“The Prepared Stage.”
While the revival of Camargue was accelerating, the situation of the kingdom as a whole was heading in an opposite direction. The casualties caused by the actions of the devils had grown too large to be ignored.
The knowledge about their existence, initially limited to the outskirts of the country, had by that point spread widely and there had been casualties in villages across the land. But even so, during that time their numbers had been low and it had been possible for the local militias to subjugate them.
However, gradually the threat had been growing beyond their ability to cope. Small groups of demons appearing in the vicinity of the national border had been merging together with the others growing in size with each repetition of the process. Insignificant packs capable only of attacking villages had become larger bands able to raid towns and those, in turn, had swollen into hordes capable of threatening cities, causing the scale of casualties to escalate.
Of course, the local militia and noble retinues didn’t just stand by doing nothing. But the demons displayed intelligence completely at odds with their appearance and began to exploit boundaries of noble fiefs to foil the army attempts at intercepting them whenever they were found by patrols. No local militia or retinue could just enter a territory outside of their jurisdiction and this internal weakness of the country was being perfectly exploited. Whenever an army group attacked, the demons would flee outside of that territory and when the soldiers withdrew, they would encroach again.
While the troops were being toyed with in this manner, the casualties among the civilians were growing larger by the day giving the demons more momentum and making subjugation even more difficult in a vicious, self-fuelling cycle.
This no longer was a situation that noble territories could deal with individually. The splendid cooperation displayed by the minions of the Devil required the kingdom to adopt the same approach.
However, the response from the capital was dull and this was partly because of Maria. She knew all the events pertaining to the fights against the demons. Using that knowledge, she was directing the kingdom’s response in the most efficient, in her opinion, direction. Her focus was entirely on the battles related to the events and any other, unrelated, attacks were ignored. It was the same approach that she had adopted when she had studied at the Royal Academy.
It was certainly true that once the devils were defeated, the demon attacks would stop too. And that concentrating all the efforts for that purpose was probably efficient. But only as long as one disregarded the lives that would be lost by adopting such a strategy.
Maria had never discarded her gamer mentality. She ignored the reality of the suffering caused by the loss of life and the despair felt by the families of the victims. She never imagined that the trauma that would cause to the citizens would bring her misfortune in the future.
But eventually, even Maria had finally made a move. An event was drawing near. Its stage would be the largest city at the southern edges of the kingdom, Harcourt. It was there that a large horde of demons planned to attack.
In the game, this would be where the efforts that Maria and her group made towards devil subjugation would finally be acknowledged by the public.
But this was not the game.
Maria already had the backing of the kingdom. She had no more use for public support and recognition. So she did not act promptly to annihilate the demons tied to the event, which was an important step in the process.
In result, unnoticed, the quality and quantity of the demons rose rapidly with the amount of blood being spilled.
The more blood soaked the land the weaker the seal of the Devil became and the closer the time of his revival approached. This was, after all, the reason why the devils were assaulting people in the first place. They required sacrifices.
And as the seal binding Daimon weakened, the power of the devils and their demons grew.
A process Maria enabled perfectly.
For Rion, the increase of pace the events would happen at was a welcome thing, so if the present developments were to be limited to that, he wouldn’t really care.
However, the World was not going to let that happen. And it had acted to involve Rion in the upcoming events no matter what.
All of those involved in governing the barony were presently gathered in the audience hall of the Camargue Castle. This was not a conference, they were hosting a royal envoy, messenger from the king bearing orders from the capital.
「….Baron Frey is thus required to participate in order to discharge his duty to the Crown.」
Rion descended to the foot of the table while listening to the words of the man. And shaking with the uncontrollable anger.
The proclamation delivered by the royal envoy was ordering him to raise an army and take part in the upcoming demon subjugation. Furthermore, he was being dispatched to defend a city called Harcourt which was so totally unrelated to him, he didn’t even know where it was located.
「May I ask one more thing, good sir?」
Rion felt like praising himself for managing to keep his voice level.
