News of the Emperor’s passing
Editor: Darkdhaos, Ice Phantom, CEObrainz
Empire Year 851, 5th June.
He could see people preparing for breakfast everywhere. At this moment, Regis noticed that some of the soldiers had lined up for some reason.
The line had nothing to do with their unit or ranks, just random soldiers forming a single line. Everyone held weapons, such as swords or pikes in hand.
What happened, Regis, who was curious, walked to the front of the group to find out the reason behind such a situation.
The soldier who walked back from the front of the line inspected the weapon in his hand carefully.
Regis could hear the sound of hammering in the distance.
It was a blacksmith.
Weapons had certain durability, and would be worn out after using them over long periods of time. So an army over a certain size would hire a blacksmith into their ranks.
Regis could empathise with the soldiers who wanted to repair their weapons during the lull period after a battle. But he didn’t expect there to be so many, this must be due to the continuous battles they went through.
There were about a hundred blacksmiths attached to the army.
Setting up a furnace and sheltering themselves from the sun with canvas, they made an open air workshop.
Right now, there were about 13,000 people in the Imperial Fourth Army. A blacksmith would need to repair 130 weapons, which wasn’t enough.
After all, this expedition was launched in a hurry without complete preparation, and the blacksmiths from the Second Army deserting after its defeat was also a contributing factor. There weren’t enough chefs and barbers too.
—— We need to recruit such workers when we have time, so we can relieve the stress of the soldiers.
As he thought about all this, Regis walked ahead and saw a burly man wielding a hammer among the blacksmiths.
Regis hastened his steps.
After receiving a weapon from a Fourth Army soldier, the one who was hammering it was —— Enzo Smith.
He was the husband of Regis’ sister Vanessa, a blacksmith from Rouen city.
In order to deliver the repaired ‘Grand Tonnerre Quatre’ to Altina, he came all the way to the battlefield.
“Brother-in-law, what are you doing!?”
“Oh Regis, I am free right now so I came to help out.”
“What!? There are blacksmiths assigned to the unit. It’s not a proper retail engagement, if someone from outside the army did this…”
“You think so too, Regis?”
Regis just finished saying that when a half naked man walked over from another open air workshop.
It was the chief blacksmith Thomas. A man in his forties, he worked under Jerome back when the general was still in the capital. He was someone who would even lash out at a knight if the weapon handed to him was in tatters.
“Oh, Sir Strategist!”
“Ah, S-Sorry, Mr Smith isn’t familiar with how things work in the army…”
“Mr Smith did great!”
“Ara, without even looking at the original plans, it was impressive of him to reforge ‘Grand Tonnerre Quatre’! News that he made it even better than the original spread, so everyone is here to ask for his help!”
Regis gave a resigned reply.
The atmosphere wasn’t malicious. Or rather, it would be terrific if Enzo joined the army and worked seriously as a blacksmith.
Enzo shrugged indifferently.
“I am just working normally…”
“Not at all, I heard from the blacksmith guild in Rouen city that you were good, but you are better than I imagined!”
Enzo became more embarrassed by Thomas’ compliments.
Enzo’s disciple Lionel chipped in:
“Yes, there are many blacksmiths in Rouen city, but master is special. He didn’t receive any big projects as he is not good with words, but no one could smith metal as smoothly as him.”
Enzo who looked as if he had bitten on a bitter bug tugged on Lionel’s sleeve.
“If it doesn’t trouble anyone, I have no reason to stop it.”
“It’s no trouble at all!”
Thomas held up a sword for Regis to see.
To be honest, Regis doesn’t use swords, so he couldn’t tell if the repairs were good or bad.
But the eyes of the chief blacksmith were sparkling.
“I can’t believe this is a standard issue sword from the army! Its blade is shining! It is just like a famed sword used by nobles!”
“Just by knocking and sharpening it a little, he could achieve such a standard, this is sorcery!”
The blacksmiths and the soldiers in line voiced out their agreement, “It’s true.” “Like magic.”
Enzo’s embarrassment increased.
“Ah, erm… hammering it straight if it is crooked, sharpening it if it is dull… Isn’t that normal?”
Lionel said with a wry smile.
“Normal people can’t straighten a sword with one strike of the hammer. They couldn’t sharpen perfectly either. Sharpening both sides of a metal equally is no easy task for most people.”
“You are really skilled at this.”
Thomas nodded in agreement.
“Next would be the high salaries. It would still take time to restore it to such a level, which isn’t something a blacksmith attached to the army should be doing… Please repair it roughly for the sake of speed, it will be easier that way too. Hey, would I be beaten up in my sleep if I say that?”
“I don’t think that way…”
“Thank you very much! If possible, can your disciple start working too?”
“Well, I am not hiding him, so it’s fine.”
Enzo took the sword from the next soldiers in line and inspected it.
“... Hmm… seems like your sword hits are slanted. Does it feel a bit off when you hold the hilt?”
The soldier scratched his head, and his comrades laughed out loud.
Enzo untied the leather from the grip.
“As expected, the hilt is crooked, I will hammer it straight then.”
He removed the hilt from the blade, placed it in the furnace, then started hammering it on the anvil. He straightened it just like that, handed it to his disciple and said:
“Fix the hilt.”
Enzo took the pike from the next soldier, commented that ‘this just needs sharpening’ and grinded it with a file. The blade on the pike regained its glimmer in no time.
There weren’t any flashy movements, just quick and accurate repair work.
The blacksmiths around him showed an expression of admiration, including Thomas.
