“The World Moves.”
It was a paddock surrounded by a simple fence. There were as many as thirty horses in there, ones that Kiel had promised to gather. Although the final number was not large, given that they were meant to be used for a messenger network, it would probably be sufficient. Of course, Kiel had chosen that amount deliberately with that impression in mind.
Furthermore, he had not only gathered horses, he had also gathered twenty soldiers suitable for a messenger duty. Despite the fact they came from the army, all of them looked rather young, some even seemed to be Rion’s age.
This too was intentional. Kiel had decided to leave the task of establishing a relationship between the locals and Rion in the hands of the next generation. He wanted to know what they thought of him and what they wanted to do after meeting him without the burden and influence of ancestral grudges.
He was also thinking that, perhaps, Rion would find opening up to them easier, considering the rift that opened up between him and Kiel’s generation.
However, this little scheme of his hit an unexpected snag at the very start.
「Lady Ariel, you need to relax your body, please. If you get too stiff, you’ll tire easily.」
Horse-riding training. Ariel had said she wanted to learn horse-riding too, so Rion had taken her with him today. After all, it would be certainly preferable for her to have that skill. So when she had voiced an interest in the subject, Rion took her to this place without hesitation. But…
「Lady, please be more gentle on the reins. Pulling them suddenly like that might spook the horse.」
Rion had felt his irritation grow ever since Ariel’s horse-riding lessons had started.
「Kiel, is them riding together really needed when she’s just trying to learn the basics?」
Rion asked Kiel who was standing next to him. The man teaching Ariel was sitting so close behind her that he seemed to be hugging her from behind. That didn’t sit well with Rion.
「W-Well. There is a risk of falling from the saddle so I believe having support from behind just like that is advisable.」
「….Aren’t they too close, though?」
「Err, he wouldn’t be able to support her properly if there was too much distance between them…」
Kiel was desperately offering explanations. After all, the focus of Rion’s foul mood was his son, Mercury Blau.
Kiel’s answer made some sense and Rion knew that, so he couldn’t really complain any longer. But that didn’t help in finding an outlet for his annoyance.
「Shall I teach her then, my lord baron?」
The sudden voice from behind belonged to a woman and there should be no other women here apart from Ariel.
Rion turned only to see a girl roughly his age. He was about to ask who she was when…
「Pleased to meet you, my lord. I am Venus Weiss a handmaiden of baroness Ariel.」
「…I don’t remember hiring you, though?」
「This would be the perfect moment to fix that oversight my lord.」
「Oh? And why would that be?」
「Because as someone of the same gender I would be a more suitable teacher for your esteemed wife?」
It was splendidly executed exploitation of Rion’s weak point.
「All is well then. Let me start by knocking that moron Mercury off the horse.」
「Yeah. Go ahead.」
「L-lord, a moment?」
Hearing that his son was about to be violently dismounted, Kiel barged into the conversation in panic.
「Wouldn’t a normal substitution be better than knocking people out of the saddle?」
「…Isn’t that a bit boring, though?」
「Those kinds of things don’t need to be interesting, lord. You too Venus, don’t just go around suggesting such dangerous ideas.」
「Fiiine. I’ll go replace him normally.」
「Yeah. Please do that.」
Venus separated from them and headed toward the horse. Although she had said she would replace Mercury normally, it looked like she started an argument with him instead. One would struggle to tell whether they got along well or not just from this but they definitely were at least close enough to quarrel.
「Lord, are you fine with this?」
「Are you asking about me hiring that girl?」
「That’s something I’m curious to ask myself. Are the clans on board with this development?」
Venus, who carried the surname Weiss, was clearly related to the head of Clan White. Rion also suspected that she must be the daughter of Rouge, the head of the clan. It was, in fact, exactly as he had thought.
This development made it hard not to think that the heads of Clan White and Blue were no longer acting together with the Six Clans and had started to operate independently. Which was why Rion had posed his question to Kiel.
「To be honest, I do not know whether this is a good thing or not. However, I think it is a good opportunity to think anew about the future of Bandeaux. To consider whether we want to stick to the old ways or forge a new path forward. Something we are well overdue with.」
「I see. This is not something I have a right to interfere with.」
「Even though you are our lord?」
Kiel didn’t wish for a situation where a line was drawn just as Rion’s words seemed to imply. The new way forward he was talking about was for them to follow Rion as he led Bandeaux to prosperity.
