˖:✧ ⑅•.⋅༻♔༺•⑅ ✧:˖
‘The 9th prince. He was just twelve.’
Royalty was not a status that was pitied by people for young age but she silently lamented for her half-brother.
“I heard that the 1st and 2nd princess and the 4th prince escaped through the western gate. And that the 8th princess and the 10th and 11th princes escaped through the eastern gate.”
It was true. Zelle recalled her memories and nodded.
“Lopecce is in search of the 1st and 2nd princess and the 4th prince assuming that they are hiding somewhere in the West. We, Roheneim, are in charge of finding the royal descendants who escaped through the eastern gate.”
He burned the rolled confidential message with the candle.
“Lopecce sent a message that there is no hope for the 10th and 11th princes. They advised us to search for the 8th princess with utmost priority. That was…”
He sighed behind the screen of smoke.
“The contents of this confidential message.”
Zelle now realized why her name was mentioned in the confidential message.
As well as why Valhayle had said this confidential message wasn’t important.
Valhayle watched the message burn with hopelessness.
So you are saying none of us have been found yet.
And that you are losing hope.
Zelle was suddenly struck with an intense desire to tell him that she was the 8th princess.
She hopped onto Valhayle’s desk.
Is it alright to tell you?
‘Will you… Believe me, if I do?’
No, to begin with…Are you even going to understand me?
Unaware of Zelle’s torment, Valhayle gave her pieces of leftover food from his plate.
Zelle watched those food pieces in silence.
“We haven’t found any signs of them in the East. But we recaptured the Black Defense Wall now so we can begin the search in the Central region.”
Zelle looked at his exhausted eyes.
As she looked into those eyes, a spark was lit in his eyes.
Zelle was surprised as if she was burned by that spark.
It was unusual. Even his anger was under control.
“Even if everyone says they are all dead… “
He continued while suppressing his emotions.
“I don’t believe that… None of them survived.”
Zelle could sense suffering in his voice.
That suffering could be from his concern for the 2nd princess whom he was betrothed to or from the concern for this country’s future.
Does he really believe that some of us could be alive?
Or is he simply denying the fact that all of us could be dead and that there is no reason to continue to fight.
Zelle tried to look for an answer in his grey eyes.
When Valhayle noticed the bird’s gaze, he was startled.
And the passion that once burned inside him was gone from the surface.
“Ha. I… Must be tired.”
He patted his cheeks and shook his head.
“I should get my head straight…”
Zelle approached Valhayle, slightly dragging her injured leg.
The bandage around his arm bothered her from a while ago.
She placed her beak over the bandage where she could smell the most blood and pretended to poke it.
Despite her small size, she was still a bird of prey. Thus, Valhayle pulled his arm away.
Zelle moved closer and pretended to poke it again.
It was her way of asking him about the wound.
Valhayle slowly looked down at Zelle.
“You are… Strange.”
Zelle quite liked that and smiled internally.
It felt like he acknowledged the human she was inside this bird’s body.
At the same time, she decided against telling him that she was the 8th princess.
I don’t want to betray your trust that we are alive as humans.
Even though that trust may not be for me.
Valhayle hesitated for a moment, then sighed.
“Really strange. But… I don’t know why.”
Zelle’s leg wobbled.
The water she drank as soon as she woke up must have been induced with medicine. She was feeling sleepy again.
Zelle curled up beside Valhayle.
Her eyes grew heavy and soon fell shut.
She felt warmth as she fell asleep.
With the thought that it could be Valhayle’s hands, Zelle finally slept.
The next day, Zelle was alone in Valhaye’s tent for the whole day.
Only the medic and the squire came by to check up on Zelle and to feed her food and water.
After gaining some energy, Zelle went over to Valhayle’s desk.
She wasn’t trying to look for the confidential message.
‘It’s in military code so I can’t read it anyway.’
Instead, Zelle stood on top of the map that was always spread open on the center of the desk.
There were yellow stones that represented Roymonde and green stones that represented Granoir positioned all over the map.
The only difference between the two colored stones was that the yellow stones were in exact locations on the map while the green stones were in the blank part of the map.
Zelle patiently attempted again and again to hold a green stone and place it on one point of the map.
Then another. And another.
It hurt for her to move because of her injured leg, but Zelle continued to concentrate on arranging the green stones on the map.
Not long after.
As Zelle was on her last few stones, a cold voice resonated.
“Don’t touch it.”
