“Young princess, thou existence is both miserable and pitiable.”
The man spoke while looking with eyes full of sympathy. No, he declared so.
The man with average height and average slim body wore navy blue blazer and pants, which he owned many spare pairs of. The girl remembered feeling awed yet afraid of the man who, when acting as a public official, wore the exact same clothes as he smiled towards the crowd.
“Why art thou miserable? If it needs to be explained, it is because thou hast been born a royalty of Katvana Empire. To be born a royalty of an empire that is on the verge of collapse, I believe there is no greater misfortune. It is because the privilege thou must enjoy as a royalty had all been sucked away by thy ancestors, and thou stands in front of the fate of paying the price of their decadence.”
Those soft smiles that could calm down an angry crowd, turned into quiet smiles of pity whenever they faced the girl. The man never shouted nor reprimanded her and simply pitied her.
“Why art thou miserable? It is because thou possess enough wisdom to understand thy position even after growing up in the lands of Kioka. Thou art wise. Thus when thou arrive at the correct answer, thou will be able to realize if that answer was a good or a bad one. It is impossible for thou to not see thy country is corrupt. Only ignorance could have been thy salvation, but thy bliss of ignorance has long been stripped away.”
There were no thorns in the man’s speech, but it carried its own brand of poison. The kind of poison that would build up inside after being consumed for years which would interfere and wreak havoc within the girl’s values. Slowly but surely it would narrow the girl’s future.
“Those ministers might have sent thoust as a political hostage, but I have no desire to treat thou as one. While thou stays in this country, my first present to thee is freedom as a visitor. Go where thy heart wishes, make friends as thy desires, and expand thy horizon. If thou wishes, I shall send a guide, but I will not force it on thee. I shall not tell anyone beforehand where thy wishes to go so they can prepare a reception party either. I have no desire to put on a charade to make this country appear more prosperous than it is. The reason for that is simple. It is because even a monkey will be able to recognize that this is a more sane country than the empire.”
Many restraints and few freedoms. It was the two tools used to turn a person into a puppet, but the man preferred using the opposite. Many freedoms and few restraints. It even appeared like a healthy education at glance, but the product of it was not a mere puppet with no will of its own, but something with a freakish imitation of a will.
“But thou cannot forget thy art an outsider. No matter how long thou stays here, Kioka will not accept thee as its citizen. To not forget this, thou shalt return to the empire whenever an opportunity arises. The moment thy understands Kioka and returns, thou shalt truly understand the empire. Thou shalt realize the feeling of unending emptiness.”
The girl tried to block out the sound with her hands after not being able to take it anymore, but there was no escape. The man’s voice easily pierced through her hands and rang out inside her head.
“Accept it, young princess -- Thou hast been rotten since the day thou bloomed.”
The man’s smile became crooked and the white surrounding changed. What filled the sight was an angry mob twisted with hunger. They were looking at somewhere with their bloodshot eyes and shouting. She could not hear their voice, but she understood they wanted help.
Then she realized she was holding a bowl of porridge. It could stave off a person’s hunger -- she looked around at that thought and spotted a mother holding a baby. The flies had already gathered at the scent of death from the child weakened by hunger. At the sight, she rushed towards the woman and the baby with no hesitation.
Feed this to the child -- She tried handing the bowl of porridge while saying that. But the woman did not accept the bowl as if she could not hear. The girl became anxious. Please take the bowl. The child will die soon as this rate. Please let me save this child before that happens--
The moment the girl clung to her, the bowl flew in the air. The child’s mother had swung her arm to hit it away. In front of the girl’s eyes, a person’s salvation had spilled on the cracked earth. In half-frenzied state, the girl reached out her hands to gather it back, but there were only dry sand under the flipped bowl.
Along with scream that would not materialize, the scenery changed again. When she came to, the girl was standing alone in pitch darkness. While stumbling through the darkness in loneliness and anxiety, there was dim light coming from a corner. In the centre of the light, there was a very familiar black haired boy standing there.
Solork!-- She cried out his name and ran mindlessly towards the boy. He seemed far away despite looking so close and she could not reach the light despite running until her breathing became harder. However, the girl did not give up. She knew it was her last chance to earn salvation. If she missed this chance, she would have nowhere to go.
Long time had passed. She had ran with all her might to the point it felt like her limbs would fall apart, but her surrounding was filled with light without her realizing. After finally arriving where she wanted to be, the girl breathed easy and walked closer towards the black haired boy. He was looking down at the ground. She approached cautiously while wondering if he was in a bad mood. She hesitantly reached out to the boy. The boy raised both his hands as if replying --- and plunged a knife in one of his hand deep into her chest.
She lost strength in her body and fell. The black haired boy climbed on top of her and kept stabbing down with the knife. But she took those hate filled attacks and the pain that ripped her skin and organ with an eye of understanding. As if that was what she truly desired.
An arm dyed with red slowly rose and caressed the boy’s cheek with trembling fingers. Wanting to hug him and give her thanks, but knowing that she had no right to in her heart--
“-- What is it, your highness!”
Her sleeping consciousness came back to reality at the sound of loud knocks. Her heart still pounded loudly and her whole body was hot and aching as if she had just ran with all her might.
After realizing they were all lingering effects from a dream, the third princess Shamiyu Kitler Katvahnnanik raised her upper body from the bed.
“... It’s nothing. It was a simple sleep paralysis. I’m sorry to be so loud in the early morning.”
“I understand. If it’s only that, I am relieved… Did you have a nightmare?”
When the guard standing outside the door asked, the princess stopped moving on her bed and fell in thought. She did not need to answer seriously, but she still did not want to reply lightly.
“Your highness…? I apologize, did I ask strange…?”
As if her hesitant atmosphere had been conveyed across the door, the guard apologized in a quiet tone. Shamiyu smiled bitterly and swayed her head.
“... It was a nightmare until the middle, but I see those nightmares even when I am awake. There is nothing to be afraid of all of sudden.”
“Is, is that so…?”
“Still -- the ending wasn’t that bad. It was a dream about the end of nightmare… a dream of salvation.”
The princess murmured so and squinted at the sun to lookout the window. The elongated shadow of buildings and tree branches, and a flock of bird that flew across blue sky. A beautiful and peaceful morning scenery the opposite of her dream was laid out.
-- Imperial Army Northern Defense Force. 18,320 mobilized. 3,774 killed in action by complete pacification of Shinak rebellion. 1,234 missing in action. 5,000 injured, mostly due to altitude related sickness.
