“His Reason To Fight.”
Rion’s Nyegert detached defense force, in the end, was to depart at the same time as the Royal Guard, despite the initial plans to the contrary. This was a result of the Knight Commander’s intervention after he became aware of what was going on.
Frederick had hoped for a good relationship between Rion and Sol Aristes, which would naturally rule out working without cooperation like the two of them had intended to do. Moreover, now that the Crown Prince himself was to join the army on his own request, any independent actions were out of the question.
At the very least, Arnold had shown a desire to improve his relationship with Rion. With the knight commander coming to know that, he would make them all stick together.
Thus, he forced a fixed departure date on all three of them borrowing unspecified military authority to reinforce his orders.
Rion did not agree with that fact in the slightest but, unsurprisingly, he could not rebel against the military chain of command and had to match his departure date to the Royal Guard plans. This would not, of course, mean that he would just obediently do as he was told. He instantly started to formulate plans in order to avoid this utterly annoying development that he planned to implement after they left the capital. Still, he had to follow the orders to depart alongside the Royal Guard.
Today was the prescribed day. The place Rion had chosen to assemble his army, the Clans of Bandeaux, was completely unfit for that purpose.
Both he and Ariel were currently offering flowers at the gallows, with the clansmen in their colorful armor watching from behind. They were at the execution grounds where Vincent had died.
The day of the young lord’s death was the last time Rion had been here. Ariel had never been here before. And now, finally, the two were able to visit. This occasion didn’t put their resentment to rest. The grudge they held over Vincent’s death was as strong as ever and even now neither of them could forgive themselves for failing to protect him. They did, however, finally figure out what they should do from now on. They no longer dreamed vague dreams of revenge, they had a concrete plan of action.
And they came to share that plan with the soul of their departed master and brother. A plan that would start being executed from today.
The clansmen were, from a distance, simply watching, with interest, their Baron and his wife kneeling, seemingly lost in prayers, next to the scaffold. They knew nothing of the man named Vincent. However, the fact that their feudal lord, who had so far only shown them his rough side, was this sincere in front of his late former master prompted the clans into thinking that this former master must have been a person of an outstanding caliber.
Eventually, the young couple finished their offering and stood up. Rion descended from the gallows and stood in front of his army.
「Alright, let’s go.」
Even though this was their departure, Rion made them set out with a simple word without even making a speech. The horses of the married couple were brought over, they took the reins and set off.
The army followed slowly after the two of them.
Outside of the execution grounds, they were met by a banner of cavalry. They were the squires of the Royal Guard led by Sol numbering five hundred. Just a little bit more than the four hundred clansmen Rion was leading.
「…I’m sure I told you it would be better if you waited outside the capital.」
The very first words Rion greeted Sol with, as the Knight lined next to him, were words of complaint.
「I would find it troublesome if you decided to leave through a different gate.」
「Oh, I see, I could’ve done that.」
Rion ignored Sol’s sarcasm and actually managed to irritate the man with his reply. But the Knight did not come here to engage in such wordplay.
「…So it was true?」
「I have been told that you were a valet in the past.」
「Ah, so it’s about that. What of it?」
「I have been also told that you have stormed the execution site alone to save your lord.」
「…Again, what of it?」
Rion’s facial expression sharpened. The fact that he had failed to prevent Vincent’s death was a scar on his heart and he did not want others to chatter about it lightly.
「Why did you go that far?」
「…I have no obligation to answer that question.」
「Then, I’ll change it. How does it feel to devote your loyalty to other people?」
「Is that a question a Royal Guardsman should be asking? Aren’t you supposed to serve the royal family with all your being?」
The Royal Guard reserved their loyalty for the royal family alone, not for the country. To be precise, they were entirely loyal to those members of the royal clan they happened to serve. So, despite being labeled as a single group, they loyalties actually divided and lay with different people. Or at least that was how it was supposed to be in theory. In practice, few of them would be willing to oppose the King in favor of their personal charge.
