him some much needed peace and solace. The ‘mistake at Glywysing’ — as he had come to think of it — no longer weighed as heavily upon his mind as it once did. He might even be able to forgive himself, even if he still regretted the ultimate outcome of the miscast combination spell.
“For a saint to attribute a miracle to me…” the young man shook his head as he gave a half-snort. “Had it been anyone else, I would have thought it a vicious joke.”
“Just don’t let it go to your head in the long run. Your ego doesn’t need inflating.” The Princess declared with a knowing grin.
“My ‘ego’ could use a crutch like the rest of me right now.” Pascal responded with a wry smile from his chair. “You can berate it another time. Though speaking of ‘miracles’…” His expression then turned serious as he looked sternly at the two.
“I do not buy the official story for one moment. A slumbering forest created by Queen Gwendolen for Ceredigion’s greatest hour of need? Awoken by the saturation of mana from battle magic? That sounds like a drama written by a playwright! It does not make any strategic sense, least of all for an accomplished warrior queen like Gwendolen.”
Without any response, Pascal’s familiar turned to look at his betrothed, who looked back at the white-haired girl. There was no doubt that the two girls held a secret that they weren’t telling him. Even if both girls, for whatever reason, also looked confused and befuddled and stumped on what to say in return.
“It’s not the real story.” Sylviane finally admitted. “The problem is — we can’t tell you what the real story is.”
“You do not trust me?” Pascal scowled as his still-lingering depression immediately sent him to the worst thought.
“Oh come on! Give us some credit, Pascal!” Kaede reprimanded as her aggrieved discontent rose sharply over the familiar bond. “Of course we trust you! We can’t tell you because we literally cannot remember what happened every time we discuss it in front of you!”
It was then that Pascal realized that there was some higher power at play. Only an oath of secrecy from sorceries more powerful than anything he knew could have possibly achieved this result.
Which also implies that this was not really a ‘miracle’, and that Edith herself does not know what truly transpired. The young lord frowned as he concluded.
Regardless of what the Saint told him, Pascal never seriously considered that he had helped to bring about a miracle. ‘The Holy Father helps those who help themselves’ was a saying that he had always believed in. And while there probably were some true miracles, most were just extremely fortuitous circumstances that the Church manipulated to claim as their own.
However, that still left the question of just what did happen. And without an easy answer, Pascal determined that he would have to try to piece it together on his own.
— Though that was likely to take a long time.
This left a more pressing mystery to solve in the meantime:
“All right. Then let me in on the other secret.” Pascal focused his turquoise eye on Sylviane’s wisteria gaze. “Who do you plan to send to convince Duke Hugh in Rhetie? I could not think of anyone apparent when you raised the idea at the meeting. Yet I know you would not have brought it up if you did not already have someone in mind.”
The Princess’ lips formed a huge smile that stretched from ear to ear as she looked between Pascal and an equally curious Kaede.
“That is a secret, considering that the embassy must make it across the breadth of Rhin-Lotharingie without being detected by our enemies.” Sylviane spoke in a teasing tone. “We will need someone who is unassuming and trustworthy, someone of strong deduction and calm eloquence, someone who will serve as my personal representative without any doubt of authenticity from others.”
The Princess then turned to Pascal’s familiar. The Samaran girl’s eyes swelled and her mouth fell agape as she finally caught on.
“Kaede, I am entrusting you to this important and secretive mission. And I plan to send both Cecylia and Reynaud with you to assist.”Author's Comment
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