3 months and 12 days after the outbreak of rebellion, Ra Shaia Alderamin Holy Army attacked from the north with force of 12,000. In response, the Northern Defense Force selected 1,800 to form a rearguard unit from 8,000 remaining troops. 1 battalion of 600 men led by Captain Senpa Sazaruf carriedy out stalling tacticsdelaying duty at the warfront and retreated after 8 days of combat. Relieved by unit that had been building temporary fort in the rear.
22 days after the retreat, all Northern Defense Force deployed to Great Alpatra mountain range withdrawn. Until the end of mission, 372 killed in action from rearguard unit and 344 missing in action (majority is believed to be captured), 431 injured. Defensive actions continue in southern part of the mountain.
4 months and 26 days after the outbreak of the rebellion, reinforcement of 10,000 from the centre arrives. In response, Ra Shaia Alderamin Holy Army stops all offensive and stand off with the empire from the strong points in the Great Alpatra mountain rage. The Imperial Army decides taking back the territory at current state is unlikely and concentrate on strengthening current defensive line along the bottom of the mountain.
28 days after the stand still, the line has been declaredis decided stable and withdrawal from the border is accepted. The “Northern War” started by conflict at the north is considered to have ended at this point.
Total mobilized troop - 23,720 from Northern Defense Force, 10,000 from centre to total of 33,720.
Total casualty - 4,617 killed in action, 2,091 missing in action, 7,176 injured. Estimated dead projected to grow to over 7,000.
Remarks - Due to invasion of Ra Shaia Alderamin Holy Army, over 4,000 Shinak tribe refugees descends from Great Alpatra mountain range. Temporary refugee camp built in southern part of the north. Following the treaty with the Chief Nanak Dar, there is a need to appoint a permanent settlement .
“-- do you understand. This is the blood we spilled due to this war.”
A tall and elderly officer with fully buttoned up uniform smacked the papers he read with the back of his hand. The jade eyes glanced across the room.
“But what we need to discuss here is the cause for this blood spilt…”
Katvana Empire’s Army General Tersingha Remion’s slightly raised voice rang out with accusation. Despite being a wide room due to the surrounding stone wall, the interior felt heavy. There was one large table in the room with two Generals at the head, three lieutenant generals and the chancellor to the right and eight major generals along with four witnesses and their scribe to the left.
At the foot of the table was the trembling man surrounded with four soldiers with wind guns and receiving the gaze of all the generals, the commander of the Northern Defense Force.
“I will ask first. What do you think of this, Lieutenat General Tamutsukusuku Safida.”
When called out, the parched lips beyond the unkempt moustache shivered.
“It’s, it’s not my fault…”
“It was an unfortunate loss, but it’s the result of my carrying out the duty as the commander of the defense force! For the empire, the Shinark tribe are like a parasite in the belly of the lion and it needed to be exterminated! I simply carried out my duty!”
After hearing a serious reply, General Remion’s jade eyes had clear sign of contempt.
“... As the commander of the Northern Defense Force, your job was the maintenance of the peace in the north. Do you disagree?”
“O, of course.”
“You just claimed you carried out your duty. With over 7,000 casualties and equally high body count with the Shinark tribe, do you still claim you have accomplished your duty of maintaining the peace?”
General Remion turned away from flabbergasted Lieutenant General Safida and looked towards the four lower ranking officers seated to left.
“Lieutenant General you seem to feel that it’s unjustified to blame based only on the results. Then let us look at the cause of it. That is why I called you four.”
“... Yes, sir. I am prepared to answer any question you may have.”
Captain Sazarf replied while being rigid with nervousness. The cleanly shaven face compared to all the shaggy stubble from the battlefield made him look younger than usual. The three who were sitting beside him, Ikuta, Yatori and Torway bowed towards General Remion as well.
“Then I will ask from the start, Captain Senpa Sazarf. First, why did the Shinark tribe rebel?”
“Under the orders of the Commander in the north, there were many oppressive policy directed towards the Shinark tribe. Increase in tax, restriction of trade, confiscation of the spirits and so forth. I believe that the situation simply blowed up into the rebellion.”
“All those orders seem to be outside the jurisdiction of the military.”
“The commander had very good relationship with the high ranking officials in the northern provinces.”
Captain Sazarf spoke coolly. The Lieutenant General himself remarked “Don’t make things up!”, but when General Remion glanced over, closed his mouth. The story continued without anymore interruption.
“So, is it safe to assume the oppressive policy resulting from Lieutenant General Safida’s commands are one of the main causes for this rebellion?”
General Remion continued onto the next story after looking at the four witness nod.
“Then, onto the second question… The 3,000 casualties that occurred until suppression of the Shinark tribe was complete. What was the cause for this casualty?”
Captain Sazarf glanced over and Yatori stood up. A brave voice listed out the cause.
“I will answer in place of the Captain, sir. The greatest reason for high casualty amongst the mobilized troop was due to inferior planning from the start.The attack into Great Alpatra mountain range despite the Shinark tribe occupying all advantageous positions, overextending the supply chain by marching too far away from each other, and the rigid command structure not allowing troops to retreat from a position increased the casualties. But most of all, there was improper preparations for altitude sickness--”
Lieutenant General spoke outraged at the list that was flowing out endlessly.
“S, shut up! What does a mere junior officer know of strategy!”
“Lieutenant General, I allowed her to speak. Do you believe you have the authority to reprimand her?”
General Remion made the issue clear and continued on with “also”.
“Thanks to the mere junior officers as you called them, the Northern Defense Force escaped annihilation. Do not forget that… Lieutenant Yatori Igsem, you may sit.”
After making Yatori sit, General Remion shifted his gaze towards the black haired boy.
“Lieutenant Ikuta Solrock, I will ask the third question to you. After the rebellion, you were attacked by Ra Shaia Alderamin Holy Army that had crossed the Great Alpatra mountain range from the north. How did this happen?”
Ikuta rose from his seat to answer with a slightly lazy expression.
“-- I do not know enough about diplomatic issues to speak about it, but I can only talk about the situation on the ground. The Ra Shaia Alderamin Holy Army cited the Northern Defense Force’s abuses against the spirits as the casus belli.”
“Did it appear to be a legitimate excuse in your eyes?”
