Part 1: Prologue - Wings in the Blue Sky
It was early summer.
Black wings soared through the blue sky.
If anyone on the surface noticed, it may have looked like a falcon pursuing its prey.
However, this was no falcon. Nor was it an eagle. Nor a hawk. It was a dragon. The black beast had giant wings, fierce fangs, and deadly claws.
It flew calmly in the sky above.
And it was indeed pursuing its prey. However, its ferocious red eyes were following not a small animal in the grass but a vast army.
This was the western Catra territory of the central plain’s great kingdom of Clanaria.
The thirty thousand of Clanaria’s army were facing the eighteen thousand of Exstar’s army.
It was a defensive war for Clanaria and an invasive war for Exstar.
The two kingdoms had a history of countless battles since their foundation, but this time, Exstar had no justification for their invasion.
It could be seen as a periodic invasion. They had no grand plan of destroying Clanaria and fully absorbing them. Their shallow thoughts were to take what little territory they could or at least make a show of force and demand reparations after the fact.
Then again, some whispered that Exstar’s King Hauble simply enjoyed war. In truth, he really had started this war for that reason. It truly was an age of greed.
“Isn’t this as good a spot as any?”
As the black dragon soured through the sky, it landed on the peak of a small hill a short distance from either camp on the battlefield.
“Yes. I’m glad I had you with me, Naja.”
A large man in black stepped down from the dragon’s back.
He was just a little past twenty, he had black hair, and he had sanpaku eyes. He had a masculine face and a dangerous atmosphere.
“Thank her, not me. She’s the one that flew both of us here all the way from Domos.”
That request came from a woman with a red ponytail sitting on the dragon’s back. She was around twenty and her healthily tanned skin was left boldly exposed.
“Yes, that’s right. Excellent work, Lacquer Scale.”
The man gave a carefree smile, reached out a hand, and patted the dragon’s neck as if slapping it. The black dragon narrowed its eyes in satisfaction.
As he thanked the dragon, the man looked to the view down below and released a breath of laughter and astonishment.
“We made it in time, but it might as well be over. I’m impressed they managed to give themselves such an advantage.”
The Clanarian army was under the command of the veteran General Albare as well as Left General Hopard, Right General Chamomile, and Royal Guard General Madelene.
The Exstar army was under the command of King Hauble as well as Shamrock, Cliburn, and Oldrake, who were commonly known as the Three Great Retainers.
Both sides had their greatest possible force on display.
“Yeah, Clanaria’s definitely going to win.”
After jumping down from the dragon and releasing the reins, the red-haired woman looked down at the battlefield and agreed.
Exstar’s King Hauble was a brave and belligerent ruler, but he was poor at displaying that power, tended to lose land through political compromise, and had gained about as much land as he had lost since his coronation. However, the war expenses continued piling up and the kingdom’s treasury was under a lot of strain.
On the other hand, Clanaria’s King Baldwin showed no interest in foreign campaigns and poured all his strength into domestic affairs. Since his coronation, Clanaria’s territory had not grown in the slightest, but the population had grown and the kingdom had developed.
The two kingdoms had a long history of conflict and a notable gap had grown between them in recent years.
Even with King Hauble in command, eighteen thousand men was the most Exstar’s army could muster, while Clanaria could send out thirty thousand men with King Baldwin remaining in the kingdom to manage things there.
Plus, Exstar’s expeditionary army had to think about maintaining a supply unit, so their actual fighting force was only half of Clanaria’s.
And yet Clanaria held all of the crucial high ground.
If Exstar attacked as things were, they would be completely wiped out by the enemy surrounding them, yet if they began a retreat, they would be pursued and utterly defeated.
“The only way for Exstar to pull off a victory here is to break through the center, but that doesn’t look possible. I don’t know how things ended up like this, but there’s nothing they can do while so completely surrounded. Is Exstar’s king just that incompetent or is Clanaria’s commander just that skilled? Probably both.”
That prediction came true not long later.
The first to make their move was the Exstar army which had such an overwhelming disadvantage.
They fired arrows and magic like crazy and used that to blind their enemy while they moved in for a determined charge.
