“Overlapping Feelings, Different Actions.”
After returning to Camargue, Rion hurriedly began to work. They had to hasten up implementing the methods to deal with demons or everything would end for them soon. Rion, fully aware of that, begun pressing forward with all conceivable countermeasures for the problem and treated it as an emergency matter. But he didn’t stop at just that.
Even with the threat of demons, he couldn’t stop the measures aiming towards the revival of the territory. His subordinates and the guest alumni of the Royal Academy were once again reminded how demanding working under Rion was. Because they ended up running around the castle all the time it had, in a way, become lively.
With that kind of situation unfolding, the heads of Clan White, Rouge Weiss, and Clan Black, Bravd Schwarz, appeared in the castle. This incidentally made Rouge Weiss the first female subordinate Rion met in Camargue.
「The head housemaid?」
「Yes. The task of handling all the maids inside the castle is my duty.」
「Aren’t there none presently?」
There was not a single maid in the castle. All the girls bearing that title before were employed in name only while in fact they were just mistresses of the officials from the capital. They disappeared at the same time as their patrons did.
「I wanted to hire some, lord.」
「We don’t need them.」
「We don’t need maids. Therefore, the head housemaid is also unnecessary.」
After he declared that, Rion’s gaze returned to the pile of papers on his desk. This was his way of declaring that he didn’t want to talk about this matter any longer but just this wouldn’t stop Rouge.
「……erm, I believe Baroness may need some.」
「Ariel is currently practicing so that she can do everything on her own. She says she finds that interesting.」
「But I believe it would be bad to have none at all.」
「We don’t have the budget. At this time, money is only flowing out of the treasury and I can’t afford to spend it on unnecessary things.」
「…But the maids will lose their jobs like this.」
「Aren’t there none?」
「Thinking about lord’s arrival, I have searched for suitable candidates. Having to say to them that they aren’t needed anymore…」
「…Isn’t that your responsibility?」
「Yes. However, putting their feelings into consideration…. And their families also have some expectations now….」
Rouge was looking downcast displaying a sorrowful face. She was trying persuasion by tears.
「…Alright. I’ll ask Ariel.」
Even knowing that those would be people who were brought by her, Rion couldn’t just coldly turn them down. He had seen the dwellers of the slums shedding tears of joy as they have been hired. He had also seen the melancholy of those who were not chosen.
「Thank you very much.」
Somehow, after being able to have her way, Rouge seemed content.
「Where were you and what have you been doing all this time?」
Suddenly, out of the blue, Rion pressed her for an answer unrelated to their former conversation.
「As I have mentioned already, I was searching for girls suitable to become maids.」
That was her answer but…
「Not you, I was asking the other one. I have heard what you were busying yourself with.」
「…My apologies, lord.」
From Rion’s way of speaking Rogue had a feeling that he was suspicious of her. She now didn’t think that Rion was asking about her from the start.
Indeed, Rion was not asking about Rouge.
「Ah, while I remember, I will consider the matter of new maids but head housemaid is not necessary for now. I may need one in the future but it won’t be you.」
「…Why is that, lord?」
「There’s a merchant named Folz in town. I believe his brothel would be a proper place of work for you.」
「What did you say!?」
Rouge expressed her anger about being suddenly told to become a prostitute but by doing this she was just letting her guard towards Rion down. After all, there was no way Rion would ever say something like this without having something in mind.
「That brothel is just a branch of a bigger one in the capital. You were contracted to that one, weren’t you? The documents are still there.」
「…How do you?」
Hearing Rion’s words made her face instantly turn blue. She never expected to hear those kinds of words from his mouth.
「It seems you have been making inquiries about someone. Furthermore, you have gone so far to even slip in as a prostitute. Are you a spy or something?」
The nature of Rouge’s group was completely seen through by Rion. It was a blunder that someone working as an intelligence gathering operative should never make.
「If you are, that was a really childish method to adopt. You might have been, perhaps, underestimating the scoundrels of the slums a bit, don’t you think?」
Information security was one of the things that Rion’s syndicate was implementing seriously. They have thought of numerous ways to go about that and Rouge completely fell for those efforts. As Rion had said, she did not take them seriously enough.
「I don’t want those who snoop around my past at my side, so don’t ever show your face to me again. And it’s the same with the other guy. He had not shown himself directly in the capital but I heard there was a male spy too. Isn’t that you?」
Bravd had no answer and Rion was not seeking one either. Whether Bravd admitted to it or not, Rion had no intention of backing out of his decision. Wanting them to understand that, Rion changed the subject.