“For examples in the war, there were definitely occasions of soldiers applying unnecessary violence against the spirits. I was part of the attempt to diffuse the situation so I can speak confidently on this issue.”
“And before the war?”
“I had witnessed confiscated fire spirit and wind spirits stuffed in the 1st Northern Military Base jail. The spirits had not received any sunlight so they were mostly incapable of moving.”
“Hmm, that seems to match up with Captain Sazarf’s testimony as well. Lieutenant General Safida, I heard that you commanded to confiscate the spirits. Is that true?”
“I, I didn’t order that! It wasn’t me! My subordinates did that on their own.”
After hearing him trying to shift the blame, Ikuta could not hold it anymore and let out a sneer.
“Who was the one who said something about needing to exterminate the parasite in the belly of a lion.”
General Remion stared down Lieutenant General Safida from standing up in outrage and turned his jade coloured eyes to Ikuta.
“Lieutenant Solrock, refrain from unnecessary remarks. If this happens again, you will be removed from the proceeding.”
The boy who had his back pinched by Yatori only appeared remorseful on the outside. General Remion’s eyes stayed briefly on his son before moving over to Lieutenant General Safida once again.
“But, Lieutenant General, there is lack of consistency in what you have been saying. You claimed Shinark tribe was a parasite and you were simply exterminating them, but claiming the confiscated spirits were something your subordinates did on their own. Do you believe that kind of argument would work here?”
The Lieutenant General tried to open his mouth to make more excuses, but pressures from all sides prevented him from doing so. The generals seem to be silently saying don’t show any more ugliness.
“Then let us summarize the story until now. First, the reason for Shinark tribe rebellion. This was due to oppressive policy led by Lieutenant General Safida. Second, the large casualty until the end of the suppression. This was due to inept strategy from Lieutenant General Safida. Third, the cause for attack from the Ra Shaia Alderamin Holy Army. This is because the excuse he gave them by abuse against the spirits due to Lieutenant General Safida’s policies.”
Lieutenant General Safida understood after General Remion started to talk in definitive term. It was not a court martial anymore. The generals had already confirmed the evidences. But there was no need to bring in witnesses if that was the case.
“You abused the Shinark tribe without any reason, let soldiers under your command die without reason and invited in the enemy with your ignorant actions. They are all your crimes.
Rewarding those who performed exemplary and punishing the guilty. The war criminal Tamutsukusuku Safida is sentenced to death in front of all those attending here. That is why we have opened this cumbersome process.”
There was no one who objected to the list of crimes that was read out. In the silence of the trial that was decided from the start, General Remion finished his role as the master of the ceremony looked towards another general seated beside him.
“Marshal, please deliver the verdict according to the military law.”
With a nod, the owner of spiky red hair stood up. Standing over six feet tall, rock hard muscles that had no faults and sabres and main gauche at least two sizes bigger than Yatori’s that did not come off even in front of the king.
It was Katvana Empire’s Marshal, Solbenares Igsem. But people who called him by name were few. Except when looking back in history, the title Marshal only referred to him in the country.
“Effective immediately, Imperial Army Lieutenant General Tamutsukusuku Safida is relieved of his duty as the commander of the Northern Defense Force.”
The Lieutenant General’s teeth clattered. The Marshal’s words were as good as if it was transcribed on a board of iron.
“You are hereby demoted to rank of private, and stripped of all medals. Safida family’s wealth will be confiscated, except for the minimal amount of salary, and will be awarded to the wounded and the family of the deceased.”
For anyone who was in the military, they would know that the verdict was a final decision that could not be overturned.
“And, Private Tamutsukusuku Safida --”
In front of the incarnation of the law himself, there was no mercy. Thus.
Tamusukusuku Safida, now demoted to a private and waiting for execution stood up from the chair and shouted. The soldiers tried to restrain him, but the resistance was strangely fierce. It very much resembled a dying animal’s final resistance.
“Mercy! Please, Marshal, your honour. General, your honour. Please, mercy! I don’t need any rank or medals! I don’t care if it’s a private or a janitor! Please, not my life!”
“The verdict is final.”
“No! I don’t want to die. I’m not going to die! W, w, what is death?! Is it dark?! Is it cold?! Or is it an endless silence?! Or is where you go determined by good and evil you do like the priests say? Then will I be going to hell?”
General Remion who felt it was foolish to even feel contempt at Safida’s ugliness wrapped his hand around his forehead. Marshal Igsem did not show any interest like he was looking at a rock on a side of a road.
“Someone, someone help me! Anyone, anybody…”
When the generals remained silent, Safida looked around everywhere on hope of salvation and finally looked towards his former subordinates seated on the side.
“.. If it’s you! Yes, you…!”
Safida dragged the soldiers who were trying to restrain his arms to where Ikuta and others were sitting.
“Please, I beg you! Please help me....! You all are heroes. You are the Empire’s saviours! If it’s from you all, even the Marshal won’t ignore it!”
When he begged pathetically, Torway turned to look away from him. Yatori kept her silence. Ikuta yawned and rubbed his eyes. Only Senpa Sazarf smiled bitterly and spoke.
“... Commander, your honour. I don’t think you hold that position anymore but I will call you so… For me, I heard many other shouts similar to ones you made. Countless comrades died shivering in same fear you have. Some leaving a family behind, some leaving a lover behind. Everyone leaving behind something in this world…”
“I was wrong! I’ll pay for it no matter what, so…!”
“Pleas stop. I don’t know anything difficult about paying the price for it or whatnot. I just… want you to do your duty as the commander who was responsible for the war.”
Captain Sazarf spoke while maintaining his smile.
“The one who commanded the operation is responsible for the operation. Even an idiot like me knows the military’s principle. So, Commander, your honour… you cannot avoid this. Even if that principle sentences you to death as the Marshal said.”
The Captain paused to stand up slowly and bowed his head.
“I beg you - die cleanly… So even one more comrade who passed before us can go to heaven, and for us, who will follow after can go to a better hell.”
Safida lost his words. Captain Sazarf’s gentle voice had something special that could even silence a man begging for his life at the edge of death. Even generals who considered him a mere Captain pulled at the edge of their clothes.
“Enough. Take him!”
On General Remion’s command, even the soldiers lost their sympathy. Restrained on all fours and gagged to prevent anymore attempt to beg for his life, he was dragged out like a cumbersome piece of luggage. The door closed with heavy thud and General Remion started talking as silenced descended once again.