Their daring was worthy of an army led by a veteran warrior king, but the brave attack was gently stopped and cleverly parried by a unit led by a female Clanarian knight named Lucy.
The Exstar army’s careless advance drew them into the crossfire. Even the daring Exstar army was broken by that attack and began a temporary retreat.
But before Exstar could regroup, Left General Hopard and Right General Chamomile left their positions on the high ground to effectively enter the fray after a time delay.
The generals’ elaborate tactical movements completed a half circle formation.
The Exstar army was like a boat being tossed by a tsunami and a muddy current, but they continued fighting back thanks to the desperate efforts of the Three Great Retainers. However, that resistance only lasted until Royal Guard General Madelene used the spare forces under his command to circle behind them.
The Exstar army was destroyed by the battle which lasted only a little over two hours and by the continued pursuit of the half circle formation.
Exstar’s King Hauble only escaped the battle line alive due to the devoted efforts of Lord Oldrake’s daughter Rebecca in her blue armor and due to the valiant fighting of the Three Great Retainers. It was also due to the fact that the Clanaria army had intentionally left an escape route open.
It was a superbly clever tactic that allowed them to pursue a routed enemy rather than strike a cornered enemy.
“Could it be…?”
As the man observed from a distance, sweat trailed down his cheek and he tightly clenched both hands.
Unable to just watch, the red-haired woman placed her hands on his fist.
The Clanarian army had not tried to show off. They had prepared an army large enough to overwhelm the enemy, successfully positioned their troops, and won quite easily.
It looked like a perfectly natural victory at first, but it only looked so natural because of Clanaria’s great potential. They had plenty of power as a kingdom, skilled commanders, and high soldier morale.
They had shown exactly the sort of multi-faceted strength one would expect of a great kingdom from the central plain.
“That settles it.”
“Settles what?” casually asked the red-haired woman.
“I am going to get married,” announced the man.
The woman responded to the unexpected announcement in confused disarray.
“Stephan had already suggested it, so preparations are underway for me to wed Clanaria’s Second Princess Ansandra. We have no time. We must hurry back home.”
“W-wait! What do you mean!?”
The man mounted the flying dragon and the woman grabbed its reins while continuing to complain.
“You did excellent work today. Your promotion to command a thousand-knight unit has already been confirmed.”
During a lull in the pursuit, Royal Guard General Madelene rode his horse over to the woman knight named Lucy and placed a hand on her shoulder to thank her for her efforts.
“This will further increase the king’s and the courtiers’ trust in you, so are you now another step closer to marrying Princess Virginia?”
The man gracefully replied as the proud woman knight brushed his arm off of her and looked up into the sky.
“What is it?”
Madelene followed Lucy’s gaze.
“A wild flying dragon? That’s unusual for these parts.”
“Yes, and it seems to be glittering with a gold light.”
The dragon flew to the north. Its skin color would not normally have been visible, but the light of the setting sun gave it a golden glimmer.
The two of them were enthralled by the fantastical scene.
Someone who knew what the future held for them would likely say Clanaria should have shot down that unidentified dragon rather than continue pursuit of Exstar.
“What do you mean get married!? Weren’t we going to destroy Clanaria? Why are you taking a wife from them? What has you so scared!?”
“Now, now. No need to be jealous.”
The jealous woman was Naja, a general of the Domos Kingdom.
Her face grew red with anger as the man embraced her from behind to soothe her. He was Domos’s King Lorent.
That dangerous king was rumored to have murdered his own father before his coronation three years before and then he had been quick to destroy the kingdoms of Celeste and Sulbey.
He had long viewed Clanaria as an enemy, so when word came in they were at war with a neighboring kingdom, he had gone out for some reconnaissance. Of all fifty or so major kingdoms, no king was as fierce as him.
“This is a necessary step toward making Clanaria mine.”
While he ruled three kingdoms, they were all remote kingdoms. Clanaria was blessed with much fertile land, so it had far greater power as a kingdom.
He could not overcome that gap with a direct attack, so he had thought up a cunning plot.
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