The Royal Capital of the Re-Estize Kingdom.
In the heart of the Royal Capital Ro-Lante lay a keep, made from a series of over twenty vast circular towers joined by curtain walls. Within its depths lay the Valencia Palace.
There was a room within the Palace that was more functional than decorative, where many nobles were gathered.
Among them was the form of the Kingdom’s Warrior-Captain, Gazef Stronoff. He was currently genuflecting before the master to whom he had sworn his life, the man who sat on the throne, King Ranpossa III.
He seems to have gotten older.
That was the impression the King gave him when he compared the man now to how he had been half a month ago, when he had set out.
His beloved liege’s pale hair was a mess, and his skinny body could not be described as healthy by any stretch of the word, and his complexion was similarly poor. The hand which grasped his scepter was as slender as a dried branch, and the crown he wore seemed to hang heavily on his head.
He had reigned for 39 years, and he was now 60 years old. He should have handed the throne to an appropriate successor, but the problem was that he had no such successor
It was not because there was a lack of princes to inherit the throne. On the contrary, there were two princes, but both of them were far from ideal. If he gave them the throne, they would become puppets dancing on the strings of the Great Nobles.
The old man spoke weakly:
“Warrior-Captain, I am glad that you have returned safely.”
“Yes! Thank you, Your Majesty!”
Those sympathetic words drew a deep bow from Gazef as he responded.
“Umu. I have received some reports, but I would like to hear what happened from your own mouth, Warrior-Captain.”
Gazef described in detail the events of what had happened after he left the Royal Capital and reached Carne Village. He paid particular attention to the mysterious magic caster known as Ainz Ooal Gown, but he did not mention his suspicions of the Slaine Theocracy’s involvement. This was because Gazef felt it would be best if less people knew about the matter, and so it was inadvisable to speak about it in this place.
And so, Gazef talked and talked. He narrated a heroic tale of a man who stepped in to right a wrong in his way, who plunged fearlessly into danger to rescue the villagers, with no regard to the cost to himself.
“Is that so. That certainly is a glowing review of him. To think, he would go into danger to save the weak…”
Several nobles exchanged patronizing gossip about Ainz Ooal Gown as the King muttered those words of praise.
A problematic individual.
A deviant who did not dare reveal his face to the world.
A magic caster with a strange name.
In the end, they even brought up the idea that he might have staged the attack in order to advertise himself.
Gazef strove to keep his anger from showing on his face. He felt profoundly useless for being unable to defend his savior from their words.
There was a reason for that, of course. That was because the nobles mocking Ainz had one thing in common — they were from one of the big factions in the Kingdom; that of the Great Nobles.
30% of the Re-Estize Kingdom was directly ruled by the King, while the Great Nobles controlled another 30%. The remaining 40% was a feudal domain which belonged to the other nobles. In addition, the Kingdom’s leadership was divided into two factions, which struggled for power all day and night.
On one hand was the Royal faction, while on the other was the Noble faction, which was composed of more than half of the Kingdom’s Six Great Nobles. Though they were currently before the King, this was merely an extension of the battlefield where both sides did battle.
Because of that, Gazef — being of the Royal faction, and thus the King’s trusted servant — was unwilling to interject casually. He knew that his own clumsy phrasings could not possibly defeat those nobles, so he had to instead minimize his own chances of misspeaking.
...The Slaine Theocracy’s secret forces knew how we were moving and showed up at the right time… that means there’s a high chance of a spy within the Kingdom. That being the case, it might be one of the Noble faction’s people...
Gazef’s gaze turned to one of the nobles, who had an exceptionally cold look in his eyes.
His blond hair was tied back, and he had a pair of narrow, blue eyes.
His skin was the same wan color unique to those who avoided the sun. He projected the image of a venomous snake that was only reinforced by his slim build.
He should have been less than 40 years old, but his unhealthy complexion made him seem older than that.
His name was Marquis Raeven, one of the Six Great Nobles. He flitted between both factions like a bat for his own gain, and he was one of those who backed the King’s second son.
If there was a traitor to the King, it should be him, right?
Sensing Gazef’s eyes upon him, Marquis Raeven quirked up the edge of his already-thin lips. Gazef stiffened up even further in response to this provocation.
“Then, let us conclude your report here, Warrior-Captain. There are other important matters to decide.”