“... I hereby close the court martial of Imperial Soldier Takutsukusuku Safida. We will hold strategic meeting. Except Captain Senpa Sazarf, all witness is excused… you all have worked hard to respond to the summon.”
The General’s tone also sounded like an apology for making them attend this corny theatrics. With those words as a signal, Ikuta, Yatori and Torway stood up, saluted and left the room.
“- For the promotion, is it alright not to inform you son about it, your honour, General Remion?”
One of the Lieutenant Generals who was relaxed after the tension had dissipated. The General swayed his head and replied crisply.
“Even if I don’t say anything, news will reach them soon… And I don’t have a son who’s foolish enough to be happy about a promotion in situation like this.”
“Even if so, to not even talk to him from the start to the end, why was he summoned.”
“I didn’t call him over to praise him. There’s enough symbolic meaning to have him attend here. You wouldn’t be slow enough not to understand that as well, Lieutenant General Kimberly.”
Lieutenant General Kimberly shrugged at the sharp retort. General Remion lead the meeting to bring the conversation back from getting side tracked.
“Then we will proceed with the meeting as planned. But, Captain Senpa Sazarf, I have to something to tell you first. You have been promoted to Major.”
Because it was said so matter of factly and added at the end of the sentence, Captain Sazarf could not react. The General saw he was flustered and added on the explanation.
“Ah, I apologize if I surprised you. Official announcement will arrive soon. But it’s the same case with my son… apologies, Lieutenant Torway Remion as well. It was done with the situation and the military law in consideration. You would need to be at least a senior officer to attend this strategic meeting without an issue.”
General Remion explained while smiling bitterly. Sazarf felt amiable towards the general. It was quite a different atmosphere from before, but after that harsh expression had gone away, he could feel the same warmth as he had from Torway. Perhaps this was his real self.
“But… I would like for you to at least understand why you’re here.”
With those words as warning, Sazarf felt the generals focus on him once again and tensed up. He was being judged here. He could not afford to relax.
“... I can only be embarassed if I mistook it… But I believe it’s for my opinion on the situation regarding the Shinark tribe refugees resulting from the war…”
Sazarf answered hesitantly. Seconds passed after the reply and the atmosphere remained the same.
“-- Good. You understand the position and the situation you are in.”
General Remion nodded satisfactorily and continued the meeting.
“After the Aldera Holy Army occupied the Great Alpatra mountain range, many Shinark tribesmen were displaced. Over 4,000 refugees have flowed into the north and are staying at temporary shelters.”
“It’s obvious that they will cause problem with the citizens after losing their homes. We would need a quick response.”
“But not many provinces would gladly take them in. Afterall, mass migration weakens security and especially since they are Shinark tribe that we were at war with not too long ago. Local officials and residents will oppose fiercely.”
“Even if someone couldn't avoid drawing the short stick, don’t we have ways to alleviate that? Ideally, we should send them to area that is most secure and hope for co-operation. Realistically, we can consider places with low population but good lands. The living might not be so well off to start in those land, but if there’s nobody to fight with, there won’t be any conflict…”
The flag officers participated eagerly compared to the corny act of a court martial from before. Amidst the elites filled with intelligence and confidence, Sazarf started to feel this was not a place he could interject.
“Do not discuss politics as a soldier.”
One sentence from Marshal Igsem halted the active discussion at once.
“No matter what province takes them, that is their authority. Our role exists only before and after. Escorting the Shinark tribe from the temporary camp to the settlement, policies to ensure security in the area, and the execution of that plan. Any act to carry out duty beyond that is overreaching your authority.”
With a warning in heavy and low voice, the flag officers checked their uniforms again. There was no doubt that was the proper answer. But.
“I know I am overreaching, Marshal, your honour.”
There was one person who had the grit to resist that proper answer. No, in the history of this country, the family which produced many renown green haired generals had always taken that role.
“But the reality and the ideal is never the same. Without careful preparations from us, there is no way this country’s officials would take the refugee issue seriously. They will only begin to eat after we have seated them down, cooled down the soup and sliced the meat into bite size pieces.”
General Remion and Marshal Igsem looked at each other directly. Sazarf had often heard that the highest ranking meeting often divided down these two people. However, he had never imagined he would see the day he would see it for himself.
“I agree with the general. We need to discuss specific plan for negotiation here as well. If it gets simply passed onto municipality level administration, it’s sure to come back as a bigger issue in less than two months.”
“Wait, hold on, Major General Gauts. The overreaching our authority like that is our bad practice that the Marshal worries about. Military for military and administration for administration. Especially since we are at the beginning stage, we should draw the line. Safida issue came from that ambiguous distinction as well.”
“This isn’t something we should discuss on theory. We can’t ignore the interior ministry, but it’s unrealistic to not prepare at all as well. The General used a meal as a comparison earlier, but they need to do at least eating the meat themselves. We can transfer over to them after ironing out most of the issue, so we don’t have to flatter the nobles as much.”
The voices supporting Marshal Igsem and General Remion clashed head on and neutral officers who did not want any side to lose face offered compromises. It Sazarf’s eyes, it symbolized the balance of power within the military. As rumoured, Igsem faction and Remion faction was sharply standing off against each other in the military.
“... Ah~ May I… say something.”
When Sazarf hesitantly raised his hand, the high ranking officers all focused on him. While feeling his own life span shortening from all the attention, he said the words he had been preparing.
“I know it may be a proposal beyond my authority… but regarding the Shinark refugee issue, I wish for you to entrust me with a regiment of men.”
At the same time in the south-west area of the Imperial Central Military Command, there were 400 soldiers and civilians several times them in front of the temple.
“-- To tread under Hosut is an honour. With self-sacrifice for the greater good…”
In front of all who stood solemly, a chubby boy with brown curly hair was reading out a eulogy. He was one of the Northern Front War’s hero who was selected for this role, Lieutenant Matthew Tetzirich.
“-- I pray so that all our comrade may join our lord.”
The one who stood beside him, the tall female officer, Lieutenant Haroma Bekel, jumped in after looking for an opportunity to hop in. The words those two spoke was what had been sent down by the high command. But they could not stop people questioning the content of the eulogy.
‘Can our comrades who passed on really go to where the lord is?’
Matthew, Haro and all the soldiers standing behind were concerned about lack of priests in the procession. This war was against the main country of the Church of Aldera. The priests could not decide on what to do with the deceased and decided not to attend the ceremony. Normally this ceremony was suppose to take place in the temple in the capital, Vanhatal.
