‘After abandoning all of our men and resources, I only had Lorana next to me and the tribesmen behind me. I don’t know how far we’ve gone but it was basically peaceful. There were only large flames and bits of flying remains. There were no enemies sighted. If enemies did come at us right now, I would’ve obediently surrendered, regardless of how weak they might have been. Lorana is the only one left who can fight and she’s injured, so basically, I have no fighting power at this stage. All we could do now was pray that we wouldn’t be discovered by any enemies.’
‘Well, I think running into any enemies would be a better way to put it. But even if it was a skirmish, I had no way of retaliating.’
‘If we weren’t hit with the sandstorm, I would still have the combined might of my three teams that split off, and we would’ve been able to defeat our pursuers just now with ease. But that’s impossible now. I never considered what we’d do if we were to get swallowed by a sandstorm. I never thought that the sandstorm I’d been concerned about the entire time would hit me in the face at our final battle. If I knew about it sooner, I wouldn’t have split my group up.’
‘I honestly never expected to find myself in such a pathetic situation this time. Every single time we got closer to the goal, we ran into one thing after another. What seemed to be a simple task became so arduous. We fended off a wave of enemies and I then abandoned my own guards for these tribesmen, who were meaningless existences to me. I wouldn’t have done so if it wasn’t for the remaining half of the map they had. All of this was akin to a nightmare one wouldn’t dare believe.’
‘Was it worth it?’
I looked at the sea of yellow sand and wiped my eyes. I asked myself if it was really worth it without thinking.
‘How much had I given up? I gave up virtually half of my Guard Unit. If the other teams that I’ve lost contact with didn’t suffer any losses, then I would be left with just half of my Guard Unit. I brought a hundred people here, and yet only fifty are returning. Most of them died in the battle that was comparable to waves to the shore. I lost half of my Guard Unit for a single map. Every single one of them was a weapon I diligently raised and they couldn’t be replaced. I sacrificed half of them for a mine that wasn’t absolutely necessary.’
‘Was it really worth it?’
‘How am I going to face the rest of them even if I manage to return safely? How am I going to face the families who were left behind by the soldiers who came with me? What did they sacrifice their lives for? Was it to protect me or some greater dream?’
‘Neither. It was purely because of an idea of mine. Just for a mine. Just for my dream of becoming the Emperor. Actually, it’s not even my dream but the dream I wanted to flaunt.’
‘Was everything I did worth it?’
“Big sis, I want to ask you a question.”
Lorana pressed her hand on her wound by her abdomen and struggled to reply, “Go ahead.”
It appears I was slightly too optimistic about her wound. Despite being a minor wound, it seems that trudging through the storm made it worse. Lorana’s expression started to look grim, but she stayed behind me without taking a step away.
“Do you think that everything I did was worth it? I sacrificed so many of my men for a mine and caused you to get injured, too. Was everything I did worth it? If we were to consider it mathematically, is what I’ve gained enough to console the soldiers who died?”
I don’t know what my voice sounded like in the sandstorm. My weak voice virtually disappeared into the winds similarly to my powerless body. I don’t know if Lorana heard me, either; but, she paused for a moment as though she was thinking about it and then replied, “Your Majesty, sometimes, success isn’t measured by losses but what’s gained.”
“I understand that.” I nodded and went on, “But I want to know if what I gained this time counts as a success. What did my fallen soldiers sacrifice themselves for?”
Lorana didn’t hesitate this time; Instead, she immediately responded to me, “They got a qualified King.”
She grabbed my cloak and elaborated, “You Majesty, you need to understand that the soldiers, who came with you, didn’t follow you because of Elizabeth or Vyvyan, but because of you, yourself. You’re the one that they wished to serve. Your safety, your thoughts and your future are what they want to realise most. I saw your transformation during this journey to the desert. I believe that they, too, saw it. You began to give orders as a King would. You began to stand at the forefront when your men were lost and tired. That’s enough. Your Majesty, the soldiers that served Elizabeth over a decade ago were the same. To your men, they found a master worth their loyalty on this mission. Their loyalty didn’t go to waste nor was it tarnished. Their loyalty has meaning as long as you live, even if that means their bodies rot and tombs crumble. They found a qualified King, while you managed to prove yourself. You have managed to leave Elizabeth and Vyvyan’s shelter to stand on your own. Is that not enough?”
Lorana’s voice was cut off several times by the noisy wind, but I was still able to understand her.
‘My men’s loyalty wasn’t for nothing. I must ensure their loyalty was devoted to a goal. Since they devoted their loyalty to me, I shall ensure that they feel honoured for their loyalty. Perhaps I’m not yet mature, but will they be proud that they chose me after this?’
‘A King isn’t a higher being at birth, but an individual who stays at the forefront when everyone is tired, in pain and hopeless.’
‘I think that Mommy Elizabeth is worshipped and treated as such a great figure, because she stepped up when the country had fallen, her family was slain and when everyone had given up. She raised the flag that commanded everyone and never put it back down.’
She let those who served her felt honoured. As a result, nobody would choose to betray her. The repayment for their loyalty isn’t infinite wealth or higher statuses, but the glory and honour one feels for their devoted loyalty.
“Do you think they felt honoured this time then in your opinion?”
“You didn’t back down when faced with danger. You didn’t quit when things were hopeless. You didn’t lose your composure when things got chaotic. Your Majesty, your men witnessed everything you did. Should I say that you’re unmistakably Elizabeth’s child or unmistakably Vyvyan’s child? Or maybe, unmistakably their child? You possess Elizabeth’s decisiveness and courage, but also Vyvyan’s wisdom and kindness. Your Majesty, I am honoured to serve you.”
Lorana’s voice sounded very brisk but I could hear the sound of a sword being drawn from its scabbard.
Yeah, I saw it.
A dark shadow appeared ahead of us in the sandstorm.
My heart stayed calm, though, because I had no plans left. It was hopeless, so I didn’t plan to run this time.
I touched the protective talisman at my chest.
‘I feel that I’m still a kid that hasn’t grown up. I require someone to protect me at my side. Nier didn’t come. It appears this is my cemetery.’
‘Luna should be safe, however. I just won’t get to see her again.’
“Your Majesty, I’m satisfied to have been able to accompany you here. Sometimes, I envy seeing you humans die a death worth a legacy.” Lorana leaned on her sword. She looked at me and revealed a weak smiled. She then continued, “For an elf, a long life can be a sad thing, as it’s shameful to speak of a life a hundred years long with no accomplishments to your name… That’s why I chose to come to humanity to learn some new things. I don’t regret accompanying you here. Not everybody truly lived. As their teacher, I have no regrets dying to protect Elizabeth and Vyvyan’s child. And to die for your own dream is an extremely rare opportunity for elves. I need to thank you for giving me this opportunity.”
“Go, Your Majesty. Take another route out. Given the magnitude of this storm, be careful and you won’t be detected. I’m the number one swordswoman of the continent after all. If I can’t hold out until you leave, I’ve truly aged.”
Lorana laughed heartily and then drew her long sword. The sand swept upwards and then was blown away by her speed that was akin to a tornado taking life after life. Lorana looked at me with her head tilted. She chuckled. She looked at me as a mother looking at her son and in a gentle voice told me, “Your Majesty, work hard. You must become a King we don’t regret serving and can be proud of! You must become the son that Elizabeth and Vyvyan can be proud of…”