Editor: Nate, PervySageChuck, Skythewood
Piña Co Lada was the daughter of Emperor Molt Sol Augustus and his concubine, the Countess Nell.
Emperor Molt had eight acknowledged children. She was the fifth among them, and the third among the daughters. By the way, if one included the illegitimate children, she would have about 12 to 15 siblings.
Because she was a legitimate daughter of the Emperor, Piña had a place in the imperial succession. However, she was 10th in line (the Emperor’s brother was ahead of her) so hardly anyone saw her as an heir to the throne. At a suitable age, she would most likely be married off to a foreign king or an influential noble. It was not glamorous, but she would at least enjoy a comfortable life.
However, her existence was like a storm blowing through the upper crust of society, though that was more because of her personality than for political reasons. When she was young, she would often get angry over small things and play over-the-top pranks, which disturbed the people around her.
When she was 12, she settled down, and began playing “The Knight Game” with an all-noble cast.
According to popular gossip, she had been influenced after seeing a female actress in a play. There was no way of telling if that was the truth, but something had happened back then.
After claiming an old but sturdy building at the edge of the capital, she gathered several noble children and made them live as if they were part of the military, with herself as their commander. Because it was a game of soldiers played as a group, they messed up a lot and didn’t have proper food or uniforms. However, even when they failed, everything seemed new, so the children had fun with it.
At first the adults were worried. But as they watched them and saw they were happy, the adults calmed down and decided to wait until they got tired of the game and came home.
In the end, the kids went home after two days, and their parents welcomed them back by asking “Did you have fun?”
Piña’s talent for leadership had developed here. This was because she could see that, herself included, they were all far too weak.
She also realized that her colleagues would get tired of the game after two days, and would want to go home after three days. Therefore, she let everyone go back early, so they would continue thinking “It was fun”, and then they would be more likely to play another round of “The Knight Game”.
A week later, she started a second “Knight Game”.
They used the same building as last time, but this time she brought cooks and servants, so the food, clothes and living conditions were far different from before. When they saw this, it reassured the parents and the children.
And just like that, this round of “The Knight Game” began in a comfortable environment.
Although it was called a game, it was still a military affair.
Therefore, when the kids came back, the parents were heard to say things like “Their words and movements are much more refined than before”, “They’ve become sociable and made good friends”, “They’re stronger and more energetic”, “They aren’t picky about their food any more”, “They’re living their lives correctly”. The Imperial Princess’ “Knight Game” had shown a positive influence on their children. And as they played more “Knight Games”, some of the noble parents even provided their own funding and encouraged their children to take part.
Piña’s comrades during this time were called the first batch. The first batch made the rules, and they were the models for oaths, various rituals, and ranks for the rest of the recruits.
Training up an order of knights took about two years, and when Piña was around 14, what they called “basic training” was a period of cohabitation of around two to three months. Schooling became part of their training, and they invited several imperial scholars to conduct lessons, so as not to neglect their education. The children's’ parents saw this “Knight Game” as a form of “young people's education” in the form of training for a knight order.
If this was where the “Knight Games” had ended, it would have been seen as a meaningful endeavour which would have its place in the Empire’s history books. After all, it made children more independent, taught a healthy and regimented lifestyle, encouraged filial piety, treated everyone as fellow brothers and sisters (in truth, many of the children swore oaths of brotherhood or sisterhood with each other). The adults were pleased with this sort of “Knight Game”.
Similar youth groups sprang up across the country, and it was around this time that these youth groups began styling themselves after knight orders as well.
However, Piña ultimately wanted to develop this into a proper military unit.
When she was fifteen, her knight group started incorporating the basics of physical training, swordsmanship, archery, and horsemanship into their training, and they also brought in outside coaches, officers and NCOs from the Imperial Army.
The mood of the personnel ordered to assist in this varied. Those close to retirement were pleased, but the younger officers and NCOs were upset that they were just playing around with the Imperial Princess in a “Knight Game”.
Therefore, with the mindset of “We can’t keep playing games with them”, they began a program of serious military education. And this was what Piña had hoped for.
The officers were hoping that the kids would be unable to take it and that they would quit, but Piña believed that everyone could endure this round of training.
In this way, the military organization of the whole thing began taking shape. Their theory and practice during their training was no less than what actual army units were learning, and the members of Piña’s knight group soon became excellent soldiers and grew rapidly.
When Piña was 16, something important happened which pushed her knight group forward.
The boys graduated.
Those young noblemen who were not in the upper crust wanted to become soldiers and officers in the future. Since they had grown up in a group that valued martial valor, all of them wanted to become soldiers, and Piña could not stop them from going.