“- To the front, salute!”
The two voices rang out as one. Thinking of everyone they can never meet again, all soldiers and spirits saluted towards the temple as one. The sob from families of deceased came to Matthew and Haro’s ears like waves.
When the ceremony finished, most soldiers turned right on the commander’s orders and left. Few, including Matthew and Haro remained to guide away the civilians. At that moment, there were three who were going the other way from the crowd. The person at the front was the red haired girl the two of them knew very well.
“Matthew, Haro. Good job. You seem to have done the job well.”
“My shoulders are stiff… Well, barely… You guys are done faster than I expected.”
Matthew spoke while slightly rotating his shoulders. Beside Yatori, Ikuta and Torway shrugged.
“We were only called as extras for the court martial. Well, we made sure certain somebody’s finished, so don’t worry.”
Matthew motioned his thumb across his neck. Ikuta swayed slowly and extended his index finger like a gun barrel.
“It’s this. Since firing squad is the Imperial tradition.”
“Ah~... Is that how it turned out.”
Haro murmured with a sigh. Then Ikuta added on “But”.
“The court martial is over for Private Safida, but there’s still the ecclesiastical court. Since abuses against the spirits goes against the canon.”
“Until the diplomatic relation with Aldera Headquarter resumes, that will probably be delayed. I don’t think he’s likely to receive a capital sentence in ecclesiastical court, but what happens if he does? They can’t execute the same person twice.”
“There are precedences. Even though I don’t really want to think about it.”
The black haired boy shrugged. Torway, who was sure to ponder about the “precedence” quickly switched the topic.
“T, this temple is strange no matter how many times I see it.”
Torway spoke up while looking up at the structure ahead. What stood there was a dull silver octagon monument. Its width was 40 meters, length 80 meters and height easily 20 meters. At the top was a banner with a single star denoting Church of Aldera.
“I can’t see any openings on the wall. I heard it’s made of something really strong that won’t get dented even with a cannon ball… How did the god sculpt something like that?”
“Maybe the god simply used a scissor and glue.”
Haro opened and closed her fingers to imitate a scissor. Ikuta put his hands on his waist and sighed before speaking.
“It’s Doctor Analai’s theory that any material can be processed using suitably high temperature or pressure. If this wall is really cast metal, then it would have been made with extremely hot furnace that can’t be compared with the ones right now.”
“Hmm, a furnace favoured by the god.”
“I think only humans use furnace, but… Anyways.”
After casting a suspicious eye at the holy structure that only priests could enter, Ikuta looked at the other direction. At the end of it was the meeting room only for command staff that him, Yatori and Torway had been called into.
“I’m worried about Captain Sazarf we left behind. By now he should be talking about the Shinark tribe issue with the command staff. I hope he does well…”
Matthew suddenly made an ambiguous expression. Yatori reassured the two who were ambivalent about the situation.
“Trust and leave it to him. You already know from this war that the captain is a trustworthy person.”
“I suppose you’re right. That’s why I entrusted him with the job… But the reason I’m anxious is elsewhere than the captain.”
Still staring at the direction of the meeting room, Ikuta continued with crooked lips.
“There wouldn’t be an issue with just the command staff... but there’s a fox mixed among them.”
What a sudden and gaudy request. That was the high ranking officers’ honest thoughts on Sazarf’s request.
“Major Sazarf. You are one of the heros of the Northern War, and you have a bright career ahead of you because of that. Of course, that cannot be denied…”
One of the major generals spoke in reprimanding tone. But his eyes had glint of disappointment in them.
“But… even then. Isn’t your request over the line? I don’t think you are not aware of this, but a regiment is the largest unit size utilized during peacetime. What you said is no different from asking to be given your own army…”
“That request is out of place, but moreover, don’t you think it’s inappropriate to ask such a thing in place like this? We’re here to discuss about the Shinark tribe refugees, not your rewards.”
Each general staff poured out their criticism. Sazarf had expected something like this to happen, but his own stomach felt like it was aching.
“This is unfortunate, Major Sazarf. I thought you were a more humble and wise person.”
Amidst the criticisms, there was a sound of someone snickering with his mouth closed. In that moment, every high ranking officer’s attention shifted from him to somewhere else. The only non-military man in the room was sitting beside the Lieutenant Generals.
“... Chancellor, what is so funny?”
One of the major generals asked in a low tone. The person who received the question, however, did not stop laughing.
“No, nono, nonono! Rewards and prizes, I just find it hilarious that you all speak of something that doesn’t fit in this conversation!”
It was a scathing laughter towards all the high ranking officers who were criticizing Sazarf.
“Ah, Major Sazarf, should I tell them instead? Ah, so regrettable. I thought everyone here at the Empire’s Military High Command were more humble and wise men.”
“What are you trying to say!”
One of the major generals raised his voice and banged the table with a fist. That action only triggered more laughter from the man.
“What am I trying to say? Fu, fufufu, what am I trying to say..?! You should have asked that question to yourself before giving a lecture that doesn’t fit in this place.”
The high ranking officers grew impatient at the man’s attitude of looking down on others. The atmosphere grew more hostile by the second and General Remion was forced to mediate.
“Order, order! This isn’t the assembly. We have no time for petty arguments! It’s not only the Shinark tribe that rides on this decision!”
At those words, even the officers who were ready to explode calmed down. The man who grated on everyone’s nerve smiled only slightly now. Once the meeting room had calmed down, General Remion turned his attention to Sazarf once again.
“Major Sazarf, I do not believe you are an impetuous person.”
“So could you tell us the true reason behind your request. If we entrust a regiment to you, what do you plan to do?”
General Remion’s jade eyes looked at him with unparalleled sharpness. Sazarf swallowed his saliva and replied.
“I, I wanted to set up a base in the eastern part of the Empire… And house all Shinark refugees there.”
“All of them?... What do you mean?”
“Currently, following the collapse of the Eastern Defense Force and dispersal of the residents from the area, there’s abundant empty lands in the eastern part of the Empire. It has been a while since we could harvest from the vast tracts of farmland left behind. Because of that, I heard that the army defending the eastern border was reliant on supply lines stretching all the way from the centre.”
“Hmm, you are correct. Even though we tried to bring the citizens back, they’re afraid of another invasion. Considering the uncertainty in current situation with the Kioka, it’s not unreasonable either.”
