*˖:✧ ⑅•.⋅༻♔༺•⑅ ✧:˖*
Even though it was a decision made after days of contemplation, she was still hesitant.
But, step by step, Zelle walked towards the ink bottle and dipped her talon inside.
Zelle cried out loud. Then, Valhayle looked up at her.
She brought her talon over a paper that was spread open on the table. Valhayle indifferently tried to move the paper out of her reach.
She squealed sharply and drew two lines on the paper. The lines ran across each other.
It was a cross.
Just in case Valhayle thought it was a coincidence, she drew more crosses. Just like when she drew circles on the ground before.
Valhayle glared at Zelle.
“What do you… Mean by this.”
Zelle bit the golden ribbon around her leg.
Gold and Abundance. The color of royalty. And drew another cross.
Victory instead of the princess.
When Valhayle figured the meaning behind the golden ribbon and the sloppy crosses, his eyes lit up with anger.
“Are you suggesting I choose Roymonde over the royal heir?”
Valhayle grabbed Zelle’s neck abruptly.
“How dare you decide her fate……”
Zelle was silent. The person Valhayle was referring to right now was Zelleine herself anyway.
Valhayle gritted his teeth and added.
“You do not know. It’s not a light matter. Even so, you are telling me to proceed with our advance into the Central region even if I could… Lose Her Highness.”
Zelle glared back at Valhayle. Her eyes glowered with anger too.
Do you think I’m being flippant right now? No one values my life more than I do. There’s nothing I value more than my life in this world.
I persisted just to sustain that precious life of mine. I didn’t keep anything important in my life just to make that happen. Do you even know what that means?
Yet you think this decision is light?? What are you to be angry over my life!
Zelle got so frustrated with the situation in which she had to choose her own state that she started screeching, forgetting that her neck was still in his hands.
“Gweck! Gweccckk!!! Gweck!!!!”
You know this is the right choice. You believe it’s right to save thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands of people over saving one princess.
You know for a fact that the civil war that could happen in the future will cause less damage than this war!!
So you should be grateful for my decision. You should be rejoicing that you could save one more of your soldiers’ lives.
At least one person… Should be happy with my choice.
‘That’s the only way I’ll…’
But Valhayle didn’t seem happy at all. He actually looked as furious as Zelle was.
Zelle and Valhayle exchanged deadly glares. Zelle already had nothing to lose.
Kill me if you want. I already gave up my life. I’m not afraid of anything.
As she glared into Valhayle’s eyes, shock drew over his face. His grip on Zelle went slack.
“I think I know.”
With a hoarse voice, he continued.
“How to save them both.”
A few minutes ago.
When his messenger bird drew sloppy crosses with its talons, Valhayle spoke, furious.
“Are you telling me to proceed with our advance into the Central region even if I could… Lose Her Highness.”
His gaze met the bird’s.
As he stared into the bird’s golden and infuriated eyes, Valhayle got this feeling as if he was gazing at his own reflection.
The anger he was feeling was in the bird’s eyes. So Valhayle glared at the bird even harder.
He was extremely displeased with the bird’s gaze. It didn’t even make sense that a mere bird was discussing a life-or-death matter with fear and resistance towards death in its eyes when it wasn’t even human. He was lost for words.
Why does it have such a gaze?
It doesn’t even have any bonds with the dead people and the people at risk. It’s just a 1 year old bird that hasn’t even gone through all four seasons yet.
I would release you from the bird cage and save you from death at my last moment. So, why are you so afraid?
To consider it to be nothing more than concern for the humans it favors… It’s far too passionate.
Have I ever seen such an emotion exhibited by a bird or an animal? No, that’s not even possible.
If so… What are you?
At that moment, a spark of realization flickered in his mind.
[The Eye of the Sky.]
He let go of the bird entirely.
“I think I know. How to save them both.”
The heads of the assembled knights who had been roused from their sleep were all messy like a bird’s nest.
Sir Luke, who arrived a little earlier and heard Valhayle’s explanation, did a roll-call.
“Sir, they’re all here.”
Valhayle looked at each of the high-ranked knights aligned in front of him, and pronounced.
“We are not withdrawing our forefront.”
There was a murmur among the knights.
“Sir, if so… The 8th Princess will……”
Valhayle shook his head.
“No, we aren’t giving up on the 8th Princess as well.”
Now, only gasps resonated in the room. After a long moment of silence, one of the knights finally mustered the courage to ask.
Instead of answering him, Valhayle spread the map open. With the map in front of him, he started explaining the plan in detail.
“Granoir’s reinforcement troops are still very far away so this war situation is disadvantageous to Granoir. That’s most likely why they disclosed that they have the 8th Princess as captive.”
Sir Luke added.
“Yes, it’s their petty little trick to try and change the flow of the battle in the Central region.”
“We aren’t officially in a truce. We’re still in the process of negotiation. So, if a militia attacks them right now, how would they react?”
(Militia: an army assembled up of regular citizens to respond during an emergency)
The knights all turned contemplative. One of the knights came forward.
“They would most likely harm the princess since they were attacked. Of course, that’s in the case where they actually do have the princess.”
“What if they don’t have the princess?”
“Then… They would retreat since their plan didn’t work.”
“If they take flight, we won’t go after them. Since we only have to confirm if the princess is with them or not.”
Another knight asked cautiously.
“But sir. If they really do have the princess with them… What happens then?”
