The forest at night was filled with a quiet stillness.
The light of the full moon shining in the sky filtered through the treetops, and hardly any of it reached the ground. She couldn’t take the horse too deeply into the forest, for fear of it stumbling on tree roots.
Her heart was filled with vacant, lonely feelings, cold after such high-strung emotions.
What foolish thing to do, she thought.
But she had been unable to keep control of herself in the face of Princess Elanta’s disdainful attitude. She thought she could steal her brother, monopolize him. And her brother only smiled and played right up to that Princess.
Just then, a night breeze blew over her. Her black hair flowed out in the wind and softly touched her cheek.
Slipping one hand off the reins, Reena took the hair in her hand.
“Why am I so different from my brother? His hair shines just like yellow gold. But my hair is like the raven’s wing. My brother’s eyes are the color of clear water, but mine are the color of stagnant well water.”
Reena hated the mother who had born her.
Her mother had been of lowly birth, as opposed to the first queen who had been Nashere’s mother, and she had always burned with envy. But the first queen was generous to Reena’s mother, and had loved Reena as if she were her own child.
When the queen died, rumors spread that Reena’s mother had poisoned her.
If the herbalist Tatus hadn’t denied those rumors, she might have been punished. But maybe that would have been better.
Her mother’s behavior afterwards was unbearable, even in the eyes of her own daughter.
She bought expensive goods, and decorated her body as if it would conceal her lowly birth. She persecuted the late queen’s ladies-in-waiting, even driving one of them to jump from a castle window to her death.
When her mother died from hysteria, Reena was far from sad. Rather, she sighed in relief.
She hated her mother that much. And this hair and these eyes she’d inherited from her mother, she hated them, too.
Prince of the Sun, Princess of the Moon. Reena knew what the knights called them.
Her father Brooke seemed fond of the nicknames, but the knights compared her to her brother and looked down on her. An unworthy daughter born of a lowly mother, that’s what they thought.
But the moon only shines at night. In the light of the sun, the light of the moon is swallowed up, and seems not to exist.
If I could somehow have a different father too, that would be better, she thought. Then she could be together with her brother.
Her father was hoping for a marriage between her and the prince of Vennon, the Dragon Scale, to deepen the connection with Skard’s protector country.
Her brother had been by her side constantly until now. But, she realized, those days would never come again.
Eventually, some noble daughter of some large country would be married off to her brother. Maybe that daughter would be Princess Elanta.
Her tears spilled over.
She felt like the most important things in her heart were flowing out alongside those tears.
That’s when it happened.
The howl of a wolf echoed through the forest. It wasn’t that far away, either.
The horse that Reena was on struggled violently, surprised at the beast’s howl.
Reena grabbed the reins and tried to somehow quiet the horse. But she couldn’t.
In the time it took the horse to raise his front legs, Reena was thrown from the it’s back. She rolled onto the ground, and hit her back heavily on a tree trunk.
She heard the cloth of her dress split.
The pain seemed to choke off her breath, and she gasped.
Braying, the horse ran off in the direction of the high road.
The pain gradually subsided, but her will to move had completely disappeared.
There was no one by her side now. She might die like this. She was able to imagine it.
“Even if I do disappear, there won’t be anyone who’ll be sad about it……”
Reena looked up at the night sky, crushed with sadness.
Shaded by a thick cloud, the moon disappeared in the blink of an eye.
The night went on, the banquet continued. King Brook had already left, and many of the more senior knights had returned to their quarters. Those who remained in the banquet hall were comparatively young knights and ladies. Perhaps they were searching for a lover, just for the night.
Nashere and Princess Elanta, too, were still there. They had gone out onto the veranda, and were keeping themselves cool, their bodies glowing from the warmth of drink and dance.
Nashere had suggested a rest so many times, but the Princess wouldn’t hear any of it.
