“The Worst Possible First Impression.”
Rion may have been very dissatisfied with himself for falling into Knight Commander’s verbal trap but he was not the only person unhappy with how the conference went. Maria took being treated like an outsider even worse.
She was the protagonist, shouldn’t she be the one dictating the strategy? That said, there was no such meeting among the game’s cutscenes. Once the player pressed the button to continue he would immediately be confronted by the battle with the demons. The game might have called this part “the strategy arc” but, in reality, there was no strategy to be had at all, just a chain of battle events for the protagonist to overcome in sequence.
It was not, however, enough to simply emerge victorious, the player was awarded “war points” for their performance in the battle.
Those points, together with points for clearing non-combat events in the Academy and afterward, would add up to her final popularity score in the game.
Maria, for this reason, considered the battles important events she could not neglect, even if her primary motivation was only the significant amount of points that could be gained.
Becoming the Queen and marrying Arnold depended on her clearing a fixed popularity target. The game scenario decreed that only by gaining an overwhelming popularity with the masses and using that as leverage could the commoner Maria ascend to the throne.
Despite that, she ended up having no outstanding achievements of note recently. Moreover, she had even provided misleading information making her lose the trust of the King and other government figures. If this situation was to persist, becoming the Queen would prove impossible.
And, when she was hoping to turn the situation around, Rion had stolen her chance to do so.
Rion. The character that should have disappeared after the Royal Academy arc, one now returned to the main stage. The character that had never appeared in the game Maria knew, now standing as her rival in the strategy arc. This flustered her greatly.
Maria had no idea what to do. His absence from the game robbed her of clues about what things they would contest and what to do to win against him.
(This is bad. It feels as though I have stepped on a landmine. What should I do?)
She was still not aware who Rion actually was, she just thought this was a consequence of provoking a rare character.
(…I need a win in the next event. I guess I have to make him fail to get it.)
She knew that strategy for the next battle was to have Rion fight on the front lines again and that would make him take all the achievements again leaving none for her.
She decided to make him fail but achieving that was no simple matter. Maria had no influence whatsoever on the Knight Commander. She could find no way to interfere from that angle, so she could formulate no plan to do so.
(I guess I’ll have to use Arnold again. I have to somehow make him hinder Rion.)
She needed someone with influence over Frederick and the only person she could turn to was the Crown Prince. Thus she decided to rely on Arnold.
She never expected this would end up causing her even more anxiety in the future
Rion was busy after arriving in the capital, even more so than usual, in fact. Still, there were people he needed to meet, people that were really looking forward to seeing him in the city – the citizens of the slum.
「You want to transform the business into a high-class brothel?」
「Yes boss. I was thinking that it’s about time to make some changes.」
Ain was visibly happy, while he was making his report. It had been quite a while from the last time he had a chance to talk with Rion face-to-face.
「…Is there a need?」
「Hmm, the concept of demand will probably be too difficult…. I was asking if there are customers who request that sort of thing.」
「Ah, yes, there are.」
「Enough of them that it would bring profits? Moving upscale requires a significant investment. There is no point if all additional income from higher prices will be eaten by new expenses. And skimping on costs will get us nowhere, a half-assed high-class brothel won’t get any customers.」
「But it’s true that we need some kind of change. Maybe, for the time being, we should start by giving rank to prostitutes?」
「Rank… Ah, is that about a hierarchy?」
「Yeah. That might be rude to the girls but we should change the prices of their services according to their appearance and skills.」
「Aren’t we already doing that, though?」
「We can take the idea further. Make the rooms they use change according to the ranks too. And… Yeah, there’s also that. We can start having Oirans.」
Rion was thinking about the red light districts that he saw in the historical dramas. He figured that he could try and copy them in their entirety using that formula as a blueprint for success in this word.
