Chapter 7 – Leader
The densely packed refugees successfully escaped from the north gate. They were spread out in the Pine River’s region and marched towards the valley plains, appearing like a trail of ants under the moonlight.
The misty lands ahead was the very south of the Hunting Deer mountainous range. In this area, there was a small mountain called the Silver Sparrow. There were beautiful Grinores fir trees growing in it, and these trees were shaped like a tower that point straight at the sky. Bears and bristling wolves frequently appeared in this area, and players tend to party in the game to handle any sudden dangers that occur suddenly.
Brendel believed the first step was to enter this area to avoid any dangers that would come from the valley plains. Madara’s forces had been completely unleashed, and they would absorb raise even more undead from the people they killed.
[The greatest nightmare would be seeing an endless sea of skeletons in the valley plains… Fortunately that has not come to pass.]
But under the foggy night, there were signs of skeleton riders appearing in and out of the shadows, signifying a terrible omen. These skeletons came directly from the heart of Madara’s land, and it was difficult to create them during this era. However, these creatures were common in the game world’s era where magic and swordsmanship became increasingly complicated with repeated wars.
Brendel stared at the quick shadows that darted in and out of the fog. They spied at the masses and disappeared after a short while, only to reappear somewhere closer to the throng of refugees. Brendel became a little worried and instructed Freya to check on the refugees behind them, as well as to protect the flanks. He soon went to check on the refugees himself.
Freya’s suggestion to steal the nobles’ horses appeared as a great suggestion to the mercenaries, proving that she was willing to risk everything to fight alongside with the mercenaries. If Brendel had not taught her various things, she would not have managed to pull this off.
She was the first to charge into the market which was still being pelted with arrows, then cleanly severed the rope that raised the bridge to allowed the citizens to escape. From then on, Leto and the other mercenaries decided to stay behind and bet on her.
In comparison, the youth who was constantly praised by that young girl appeared to be meek in their eyes. He merely traveled quietly in the horse carriage beside the driver with his hand on his sword, brooding quietly while Ciel, a young man who wore a long robe was dozing off in the carriage. Romaine was peering out curiously at the environment, while taking care some of the children who sat in there.
She did not feel tired at all, only feeling her heart beating quickly. It was exciting and thrilling to escape from the undead with such a mysterious night. It was the adventure that she had been waiting all along.
Mano’s mouth curled and twisted. He stamped a ‘useless weakling’ on Brendel’s forehead in his eyes once he saw that Brendel did not know how to ride a horse.
[This noble brat must be some sort fake strategist who has never been in a war. How do you even command an army when you can’t even ride?! … No, this cannot do. I can’t let a naive girl like Freya fall prey to his lies.]
He poked at his companion beside him and gestured at him, then to two horses. The companion looked at his eyes and immediately understood. The truth was the group of mercenaries had the same mindset. Furthermore, Brendel even let Freya order them to protect the refugees. Even though they were silent on the issue, their hearts were displeased. Why were they bringing this burden along with them? Now that all the mercenaries had a horse, they should actually dash straight away to safety and stay far away from the undead blight.
In fact, some of them had already suggested this thought to Leto, but the bar owner dismissed their grumblings and sent them straight off to Freya instead. There was a code of honor amongst the mercenaries. Freya was the one who led them to steal horses successfully, and they had an agreement prior to this, and thus they could not simply just leave.
The mercenaries continued to wait since they agreed to see if Brendel had a strategy in mind, but if he did not fulfill that agreement….
The skeleton riders appeared thirty seconds faster than the previous time, before disappearing quietly into the night. The huge crescent moon was somewhere to the east, and it illuminated the fang-shaped mountains that were shrouded in fog. Brendel looked at the pocket watch after the skeleton rider disappeared, with the edge of the pocket watch casting a cold glint on his face.
“Why are you quiet?” He turned his head towards Freya who rode beside him. She looked uneasy ever since she rejoined him, and constantly kept her head down.
He had not expected to encounter so many refugees who were willing to follow him, but Freya’s timely arrival with so many mercenaries had helped him out, and he wanted to praise her for that.
