Celestino Explains How They Met
I only met her by chance.
One year ago, the knights of Banfield learned that a dragon was rampaging in the neighboring duchy of Aquilania.
Aquilania was by far the smallest of the five kingdoms. The dragon had already overrun half of the kingdom’s territory, and the Aquilanian knights were crushed. With no other options,
they’d sent a message asking for the help of Banfield and her knights. Aware of Banfield’s responsibilities as suzerain of the five kingdoms, the king immediately sent orders to the captains to dispatch a force to slay the dragon.
Normally, monster-slaying duties fell to the Third Regiment I commanded and the Fourth Regiment, led by Captain Baldato. However, because we would be facing a rampaging dragon this time, the Fifth Regiment, which normally was charged with maintaining law and order in the capital, also joined our expedition. In addition, the Academy of Magic, which trained mages and conducted magical research, sent a unit of mages to join our force as well. We were an elite force, the pride of our kingdom.
I never imagined, when we set out, that we might fail.
Our expedition rode for Aquilania under the command of Vice-Commander Verdage, but…a dragon was truly nothing like the monsters we were used to.
Against that unimaginable power, the Fifth Regiment was the first to break. Next were the mages. Their magic was powerful, but after their mana ran out, the dragon killed them with a single sweep of its tail. We so-called “Handymen” were all that remained. With Vice- Commander Verdage in command, we continued to fight, but…Captain Baldato of the Fourth Regiment and Vice-Commander Verdage died together in the wounded dragon’s last flames.
That I survived was a matter of pure luck.
Dazed and covered with wounds, I staggered to the dragon and finished it off. But once the battle was over, none of us could move. No one in the Third or Fourth regiments was unscathed.
We’d taken heavy casualties, including among the soldiers who served with us. We were said to be the strongest of the knights. And we’d come to this.
Our uniforms still covered with the dragon’s blood, we set out for home, stricken by the dragon’s terrible might and our own powerlessness. We crossed the border. Passed through a few villages. Then one day, as we were listlessly preparing for camp near the town of Hasawes, we met a young woman carrying a bundle of herbs.
“What’s wrong?” she — Lucia — had asked. She wasn’t afraid at all, despite our haggard appearance. “Are you all right? Um…if you like, I could at least clean your clothes for you? Oh, and these herbs, you can make them into a tea that will help you recover your strength. Would you like some?”
At first, I had no idea what she was even talking about. Clothes? Yes, the blue-stained uniforms were an eyesore, but you couldn’t wash the stains out. Every time we got monster gore on ourselves, we had to throw the uniforms away — much to the displeasure of Lord Canalis, who was the aide-de-camp in charge of the regimental budgets.
“Thank you, but this won’t wash out,” I told her curtly.
Lucia met my gruffness with a gentle smile. “That won’t be a problem,” she said. “Watch
With that, Lucia used a strange magic I had never seen before. I jumped in surprise as soap bubbles suddenly surrounded me — and then realized that my blue-stained uniform had reverted to its original gray.
And not just that. The cloud of despair that had been hanging over my thoughts had also vanished. Could this have been an effect of that magic, too?
I didn’t know. But there was now no sign of the dark feelings that had been weighing me down. With my head suddenly cleared, I blinked in disbelief, actually looking at the girl standing in front of me.
Even though she was out in an area where monsters ran rampant, her gear was shockingly light. I could see the hilt of a knife peeking out of the bag slung over her shoulder, but she didn’t have a single piece of armor.
Maybe she’s a magician? I wondered. But normally, in order to use magic one needed a crystal to channel the magic of the Cristallo Sacro. As far as I could tell, she wasn’t carrying one.
To look at her, she was an ordinary town girl. Put her in any city street, and she would blend right in.
And what was that magic? I’d never seen nor heard of anything like it. It wasn’t healing magic. But it wasn’t protective magic, either. What kind of magic cleaned stains from clothing and also cleared the mind? None of this made any sense.
“What do you think?” Lucia asked, tilting her head a little to the side. With a start, I focused again. “It…worked…”
If this magic cleanses not only our clothes but also our minds…
At that thought, I asked her to use her magic on the others. If she could wipe away that despair, I was ready to crawl on the ground and beg. We were knights. If we were going to do our duty and defend the people, we couldn’t afford to let our spirits stay broken. If we faced monsters traumatized and thinking that we might not be able to win, then we would be of no more use than blunt swords.
Lucia agreed easily, casting her magic on each of the members of our group in turn. Even as the blue vanished from their uniforms, color and expression returned to each of their faces. It hadn’t been my imagination, then; her magic truly did clear the heart.
“Thank you… You’ve saved us.”
Lucia looked a little tired, but her smile never faltered as she pressed part of her bundle of herbs into my hands. “Thank goodness! It’s not much, but take these. If this isn’t enough, they grow wild a little farther away, so feel free to gather more. And now, I really have to go back, so if you will excuse me… Good luck in your travels, Sir Knight!”
She gathered up her remaining herbs, and left.
The Soap Bubble Saint. That was what the survivors who’d felt her magic called her.
It was an odd title, combining the reverence due to a sacred maiden with the impact of the soap bubbles, but something about the whimsy of it seemed to suit her. An extraordinary power, hidden away in a form that seemed utterly ordinary.
Who was she? But by the time I thought to ask her name, she was already gone.
It was about a year before I met Lucia again.
When we returned, we were met by cheering crowds. I in particular was lauded as “the Dragonslayer.” I couldn’t stand it. Yes, I had slain the dragon, but I hadn’t done it alone. Everyone should have been acclaimed as heroes, those of us who’d returned as well of those who hadn’t.
But when I appealed to the Knight Commander, he scolded me. Allowing the people to lionize me as Dragonslayer raised their hearts and improved morale, he said. So I held my tongue and let them call me that.
The feast to celebrate our victory was bittersweet for those of us being celebrated. But thanks to Lucia’s cleansing, it was just bittersweet.
When the feasting was over, we set about reforming the regiments. We had to choose a new vice-commander, as well as new captains for the Fourth and Fifth Regiments. On top of that, we had to reform the Fifth Regiment from scratch. That meant selecting new knights from among the soldiers, training them, and equipping them. We also had to recruit new soldiers to replace those we’d lost. All of that took a lot of time, but we eventually finished.
A few months later, while I was meandering idly through one of the less popular back courtyards, I met Lucia chasing after a piece of laundry.
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