(What a selfish person.) Nashere was tired of her. But she was an important state guest, and he couldn’t be even a little bit rude to her. At least, this was the sense he’d gotten from his father.
Nashere got the feeling that the goal of Princess Elanta’s visit had something to do with him.
The Princess hadn’t been carrying any special letters, she wasn’t here to negotiate with his father. Probably, the Princess was on an envoy from Vennon, and she had decided to call on Skard while coming south from the town of Muskett, on her way back to Harkenne.
And all to meet him. She must have heard some rumor and become interested in him.
That must have been a boundlessly annoying order for her knights. Although, from their perspective, being able to drink Skard’s famous ale must have been a tempting invitation.
In any event, they’d gone a long way just to drop in like this. Probably they’d stay two or three days and then return to Harkenne.
Until then, he’d be doing nothing but serving this Princess. Nashere hoped with all his heart it would all pass as quickly as a single day.
Just then, a night breeze blew over them.
“It’s getting cold, let’s go inside.”
“Yes, shall we?” the Princess answered, with an enraptured expression on her face. “It’s been a wonderful day. The rumors about you appear to be true, Prince Nashere. Rather, you go beyond the rumors. If I could be permitted, I hope to marry into your lovely country……”
“How very kind of you.”
Hearing Nashere’s answer, the Princess drew herself up fully and leaned in so her mouth was close to Nashere’s ear.
“Would you like to come up to my room?” Elanta said, her voice shy.
Nashere stared at her, not knowing what to say. What kind of education was the King of Harkenne giving this princess?
His younger sister was selfish, too, but not like this girl, and she was the daughter of a prominent country.
As to how he should reply, Nashere was lost. He had mastered court etiquette, but he hadn’t been taught how to reply in the face of a proposal like this one.
Nashere opened his mouth to politely refuse.
From the castle’s back gate, he caught sight of a single horse galloping in. It was a horse without a rider.
The gatekeeper stood in its way, trying to capture the reins of the violently spirited animal.
“What is that?” Pushing Elanta aside, Nashere leaned out from the veranda. He paid no attention to the Princess’s voice raised in protest.
(My horse……) Nashere was surprised.
Reena had disappeared from the banquet hall, he remembered. He’d thought she’d probably gone back to her room, but what if……
“Princess Elanta, you’ll have to excuse me!”
Nashere ran down the veranda stairs. He had an evil feeling. He hoped from the bottom of his heart that the feeling was wrong.
* * *
Two green lights wavered and drew near.
With her back still up against the tree trunk, Reena stared at those lights as if she were possessed.
From the darkness, a shadow approached.
A howling voice could be heard.
Just then, the moon that had disappeared behind the clouds showed itself, and cast a silvery light into the forest.
Shining in the moonlight, the wolf’s body was sharply defined.
He was probably a lone wolf, driven out from his pack. He looked like he was starving, and saliva ran down from his mouth like a thread.
The wolf gave a low growl. With careful steps, it closed the distance to Reena.
Her voice wouldn’t work, it was like her throat had closed up. Her whole body was shaking and she had broken out in a cold sweat. It hadn’t even occurred to her to run away, it was as though her brain had burned out with fear.
I’m going to be killed, she thought. It’ll tear out my stomach with those sharp claws and chew through my innards. I’m still going to be alive when it bites into me, what’s that going to feel like?
Reena opened her mouth, to ask for help. But she couldn’t use her voice.
Maybe that was for the best. If she did raise a shout, it might be taken as a sign to pounce.
The wolf got as close as five steps away, but it didn’t make any moves to get closer than that. It paced back and forth, waiting for the right moment.
The wolf was a wise animal. It knew a human was a tough opponent. Humans carry sharp pieces of iron, and the wolf knew it could be injured with those. It had to remember, humans are unsuitable as prey.
Reena stretched the bluff to it’s limit, and glared at the wolf.
The wolf dipped back a half step and began pacing again.
This was crazy. At any rate, she couldn’t hold out forever, a yelp was bound to leak out of her.