「I may be the feudal lord right now but there’s no guarantee that will not change. At the very least, I am a stranger to this land and its emotional history accumulated over the years.」
The grudge in the heart of the locals was different to the one Rion was carrying. And although he had not used that word explicitly, it was clear what he meant.
「That’s why lord can become a trigger for a break with the past.」
「….Is that so. As an aside, you calling me lord all the time…」
「Yes? What about it, lord?」
「It’s embarrassing, stop that, please.」
「As you heard, I find being called like that all the time rather embarrassing so I’d like you to stop. I don’t mind if you call me Rion or Frey. And don’t go calling me Lord Baron either. That’s just as bad.」
In the past, Rion was the one to always use honorifics. Therefore being suddenly spoken to in that manner made him feel uncomfortable and he disliked that greatly. The only reason why he had put up with that situation so far was because he and Kiel were not in a relationship where he could request the other party to drop the formalities.
But now, from his point of view, a lot of that distance was gone.
「Don’t make me repeat, no honorifics.」
「It sounds like simpleton.」
「….I am out of ideas.」
「Give it more thought then. And I guess it’s time I stopped watching and started to practice myself.」
After all, he requested today’s training to happen so he could improve his own skill. Rion had, at this moment, joined the practice. As one would expect, he didn’t need anyone to support him from behind like Ariel had. He was already capable enough to travel on horseback all the way from the capital.
Jumping on the saddle and straddling the horse in one move Rion made it gallop immediately. Since it was self-taught, his way of riding looked quite overbearing to others but at the same, time it was strangely smooth, so much so, that even Kiel was quite surprised.
「Hmm… If he’s like this, I guess Mercury won’t be able to teach him.」
His son could only teach people the standard way. Kiel felt that having typical method forced on Rion would only waste the unique style the young lord learned by himself.
In the end, he personally assumed the task of instructing Rion, both in the horse and in the sword. From that day onwards, Kiel would withdraw from the political matters and devote himself fully to teaching baron Frey.
A meeting was being held in a conference room. Rion had begun to call everyone together at set intervals due to increasing numbers of policies being implemented. That was because discussing the projects individually in smaller groups didn’t offer enough insight into knock-on effects on other policy areas.
So periodically all the government officials would be gathered and seated around the conference table.
From the perspective of Rion, who was sitting at the head, the chairs on the right were taken by the former academy students and the chairs on the left were occupied by the Bandeaux clan heads.
「Mercury, why are you here?」
Cassius asked seeing Mercury seated diagonally in front of him.
「I am lord baron’s personal guard.」
「Yes. As demanded from the territory’s head of security.」
「…What happened to Kiel?」
It was the first time Cassius was hearing anything about Mercury getting promoted like that. He very much wanted to ask Kiel about it but the head of Clan Blue was not present.
「Father had deemed himself unsuitable to politics. He had decided to devote himself to his job in the army from now on.」
「Well, it’s not like he had any position in the government anyway.」
Mercury wasn’t the only newcomer to these meetings. Venus, seated next to him, was present for the first time too.
「Why are you here?」
「I am the baroness’ lady-in-waiting and protector.」
「Lady-in-waiting and protector?」
「My job is to tend to Lady Ariel’s needs and serve as her shield in need.」
Naturally, this was also something Cassius heard for the first time. By the way, it was news for Rion too but because Ariel listened to that with a smile on her face and did not object, he opted not to say anything.
「….What about your mother?」
「Last I heard the chief was forbidden from entering the castle, was that not true?」
Rion reacted to her words first.
「I was taught to be particular about one’s rank, even if the person in question is my mother. That is our way of doing things, lord.」
「That I understand, but isn’t the title you used somewhat unorthodox?」
「…There’s little point in fussing about small details, lord.」
With this Rion understood that Venus’ choice of words was not really a custom in their clan.
「Now then, before I start the meeting, is it fine to think of that last participant as a family member?」
Not comprehending his words, Cassius and others only stared blankly. Only one person reacted to that.