「Cassius, I need horses.」
「Yeah. They are for a messenger network linking the town, reclaimed farmland and military garrisons near the border so that they are able to cope with the appearance of demons faster among other things. Anyhow, I want to shorten the delay in information transfer as much as possible.」
Although having mounted messengers was a natural thing, Rion wanted to spread that system like a net across his territory. He was also planning on making an organization that would specialize in that task.
「…I believe that will be difficult, lord.」
「Don’t we have horses in the territory?」
「I won’t say there are none but the numbers are…」
「I see. Well then, we’ll have no choice but to buy from outside the barony. How many soldiers can ride a horse?」
「…Not that many, lord.」
「Isn’t mounted warfare the best way of fighting here?」
「It is, lord.」
「…I see. We have no choice in that case.」
Rion’s gaze moved from Cassius to John.
「I have split the prospective pasture land into two ranches. We were blessed in regards to the number of applicants so two of them can start at the same time. The whole thing depend on whether we will be able to procure horses, though.」
John smoothly presented the information about the plans for breeding of horses. It was an extension of the dairy cattle farming project that had already started earlier. This made clear now that Rion had never really counted on Cassius’ group in the first place.
「Get me a final estimate of the cost. I will think about the supplier on my own.」
「Lord, about that matter!」
It was Kiel of the Clan Blue that spoke up. It was rare for someone other Cassius to speak from that group unless there was just too much to do. So even the people around him were surprised by this action.
「I do not know whether I will be able to get a lot of them but I do have a source in mind.」
「….Is that so. Try your best in that case.」
「While you’re at it, find me soldiers that can ride a horse. Even the worst ones will do as long as they have the skill. I want to learn to fight while mounted as well.」
「Understood. I will find suitable people.」
If someone volunteered to do something, he would let them. This had been Rion’s modus operandi ever since his time in the slums. It had been impossible to find someone highly capable back then. That being the case, the willingness to do the task became key.
「John. Have the ranch project proceed unchanged. We will be raising more than just horses after all.」
「Well then, this settles the matter. Whether we end up having horses or not, the defense readiness must increase at all cost. Split the territory army into groups and station them at different towns. We need some guards on the highway as well.」
This time Rion’s gaze never strayed from Kiel.
「Certainly, lord. However, considering the number of soldiers there are limits to how much can we distribute them.」
「I am aware. Stop garrisoning Camargue.」
「If the attack is on the scale we witnessed the other day, the personnel present in this room is more than enough to deal with it, isn’t it? And if we face a demon strong enough to take down the castle, we can just run away. In that situation having fewer people would create less confusion.」
「…We will abandon the castle and escape?」
「The castle is insignificant in the grand scheme of things. What really should be protected is not those walls but the people that call them home.」
「…I understand, lord.」
Kiel, a trained military man, felt natural resistance to the idea of abandoning the castle suggested by Rion. However, he did agree with the belief of protecting the residents instead of the location.
「That being the case, we need to formulate plans for evacuation if something were to happen. Fortunately, this territory has many fortifications we can escape to. We need to decide in advance on a place to gather in the case this castle falls.」
「Understood. I will take care of this.」
With this, Kiel became the man in charge of defending from the demons. Although nothing was said officially, Rion was already unconsciously thinking in that way.
After this, while considering many plans and verifying the current situation, Rion began to issue detailed orders. Naturally, this involved Kiel only.
The clan heads of Bandeaux had gathered like this many times after their duties finished for the day. However, this meeting was quite different from the usual. It included Rogue Weiss and Bravd Schwarz that had not participated up till now.
Naturally, the first topic of the day was those two.
「A huge failure, isn’t it.」
Said annoyed looking Cassius to Rouge and Bravd. He was talking about the fact that Rion had found out that they had been trying to investigate his identity and how had that happened.
「Well sorry about that.」
Rouge offered her apologies without really looking ashamed.
「Apologies are pointless here. Because of this development, Baron Frey mistrusts us even more and might reject us even if we decide to serve him seriously.」
「…And you think that is only our fault?」
「Do you not know why Kiel had barged into the conversation earlier?」
「He’s just trying to curry favor.」
Which meant Cassius actually did not know. This was clear to Kiel who was listening to the side.