The wolf showed absolutely no indication that it was even thinking about leaving.
Was it that hungry? She could see its eyes were bloodshot.
(It’s no use……) All the spirit went out of her glare. Her consciousness wasn’t far behind. How easy it would be to faint just like that. She wondered if it wouldn’t be better if she was unconscious while she was killed.
She thought it, but she couldn’t do it.
Unconsciously, Reena let out a scream. Once she’d used her voice, she couldn’t stop.
The wolf let out a long howl, as if to match Reena’s scream.
It lowered it’s stance.
And then, it jumped.
Its claws closed in.
Just then, it happened.
A white shape appeared before Reena’s eyes, and closed the distance to the wolf.
“Run!” A scolding voice jumped out at her.
“Nashere!” That voice was unmistakably Nashere’s. He’d come to her rescue.
She was wrapped in a deep relief.
And with that, she reached her limit.
Everything in front of her became pitch black, and she lost consciousness like a thread had been cut.
* * *
From out of the darkness, she could hear a voice calling her name. Someone was shaking her.
Reena came to, and opened her eyes gloomily. In front of her was the handsome face of her brother Nashere.
His hair was disheveled, and blood dripped from his forehead. The drops had made a stain on Reena’s dress.
“Brother……” Reena stretched her hand out to her brother’s wound.
If she looked closely, her brother had suffered injuries over his entire body. Just standing up must have been hard.
“You’re not hurt?” her brother asked, a cold light in his eyes.
Reena’s hand stopped it’s movement. Her brother’s eyes looked like her father to her whenever he looked at her like that. It was a gaze of contempt mixed with deep anger.
(Why did you come to rescue me then?) The question shot off like an arrow, and Reena barely swallowed the words. Wouldn’t it be better if he was off being sociable with Princess Elanta? People like she herself were unnecessary, so it was better to just ignore them. If he had, the wolf would have solved the problem for him.
But the wolf had become a cold corpse, behind Nashere.
My brother doesn’t even wear a dagger.
So he had defeated the wolf unarmed. He had been taking lessons.
But she hadn’t thought he was that good. An ordinary human shouldn’t win against a wolf, unarmed.
She realized that she and her brother were separate people. No matter how close they were, there was an infinite distance between the two of them. The days when her brother was hers alone would never return.
“You’re not hurt?” Her brother repeated the same question.
“I sprained my ankle, I can’t move……” Reena answered.
Her own words surprised her. They were words she hadn’t thought.
She had felt like she wanted to make him worry, and they had just come out of her mouth. She had thought, if she said it, her brother would turn around. Rather, if she didn’t he would never turn around.
Nashere nodded silently, turned around, and bent over. Reena wrapped her arms around her brothers neck and climbed up on his back. With her now on his back, he back stood up.
The smell of her brother’s blood reached her nose. She felt a wetness on her hands, too. His injuries were worse than she’d thought.
But Nashere started off for the road back to the castle with firm steps, as if he wasn’t in any pain.
“Brother?” Reena said, from the midst of her wandering thoughts.
Apologize, she thought. And tell him you can walk on your own.
But her brother didn’t answer.
(He must be pretty mad.) A despairing sadness broke Reena’s heart into pieces. (He’ll never forgive me now. He’ll never show me that gentle smiling face again.)
That much at least was certain.
It was all her fault. Her brother was injured, and Princess Elanta had probably been seriously insulted. But what could she do to make up for it? Reena said to herself.
Nashere had come to save here without thinking about the danger. She could only offer her own life in response. Reena vowed in her heart, that if she had to sacrifice her life for her brother, she would happily do so.
Maybe her brother would forgive her then. Maybe he would remember her his entire life, and she could continue to live in her brother’s heart.
Then her brother would be hers once more.
* * *
Six months from that very day, Reena carried out her vow, and the Demon King was set loose on Lodoss.