It was Bravd, the head of Clan Black.
「A relative then, good. I’d suggest not to try approaching magic users in the future while you try to hide. It’s not possible to erase one’s presence enough and you will be noticed.」
Rion didn’t use the term spirits. If he did, he would have to explain the concept. And that was not only hard but also required otherworldly concepts that would cast further doubt on his origins.
「That was only lack of skill.」
「So it is possible then, eh? …I see, you really are more than a normal thief.」
Hiding one’s presence in front of the spirits. This possibility had strongly attracted Rion’s interest but he decided against asking about the details. At the very least, this was not a place for such discussions.
「Unlike our ancestors.」
「…So your clan were thieves in the past?」
「…How concise. So your clan started as thieves that moved into covert operations after improving their abilities, do I have it right?」
It was as Rion had said, the past Clan Black was a simple band of thieves. However, one day, the leaders had noticed that there was more money in gathering information than there was in gathering possessions of others. So they had stopped their previous activities and started to sell words for money.
The story behind Clan White was roughly the same. They were a nomadic folk with no permanent home. In order to obtain food for their people, their women had begun to sell their looks and their craft. Until the day they discovered the same fact Clan Black did, that there were merit and coin in gathering information. And that the stories they heard within the bedsheets could have surprisingly high value.
As their usual activities had slowly changed into various covert operations, the two groups had become aware of one another’s existence and had naturally started to work together. Rather than trying to crush the competition, seeing the potential born from the difference in their methods, they had chosen the path of cooperation instead.
Neither Clan Black nor Clan White had ancestral ties to Bandeaux, they had simply picked it as a base of operations because they thought that a land without a lord would be perfect for them.
「Alright, I think we have digressed enough. If it’s just family, it’s fine to start without paying it any mind.」
Although he remained expressionless on the outside, Bravd was very surprised by those words. He had taken that seemingly carefree statement as a proof of Rion’s willingness to them. And trust was essential for your information to have any value. However, not many would be willing to extend it to a covert existence. The fact that he did so, made Rion a rare individual.
「John, start us off.」
Rion simply started the meeting seemingly oblivious to Bravd’s surprise.
「Certainly. The maintenance of the roads, the vicinity of the national border excluded, is mostly complete. The underlying preparations for the work on the mountain stretches are also finished.」
「How many garrisons in the end?」
「Four manned garrisons. There are also four unmanned evacuation posts.」
「That many already? That was fast.」
「The shelters are little more than a sturdy wall, a basic spot to retreat into. We plan to send patrols from the military post at set time intervals. If those patrols, dispatched at the same time, fail to meet at a shelter that’s located at the halfway point, it will mean something had happened.」
「….That’s good. This has been well thought out.」
「Of course. After that, what only outstanding problem is repair of the mountain roads. How advanced is the preparation of the garrison troops for dispatch?」
「What’s the progress on forming the new garrison squads?」
The question was meant for Cassius. After all, he was the person responsible for the entirety of the territorial army. Sort of.
「Assembly of the third group is in progress. We expect it to be done soon.」
「Then dispatch the first one. Have them be ready by the end of the day and on the road tomorrow.」
「The provisions and arms meant for the first garrison are ready to go. We are just waiting for your soldiers.」
The clan heads might have been capable tacticians but the logistic setup behind their soldiers was poor. That was the biggest weakness of Bandeaux. They might have had plenty of military service men but they lacked skilled civil officials.
「Any news about cooperation with the Ox Kingdom and the Hashu Kingdom?」
「We have obtained their consent to work together on border security. From what I heard, showing them a demon carcass proved to be a great help. Furthermore, we earned some favor by informing them of the danger immediately.」
This question was answered by Sept, who was also an alumnus of the Royal Academy.
「What kind of defensive measures did they undertake specifically?」
「Same as ours. Military posts and evacuations shelters along the main roads. We agreed to share responsibility across the national borders. The patrols there will be obviously coming from both parties.」
「Did you explain our preparations to them?」
「Was that a bad thing? I figured that earning their trust would be the current top priority.」
「No, that’s not really a problem. We’re not trying to hide those preparations and if it’s going to help earn their trust then all the better.」
Although the relationship between the territory and the two countries was pretty much nonexistent, the impression those two kingdoms had had of Bandeaux so far was not good. Not because of their attitude towards the Kingdom of Gran Flamm but due to the bad reputation the territory accumulated up to now. Rion wanted to turn that around to a favorable impression. He desired their future cooperation on many things, such as trade.