With the words, “As one of the original knight group, go and be a knight who does us proud”, she bade those young men farewell.
Now, the knight group’s core was largely composed of women. Because they had to learn to be good brides, the female members had to leave the knight group too. However, some stayed behind, and there were new recruits too.
Because there were more applicants this time round, the knight group grew larger.
In the next three years, when the young men from the knight group began excelling as junior officers, their achievements drew the attention of the high-ranking officers.
When the knight group graduated... when the roses bloomed… commanders from various armies came looking for future subordinates. However, their eyes were on the male graduates, since there was no place for females in the military.
Because of that, Piña decided to form a proper knight band, composed mostly of females and some males (mostly higher-ranked noble boys and some experienced veterans Piña picked herself), and with some additional troops, they became the “Order of the Rose Knights”.
The “Order of the Rose Knights” received the blessing of noble society and the court, but for the most part they played the part of honor guards, guardians for noblewomen, and ceremonial occasions, but they had no combat experience.
And then, things in the Empire changed.
Things being as they were, the Order of the Rose Knights could no longer languish in the rear echelons. Under the command of Piña, who thirsted for actual combat, they raised flags of red, white and yellow roses, and marched down the Appian Way.
They could hardly bear to look upon Italica as it was besieged by bandits.
Arrows rained upon the city from the outside, past the city walls and onto the outer ring of houses. The bodies of the bandits and the defenders of Italica littered the ground on both sides of the city walls, and the ground was painted scarlet with dried blood.
Those men who still had strength were rushing back and forth to put out fires. The small ones could be extinguished with water, but the buildings burning in earnest had to be abandoned.
The women tried to help the moderately- or critically-injured, while the children collected scattered weapons and arrows.
The lightly-injured people buried the dead, using shovels to dig mass graves in the outskirts of the city. Normally, they would have buried them properly, but there were too many corpses, so they did away with the ceremony and just put them in the ground. The bandits’ bodies were simply dumped into a deep ditch.
In this way, the soldiers, the merchants, the barmaids, the men, the women, the elderly, the children, everyone in the city came out to help. Anyone would be tired if they had to keep working like this amidst the pitched battle of the afternoon.
“Your Highness… may we, may we take a break?”
An old man, who represented the citizens, asked that of the supervising Piña in a small voice.
Everyone looked tired, and she understood their feelings. However, now they had to quickly bury the dead, put out the burning houses and watch towers, as well as repairing the city gates and barricades.
Piña knew the importance of these things, and so she turned an annoyed look onto the old man asking for a rest.
“The bandits haven’t given up yet. Once they rally themselves, they’ll immediately attack again. We can’t count on destroyed city gates and barricades to protect us; it’ll be even more tiring.”
The old man must have thought Piña was being an unreasonable tyrant. Their positions and perspectives were different. It would seem that expecting them to understand was a naive dream she had.
“I’m not asking you. This is an order.”
“Gray, how are the city gates, can we fix them?”
Gray, who was keeping track of the gate’s condition, turned to Piña.
“Your Highness, in my opinion, it is beyond repair. The bolt is completely destroyed,”
“Then what should we do?”
“Why not tear it down and jam up the entrance?”
They could enter and leave via the small side doors. After all, they would not be moving carriages and wagons through the main gate. If they could open the side doors to move in and out, then blocking up the main entrance ought to be fine.
“Good. Make it so.”
Gray directed the citizens to gather their sturdy furniture and pile it against the gate.
“They might burn it down. Will that be all right?”
Gray shrugged and said that if it started burning, they might as well toss more wood in.
Piña thought about it, and nodded. After all, a burning fence was a great barrier.
Piña looked back, and raised her head to the top of the wall.
“Norma! How’s your side?”
On top of the wall, Norma was surveying the outside with a bow in hand. He looked back and replied, “No enemies so far!”
“Stay alert, don’t slack off. Who knows when they’ll come back.”
Norma nodded, ignoring the rills of blood flowing down his forehead, and ordered his subordinates to keep their eyes peeled.
“Come, come, you should be hungry, right? We’ve prepared food.”
The speaker was one of the maids from the Count’s household, who was driving a wagon with a big pot on it. She brought milk and barley porridge, as well as black bread. Neither was particularly delicious, but an empty stomach was the best seasoning for poor food.
Piña was struck by the smell of the food and felt that working while hungry wouldn’t help things so she ordered them to eat in shifts. Afterwards, she felt that she should eat too, and so she went to Count Formal’s home.
Because the guards and other men were out guarding the city walls, the Count’s home was practically devoid of people, and she was not greeted by anyone.
