The war between the Kingdom of Gran Flamm and the Kingdom of Merica concluded with the former’s victory, since Merica not only failed to achieve its objectives but also suffered huge losses in the process.
The headquarters of the commander in charge, Princess Olivia, fell which resulted in a total collapse of the chain of command. The Merican Army was unable to recover from the subsequent confusion in the time required to receive the attack of the Gran Flamm Army composed of the so-far-idle part of the interception group and the demon subjugation forces.
In the campaign that pitched a disorganized Merican Army without a master plan against a well-led, cohesive Gran Flamm Army, the former was left with no choice but to retreat. The resulting pursuit accomplished exactly what the King wished for – it caused enormous damage to the enemy.
If only the other half of the army had not been lost, the results would have been perfect. The situation of those troops was yet to be confirmed.
「…Why have you not found them yet?」
The King was highly dissatisfied by the Intelligence Bureau’s reports on that matter.
「The search is ongoing, Majesty. However, considering that most of the enemy forces left our territory at this point yet they are still missing…」
The campaign in the southeast had pretty much reached its conclusion already. Despite that, the fate of the troops that had gone to outflank the Merican Army remained a mystery. Based on that, the Bureau came to a conclusion that those units were completely crushed by the Merican forces.
「If what you say is correct, explain the lack of bodies?」
「They might have been taken captive, Sire.」
「An army of ten thousand? All of them captive?」
That kind of thing was hard to believe. Merica would have sent a communique about that. They suffered huge losses and feared a counter-invasion. Ten thousand war prisoners would make a perfect bargaining chip to prevent that.
「Just what is the Intelligence Bureau doing!?」
The war was won, yet the situation played out in a way that made the King’s mood hit rock bottom. He was grieving over the fact that he had lost Rion because of a petty border conflict. Both as the monarch and as a father.
But the worst thing of all was that he had no words of consolation to offer to the Queen who was going mad due to grief. She had finally met the child she had thought lost forever to her and it brought her great joy. And now, facing the fact she had most likely lost her son again made her heart bleed.
「…We are exhausting all of our resources, my King, but our loses in this war were also severe.」
Many of the Bureau’s members that acted as the information network for Rion’s plan were still missing in action.
「Then why are you here?」
「If you lack people, go out into the field too! And speaking of that, how come you are here safe when the others are not?」
The King was speaking to James who should have been at Rion’s side. The fact that he was safe in the capital while Rion was not was quite puzzling.
「This has been explained already, Sire. The stream of messages between us and the field units stopped abruptly. I lead a team of operatives out to investigate and, while we were away, Merica…」
–attacked Rion’s command post. James, having dodged that bullet by pure luck, decided not to get tangled in the mess and return to the capital to bring news.
He had explained that to the King many times already, the monarch was just venting.
「…Attack Merica right now. Hurry, prepare the army.」
The King looked at the Marshall of the Crown while saying this.
「Did you not hear Us!? Gather an army and destroy Merica immediately!」
「That is not possible, sire.」
Only one person could respond in this way while facing the full wrath of the King, Knight Commander Frederick.
「…This is a royal order. Make it happen.」
Facing his most loyal retainer, the King reined in his fury a little. But he did not change his mind.
「Even so, it is a vassal’s duty to point out the impossible.」
「Why is it impossible? We have read the reports, a considerable number of enemies perished,.」
「And we too are missing ten thousand soldiers. Not to forget that the devil threat is not over yet. We have no leeway for aggressive wars, Sire.」
If Gran Flamm had the capability to successfully invade while also subjugating the demons, Merica would never have dared to attack in the first place. The war had been won, but it did not result in an overwhelming difference in power.
「…Are We just to swallow the offense of this invasion?」
「Oh no, Sire, they will be made to pay. But by diplomats, not soldiers.」
「Then how can We have Our revenge?」
「A war of revenge will not end until the enemy is utterly exterminated.」
「This is not what We are talking about!」
The king wanted to exact revenge for Rion and Frederick understood that perfectly. He was just pretending not to. He didn’t actually think that Rion was dead.
「What is more, My King, if we are really going to fight them again, should we not set our own house in order first?」
「Our own house?」
「The missing army of ten thousand… Suppose they made it out alive, where do you think they can be, Majesty?」
When he had ordered the search, the King had assumed that all of them perished. However, now the Knight Commander was raising an opposite option.
「While it is understandable if they were truly dead, does Majesty not find the idea itself, of looking for an army that size, odd?」
「Where do you think they are?」
「If we cannot find them in our own lands, then there is only one possibility left, although that place is equally vast.」
「…Are you trying to suggest they are in Merica?」
「That may be so, Sire.」
「….What have you uncovered?」
The Knight Commander wasn’t a man to make an unfounded claim like this and the King knew this facet of Frederick’s personality very well.
