Chapter 243: Twenty-Sixth Episode: Chapter 7-1
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation

If you wanted to appreciate the soul of the Souzgar Lake, then look for a boat. On the surface of the lake covered by thousands of flower clusters, pay attention to the gentle ripples and the faraway mountains guarding it.

Lieutenant General Logan Smith and his son, Captain Sear Smith rode the same ferry to hurry to the opposite bank of Souzgar Lake. They departed from the capital with a few of their entourage half a month ago. At West Grace, they encountered a bad patch of road, forcing them to detour the lake. Since they were not notified in advance, the Smith father and son did not know that the local guards had forbidden boats from sailing during the night. They had no choice but to spend the night in a little town beside the lake called "Rose Tree".

The town was very small. It only had a towering church, an open and spacious market, as well as a few alleys and small houses. Despite being small, the buildings in the town were compact and perfect, situated close to the wharf by the lakeside and within an area enclosed by walls that was not much larger than a vegetable garden.

In such places, it was naturally impossible to find a decent hotel. The Smith father and son could only spend the night at a fisherman's house situated by the road. That night, Captain Sear Smith, having just turned twenty, could not sleep well all night. He tossed and turned restlessly but his eyes just refused to close. Just when his eyes closed, he would think about just how absurd the task that had brought him so far away from home.

Since he could not get a good night's sleep, the young man got up very early. His father was rolled up in a blanket, fast asleep, snoring away loudly. The son heaved a sigh and added his own military uniform on to the top of his father's blanket.

The captain then climbed onto the rooftop through the wooden attic window of the fisherman's house. The cool morning breeze caressed his face. He saw the lake, illuminated under the moonlight, and the bare faraway mountains, with not a single tree in sight. An army camp appeared to be standing tall on the opposite bank of the lake. Under the rays of dawn, it gradually glowed white and shone, until the moon faded away.

The shadow of the mountain and water of the lake were gently cloaked in the warm red rays of dawn. Suddenly, the entire heavens and earth were completely illuminated by certain brilliance. The rays of sunlight cast upon the lakes and were reflected. Under the rising sun, the lake became a constellation of stars, twinkling brightly in the sky.

"Sear!"

The captain immediately put out his cigarette and ducked briskly into the attic.

"Father, you're awake?"

The middle-aged man did not pay attention to his son and merely straightened the uniform he was wearing.

Captain Sear rolled his eyes towards the ceiling. He stood to attention and saluted his father a little reluctantly, "Lieutenant General sir, awaiting your orders."

Logan Smith then returned a military salute to his son. "Pack your things and set out!"

The young man quickly made his way downstairs, his footsteps making thumping sounds on the not so sturdy stairs.

"Brat…" the father muttered. He took out a complete shaving set from the leather bag. The army orderly had already sent hot water. Lieutenant General Smith, who had always been particular about appearance then groomed himself carefully in front of a mirror until the person in the mirror appeared like a general of the Guards that had commendable etiquette and appearance and was competent and courageous. Using the words of his son, this was a hundred percent style of the capital bureaucrats. However, Lieutenant General Logan did not think that there was anything bad about this.

On the ferry, Captain Sear tried his best not to talk to his father and merely took in the sceneries of winter. However, the sky really was not much to look at during the first month and the young man had no choice but to stare blankly at the surface of the water.

Accompanying Lieutenant General Smith on this faraway journey was a special commissioner from the emperor's imperial household. He and the Lieutenant General of the Guards chatted throughout the journey and seemed to get along well. Moreover, they quickly became friends who confided everything in each other. The Lieutenant General loved horse racing and the Imperial Commissioner loved polo. The Lieutenant General loved the Italian-style strong coffee from Horonzo's garden while the Imperial Commissioner was the frequent visitor of the nearby Shalon. The Lieutenant General's wife was the backbone of a Lady's Society and the Imperial Commissioner proceeded to say, "Heavens, my wife is the president of that very society!"

"Is that right?"

"Absolutely, without a doubt…"

The casual conversation between them reached new heights.

Captain Sear got more and more fidgety. Out of the corner of his eyes, he peeked at his father and the Imperial Commissioner, the member of the Imperial Household, who came out of the blue but loved criticizing everything. However, the young man did not care about how irritating the travel companion was for he had his own worries.

"How do I explain the matter to the dean?" Sear's head was hurting a little, perhaps because he was blasted by the cold wind on the lake. His dean was naturally the Chief of Staff of the Guards, Marshal Robin Sparse. Sear respected Marshal Robin like one would his own father. Speaking of father…the young man glanced over at the middle-aged man who was talking big. He had no idea how this man with a hollow voice could be a Lieutenant General of the Guards. Previously, he had not realized this at all and unsure of when it all started, he began to detest his father and even developed doubt regarding his father's motive for serving in the army. Otherwise, when the capital's nobles wanted to conduct peace talks with the invaders, his father should not have delightedly accepted this wretched advocate that drove one insane.

"That's your son?"

"Yes!"

"What a good lad!" the Imperial Commissioner said, looking on admiringly at the young captain.

"You know, I have a disappointment of a daughter. She is roughly the same age as your son but doesn't know about anything," said the Imperial Commissioner. Lieutenant General Logan Smith suddenly developed a surge of unexplained fondness. He carefully edged closer to the distinguished Imperial Commissioner. "You're saying that…your daughter…"

"Yes! A young girl that has no understanding of the ways of the world. She is fast approaching the age for marriage and yet has not once been in a relationship!"

"Sear, come here!" the Lieutenant General was simply overwhelmed. Why, if his son could engage in a romantic relationship with this distinguished man's daughter…and later marry…after that, through the girl's family, enter the imperial palace and sought out a good position…tsk tsk! Just the thought was enough to make him feel excited. Logan Smith appeared more excited than marrying a Marquise himself.

Truth be told, Sear' patience had run out and he could not care less about the plans of the two pitiful creatures.

"What are you doing? Get over here, quick!"

The young man's father kept urging him to come but Sear remained unconcerned and merely stared serenely at the surface of the water. The lake water of winter displayed a clear deep blue, as deep and serene as the ocean. That kind of blue caused one to develop a hallucination of immersing oneself in it recklessly. His father seemed to have lost his temper. He screamed loudly at Sear. Sear had already closed his eyes. If his willpower were just a little weaker, he would really throw his entire body into the lake.

"How do you explain the matter to the dean?" the Captain of the Guards was still turning this over in his mind. His face, being provoked by worry and indignance, was glowing red. Her Majesty the Empress whom he had once sworn to protect had already issued the order to stop the war on all fronts.

The Imperial Commissioner had a copy of the documents to be exchanged between the nations, which had phrasings that resembled that of a shameless prostitute, tucked in his arms. "How do I explain the matter to the dean?"

The Chief of Staff of the Guards, Marshall Robin Sparse stood waiting at the edge of the lake. His followers were not many, only a group of knights of less than a hundred. There was a considerable number of officers accompanying the Chief of Staff. From afar, it appeared as a sea of sparkling, gold military badges. Ever since the news broke out that Marshal Alan was defeated and had become paralyzed, Marshal Robin was naturally promoted to become the supreme commander of the Titan Empire's eight hundred thousand Guards. However, the old man did not seem overly excited about it. He rode on a strong, local horse of the lake area, gazing over the lake, lost in thought, like the young men on the ferry.

The peace talk commissioner from the capital disembarked and both parties came face to face with each other. Marshal Robin only nodded, not saying a word. This made the meeting quite awkward. Even the usually slick and sly Imperial Commissioner had unhappiness etched across his face.

***************

The young Captain of the Guards hung his head all the while. He only prayed that the dean would not recognize him. However, Sear had completely no confidence in it! He remembered back when he was studying in the Imperial Military Academy, it was Marshal Robin himself who presented him with the Award for Excellence in Military Attack Exercises. The Marshal had even invited him to join dinner that day. During the meal…if Smith remembered correctly, Marshal Robin had said to him, "After you graduate, go train with the first-line troops for ten or twenty years. By that time, you will be just as outstanding as one General Figg of the Andrews…"

However, at present, Sear, with the diploma majoring in cavalry command, in which he obtained perfect scores in every subject, could only become a communications officer. At that time, it was his father who changed his graduation letter of intent and through connections, took a backdoor allowing him to remain in Dulin.

"Sear!"

The young captain of the Guard's entire body stiffened. The hair on his body stood on end.

Marshal Robin delightfully sized up the young man standing before him, "Is it really you, young lad?"

Sear Smith stood in place, not knowing what to do. He eventually mustered up the courage to face his dean. Marshal Robin had changed a lot. His hair was as white as Marshal Alan's. His eyes were deep set and the delicate uniform he wore was hanging loosely off his body as if the Marshal had stolen it.

"How have you been, young man? I did not see your name in the graduation register's external officers. I was worried for a while!"

The young man was left speechless. He did not know for what reason, in a fit of nerves, large drops of wrongful tears began to roll down his cheeks.

It was clear to see that Marshal Robin did not know what to do with the young man's tears. The old man merely gently patted the other on the shoulder, "Don't be dejected, we are all soldiers and soldiers all obey orders."

"But this it is a wrong order, simply wrong beyond reason! Wrong beyond redemption!" Sear's courage appeared out of nowhere and his loud shouts attracted everyone's attention. His father was so surprised that he nearly fell off his horse. Even the Royal Commissioner's face had become completely cold. Only the group of officers who followed Marshal Robin and his knights nearby stuck their chests out in a flash of understanding. They used eyes mixed with pride, joy, unswerving determination and even admiration to size up the Captain, who was a man of his words.

"We are…soldiers!"

Marshal Robin put it that way and leaped onto his warhorse, not paying further attention to the emotional young captain.

***************

In the afternoon, the special commissioner's party from Dulin together with the Chief of Staff of the Guards arrived at their destination. It was a great manor closet to the lake. The thing that made others feel strange was that those guarding the manors were not the Imperial Guards but an independent army that one of the local counts had set up. This count was a retired lieutenant general of the Guards who was also the owner of the huge manor.

To outsiders, the aged owner appeared happy enough. He seemed to have taken an interest in the unfamiliar guests. The Count then invited the Chief of Staff of the Guards and the senior officer from the capital into the garden outside the manor.

The garden in winter did not have that impressive sight and the area was not very large as well. There was only a modern-looking villa painted in the color of parasol wood, complimenting the natural stone garden. There was an enormous stone basin in the stone garden. The temperature was extremely low and the lifeless goldfish were all hiding at the bottom of the water, refusing to budge even when a stone was thrown into it. Leaning against a wall of the villa's courtyard was the statue of a hunting goddess and a hound. Beside it was a tall rose tree. Just a glimpse and one would know that it was a product of arduous grafting. Its branches climbed along the house, completely blocking the windows of the second floor.

Just beneath the rose tree, beside the statue of the hunting goddess, the old count's servant had set up a dining table and arranged chairs. Even though it was winter, the sun still shone brightly in the sky. The little villa blocked the cold breeze that blew from the lake area, facing the sun. Both host and guests took their seats one after another and enjoyed the freshwater catch from the lake that was difficult to come by in winter. Sipping quality rum, everyone was engaged in fervent conversation aside from the soldiers.

"But…what did you just say again?"

The senior officer from the capital looked at the owner of the manor, beaming. He somewhat admired the other. To run such an enormous manor, one must have had tremendous assets.

"Just as it was said just now, if you don't mind…could I set your manor as the main meeting place for the peace talks between our country and the Westland Kingdom Alliance?"