「Let’s see… The territory security measures and formation of new troops have been discussed and just need implementation. Any further demonic beast countermeasures require road repairs to be completed first, right?」
「More or less. We’ll deal with any new issues as they rear up.」
「Alright. Let’s move on to the economic initiatives.」
「The selection of suitable agricultural land is done and the farms are already operating. Because the chosen locations were already cultivated in the first place, we might be able to harvest faster than expected. However, the maintenance of the water sources is still a pressing concern. We also urgently need to expand the amount of cultivated land.」
Farms in the areas surrounding discarded fortifications. This initiative was doing way better than Rion and the others had expected. That was partly because the people who lived in those forts as bandits before were also cultivating them properly. Now the job for Rion and the rest of the territory government was to utilize those places fully.
「What about the sewage and garbage treatment facilities?」
「That still requires more time. Although we know they are necessary, we still don’t really know how to make them happen. It’s not like we can just dump the effluent down the river.」
「Of course. If you do that, the water in the whole territory will get polluted.」
「We’ll have to make some kind of place to gather and manage them. We need a location and personnel for that.」
「Use people who committed serious crimes. It may not be as harsh a penalty as forced labor but it’s still a job that no one wants to do. That fact will be enough of a punishment in itself.」
「Alright. I’ll do that.」
The sewage treatment was a mean to prevent outbreaks of diseases. But even though Rion knew Bandeaux need that, he had no concrete idea how should it work.
Nevertheless, he still wanted to do it. That was because the will of Ryou demanded proper disposal of sewage and trash. His modern sensibilities couldn’t bear an environment filled with scattered waste.
The devastated Bandeaux may have been temporarily derailed by the appearance of the demons but its journey to revival was still well on track.
The time he spent alone with Ariel was the opportunity for Rion to relax after a hectic day. They usually, after a period of bonding, had a loose conversation about nothing in particular which helped Rion to refresh his mind. Today, though, his mind ended up completely blank without the need for talking.
「Did it feel good?」
Ariel asked, looking happy, while he was staring unfocused towards the ceiling.
「…Hearing you say that kind of words makes me embarrassed, you know.」
「I see. Still, how was it?」
Ariel wanted to know his thoughts no matter what.
「It was… Really great I think.」
「Really? That’s good then.」
「But why do you ask?」
Although it was good for the night activities with Ariel to be fulfilling, Rion was bewildered by her conduct that was completely out of character for a former aristocratic lady.
「I have also found myself a teacher.」
「What can she possibly… ?」
Because their conversation was taking a turn towards a subject he knew nothing of, Rion started to feel anxious.
「Oh, isn’t that obvious? Various methods to make Rion happy.」
Sometimes, like now, Rion failed to comprehend Ariel’s train of thoughts.
「I found it’s actually more fun to observe agonizing Rion that to slap his cheeks.」
It would be more accurate to say that rather than studying to please her partner better, she did it to be able to tease him more. In the end, Ariel just really liked teasing Rion. She considered that her own privileges as his wife.
「Ari, that’s not something people usually learn from others.」
「Didn’t Rion say it felt good, though? Besides, those techniques aren’t the only ones I’ve learned.」
「There are others?」
「A method to prevent a pregnancy, for example.」
A sound of surprise escaped Rion’s mouth. He didn’t expect that his worry and attempts at using contraception as much as possible were even noticed by her.
「Although it’s not perfect, I was told that it considerably reduces the possibility.」
「…..Ariel. It’s not that I did not want to make a child with you.」
「I know. We shouldn’t until all the things are behind us. I also feel the same way.」
With their situation uncertain and their lives at risk at all times, they could not afford yet another weakness that a growing child was likely to be. That was something Ariel figured out as well on her own.