“Amazing! Just like magic! As expected of Sir Strategist Regis’ brother-in-law!”
“Eh!? It has nothing to do with me!”
Regis didn’t expect to hear his name, and shook his head frantically.
However, rumours tend to go in the direction that was the most interesting.
The strategist was a wizard, so his brother-in-law is one too —— And so, a new legend was born.
8th June, morning ——
The day after the march began.
A large tent was erected at the center of the encampment.
There was a very long table in the center of the tent, with lots of chairs placed on the side.
The commander Altina was seated all the way in.
On her right was Regis’ seat.
To her left was Brigadier General Jerome Jean de Beilschmidt, leader of the Black Knights.
On the opposite side of Altina was Lieutenant General Benjamin Emmanuel Beaumarchais, his brother Jansen Gabriel was seated beside him.
Clarisse stood at the corner of the tent. When outsiders were present, she wouldn’t move, smile or talk, just like a doll.
Regis laid out a map on the table.
“We will leave the defences of the west to the local noble army. We have two captured Princess class battleship that we seized from the High Britannians in the sea, crewed by sailors who surrendered and are familiar with the controls. It could be operated smoothly, so they won’t lose so easily. Also ——“
Regis opened a letter.
“—— News from Bertram. The contraption in Princess Class vessel number one is damaged, and had been sent to the docks. Engineers will be despatched to pull it apart for analysis. Belgaria will definitely be able to build similar battleships in the future.”
“How long would that take?”
Jerome asked. Regis took out another letter.
“The engineers estimated that the works including crafting the mold for the all the parts and creating the replica would take about two years.”
“So in the meantime, the two battleships would be their only defences. How bold.”
“They will prioritize the production of the cannons. If they are fast, there will be Empire-made Elswick cannons next month.
“Hmm… We want to try it too, so prepare some for us.”
“Understood, I will prepare it.”
Jerome was a man who wanted to keep getting stronger, that’s why he was willing to negotiate. He was already plenty strong, but he still wanted to be more powerful.
The mechanics of the steam engine was more complicated, so it was hard to reproduce them, but the structure of the cannons were much easier. They had already started production. If the range of the cannons could match their adversary, they wouldn’t be attacked one-sidedly by the High Britannian battleships.
If High Britannia commited more battleships to the war effort immediately, they would have to fight another tough battle…
They learnt from the captives that the enemy’s naval strategy was rather pessimistic.
Forced by the orders of the new queen Margaret Steelart and the strategist Oswald Coulthard, they took a cautious approach.
—— Judging from the testimony of the captives, the possibility that they wouldn’t fight if they lose was very high.
Anyway, Margaret and Oswald who directed this war appeared to be outside their home country.
The possibility that the High Britannia Navy would abandon their national defence and commit a large number of warships into the war was slim.
“By the way, if the words of the captives could be trusted, Margaret, the new queen of High Britannia took part in their expedition force. But I never heard any news of her being skilled in martial arts…”
This was hard to fathom, the Belgarian Empire was a nation with the strongest army in the continent after all. Wouldn’t it be dangerous for the queen to join the expedition?
Was it confidence in their new rifles and cannons, trust in the commander Oswald, or was she just an optimist?
Regis saw her once before, she was riding in a black carriage. She didn’t look like she was proficient in swordsmanship or horsemanship.
He had never spoken to her before, and she was a newly coronated queen, so information about her was severely lacking. Regis couldn’t work out the true intentions of the new queen.
“Hah! That damn queen is —— a big moron!”
Normally, saying such audacious things about a national leader would offend others.
If they could capture her, they would be able to ask for a queen’s ransom.
If they don’t pay the money, the entire country would be branded ‘valuing money over their lord’.
“If it is up to me, I would take the queen away from the army, then make a detour around the battlefield before sending her home… But what would Colonel Oswald Coulthard do?”
“Hah! If they do that, they shouldn’t have let her follow along in the beginning!”
Regis turned towards Altina and Jerome did the same.
“What? Am I that witless!?”
“There isn’t much difference compared to you assaulting the invulnerable fortress.”
Altina wanted to refute him, but could only grit her teeth as she couldn’t think of anything to say.
“You you you…”
But such reckless action was a thing of the past.
Altina learned a lot of things recently too, and could finally stay in the headquarters calmly. Now, she wouldn’t charge towards the frontline like she used to.
She had really grown.
Well then —— Regis suddenly changed the topic.
“According to the diagnosis of the lady doctor, the red wrist fracture of the former Balzac duke will take three months to heal.”
“Because Eddie and Auguste escaped from the capital, Auguste can’t stay in the capital anymore right?”
“... He didn’t have a choice and is embroiled in this political struggle. Let him stay with the unit until his wounds heal.”
“When we return to Fort Volks, Eddie would be there too!”
Altina said loudly and Regis nodded.
Then —— the next item.
“How should we deal with the Mercenary King?”
Altina showed a troubled face while Jerome turned silent with his arms crossed.
Benjamin said firmly:
“We hang him of course.”
Altina slammed the table and stood up, which made Benjamin open his eyes wide.
“Why not? This is the tradition for the Empire. If he surrendered without a fight, we could still treat him with the same level of respect as a retainer. But once a battle breaks out, even if the commander surrenders early, they must be executed.”
“Because, it would be a waste!”
“The lowly Mercenary King?!”
“Be it mercenary or royals, the strong are the strong. He will be a reliable force if he becomes our ally.”
“What!? Ally!? Please don’t joke about this, Princess!”
