“An Unexpected Outcome”
When the subjugation of the demons ended, the city of Harcourt became lively again. It was not a return to normal, though, but an outright festive atmosphere. A party was organized to celebrate newly-gained safety from attacks by demons and was being held all around the town.
The main star of the festival was the nameless army from a distant territory. By now everyone was aware of how the battle against the demons played out and of the straight-out-of-a-fairy-tale courageous and resolute way of fighting those strangers displayed.
Local soldiers, with tongues loosened by alcohol, were regaling the citizens with the heroic tales from the battlefield as if they were minstrels. Those sagas delighted many and, in a blink of an eye, spread through the whole Harcourt, to the merchants in the city at that moment, and before long, carried by them, to the whole kingdom.
On this day, a hero was born in the kingdom but only a small number of people could recognize that fact.
The feudal lord of Harcourt also hosted a banquet in his mansion but this event was somewhat different from what was going on outside. While this was also a celebration of victory, it was also recognition of effort of those that participated in the battle. Naturally, not everyone was invited.
The attendees were: representing the kingdom – The Crown Prince Arnold, The Knight Commander Frederick, Lancelot, Erwin, Charlotte and Maria; and from the Clans of Bandeaux – Cassius, Apollo, Mohit, and Kiel.
Rion and Ariel were not present. The host was informed that he would be late due to matters involving the troops. This was just an excuse, though, neither of the two had the slightest intention of participating. Nevertheless, the tables of the banquet were considerably lively despite that absence. Or maybe rather, the atmosphere was good because the Freys were not here.
「Well, you really did great. To think that you would charge into a horde of a hundred thousand demons with just a few hundreds of cavalry. I received the reports but I still find that hard to fathom even now.」
「Ah well, they might have been demons but they were not really that strong. So even if there’s a lot of them, they’re not really that big of a deal.」
Being praised by the feudal lord put Apollo in a good mood. He would probably never adopt that kind of attitude with Rion present. Baron Frey might be young but, for Apollo, he was still a scary lord.
「Even if that’s the case, that was still a hundred-thousand-strong horde. And using yourselves as a diversion, on top of that, was even more astounding. You won’t be able to pull that off without sufficient courage.」
「That’s an obvious requirement in order to defeat the enemy. Even when you are just a diversions, no, especially when you are in that role, you need to fight with all your might. I just put that ideal into practice.」
Apollo might have said all that but, in reality, neither of the clan heads fighting with Rion was informed about Kiel’s role and the blue clan’s surprise attack. Rion didn’t tell them because, just as the feudal lord’s words had implied, they probably wouldn’t put as much effort into fighting if they knew their charge was just a feint.
「And you sir, your surprise attack was also very well done.」
The feudal lord now addressed Kiel.
「…I merely followed the instructions that I had been given, milord.」
Kiel was not in as a jovial mood as Apollo. He was delighted, of course, but seeing Apollo’s behavior made him return from the clouds.
「That may be so but taking the enemy leader’s head is still the biggest feat on the battlefield. That is always worth praising.」
「As milord has said before, a diversion was in place. The achievement is not mine alone and belongs to all of those who participated.」
「Oh, I see sir is quite the humble one. You seem to be very different from the others even though all of you come from the same land.」
「Hmph, Kiel is lord Rion’s favorite after all. He knows how to ingratiate himself.」
Irritated by Kiel becoming the focus of the attention, perhaps, Apollo spoke words that should have been left unsaid. Conflicts at home should not be shown to outsiders.
「Apollo. Watch your mouth.」
The warning came from Cassius, because if Kiel said that, the situation might have deteriorated.
「Aren’t you in the same position? Our brilliant lord baron has no time for you either He is not very fond of unrefined people like us.」
Despite the warning, Apollo didn’t stop freely venting his complaints helped along by the fact he was drunk.
「Can you cut this out already? You’ve drunk too much.」
「It’s fine, I tell you. It has been so long since I have drunk liquor this good. As I thought, Harcourt really is on a different level.」
Finding the rebukes coming from Cassius troublesome, Apollo turned to the feudal lord.
「After all, it’s not called the biggest commercial city of the south just for show. It’s not an exaggeration to say that all the delicious things of the southern region can be found in this city.」
The host was also fond of being praised. He had begun to brag merrily with just a word of compliment.
「That’s really enviable. There’s nothing close to this in Bandeaux.」
「Oh? Hadn’t it enjoyed a period of prosperity recently? I have heard rumors placing the best pleasure quarter of the east there.」
「We cannot possibly visit places like that in our own land. We would be buried by rumors by the next day.」
「I understand and sympathize. It’s really hard not being allowed to fool around when you want to.」
「Exactly! Bandeaux may be gentle to the outsiders but it’s harsh to the locals. The lord himself is an outsider, after all.」
「Then get out.」
Kiel had butted into the conversation. It was hard for him to simply overlook the things that Apollo had just said.
