Brendel and Freya walked in the forest under the moonlight. The shadows of the pine trees looked like a narrow tunnel. The sounds of their footsteps could be heard softly. The full moon shone brightly above the pine trees as the hoots of the owls were heard throughout the whole forest. Brendel walked very quickly and she could barely keep up with his pace. She pressed the hem of her dress with one hand to prevent it from getting caught in the jagged bushes. Though all she could think about right now was her hand that was held in his hand. She didn’t have the chance to spend time with him alone ever since they parted ways in Praguesse. She remembered the last time they did that was when they walked side by side at night in Stag Forest, which was coincidentally where they were right now.
"Brendel, where are we going?"
“You’ll know when we reach there later."
Freya stopped talking. Although she was a little shy, she still let him hold her hand tightly. Both of them walked slowly in the forest. It felt like a long yet short trip. Soon, the forest became less dense and they could see the faint moonlight. Only then she realized that they’d reached the other end of the forest, but she didn’t know where she was.
We’re here. It’s still here. Brendel thought to himself.
They arrived in front of a gate that had a lively bazaar behind it. The bazaar was located at the edge of the forest and it was filled with lights as if the faries were holding a feast and lit a bunch of torches as they gathered around there. But when Freya saw the crooked shacks and wooden huts in the distance, she realized where she was. She put her left hand on her heart and her mouth opened slightly.
Ever since the War of The Black Roses ended, the refugees from Fortress Riedon and Bucce gathered near Praguesse. Some of them left this place and brought their families to northern Manoweir, Kirkuk and Magitan. But those who were attached to their homeland and the old and weak people who couldn’t move stayed behind. They didn’t have the power to fight with the locals for the land, so they could only build a place to stay around the forest. The refugees who escaped Riedon with Brendel were grateful for his kindness as they headed to Trentheim with the accompaniment of Leto’s mercenaries. But only a few left their homeland and a majority of them chose to stay behind, such as the refugees from Bucce and the northern region.
"Look, Freya, these are the people who are counting on you. They're not in a good place right now. You can ask everyone who’d survived that catastrophe in Bucce if they respected and looked after you because of your origins,” said Brendel emotionally. He knew these places very well from his past life and these settlements were established throughout his novice era. He also knew what these people who lived in the wooden sheds were like.
At this moment, Freya held his hands tightly and broke down in tears. This was her hometown and the origin of her dreams and beliefs.
Did Aunt Ciel, her uncle, Captain Madden, little Phineas and everyone else trust her because of her origins?
This was a question that didn't need to be answered.
"Remember the vow you made, Freya."
“Brendel… Brendel…,” she murmured as if she was interrogating herself.
"Freya, you're Everton's daughter, but you're Bucce's daughter as well. No matter what your accomplishments are in the future, this is a fact that will never change,” replied Brendel.
"I understand… I should've known…" She closed her eyes and shook her head vigorously. "I was wrong, Brendel, I'm sorry. "
He patted her shoulder gently. His intention was to bring her back to visit the folks in Bucce. “Do you want to go in and take a look?” he asked softly. Freya took a deep breath, looked at him apologetically and nodded.
Ever since the Year of Summer Blossoms and Leaves, the constant influx of refugees had become the biggest headache for the Bucce nobles as they couldn’t afford and didn’t have the time to resettle these homeless people. With the locals and military forces shirking their responsibilities, the refugees' livelihoods went down day by day, and after the kingdom chose to give in to Madara, their hopes of returning to their homeland were gone. The nobles in the grey castle were busy fighting for power and profit, it was as if the kingdom’s defeat in the war turned into the sharpest spear and sword in their hands and they used them to pierce through the opponents’ chests. Some people were unlucky and fell from power and eventually got executed, and those who sang the song of victory weren’t necessarily acting in good faith for the ancient kingdom.
Even the locals, who were led by the gentry of the manor, ostracized the outsiders. Although the people who were at the bottom of the social ladder were innately compassionate, they would only behave this way if it doesn’t affect their interests, and the selfishness in human nature would still make the situation worse for these poor people. They couldn’t compete with the locals for living resources, so they had no choice but to take care of each other in the forest. But even so, they still had to face discrimination and suspicion from the locals. It was a tough life for these refugees from Bucce.
They were also anxious about their future because the place they lived right now actually belonged to a count in Praguesse. The nobles didn’t want to cause a riot, so they just ignored the refugees’ doings. But the count wasn’t satisfied with the way the nobles dealt with this matter as he would become a fool in their eyes if it was only his loss. The count had actually requested the noble council to evict these “bandits" who had occupied his land.