「…I do not have a person to serve.」
「It is not like such a person does not exist. I just do not know where she happens to be right now.」
「…That doesn’t make any sense. What are you talking about?」
「There are those in the ranks of the Guard that are assigned to a charge from the moment that charge is born. Actually, that is not really correct. There are those who are picked as children to serve their future lord from the moment of his or her birth, always together as they grow up.」
It was the first time that Rion heard of a Royal Guard like that. However, even this did not make it clear what Sol was trying to say.
「…And you are one of those?」
「That I am.」
「Are you trying to brag about being a “chosen one”?」
「Ridiculous. I was supposed to serve the Princess, the Crown Prince’s younger sister.」
No “sister” ever existed, of course, but Sol trusted the news propagated after the child’s disappearance and did not know the truth.
「…That missing princess?」
「Yes, that one.」
「Wasn’t she found already?」
「What!? Is that true!?」
Rion’s words caused a striking change on Sol’s face. After all, that would be news about the lord the Knight was searching for all that time he was somehow not aware of.
「Isn’t it that woman? That otherworldly hero with black hair and blue eyes?」
Rion again, childishly, refused to speak Maria’s name. He did not want to offer even a hint of suggestion he was closer to her than before.
His question referred to the misleading information circling around her person during the Academy days.
「…That woman is of no royal blood.」
「Eh? Is that so? I’m sure I hear otherwise when I was still in the Academy.」
「The Queen herself denied those rumors.」
「Oh really. My lord, Vincent, was charged with disrespecting the royal family by disrespecting her. And she proves to be no royal, after all? The Queen should just have said that from the start.」
.Rion couldn’t help voicing his irritation even though he had long known those charges were bogus.
「…Aren’t your words right now actual disrespect, though?」
「File a complaint. I care not.」
「That is pointless. I have no proof, you would just claim innocence and that would be end of the matter.」
「Don’t worry. I have not a shred of loyalty to the Crown and I don’t intend to hide the fact.」
「The only person I am loyal to is Lord Vincent, nobody else. That always has and will continue to be the truth.」
In the end, they returned to Sol’s first question. The subject, Rion’s ongoing loyalty to an already dead master, was complex, though. It was, nevertheless, something that the Knight, who had also lost the person he was supposed to serve, was really keen to hear.
「There’s just nobody else, I guess. Ariel would be an option if she wasn’t my wife already.」
「…You have received land and a title from the King. Do you not owe him loyalty?」
「I didn’t really want what I got and I’m scrupulously discharging my duties as the lord of the land I was given. Is that really enough to demand loyalty from me?」
「…I don’t understand. You should be loyal to the kingdom you serve.」
「Should I? Is a sense of obligation really enough to give birth to loyalty? I’m sure that was not what prompted me to become dedicated to Lord Vincent. I remained as his valet only because he made me want to do something for him as a person.」
「…Is that so.」
Rion was saying that loyalty born out of a sense of obligation was no true loyalty at all. It was not something that Sol found hard to disagree with. It also, however, made him struggle to make sense of his feelings towards the missing princess.
「How should I say this… In your place, I would have to meet the person first. Without that, it’s not possible to know whether she’s worth serving or not.」
He spoke to console the visibly downhearted Sol but his words offered no respite.
「You make it sound so simple. Do you know just how many years have I been trying to do exactly that?」
「How many? How should I know?」
「And that is exactly why you should not say such words lightly.」
「I find that less of an offense than gossiping about someone else’s loyalty」
「But frankly, it’s not like I can make sense of my feelings either. What I feel to my lord is more than devotion. There’s friendship maybe… It just feels like something entirely different.」
「No idea. All I know that Lord Vincent and Ariel alone did earn my trust in this world.」
Sol would probably not understand no matter how much he asked. The siblings were the first people the ever-scorned Rion decided to trust, the only people to ever offer him their goodwill.
But even so, not being able to understand could not keep the Knight from asking more.
「How can you still be normal despite losing that kind of person? Was it thanks to your wife?」
「…I think calling me normal is arguable but if you see me as such, that is probably because I finally figure out what should I do.」
「And what is that?」
「I will gain fame.」
「The most recognition out of anyone fighting the demon threat. I will make my name be heard everywhere in the kingdom.」
「…You desire success?」
Sol was confused. This didn’t at all fit to what they were discussing until now.