Not just him, even Jansen besides him was speechless. It seemed that Altina’s opinion was beyond common sense for the empire.
Fufufu, Jerome laughed with his shoulders shivering.
“That man is strong indeed. Much stronger than the scum knights in the capital.”
“But the character of a person is important for the Imperial Army! Taking in an opponent that should be executed just because he is strong… I object!”
“Haha! You are even lower than him.”
“I-Is that Mercenary King ranked higher compared to me!?”
Benjamin’s face was red from rage.
Hmmp, Jerome sneered.
“Of course. You think you can dodge my lance? Your peerage might protect you in the courts, but a commoner is the same as a Marquis on the battlefield.”
“Insolent! A mere Margrave dare mock me!?”
“That’s exactly it. That’s how weak you are, using your peerage to threaten others if something even slightly irks you.”
“Being humiliated before the Princess… I won’t stand for this…!!”
“You picked the wrong opponent if you want to throw temper that doesn’t match your ability. It will be too late to regret it when your head rolls.”
Benjamin’s veins were visible, as if they were on the verge of exploding.
They had put aside their difference so far before a common powerful adversary, but it was an uneasy truce. Benjamin was a grand noble who grew up in the courts, and it was only natural that he wouldn’t respect someone with lower rank and peerage than him.
However, Jerome detested arrogant nobles who were mediocre in terms of ability.
They were incompatible like water and fire.
—— If this was a story, the two of them would be able to resolve their difference amiably by resolving one problem.
In Jerome’s eyes, there were only ‘those who can be used’ and ‘those that can’t be used’.
On the other hand, Benjamin was heavily influenced by the values of the courts. The Second Army was also stationed in the capital for a long time.
The first army to engage the High Britannian forces was the Second Army, which was a coincidence. They were deployed here because of political reasons during the Founding day festival, they wouldn’t be in the west otherwise.
Originally, the Second Army was a unit that defended the capital together with the First Army, and lacked battle experience.
Benjamin inherited his father’s peerage and rank, he himself had no accomplishment or battle experience to speak of. His biggest merit would be not making any major mistakes during his youth.
Compared to the martial skills of Jerome and the Mercenary king… His honour as a knight was just a vanity.
Most nobles who spend a lot of time in courts had such a temper. It was the same for the noble army Regis served in before.
They get emotional easily.
Born in a wealthy family and growing up without worries, they would become wilful, arrogant and conceited, as if they were the rulers of the world.
Even if they gain knowledge and learn the etiquette of the courts, it was difficult for them to nurture their character to know self restraint.
When they get emotional, they would be as stubborn as a child.
—— However, it would be troublesome if this developed into a duel.
The Fourth Army was a mixed unit. The old guards from the Beilschmidt Border Regiment and the soldiers from the former Second Army already had some friction.
They could only wait for Benjamin to cool down and consider the consequences carefully. After that, Regis could stir the matter in a peaceful direction in a way that wouldn’t hurt his dignity.
As he was considering all that, Altina leaned forward.
“Sir Benjamin, are you confident enough to defeat Jerome?”
When he saw Altina’s serious expression, Benjamin’s face turned white.
Regis grabbed his head.
—— Isn’t that adding fuel to the fire!?
Altina was probably just curious.
“If you can defeat him, that would be a great accomplishment right? I fought Jerome in a close quarter duel in the past, but if he rode a horse and used his lance, I think he would be a match for the Mercenary King and Latreille.”
“Then, compared to His Highness… Could it be…”
“Latreille was careless when the Mercenary King Gilbert ambushed him. The Mercenary King is on par with Jerome. I fought all three of them before. Latreille is stronger with a sword, Gilbert is better with polearms. Jerome is the best in fighting on horseback. Sir Benjamin, which field do you excel in?”
Latreille was famous for his swordsmanship. Regis saw him forcing Altina to a corner. Although Latreille did manipulate her emotions to fight in a cramped place.
But no matter what, he was a strong fighter renowned throughout the continent.
Benjamin came from a martial family too and practiced with weapons a lot in his youth, but his opponent was too strong. Realizing this problem, sweat appeared on his forehead.
“Ahem… Erm, everyone here are allies on the same team. The whereabouts of the High Britannians are still unknown. Instead of competing in personal matches, please help to divide the workload on hand.”
“Yes, right! The strategist has a point! Now is not the time for the Empire to turn on each other!”
Benjamin said as he wiped the sweat from his brow.
Seeing that his opponent had lost the will to fight, Jerome crossed his arms and leaned back on his chair.
Altina finally realized that Benjamin was just showing a false front, and made a regretful expression.
“Anyway, I will negotiate with Gilbert about this. The more powerful allies we have, the better it is.”
Regis nodded, and concluded that there wouldn’t be a fight today.
Of course, there was no telling what would happen in the future. After all, the invasion of the High Britannian Army was an unexpected incident, and all the losses suffered by the Empire so far were unexpected.
It was true the more powerful allies they have, the better.
But they would still need to fit it within their budget.
Altina didn’t have a territory of her own. Her mother who would normally provide backing for her was a commoner, her assets was just a house in Sanc Joel city that was beside the capital.
The budget for the Fourth Army was similar to the Beilschmidt Border Regiment.
For an army of this scale, the War Department would provide the budget for about 13000 men.
But if they include the hiring fee for the strongest Mercenary in the continent, they couldn’t raise the money even if they sell everything, including the ashes in the stoves.