Those tired words from the king briefly silenced the chatter from the clustered nobles. Gazef returned to the King’s side and surveyed the nobles. As a man with the King’s trust, he was already used to their displeased glares.
“Then, if tradition holds, we ought to be going to war with the Empire in several months time. Let us discuss how we will address this matter. Marquis Raeven, explain to everyone.”
“Understood, your Majesty.”
The ghost-like man walked silently before them, and began speaking in a low voice.
Nobody interrupted him. Not only did he have influence in each faction, but he was also the most powerful of the Six Great Nobles. Nobody would dare make an enemy of him.
Marquis Raeven outlined his plans for the future, describing how many men under arms he would require of each noble, all without meeting any opposition. When he was finished, he smiled haughtily and bowed to the King:
“—And that is all.”
“Thank you, Marquis Raeven. Does anyone have any objections?”
The court became a sea of commotion once more, with people talking at and over each other.
“It’s our turn to take the offensive. Let’s attack the Empire while we’re at it.”
“Exactly! I’m getting tired of just beating back the Empire.”
“Precisely. Let us show those fools in the Empire how frightening we can be.”
“Indeed, you have it at that, Count-sama.”
The laughter of lavishly-dressed men echoed through the court.
Don’t be stupid. How refreshing it would be if he could actually say that.
The Kingdom and its neighbor, the Empire, faced off at the Katze Plains every year.
To date, neither side had sustained heavy casualties, but that was only because the Empire had not committed its forces to the battlefield. If they truly intended to conquer the Kingdom, there would be no need for them to form up at the Katze Plains and await the Kingdom’s army.
Gazef and some of the nobles who could use their brains felt that the objective of these events was to deplete the strength of the Kingdom.
Take for instance the Kingdom with its peasant levies, compared to the Empire and its professional corps of knights.
It was immediately obvious whose troops were individually superior, which was why the Kingdom had to mobilize over twice as many troops as the Empire. As a result, having fielded more men, they would need more rations for those men. Of course, there were some magic items which could produce food, but said food only qualified as such because of their nutritional value. Their taste was so revolting that even starving people would think twice about eating it. Thus, this magically created food could not substitute for proper rations.
In addition, the Empire chose the harvest season of the late-ripening wheat to invade, causing a lack of hands in the villages. This delayed the harvest of wheat and other grains.
In this way, the Kingdom would weaken without the need for a full-scale invasion, and this would weaken the power of the Crown.
Because of that, the Noble faction paid these consequences no heed. In fact, they were delighted by the Royal faction — their enemies — losing their power and influence.
Once the strength of the Kingdom fades, the Empire will invade in force. Do you think the enemy will truly be content with such small skirmishes? Why are you all so naive?!
The Noble faction believed that they would wield their absolute power forever. Gazef was particularly infuriated by these nobles.
“If that’s the case, could it be that the suspicious magic caster who aided the Warrior-Captain is a man from the Empire? Perhaps he intends to infiltrate us as a spy.”
“Ah, I see. You’re right. They say the Empire has an academy which trains magic casters, so that’s very likely.”
“The people of the Slaine Theocracy have a given name, a baptismal name, and a surname. However, what if his name is an alias”
“I feel uncomfortable about someone like that appearing in the Kingdom. Perhaps we should think of some way to deal with him?”
“Perhaps we could consider capturing him alive. Frankly speaking, the real problem is the Adventurers’ Guild. They count several magic casters in their number and do as they please. We need to deal with them as soon as possible. Perhaps we could make them our vassals or something.”
“Then, there are the fees the Guild collects. The adventurers within the Kingdom charge a ridiculous sum to eliminate monsters within our borders!”
“The best solution would be to bring him back here.”
Gazef could no longer remain silent after hearing this. There was no way he could allow them to continue badmouthing the person who had saved himself, his subordinates, and the villagers.
“A moment, if you please. To begin with, that magic caster is well-disposed toward the Kingdom; it would not be a wise decision to try and capture someone like—”
Gazef had spoken in an attempt to redirect the increasingly biased talk within the court. Several nobles reacted with looks of disgust.
Gazef had reached his current position by the sole merit of his swordsmanship. He was little more than an upstart to these nobles with their long and distinguished histories.