「The… Outsider, as you put it, Lord Rion, had contributed immensely to the revival of Bandeaux. Those who do not understand or appreciate how much thought and effort went into that have no right to remain in our land.」
Even though he wanted to argue, Apollo could not refute Kiel’s words. The current state of Bandeaux was achieved thanks to Rion. All of its residents would agree with that.
In the end, Apollo also agreed that those who denied this fact had no right to enjoy the blessings that Rion had brought upon the land of Bandeaux.
「We may have drunk a lot but, still, you said too much. If you have complaints, take them to lord Rion. He properly listens to people’s grievances. Don’t tell me you don’t even know this?」
「…I do know that.」
This was true as well. No matter how harsh or strict the feedback was, Rion would always find time to hear comments and criticisms. Apollo was a witness to numerous occasions of Rion being sternly rebuked by the hot-headed Royal Academy alumni.
「If you really do know all that.」
「Fine, fine already. I’m sorry, it seems I got carried away.」
This was actually true. This was the first time the military efforts of Bandeaux clansmen were praised after a whole life of dedication to the art of war. And that was something to be elated about even if the enemies were just demons.
Now, though, that festive mood of theirs subsided.
「It can’t be helped to forget yourself drinking alcohol after a battle. There’s no need to mind speech and conduct on occasions such as this.」
Mindful of the festive atmosphere and not wanting it disrupted, the Knight Commander excused Apollo’s behavior.
「Hearing that makes me glad.」
「Let us change the topic, however. What, in your opinion, had that queer, hard to deal with, and judicious with his complaints territory lord done for Bandeaux.」
The “queer” and, “hard to deal with” were Frederick’s impressions of Rion but Cassius and the others actually shared it.
「What had he done, eh?… So many things that a lifetime wouldn’t be enough to tell all about it.」
「That doesn’t tell us anything, you know. Come to think of it, didn’t I overhear just a moment ago something about Bandeaux having the best pleasure quarter of the east?」
「Hmm. If it’s just that, then it should be fine to talk about it.」
The particulars of Apollo’s story surprised those who knew Rion only from his time in the Academy. All they had seen back then had been Rion the Valet and they could hardly imagine him working as a governor now.
In fact, that idea never appeared in their minds.
「…..Added value. Is that how people call it?」
「There are those who call it distinguishing quality. However, our lord’s words are sometimes too complicated and hard to understand.」
The Knight Commander, a military man, could not fully get his head around those ideas. Nevertheless, Bandeaux had indeed been turned into a land people wanted to visit as was the case with the lord of this territory.
「If it’s only this much, then I can do it as well.」
Only Maria could blurt out something like this light-heartedly in this kind of a situation. She was, however, the person who understood what Rion had done the best.
「If it’s only what?」
「Service. Among other things. I also am aware that service too is important for a merchant to prosper. I think that, if a territory was left in my care, I would be able to do better than him.」
「A benefit of knowledge from the other world, huh?」
「That’s right. I know about all kinds of things that do not exist here. If I make use of that, I’m sure I will be able to achieve much.」
Maria was flustered and that was why she tried to market herself so hard. Not only had she accomplished nothing in this event, she had actually provided misleading information causing distress to the army command.
This should be the moment when the Kingdom recognized her worth but she had done nothing that merited recognition. And she was painfully self-aware of that.
「I want to hear a bit more about what sir Kiel said previously.」
「Yes, sir Frederick?」
Unfortunately for her, the knight commander was not interested in her self-aggrandizing stories. A different matter caught his attention and even if that wasn’t the case, territory management was outside his jurisdiction anyway.
「Why did you conduct this kind of surprise attack?」
「Why? Those were my orders.」
「I don’t dispute that but there was no guarantee you would find the enemy general after such a large circle around the battlefield. Didn’t that worry you?.」
「Indeed, we had no way to predict that.」
「So, why risk it?」
「Because we were ordered to run if the target wasn’t there.」
「Ordered to run?」
「Yes. Lord Rion was convinced that the being manipulating the demons was in that horde but he did not have the confidence that it stationed itself in the rear.」
「He said that, although there were exceptions, demons, in general, do not coordinate their assaults. What’s more, in normal situations they do not employ feints. This horde did both of those things, therefore, according to my lord’s information, it must have been controlled.」
「Oh, I’m sorry, that’s not what I was asking about… But that’s still an interesting story. Continue, please.」
Frederick wanted to learn why Rion would consider adopting such a reckless strategy in the first place but the things Kiel was talking about were pretty interesting too.