Zelle turned back in surprise.
‘When did he come in? I didn’t feel anything.’
Valhayle snatched the green stone out of Zelle’s beak and said.
“This is not your toy.”
He tried to remove the map from underneath Zelle’s foot, scattering all the green stones she had placed.
But Valhayle must have just considered it as the bird’s tantrum for being robbed of its toy and frowned.
He grabbed Zelle and placed her back where the yellow flag was.
Valhayle returned to his desk.
She could hear him mumbling.
“…Many soldiers were injured in this battle. It’s important to decide whether to proceed without them since it’s difficult to predict when the next battle will be. All the other commanders are waiting for my order…”
He pressed his temples.
“The situation is bad. Voymont is regrouping, but there are not enough military supplies for them. With the supplies Roheneim has now, none of us will last. I did request for more from the West, but…”
Zelle watched him bite his chapped lips.
“There is no secure route yet. And we can’t ignore the people of the Central region who have been plundered. We will need more than what we had requested.”
Valhayle clenched his fist.
“On top of that, there’s news that the Granoir troop that was attacking Sirzhan up north is returning after receiving news that the Black Defense Wall has been recaptured…”
He paused abruptly.
Then silence followed.
Zelle cocked her head in curiosity.
Why did you stop? Continue talking.
Then she realized.
Hey, you. You just shocked yourself for subconsciously talking to me again, right?
Frustrated, Valhayle pulled the map.
The stones were disorganized.
Zelle glared at him and clenched her beak.
‘You are going to regret that.’
He spread the map out again and carefully placed the yellow stones back in their original positions and drew a few lines with chalk. Then he contemplated it.
Zelle scooched little by little toward him.
Valhayle placed his palm on his forehead.
“I wish I could become a bird and just have a look.’
Eh? I think I’ve heard that before.
Zelle got deja vu from what Valhayle had just said.
When he was dispatching Zelle to Lopecce for the second time, he said this:
‘I wish I could go there myself.’
Zelle had written it off as him acting strange.
But… You meant it?
You really want to become a bird?
Valhayle closed his eyes and pressed his temples.
“The Granoir archery troops are in their defense line. They are so secretive that there is no way to find their accurate location. The damage in the effort to secure a supply route can be minimized if I can find that out.”
Zelle flew over to the desk and sat on the map again.
Valhayle glared down at Zelle.
Zelle held one green stone with her beak. And placed it on one point of the map.
Valhayle seemed to have decided to observe Zelle.
Zelle continued to place the green stones.
After a few times, Valhayle spoke.
“Don’t waste your energy.”
And removed one of the stones she had placed.
“It’s going to hurt if you accidentally swallow one.”
You still don’t get it?
She shouted and snatched the stone he just took, putting it back where she had originally placed it.
Doubt ran through his mind.
Zelle tapped the stones and arranged them into the shape she wanted.
Valhayle jumped out of his seat.
His voice contained astonishment.
“…Pass through there?”
Zelle ignored his shock. She stared dead into his eyes and nodded.
And this is the information you need so desperately.
The locations of the Granoir camps.
Valhayle stared at the sight in incredulity before he finally let out a short sigh.
“I should have known when you came back with an arrow through your leg.”
His rough hands grabbed Zelle.
He pushed Zelle down with both hands and tilted his head to meet her gaze.
“How dare you disobey a military order.”
He expressed his fury and clenched his jaw.
It seemed like he was reminding himself that he was talking to a bird about military commands.
He expressed his fury for a short while and growled.
“How is an animal this reckless…”
Zelle cried piteously as she was pushed against the ground.
To be honest, she wasn’t hurt or anything.
But she needed all the pity she could get now that he found out she disobeyed him.
Acting pitiful was the best way to live at times like this.
Zelle looked up at Valhayle and let out a fragile cry.
Her acting must have worked. He loosened his grip.
“I told you so many times. If I lose you…”
He couldn’t continue.
Only his hands got softer, not his voice.
He spoke in a terrifying tone.
“How can a bird do such a crazy thing.”
He spoke furiously like reciting a soliloquy.
“I didn’t agree when others said you were crazy but… They were right. You are crazy.”
He let go of her as soon as he finished.
Zelle warily moved away from him and he slid into his chair.
Not long after, Valhayle’s head shot up.
He looked between Zelle and her arrangement of the green stones and back again.
˖:✧ ⑅•.⋅༻♔༺•⑅ ✧:˖
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