“Birth of a Hero”
Sol Aristes was unusually nervous. The reason was clear, he was facing not only the most important Royal Guard official, the Knight Commander, but also the object of every guardsman’s loyalty, the King himself.
He knew he was here because a report from the defense of Nyegert was requested and he was the senior Guard officer present at the time. He did not, however, understand why did this meeting have to take place in private with no witnesses, or why would His Majesty wish to be present.
「I have read your reports. They were very meticulous.」
Having noticed the nervousness of his subordinate, the Knight Commander started the conversation with an innocuous remark.
「Thank you very much, sir.」
「There was a passage towards the end that especially caught my attention…」
「Towards the end, sir?」
「To quote – “This is a strategy only a genius could successfully employ and in no way a reasonable option for an average person.”」
「…That was my evaluation at the time, sir, I still believe it to be truth.」
「Hmm… The analysis prior to that was very detailed. Don’t you think it would make a fine strategy treatise if you put a bit more effort into it?」
Sol’s report wasn’t limited to the battle alone. It also described all the events leading to it, including Rion’s attempts at coordinating detached group movements over a large area with the details of the messenger network this required.
「I am honored by your words of praise, sir, but that possibility is exactly why I deemed that passage necessary.」
Sol’s way of acknowledging the Commander’s words reinforced the illusion that Rion’s strategy was not something easily replicated by an average commander.
「Hmm… How about you, can you do this?」
The old man didn’t mind his subordinate’s confident manner. He knew Sol had the ability to back his attitude – a reason why he didn’t want the Knight’s talents to be buried in obscurity.
「I… Want to say that I can, sir. Realistically, though, I can only do so under certain conditions.」
「I do not believe the Royal Guard is capable of the feat as is.」
「…What would be necessary?」
The Knight Commander had pride in his organization which was lauded as the strongest military force of the kingdom. Hearing Sol say something like that was a rather unpleasant feeling.
「A dedicated messenger troop. Though honestly, the Intelligence Division would probably have to be involved in the end.」
「A simple messenger squad is not enough and the Intelligence Division would be required? Are you implying that whatever Rion used was of that caliber? 」
「Yes, sir. Frankly, I have no idea who or what those people were. But they were able to operate day and night, without a question or complaint. That is beyond what a simple soldier or knight can do and when I consider the burden, only the Intelligence Division operatives seem up to the task.」
Frederick’s gaze met the eyes of the King. There were complex emotions in that look, an odd mixture of mirth and unease. Truthfully, he did feel both of those. He was restless at the thought that Rion, despite his low position and lack of influence, managed to have this type of an organization at his disposal. At the same time, this kind of thing was so very much like Rion that he found it amusing.
「Second prerequisite is an absolute authority over the soldiers in question. This would be hard to achieve given my rank and even if I was granted one I expect to be faced with resistance and opposition from the rank and file. Having the soldiers second-guess my orders would make the strategy impossible for me to execute.」
「…Does Rion not face this problem?」
「I do not know whether “authority” is a correct term to describe the influence he holds over his soldiers. I believe there is something more to how they treat him than simple fear of disobeying their feudal lord. 」
「Something more… Hmm…」
The Knight Commander knew full well that there was a quality to Rion that made others follow him. However, he had never thought that this would immediately become apparent to other people. The air of supremacy was something that tended to grow with years and rank. Rion might have been a landed noble but he was still young. It would be normal for his subordinates to not treat him seriously but, according to Sol’s words, that was not the case.
「The third requirement would be the need to fully memorize the local maps and topography. This is a must to move the various detachments appropriately, have a complete grasp over the changes of the situation, and know who should be given what orders to correct any mishaps along the way. .」
「…That’s something you can do, right?」
「Yes, sir. However, I know how only because I witnessed it being done. I am not convinced I would be able to figure it out on my own.」
「And yet Rion did. Does this mean you acknowledge his superiority?」
「As vexing as it is… Yes, I do, sir. That strategy was but one of the schemes he had ready. According to his words, if that wouldn’t work out he would simply try something else.」
Frederick was perfectly aware that military geniuses did exist. They were talents impossible to match, regardless of experience or effort.
