By the time Ryoma withdraws his naginata and lets out a deep breath, the soldiers are already sprawled across the ground, whining and pressing their hands to their wounds. Ryoma walks to a woman and a young man at the side of the street, assuring them that the warlord will stop troubling them now.
The warlord in charge of this region, as Ryoma has just learned from this mother and son, is coercing every eligible man into his service. If Ryoma had not been passing by so early in the morning, she would have lost her son to these soldiers.
“Now leave,” he says to the soldiers.
Yet before they rise, the clop of a horse’s hooves approaches from afar. Judging by the way the soldiers knock their foreheads against the ground in unison, shuddering, the man on the horse must be their lord. The man pulls on the reins and jumps off the horse before shooting a fierce look at Ryoma and then at his men.
“Never seen you before in this city.” The warlord speaks. He is a rather stout man with a thick, long beard. He is much older than Ryoma imagined he would be.
Ryoma does not answer but gestures for the mother and son to leave; to his surprise, the warlord lets them.
“What’s your name?” the man asks.
“I am under no obligation to tell you.”
The warlord lifts his eyebrows at Ryoma.
“Alright, outlander, you may do what you want,” he says. “But you have injured my soldiers, and I don’t think it’s fair for me to let you leave without knowing who you are.”
If nothing else, the years of wandering in the Cape of Wings has taught Ryoma to ignore all manner of provocation. To him, remaining sensible and observant is preferable to getting into an unnecessary fight. So, instead of answering, he says: “That young man made clear his objections to joining, didn’t your men see?”
“We need him.”
“You should respect his will.”
The warlord sighs and smiles bitterly, “Outlander, you’re new here, and there’s much you don’t know. Have you ever heard the name Lu Bu?”
Ryoma shakes his head.
“He is one of the most notorious men in this city. Wherever he goes, he burns, pillages, and kills. People’s cries for mercy echo through the air! He invaded my camp a few months ago, wiped out my troops, and kidnapped a serving girl who was like a daughter to me.”
The warlord continues.
“He is bound to come back, outlander, for he is not only a scoundrel but also the son of the Dragon, Fanir! The civilians are afraid of the dragon’s power, I know, but I must force them to enlist and establish a new army or we won’t stand a chance the next time Lu Bu invades.”
“And I see that you have defeated my most elite men, that proves your worthiness. Would you care to join my forces?”
Ryoma dwells on the warlord’s words and looks at him in an alarming manner; the latter instantly understands his concern: “Of course, the citizens won’t have to fight Lu Bu if you can defeat him.”
As the sun rises and its rays tint the street with gold, more and more people appear; some of the passersby look in their direction, whispering to their companions. Worrying that more people will congregate, Ryoma says to the warlord: “I will consider this offer. But let’s talk about the details somewhere else.”
“You’re always welcome at my camp.” The warlord takes the reins and suggests Ryoma and the soldiers follow him. What Ryoma does not see, is a faint smirk that flickers across the warlord’s face.