Sir Luke interjected.
“There are many militias that were voluntarily created in each region. They must be aware of that as well so they can’t execute the princess immediately. Since the princess would have to be alive for our negotiation to work.”
Valhayle tapped his baton on the desk.
“That’s right. They would try to investigate if we were behind the militia’s attack. So, while they are comprehending the situation, we have to retrieve the princess.”
One of the knights raised his hand.
“But if they are attacked, won’t they move the princess first?”
“Exactly. We don’t know Her Highness’s location so it would be difficult for us to rescue her in time.”
Valhayle silently tapped several spots on the map with his baton.
“What if they are ambushed from many directions?”
He added in a low voice.
“It’s guerilla warfare.”
(Guerilla warfare: a form of irregular warfare in which small groups of combatants ambush the enemies’ back or side to disrupt/destroy them.)
Valhayle looked at his audience.
“When the militia under our command ambushes them from many spots, the area where Her Highness is located will be agitated more greatly than the other places. Then, they will immediately call for reinforcements.”
“Their movement would be quite noticeable then.”
Valhayle agreed with the knight who remarked.
“I’ll command the leaders of the militia to signal us with salt fire when they spot such movements.”
Salt fire. Zelle’s eyes widened when she heard that word.
‘He plans on using salt fire?’
Salt fire was Roymonde’s unique invention and the military’s treasure that was never shared with any other countries.
Usually, it was used in naval battles since it was very effective in burning down enemy ships. But there were other uses of the salt fire.
It had a very differentiable flame compared to an ordinary fire, so it could be used as military codes for exchanging information in night combat.
But in that case, a messenger soldier to see the salt fire and deliver the message was necessary. And by the time the messenger soldier saw that signal and relayed the princess’s location… Granoir would have moved or executed the princess already.
Valhayle, who knew that fact more than anyone, spoke.
“Yes. It will be too late if we use a messenger soldier. But thankfully we have—”
He continued proudly.
“—the Eye of the Sky.”
The knights shared looks.
Eye of the Sky? Ah, the commander’s bird that sees and hears all of the enemy’s plans…? But that’s just a false rumor that we spread to scare them.
Ordinary soldiers didn’t know the truth behind that rumor, but the high-ranked knights present in this room did. But their commander-in-chief continued.
“We’re going to use that eye.”
At that moment, everyone turned to Zelle.
The Eye of the Sky. The pet bird of the commander-in-chief. The small bird of prey cavier falcon.
She was already a bird but, to appear more like a bird, she pretended to peck on the piece of meat in front of her.
Valhayle’s eyes glowed as he spoke.
“Our enemies do not know what our messenger bird is capable of.”
Actually, the people in the tent didn’t know either.
Amidst the confusion even among allies, the plan to retrieve the 8th Princess began.
“This is salt fire.”
Zelle stared into the fire in front of her.
It had an unrealistic color and brightness compared to a regular fire.
In one of Linbessy’s birthday celebrations, a salt fire had floated on the palace pond. However, Zelleine hadn’t been present that day, so this was the first time she ever saw a salt fire in person.
Even the palace can’t use it whenever they want to… Zelle stepped closer to the fire as if she was lured by it.
“Don’t go closer.”
Valhayle blocked her way.
“It catches on to anything alive easily.”
He tore a sack of sand over the fire.
Zelle blinked in disappointment that the beautiful flames were now gone.
Valhayle flicked his finger in front of Zelle.
“Pay attention. This is directly related to your life.”
Zelle looked up at Valhayle.
She knew he said it totally unaware that she was the 8th Princess but…
She couldn’t help but feel like his words had a double meaning.
Her life as a bird and her life as a human.
This operation was related to both of those.
Valhayle started to slowly explain.
“If you see the salt fire, you must remember the spot and come back to me immediately. I would already be on the way by then with the advance troops.”
“We will attack anything that flies over towards us since it’s dark. So you have to cry out loud before you enter our range to alert us.”
He scanned Zelle up and down and added.
“Well. Crying is your specialty so I’m sure you can do that with ease.”
What did you just say to me?!
Zelle glared at him with annoyance.
I only cried because you humans can’t understand me at all.
Valhayle ignored her indignant eyes and continued.
“I will be running second in the party. The flag bearer will be running in the front. So you must come to the second man in line.”
The second man.
Zelle reiterated in her mind.
“There could be changes later. So, in order to make it easy for you to differentiate me…”
He set his helmet down in front of Zelle.
“I’ll tie a ribbon like yours around the tail of my helmet.”
And he proceeded to tie a golden ribbon just like Zelle’s on his helmet.
It was a rough knot, unlike the one he tied around Zelle’s leg.
“You’re diurnal but we will carry torches with us so it won’t be too difficult for you to find us.”
Zelle cried out softly to tell him that she understood.
Valhayle looked at Zelle silently for a moment and petted her head.
“Your role is the core of this mission.”
He clenched his jaw and added.
“If this plan works, we can drive Granoir out of the Central region completely.”
*˖:✧ ⑅•.⋅༻♔༺•⑅ ✧:˖*
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TL/N: We’re finally ahead of the manhwa! I’ll try to keep it that way Also, I recommend reading the novel along with the manhwa for the fullest experience since though the manhwa gives a visual representation, I noticed that they don’t contain the details and the delicate emotions the novel has. Enjoy the chap!