Thus, Gazef was the subject of much derision. The fact that nobody could match his martial skills only deepened the nobles’ resentment.
These highborn aristocrats could not bear to be outdone by someone of humbler origins than themselves.
Several nobles continued criticizing Ainz Ooal Gown without waiting for Gazef to finish, and others joined in as well.
Upon his throne, the King spoke with a hoarse sigh:
“...That’s enough. I feel that the Warrior-Captain’s decision was not in error.”
“Muu… well, if you say so, your Majesty...”
The nobles did not retort, but instead temporarily concealed the mocking grins on their faces.
Gazef looked with gratitude at the liege who had selected him and to whom he had pledged his ultimate fealty.
The King saw the look in Gazef’s eyes, and nodded.
♦ ♦ ♦
Gazef was always tired after these meetings, filled as they were with power plays and flattery, but Gazef did not let his fatigue show on his face as he accompanied the King back to the Palace.
The King had injured his knee in a previous war, and he was unsteady on his feet even with a walking stick. Yet, Gazef did not extend a hand to support him, as a consideration for the King’s dignity. In addition, if he had reached a state where he needed someone to support him in order to walk, the Noble faction’s cries for him to abdicate would only grow louder, in order to secure a place for an easily-manipulated puppet prince on the throne.
Therefore, though Gazef regretted the necessity of such, he had to let the King walk on his own.
As they slowly walked down the corridor and neared his chambers, the King suddenly said:
“...We will still need the power of the nobles to halt the aggressions of the Empire. If I denounced them on the spot, the Kingdom would tear itself apart without the need for an Imperial invasion.”
Though it had come out abruptly, Gazef understood what the King wished to say, so he could only grit his teeth.
“How I envy the Empire.”
Gazef could not find anything to say which could comfort the King and answer his mumblings.
The Empire had itself been a feudal kingdom three generations ago. However, the power of the nobles had been steadily eroded, and the current crop was now absolutely loyal to the reigning Emperor.
The reigning Emperor — Jircniv Rune Farlord El Nix
His title of the Bloody Emperor had come from the river of blood that had flowed when he came to power. Gazef recalled the time when he had met the man himself on the battlefield; the Emperor who wanted to bring him into his service.
That Emperor was a born ruler.
“I apologize for not being able to protect you because of my lack of consideration. I could not even outfit you properly before giving you that dangerous command… Please forgive me for the lives of your men that were lost because of that… because of me.”
“No, it’s not like that…”
“Gazef, it’s fine. And… while it cannot make up for their deaths, I would like to pay out some form of compensation to the families of the deceased. In addition, I would like to directly convey my gratitude to Gown-dono, and thank him for saving my closest confidante.”
He should have been troubled by the idea that the King would actually thank a nameless commoner in person who had not personally aided him, but —
“If he is truly a righteous man, then your words alone will be satisfaction enough.”
“Is that so — hm?”
Two people came into view before the King’s eyes. The one which caught his attention was the beautiful girl who walked in front. It was said that her loveliness was such that it could not be accurately reproduced in paintings; it was a truly indescribable beauty.
The King smiled. He had always favored his little princess over his other children.
Renner Theire Chardon Ryle Vaiself
As the third princess of the royal family, she had inherited her mother’s blinding beauty, and she was renowned as the “Golden Princess”.
Having reached the age of 16, it was about time for her to be married off. That too was a reason why the nobles were getting restless.
Her blonde hair was one of the reasons for her moniker. It flowed over her neck and down her back. Her smiling lips were a pale pink, yet she looked healthy and vital. Her sapphire-like eyes were a gentle and deep blue.
Her skilfully tailored white dress only added to the image of purity which she projected, while the golden necklace around her neck seemed to symbolize her noble spirit.
Behind her was a young man in his teenage years. Clad in a suit of pure white armor, he could be summarized in a single word — intense.
A pair of coarse, bushy brows sprouted above his impassive eyes.
His face had a firm, unyielding expression, as though forged from steel, and his skin was tanned dark by the sun. His blond hair was neatly trimmed for ease of movement and to avoid it getting tangled during combat.
This young man’s name was Climb, and Gazef had no idea how to get along with him. It was not that he disliked the lad; on the contrary, he actually liked him.
However, Gazef could not bear the air of intensity which surrounded him. He appreciated serious people like him, but he hoped that the boy could at least lighten up a little.