Knowing that Clan White used their women as a tool for information gathering she guessed they must have had plenty of knowledge about contraception. Of course, it wouldn’t be perfect but it was still better than nothing. With that in mind, Ariel had turned Rouge into her mentor.
And Rouge, faced with this proposition, had understood the ambition driving Rion and Ariel. Furthermore, she now knew that what the two of them wanted was so difficult they could not afford to have a child.
Rion realized that they were letting their guard down by allowing themselves to think they were in a remote region, away from the main stage of events. So he had begun to prepare himself. However, there was someone, or maybe rather something, that would easily see through Rion’s schemes no matter how remote the place he was in or how much he would prepare himself.
It was the World. It slowly started to move so that it could make the story have as brilliant a conclusion as It desired.
Bandeaux was not the only territory refining their countermeasures after becoming aware of the appearance of the demons. Naturally, the kingdom, upon learning of their existence, would also brainstorm ways to deal with them.
「The information about demon sightings has, by now, spread widely within the kingdom, your majesty.」
The official in charge of the interior ministry, a department tasked with the gathering of internal intelligence, was presenting a report to the king.
「Have there been any casualties?」
「Matters have not progressed that far yet. Those things have been appearing in mountains and forests along the nation’s border, the regions in question are remote and not frequented by many people.」
「Next to the border, huh? Any particular countries?」
「No majesty, all directions and borders are equally affected.」
「…In other words, the probability of them being sent by another state is low?」
Hearing the initial reports about the demon attacks, the king had considered the possibility that they were incited by other countries. But once he was made aware that it didn’t seem to be the case, the situation turned unfathomable to him.
「Yes, majesty. Besides, if all of our neighbors formed an alliance they would just deploy all their armies at once without needing to employ such things like demons.」
「We agree. You’re right.」
The king knew this much already. However, the situation would be easier to manage if it was instigated by another country. Having an unknown factor like demons attack suddenly made it hard to figure out what was happening where and why.
「Nevertheless sire, while there are no human casualties yet, there’s high likelihood of this situation affecting commerce.」
「No merchant will dare to approach a country terrorized by demons. Although internal circulation of goods is unlikely to be affected all foreign trade is certain to wither.」
「Calculate the likely financial damage at once. Devise methods to make up for the shortfall with additional taxation.」
If the treasury couldn’t get its coin from merchants any longer, it would take it from other people. This statement of the king heralded the increase of the burden on the common citizen.
「But still, just where did those things come from?」
「We have received an interesting report on that matter from a rural lord, majesty.」
「It seems the demons are capable of magic that allows them to move from one place to another. Furthermore, there is an unknown being controlling them from behind the scenes.」
「A transportation magic? Does something like that even exist?」
Even the king had no knowledge of magic that could move objects from one place to another. If such a magic were to be real, the way wars were fought would change greatly.
「The report said that a magic circle was also discovered at the location where the demons have appeared. The description is incomplete in places but the army magicians found underlying logic behind it and are researching the subject as we speak.」
「When will the analysis be done?」
The king was equally worried about the appearance of the demons as he was interested in the transportation magic.
「I believe it’s a difficult subject. Currently, they are busy investigating other places where the demons were observed for signs of a more complete magic circle.」
「We see. That information is not only interesting, it’s valuable too. Which lord sent it to us?」
「The source was Baron Frey of Bandeaux.」
「Furthermore, we are considering that territory to be the first place where the demons have appeared.」
「How did they fare when attacked?」
The king had already been made aware of the poor condition of the barony. Learning that demons had attacked such a place, he would be naturally worried.
「There was no casualties, majesty. It was reported that demons were encountered in the mountains and exterminated immediately. There were no further sightings in that region.」
「Is that so…. Exterminating demons, gathering information and submitting a good report in the aftermath, huh? We don’t think it will end just with that.」
「Nothing, good man. We are just talking to ourselves. Do continue.」
The king believed Rion was not a person that would just wait for the orders from the Crown after reporting. Having been given a chance to call him to the capital for a personal presentation of facts, Rion’s father decided in his mind to do just that.
And so Rion, despite planning to lie low until things were settled, was going to be forcibly dragged to the stage just like that. This was because the World had begun to recognize him as a crucial character to Its story.