“Yes, mercenaries,” Zich answered, “If a war breaks out, the more fighting forces you have, the better it is.”
“Um.” Dronian swallowed back his low hum. Like Zich said, the more forces they had, the better it was for them. However, he couldn’t accept Zich’s offer right away.
“I see that you are hesitating. I assume it’s for two reasons,” Zich raised two fingers. “First, you don’t know the level of skills we have.” Zich placed one finger down. “And second, you wonder if it’s right to bring humans into a war between elves.”
Dronian was surprised that Zich had exactly pinpointed his feelings.
“…You are right.” There was nothing for Dronian to gain here by lying, and he admitted Zich’s words willingly, “A mercenary has to have a certain amount of skill, but I don’t know how strong you all are. Like you said, I am certainly reluctant to get humans involved in this conflict between elves.”
“…You must not be desperate.”
“Sorry?” Dronian was a bit taken aback by Zich’s unexpected question.
“Even if the war didn’t officially break out yet, you can guess the strength of your opponent,” Zich started. Of course, information about enemy forces could be inaccurate, but no one would be able to make any decisions with that mindset. “If all the other tribes took the Iron Tribe’s side, Your Highness wouldn’t have been able to refuse my offer with a reason like, ‘I am reluctant to bring humans into this war.’ You would have asked us to show our skills immediately.”
If they really were desperate, the Prince would have sent even a crawling ant to the battlefield if they could.
Zich continued, “So, that means the other tribes haven’t sided with the Iron Tribe yet. However, that won’t necessarily mean that all the other tribes are also on the Lake Tribe’s side. I suppose you rejected my offer since you all already have the upper hand in this war, and you don’t need to add an untrustworthy force alongside your men.”
“…” Dronian listened to Zich’s words quietly.
“There are two things that I can guess. Either the tribes that sided with the Lake Tribe and the Iron Tribe are on a similar level, or they didn’t make their decision on which side to take yet. I also think there’s a high chance that other tribe leaders could have been captured.”
“You are right.”
“Then, I suppose you might be reluctant to hire humans in consideration of the other tribes too.”
“That is also right.”
“But what would you do if that could be more of an advantage?”
Dornian tilted his head. “What are you saying is an advantage?”
“It could be an advantage that we are humans.”
Dornian couldn’t understand it immediately, but Dornian was someone who had undergone training to become the heir of the Lake Tribe and had never been rebuked for his capabilities. He soon realized what Zich meant.
‘He has pretty good judgements.’ Zich’s assessment of Dornian went up.
Dornian continued, “You all are humans—people who have no place in a war between elves. The Iron Tribe will certainly not know of your existence since you weren’t part of our forces to begin with. And even if you all attack them, they won’t be able to connect you to anyone else. Thus, I can use you as a third party who has no connection to us.”
Dornian stared at Zich and asked, “Am I right?”
“Yes. Of course, if we attack, they might suspect that a tribe might have employed some humans, but they might also think we are a third party, unrelated to the elves,” Zich said and added, “If a tribe normally had a deep connection to humans, the Iron Tribe might suspect that tribe first. From what I know though, there is no tribe among the elves that has a close tie to humans.”
The elves only interacted with humans for trade and business transactions. This rule applied to the Lake Tribe, and after the incident with the Lake’s Tear, even those business transactions had considerably dwindled.
“Aren’t we—forces that even Your Highness couldn’t expect? We don’t necessarily have to fight within the Lake Tribe’s territory. Also, since we are a mysterious force with unclear goals, we will do more than enough to shake up your opponent.”
“That is a certainly tempting offer,” Dronian said. He had already thought up several places to use them.
“I like your offer, but are you aware that there’s a couple of things that I have to make sure of before I accept it?”
“Yes, you are talking about our skills,” Zich smiled. From the first place, fighting alongside the Lake Tribe or moving separately as another group was only possible if Zich and his companions had the skills to do so. If they didn’t have skills, there was no need for them anywhere.
“Can you prove it?”
“As much as you want.”
Zich looked around at his companions. “Whoever the person is, I’m sure they will exceed your expectations.”
“Then, I will make preparations to see all of your skills. I hope you will rest until then.”
Dronian asked the elf standing beside him to guide Zich and his companions. They were all about to leave when Dronian said to Leona who was trying to sneak out with the rest of the group, “Where are you going? We have some things to talk about.”
Leona looked at the rest of the group with pleading eyes, but nobody wanted to intervene in a conversation between siblings—especially an older brother’s lecture to his sister who ran away from home. In the end, Zich and his companions left as Leona stayed in the room with tearful eyes.
Silence filled the room for a moment. Dornian looked at Leona sternly, and Leona stole furtive glances at him while she had her head down.