「Yes, sir baron?」
「Why me? My fief is Bandeaux here. That… Harcourt place is far outside my jurisdiction. Isn’t there a local lord in charge of matters in that area?」
「Your army was rated highly and selected for this assignment, sir baron. Shouldn’t you be happy that’s the case?」
To be honest, even the envoy should consider that reason bogus. An army of one fief being dispatched into another wasn’t just a rare occurrence, it simply didn’t happen unless the kingdom was at war with another country. And besides, there shouldn’t even be a need to use noble retinues as the Crown itself had enough troops at hand. So this was an answer that didn’t satisfy Rion in the least.
「…Who was responsible for the selection?」
「Your participation, sir baron, was proposed by his highness Arnold, the Crown Prince, and approved by his majesty, the king, himself. A great honor.」
Rion could not comprehend what the envoy was thinking when he mentioned that the Crown Prince had intervened in this matter. Did he really believe in the excuse of selection and consider it an honest, perfect opportunity for a provincial baron to be acknowledged by the next king?
Or was he fully aware of the background linking the two of them and harbored a most unlikely grudge against Arnold?
「When am I expected to report myself at the muster point?」
「First day of the anterior month of water.」
Rion had no idea what that meant but Ariel, who was standing behind him all this time, offered an explanation in a murmur. The royal envoy used an old, formal calendar in which January was the anterior month of the moon, February the posterior month of the moon, and so on for the months of fire, water, wind, and earth. The anterior month of the water was July, so he would have to report on the first day of July.
「I understand. Incidentally, I take it that the Crown will cover any and all expenses resulting from this summons?」
「Sir baron? To think that you would worry about money to this extent…」
This, honestly, shouldn’t be really that surprising. Even though Bandeaux was undergoing a revival, it still didn’t have much room for extra expenses.
The envoy’s reply was intentional, though. All he wanted to hear was a “yes” or “no” reply from the fief lord. Any sort of negotiations beyond that were above his station so was indirectly telling Rion to just agree without complaints.
「This remote region is rather depopulated, my good sir, and our finances are quite tight. If the burden of the expenses were to fall wholly on us, we would have to….」
However, Rion’s words were a total opposite of what the royal envoy hoped for. They were a reasonable and obvious excuse that if there were to be no funds, the army couldn’t move.
The man miscalculated banking on Rion’s sense of duty and loyalty to the kingdom.
「Ah, I see. Please rest assured, sir baron. I will convey your concern about funds to his majesty, the king.」
Somewhat flustered by Rion’s intransigence, the royal envoy reassured the young baron that the king would be appraised of the territory’s financial troubles. That was, of course, not the same as being guaranteed reimbursement but pointing that out would achieve nothing. And Rion wanted to avoid angering the man too much. Having to face false accusations brought about by offended messengers was a frequent occurrence in the history books Ryou had read.
Rion now understood that he had no choice but to go along with this order. The envoy wanted Rion’s assent at all cost. Trying to oppose this would be a mistake.
「….Please do tell his majesty I’m honored to oblige.」
「Is that so… Splendid, sir baron.」
The man’s face cheered up immediately.
「Now that the official business is done, I’m sure good sir is tired of the journey. This town has certain… amusement establishments of good repute. I am not sure they will meet good sir’s refined taste but sadly we are a remote region and can only ask your indulgence.」
「Is that so. They will have to do, I guess. If it can’t be helped, I will put up with the inconvenience.」
The face of the royal envoy did not match his words. He had heard the rumors about Camargue. He was aware of the town’s recent reputation for the best amusement offer in the east.
「Fantastic. Girls, please guide good sir to town.」
「Yes, lord baron.」
One of Ariel’s bodyguard-maids stood up ready to guide the guest. She was a member of Clan White, of course. Following the girl, the envoy left the room with spring in his step.
「…..fucking with me.」
Once the messenger was gone, Rion spat out words of rage. Hearing that, worried-looking Ariel embraced him and held his hand.
Her husband’s grip was bereft of strength.
「Why does it have to be now? It’s still not….Damn it.」
Rion complained to nobody in particular with eyes cast to the floor.
Ariel was able to sympathize with his feelings. He should’ve already broken free from the chains of the game. Able to quietly wait and prepare for the plot’s conclusion on the sidelines.
And yet, the World didn’t let him do so. As if sneering at Rion’s plans, it was dragging him back to the main stage. The humiliation and the fear of losing once again escaped from his lips.
Ariel could understand because she knew the truth. Others simply saw the young baron lamenting forced departure from Bandeaux which was well on its way to revival.
