"The conquering king rarely has a faithful wife. The wise king will rule from home rather than take the field."



Dinag used to be a mercenary. When he was fifteen, he took the sword his father left behind and joined his Uncle Wag's small but reputable mercenary band, the Bloodblade Squad. After five years of adventuring, Dinag grew from a rookie mercenary into a seasoned hunter and an expert scout. So, his uncle began to consider his future.

"You should go to the academy to study. There's no way you're going to work as a rough mercenary for the rest of your life like Uncle," his uncle had said all too often.

He hoped his nephew would study for a couple of years and learn something worthwhile rather than just mingling with the rough and rowdy mercenaries. He didn't want him to be a lowly poor peasant for his whole life.

Dinag, however, didn't want to study. He liked the free mercenary life, but his uncle was strict and unrelenting and forced him to go along with his plans. Just as Dinag helplessly resigned himself to becoming a student of Saint Marceau Academy in Morante, the War of Glass began. It changed his fate completely.

Though the hot-blooded mercenaries first banded together to resist Teribo's invasion, they eventually became the invaders like the Union itself. Bloodblade also served as a hired lance during the war and quickly expanded. They fought their way into Teribo and eventually turned into lawless bandits. They committed all sorts of crimes. To them, the war was a rave party. It was exactly the kind of days mercenaries desired.

But the good times didn't last long. The straight-laced Teribo VII suddenly offered huge bounties and turned the battle into a war of angels and demons, a battle in which mortal men had no future.

Dinag's uncle was among the first killed. As the first leader of Bloodblade and a two-star gold rank, he led a group of elite mercenaries and raided Teribo nobles' manors. During one such raid he was ambushed by two blademasters and his entire contingent was wiped out.

Dinag found only his uncle's decapitated body. He was still grieving when the band began to disintegrate. No one could agree how to split their plunder. Disagreements became fights, and fights became duels. Less than half of the surviving band were still alive when the fighting ended, and they left what whatever they could carry. The band was disbanded.

After burying his uncle, Dinag joined the guild army Twinhead Dragon formed, bent on taking revenge. He hoped to fight in the vanguard, to have as many enemies to kill as his blade could fell. He had no chance against the blademasters who killed his uncle, but he could go after the enemy king.

But the entire war was a joke. He never fought in field battles or siege, hell, there were none. He spent the entire war in camp waiting for a chance to fight, only to hear one day that they'd won the war. Rumor had it the king had killed himself. The Union bigwigs split the spoils and land and everything ended.

A single mercenary's hatred didn't matter. He didn't have anywhere to go either. His uncle was his only family, he had no idea what to do now. He eventually remembered his uncle's wish that he study, but he had no money. The survivors of the band had taken everything. He'd earned a good salary while in the army, but he'd blown everything on booze and women.

He had no choice but to keep working for the guild. He fought in all the Union's wars for the next decade. He'd been there for all the great victories and losses, and somehow survived. His track record eventually earned him the name Dinag the Lucky.

He'd need all of the luck for what he now faced.

His current mission was to infiltrate Morante. The guild's chief supervisor, Sloph, had personally met them and promised the president himself would promote them to knights and give them great rewards if they were successful.

More than ten years of experience had molded Dinag into a seasoned veteran. He knew the bigger the reward was, so too were the risks. However, having the chance to become a knight moved him. He had fought in many battles and had quite the reputation, but he was still just a mid-tier officer. He was a mercenary. Even when he had served for more than a decade and was a three-star silver rank, he couldn't compare with the new talent the guild was cultivating. To the guild, Dinag would forever be an outsider.

He didn't care about the money. As long as he could fulfill his mission, he would be promoted to a knight of Duke Cobleit himself. That meant the guild would have accepted him. From that day on, he would be treated the same as the talent the guild cultivated. He would definitely get a bigger salary and a higher position. Even his children would be accepted and receive proper training. His worries would be over.

This was a chance. Not one of his comrades turned the mission down. Dinag didn't think it would be that dangerous anyway. He just had to infiltrate the city and establish contact with his foregoers. From there he'd take them to a secret armory and help them distribute the weapons to the people and incite a revolt.

Simple, much easier than the one when he was trapped on a hill by the midsouthern nations' cavalry corps. He recalled he had been trapped for nearly ten days and even lacked water. He had to drink is pee to survive. To prevent the cavalrymen from discovering he was hiding there, he had to lie on the ground for three whole days.