However, not everyone was gone. There were several large cauldrons in the residence’s courtyard, filled with barley porridge or baking black bread. All the maids were helping out.
In the end, someone came to greet Piña. It was the Count’s old butler and the head maid.
“Your Highness, welcome.”
“Mm. Forgive me, but do you have anything to eat or drink?”
As she finished speaking to the head maid, Piña sat on the sofa like it was her own home.
The butler who stood by the side poured a silver goblet of wine for Piña.
“Your Highness, it seems we are saved.”
“Not yet. Those fellows will come by for another round.”
“Must we fight them? Maybe we could negotiate.”
“You want to avoid a fight? Simple. Open the gate and give them all your money and food.”
The old butler, who was averse to combat, sighed as he heard Piña speak.
“After they plunder everything you have, they’ll kill all the men. The young women will be taken as slaves, but before that, they’ll probably… no, they’ll definitely be violated. And the bandits will probably want to gang-rape pretty girls like me. I could handle one, maybe two, but I don’t think I could stay sane after 50 or 100. What do you think will happen to Myui-sama then?”
“M-Myui-sama is only eleven years old!”
“Who knows, some of the bandits might like them young… or no, they’ll definitely have some sick freaks like that among them. So, do you want to pray that there aren’t and open the gates to them?”
Sweat poured down the butler’s head, and he whined:
“Your, Your Highness. Please, please don’t scare me.”
“Then all we can do is fight, right? Trying to negotiate with these animals is pointless. That is a path to destruction. All we can do is grit our teeth and resist to the bitter end.”
Piña gulped down the wine.
With a satisfied “Whew!”, she helped herself to the black bread and barley porridge. However, after a mouthful, she frowned.
“So little and it’s bland too?”
The head maid sternly shook her head and spoke: “Your Highness, when one is fatigued, their stomachs will be weak as well. Consuming rich foods in that condition will only do harm to one’s body.”
Piña accepted the head maid’s comments without complaint. Come to think of it, the Count’s maids were making food without any sign of fear, and she herself did not remembering ordering them to do so. Whose instructions were those? She could tell that the old butler was a lily-livered coward. Then, was it the old maid?
As she thought about this, Piña asked the old maid a question.
“Have you been through something like this before?”
“I once lived in the town of Rosa.”
The town of Rosa had once been attacked by the Empire. Although they beat back the Imperial Army, their government collapsed and they were finally taken by the Empire. It was now a ruin.
That maid must have been in Rosa during that battle. Warfare was not limited to bows, magic and swords. Raising morale, distributing weapons and rations were also ways to fight.
In that sense, the old maid was a combat veteran.
The lady of the house was young, and could not be counted on. So the reason why the maids could soldier on without panicking must have been because of the old maid.
Piña ate until she was nearly full, and wiped her mouth with a napkin.
“Then, I shall go rest in a guest room. If anything happens, bring the messenger directly to me.”
As she finished speaking to the old maid, a playful gleam came into Piña’s eye and she decided to mess with her.
“What would you do if I did not wake up?”
Said the old maid: “Why, I would dump water on your head and invite you to rise.”
She had a very creepy smile on her face.
Piña laughed, and said she wasn’t interested in bathing in bed as she headed to the guest room.
However, in the end it was the feeling of cold water on her face that woke her up.
As she wiped her face, she angrily donned her armor over her wet clothes.
“What happened? Is it the enemy?”
Gray felt that Piña’s drenched red hair looked exceptionally fetching, but he held his tongue because of the emergency. Instead, he began his report.
“We don’t know if they’re friend or foe.”
As the unknown party approached, the battle-ready soldiers and civilians peeked at them from crenellations in the city walls or the gaps in the roadblocks.
“Your Highness, you can get a good view from here.”
A farmer holding a steel hoe made a small hole in one of the roadblocks.
Through the small viewing aperture she saw what looked like four-wheeled wagons… but they were not pulled by horses or cows.
Piña knew about siege weapons called “covered wagons”, which were essentially giant boxes pushed along by horses, cattle or soldiers from the inside. She wondered if the three vehicles in front were covered wagons.
On closer inspections, their wheels seemed to be made of some kind of cloth or leather.
If that were the case, even if they could stop arrow fire, boiling water or molten lead, they could not avoid being smashed by heavy rocks. The troublesome one would be the vehicle in the back. It did not look like it was made of wood, but rather, it was sheathed in metal.
There were people inside that “armored wagon”. The roof seemed to have something like an arbalest on top of it, and it seemed protected against arrows or thrown rocks.
Still, however exquisite their weapons were, weapons alone could not take a city.
Siege weapons were meaningful because they were used to take the city. However, she could see no enemies within her field of view. They did not seem to want to break down the roadblocks either.