「Not at all. When my name spreads, so will the name of Lord Vincent. I will make it known to all denizens of this land that Vincent Woodville was the only person Baron Rion Frey had ever pledged his allegiance to. And I will make them understand how big of a mistake must have been to execute that person.」
If he was being forcefully dragged back onto the main stage, he would make use of the exposure. This was Rion’s decision. He had resolved himself to no longer avoid the game’s constraints but to exploit them for his own purpose instead and break the system.
Sol did not know what hid in Rion’s heart.
He did, however, know that Rion’s plan of elevating Vincent’s name in this manner would draw heavy scorn on the Crown that executed him on flimsy charges. He knew that as a Royal Guard he should be trying to stop the boy.
But Rion’s words touched the Knight’s heart. The young baron still dutifully working for the sake of his lost lord represented the ideal Sol was aspiring to be.
「I won’t order, or expect, you to help me. But do not get in my way, I have no room to tolerate such things.」
The deeper meaning behind those words remained a mystery to the Knight. Rion said nothing more and merely hastened his horse signaling the end of their conversation.
Even if Sol had the chance to ask another question, he would probably get no answer. Having no room to tolerate obstructions usually meant that all people interfering would be removed and it wasn’t something to say to a potential target.
Helpless, the Knight could only urge his horse onwards. And at this point, he actually noticed his surroundings. The execution grounds were located quite a distance away from the outer walls. Any army crossing those streets, even if it numbered less than a thousand, was bound to attract attention. Moreover, the Clans of Bandeaux were wearing their customary colorful armor making them a rare sight for the citizens barely used to the sight of the normal knights.
And then there were the people at the head of the march, Ariel and Rion, riding next to each other, looking like a couple out of a painting, that couldn’t help finding themselves in the center of attention even if they tried.
Rion wanted to make a person’s name known throughout the country. Sol suddenly understood that this plan was already being implemented but that was the only facet of it that he was aware of so far. Rion’s schemes were more complex than this.
Several days after that day it would be widely known that the colorful army that marched through the capital was from the territory called Bandeaux. Everyone would learn they were lead by the person they had known as the Valet Rion. And the minstrels would sing about the miraculous love story that brought him and Ariel together after the death of his lord and her brother, Vincent Woodville.
Incidentally, Rion would later scold the slum operatives behind the operation for setting him up as the hero of those stories.
Arnold and his army awaited by the northern gate. His presence was troublesome to Rion but, because it had been decided above his head, he resigned himself to bear with it. And there was one unexpected addition to an otherwise ordinary military marching column.
Charlotte herself joined them. This was a big surprise for Rion, he expected her to travel in Maria’s group with the main force.
He had not spared much thought to her previously but now, when the customary conversation with her involvement started, it had quickly developed into a rather complicated affair.
She, knowingly or not, had suddenly become an intermediary of sorts between Arnold and Rion.
「Where did the soldiers from Rion’s retinue go?」
Rion, right after leaving the capital, had split the clans into separate independent elements. That was what Charlotte was asking about.
「They’re heading towards our destination at a distance as separate units.」
「…Could you tell me why are you doing such a thing?」
Hearing Rion’s answer Arnold muttered a follow-up question.
「Why is Rion having them do that?」
「Marching drills? Hmm, not possible, that would be done within the commander’s vision.」
Arnold muttered again.
「What kind of training is Rion having them do?」
「…Our objective is to crush the separate demon packs before they manage to merge into a big horde. Miss Charlotte is aware of this, right?」
「I am, even someone like me would know that.」
「The demons will be coming along different routes from the areas next to the border of the kingdom. My plan was to split the troops in order to defeat them in one go.」
「Hmm, splitting forces… There is a non-insignificant chance it will feed the army to the enemy piecemeal. That does not sound like such a good idea…」
And yet another, doubtful, thought muttered by the prince.
But this time his words were too complicated for Charlotte to translate.
「Ah fine already. Incidentally, did Miss Charlotte plan to march with us with this particular aim in mind from the very beginning?」
「Not at all. I was, however, thinking that the current situation is just rather sad.」
「…Haa, women are really like “that”, aren’t they?」
And by “that” he meant, but did not say, paying attention to Arnold’s needs and giving everything to the man she loved.
「Rion is wrong!!」
Her loud reply bewildered Rion. Seeing his behavior, Charlotte realized her own blunder.
「I-It’s just… I was just trying to get my two friends to get along better. That is all.」
「…So I am actually friends with Miss Charlotte?」
「You are. I am fairly convinced of that.」
「Ah, is that so…」
It was hard to offer denial to something declared this bluntly. Rion ended up accepting himself as her friend, albeit with mixed feelings.
「So? What is Rion’s answer to Prince Arnold’s doubt?」
「…I agree keeping forces concentrated would be preferable. But by staying as one force we will not be able to execute a successful defense in the face of simultaneous attack by a dispersed enemy. And what I mean by that is preventing even a single village from being attacked.」
For the first time in this conversation, Rion looked straight at Arnold while answering. He was getting tired of having Charlotte relay messages between them.
「Is that… Even possible?」
Rion outlined his best case scenario. Arnold found it implausible.
「I do not know. Which is why the drills.」
「I do not understand the method or purpose.」
「Coordination and communication… We’re training to move efficiently as a dispersed force.」
「…That explains nothing.」
「I’m drilling them to regularly and frequently dispatch messengers with the latest situation of their group. I’m learning to estimate how long will it take them to get from their current location to our goal and which group needs to be moved next. I’m learning when and how to merge or disperse them again. Those are the kinds of things we practice」
「…Can you really do that?」
「Again, I do not know. It’s hard to tell if something is possible if you do not try. Which is why we drill, to try.」
「Is that so…」
With this Arnold understood the concept but found himself unable to visualize how would it work in practice. To have armies move by use of messengers? He could not believe Rion was just trying such a thing like it was the most natural idea in the world. And he also nearly immediately got an answer whether it was a good approach.
「Red – about to reach destination.」
「You’re late. Tell them to send messengers earlier. The current timing makes them stop the march while they await your return. It’s a waste of time.」
「Orders are to proceed to the south-eastern village as per plan. The distance to the main force will grow, they are to mind their calculations.」
Having received Rion’s orders, the messenger immediately set out to return. And as more of his peers showed up the scene was hard to believe.
「Blue; awaiting instructions.」
「Before you get orders – their current location?」
「To the west, forming a triangle with the main force and the destination.」
「Good, as expected. Orders are to join up with the main force at the destination. They are to be careful of misidentifying the designated spot.」
Orders were given to the messenger, the messenger would leave the main force. The same pattern repeated with the blue and green detachments.
There was no respite. Messengers arrived one after another, so frequently that it became hard to track how often they showed up. Moreover, sometimes Rion would give seemingly conflicting orders to two successive messengers from the same troop.
「…Will this not give birth to confusion at your separated squads?」
Arnold worried that frequently changing orders would introduce disarray to the entire operation disabling an entire element of their force.
「They will only get confused if they try to think too much. All I need them to do is to diligently follow the most recent order, even if it conflicts with everything they received so far.」
「…That may be true but.」
「There are two hard aspects in this scheme. One is having the messengers return to their squads promptly and without fail. That requires those squads to be careful to move at a fixed pace. The other is dealing with information those messengers bring here so that you can give them the next set of orders.」
「And if that is achieved?」
「In theory, our separate elements would move about efficiently lowering the chance that a demon pack slips through our net. The training will tell whether this idea is feasible or not.」
In other words, the person trained was Rion and he was practicing issuing correct orders according to the information he received from his detached squads. What struck Arnold was that Rion was doing this, continuously, on the horseback, and without even sparing a glance to the map. He was able to picture the whole situation in his mind.
The Prince suddenly thought that if Rion was able to do all that without mistakes, achieving smooth maneuvers by his detachments as a result, then his idea of learning all kind of things just from being at his side might have been outrageously foolish.