And that would make them misunderstand and think that Rion cared about the territory this much.
But regardless of what they thought they were seeing, none of those still present in the room did anything but watch. They could find no words of consolation.
The silence in the audience room lasted an eternity. And then it ended, as it was bound to. Rion raised his head while glaring at the empty space ahead.
「….Bring it on. If that’s how you want to play, then I’ll make you regret dragging me back.」
With those words, the strength in his eyes returned and they shone far stronger than ever before. Everyone present felt he had found a new resolve.
Bravd was surprised to have his name called for the first time since they had met. Not that he let it show.
「Send your subordinates to Harcourt. The numbers of the demons, their movements… Just investigate everything and report once done.」
I want the information exchange to be more meticulous. If possible, by someone at hand」
At the same time as Bravd said that, a man on his knees appeared behind Rion with head bowed.
「…The usual person?」
The presence he was giving off was something that Rion had already felt before.
「Chandra Schwarz, lord.」
The youth with the name of Schwarz was a relative of Bravd, a son to be precise. He was someone Bravd had placed near Rion from the start and he was always concealing himself in the vicinity of young Frey. If Mercury was Rion’s overt bodyguard, Chandra could be said to be the covert one.
「Alright. I’ll be counting on you.」
Chandra was taciturn like his father.
Showing no obvious interest in that, Rion turned to face the others. His next instructions were imminent.
「Prepare the army for departure. We are going to war. If you don’t want your comrades killed, leave all the frivolous grudges at home.」
「…Of course, milord.」
Being faced with that kind of words he couldn’t show any reluctance. And he had the intention to do so anyway. Once he was going to war, he would not hold back even if the enemies were to be demons. That was Cassius’ nature.
「How many can you assemble without leaving reserves behind? We’ll mobilize everything we got.」
Cassius answered after a moment of thought.
「Would that be forces of Clan Red alone?」
「No milord, that’s the total numbers of clansmen with clans White and Black excluded.」
「That’s unexpectedly small.」
Not just small. They were supposedly concealing power required to revolt against the kingdom someday. With that being the case, Rion expected them to have tens of thousands fighting strength. A mere ten hundred would be easily crushed by some local militia.
Rion thought that the secret that Cassius and the others were trying to keep so far was just absurd but he expected nothing would change even if he voiced that sentiment, so he kept his counsel.
「Does that number include soldiers patrolling the territory right now?」
「…Then pick four hundred.」
「Four hundred, milord?」
There were roughly 200 soldiers in charge of guarding the territory. If one subtracted that number, only 800 would be available to go along with them. And now Rion, who already considered this force small, wanted to take an even smaller army. Cassius couldn’t understand Rion’s intentions.
「400 or 800, there’s no real difference. That being the case, less will be better. Our mobility will increase and the costs will fall.」
And if Rion were to choose between demon subjugation and defending the territory, he would pick the latter without hesitation. So he was going to leave behind a number sufficient for that purpose and ended up only 400 with him.
「Also, do we have spare horses? I want to change them on the way, so I guess we need double the number even if the quality is lacking?」
「….If 400 is needed, I can arrange it. 」
There was a hesitation to this answer. In other words, Cassius was lying. From Rion’s point of view, it was extremely easy to figure him out.
「Arrange, one thousand. And people to look after those not chosen as primary mounts.」
「A thousand? Why would we need a thousand horses, milord?」
「To shorten the time required to arrive at our destination. We need spares to switch to when main ones tire and in case of unforeseen accidents.」
「….We are going to ride with no rest?」
「Maybe? I still don’t know my limits. Anyhow, think of something to make us arrive at the destination faster. And match the numbers of horses accordingly.」
「….Understood, milord. May I ask, why are we in such a hurry?」
「I am not. I’m telling you to do this because I want to delay our departure as much as I can. It will be best if you did not miscalculate or we might not make it before the deadline.」
Rion decided to shorten the period of participation in the conflict by as much as he could. For that purpose, even if he was an unwilling warrior and putting the numbers of his force aside, he would apply all his available might without cutting corners. And that meant using Cassius and the others without reserve or hesitation.
Continuing, Rion moved his attention to Mercury.