[Originally there were just a few dozens, but the refugees have grown to two or three hundred. Since there is a herd mentality, they would be more and more people joining me… Hmm…]
On the other hand, Freya was afraid that her independent action would cause Brendel to be unhappy, but she was afraid to voice out her opinion. She originally wanted to simply surpass him, but now she only wanted to perform as favorably as she could in Brendel’s heart. This change in mentality was too subtle for her to notice it.
“Y-you’re not blaming me?” She raised up her head with wild eyes after noticing there was nothing odd in Brendel’s voice. Her light brown eyes were clear and reflected the moonlight greatly, showing off the evident surprise in her eyes.
“Is there something I should blame you for? You did really well.”
“But I was late.”
“Any plans will have their moments where things don’t go right. As long as you don’t cross the limit it’s fine. I’m a little late myself.”
The two of them suddenly went quiet as they noticed a mercenary approaching them. He greeted Brendel politely like a commoner would greet a noble. He then raised the two horses’ reins up. “My lord, please choose a horse and ride. It will be easier for you if a fight breaks out.”
Brendel observed him for a few seconds, before guessing what he had in mind. He jumped down the carriage, raised his head towards him and asked: “What are the vital points for riding a horse?”
The mercenary was momentarily surprised when he got down, but immediately showed deep condescension in his eyes when he heard his words.
[Mother Marsha above, this silly halfwit is making me laugh. If you don’t know how to ride one, don’t act as if you know how to. Do you really think you can learn how to ride one in a day? Heavens, there are only a few nobles who can’t ride a horse!]
It was especially shameful in the eyes of a soldier who fought in battles for not knowing how to ride.
However, in order to let him make a fool out of himself in front of Freya, he still taught him in detail.
[Even if I tell you everything, you would never be able to ride one so quickly, otherwise we riders should just knock our heads onto a wall.]
“First, you should go the side of the horse, see that stirop? Since you’re doing it for the first time, you should place your feet slowly onto it before –”
The moment he opened his mouth to instruct him, Brendel already received the notification on whether he would like to spend 15 AP to learn riding. He appeared to be unfamiliar on mounting the horse when he placed his foot on the stirop, but when he lifted himself up over the horse, he pulled the reins and started trotting around, as if he had rode for years.
[Well, level 3 horse riding is sufficient to do combat on a horse. I spent 45 AP in total.]
Brendel wanted to learn the skill a long time ago, but he did not know that Freya knew how to ride one, otherwise he would have asked her a long time ago. He could not help but long for the ‘Probe’ ability.
When he turned towards the mercenary, he saw him glaring back with a face full of humiliation and anger.
————————– Princess POV ———————————-
“Wait,” The princess interrupted Oberbeck’s narration. “Did you say he was an amateur when he climbed up the horse?”
“Indeed so, my lady. If I am not wrong, he was very unused to the action of climbing a horse, similar to many beginners. Oberbeck answered politely.”
“Can a person really learn a skill like this in moments?” The girl could not believe it. Even though that she thought herself as smart, she still spent half a month in doing so.
“Unless he wanted to intentionally deceive that man, I am afraid the truth is simply that.” Oberbeck felt that it was unbelievable as well, but he did not believe the young man was able to fool him.
“Surely he did that on purpose. This man is really a master at manipulating hearts.” The princess murmured to herself.
[That might not be true.] Oberbeck answered in his heart, but he did not say it out loud and merely continued the story.
——————————Back to Brendel————————–
Ciel who watched the encounter between them, also jumped down from the carriage, cast a glance at the mercenary and took over the reins. He mounted the horse elegantly. He was a squire and riding was a necessary skill for him. Even though he was not considered as an elite rider, he was considerably experienced in it.
Freya watched the two of them, thinking that he was good in everything but was just too fond of deceiving people. The girl felt a little flushed when she remembered the incident where he taught her first aid.
The mercenary looked the lord and his squire showing off their riding skills, and he felt he was played a fool and had a deep shade of purple in his face. Mano who was behind them noticed that his companion was in a disadvantage, so he quickly rode up and came to their sides.
“Young man, how long more do we need to protect these men?” He was quite straightforward, and asked Brendel directly.
