Bonds of Blood – chapter five

5

The sound of metal armor rang out, spreading out on its path to the door.

At that moment, Skard’s Court Magician, Wort was seated at his desk, investigating a document.

The ancient documents he’d been absorbed in reading since yesterday were heaped up in a jumbled pile beside his desk.

Towards morning, he had taken a short nap, and when the sun climbed high, he’d awoken once again and continued his reading from the night before.

The story that Brook had sent for a secret envoy from Vennon was stretching into a full blown rumor in Skard’s court. Of course, Brook hadn’t uttered a single official word on the matter. Even to Wort. Although Wort expected that Vennon had made some demands.

Maybe they should hasten the time frame of their mobilization. Clearly their preparations were lacking. He wasn’t particularly inclined to do so, but they probably should even consider the direct war potential of his own magic powers.

Technically speaking, The Sage Academy and The Institute of Magicians in Alania’s royal city Alan both considered the use of attack magic a taboo.

Wort himself had no connections to the Sage Academy, so he wasn’t bound by their rules, but using magic to win battles wasn’t something that earned you a good reputation from the masses or from other countries. But now, the important thing was not to lose. If they lost, Skard’s fate would end there.

Wort was intending to rewrite the book on magic, assembling tactics that combined mages with knights and mercenary units. For instance, if you hammered a Meteo Strike into places where the enemy was concentrated, you could destroy an entire corps with that move alone.

He had to write up this tactical treatise and begin war training before Vennon’s full scale invasion. Skard would have to hire mercenaries, even if it meant using up their national savings. They had to organize militias from among the farmers, and supplement the thinness of their military strength.

By Wort’s calculation, they could unify the Moss region in five years and then turn to the League of Northern Free Cities with an eye to invasion. If they could force the city of Raiden to submit, they would gain a powerful navy and much wealth from trade with the continent. At that point, the unification of Lodoss would be more than half achieved.

After that, with the backing of military and economic power, they had only to subdue the large countries that remained one by one.

They could achieve victory over all Lodoss if given perhaps fifteen years, he estimated. By that time, Nashere would be just over thirty years of age, just when he would be beginning to reach the fruition of his manhood. He would succeed after Founding Emperor Brook, and become a wise ruler, who would bring the base of the Lodoss Empire to completion.

It was faster than he’d thought possible, but the time to look to the future of Lodoss Island and take a great step forward had come. The pride swelling up in Wort’s chest was maybe even a little suffocating.

***

Sensing that the metallic clanging was gradually getting louder, Wort released his eyes from the page.

Maybe there had been some accident.

Vennon was turning up the pressure, after all, amassing knights at their border with Skard and such, and important knights were secretly communication with Vennon. People seemed on the point of rioting.

He considered how to cope with whatever had happened. Thinking to take charge of the situation, Wort laid his hands on the magician’s staff that stood beside his desk.

He stood up from his chair and turned to the door.

“Lord Court Magician……”

It was a young voice.

He happened to know it. It was a knight who was charged with protecting the king’s person, a member of what would have been the royal guard in any other country.

Wort faced the door and recited the password in the High Ancient tongue.

In the next instant, the door opened inwards without a sound.

Standing in the doorframe was the person he’d been expecting. A number of other young knights accompanied him.

Seeing their expressions, Wort felt that something was abnormal. Their expression were full of the thirst for blood.

“Lord Court Magician! Orders from His Highness the King. We are to arrest you for the crime of rebellion.”

“Rebellion?”

He tried to smile, but only drew his face back.

Maybe a rioting rebel had instigated them?

But they were all of good families, people the King had nothing but confidence in. Surely they hadn’t betrayed him.

Besides of which, they’d said they were on the king’s orders.

“If you resist, we’ll cut you down,” one of the other young knights said, in a tense voice.

He hadn’t had any intention of resisting, but seeing the magician’s staff, the knights had all drawn their blades.

“By what evidence do you think I am a rebel?”

Wort was having trouble responding to this sudden occurrence. His own brain, which had pretensions of being better than anyone else’s, just wasn’t moving, as if it had been paralyzed.

The young knight didn’t make any response. Maybe they couldn’t.

The one who knew the answer, though, appeared behind the knights.

Skard’s king, Brook, was that one person.

Wort felt the door that had opened on his future being slammed shut with an ominous sound.

“What do you have to say, Your Highness?” Wort asked, his gaze fixed on Brook.

Had he been threated by Vennon’s secret envoy, and given up his ambitions? Did he intend to pin all his crimes on his court magician, to prove there was no rebellion on his mind?

But Vennon wasn’t going to give up on Skard annexation just because of that. And Brook knew such things well enough.

Wort couldn’t catch hold of Brook’s reasoning. But one thing was clear: at this rate, Wort was going to end up a prisoner. But if he resisted, the young knights would likely stab him without mercy.

If he cast a spell, he could be gone from this place in an instant. And if he decided he was ready to die, and fought, he could even take Brook and his knights along with him to the underworld.

But Wort didn’t choose any of those options. Saying only, “I understand,” he turned his staff towards the knights and threw it down.

The young knights’ expressions immediately changed to those of relief. But Brook’s expression didn’t change a bit.

Two of the knights took up positions on either side of Wort. At their prompting, he started walking.

He’d probably be confined in an underground prison. Cooling his heels in there for a while might be best, he thought. If he advised them on their foolishness, he’d only be making a similar mistake.

As he passed by Brook, Wort threw unspoken words at him.

Why? Why are you arresting me? What’s become of your ambitions……?

Brook’s expression gave no answer.

He only stared back with a resolute attitude. There was no anger or hatred or pity to be felt in that gaze. Only firm determination and steadfast readiness lodged there.

But what that will was for, Wort didn’t have a clue.

(It’s like he’s completely possessed by something,) Wort thought.

Whatever Brook was planning to do, it was a complete mystery to him, the so-called Sage of the Wilds.

Except to say that he had a hunch it was something dreadful.

And if even he couldn’t predict it, no one on Lodoss was going to be able to do so.

It might be a misfortune beyond imaging.

An unease skipped across the surface of Wort’s mind, but he immediately wiped it away.

They were imprisoning a man who had tried to cloak Lodoss in war.

It was rather a good way to avoid misfortune.

The only fate for a small kingdom like Skard was to be annexed by a large neighboring country. As far as Lodoss as a whole was concerned, it was a trivial matter.

The only regrettable thing was that one outstanding young man would vanish without leaving even his name to Lodoss’s history. And Wort, his own name, which should have made it further than this at least……

(Will I get another chance?)

Walking down the stone corridor, held up almost entirely by the knights, Wort felt his loss deepen, as if he’d fallen into an abyss.

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