Chapter 19: Celebration I (5/5)

Another troop of soldiers marched behind the guardians. The most common type of soldiers amongst any nation: infantrymen. Their main weapon was a single-handed sword or dagger and often used a decent-sized shield to aid their forward push. As the most basic fighting unit of a nation’s army, they were most usually the most common and numerous type.

The infantrymen walked through the arches with little trouble, leading to the longbowmen regiment. This was the soldiers Elric had the most interest in given his own skill at archery. They touted a longbow in their hands and a quiver full of arrows slung over their back. They also had a saber hung at their hip and a small shield over their quiver.

A strange troop followed the longbowmen, one Elric couldn’t even begin to understand what their purpose in war was. They had a bow equipped like the longbowmen, but not a standard bow given to the soldiers before. The sword at their hips held a strange curvature and their armor was made primarily of leather with only two metal plating over the most critical parts of the body. All in all, they were a strange type of soldier Elric was curious about.

They were the last of the imperial army to enter the square, but not the last of the soldiers. Another battalion entered from another street, though their armor was not at all standard. Many soldiers had differing colors and crests from one another as they flooded the street.

The horns finally began to play a different note once this last group of soldiers entered the square. At once, the soldiers went into a relaxed posture to allow their armaments to be inspected. Because their numbers were greater than any one of the groups earlier, their marching was not at all consistent with one another.

The marching of the soldiers died down once the last of the soldiers were fully in the square. A distinct tune could be heard from both the drums and horns now that every group of soldiers had passed through the arches and were awaiting inspection from Hecaris III.

Elric presumed the soldiers of the last group had to be from the margraves. He noticed that sometimes, a soldier would react slightly when they passed a certain noble. Even more noteworthy was the entirety of these soldiers were cavalrymen. Their armor was light and indicative of them being light cavalry, but the way they carried themselves about on their horses made Elric feel these men were most likely trained to be heavy cavalry.

A reasonable answer came to him relatively quick. From what Elric remembered of the Empire’s history, Karthian margraves had no choice but to levy their own troops to protect their territory. Having each individual noble conscript soldiers to protect their lands led to a larger head count for the Empire to use as a whole. But a method of conscription like this had its fair share of problems, such as if the margraves were to revolt. To limit the militaristic strength of the nobles, the sixth emperor declared an imperial writ to impose restrictions upon a noble’s personal army. 

The biggest restriction a noble faced was the type of soldier they were allowed to have. Their soldiers had to be limited to a single type, meaning a noble was prohibited from training both heavy cavalrymen and armsmen. At one point nobles were even unable to train heavy infantry. 

Left without a choice in the matter, margraves in the border territories had to settle with specializing their forces in light cavalrymen. To supplement their training, nobles would often train their soldiers as they would heavy cavalrymen. It was because of this strange distinction between light and heavy cavalrymen that Elric found the marching of the last group of soldiers to be unsettling.

Something amongst the light cavalrymen caught Elric’s eye as he watched them march. Being a noble, Hughesin also had his own private army taking part in this march and thus had his family’s crest emblazoned on their shields and banners. The insignia, Elric realized, was extremely familiar to him. He was actually wearing the very same object painted on the crest—the redbud flower brooch! 

Elric realized his mistake then and there. He had unknowingly walked into another trap of Hughesin’s mother!

He stifled a groan. Now was not the time to be thinking about the ramifications of that brooch. There was actually something else about Hughesin’s soldiers that caught his attention. Rather than a sword, Hughesin’s cavalrymen all had a bow strapped to their left waist. 

What was the reason for that? Elric couldn’t even begin to understand the reason.

In war, cavalrymen are often treated as fast-moving assault units. Military doctrine instructed them to swiftly strike at enemy formations and then withdraw before a counterattack could be mounted. Bowmen required a certain distance to be maintained for the most optimal effect; a situation inversely related to cavalrymen. 

So Elric had to ask again. What was the point of having a bowman and cavalryman—two diametrically-opposed roles—as one? In what case could they potentially be useful?

When Hughesin’s troops marched past him, Elric saw the leader of his troops shoot him a quick glance. It was for a moment, but Elric felt something unusual in that stare. Hughesin must’ve noticed it as well, for his person stiffened at the same moment. No one else would’ve noticed Hughesin’s reaction, but since Elric’s arm was currently stuck in his grasp, he saw it.

The square was empty now with every soldier now at rest in Hero Square to the right of the temple. The absence of soldiers in the square allowed a new crowd to gather there and in the streets, though this new group of people didn’t belong to the military at all. They were the commoners and citizens of Waldsk with something of their own to contribute to today’s festivities. At the center of the streets stood a new object, giant floats made with all sorts of colors and shapes to match the festive spirit. Every float was uniquely designed, masterfully crafted, and graciously spaced out to prevent any crashes. Along the streets, people of all walks of life gathered with ribbons, fresh flowers, and other items to cheer and laugh merrily alongside the floats. Soon, the floats were surrounded by so many flowers and beautiful colors that the streets around them felt more like a river of color for them to float down on rather than drive.

The hymn of the Karth Empire began to be played as the floats made their way down the streets toward the Triumphal Arches. The floats were able to cross underneath the arch, though the commoners had to go around the sides and weren’t subject to the same inspection as the military men. Once across, the floats went past the temple to circle round back to the square to rejoin the other commoners.

Elric loved such festivities in the past, but he couldn’t find the energy within himself to even pretend to be excited. If anything, this parade was a little too noisy for him now. Far too many people were being loud and making noises for his liking. Had he the freedom, Elric would’ve gone off by himself to seek isolation and quietness. But Hughesin was preventing him from taking such action.

The brooch he wore was making matters even worse. More and more people were beginning to understand the meaning behind a woman with Duke Hughesin’s insignia on her. Suspicious eyes were burning holes in Elric’s person as he stood there uneasily. He was beginning to doubt whether or not he’d be able to escape from Hughesin intact. The duke and his mother didn’t seem at all willing to let Fantasia go, at any rate.

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