“We send the Shinarks in meantime. We entrust them to produce military supplies, and the army can purchase the supplies in bulk. They would be an army affiliated farmers of sort.”
The high ranking officers began paying more attention to Sazarf’s explanations. The ones who understood the concept started forwarding their opinions as well.
“We can utilize the unused lands and solve the supply issue at the same time… It’s not a bad idea, but I anticipate few problems. First, how wiill the Shinark tribe themselves accept being farmers. If it goes as your proposal, they would be raising the crops we select out for them.”
“There will be dissenting voices, but if we can realistically explain it to them, I believe that will convince them. We can also make the Shinark tribes raise a crop that’s familiar to them.”
“Familiar crop…? Wait, you’re saying it won’t be wheat and cotton?”
On that question, Sazarf took out a fistful of dried grain from his pocket.
“This is the corn they will be growing. This strain could grow in the harsh and dry conditions of the Great Alpatra mountain range. I believe we can expect even greater harvest if it’s grown in conditions suited for it. From same amount of land, at least three times more than wheat--”
Sazarf explained carefully as to not make it obvious that he was repeating what Ikuta had told him. Various sounds escaped the high ranking officers’ mouths.
“Poor man’s barley… I’ve heard they eat it up in the north.”
“Due to its image as food of Shinark tribe, it is looked down on in the Empire. However, it does not taste bad at all. You could roast it, or dry the powder to make a bread. It also helps the next plant to grow even better in crop rotation.”
There was also the advantage of being able to be used as animal feed, but considering psychological aspects, that point was left out. Sazarf felt that the high ranking officers’ responses were not bad either.
“... We’ll review the merits of the crop after calling an expert over. But the Empire’s eastern territory is not too far away from the border with the Kioka. To let Shinark tribe, who had just rebelled not too long ago, frankly wouldn’t the soldiers on frontlines be worried about their rear?”
“So, I’ll return to my original question. Could you entrust one regiment to me?”
Since the conversation flowed this way, there was nobody who was commenting that he was stepping out of line. General Remion seemed lost deep in thought for several seconds before opening his mouth.
“Military administers production of military supply near the frontlines… That is an expanded dissemination of military affairs, but considering we are at state of war, that does seem like a natural progression. Furthermore, the fact they double as surveillance on Shinark tribe is commendable.”
“T, thank you.”
“But, there are still problems. It’s the Empire’s tradition that a command of a regiment is normally reserved for Colonels and above, with Lieutenant Colonel at the lowest. Considering you are not even officially a Major yet, I cannot entrust such a grave task to you.”
That was an obstacle that had already been anticipated. Sazarf swayed his head.
“I only need to be included in the regiment as a negotiating window with the Shinark tribe. I do not need to be in charge of the regiment… No, I’ve only ever commanded up to a battalion. For someone like me, that duty is too heavy.
The last part of that sentence was something that was off script and from deep within his heart. Sazarf continued onto the high ranking officers who were frowning.
“Considering the experience and record, I recommend Colonel Mirtog Tetzirich for the job.”
When the name of someone not present came out, everyone was taken aback.
“The Empire’s south-western province, Ebodolk province regiment’s commander, Colonel Mirtog Tetzirich…”
General Remion probably understood why that man was designated. After a moment of consideration, he turned towards the red-haired general who kept his silence until now.
“What do you think, marshal?”
His lips moved slightly and it did not take much time for the baritone voice to come out.
“If there is no other recommendation, then he should be considered.”
Upon hearing an answer that essentially confirmed the appointment, corners of Sazarf’s mouth twitched. He did not anticipate it to actually go through.
Though he was here for that express purpose, Ikuta was the one who had come up with the content of negotiation, so Sazarf did not have much confidence in himself. He had imagined being scorned by all the high ranking officers and kicked out of the meeting.
“Ah, ah, there is one more suggestion.”
He could not breath easy yet. In some way, the most important part had yet to be brought up.
“I request I and the five from the “Knightly Order” be posted under the command of Colonel Tetzirich.”
“... I thought your request would include something like that.”
General Remion looked at Sazarf with chilly jade eyes and talked with slightly mocking tone.
“We will take your recommendation as the candidate in this case, but I will give you an advice… Being foolish or being too smart is not conducive for your own good. I thank you for an excellent ideas, but carrying them out is our job. You do not need to plan so deep into it.”
“... I, I understand.”
Sazarf had no intention to rebuke a comment telling him to know his place. He already felt the dangers of his situation while discussing with the high ranking officials utilizing borrowed words as his weapon.
“Also, your conversational skill is well developed, but without suitable class. Proposing an unreasonable request first and when an opposing argument comes out, fill out your own argument with logical reason… It makes harder for those who feel they do not understand your true intent to join in. Although it is effective in seizing the initiative in a situation like this.”
Sazarf wholeheartedly agreed while blaming the black haired boy on the inside.
‘Oi, Lieutenant Ikuta, why is it always my job to get reprimanded to get a request to go through.’
“Nonono, I think it’s amazing! Very very amazing, of course!”
The voice that rang out almost annoyingly well chimed in again without caring for the situation. Flapping the khaki clothing, symbolizing the highest civil administrative position of chancellery, the owner of the voice stood up.
“All of you are too hard headed! You should take Major Sazarf’s example to hold more flexible meetings! You can’t be hemmed into a pattern of military or internal affairs. You should not be afraid to cross the boundary! You CANNOT be afraid to CROSS the BOUNDARIES! It’s so important, I had to say it twice. Fufufufu.”
Sazarf was at loss for words. To say something so outrageous in front of these people, he wondered what was wrong with the man.
“Only when there is close collaboration between the military and the internal affair can we escape this peril! Isn’t it obvious? I am saddened! I am saddened to see you discuss this bound by the cage of military! I am always prepared to extend my helping hand.”
The man shouted while holding himself tight with his two hands. The exaggerated tone akin to some tragic hero in a play sounded more eerie as he went on. It was because there was not even a hint of sincerity in those words.
“... Sit down, Chancellor Trisnai. No one here intended to distress you.”
“You lie again! General Remion always speaks the kindest lies.”
“I never lied. But Chancellor, did you look back on why you’re here? The reason you are allowed to attend here is to record the court martial and the meeting, not to voice your opinion. Even if you’re the chancellor of the Empire, please refrain from speaking when you have no authority.”
General Remion maintained respectful expression, but his voice was steeped in annoyance and obvious outrage. It was not something that had developed overnight. It was an old and dark feelings closer to a grudge.