—— Unlike subordinates who fight for their lord, how should they deal with the Mercenary King who fights for money?
“Oh right, the sister of the Mercenary King, Franziska, and the ‘Sorcerer’ Jessica are nowhere to be found, they are probably on the run.”
Altina’s face turned serious.
In a night battle in the past, Franziska who uses a crossbow damaged ‘Grand Tonnerre Quatre’. The bodyguard Eric was also injured by an arrow.
“... I see… So they are still alive…”
“They might come back to break their brother out.”
“I really envy such familial bonds. Looks like we have to strengthen security tonight.”
“Yes, let’s increase the patrols.”
Last would be reporting the internal affairs of the Fourth Army. In short, they were short on men and funds.
It was decided that the problem would be adjourned until they head back to the capital.
After finishing the War Council, Altina stood up in high spirits.
“Alright, let’s go!”
“... Erm… Go where? The unit is about to set off.”
“Didn’t I already say that. I will be negotiating with Gilbert, and make him work for me!”
“Eh!? Your Highness, do you have to do this personally!?”
“This is not a question of whether I need to. I am doing it because I want to.”
The captives’ hands were tied to their head.
About 1500 High Britannian soldiers were taken prisoners, 3000 of them were killed in battle, and the rest fled. A lot of them escaped in the thick fog.
An estimated 5000 soldiers ran away, so the Empire had to be ready to pursue the remnants of the enemy.
Three hundred mercenary of ‘Renard Pendu’ assaulted the 5000 men strong Empire headquarters.
150 of them died, 150 of them were captured. They might be unarmed, but no efforts were spared in guarding them. They were given extra heavy shackles and have three times the guards on watch.
On top of that, Gilbert was isolated and tied up in another place. If they execute the leader of the captives, it would fan their emotions.
Jerome said he wasn’t interested in negotiations and returned to his Knight Corps.
Benjamin didn’t come along. For grand nobles, it would be a humiliation to talk to imprisoned mercenaries. Normally, the nobles would only talk to prisoners who were nobles themselves.
Clarisse returned to attend to her chores too.
And so, only Regis and Altina went to the place where Gilbert was held.
“... Altina, it is fine to meet him… But he is a mercenary. It would be meaningless if the point of the negotiation is not about the remuneration.”
When no one was around, Regis would speak in a normal tone.
There wouldn’t be any major battles, so he could smile naturally again. Altina didn’t stand on ceremony either.
“I know, but if he doesn't become my subordinate, he would be executed right?”
“... There’s no other choice. We can’t set such a dangerous fellow free.”
“Wouldn’t that be strange for a negotiation? I don’t want the negotiation to become like that. I really want him to work for me.”
“Hmm… Let’s think about this possibility then.”
It was hard to gain their loyalty.
When they reached the tent where the prisoners were held, the guards on duty knelt frantically when they saw Altina.
“P-Princess!? What brings you here!?”
It was expected for the soldiers to be stunned. There has never been a precedence of royals seeing a prisoner. Even if the prisoner was the famed Mercenary King.
But Altina didn’t seem to care.
“Thank you for your hard work. I want to talk to Gilbert, let me in.”
“B-But… He is the Mercenary King…”
“What? Can’t a royal meet a mercenary?”
“Ah, no! This way please.”
“Alright. I’m coming in.”
She pulled the curtain at the entrance.
And went in.
It was dark. They had only taken in the prisoners for just a few days, but the place reeked of wild animals.
The Mercenary King was tied to a tall pillar.
Several chains were wrapped around his body, as if he was a beast. Because his wounds from the battle weren’t taken care of, the chains were dyed black from his wound’s blood.
His sharp eyes looked their way.
Regis shuddered. Had he been alone, he would have run away already.
Altina put her hands on her waist and puffed her chest out.
“You looked lively, Gilbert!”
“I will make it simple. How about becoming my subordinate?”
His eyes closed.
His lips that were cut by knives opened.
“Hmm? That’s unexpectedly straightforward.”
“Imprisoned mercenary… will be hanged… I know at least that much.”
He didn’t seem eager to negotiate.
“... Her Highness admires your martial prowess. How about joining the Imperial Army? We will pay you handsomely, and will guarantee the safety of your subordinates.”
At this moment, Gilbert’s stone like expression softened.
“I heard the strategist Regis d’Auric is a dangerous man. Known as the Wizard… For you, I am probably a monster huh.”
Altina furrowed her brows.
“That’s right, Regis. You are turning it into a hostage negotiation, what are you thinking?”
“Your Highness!? It is a proper right to propose a ransom for prisoners. Or do so in an equivalent manner, conscription is also…”
“If that is so, then they won’t be true allies, right?”
It is impossible for people who fought to the death with us just four days ago to acknowledge us as comrades, Regis thought.
However, Altina seemed to be serious.
“Gilbert, you said that your country is the Mercenary band right?”
“... What about it?”
“You said you will protect them right? If that’s not a lie, I can help you. I will become Empress! I will then acknowledge your country.”
The chains that bounded Gilbert clinked.
Regis considered the feasibility of this proposal hurriedly.
—— At least discuss this with me beforehand.
If it was Altina, this proposal was possible.
Not bestowing territory, but recognizing the Mercenary band as a nation? Is it possible? It is impossible from a legal standpoint. However, it would be possible if she was the Empress. A similar arrangement was made in the past too.
“... Like Bargainheim?”
Regis muttered, and Altina nodded.
