Book 4: Chapter 3 (2) |
The black knight, Daryun, and his friend, the tactician, walked side by side in the corridor. Daryun looked like he wanted to say something, but didn’t. He looked at Narsus, who continued to walk forward with feigned ignorance, and then finally opened his mouth.
"Narsus, I know you’re always thoughtful, but don’t you think you’re being a little too cruel to His Highness? Isn’t this just putting another burden on his shoulders?"
"Is it really better to keep it a secret?"
Narsus said with a faintly bitter smile.
"I've been carrying this secret on my own for almost half a year. If I could keep it from His Highness any longer, I certainly would. But, Daryun, you should understand this. Even if I conceal it as much as I can, wouldn't it be worse if the other side were to reveal it first?"
Narsus had a point. Hilmes would definitely disclose his identity and claim his rightful succession to the throne. Instead of suddenly learning about it from the enemy, it would be less shocking for Arslan to be told by his own companions.
"Moreover, Daryun, His Highness Arslan's own identity is also vague. In contrast, the matter of Silver Mask is ultimately someone else's business. If he were to let himself be shaken by such things, then he simply wouldn't be able to bear his own secrets."
What Narsus meant was that Arslan's birth also had some layer of mystery around it. Although Daryun nodded his head and said yes, the bravest general of Pars sighed.
"Even so, His Highness’s burden is too heavy. He is only fourteen years old!"
"In my opinion, His Highness Arslan is more determined than he looks, and he will be able to overcome the matter of Prince Hilmes. All he needs is time."
"Is that too optimistic?"
The knight in black asked without hesitation.
"What if His Highness Arslan intends to atone for his father's sins and gives up the throne to Prince Hilmes? Given His Highness's personality, it's not impossible."
"That's right. Then, Prince Hilmes would become our king, no?"
Although Hilmes’s method of revenge seemed wild, he was not without the ability to rule a country. With his goal of revenge fulfilled, he might become a wise and brave monarch.
However, even if Hilmes wanted to free the slaves, he would likely not make it a priority. If he were to do anything, he would only give an order to treat the slaves well. Perhaps this was the major difference between Hilmes and Arslan. Gathering his light hair, Narsus looked back at his friend.
"Rather, I would like to hear what you have to say. Daryun, if His Highness fails to become the king of Pars, would you then follow Prince Hilmes?"
"Don't be ridiculous."
Silver Mask and Daryun had met face to face, and Hilmes was the man who killed his uncle Vaphreze. He shook his head.
"Should that time come, the two of us will join forces to conquer a country suitable for His Highness Arslan to govern. There are citizens that suffer from bad governance everywhere."
Hearing Daryun's joke, Narsus laughed. No matter what opinion he and his friend had, it was ultimately up to Arslan to make the decision.
Narsus changed the topic
"About Tus, Zaravant, Isfan and the others ……"
"Let them serve as the vanguard. You and Kishward will retreat to the second line this time."
For Narsus, the issue of military formations also held an aspect of political utility. After their numbers swelled greatly, the issue of internal unification was a problem that still had to be solved.
Fighting a war is not the same as winning. One reason why the newcomers have conflicts with the others is because of the difference in their martial fame, so these people must be given the opportunity to build a name for themselves.
In addition, even if they lost the vanguard, as long as the two men in the second formation, Daryun and Kishward, were unharmed, it was not difficult for them to achieve victory. Just the thought that these two men were still alive would give the soldiers some peace of mind.
After hearing Narsus' proposal, Daryun crossed his arms.
"So it’s my job to give others the opportunity to build up their reputation?"
"What are you complaining about? You’re always the one in the spotlight."
As they turned the corner of the corridor, there was suddenly a foul odor that slowly wafted over with the night breeze. It smelled like something burning. They didn't even have time to think about it before there was a strange sound in their ears. It was the sound of an explosion.
Daryun and Narsus looked at each other. Without saying a word, the two men drew their swords and ran. Smoke slowly drifted through the night air. Suddenly, they felt a wave of heat coming over them, and saw a red fire scurrying through a corner of the darkness.
"Fire! Fire, Lord Narsus!"
The teenager Elam shouted as he ran over. After seeing the expression on his master's face, he continued without waiting for a question.
"The grain warehouse was set on fire. A few people saw strange figures and are chasing them!"
Daryun and Narsus looked at each other again. The strange figure that crossed their minds was the face that wore a silver mask. Even people as brave as Daryun and Narsus could not help but be stunned for a moment. The latter called to the former in a low voice.
"Daryun, go and guard His Highness!"
As soon as the words left his mouth, Daryun immediately turned his head and darted away. If Silver Mask was Hilmes, he might have taken advantage of the confusion to assassinate the Crown Prince. The security around the prince should be stricter.
In the midst of the growing chaos, the presence of the Marzban Kishward was even more important. In any case, the fortress of Peshawar was his domain.
"Put out the fire! Put out the fire first! Draw water from well number four!"