And if Rion, hypothetically, was one of their kind… Old, familiar worries resurfaced in the hearts of the King and his Knight Commander.
「What is your overall impression of that man, Rion Frey?」
「As I have explained before, sir, I consider him highly talented.」
「And you are perfectly aware that is not what I want to hear about.」
That was the bull’s eye. Sol knew Rion’s plans and was perfectly aware how inappropriate they were. However, he also knew what was driving the boy to try making them a reality and that made him not want to discuss the subject. Even if he was to be asked by the King.
「I want to hear your frank opinion. If young Frey is up to something suspicious, I will not pry for details. I am well acquainted with the murky aspects of his persona.」
Even that reassurance from the Knight Commander’s lips was not enough to overcome Sol’s misgivings.
「How about if we give our word as well?」
「No matter what you say here, we shall not punish Rion Frey based on your words. Neither now, nor in the future. We swear on this crown.」
Naturally, Sol could not remain silent after that. It would be tantamount to renouncing his identity as a member of the Royal Guard.
「Sire… I lack the words to describe him aptly. Any such description I attempt ends up being self-contradicting and ill-fitting.」
「Worry not and say what is on your mind.」
「Yes, majesty. Rion Frey fundamentally distrusts people and that lack of faith in other humans is a barrier separating him from others. I have been told this is due to circumstances of his childhood.」
「I am unaware of the specifics, all I know is that it was a very harsh life. Nevertheless, despite all that, he had apparently been seeking someone he could really trust. And he found-」
「Yes, majesty. Vincent had been one of the very limited number of people in whose company Rion lets down his guard. Whenever that happens, he’s like a completely different person – amiable and light-hearted. It makes you doubt that strange youth really is Rion. And it is also something that trusted circle of people really adores in him.」
「Eh? When did you witness such a thing?」
Sol was speaking as if he had seen that personally. That made the Knight Commander curious.
「During our return to the capital. Was sir not aware?」
The knight commander was entirely clueless as to what Sol had been talking about. And looking at the King made it obvious he didn’t know anything either.
「The whole army, main force included, took part in a triumphal parade upon our return to the capital-」
「That I know, I heard the crowds were unusually lively.」
「They were, sir. Frankly, even I was slightly moved.」
Sol’s admission made the Knight Commander feel like the report he had heard had been based on a completely different event.
「I worry I may be presumptuous by saying this but, ultimately, I do believe a variant of this sentiment will reach your ears soon, sir. I felt like I was witnessing the birth of a hero.」
「…Due to the presence of the Crown Prince and that Maria lass, perhaps.」
「Huh? Why would the crown prince’s… Ah, my humblest apologies.」
Sol realized he was about to say that the Crown Prince was not fit to be called the hero and he retracted in a hurry.
「Let’s pretend you never said that. Start from the beginning if you can, what exactly happened on that day?」
Sol was requested to tell the story, so he would do so, even though he didn’t really understand what his superior was so concerned about. He started to narrate the events of that day.
The orders regarding the triumphal parade reached them a day before they were due to enter the capital. Sol could recall seeing Rion smile bitterly once the baron learned the messenger was dispatched from the main force’s headquarters, not the royal palace. That piece of news caused Frederick to have the same reaction, he could pretty much guess what happened behind the scenes.
The parade was to be a joint effort, Rion was ordered to wait for the main force. Even though the whole thing left him nonplussed, he initially focused on figuring out what to spend the time on. Sol didn’t give the problem nearly as much thought and didn’t know what had Rion ended up doing exactly. He didn’t keep track of what the young Baron occupied himself with and simply used the opportunity productively to train the squires.
It was indisputable that the Bandeaux territorial army was considerably more skilled in the art of war, not only in regard to horsemanship and unit movement but also many other aspects of the matter, and there was much to learn from them.
In the end, it took nearly a week for the main force to catch up. Still, Sol managed to use every single moment of that time, so he wasn’t inclined to complain. And neither apparently was Rion.
And then, the problems started. The troops of the main force arrived extremely well prepared for the parade, so well, in fact, that it was doubtful whether they had actually been doing anything else that week. Every single horse was decorated with ceremonial garments and every single piece of armor was polished so well that it had nearly shone with inner light.