“Yes, I thought of the method Regis used before. If I become Empress, I can recognize Diethart’s Bargainheim as a nation of similar standings with the Empire. In that case, Gilbert’s country can be recognized too.”
That was the greatest reward. No matter how much money the mercenaries saved, they couldn’t simply become a nation.
But Gilbert shook his head.
“... Stop your lies. There is no way a royal of Belgaria will honor a promise with a mercenary. And I don’t know that Diethart person anyway.”
“He is a barbarian.”
“Hah!? Enough with your deceit! It’s impossible for you Belgarians to keep your promises with barbarians! You are people who will hang your prisoners, be they barbarians or mercenary! You think I am an idiot that will be tempted so easily!?”
“You are the one being rude! Me not keeping my promise? Why are you so sure about that!?”
“... I know about the corruption in Belgaria very well… I can tell. The one who will be Emperor is the Second Prince. Since that is a fact, I will be a laughing stock if I still take the bait you laid out for me.”
Gilbert said with a hearty laugh.
Altina closed in on him.
“Stop kidding me! I am the one who will be Empress! I will overcome any obstacles there is to change the Empire!”
“Talk is cheap.”
“Hmmp —— You are unexpectedly timid. I was hoping you will say ‘if you don’t keep your promise, I will cut your head off.’”
Gilbert opened his eyes wide in shock.
“I won’t give great wealth or territory. What I can give you is the ‘promise’ you distrust so much. I will acknowledge your country when I become Empress. Since you are betting your life for your course, then have the resolve to die for it. If you think I didn’t fulfil the promise, then come take my head.”
“Princess, are you serious…?”
“What do you think? But, I detest lies.”
Altina placed her hands on her hips.
Gilbert fell silent. The light of intelligence shone in his beast like eyes. He seemed to be considering this proposal seriously.
“... Can you release my subordinates?”
Regis answered this question.
“If you accept and work for us, then announce it to your subordinates. If there are anyone willing to follow you, we will hire them. We will let those who are unwilling, to leave. And of course, we will tend to their wounds before that.”
“If I disagree, you will hang us all?”
“... If we were the one who lost, will you release us without compensation?”
“We will definitely demand ransom.”
“Sigh, that’s how it is. Naturally, no one will pay the ransom for barbarians and mercenary, so they will all be hung. However, the service of ‘Renard Pendu’ would be equivalent to a tidy sum you can pay in place of a ransom.”
“... It seems that… I can only bet on you guys keeping your promise.”
His gaze was really pressurizing. If it was Regis in the past, he might have bent his back and not look anymore. But he was staring right back this time.
The feral aura dissipated. Gilbert seemed to have acknowledged Altina and Regis’ character.
They probably convinced him.
It was suddenly noisy outside the tent.
“Reporting! A message from the Empire! It’s urgent!”
A voice that was patched from screaming. His look of urgency made Regis gulp.
Altina’s expression turned serious.
A lightly armoured soldier barged into the tent and knelt on one knee.
“Pardon my intrusion! It’s a grave matter, please forgive ——”
Regis met this soldier before. He was one of the scouts sent to report the news to the capital. From his ragged breathing, it was easy to imagine something drastic happened.
“—— On the morning of the 6th, His Majesty, the Emperor passed away!”
Altina almost stopped breathing.
The entire army was shaken too.
He reported an even more impactful news.
“ —— The Second Prince Latreille is preparing to succeed the throne!”
Her ruby eyes turned in the direction of the Empire.
The news shook up Regis too, it was like taking a club to the head.
Haha! Gilbert laughed.
“Hahaha! What will you do now, Princess!? You were just talking about becoming the Empress! As expected, the Second Prince took the throne!”
“Your competitor took the throne, so you lost the right to be Empress right? Acknowledging my nation is just a dream now… Hahaha… Fate is cruel, I can only laugh.”
Damn it, Altina clenched her fist.
“Is this luck or strategy… The Second Prince is one step faster than you… You might have won the war, but lost the political battle… No matter how noble your ideal is, you can’t accomplish anything now.”
His mocking words had a hint of disappointment. He could see that his dream of founding his own country was just a mirage in the desert.
Altina glared with her crimson eyes that were like burning flame.
“I won’t give up!”
“In the beginning, I was alone… My only companion was my maid. After that, I got the aid of Regis’ wisdom, the loyalty of the soldiers in the Border Regiment, took down Fort Volks and finally mustered a large army. Even if Latreille becomes Emperor, I will strive on to change this country! I won’t stop before I draw my last breath! I won’t permit foolish words like ‘kill me’!”
“... Strive on? Not giving up? What audacious words. But the fact remains, what can you do? Start a civil war? Ahh, that would be to my liking. But are your troops willing to follow you into a hopeless battle doomed to failure?”
Gilbert was right.
The Belgaria Empire just finished a war with High Britannia and all the citizens were tired of fighting. If she started a civil war now, a lot of soldiers would probably revolt.
And half of the Fourth Army was from the Second Army. The commander Benjamin was from the Second Prince faction.
If she raised the flag of revolution, the Army will crumble immediately.
Hence, Regis judged that there was no point in negotiating.
“... First, we should confirm this. There will be a huge change in the situation from now on, do you wish to be hanged no matter what?”
“If you are willing to do manual labours, we can take your shackles off, and not execute you immediately. But as a condition, you have to keep your men in line.”
“You will kill my men if I reject right? It would be forced labour, and those who can’t move would be killed off right?”
“... You still have some sway over your men. I only proposed this because of your leadership skills. If you perform manual labour, the mercenaries in ‘Renard Pendu’ would be less dangerous too.”