Still, Gazef understood his feelings.
As someone who stood beside the most beautiful woman in the Kingdom, he was the target of much hatred and jealousy, without so much as a friend to call his own. In addition, he came from the same humble origins as Gazef — no, worse than Gazef. Thus, he could not show any weakness, could not allow anyone to criticize a single move he made.
The King smiled to Renner as she jogged over, and nodded to Climb as he bowed deeply.
“The meeting’s finally over.”
“Umu. There was much to discuss, after all.”
“Is that so. I was thinking about something, so I decided to wait here so I could tell you about it.”
“Really, really now. I apologize, then.”
The things she pondered were hardly trivial matters.
The other reason why she was known as the Golden Princess was due to her adroit mind and admirable spirit. Not only were her policies revolutionary, but she had even proposed new laws, all of which were sound and sensible.
The policies she proposed seemed to be entirely centered around measures that aided the lower classes. However, these were not simple handouts, but a comprehensive system of relief policies designed to give those people who wanted to work a chance to feed themselves by their own power.
In addition, these policies would also improve the place of the common folk, heighten their loyalty to the Crown, improve productivity, and positively affect the Crown in general.
Although most of these initiatives had been dismantled by nobles — who opposed any improvement in the lot of the peasants — the wiser members of society and those people who had benefited from those policies strongly approved of her.
“Then, I’ll listen to you when I return to my chambers.”
“But Father, now is the time for me to go walking about. Please permit me to go on a stroll with Climb before returning.”
Climb stiffened even further when he heard the Princess imply that her walks with him were more important than speaking to the King. Gazef felt a little sorry for him.
Still, Princess Renner has always been a free spirit. All he can do as her follower is go along for the ride.
“If that is the case, then go. When you return, come to my chambers and tell me about it.”
“I understand. Then, let’s go, Climb.”
“Then, your humble servant shall take his leave.”
Gazef made a suggestion to the bowing Climb, in his capacity as a warrior:
“Climb, you need to hone your swordsmanship, so you can defend Princess Renner under any circumstances.”
Climb nodded vigorously, but Renner then replied in a disapproving tone.
“Climb’s fine. He’ll be able to protect me, no matter what happens.”
There was no basis for her words. Still, after hearing the Princess speak, even he felt that Climb could do it.
“Then, let’s go, Climb.”
Renner’s dainty fingers tugged on the corner of Climb’s clothing. It was probably an unconscious gesture, but when Climb discovered the Princess was doing so, his face hardened up even further, until it seemed as unyielding as diamond.
“Yes, my Princess.”
Though Climb’s expression was seemingly neutral as Renner dragged him away, his eyes revealed his inner torment and how moved he was as he left with the Princess.
The two of them had forgotten their place as master and servant, but the King paid it no heed. He simply watched the two of them leave, as though they were beloved treasures which he had lost long ago.
“...I probably shouldn’t be pitying him, given that I’m the King, don’t you think?”
Climb’s origins were unknown. He was a pauper’s child that Renner had picked up during an excursion from the keep.
Then, he had been a skinny boy on the verge of starving to death. He had worked hard and trained ceaselessly to protect his savior. No, training and working hard were not enough to describe what he had done.
He lacked any talent for swordsmanship or magic, nor did he possess outstanding physical abilities.
However, he had been honing himself little by little, day by day. Of course, his skills were not on the level of Gazef, nor were they in the realm of heroes. Even so, the strength he had gained from training himself put him at the pinnacle of all the warriors in the Kingdom. That said, there were some obstacles which he could not overcome.
Said obstacles were his status, his power, and his personal value.
A place close to Princess Renner was very valuable, and Climb was unworthy of it.
“Your servant understands.”
“I know it’s foolish, but at the very least, I’d like to let one of my daughters… be free. No, if I do that, my other daughters will scold me. How old and foolish I must be, to think of such things.”
The King looked to the sky, as though he had seen someone there.
“For all I know, I might have to subject this daughter of mine to unhappiness as well.”
If he had to marry off the princess now, she would probably be matched to someone from the Great Nobles.
That was what Gazef thought, but he did not say anything, because he did not know what to say. Only someone of similar status to the King could understand his troubles, and Gazef was not such a person.
Silence passed between the two of them, and then they stepped forward again, to clear it away.
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