“From here to the Valley of Sharp Boulders. If we can bring them to the other side, we can basically ensure their safety.”
Brendel started urging his horse forward so that he could catch up with Freya.
“Perhaps you can’t do it, but I can.”
Mano also followed him, while he asked curiously.
“How are you going to do that?”
Brendel pulled out his sword and pointed at an area high up.
“There are skeleton riders up there and they are the elite scouts of Madara’s army, and they come directly from Madara’s core lands. Bring some men and chase them away. The refugees need at least half an hour more before they are able to reach the Silver Sparrow Mountain, and I want to ensure there is no threat to the flanks.”
Mano looked blankly at Brendel as he did not expect that his question was the excuse for Brendel to give him a command. He looked at Freya as their agreement was with her, not Brendel.
“Brendel?” Freya was willing to believe his words, but she found his attitude to be too demanding.
Brendel sheathed his sword and replied: “I say, most of you, or perhaps everyone of you, is just thinking for yourself on how to escape here safely. There’s no need for me to say any more since you’re unwilling to bring these refugees out with me. You have an agreement with Freya, right? Speak up. If you are able to convince me, I’ll let everyone leave with a horse.”
Mano straightened his back up. He finally realized this ‘Noble youth’ was not a simple man. He had dictated the flow of the conversation with just a few sentences. As a leader who had led a group of mercenaries back then, he was employed by various nobles, but he had never seen one with such an impressive air about him.
“Since we’re mercenaries, we’re willing to work for you if you can pay us. However, under such extraordinary circumstances, we have to consider ourselves first, there’s nothing shameful about it.” The veteran mercenary replied naturally.
“Indeed. But I have to refute your point of view. Do you truly believe that you would be able to escape from here just because you have a horse? Madara’s army also consist of aerial units. Have you seen spirits and bone eagles? These creatures, which are the eyes of the undead wizards, fly and patrol the area. Do you know how to avoid them?”
Brendel patted his sword. He did not believe these mercenaries understood the frightening aspects of the undead army. Just because they killed a few skeletons and vampires, they understood Madara’s army system? In that case he undead wizards should just take a hammer and destroy themselves.
Leto and his daughter had followed Mano closely when they saw him approaching Brendel. He frowned at Brendel’s words.
“Then you have a plan?”
“I am uncertain of the outcome. I doubt anyone has a perfect plan for this. But my chances in the forest are much higher, so I have to consider how to stop the skeleton riders from following us. If they attack our flanks, the refugees will not be able to move quickly.”
Mano and Leto went into a silent deliberation. They felt that his words were true.
Brendel suddenly urged his forward forward, climbing up onto a high spot. He turned back to the mercenary and took a ruby out from his pocket: “If you truly want to have a chance at surviving, then follow me. If you choose to run away, then only those who are blessed by the gods would be able to make it out. My order is very simple.
Listen to my commands, and protect Freya so that she can lead these refugees out of the valley of the other end. All of you are mercenaries, so this ruby is my initial deposit. If you succeed in my request, they would be more where it comes from.”
He threw the ruby up and it landed in an arc beside Leto’s feet. Freya pointed at herself in confusion, and she asked loudly: “Me? Brendel why is it me?” She looked at the refugees in confusion. They were obviously brought by Brendel, so she simply could not understand why she was the one to lead the refugees out.
It was not that she was unwilling, but she did not know if she could do it if there were so many people. She was starting to become uneasy.
[I’m just a small militia captain. Now I’m leading dozens of experienced mercenaries, which suddenly jumped up to hundreds and might even reach a thousand??!]
Brendel merely smiled as he had already planned things out. He rode back to Leto and Mano, beckoning them.
“Go now. Gather your men and choose how you want to die. Go your separate ways and encounter the Madara’s army and become an undead as well, or take my money and become a real mercenary who chooses to protect the weak, cutting a bloody pathway for them.”
He turned his head back again. The skeleton riders once again appeared under the moonlight. This time they were faster by ten seconds.
(TL: Stirop, Middle English, = stirrup. It’s the foot platform that a rider will step on before lifting himself and placing himself over the horse.)