Without Gilbert to rein them in, it would be difficult to force those mercenaries to work.
He rubbed the shackles restraining them.
“Hmm… You think I still hold sway over them after my loss? Well, fine. I am not some rotten person who wishes for his men to be hanged.”
“Very well. You will perform manual labour in the meantime then.”
It would be difficult to continue the recruitment talks under such circumstances. Before they could harness his strength, they had to consider their own situation and direction they should take.
Unlike Gilbert’s tough reply, Altina stood stiffly like a person who lost her light in the night.
Regis turned to the entrance.
“... Your Highness, let’s go back.”
She was putting on a strong front, but her heart was probably like roses that had fallen because of a storm.
Altina returned to the tent she was working in.
The documents he used in the conference earlier were scattered all over the table.
They left to find Gilbert immediately after the meeting, so Regis didn’t tidy his documents yet.
Altina didn’t sit down, placing both her palms on the table to support her body weight.
“Summon Jerome and the others, we need to discuss our plans for the future.”
Regis didn’t sit either. He wanted to let her calm down as much as possible, so he said slowly.
“... You have decided the way forward?”
“My heart is still unchanged!”
The usual lively Altina looked very stressed and anxious.
She was deeply affected by this.
That was only natural.
She was suppressed since she was young, and had finally found the path she wanted to take one day, believing in it so much that she was ready to bet her life on it. But the door to her ideal goal was now closed.
It would probably take some time for her to cool down.
—— Should I have an idle chat with her first?
“Altina, you also said that you won’t give up earlier right? That is not an approach, but something like your resolve. Even if you call everyone over, you can’t issue a specific order right?”
“Who, when, how, what… Deciding all this and issuing commands are your responsibilities. If you want to hear their opinions in order to make a judgement, I can gather them. But if you are just anxious and confused, it won’t do.”
“Ah… Yeah… That’s right.”
Altina finally realized she allowed her anger to get to her head. She calmed herself down a little and relaxed her shoulders.
To break the stiff mood, Regis said in a bright tone.
“Sir Jerome is very petty too.”
“Yes… That’s true.”
“He could decide what he wants quickly and reach an immediate conclusion. That’s why he think others are slow.”
“Indeed, I seldom see Jerome being troubled.”
“If you are clear of your goals, there is less chance of being troubled by outside influence. What kind of preparation was needed to accomplish one’s objective? What should be thrown away? What should be done, and what to avoid?”
“... He isn’t dissatisfied by the system of the country, he is just unhappy about the nobles who exiled him. If the nobles are gone, he would want to return to the capital.”
“Ahh, I see.”
“He not only considered his ‘goals’, he also thought about his ‘means’... Even his loss to you in a duel was one of them.”
Altina looked surprised.
Now that he thought about it, Regis had not told her yet.
“What is his idea?”
“Sir Jerome’s plan was —— to keep increasing his forces’ power to the First Army’s level, then the grand nobles won’t be able to expel him easily, or stop him from returning to the capital.”
Regis didn’t need to ask Jerome, and could tell from the budgets.
Jerome’s goal was to return to the capital, his means was to increase his forces’ power.
Although he was still passionate about equipment and training, Jerome probably lost that ambition.
If Altina becomes Empress, his goal would be achieved. He just needed to follow her for now. But it was hard to tell what he would do from now on.
“I see, so that was the reason he wanted Regis?”
Oh right, such a thing happened —— Regis recalled.
When Regis first arrived at Fort Sierck, he captured the bandits and Jerome asked Regis to serve under him.
Regis wasn’t sure about his own worth…
“Well, he did say that he will even use dust if they are useful, and he increased his forces using that greed. Since we understood his goal and means, he will be able to gauge his own values and make quick decisions.”
“I am also thinking about them a little too.”
“... You are looking too far ahead, but that isn’t a bad thing. Normal people can only see the path they are walking on. But you are thinking about the future, which is a good quality for a leader.”
“However, that isn’t enough right?”
“... Yes. If you want to look far ahead, you have to recognize your current situation and what you need to do. If you can only describe the blueprints of the future, it would be nothing more than a wish. If you want to make it a reality, you have to use your ‘means’ to pave the way, and see your goals clearly.”
The Emperor had passed away, while her political enemy Latreille was making the preparations to succeed the throne.
In such circumstances, what goals should she set, and what should she do?
And said after much consideration.
“... I want… to end all wars in the Empire. After seeing the battles with High Britannia, I thought about it again. No matter how strong one’s army was, there would be a day your forces would fail. We must maintain good relations with neighbouring countries and work together with them.”
She finally calmed down.
Normally, it wouldn’t be a surprise if she gave up. That was how despairing the situation was.
But Altina had a brave and upbeat character, and would never back down.
That’s the part Regis likes about her.
It seemed that she had managed to turn her ‘wish’ into her ‘goal’.
But the means of ‘inheriting the throne’ was probably impossible.
Regis sorted out his mind and said:
“... The Belgaria Empire is already exhausted. The damage from the war with High Britannia made it even worse, and the harsh conditions are going to become worse. Putting the small skirmish of the Emperor from two generations ago aside, the previous Emperor Vicente prioritized the arts over military prowess, resulting in military strategic failures… Emperor Liam liked grandiose victories and enacted militaristic policies… and the citizens were laden with heavy taxes while the young were conscripted. The war maps might paint a pretty picture, but the lives of the citizens are filled with suffering.”
