Arc 3, Waxing Moon
War cries erupted from the direction Minaha had shot his arrow, and the bandits came rushing out.
Dozens of them rode on horseback. The galloping of hooves echoed in the forest. Birds screeched and flew off from the treetops.
Some of the bandits shot off arrows, the projectiles whipping through the air, but Ganche quickly grabbed the spear tied to his horse and knocked all of them away.
For the bandits, it seemed they needed more training to learn to continue firing arrows, for as soon as Ganche stopped the barrage, he aimed his spear at the bandits and launched it.
The spear, with its sharpened, immense blade, shot through the air and grazed past the group, only to pierce straight through the face of one of the men in the back.
The bandits who stood in the path between Ganche and the man who now fell over, the scarlet spear through his head, all clutched at their faces or shoulders, falling to their knees as they groaned in pain.
The cleave of Ganche’s spear was so powerful that it robbed the bandits of their will to fight just by nicking them.
The air was still for a moment. Then, the bandits roared in anger as they grasped their swords and spears in hand. Their numbers must have ranged in the dozens; at some point, they had surrounded Ernst and his companions in a fan-shaped formation.
If Ganche had not noticed the signs and Minaha had not let loose with his bow, then the hidden bandits would have filled their bodies with arrows.
From the moment Ganche had halted his horse until now, only a sliver of time had passed.
Had the bandits truly been able to surround them in such a short period of time? It seemed unlikely to Ernst that these bandits were a disorganized group.
“Targes, does it not seem as if a leader is somewhere among them?” Ernst asked in a low whisper directed behind him.
“I believe so, as well. Cutting off the head won’t take a group like this down, however. It’s more likely that their organized coordination ended when they surrounded us.”
As Targes had said, the bandits restlessly jostled each other as they packed closer, seeming as if they were all keeping each other in check, not wanting others to make the first move.
It seemed that in the near future, the bandits would turn on and rob each other, as well.
Staring into the glimmering eyes of the bandits, Ernst felt cold sweat trail down his back.
Ganche, astride his horse, barred the way between Ernst and the bandits. After he had launched his spear, his greatsword remained hilted at his waist. As if the bandits had sensed something amiss, none of them approached to attack.
The Dunbertian, clad in his crimson armor, seemed to grow larger with every passing moment.
As the two forces glared at each other, Ernst felt gratitude in his heart that, at the least, these bandits weren’t headed by a powerful leader.
If a formidable leader commanded them, then their stolen goods would be distributed equally, and would also be used for strategic purposes. If that were the case, then the likelihood of them having hired Grude tribesfolk or Sistican swordmasters would have been much higher.
If this group had added mercenaries into their mix, then Ganche alone might not have been enough to fight against them. But to hire people of Grude or Sistica as mercenaries – people who only operated under contracts stipulated by money – required an enormous sum of funds.
Three bandits who wore competent armor gathered their spirits, then advanced on their horses.
Their glares were focused on the box tied to Ganche’s black horse. They knew, from experience, just what contents such an ornamented wooden box would hold.
Each of them gripped their swords in hand. The way the sunlight played against the blades of the swords told that the weapons were Sistica-made.
Had these men worked as mercenaries long enough for them to be able to obtain Sistican swords? Or were those blades from the multitudes of robberies they had committed?
Ganche, too, slowly drew out the sword at his hip. The sword was enormous, as tall as Ernst’s entire body.
Gripping the reins in his left hand, Ganche turned his horse toward the center bandit.
As Ganche’s horse advanced a few steps, Ernst knew that on the man’s face was a smile.
Ernst could only see Ganche’s back, though even if he saw Ganche from the front, the black faceguard completely obscured his facial expressions. Yet even so, Ernst knew that Ganche was smiling.
A crimson helm with a black faceguard. All that was visible from the outside were the eyes. Those copper eyes which whirled with expressions like those of a child must now be glowing a fierce gold.
When the people of the Dunbertian race became agitated, their eyes changed to a golden color.
The bandits who had ventured forth with courage now stepped back, pinned by Ganche’s golden gaze. Regardless of how determined their riders were, the horses were frightened.
Ganche did not let the retreat of the bandits’ horses slip from him.
He launched his horse into a gallop with a single kick, and with a flick of his right wrist, that enormous and heavy greatsword swung in his hand.
Half of the head of the bandit on his right went flying off, and as he returned his swing, he cleaved through the chest of the bandit to his left.
Without his horse slowing down in the slightest, he cut the torso of the bandit in front of him in half and dashed past the scattered body, his hand gripping the spear that he himself had thrown.