The hardest thing about this mission, was that he had to survive through the uprising. He knew how dangerous a revolt could be. Especially for him, since the enemy was bound to come after the leaders first.

He chose a mercenary called Ricador as his partner. The mission had eight participants, all of them mercenaries. They split into four groups to infiltrate the city. They'd reunite inside. Sloph told them the city had a group inside already, but they'd been unable to achieve their goals.

The first group sent word that House Norton's tyranny had sparked a sense of resistance among the citizens, but they didn't have any weapons. The informants themselves were also understaffed and couldn't effectively incite a revolt. They hoped the guilds could send them some.

Sloph had said Riwald once transported three ships' worth of weapons from Hidegold Bay. They'd left the shipment in a warehouse in the city and never got around to moving it to their dominion.

Dinag and Ricador wandered for days to shake of any prying eyes suspicious of their activities. They passed through Tedanini Mountains and headed to Callisto Hills, pretending to be mercenaries returning from Khawistan and heading to Morante to sell their catch.

The Norton soldiers by the east gate weren't interested in them and casually let them in. They heded for their rendezvous point, a place called the Red Grace Inn.

A man in his twenties sat behind the counter. He complained when he saw the secret sign.

"What's the deal? The rest arrived days ago. We're only waiting for you."

"I'm sorry, We were playing it safe," Dinag apologized, "We didn't think House Norton's security would be so lax, unlike what you reported. We also saw many people walking about the streets doing shopping. The city seems very peaceful. Where is this revolt you talked about? What's going on?"

"You're a sharp one. You're much smarter than your partners. When they arrived, they started eating right away. They even told us to get them women. They didn't even know what got them. I didn't want to waste my energy here, but I guess you're not the type to yield without a struggle," said the youth as he smiled and put his sword on the counter.

Dinag and Ricador drew their own, retreating towards the door slowly.

"A trap then? The request was fake?" asked Dinag as he observed his surroundings.

"Yes. After we catch you, we will send another saying you're all idiots who got caught by the Nortons. Seven of you died and ne escaped. The revolt never happened. We'll ask for another batch of reinforcements," answered the young man.

He drew his sword from its scabbard lazily.

"You can bring out all your hiding friends," said Dinag.

The young man shook his head.

"Nobody is hiding. Don't worry, I'm the only one. You see that small door behind me? If you can defeat or kill me, you can leave through there safely. Nobody will stop you. As for the front door, forget it. My senior apprentice brother is outside and if you can't even defeat me, you'll have no hopes of escaping."

"You have a master?" Dinag squinted.

"Yes," the young man sighed, "Actually, I don't really like fighting and killing. But my master wanted me to come and said I could use the free training partners. This is much safer than fighting on the battlefield, he said. Alright, come on. I'll give you a chance. You're talented. Won't you serve House Norton?"

Ricador charged forward without saying a word. When Dinag saw the glow on the hot-blooded Ricador's blade, he cried loudly and charged as well.

......

The windstorm swordsaint's residence still stood atop Brinn Hills. It was now Lorist's residence.

Tarkel stepped onto the balcony hurriedly. Lorist lay on a chair in a corner.

"What's wrong? Jinolio fine?"

"He is, Your Grace. He captured the last informants. It's just he took longer than usual. Reidy's already scolded him. We just got a message from the capital."

"Oh. Didn't our king return already? Did he cause trouble again?"

"Well..." Tarkel hesitated. "I don't know how to say this, Your Grace..."

"What's so hard to say? Just read the message."

"Okay. The queen is seven months pregnant," said Tarkel, hiding his smile by lowering his head.

"The queen's pregnant? Great news. I guess we'll have to prepare some gifts to celebrate… Wait, seven months?!"

"Seven months?!" Lorist repeated.

"Yes."

What a scandal! Auguslo was gone from the capital for three years and had only just returned. Clearly the queen had had an affair! His crown was green![1] What was he going to do? He might normally just execute the woman, but she was a Fisablen.

"The letter says the queen didn't welcome the king when he returned. She tried to hide from him saying she was ill, but the king went with a bunch of nobles to check on her. The moment he saw her, the king realized she was pregnant. He slew her four servants on the spot. The queen fainted at the scene."

Lorist was speechless.

"The king won't be ascending to the imperial throne for at least two years..."

 


 

[1] Wearing a green cap is a popular Chinese saying of being cheated on. It's a reference to people losing their lovers to other men during their time in the military, hence the green cap. In this case, Auguslo was literally on a military campaign...