The headquarters requested that the Bandeaux clansmen be “lent” to them for the parade so that other knights can better match the colors of the clans. Those colors had been deemed fitting for the Crown Prince and the Marquess House’s representatives. That was not odd – red, yellow, blue and green symbolized four primal elements. It was exactly why the clans had picked them in the first place.
Sol expected Rion to complain about this, but the youth showed no dissent and accepted the request without seeming to mind. As a result, the detached force, upon its return to capital, would consist of Royal Guard squires only and all its thunder would likely be stolen by the main army.
But the actual events of the triumphal parade unfolded in a completely unexpected manner.
Arnold, Erwin, Charlotte, and Lancelot with Maria each entered the city at the head of a force in brightly colored armor. Row upon a row of knights in shining steel lined up behind them to a great delight of the capital’s citizens that massed along the main thoroughfare. The crowds were unexpectedly lively and loudly cheered the returning army.
But when the detached force finally got its turn, the atmosphere changed completely. The sight of the leading figures caused the crowds to fall silent.
They were riding a beast of most unusual appearance – jet black with a horn protruding out of its forehead, a creature that had clearly not been a horse. The girl was wearing a snow-white dress, completely out of place in a military environment, and rode on the beast sidesaddle. The youth sat astride behind her, embracing and supporting her with his arms, and he was dressed in a military-style black outfit. On his back there was a black mantle lined in red that fluttered on the wind, the flickering color making it look as if it shined.
The couple was followed by a group of valkyrie-like girls clad in white light armor and armed with spears riding next to a group of youths dressed in black, with masks on their faces. It was Ariel and Rion entering the capital followed by her bodyguards from Clan White and his shadows from Clan Black.
The scene looked like something straight from a fairy tale. All the onlookers were drawn into the ambiance and rendered speechless.
No one cheered. And yet every single pair of eyes was glued to the entourage. Then Rion and Ariel passed by. And every single onlooker followed them as if possessed. Not saying a word.
The spell was eventually broken by unexpected cheers from the roadside.
Yells of 『Boss』 and 『Senior Sister』 could be heard and Sol, at first, had no idea who they were aimed at.
However, the serious aura around Rion disappeared as soon as he had heard them. After restlessly looking around for a while, he spotted the cheering group, skillfully rose to stand on the back of Nightmare and waved with his right hand smiling from ear to ear.
At that moment, Sol felt the air vibrate.
The speechless citizens, as if released from a curse, shouted all at once any and all meaning in their yell lost in the din. After a short while, the roar of the crowd transformed into chanting Rion’s name and rounds of “hurrah”. Rion and his entourage were surrounded by pure enthusiasm.
This was stirred up by those strangers Sol spotted initially. He had never seen them before, so he couldn’t recognize them as the dweller of the slums. The group rushed towards Rion and Ariel praising their achievements and thanking them for their efforts. Once they got closer, Rion jumped from Nightmare’s back towards their circle. That raised an even larger cheer from the crowds.
Rion and the slum dwellers started to chat cheerfully right there and then without any care for the world, soon to be joined by Ariel.
However, after a while of this, complaints begun to be voiced from other citizens unhappy at losing the couple from their line of sight. Those were answered with heckles from the poor folk of the slum.
Realizing that things could turn ugly soon, Rion once again stood on the back of his beast and raised a fist into the air. That made the crowds happy once more.
Nobody cared about the army that passed by moments before. Rion stole the show and became the triumph’s main attraction.
Regular citizens might not have known the exact details of the battle, but they had their ways of finding out who had played the leading role.
Once he heard the story in full, the Knight Commander voiced his understanding of two facts. He now knew that this was purposefully hidden from him and the King due to envy provoked by Rion’s achievements. All that business with triumphal parade reeked of an underhanded attempt at usurping the boy’s merit and recognition. And while such a thing was within expectations, it happened way too fast.
He could now also imagine why Sol had called that event a birth of a hero. He was well aware such a thing was not always good for the government in change. While it usually led to favorable future outcomes, the advent of a hero tended to cause turbulences and damage to existing status quo and was most unwelcome to those rooted in the present with a stake in existing order of things.