「I understand, lord, the preparation of the honor guard will be accelerated.」
「That’s not what I want, you guys are staying here.」
Mercury was surprised by the unexpected instructions. It was a natural reaction, he was after all the leader of Rion’s honor guard. It was expected that those men would follow him when he departed to fight.
「Bandeaux cannot be left unprotected. Someone must remain behind.」
「My lord, we are your honor guard!」
「And that’s exactly why. You are my most trusted subordinates, there’s no one else I can entrust this task to.」
He was happy with Rion’s words but he really couldn’t accept being left behind.
「Your task is the hardest one. Demons may come to Bandeaux again. When they do, you must not let a single person be harmed, be it a citizen or a traveler. If the world concludes that Bandeaux is not safe, the momentum behind our revival will wane immediately. That cannot be allowed to happen whatever the cost.」
They managed the only safe route to other countries and that was what allowed the barony to prosper. All of them knew that, Mercury even better than the rest as he was spending all his time along Rion in the course of his duties.
「I… Understand lord. I will make sure to live up to your expectations.」
Now that he was no longer being simply left behind and was given a huge responsibility, Mercury was satisfied. He had taken Rion’s decision as a proof of his trust towards him and his men.
「You are not trying to tell me to remain, are you?」
She replied back in no time. And she was smiling with that particular smile of hers Rion knew better than try to oppose.
「…No, of course not.」
They would be together in death. They had sworn that, so, facing that smile, Rion convinced himself it meant going together to dangerous battlefields as well.
After all, he knew that even if he tried refusing her permission to go, he would be the one to give in in the end.
「Then me too, me too! It will be my first time going somewhere far. How exciting.」
Venus in a carefree manner assumed that if Ariel was coming then she, the baroness’ bodyguard, should come along. However, that would not happen.
「You’ll stay, Venus.」
「Because, to be frank, members of your clan are a burden on the battlefield.」
Although she was surprised, she could offer no counter argument. Her clan might have been one of the six but like Clan Black, their specialization in covert operations was of little help on the battlefield. Their craft and the way they weaponised desire were excellent, but not suited to an armed clash.
「Protect the territory alongside Mercury. Make sure the citizens do not get agitated by the army’s departure.」
Although frustrated, Venus accepted Rion’s orders. She knew perfectly she was in no position to complain and that it was her fault that she could be nothing more than a burden.
「John, Octo. Please prepare the provisions and equipment needed for the departure.」
「Alright, we’ll do it.」
「Consult with Folz when procuring stock. From what I heard, the provisions in Orcus and Hashu are cheaper to buy.」
「Is that so?」
「It’s likely. Folz is well connected and has the latest information, working with him will be worth it.」
Resist now had a foothold in the neighboring kingdoms as well, although the organization’s activities were so far limited to information gathering.
「Oh, and Sept, while I remember.」
「Yeah. Notify those countries that we are dispatching troops, request assistance in case we come under attack.」
「…Is it really a good idea to let our neighbors know such a thing?」
Sept doubted the wisdom of letting potential enemies know the territory would be weakly defended.
「There will be no problem. They wouldn’t attack even if we were completely defenseless.」
「….I guess that’s true.」
Even if those two kingdoms tried to exploit the opportunity and invade Bandeaux, they would end up being crushed by the Gran Flamm Kingdom’s retaliation anyway. Sept’s worries were unnecessary.
「And that’s why it’s better just tell them. Even if we’re not really wanting for troops to defend ourselves.」
「I see. What you’re doing is pure courtesy.」
Given that Bandeaux’ diplomatic policy was to further improve its relations with the Orcus and Hashu kingdoms this kind of exchange wasn’t bad at all.
「That’s right. And furthermore, if they accept the request for reinforcement we gain from that too. It would give us both materiel and peace of mind.」
「In that case, it would be better to hasten the negotiations. An urgent dispatch perhaps? Preferably by your own hand.」
「I’ll prepare it immediately.」
「I guess that’s enough for now. You know the plans, go do your jobs.」
The Bandeaux army would depart one month from now, all the clansmen wearing armor painted in flashy colors corresponding to their clan name.
The clan heads couldn’t know that this simple deployment to help in the conflict would be the greatest opportunity for them to spread their name across the country.
HnM Admin’s Corner:
When the war comes, please listen to power rangers theme song as you read the chapter.
I recommend this one: