Regis became a strategist.
Although he wasn't confident, he had to make it work somehow.
He had quietly told Altina the best course of action. Having been acknowledged as the commander, she issued the orders to the troops.
"I order Sir Jerome to lead 100 cavalry to intercept the enemy. Find out the number of enemy forces and form a battle front if possible... If the enemy force is too large, you are to withdraw with the safety of our forces as the priority!"
General Jerome who became her subordinate willingly because of the duel led the cavalry out of the fort.
The sound of hooves, clashes of iron and courageous roars came from beyond the stone walls.
Turning their back to the sound of battle, Regis and Altina headed for the central tower.
At the top of the central tower was an observation post overlooking the battlefield, and doubled as a conference room to simulate battle tactics.
First, he needed to treat the wounds Altina sustained during the duel. She had won because of the founding emperor’s sword and some luck, but she was heavily injured and it wouldn't be strange if she needed to be carried in a stretcher.
It must be hard on her, but she still wanted to walk on her own two feet.
The loser Jerome had headed out to battle, so if the winner Altina couldn’t even walk, her objective to display her strength would be in vain.
Blood dripped slowly on the snow by her feet. The young girl who looked like she was going to collapse dragged her feet and forged ahead.
"Come on, Altina."
Regis beside her couldn’t do anything other than encouraging her on softly.
The distance from the parade square to the central tower seemed so far away.
The tower in the middle of the fortress was a massive building made of stone, the main gate was made from steel.
After much effort, they finally made it past the door.
Regis used his body weight to close the door.
The steel door closed with a loud bang.
The passageway enclosed by the stone walls became dark, the sound of fighting seemed far away.
After she was out of sight from the soldiers, Altina collapsed.
She leaned on the wall and panted intensely.
"Al, Altina, are you okay?"
"Yeah... Hah... hah... Ugu... I'm fine... I can... still stand..."
The soldiers in the fortress had headed to their battle stations because of the savages' attack, or were preparing to head out in the parade square. They wouldn’t see the scene inside the central tower, so it was fine to rest here for a moment.
"Altina, all will be lost if you die. Don't push yourself, have a good rest."
And so she rested her back on the stone wall and caught her breath.
Regis sat beside her too.
And looked at her profile.
Her mother might be a peasant, but she was made a concubine because of her exceptional beauty. Altina was said to be even more beautiful than her mother.
Her shiny red hair seemed more glamorous after the dangerous battle, her slightly opened eyes and her ruby like pupils seemed more profound.
While she was exhausted, her skin was whiter than snow without a hint of darkness.
Even Regis who wasn't too concerned about a lady's beauty was captivated.
Her innocent profile reminded him that she was just a 14 year old girl. In the Belgarian empire, only those who were 15 would be treated as adults, so Altina was still a child.
But she was strong.
Be it her skills with a sword or her resolve.
She wouldn’t give up no matter how dire the situation.
Even though her hands were stained with dirt and blood, Regis thought that she looked beautiful just like this.
Her thin porcelain-like smooth fingers looked as though it might snap with a gentle touch. Those fingers wielded a heavy two-handed sword taller than she was, defeating the hero Jerome renowned for his combat prowess.
Her unfathomable arm strength was probably because of her lineage and training.
She was too amazing...
"What is it Regis?"
Altina looked at him.
"Ah, are you alright?"
"Yeah, I'm feeling much better... rather than that, you are staring at me, what is it?"
"Eh? I, I, I'm staring at you?"
"Yes you are, I can feel my body being pierced by your gaze. Nah, do I look weird? Dirt on my face? Don't hold back and just tell me such matters."
"No, you are fine. Beautiful."
Regis covered his own mouth.
--What did I say to a child five years my junior!?
I was captivated by you because you are too beautiful - A bard from the imperial capital would probably present this song at this moment. But regrettably, Regis didn’t have such artistic talent.
He could only keep quiet and blush.
Altina looked at him with a face of worry.
"Did you catch a cold because you watched the duel in the blizzard? Your face is all red. Take care and don't catch a cold alright?"
Her right hand reached for Regis.
He shuddered at this and backed away.
His reflex was because of embarrassment.
But she seemed mistaken.
"Ah... Sorry. My hands are dirty right?"
"No, it's not that."
"Ah, don't mind me, I don't like flattery or sympathy. My hands are totally different from the noble ladies right? It's full of sweat during training and the dirt and blood from the duel."
"...I mean it, it's not that."
Regis reached out his hand this time.
Even if his heart was beating wildly, he was still determined to resolve this misunderstanding.
He placed his hand on top of Altina's hand.