The owner of the manor was completely taken aback. He gazed at Marshal Robin who did not utter a word and then glanced at the stiff faces of the soldiers. The old count wiped his mouth with the napkin steadily, but he felt that he could no longer suppress his anger! He flung the napkin into the soup bowl made of pure silver. The soup that splashed upward startled the capital officers and they dodged out of the way in a panic.

The old man began to tremble from head to foot. He pointed while trembling toward the courtyard door of his house!

"Look over there! I have equipped the lads at the lake area, taught them horse riding, taught them how to shoot an arrow and how to use spears to deal with those lowlifes from the West! You're expecting me to tell them to forget all of this, to invite those intruders in, and entertain them with good wine, good food and good women, is that right?"

The Imperial Commissioner moved his lips, stammering. He could not even form any word.

"Oh, what's the point!" the old count stood up abruptly and his chair fell onto the ground with a thud. "You all enjoy! Just assume that my wine…the fishes and prawns in the lake…are all fed to the dogs!"

With the old man's back to him, the official from the capital had the last straw and sprang up. He pointed at the old man's spine and with a shrill cry, shouted, "This is the decree issued by Her Majesty Empress Alanis I! Who do you think you are?"

The old count turned around suddenly and puffed out his chest with all of his might. "The former Lieutenant General of the Guards, Moranzo Hanning, prison warden of Damorga!"

"Prison warden of Damorga?" the Imperial Commissioner shuddered upon hearing the name.

The former prison warden of Damorga, Lieutenant General of the Guards, Count Moranzo Hanning was already a complete old man. He used his figure, which was shrinking by the year to bully those who dared challenge him.

"Let me tell you, if Her Majesty Empress Alanis I was an intelligent person, then she should throw a person like you into Darmoga! If it was 11 years ago, I would have welcomed you with the entire set of tricks used in dealing with traitors. However, now that nothing has happened, count yourself lucky!"

The old man was about to leave after venting out all he wanted to say, but in the end, he still turned around.

"Gentlemen, go ahead with your peace talks. Go beg forgiveness from the lowlifes of the West! However, make sure you do this far away from this manor. If even a single person from the west sets foot in my manor, I vow! I vow by the honor of a Lieutenant of the Guards, I vow by the personal integrity of a Titan noble, Moranzo Hanning will annihilate them with the methods used in dealing with scoundrels! Damorga has plenty of scoundrels. I am an expert in dealing with them and need not even think!"

The old man spoke while jabbing the dinner knife onto the surface of the table. The point of the blade nailed into the wooden board and the handle of the blade emitted a clear hum.

Even until after dinner, the former Lieutenant General of the Guards, Moranzo Hanning did not show his face again. To express his protest, he sent the manor's butler, attendants, servants and even the old lady who swept the floor to the nearby village. The generals and the Imperial Commissioner from Dulin stayed in the manor house could only help themselves in preparing some food. Dinner commenced in silence. The tea reception which followed also, due to the absence of the Chief of Staff of the Guards, parted rather unhappily.

When it was deep into the night, the silent manor was thoroughly awakened by a fit of hearty laughter. Count Moranzo Hanning seemed to have gotten drunk. Holding on to a Captain of the Guards who was swaying similarly as him, he climbed the stairs. Without much of a greeting, he barged into the study prepared by Marshal Robin.

The study was filled with high-ranking officers. A portion of them was from the Western Army Group and another portion was from the capital army. The old count's show in the afternoon had deeply moved each person. Seeing General Moranzo who had just barged in, almost toppling over, the officers scrambled to steady him.

"Do be careful, General!"

"General?" Moranzo repeated in self-mock. "If I was still a General…I will…I will bring this young lad here and fight the lowlifes from the West!"

The drunken Captain Sear seemed to have heard that someone wanted to bring him to fight a war. The young chap who thought so highly of himself raised the wine bottle. "Triangular array advance, left wing, provide cover, right wing, outflank…Guards…advance!

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