「Even if you say that, I have not much to add. I was simply instructed that the most important objective of this battle was to eliminate whatever was controlling the horde, no matter its size.」
「…Is that the case?」
The Knight Commander asked Maria this time because she should know more than anyone about anything concerning the demons.
「It’s the devils. They are the ones controlling the demons.」
「I know that already. Will taking down a devil make the threat of a demon horde vanish or not?」
「That’s… I don’t think that’s the case…」
「Then why did Baron Frey think that such a feat alone would be enough?」
「It’s true that if the devils were to be vanquished, the demons will cease to be a threat.」
「I understand this is the big picture but what about a local case… Actually, nevermind.」
The knight commander deemed that talking about battlefield matters with Maria would likely go nowhere, so he dropped the subject.
「Let me go back to the original question. Why did Baron Frey decide on such a reckless strategy? I believe, no, I’m certain that he came here unwilling, didn’t he?」
Frederick turned back to the most burning question he hoped Kiel could answer.
「….I am not exactly certain myself. But I believe Lord Rion is just that kind of person.」
「That kind of person?」
「He does not trust others. The only possible exception to this, the only person he trusts in the truest sense, is the Baroness.」
It wasn’t hard for Frederick to think of reasons for Rion to turn out that way. The boy’s nature hadn’t been shaped just by the incident involving Vincent alone. There was his childhood in the slums as well. It was easy to imagine that kind of person valuing those rare individuals whom he came to trust very highly. And in Rion’s case, those individuals were Ariel and Vincent.
「However, while he does not trust, he does rely on others.」
「W-Wait a moment. How does that even work?」
「I can’t even begin to understand the peculiarities of this mindset but I have noticed two groups of people around him. I describe them as those in whom he has enough faith to rely on and those he has enough confidence in to make use of.」
「….I see. I think I can somehow understand.」
He would be willing to make use of you but he would never put his fate in your hands. This description encapsulated Rion’s nature the best in Frederick’s mind.
「Lord Rion highly values those whom he can believe in. This is the odd thing about him. He may dislike people, yet he still is extremely kind towards them.」
「Extremely kind… It’s to that extent, huh.」
The knight commander had never witnessed the kindness that Rion had for others, so he couldn’t quantify Kiel’s words.
「Yes, to an even bigger extent than you can imagine. He has empathy for complete strangers that he doesn’t even know, let alone trust. Once he became aware that the local villages were being assaulted by demons and understood the scale of the problem, he had resolved himself to save all of them.」
「…But that was an impossible goal.」
「It was. And so it had proven to be in the end. Nevertheless, even knowing that, Lord Rion would still not give up on those people.」
「I see… So that was the reason behind that reckless way of fighting.」
「We couldn’t save all of those villages by our power alone. That’s why our Baron resigned himself to not only rely on others but to even rely on those he wanted to stay away from the most.」
「You are treading quite a fine line here, friend, you know that, right?」
Those Rion wanted to stay away from the most. That was obviously referring to the Crown Prince’s circle. So even though Frederick understood the boy’s feelings, his position still required him to issue a warning.
「It seems that I too had a slip of a tongue. My sincere apologies. It seems I do not have the right to tell people off tonight.」
「To me it simply looks like the folk from Bandeaux is weak to liquor.」
「We haven’t taken part in any banquets for a long time, after all.」
The Knight Commander excused the misstep by blaming it on the alcohol once more. Understanding those intentions, Kiel followed suit.
「There is a question I would like answered too.」
「Ah. Your highness. I…」
「Fret not. I would not condemn people over a festive table full of alcohol. Moreover, I’m not really in the position to tell people off either.」
Arnold still felt shame for not responding immediately to the unwilling hand of Rion that reached out to him. A gesture made for the sake of protecting the citizens.
「What would your highness like to hear about?」
「Something that piqued my curiosity earlier on. Why is Rion cold towards you all, his subordinates?」
「It is because we are disappointing.」
Kiel lied. He did now have some idea why Rion was cold towards the Bandeaux clan heads. But that real reason was not something to discuss publicly and definitely not in this company.
「We never truly tried to do anything for the land where we grew up. That did not stop us from complaining loudly when he tried to change things, though. And that gall was something lord Rion has rightly scolded us for. Something he still remembers.」
「Now? I, at the very least, don’t feel like I’m receiving cold treatment any longer. Those who still do feel that way have never really tried to face the Baron.」
「…Like they sit behind walls they raised on their own?」
「Yes, highness. That is a very apt way to put it. On top of the walls in our lord’s heart, they have built some of their own. It is no wonder they can’t see eye to eye.」
To get closer to Rion, one had to start by removing the barriers in his own heart. That was something that resonated with Arnold. His view of Rion had transformed from seeing him as someone who clad himself in the facade of a loyal retainer to obtain success over his former lord’s grave to someone that could become an ally.