The militia Ducasse from the Seventh Army mentioned his goal was just to protect his village and family.
If he died in the battle earlier, who will take care of the farm in his village then.
What about his wife and kids? It takes a lot of strength to plow the fields. Even if the farm was intact, they couldn’t collect enough food if no one tended to the crops.
Altina nodded with a serious face.
“There are villages that couldn’t pay the taxes.”
“... There will definitely be taxes if they have farm land. But there won’t be any returns if they don’t put in the manual work. Not just conscription, they are also affected by plagues and adverse weather… Naturally, they will be punished if they can’t afford the taxes. There are many who ran away out of fear of taxes.”
“Abandoning their farm?”
“... The farm is only meaningful if they can live off it. If they can’t plow the fields but have to pay the taxes, it was only natural for them to abandon it.”
“Since the root cause is identified, can’t they just lower the taxes?”
“There is a system where the tax rate is lowered if the militia falls in battle, but it is not perfect. If the tax rates are too low, there would be more tax evaders too. The citizens are not saints either.”
“Ah… That’s true.”
“And if we don’t collect taxes, it would be hard to strengthen the nation’s military which would lead to the Empire’s downfall.”
“But we can’t impose heavy taxes just for the sake of national defense.”
“... It is unreasonable for the nobles to impose heavy taxes on the people in their domain. But if you asked them why they did so, the answer would be something like ‘because we are higher mortals’.”
Wrong, Regis shook his head.
They were going off topic, they had to leave things like freedom and equality aside for now.
Altina nodded slightly.
“Then what should we do? My goal is to end wars, stop the oppression of the nobles, make the citizens happy and change the Empire. However, other than becoming the empress, there is no other way of achieving this.”
She was right. Being Empress was the only way to achieve her goal.
But that chance was very slim.
No matter what the situation was, collecting as much intelligence as possible was necessary, but to think the Emperor passed away.
In that case, Latreille who was the next in line would naturally succeed the throne.
“It would be great if Prince Latreille thinks the same way as you…”
“That fellow actually said that ‘war is necessary’!”
“... That was before the war with High Britannia. The powerful knight corps that is the backbone of the Empire’s military might is powerless before the new type of rifles. He should understand this.”
If there is war, we must win —— This was the foundation of Latreille’s policies.
A veteran knight losing to the bullets fired by a militia, this forces the Empire to alter the way they fought, and a change in government policies was necessary.
Altina tilted her head.
“You think that guy will change his mind?”
“I am not sure what kind of conclusion he will reach, but he would be a fool if he didn’t.”
“Latreille might be detestable, but he is not a fool.”
“It is the same for his policies, punishing the extravagance of the nobles and building up the national reserves. We are on the same page on this point.”
“Well, that’s true… He might be detestable, but he is doing his best for the Empire. But I will definitely reject being his spouse!”
She puffed her cheeks.
Regis smiled wryly.
He didn’t know why she objects to it so much, but their long term plans were set.
“... In the past, Prince Latreille considered war to be a main product of the Empire. However, it will be the era of guns and cannons in the future, and the very nature of war will change. Compared to the things we can gain, the things we will lose would be greater, a trend that has been consistent since ancient times.”
“We must avoid this!”
“Ahhh, I won’t give in on shrinking the frontlines. If you can agree with him on this point, then there would be no reason to fight with Prince Latreille anymore.”
“... That’s true… When will Latreille become emperor?”
She was slightly worried.
“No matter what, it will be impossible to succeed the throne before the state funeral. But since he already announced that he would succeed the throne, it’s very likely that he will make arrangement for the state funeral.”
The High Britannian Army was still in the Empire’s territory right now.
In order to avoid the absence of an emperor during times of war, it was normal to announce the succession early.
And Latreille was the first in the line of succession, so there wasn’t any problem with tradition. As the commander-in-chief who repelled the High Britannian invasion, his popularity among the people was high.
He lost the support of some nobles in the Founding Day celebration in April, but everyone will follow him if he becomes emperor.
The emperor wasn’t a leader elected by the nobles and commoners democratically, but a position only those with the right to inherit and absolute power could lay claim on.
Maybe he had already taken the throne —— Regis couldn’t say that possibility out loud.
But it was still a possibility.
Regis shook his head.
“... Our intelligence is too lacking. We should wait for more information on what Prince Latreille is doing.”
She lowered her head.
Gritted her teeth.
And rubbed her eyes.
“But… I… won’t… give up… but… even so…”
Regis couldn’t say anything.
Her shoulders were trembling.
She clenched her fists.
Squeezing out her voice, she muttered:
“... I… Still can’t do it.”
What should he do.
There wasn’t any book that detailed a scene like this.
Regis could only stand where he was, and watch Altina holding back her tears.
He already steeled himself for the possibility of such a day coming.
His knowledge wouldn’t be of any help. In such an impossible situation, it was meaningless no matter what he did. That’s what he was thinking about.
He already understood, but his heart still ached deeply.
He knew the road would be tough, but when the cold hard truth was shoved right in his face, the sense of reality welled up and he felt the pain of falling into a chasm.
A stab of pain struck deep inside his nose.
His plan was to shine the way for Altina, and guide her forward.
But that door had been closed mercilessly.
There was nothing they could do.
He couldn’t create an advantageous situation when he negotiated with Latreille.
He didn’t propose a more aggressive plan for Altina to become Empress.
—— Too passive.
They shouldn’t be satisfied with being second in line to the throne.
But there weren’t any schemes to chase Latreille out of the picture.