「The highest grade of prostitutes. We cannot half-ass that either. Employ one or two of those and make it hard to gain their service.」
「Eh? How? What should she do?」
「Let’s see… The first interaction with the customer should be a conversation. If the Oiran likes the customer enough, she’ll offer to serve him drink the next time. That is going to be followed by a display of artistic skill. Only when all those encounters resolve satisfactorily will she make her body available.」
「Will that kind of thing really attract customers?」
「Who knows? But I’m sure it will attract enough wealthy people if we are able to sell it as something to be bragged about.」
「…..I see. A thing of unmatched value. So even our shops need something like this.」
Rion’s organization had spread by virtue of offering services the competition did not have and now those special places would have special existences inside them. Ain finally comprehended that vision.
「Only deserving girls can obtain that position, though. Good looks are not enough. They need to be as refined as aristocrats, if not more. They need to have an aristocratic sense of pride too.」
「She needs to be like an unreachable flower but once she accepts a customer, she has to be able and willing to offer everything. Just like, that “tsundere-thing” I was talking to you about before.」
「Ah, just like senior sister.」
「…I won’t let Ariel do such a thing.」
「Boss, I did not mean it that way. Gods. Head over heels as always, huh?」
When it came to Ariel, Rion’s personality changes. and Ain was happy to be able to see such a thing again after a long time.
「But, you’re right, a woman just like Ariel. Or rather, similar, there’s no other woman like her after all.」
「Like I said… Nevermind, alright boss. It might be impossible to find the same but close to her will do. You’re right, getting customers that are willing to put in as much money as required it would be good.」
With this, the type of the prostitute required was now settled. That would be enough for Ain and the others to take the matters into their own hands and implement the idea fully. They were excellent subordinates easy to utilize.
「So, I guess that’s about it for the matters regarding the capital.」
「Yes, boss. The next thing to discuss is our expansion efforts. That is proceeding well, we are nearly done with the takeover of the target city.」
「Didn’t that go rather fast?」
Execution of their plans had only taken half of the time expected. That made Rion more anxious than happy.
「That’s because there was no fight, boss.」
「We absorbed them?」
「It’s more like they joined us. To be honest I had doubts about allowing things to stay as they were over there but crushing those that want to join voluntarily would just end up making us fight everyone in the future.」
Since the other gang joined out of their own will, they were allowed to keep their internal structure unchanged. Ain was afraid of potential future betrayal.
But if they were to reject surrenders like that, the only other alternative would be to fight. And people with their back to the wall tended to fight with fierce desperation. That was a scary prospect to face.
「…Well, I guess we have no choice. Take your time thinking how to integrate them.」
Ain saw that Rion understood his worries and was relieved by this reply.
「So, I guess the next topic is how to devour all the remaining towns.」
「Yes, boss. Some of them don’t have criminal businesses to target and we can’t have all of them do the same thing, anyhow.」
「I agree. And thus…」
「Well get some of them to specialize in the fully illegal stuff.」
「Ah, so that’s why Gordon isn’t here.」
Gordon hadn’t seen Rion for longer than Ain, so there was no way he wouldn’t show himself here if he was present.
Unfortunately, he was not in the capital at that moment. Gordon had more knowledge and experience in illegal operations, which was why he left to evaluate the newly conquered settlements and see what he can have them do
「…Just remember not to do things that attract too much attention.」
「Yes, boss. We are mindful of that. We won’t attempt anything that would have a negative effect on the highway’s public order, either. And we continuously make sure nobody else tries that behind our back.」
「Good, carry on like that.」
The royal highway between the capital and Camargue was the lifeline of Bandeaux. The present safety of travel made it a popular choice and brought plenty of gold to all the towns along its length.
「What’s next on the agenda?」
There still were things to discuss but they were not allowed to continue in peace.
「Boss, there’s a visitor for you.」
「Visitor? None of our guys then?」
This was a place that Resist operated specially for private talks just like this one. It belonged directly to the organization and did not operate as a real business. All the employees and supposed customers were members, there was no way for a complete stranger to stumble on this place.
「No, boss. He said he is looking for Baron Rion Frey.」
「Oh? Who the heck is that guy then?」
Ain interrupted the messenger with a harsh question. He was flustered that someone had managed to trace Rion here.
「He says he’s Royal Guard.」
「…..Oh. It must be this guy, the one supposed to fight with me. He must have asked around about how to find me.」
「Is that so, boss?」
Ain felt relief hearing that it was one of Rion’s noble subordinates. That was, however, somewhat premature.
「Oh, there you are. I was looking for you.」
「…Who told you to come inside?」
A stranger suddenly entered the room and the conversation. It was clear to Rion that the man was from Royal Guard, though, both from the messenger’s warning and the familiar uniform the visitor was wearing.
「Nobody. Nobody forbade me entrance either.」
Rion was not the type to swallow such frivolous excuses.
「Alright. Feel yourself forbidden. I am busy and I have no time for people like you. Get out.」
Even though he faced a clear rejection with no room for rebuttal, the stranger was not the type to back down.
「I don’t know what are you talking about here but, certainly, it’s not more important than the preparations for our departure?」
「Straight back at you. Are you done preparing the apprentice knights?」
「That’s still in progress.」
「Then return when you’re done with it.」
「It’s about to finish. I came to tell you to speed up your own preparations.」
Neither was faltering, despite the fact that this was not a topic worth a stubborn dispute.
「Waste of breath. We are well prepared and ready to go at any time.」
「We can go even now if that’s fine with your side.」
Rion said that with a smug grin. That was uncharacteristic, but he was trying to provoke the man.
「…Don’t speak nonsense. Bandeaux troops had shown no signs of making any preparations at all.」
「None were required here in capital.」
「Are we not discussing an impending deployment?」
「We just came back from a battlefield. All we need are some supplies and provisions and those can be obtained in the towns along the route. We can head out at any moment without any issues.」
That was not a display of enthusiasm for the royal order he was given. He was painfully aware that mere rumors of an army’s deployment were bound to push up prices along its expected route. Rion pushed for an early departure to resupply before that would happen.
「…Then make yourself ready. We will be heading out tomorrow.」
The knight was clearly subdued by Rion’s reply. The young baron would not let things go with this alone, though. It was his bad habit to show no mercy even in the most trivial of conflicts.
「Will you be able to catch up to us if we go at the same time?」
「Will I what?」
「Bandeaux detachment is not encumbered by a supply train, won’t that make our pace faster?」
「…I see. So all the achievements I heard about are simply a fluke, huh?」
Rion was not being humble. He downplayed his abilities on purpose to easier catch out people by making them not be ready for his preparations.
「Why don’t you just come again later? Or actually, save yourself the bother. We’ll just leave when we hear you are departing. And we’ll still be faster.」
「…I will send a messenger when we set out.」
「To Bandeaux army HQ if you may. This, incidentally, is not the place.」
And thus, Rion and Sol met for the first time. Both of them concluded this encounter with the absolutely worst possible impression of the other party, which was a completely unlike what the Knight Commander hoped for.
Maria too was preparing for the next battle, although she was not exactly getting ready to depart. Her goal was hindering Rion’s plans.
Her first step was roping in Lancelot. Even though her relationship with Arnold, after she had supplanted Ariel, had improved so much that calling them lovers would not be out of place, this had slowly changed with time since then. Once they graduated there had been fewer and fewer opportunities for the two to meet and spend time together.
Or at least that was how things looked from Maria’s perspective. In reality, Arnold had been seeing her much more frequently than any single other person, even if rarely one on one.
This was why Maria wasn’t confident about persuading Arnold and why she felt she needed Lancelot. He was the Crown Prince’s closest friend, he should have no problems in achieving her goal. With that in mind, a meeting was arranged.
「You want the deployment of the Royal Guard squires stopped? For what reason?」
「It’s not normal for someone that’s not of royal blood to command them. You should not let this be.」
That was the justification Maria came up with. And while it was certainly true, it was not enough to change Arnold’s mind.
「Father approved the plan already. That reason alone is not enough to raise an objection.」
This deployment was already underpinned by the royal decree. It was beyond Arnold to overrule that and Lancelot should have been aware of the fact.
「Is it fine for that man to keep taking all the glory?」
「What are you talking about, Lancelot?」
「The devil subjugation was a mission we personally received from your father, is it not odd that an outsider that joined at the last minute gets to take all the credit for success?」
Exploiting Arnold’s envy was Lancelot’s go-to method to get the Prince to agree to something. Moreover, it was the most effective strategy in the matters concerning Rion due to how the Prince felt about his rival. At least that was how things had worked during the Academy days.
「…Lancelot, have you not supported the idea of having Baron Frey join the subjugation previously?」
Lancelot never expected Rion to achieve so much. He had thought the young baron would end up running around in confusion while leading his pathetic army and had agreed only to have a chance of mocking him for that.
「Moreover, personal glory? Achievements? Is defeating the devils the most important thing right now? As long as the kingdom finds peace again, does it really matter who deals the final blow?」
Arnold’s mindset was different from Erwin’s, Maria’s and Lancelot’s. While the latter three all were looking to solidify their status and gain fame in this war, Arnold had no real need for any of that. Incidentally, Charlotte had similar thoughts. As a woman, she had no expectations to inherit her parent’s position or wealth, and all that awaited her was a political marriage to another noble. All she wanted was to push that fate away, even if by just a bit.
「That man reached for success over his former master’s corpse claiming his sister as a wife in the process. Is it really alright for someone like him to gain more recognition?」
Seeing that inciting jealousy did not work, Lancelot immediately changed his approach and tried to prod Arnold’s hatred.
「…Have you not see how he works? Whatever his motives, he discharges his duties dutifully and properly. I am not sure I know of another lord that works as hard as him. Do you disagree with that assessment?」
「That… May be true but-」
「This may not be appropriate for me to say… But, sometimes, I think Vincent died so that Rion could be set free into the world.」
In fact, Arnold was pretty close to guessing Vincent’s motives on that fateful day. While the young Windhill had not relished the idea of dying, he had not wanted Rion to waste the remainder of his life on him.
「And anyway, Ariel is clearly happy at his side. I do admit, I sometimes find it vexing that it is not me that brings her that joy. But I am not proud of those moments and I should be grateful my stupid actions ended up having any kind of silver lining at all.」
「The fact that vexation always comes first is simply a proof I am still immature.」
「…Is that so.」
The fact that Arnold was now capable of saying such a thing was actually a proof of his growth. He had finally become aware of his own weakness and ceased to be someone easily manipulated. Lancelot made a huge blunder by not noticing that until now.
「Therefore, I am sorry Lancelot, I will not try stopping the deployment of the Royal Guard. And not only that, I plan to increase its scale.」
「I am negotiating permission to join Rion’s army with my personal retinue.」
「…Why would you do such a thing?」
「This too is vexing but I am clearly inferior to him in military matters. I think this is a matter of experience, though, and I expect I will be able to catch up if given chance to observe him closely. I wish to do exactly that.」
「Is that so…」
As opposed to the past, now Arnold was using his envy of Rion in a positive way. Lancelot, as his closest friend, should be happy to witness this change. But he was not. He had only got close to Arnold in the past because he could use the Prince for his own advantage. Even though, as a retainer, he had not had the option to stay away from Arnold, he should have minded the boundaries of the feudal contract. He had not done so.
He had, as a result, become neither Arnold’s true friend nor a loyal follower.
From this day, there would be a slowly expanding rift in his relationship with the Crown Prince, even if Arnold himself would, for now, remain unaware of the fact
(花魁) were courtesans in Japan. The oiran were considered a type of yūjo (遊女) “woman of pleasure” or prostitute. however, they are distinguished from ordinary yūjo in that they were entertainers, and many became celebrities outside the pleasure districts. – Wikipedia