That change was prompted by what he saw during the battle and by the words of Kiel. The man called Rion who became a feudal lord so suddenly.
The Crown Prince Arnold now wanted to know more about him.
「Isn’t he late? What were those outstanding matters that he had to take care of?」
Arnold had truly believed in the lie about small unresolved issues with the army after the battle.
「…I fear that lord Rion might not make it today, highness.」
Since trying to gloss over it would be bad, Kiel decided to tell the truth.
「Is that so?」
「He left the city. I do not know when will he come back.」
「…Where did he go?」
「…To the villages that were attacked by the demons. He said he intends to investigate their situation but I believe that to be an excuse.」
「Excuse? What for?」
There was a hint of irritation in Arnold’s voice. He suspected the excuse was employed in order not to attend the celebration.
「…I believe his real goal is to apologize for the deaths of those he failed to save.」
Kiel said that with a bit of hesitation. After all, those words could be interpreted as criticism to all those who were present in this room. Nonetheless, there was, in his heart, a desire to do just that which was why he ultimately went ahead and said them.
Sure enough, that had an impact on Arnold. But this kind of reaction was still a good one. Lancelot and Erwin, both sitting silent in the background, just let an ugly grimace creep onto their faces. Despite understanding the criticism, they did not reflect on it at all.
「It is just as I have said before. Lord Baron may hate people but he is kind to them nonetheless. And those two differing dispositions are irreversibly tangled in his heart.」
Kiel unknowingly hit the nail on the head with this description.
「Is that so…」
Seeing how the prince reacted, Kiel’s opinion of Arnold improved. The old man had guessed that the real reason why Rion and Ariel were treating the Bandeaux clans coldly was to keep them from getting involved in the pair’s designs. Designs that were likely connected to Arnold.
From what he had heard about Frey’s circumstances, it was clear that the two resented Arnold and all those in his coterie. And going against those people, the crown prince and the youth of the Marquess houses, meant going against the kingdom itself. That must have been what Rion and Ariel were trying to do. Furthermore, they were even preparing for failure.
That was why, thought Kiel, the two of them were trying to distance themselves from other people. They must have feared that if they got too involved, those people would end up getting caught along with them.
But even so, the head of Clan Blue still chose to follow the Freys. It was his way of repaying somebody that gave him a reason for living.
Rion, the unexpected main topic at the banquet in the lord of Harcourt’s mansion, was, just as Kiel suspected, going from one bereaved family to another to apologize.
He was also directing his soldiers to help with the burials and repairs of the ruined villages.
But he received no gratitude for his efforts. The mourning, grief-stricken relatives and friends of the victims could only think of venting their anger. It didn’t really matter who Rion was, or what was his responsibility for this situation. They needed a focus and an outlet so that their suffering would lessen, even if just a little bit.
Rion was not trying to offer any excuses, he accepted all the heckling and abuse with just more apology. After witnessing that scene repeated multiple times, Ariel, worried, called out to her husband.
「Don’t you think this is enough?」
This was not a situation requiring Rion to come and apologize personally. She could no longer stand the sight of him getting more and more wounded and miserable like this.
「There’s still a few places left to visit. You know I don’t like to leave things half-done.」
「But Rion is not the one at fault for this.」
「…Am I really not?」
「Is the fault truly not mine? A game event where the protagonist emerges victorious should not result in this many casualties.」
Compared to what he knew of games, the results here brought too much tragedy. And it made him question himself.
「Even if that’s true, this still does not make it Rion’s fault.」
「This may have been caused by a person totally unrelated to the story, me, getting involved.」
「True. But that doesn’t make it your fault either.」
He did not participate in this conflict out of his own will. If all this misery was caused by Rion’s participation, then the blame belonged to people that forced it. This was what Ariel was trying to say. Unfortunately, she did not reach him.
「…Am I, after all, an existence that brings misfortune?」
This was the first time that Rion brought up the issue of his heterochromia in this way. That was just how much his spirit had suffered that day. Not from the villagers’ heckles but from the sight of numerous victims that he had been faced with prior to that.
He might have experienced killing people before but this was the first time Rion had seen this many people be killed at once, people that died gruesome deaths. He couldn’t shake off the dreaded fear that all this might have been caused by him.
All the feelings he had never dressed in words, the wounds in his heart from blaming himself for the death of Vincent, were reopened by this place.
This event had etched a deep shadow on Rion’s heart. But the World paid it no mind. Unconcerned with his feelings, It was already preparing the next stage for him.