“If the Emperor was here, would the general say the same thing? Could you say the Emperor should keep quiet since this is a military meeting? Definitely not! I’m not a mere scribe, but attending here on behalf of the Emperor! To extend his heart out to all of you despite being ill. Why do you not understand that?”
Skinny yet lean body, and lush grey hair that gleamed showed youth that did not match someone who was 42 years of age. There were even some who whispered that he was sucking the Emperor’s life energy away.
The Empire’s Chancellor Trisnai Izanma. The head of the corrupt nobles that leached in the palace. In the current state when the Emperor was unable to carry out his duties, this sly fox was essentially sitting on the throne of the Katvana Empire.
Sazarf could almost hear the silent screams of “you damn weasel” from the high ranking officers. But the man spoke on without any care for the pressures and kept dropping the Emperor’s name whenever possible.
“Well, well, then Major Sazarf--.”
Sazarf went rigid after being named. Trisnai stood up and walked all the way over to the side where Sazarf was sitting while never stopping to talk.
“As expected of the hero of the Northern War. You seem to have keen mind outside strategy. And to be so knowledgeable about crops as well! My, for someone so exceptional to have spent time in such an unfortunate environment like the north! I can’t quite believe it. This matter alone gives the Imperial Army something to reflect upon.”
The fox continued talking like a spring that kept spewing out water while approaching closer to Sazarf. Different kind of tension turned his body rigid and he could feel the fox’s muggy gaze.
“But-- there is one thing I want to confirm. Did you really come up with everything by yourself?”
Sazarf’s heart jumped.
‘Calm down. Calm down. Him testing you out like this isn’t beyond what you expected.’
“... No, Chancellor, your honour. I did not come up with all by myself.”
“It’s an idea I’ve collaborated together on with very capable subordinates. It should be said it’s the entire staff’s idea. I simply feel the duty as the one who negotiated with the chieftain of the Shinark tribe to reach a comprehensive and mutually beneficial solution.”
“Of course, of course. Then which one of the subordinates was the one who proposed to protect the refugees under the plan of producing the military supply?”
“Well, who was it again… I believe that person read something similar in an older document. I can’t remember the person clearly. As for the corn, that was my idea. I’ve eaten in many times during my time in the north.”
Sazarf brushed over the question without many specifics. Truthfully, he wanted to say “there is this arrogant kid under my command and it was all his idea”, but it was not part of the deal Sazarf had made and he focused on being the shield to them best he could.
“Fuuuuhm… Well, I guess it can’t be helped.”
He could not gloss things over any more than that and thankfully the questions stopped. But while Sazarf was feeling relieved on the inside, the next strike came.
“But… fufufu, you came prepared with quite the hand. Taking this opportunity to not only protect the refugees, but the “Knightly Order” as well… the 3rd princess shows significant favour towards them, and you as their superior officer, will soon have twin connections in both the military and the internal affairs as well.”
The face with a fissure like smile glanced over from below him. Sazarf felt like a prey wrapped by a snake, trembling in anticipation of his fate.
“Moreover, a regiment is like its own country internally… With your own source of supply like the Shinark tribe, it’d be more like your own kingdom. A perfect ground to grow your ambitions… No, perhaps your ambitions have already grown enough and this is only a step in realizing your--”
General Remion harshly slammed his fist on the desk. Realizing it was the time to back off, Trisnai distanced away from his prey.
“Enough, Chancellor! It’s not something that is of your concern! It’s exactly to prevent something like that, Colonel Migtor Tetzirich was recommended!”
“Yes, yes. Of course. But, General, one of my role is to keep an eye on any soldier going beyond their authority…”
“... Then why aren’t you taking properly care of the internal affair! If you have the courage to say you can solve the Shinark tribe refugee issue, then state your plan in detail! How many months had it been since the Assembly was gathered? Shouldn’t situation like this call for an emergency meeting!”
“Oh-ho, mymy, mymymy! General, should that statement be taken as interference into internal affairs? No, most certainly not! The military and internal administration must be separated and clearly defined to function healthily!”
“... Kuk! Even as you said there must be closer collaboration just seconds ago-!”
The General tried to stand up in outrage, but the Marshal stopped him with one hand.
“Both of you, sit down. Any more argument will be taken as an act of trying to disrupt the meeting.”
The General gritted at the emotionless voice. The polite outer shell cracked and true feelings spurted out.
“No, the one disrupting everything is his very existence! Sol, you still haven’t…!”
In the second warning, there was sharpness that indicated there will not be a tolerance for another outburst. Trisnai hurried back to his seat and General Remion sat back down with a bitter expression. Sazarf, who was not included in the two of them, could not sit down and kept sweating profusely.
“Major Senpa Sazarf.”
Sazarf straightened up automatically after being named. Marshal Igsem cold heartedly gave out an order to the man who wanted to escape the situation even one second faster to save his own life.
“I will summarize the proposal. Repeat again from the beginning.”
Clang. The sound of mugs hitting each other and “cheers” rang out in unison.
The droplets of liquid flew in the air. The soldiers liberated from the long days of war were indulging their happiness in drinking, eating and talking with their comrades. The mood in the feast hall grew without knowing the bounds.
It was inevitable. Everyone here knew that it was the privilege of the living only too well within their heart. There were already countless many whom they would never exchange drink with ever again.
“It’s heating up in here. How many plates did they break so far.”
In the corner seat, about a step away from the dividers, the five from the Knightly Order were surrounding a table.
“Haha, well, we should look over something like that.”
“Yeah. It’s been a long and difficult war. They’ll want to enjoy themselves now that it’s over.”
Torway and Matthew spoke while nodding. There were drinks and food sprawled on their table as well, but they did not eat or drink indiscriminately. The five were here as Duty Officers. This occasion was to show appreciation not only for themselves but for the soldiers’ hard works as well.
“Leeeuutenaaaant~! Leeeuutenant Ikut~ta~!”
Though they were restraining themselves, a group of soldiers came over with a drink in hand. The one at the head was Ikuta’s aide, Sergeant Suya. They all seemed quite drunk as all their face were red.
“Whaaaa~chya doing in a corner like this~! Come drink with us!”
“To be fair, I want to… But if I get drunk too, there’s not going to be anyone to take care of you all when you pass out.”
“What? Don’t be foolish! What happened to your courage from when you tried to seduce my mom?”