If the siege weapons were there to lower morale, they should be making threatening moves, but they did nothing of the sort, so she could not tell what the other side wanted.
“No other enemies.”
Norma replied as though he knew what Piña was going to say.
There were spotty… no, they wore dark green clothing with brown and light green splotches, and similarly colored cloth helmets on their heads.
It was hard to tell if they were carrying weapons or magic staves, but from their stern expressions and sharp glares, these people had power that could not be ignored.
“Friend or foe?! If you are a friend, then come out!”
Norma shouted loudly, while Piña, Italica’s defenders and the citizens all held their breath.
After a while, the back door of one of the covered wagons opened.
A girl emerged from it. She seemed to be 13 to 15 years old. Judging by the long robe and the magic staff she was carrying, she was instantly recognizable as a mage.
The staff seemed to be made of wood… which meant she was an orthodox mage of the Lindon school. If that was the case, she should be skilled with attack spells and spell combat despite her young age.
In the previous attack, the bandits had not fielded any mages. That might have been why the defenders could hold out as long as they did, but if the bandits now had a mage on their side, the battle would be much harder.
Piña clucked her tongue as she thought about the difficult battle that lay ahead.
The next to alight was a girl of around 16, wearing strange clothes.
Her clothes clung to her frame, showing off the curves of her body. Because the clothes were a little too small, they exposed the snow-white skin of her back and belly, setting the men’s imagination afire.
As a woman, Piña felt that she had correctly divined the purpose of those clothes.
The problem was this girl’s long, pointed ears. She was an elf, with blonde hair and blue eyes.
No good… the enemy had Elves in addition to mages. She heard that Elves were, without exception, excellent spirit-summoners. Of note were those who could summon the wind spirits to create bolts of lightning that could wipe out an entire platoon. Even a full knight company would have trouble defeating both a Lindon-style mage and an Elf using spirit magic.
Should she try taking them down while they were off guard? Sniping them with bows might work...
While she thought of ways to take down the two of them, after she saw the girl alight from the vehicle, her damp clothes suddenly turned ice cold.
She wore priest’s clothing, made of black silk and edged in lace.
She was a young girl who wore a headdress of black gauze over her black hair.
“That, that’s Rory… Mercury!”
She was an agent of the god of death, judgement, madness and war — an Apostle of Emroy.
Because the Emperor counted as the highest religious official in the Empire, he could speak with Apostles during national religious events. As such, she had the chance to see the Apostles of the god Emroy, which was why Piña could recognize her.
“Is that the legendary Rory the Reaper? Although it’s the first time I’ve seen her, she looks like the young lady in the Count’s residence…”
Indeed, Rory looked much younger than the mage girl and the Elf girl.
However, her slender limbs were easily holding a halberd that looked heavier than herself, and she thumped it into the earth as she came.
“Don’t be fooled by her looks, she’s a monster that’s over 900 years old.”
Before the Empire was formed, while this world was in chaos, there were already unaging “demigods”, called Apostles. Even so, Rory was the second youngest among these Apostles.
An Apostle, a mage and an Elf… Piña would rather flee than think of fighting the three of them.
“However, what’s an Apostle of Emroy doing with a bunch of bandits?”
Piña shook her head at Gray’s question.
“You can’t judge these people like that.”
Normal human values did not apply to Apostles. They cared nothing for the Emperor or the Senate’s laws, or even the thing called justice. It might not be wrong to say they sneered at them.
That was Piña’s worried explanation.
“Whether the Gods exist has nothing to do with good or evil. People pray to them, but bad things still happen. One can get sick even if one lives a virtuous life and a cruel tyrant can still live a long time. All these have nothing to do with prayer or reverence.
Gods are beings that humans can’t understand. Or rather, humans can’t understand the motivations of the Gods… and some people say the Gods must be crazy.”
After hearing Piña’s thoughts, Gray’s brow was slick with sweat. He muttered, “If her Holiness hears that, we’ll be in trouble...”
“Oh yes. These people style themselves as the Gods’ messengers. If you say Gods are completely insane and incomprehensible, then there’s no purpose for them to exist.”
In a polytheistic world, the faiths did not differentiate between good, evil, orthodoxy or heresy. If one tired of one god, then one could worship another. However, the priesthood was a religious organization that enjoyed certain privileges and power. Anyone who denigrated the gods would become a target for them.
“I didn’t hear that, I didn’t hear that...”
Gray shook his head at Piña from behind her. Then, Piña peered outside through the gap.
“Oh... they’re here.”
She looked to the front of the gate once more. The mage girl was approaching them.
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