With a heh, Ganche used a single tug to pull out the spear. He directed his horse to turn its head through only the movement of his legs, and then, the five bandits surrounding him collapsed off their steeds.
Ganche only had to brandish his spear to cleave through poorly-made armor. Two of the fallen bandits had already lost their lives.
“The battle is decided, I see,” Targes murmured in relief.
“But there are still twenty people left.” Even as he said this, Ernst also realized that this battle had been won.
Ganche, with his spear in his left hand and greatsword in his right, did not have a single bandit approach him.
To the bandits, the crimson of Ganche’s armor looked a bloody, doomful color. Even Ganche’s black horse, stomping its hooves violently on the ground, struck fear in the horses of the bandits.
“Since you wish to die, come face me. You started this – so don’t make me chase you.”
As Ganche spoke, the bandits retreated in alarm. At the end, six of them were dead, eight so wounded they were unable to move, all of their bodies scattered across the area.
“Lord Ernst, what would you like us to do with this lot?” Targes asked.
This commander of his occasionally did this, wanting to try things the way Ernst directed.
In this instance, however, Ernst felt as if Targes was actually testing him.
Are you truly able to bear the burden for your people?
Are you capable of choosing the correct course of action for them to take?
That was what the question seemed to be.
From his position on the horse, Ernst looked down toward the bandits who groaned in pain.
With a shallow inhale, Ernst came to a decision, and he gave his order to Ganche.
At those words, Ganche swung his spear down.
They safely exited the forest and reached Mutica fief.
Ganche had not been touched by even a single drop of the blood he had spilled.
Mutica fief, rather than being a land of agriculture, was better known as a fief of craftsmen.
With its forest being in the state they had just seen, it was apparent that Mutica fief did not clear the forests for farmland as Gris fief did. In this territory there were several places for bandits to hide, such as in this forest at the border between fiefs.
The militia troops advanced through Mutica fief, and they did not take off a single piece of their armor.
After they had traveled for half a day, Targes abruptly tried to strike up a conversation.
The way he spoke was as if he had unconsciously mumbled something to himself, so Ernst hadn’t realized that Targes had actually been addressing him, at first.
“It was surprising to me.”
“I had wondered if you would try to help them, Lord Ernst.”
It took a bit of time for Ernst to realize he was talking about the bandits.
“Humm… If I had spared them, then what of the money, or rather, the lives they would covet next?”
It was impossible to believe that after being shown Ganche’s strength, they would have had a change of heart. In the first place, if such exceptional people existed, they would not have become bandits.
The next time they faced each other, they would only be enemies seeking revenge against Ganche.
And that which would deal Ganche the greatest blow –
Would be to hurt Ernst.
“Besides, even if I had not given the order, you had already ordered it done, had you not, Targes? …You ordered Brez to do it.”
Ernst looked back at Targes and saw the man’s wry smile.
Ernst faced forward. He said, resolute, “I made the decision to take their lives. There is no need for you or anyone else to bear the burden of this responsibility.” He reached out to grasp Targes’ hand, which clutched the horse’s reins.
Even soldiers could not become accustomed to taking another person’s life. Ernst had no desire for soldiers who would become accustomed to such a thing. Such people were nothing more than murderers.
Ganche enjoyed battle.
However, he did not wish to meaninglessly slaughter other people. It was only that, just as he could block his sense of heat, cold, and pain of his own will, so too could he temporarily block his sense of guilt.
Ganche had never spoken of this, but Ernst thought this was the case.
Ernst understood that the road he must walk as a lord was not a primrose one.
If there were people who stood as obstacles in his path, like the bandits from earlier, then Ernst had the conviction to reject any thought of encouraging them.
The heavy weight of deciding to kill another person was a burden Ernst wished to carry alone.
The burden of executing this decision fell on Ganche.
If Ernst had the power to freely swing about a sword as Targes and the others did, then he would take the execution of it into his own hands, he thought. But with Ernst’s weakness, no matter how hard or often he trained, he would only result in inflicting needless pain to the person whose life he attempted to take.
He had no choice but to order Ganche, unforgivably involving him in Ernst’s responsibility.
However, if Ernst had given his order to anyone other than Ganche, then Ganche would have taken it as a deep and sundering wound.
Ordering Ganche to do this, was also providing salvation to Ganche.
Ernst felt that he had done Ganche a heavy wrong. But this was the path that he and Ernst had to take.
Happy new year!!! ╰(´♡`)╯
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