Even though he promised Altina that he would help her take the throne.
What kind of strategist was he, he couldn’t come up with anything.
He could only wait for the inevitable.
Considered the age of the reigning emperor, he shouldn’t have dallied in laying out his plans!
Why couldn’t he do anything!?
Because he wasn’t confident.
That’s why he was reacting to the situation passively, instead of taking the initiative to lay out his schemes. He was just solving the problems as they come.
However, just being second in line was a huge problem.
He was also fretful of the idea of ‘getting rid of Latreille’.
His failure this time was because he was timid, neglectful and lacked awareness.
Regis clutched his uniform at the chest.
“... I am sorry.”
He uttered in a trembling voice.
Her head remained lowered.
“Is there no other way?”
“... Those with succession rights will lose it when the new emperor takes the throne. This is the custom to avoid civil unrest.”
The law doesn’t apply on royals.
In this country, royals were an existence not bounded by the law.
The question of succession rights had always been decided through traditional laws.
That’s why it was difficult to overturn.
If Latreille took the throne, Altina will lose her succession rights.
Even if Latreille dies after that, Altina will not inherit the throne.
She clenched her fist tightly.
She banged it loudly against the table.
“—— I won’t give up on my will to change this country!”
“This is my goal. Becoming the Empress is the means. Correct?”
Amazing, Regis thought.
He remembered her conversation with Gilbert.
“In the beginning, I was alone… My only companion was my maid.”
When he first met her, the only thing she had was the sword she was gripping tightly.
A commander in name, a girl without any authority.
But she challenged the hero Jerome, drew out the intellect of the timid Regis, accomplished seemingly ridiculous schemes and established the faction she had right now.
The one and only door might be shut.
But there wasn’t any time to sigh before that door.
Altina had more or less moved on.
So Regis had to strive ahead too.
And find a new path.
And this time, he definitely couldn’t fail.
“... I… My cowardice is the main cause of failure, more so than my lack of ability. No matter how incompetent I am, if I don’t take action because of my fear of failure, that would be the same as going against my promise of helping you. No matter what, I will do all I can to come up with plans, I won’t hesitate anymore. Even if I lack confidence —— but I will start now.”
Altina shook her head.
“Not ‘will start now’. We lost to Latreille. We have to think what we are lacking. No matter how harsh the condition… or the defeat we face, or the pain we might suffer! It’s ‘start right now’! We have to do our best and work towards our goal! I don’t know… and don’t want to know a different way of living my life!”
Her dark crimson eyes shone brightly.
Not ‘will start now’.
But always thinking about moving forward, ‘starting right now’.
Even if she was alone, even if she loses her weapon, even if she couldn’t rely on the help of someone else’s wisdom, she will continue to brave ahead.
Just keeping the necessary things in mind and stride forward.
Her wish will become the beacon that guides her down the right path —— Regis thought.
“Altina… will you still trust me?”
“Of course! Although I can’t be the empress anymore, but I still want to change this country. I don’t want to be Latreille’s subordinate either! Regis I will be in your care from now on too!”
She reached out her right hand.
Regis held it tight.
“... Thank you. I won’t let you down again.”
“I always believe… my strategist is the best.”
Altina’s eyes were misty. But she was still smiling.
He won’t let her down again.
Something frozen in Regis’ heart started moving again.
Regis and Altina sat down and started discussing their plans from now on.
“... It might be a bother, but we should find out more information about Prince Latreille. I already said it, from his political viewpoint, working with him will bring us much closer to our goal.”
“That’s true, then let’s meet him!”
“No, it’s not that simple. If he is still thinking about expanding territory, that would be troubling.”
“It’s much easier to duel with swords.”
“Altina… you want to fight in the balcony at night again?”
“Hmmm… I won’t do that, I’m not a kid anymore. Fighting in a cramped place is disadvantageous for me!”
“It’s the problem of terrain advantages!?”
Ahaha, Altina laughed.
“Well, I feel that you know that too.”
“Actually on closer thought —— whenever I meet Latreille, he will always ask how I am doing first. That’s the way he is.”
“Since you know his political strategy, we should keep some distance from him first. The moment he becomes emperor, you will have to bow down before him. It might be understandable, but I find it hard to agree with, so we should avoid places where the difference in status will be made obvious.”
“That’s right, I don’t want to address him as emperor!”
Altina puffed her cheeks again.
Regis smiled wryly.
“... You hate Latreille because of his policies? Or something happened when you were young?”
“I don’t hate him totally. He is still my brother. But I hate the way he lies. He is always asking me how I am doing and makes such insincere greetings!”
“... In that case, do you hate me too?”
“Regis might trick others, but you don’t lie?”
“Huh? Is that so?”
He had no idea that was the impression he gave others.
Anyway, he should send someone he trusted to the capital to collect intelligence.
That night ——
They received additional news.
Emperor Liam 15th did pass away.
According to the testimony of the guard commander, he seemed to have stopped breathing when he was sleeping in his chambers.
Next were matters about Latreille.
As Regis expected, Latreille announced that he would succeed the throne.
Although the High Britannian army was still within Belgaria’s sovereign territory, the citizens were still elated.
However, as the war had not concluded yet, the funeral of the emperor Liam the 15th was done in a simpler fashion.
A grand state funeral would be held in the future.
And so, Latreille’s coronation was postponed.
Even though Latreille announced that he would take the crown, he had yet to be coronated.
Or declare his future policies.
But the empire was slowly falling into Latreille’s hands.