「Sir, why did you want him to take part in the war?」
Sol saw through the inner turmoil of his superior. He did not see a reason that would justify giving Rion an opportunity like this if he was an object of so much apprehension, so he decided to ask out of curiosity.
「Having him take part was never the goal on its own, it was just a mean to lessen the resentment.」
Even without speaking the name, it was obvious who was this about.
「Ah, so that was the reason. In that case, your plan was moderately successful, sir. Very moderately. They are on speaking terms now, but nothing more.」
「No more… Significant progress?」
「Even now he acts only for the sake of his dead Lord. The hunt for glory, the merits… Everything. He wants to become famous, to make everyone aware that Rion Frey’s only Lord was that Vincent Woodville.」
「…So that is what he intends.」
「On the other hand his wife had told me that it’s not as if he wants to fight. It’s just that others keep pushing the responsibility on him.」
「Is that so…..」
Fully aware that the one pushing that responsibility to Rion was, in fact, himself, the Knight Commander felt his heart ache.
「If you truly fear him, sir, wouldn’t it be better just to leave him alone? Certainly, he may never relinquish his grudge. But him being dragged into the middle of things against his wishes will not help that process either. And it may end up piling even more resentment on top of the old hurts.」
Sol too had taken notice of other people’s envy towards Rion. He also agreed that it was only natural for those kinds of things to happen. It didn’t help that Rion had no desire to be liked or seen in better light and would always take action without fear or consideration of its impact on his peers.
「…I shall keep that in mind.」
「Do you still plan to make him fight, sir?」
「No decision has been made yet. However, in my opinion, heroes are not made, they are born. If an era needs a hero, one will rise to the occasion no matter what.」
「…That rings true, sir.」
「That’s all for now. You may leave.」
Sol left the room after expressing gratitude towards the King and the Knight Commander. The two men, now alone in the room, looked at each other with bitterness on their faces. Somehow, they always ended like this when Rion was the topic.
「A hero, eh…」
「We cannot be sure. There are countless people with multitude of war feats.」
「Don’t play the fool, Frederick. You may say that but even you think that Rion has the capability to become a hero, do you not?」
「…If he assumes command under the Crown Prince, yes..」
The Knight Commander could not disagree.
「A wise ruler employing a hero, eh? Wouldn’t that be wonderful. All we know right now, though, is that we need more time.」
It would be problematic if a hero arose in this generation without giving Arnold the time to grow. The ability of the present King to use him was irrelevant, in generations past, heroes had always been an eyesore for the ruling monarch. Thus, the relationship between Rion and the Crown Prince could not be allowed to remain as it was.
「I guess we need to pull him out of the fighting.」
「Were you not the one who said that attempting such a thing was futile?」
「Even so, sire, we must do what we can.」
「True… I guess I shall end up giving him the rank of Viscount and recognition in coin.」
The two men not only wanted to remove Rion from the war, they wanted to do it in a way that did not increase his strength. There was little difference between Viscounts and Barons, and monetary rewards were a temporary boon. Compared to enlarging one’s fief, such awards were insignificant.
「What do you expect his enemies to do now? While it would be great if we managed to suppress his growth for a time, having him be crushed as a result would be rather unwelcome.」
「…We can let him achieve more once the fuss dies a down a bit. I do not think they would go as far as to aim for his life, wouldn’t you agree?」
「I wonder. I do not have them investigated that well.」
「…What if we are wrong, Frederick?」
「I do not know. A hero betrayed out of envy is not an uncommon theme in the history books.」
「A jest, sire. While I do not doubt Sol’s words, I have witnessed a number of heroic existences in my life. Speaking frankly, I struggle to imagine Rion in the role.」
「If you say so. Nevertheless, we need to be vigilant. I guess I shall leave the details to you. You have a plan already, do you not?」
「By your will.」
Rion found it very annoying to be dragged in and out like this. And because neither of the men understood him very well, they ended up shaken by him so much all the time.
All they wished for was a peace of mind that would be gained by having Rion pledge his allegiance to the Crown. They could not imagine how impossible a dream that was.
Someone who lived their whole life as a royal or a member of the Guard could never comprehend a child of the slum.