「Brother Cassius, I had no such thing in mind.」
「Then why did you volunteer to handle the matter about horses? Aren’t the numerous horse herds we are keeping in the mountains also a secret we should be protecting?」
「Secret? Aren’t things a secret only when they are unknown to others?」
「Do you really believe that the young baron did not research this place at all? If he knows the best way to fight within Bandeaux, he definitely knows that what Brother Cassius said was not true either.」
The strength of Bandeaux was in its mounted warriors whose existence Cassius just had tried to deny to Rion. That cavalry had toyed with the kingdom’s army using the mobility of the horses and the power of a charge.
If Rion knew anything about that past conflict, it would be easy for him to see through Cassius’ lies.
Of course, Bandeaux nowadays did not have the strength it had formerly possessed. But even so, its leaders, dreaming of independence in the future, were hiding that strength from the kingdom. As they were hiding the fact that Clans White and Black specialized in covert operations.
「Furthermore, even if he somehow never investigated the territory, he would still be guaranteed to end up in possession of that information anyway.」
「Why do you think so?」
「Where do you think the workforce for the pastures will come from? It is bound to come from the ranks of former bandits born and raised here.」
「….Are you saying our compatriots would betray us?」
Cassius asked with disbelief but Kiel merely looked at him nonplussed.
「Compatriots? Do we even still have the right to call them that? When they were struggling in poverty we could do nothing for them. But the lord singlehandedly lifted them from banditry and restored them to former, no, to even better living standards.」
「That may be the case but wasn’t tackling all of the matters as one people part of the pledge everyone in Bandeaux has sworn to uphold?」
「That is true when our enemies are concerned. Is the lord an enemy, though?」
The fact they could not make such a judgment was the exact reason for their worries. They were still unsure whether they should reveal their hidden strength to Rion. And they had no idea what Rion would do once they told him.
「We lack information to make a verdict on this. Let’s listen to what Rouge and Bravd learned first.」
Although Kiel, by now, had a rather firm opinion on the subject, he did not want to break the solidarity of the clans. And everyone had agreed in the past that they must know more about Rion before they serve him wholeheartedly.
「You’re right. Alright, Rouge, the floor is yours.」
「Main business of the day, at last, I’m tired of waiting.」
Although she and Bravd were the main reason for the delay, they were already acting as if that didn’t matter.
「Just start already, will you.」
「Yeah. Yeah. Let’s start with his background. Baron Rion Frey was formerly a valet of the House Windhill. His wife was the daughter of Lord Marquess Windhill and, on top of that, the former fiancée of the crown prince.」
「What!? That makes him a marquess faction spy, doesn’t it?」
If he was a person affiliated with the marquess houses, the supporters of the crown, he was clearly an enemy of the Bandeaux. That was what Cassius thought at that moment but he was simply jumping to conclusions.
「It’s too early for judgments. I haven’t presented all the facts yet.」
「Am I wrong?」
「Just let me continue. Baron Frey was attending the heir of the house, one Vincent Woodville, the older brother of the baroness. Vincent Woodville was executed for high treason.」
Bandeaux was a remote region. But even if that was not the case, they would be unlikely to learn about this because the crown didn’t want the details of Vincent’s case to spread and it was controlling information. Some rumors did spread to other provinces despite that but, since Bandeaux barely interacted with the rest of the country, those never reached here.
「Baroness herself was also charged with the same crime and sentenced to slavery. Yet here she is, married to baron Frey. Her fall from grace is significant and impressive but so is her rise back up from slavery.」
「Was there an arrangement made to clear her free of the charges?」
These things happened and were not unheard of. Lacking more information about the circumstances it was not unnatural for the clan heads to assume that was the case.
「That’s possible. But….」
「I have investigated that personally but still struggle to believe in what I learned. The information was just that much out of this world.」
Rouge was not alone in this sentiment. Bravd, sitting next to her, had nodded in agreement with her words.
「…Just tell us.」
「Right. Let’s start with this little thing then. On the day that our baron’s former master, Vincent Woodville, was to be executed our lord stormed the execution grounds all alone to save him.」
「…Did he now.」
「Eh? Are you not surprised at all?」
The reaction of Cassius was not as Rouge expected. That was because she had not seen the power that Rion had displayed in front of Cassius and the others while she was in the capital.