He gave the stern and calm order to prevent the fire from spreading. Since they could leave the work of extinguishing the fire to Kishward, Narsus took Elam and joined the soldiers who were chasing the arsonist. The crowd was moving very fast, and the sound of people and armor was so noisy that Narsus and Elam were separated. It seemed that Alfreed's voice could be heard in the confusion, but it was hard to tell.
"He's escaped that way!"
"Don't let him escape! Kill him!"
The shouts of the soldiers were filled with a bloodthirsty exuberance. They had come here to fight, but so far, they had not had the opportunity to participate in an actual battle. Their excited energy could not just be dispersed through sparring matches and hunting. The large group of men carried swords in their hands and had bloodshot eyes.
If the arsonist was Hilmes, there was no telling how many casualties would be caused by carelessly pursuing him. How many people were there in the fortress of Peshawar who could fight with Hilmes? Narsus couldn't help but feel glad that he had told Daryun to return to the Prince's side.
Hearing the soldiers' shouts, Narsus turned to look. A figure darker than the night swept across the evening sky, the black shadow moving quickly from the roof of the cloister to the stone atrium. The soldier who followed the trail ran forward and swung his sword down hard. The sound of the blade rang out, and the soldier's chop was bounced back. The counter-attacking slash made a short arc, and blood sprayed from the soldier's jaw, and he fell to the ground. Two white blades attacked again, however, the black shadow jumped high and avoided the blow. They watched as he bit his short sword and grabbed the end of the eaves with his remaining right hand, and disappeared with a flip.
"What a strange enemy. That’s certainly not natural."
A man who served as a commander under Kishward, murmured in amazement.
It was not Hilmes. He was not wearing a silver mask, and he was missing his left hand. The enemy’s figure jogged Narsus’s memory. Wasn't he the one whose hand was cut off last month when he failed to steal Bahman’s secret letter? In that case, was his target still the secret letter? Had he already found it?
Narsus chased after the black shadow, as this matter could not be left to others.
The shadow taunted its pursuers on the ground. It was as if he had become a part of the night itself, running quickly and silently across the top of the fortress with his body low.
Suddenly, the dark figure stopped moving, as he saw another person on top of the fortress besides himself. The figure leaning against the wall moved slowly, blocking the shadow’s path.
It was Gieve.
"Well, aren’t you the spy that got his hand cut off by Lord Narsus the other day?"
Gieve continued to advance, moving as slowly and smoothly as water. The dark shadow saw that Gieve's movements were natural, but with a murderous aura, and there was no route of escape.
Wordlessly, the shadow assumed a ready stance, slightly bent at the waist, as if his whole body was on springs, his eyes shining.
"They do say that only smoke and thieves like high places."
As Gieve uttered these words, a white flash of light shot out from the dark figure. The shortsword in his right hand shot out toward Gieve's face.
As Gieve's longsword deflected the shortsword, the black shadow made a strange sound and jumped, attacking empty-handed. Gieve seemed to see something subtle, but he did not dodge, instead he took a step forward and swung his sword from the lower left to the upper right, cleverly slicing the shadow's outstretched right hand into two.
The man who had now lost both his hands fell backwards towards the wall of the fortress while spurting blood. Instead of being immobilized by the pain, he jumped up with an extremely impressive speed, not giving Gieve a chance to strike a second blow.
"Courageous, but unworthy of sympathy. Are you going to bite me next? If only it was a lovely girl biting my finger, that would be better…"
Gieve's longsword flashed. Something else seemed to flash in front of his eyes and landed on the ground. It was a thick needle that had been fired from the mouth of the shadow. Without hesitation, Gieve leapt up and swung a violent horizontal slash.
The head of the black shadow seemed to disappear before the sword struck. However, what remained at the tip of Gieve's sword was only a piece of a black cloak. As Gieve clicked his tongue and swung the black garment away, he heard the sound of water resounding below.
"Falling into the moat? Just like Silver Mask."
When Gieve heard the young tactician's voice, he turned back and put his sword away in its sheath.
"Look at this."
Gieve picked up the wrist he had cut off and handed it to Narsus. Something like this didn't look pleasant, but Narsus gently squinted his eyes and looked at it carefully.
The nails of its fingers were a blueish black. He’d dipped his fingertips in venom and could poison an enemy with just a scratch. This was not a formal combat technique, but a technique used by low-level assassins.
It had not been like this when Narsus chopped off his left hand before. Perhaps it was after losing his left hand that he transformed his remaining right hand into a poisonous weapon in order to compensate for his unfortunate condition?
"What a terrifyingly strong conviction."
Narsus did not answer Gieve's sentiment with words, and ordered the soldiers who had arrived at that moment to split up and search the moat. There was no way he could swim if he’d lost both hands, and even if he could swim, there was no way to climb out of the moat. He had been bleeding, so perhaps he was already dead. If he was still alive, Narsus had something to ask him.
"Yes, he was looking for Elder Bahman’s secret letter. I knew that too. What I don't understand is why he was after it. And who ordered him after it? What is their intention?"
Narsus' questions were interrupted before he could get an answer. The soldiers searching the moat had retrieved a body from the bottom of the water in the early morning, missing both its hands, and with its face disfigured in some strange way, leaving no clues to determine his identity.
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