“…Sigh!” A big sigh escaped Dornian’s mouth. Leona flinched and her shoulders trembled.
“Are you reflecting on your actions?” Dornian asked.
“Can I trust that something like this won’t ever happen again?”
Another sigh followed. Dornian shook his head and said, “From the bottom of my heart, I would like to imprison you in a place for a hundred years and make you self reflect, but considering our current situation and the fact you retrieved the Lake’s Tear, I will forgive you.”
Leona’s head shot up, but when she saw that Dornian still wore a stern expression on his face, she bowed her head down again.
“If you do something like this one more time, I won’t let it slide. Do you understand me?”
“Good. Then, let’s end this matter here.”
She was forgiven—Leona felt the load on her shoulders lighten. However, Dornian’s next words pressed down on her heart again.
“I won’t stop Freid from scolding you.”
Leona blinked several times in shock. Dronian smirked at her shocked face.
“Well, to you, Freid’s scolding would be much more effective than exiling you to an island for 100 years.”
“H-hey, Brother. While you’re in the process of forgiving me, can you tell Freid…”
She requested help from Dronian in a hurry. Of course, Leona’s desperate attempts were in vain.
“I’m not going to say anything to Freid, so don’t get any strange expectations. When Mother, Father, and Grandma come back, prepare to also get scolded by them.”
Leona was making a sad face and desperately trying to find a way to endure Freid’s scolding when she suddenly halted.
“…Are they really being held as captives? Mother and Father? Even Grandma?”
Dronian had been confident so far as Leona’s older brother, but he made a bitter reply. In order to fill up the empty space left behind by his father, Dronian did not show his emotions to other people, but since he was in front of a family member, some of his emotions seeped out.
“Don’t worry about them too much. Since the Iron Tribe wants us to obey them, they won’t easily harm our family. If the Iron Tribe harms any one of our family members, this whole conflict won’t end with our obedience. It’ll only end when one side completely dies.”
However, it was true that their family was in a dangerous situation. Since the Iron Tribe had three important figures from the Lake Tribe as hostages, the Iron Tribe could decide to kill just one of them. In the worst case scenario, all three of them could also die. Thus, Dronian couldn’t explicitly show his concerns to his younger sister.
“I’m sure they will come back safely. You should worry about making good excuses when they come back.”
As if to break the melancholic mood, Dronian slightly raised his voice.
“I want to ask about your companions. I’m thankful that they want to fight on our side as mercenaries, but I’m not sure about their skills. How strong are they?”
Leona smirked at his words and replied very confidently, “I’m not just saying this because they are my companions who helped me out, but…” Leona added more strength in her voice. “They are really strong!”
* * *
In order to test Zich and his companions’ skills, the palace employees prepared a site behind the palace. It was the same area where the royal guards trained, and thick trees completely surrounded the area to shield them from the peering eyes of other elves.
“We’ll be checking your skills through a duel. Is that alright?”
“Yes, Prince Dronian.”
Zich was the first one to step forward, and he easily warmed up his body by carelessly swinging Windur around. An elf stepped up in front of him.
“Are you my opponent?”
Zich’s opponent was D’niel, and D’niel held a thin sword. Compared to Zich’s Windur, which was pretty big and thick, D’niel’s sword looked frail. However, since elves were much better at handling mana than humans, the thickness and size of a sword did not matter to an elf. Of course, Windur’s solidity and strength were incomparable to any ordinary sword.
“He used to be a royal guard, and even among our tribe, he holds considerable skills and strength. Moreover, if we do end up hiring the four of you, we would have to keep your identities a secret as much as we can. For that reason, I thought it would be best to have you guys fight versus D’niel who already knows all of you.”
‘As expected, he makes good judgments.’
Dronian was really an admirable prince.
“Prince Dronian, that’s a great idea. Since we wore robes the whole time after meeting Mr. D’niel, it would be hard for anyone to figure out our identities.”
“You did that?”
Dronian stared at D’niel who had guided them to the capital, and the latter nodded to affirm Zich’s statement.
“You made a smart judgment.” Dronian looked closely at Zich’s face. ‘Judging by how he was able to figure out our situation, make an offer based on his group’s position as humans, and cover his group with robes, he’s a sharp human with keen senses.’
His officials told him that the man named Zich was the leader of the group. A leader with the ability to quickly assess the situation was a great advantage to have.
‘I think I can expect a lot from a unit with a leader like that.’
Dronian fervently prayed that Zich and his companions would be skilled and that they would be a great support for him and his tribe during this difficult time. However, as soon as the battle started, Dronian’s thoughts and expectations about Zich and his companions were completely shattered—of course, to a much more positive side.Previous Chapter Next Chapter