「I am surprised but I also think he has enough strength to do that. As far as magic is concerned at least.」
「Oh, did you guys find out something?」
「Yeah. He had obliterated a wall of a fortress that was a haven for a bandit group. And in a recent battle against the demons, he displayed two different attributes and used them at the same time.」
「….I knew it.」
「Were you aware of it?」
「The same happened that day at the execution grounds. He vaulted over a fence three times the height of a normal person, the guards attacking him never managed to get close and he was even able to reach his objective. That was enough to make me figure it out.」
Having said this, Rouge had told the others about what transpired on that day scene by scene. About his argument with Vincent and with how the young aristocrat intercepted all the spells aimed at them with his own body. How the knight commander had to intervene himself to capture Rion in the end. And how his life was spared due to the kind heart of the king.
And finally, how, according to the ballads sung by minstrels, Vincent was an innocent nobleman caught in a tragedy.
After hearing the whole story, the clan heads sat in silence for a while. Rather than unbelievable, they found the story of Rion and Vincent rather touching.
A tale of a servant’s devotion as he sought to save his lord while laying his life on the line. Although seeing Rion now it was hard to imagine him in such a way, they decided to believe in Rouge’s story.
「…So, what now?」
Rouge asked Cassius breaking the silence.
「I can’t come to a conclusion. Without a doubt, Baron Frey resents the kingdom. But why would such a person be made a baron? Especially given that he comes from the slums? It’s just so improbable.」
「So, in the end, there is a backstage deal in play, isn’t there?」
「Maybe, that doesn’t make his grudge any less real, though. If I were to guess, I’d say he is playing obedient for the time being and is waiting for his chance.」
Which was exactly what the clans were doing too. While their intentions might have been the same, Rion’s motivation was much stronger. Rion holding a direct, deep grudge towards the crown. The clansmen on the other hand merely inherited the grudge of their predecessors.
In the end, even after hearing what Rogue had to say, the clan heads couldn’t come to a decision. The only thing that became obvious as a result of that meeting was that a certain person’s loyalty was already with Rion.
Not being able to act together as they agreed previously, they would now proceed along their own separate paths following the plans they thought of on their own.
Around the time the clan heads were racking their brains, Rion was enjoying his time with Ariel. He was affectionately caressing the ethereal skin on her back as they were laying on the bed in their room.
「I’m kidding. Do continue, when Rion does this it makes me relax.」
「Me too. Seeing Ariel’s lovely body gives me a peace of mind.」
「…Oh? Shouldn’t you be saying it makes your heart race?」
「Yes, of course. But it brings me relief, too.」
Although it was a female body, something he had always hated and what had brought him suffering before, Rion had not a speck of those feelings when it came to Ariel. In the end, Rion had realized that it was merely a matter of his feelings towards particular women. That much was certain.
「How did today go?」
「As usual. I have shown them my hand in full but they still keep lying.」
「Is the secret they are trying to hide really that important?」
「Their rebellious intentions towards the kingdom should indeed be kept hidden but apart from that? No.」
He might not have known the details but Rion had already figured out that they may wish for independence. But the current kingdom would not yield to a strength of a mere powerful family in a remote region. And what the Clans of Bandeaux were hiding couldn’t be more than that.
「You may be having the same intentions but you just can’t ally with each other, can you?」
Rion lacked strength even more than they did. Normally, a person in his position would seek their help as they were holding the same objective. But he didn’t think that way.
「I have no regrets. Foolish allies can be more dangerous than a powerful enemy.」
「Is that a knowledge from the other world?」
「Maybe? I can’t recall the origin of this dictum.」
「Rather than chasing strength, I need to prioritize not showing any openings. This is not the time for extravagant actions.」
If one were to go against the flow of the World, It was certain to crush that individual. In order not to repeat his past mistakes, Rion was going to put up with how things were while quietly scheming in the background.
「The Devil faction has made its first move, though.」
「They have only just begun. There is still time before its revival. There’s no need to rush.」
The opponent they wanted to defeat was not something that could be bested even no matter how much one prepared. She may have been told by Rion not to worry but, as one would expect, Ariel couldn’t stay calm.
「I can’t afford to fail anymore. I don’t want to ever lose someone important to me again.」
「….I won’t let you die before me, you know?」
「Esteemed mother-in-law ordered me to never let you die, you know.」
「That’s why if we’re going to face death, we’ll do it together.」
What the two of them wished for was not to enjoy the life they were given but to devote all of it for the sake of their revenge.
Rion had not given up on going against the World. In fact, he had decided to oppose it with all his might, even if it meant abandoning everything he had.