This might sound unbelievable to the ordinary people, but the noble council had to consider the count's request as they had the responsibility to protect the legitimate property of the nobles.
Madden sat by a campfire. He was wearing the police force's uniform although the colour of some parts of the uniform had already faded off. This uniform was his pride although it was in the past. He’d heard about what the noble council had discussed. He looked at the night sky and sighed. It was as if his sorrow could be seen on every wrinkle on this old man's forehead. He didn’t choose to leave with Bucce and Freya that day because taking care of Bucce was his responsibility. The young people could do anything they wanted, but he'd already experienced a lot in Bucce, so he wanted to bury his body in that land.
He couldn’t part with this land and the familiar smell of the soil in Bucce. Everyone was still here, so he couldn’t leave.
But the situation worsened day by day. They couldn’t produce anything on that barren land and the count forbade the refugees to hunt in the forest. Although they could keep themselves warm from the firewoods, they were starving. The problem was that they were all numb and dispirited, it was as if they were living like zombies every day. They lost the ability to think and stopped looking forward to the next day. When did all of this start happening? Madden felt disheartened whenever he recalled those days in the past.
The only thing that comforted him was a rumour he'd heard recently.
He then heard loud noises in the distance.
He frowned. Phineas and the group of young people were never idle.
“Essen and Markham, go and block their way!"
"Nibeto, go and get Vlad, Ike and the others. Hurry up, stop dawdling!"
The pedestrians on the street retreated as if they were used to being in this situation. After they cleared the way, two groups of young men stood in separate rows facing each other. They were all wearing either militia or police uniforms, though most of the uniforms seemed a bit old and they were full of patches. The hilt of their swords was wrapped in ropes and some of them didn’t even have a handguard. Whereas on the other side, Praguesse’s Patrol Knights were well-equipped and their boots were glimmering. One could easily tell that they were from Praguesse.
Young Phineas was the commander of Bucce’s militia. He was wearing the police uniform and he’d now grown at least a head taller compared to a year and a half ago. After the War of The Black Roses, he was elected by Madden as a reserve member of Bucce’s police force. But the police force became a part of history not long after and didn’t exist anymore.
The young men from the Patrol Knights shouted, “Phineas! Count Nagin wants his land back, why don’t you outlaws just surrender?”
Phineas spat disdainfully. "It's not too late to talk about this matter when the noble council has finalised their decisions. You all just want to take this opportunity to harass us. Don’t forget who was the one who got beaten up badly last time."
"What did you say!?"
"You little brat!"
His words obviously hit their weak spot and they started cursing at him. They initially thought that they were able to make some extra money with their high status, but they ended up getting beaten up badly by Phineas. Both parties were young and strong, so they didn’t have to come out with a scheme to fight each other. But now that they were recovered, they wanted to take revenge.
Both parties intended to make a move and they would get into a fight as soon as there was a disagreement. Theoretically, the Patrol Knights were well-equipped and well-trained, so they should have the upper hand, but these young people from Bucce were not easy to mess with as well as they were mostly Madden’s students. Madden was a veteran in the Eleven Months War and he’d received the Candlelight Medal. None of his pupils were cowards, and Edson and Mackemie, the militia veterans, had been on the battlefield and fought head-on with Madara before. They could easily win a fight against the Patrol Knights by themselves.
Though Phineas was the most powerful one there as he was innately very talented in sword art and he’d learn a trick or two from Brendel. Now that he was taught by Madden personally, his swordsmanship was one of the best in Praguesse. The Patrol Knights knew that he was very strong, so they’d sent out three people to deal with him. When they were fighting, Phineas somehow managed to stab one of them in the thigh. The man screamed and immediately dropped his sword and surrendered. Although both parties were in a heated battle, they still abided by the rules. Phineas stopped disturbing the man when he saw him drop his sword and went on to fight with the other two guys.
They continued fighting. He tolerated the pain in his injured shoulder and flung the opponent's sword away. The man looked at his sword that flew away, shook his head helplessly and also raised his hands and surrendered. The last man knew that he was no match for Phineas, so he immediately retreated towards a large pile of boxes. He then threw the boxes towards Phineas and shouted, “Hey, Mr Eugene! This kid is too powerful, I need some help here!"