Laughter burst out amongst the soldiers. Considering she brought such a topic up for joke despite the feast having started not too long ago, she must have been quite drunk. Or did it indicate a change in her heart.
“Go and drink with them Ikuta. Not too much though.”
As the boy kept trying to ward off the drunkard, Yatori, who was sitting right beside, whispered to him. Ikuta glanced over slightly at her.
“You remember fighting with her about the decision to go save the Shinark tribe squad. Leaving us aside, she must still be feeling complicated about it and want to make up with you about it… It would be hard to do so while sober, so with little alcohol to help.”
She was not someone who could not take a hint and neither was Ikuta. Rest of the members of the Knightly Order glanced as if saying ‘It’s fine, go with her’, so he nodded and stood up.
“Al~right! Then your commander will drink with you… What? Only the palm wine in this bowl? No thank you for that. I want a beer, too. In a proper beer mug!”
Once allowed to go free, Ikuta went along with the crowd. He took the beer mug in hand and drank the content in one shot. The subordinates cheered wildly at the scene. Being able to fire up the mood was one of his strong suit.
“Puah… Here, Yatori! You drink, too.”
“Uh, me too?”
“If we’re going to make up, we should. Here, Suya, you too!”
The two Ikuta gave drinks to faced each other half-forcibly. The moment two of them were facing each other awkwardly, the black haired boy stood between them and shouted.
“For the goddesses of battle!”
With that phrase, Ikuta forcibly clanked his mug with the two of them. Yatori smiled bitterly and quietly said “cheers” and drank after clinking her mug with Suya. After a moment of hesitation, Suya quickly followed suit. As Ikuta heated up the atmosphere with his subordinates like that, two new people approached the table where three of the members of the Knightly Order were left behind. One was Captain Sazarf with an exhausted expression and the other was Princess Shamiyu who did her best to hide herself and not dampen the mood.
“Oh~ This is quite the party. Man, while I was the one going through all the troubles.”
Recognizing their superior officer and the princess, the three stood up immediately and saluted.
“Princess Shamiyu, Captain. It must have been hard.”
“Thank you for your hard works. How was the meeting with the command?”
Haro offered the words of consolation along with a cup filled with grape juice to the princess and a mug filled with beer for the captain respectively. Beside her, Matthew and Torway brought a chair each.
“You need not worry about me, so console the captain’s struggles.”
Sazarf took the mug, half-emptied it and slouched almost as if he was collapsing.
“You guys try that, too… Just sitting in that atmosphere alone is enough to drain you… Ah, I seem to have been promoted to major. Celebrate it. Celebrate it with all your might.”
“Congratulations” the three of their voice overlapped. Frankly they had already anticipated it, so it was not so surprising. Matthew asked several questions to the man slumped over the table in half-dead state.
“So, about that… How did it go?…”
“It seems to have barely passed. It’s not confirmed yet, but get in touch with your dad early.”
At that answer, Matthew crossed his arms with a complicated face. At the table where two more had joined, Yatori escaped the drunk crowd and returned.
“Thank you for your hard work, Captain. Your highness, shall I bring a drink for you?”
“Ah, Yatori. There is no need for--”
Princess Shamiyu stopped mid-speech. For the same reason, everyone had their eyes wide open as well. It was because Yatori’s face was red like a ripe tomato.
“... Puha! Hahahah! Lieutenant Yatori… were you weak with drinks?!”
The one who could not hold back and let out the first laughter was Sazarf. Torway and Haro barely held it in, but Matthew was the next one to reach his limit.
“I, I didn’t even notice… But, haha, man, your face is amazing! It’s as red as your hair!”
Yatori sighed before grumbling. She was not just red in cheeks, but her entire face was red as well. Especially since she usually acted so composed, this elicited even greater reaction.
“S, speaking of which, Yatori always drank quietly in a corner.”
“Yeah, it’s the first time I’ve seen her empty a mug in one go.”
Haro and Torway each showed their surprise. On the other hand, as if Captain Sazarf had a habit of laughing when drunk, it took a while to calm himself down. He was laughing continually with Matthew who seemed to take after him.
“... Ha, doesn’t matter. If it makes your drinks taste better, make fun of me however much you want.”
Being so generous instead of getting angry was like her. Princess Shamiyu, who recomposed herself after hearing those words casted a fierce gaze at Matthew and Sazarf, but it was like trying to put out a forest fire with only a bucket of water. The laughter continued.
“Hahaha, the only opponent that invincible close-combat master Yatori is weak to. It’s something
Ikuta returned at inexplicable timing while being drunk to the boot. He slurred his words and swayed from side to side while walking. It was not as apparent on face as Yatori, but he was quite drunk.
“Well, unfortunately, she doesn’t drink more once drunk. Everytime I tried to get her to drink more to get something fun to happen, it ended in failure.”
“How can she win against someone like you who repeat drinking and throwing up all night long. You
trying to start it up again tonight?”
trying to start it up again tonight?”
“No, no, far from that. Since I’m the Duty Officer, I know being too drunk is dangerous.”
“I remember having to carry you out from various places more than once after you’ve blacked out saying similar stuff.”
Yatori reminisced about the highschool days before shrugging. Looking at a conversation that only the two of them knew about and Princess Shamiyu and Torway who were looking at them with complicated expression -- It was the usual.
“Ah~ Captain Sazarf. How did that business go?”
Ikuta asked while leaning back on on the chair and Sazarf did his best to straighten his breathing from all the laughter.
“Kukuku… Yeah, that, it’ll probably pass. And I’m becoming a major! How about it? Aren’t I great?”
“Congratulations. If it’ll get passed, then that means…”
Ikuta stood up from leaning back against the chair and circled the table to stand behind Matthew. He leaned against Matthew’s chubby body to speak excitedly.
“So that’s how it is? I’ll be relying on you in many ways, Matthew, my friend.”
The moment he spoke, the laughter stopped. The moment Matthew understood what Ikuta had meant, his smile turned into shaken expression.
“... Is that how it’ll go… Honestly, I’m not sure about this. I’m really not feeling sure about this.”
The boy slouched his head and moaned. The drunkard behind him patted his head while speaking.
“No, no. I look forward to it already. It’s not just anyone, but between you and me. I’ve always been thinking we should go visit one day.”
Excited at the prospect, Ikuta spoke loudly with a mug in hand.
“The time has come! Now, let’s all go back to Matthew’s house!”