Little Phineas blocked those boxes with his hands and cursed under his breath. It was at that moment that he suddenly realized that someone was trying to attack him with a sword. It startled him and he found out that the person had already pressurised a few men in his squad to surrender. “Damn, he must be the captain.” He quickly raised his sword to block his attack and a loud clank was heard. He was surprised when his sword almost flew out of his hand. He then realized that he’d underestimated his opponent. “He has a Silver Rank!"
But it was too late to only realize it now. There was a crack in his sword, and the opponent had the upper hand. Little Phineas watched as the man rushed towards him. Though he clenched his teeth and refused to give up just yet. There was only one thought in his mind at that moment, I’m screwed. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to meet my elder sister and Brendel again in the next life.
Before his eyes closed, a shiny sword appeared next to him and clanged into the man’s sword. He then saw his opponent retreat after two consecutive sword attacks. He was fascinated by the speed of the attacks as he’d never imagined that a person’s swordsmanship could be so perfect and neatly done. And just a second later, the captain of the Patrol Knights surrendered. The person pressed their sword against his chest and pushed him, and he fell onto the ground.
Everyone was shocked. Both parties stopped fighting and looked in his direction.
At this moment, Phineas could finally see who his lifesaver was. His eyes widened in surprise. “Big… big sister! Ouch!” Freya pulled his ear before he could finish his sentence. “Ouch, it hurts! Stop it!” It was so painful that he almost cried, but he didn’t dare to fight back. His initial calm and composed look was gone, and he looked like a child who’d just done something wrong.
“Did you think you could beat him? Why didn't you just throw your sword just now?” asked Freya furiously.
“I’m sorry. It won’t happen again next time.” Phineas grimaced. He then noticed Brendel from the corner of his eyes. “Brendel, you’re back too!” he exclaimed in surprise.
Freya snorted softly and let go of his ears. Phineas ran away quickly as if she was a dragon waiting to devour him. He rubbed his face as he looked at the two people in front of him, it was as if he was dreaming. Both parties stopped fighting and returned to their initial positions. Most of the young people from Bucce recognised both of them, only a few from the northern region hadn’t seen them before. The Patrol Knights knew that they were on the opposing side, and they also knew how powerful Freya was, so they didn’t dare to offend her.
As one of the Patrol Knights went to help their captain up and asked him what their next move was, he noticed the patch on Freya’s shoulder.
She was the captain of the Royal Cavalry.
His face turned pale. He would’ve never imagined that the Royal Family had the backs of this group of refugees. He thought that they were rootless and helpless, and nobody would help them out if they were bullied. But now, they had someone of high status to stand up for them and she was even the captain of the Royal Cavalry. He wouldn’t have thought that there was someone who was more powerful than Marsha in a rural place like this.
Brendel greeted Essen and Makemie from afar. He then looked at the Patrol Knights and asked Phineas, "What's going on?"
"What the hell is going on here?” asked Freya at the same time. She blushed when she realised she had the same thoughts as Brendel and quickly closed her mouth. Phineas giggled as he could tell that she still had feelings for Brendel. He looked around and couldn’t help but wonder where the witch had gone. Everyone in the militia knew about Brendel and Romaine’s relationship, but the inhabitants in Bucce had always called Romaine and her aunt witches.
"What are you looking at?” scolded Freya. She knew what was on his mind.
Phineas jumped. He lowered his head in embarrassment. Freya used to be the captain of the militia when she was in Bucce, and even until now, he was still afraid of her. Brendel found them amusing and he felt relieved as it seemed like Freya had temporarily forgotten about the matter regarding her origins, which was exactly what he wanted. Though he was surprised by Phineas’ swordsmanship. He knew that he was talented when they fled from Bucce, but he’d now improved drastically. Brendel and Freya watched the entire battle just now and they both agreed that Phineas was almost at the Silver Rank. He was improving very quickly although he was just receiving guidance from Madden for more than a year and a half in Bucce. He wasn’t like Freya and Bennett who’d gained experiences from many encounters.
Brendel also noticed that the strength of this group of young people was mostly at the Iron Rank and a number of them were almost reaching the Silver Rank. He wouldn’t have thought that this was possible in the past. After pondering for a while, he realized that they were influenced by the Great Magic Wave.
He then cleared his thoughts, smiled at Phineas and said, "Little Phineas, tell us what this is all about."
Phineas behaved himself in front of Brendel as he admired him a lot. He quickly described the entire incident from when the Patrol Knights came to cause trouble, to Count Nagin’s proposal.
After hearing this, Freya’s face fell.