「The Bandeaux Army is absent from the fief and Viscountess herself has left quite a while ago. All this was reported by the messenger I have dispatched to bring them the news.」
This was not enough information for the King to get a clear picture. The connection between the Bandeaux Clans mobilizing and the likelihood of his missing army being inside the borders of Merica also eluded him.
「Said Bandeaux Army cannot be found within the borders of our kingdom, Majesty. Neither are there any traces that they have entered other fiefs. Makes you wonder, just where have they sneaked off to?」
「…Out with it already, man. That love of teasing you have is a really bad habit.」
This betrayed that the King had roughly figured out the situation and his feelings were already back in order.
「If Majesty gave it one more moment of thought, I am certain it would be obvious. There is only one way to disappear from one fief without entering any of the others, and that is to cross the national border. Which raises a question, why would they do that?」
「Frederick, really, enough riddles.」
「…Good grief. Very well, Sire, but do keep in mind I have no evidence for my conjectures.」
「Yes, yes. Duly noted.」
「It should be obvious that the Army of Bandeaux will not move out without an order of its lord, Viscount Frey. Therefore the only reason why they crossed borders must be that they were ordered to do so. And if that indeed happened, then all this had been predicted by our missing Head of Information Control.」
Those words raised an uproar in the room. Most of the people present were simply surprised, but a few of the faces present turned pale instead. Frederick made a mental note of that reaction.
「Why do you think so?」
「Few reasons Majesty. First is that his wife did not accompany him in battle. It is common knowledge that trivial things like extreme danger never stopped her in the past.」
So far the Frey couple had fought together at every occasion and had even stood shoulder to shoulder on the front line. Even though Rion’s mission this time was special, the Knight Commander did not expect that to be any obstacle. He had been convinced for a while now that they were the kind of a couple that did not fear death and would accept it when it came.
「So his intention was to have her lead those troops from the very beginning.」
「That I cannot tell for sure, but it would not be the first time she leaves for war alongside them.」
「…Was the leadership of Bandeaux Clans not involved in the subjugation all this time? What use can a small reserve force be for him?」
「The nature of the troops left behind in the fief is unclear, Majesty. They are known to call themselves Viscount Frey’s personal guard.」
「Rion’s personal guard, huh?」
Hearing they were supposedly serving under Rion, the King no longer expected those soldiers to be ordinary.
「Again, their war potential is unclear. And even more uncertainty creeps in when one considers the route they had to take. Does Majesty remember which countries border Bandeaux?」
「Kingdoms of Orcus and Hashu are cooperating with them? Surely not.」
Such a situation would be rather problematic. It was not possible for a state to turn a blind eye when its puppet kingdoms deployed their armies of their own initiative. Even if it was done against a common enemy.
「As I mentioned at the beginning Sire, this is all speculations. Nevertheless, I am sure that Viscountess would even move the Kingdom of Merica itself for the sake of her husband.」
In the end, the Knight Commander played down his theory and finished with a quip, all to not inflame the delicate situation about the actions of the Orcus and Hashu kingdoms.
「They do get along so very well after all.」
The King played along understanding the sentiment.
「I will dispatch my subordinates to Merica immediately.」
James joined the conversation at this point expecting evidence to be required to confirm the Knight Commander’s theory.
「Admirable, but sadly too late. If Viscount Frey did lead his army into the enemy’s territory it wouldn’t be to invade, but to escape.」
「Does that not make verifying the situation and sending reinforcements all the more pressing?」
「Any reinforcements we would dispatch now would not make it in time either. That man is not the type to get tied down in pointless battles. Whatever he does there, he is much more likely than not to be at the border of Orcus already. If you want to act, do it when he contacts us.」
「…I understand, Commander Frederick.」
James agreed, albeit grudgingly. He could not dispute the Knight Commander’s arguments.
「Given the situation all that is left to Us is to hope that matters are as sir Frederick hypothesised. Any kind of diplomatic intervention is plainly impossible. Let us move on. We would like to hear the Prime Minister speak about the plans to rejuvenate the areas affected by the war.」
「Yes, My King. When it comes to that matter…」
The King’s mood was very calm now compared to how it had been before. He believed Frederick’s assumptions to be correct, and he was not mistaken in this. Rion was at this point indeed fighting on the Merican soil.
However, the Knight Commander hadn’t said everything he had learned because the situation, and present company, did not allow for full disclosure. The King couldn’t know his mood would take a sharp turn for the worse soon.
When Rion had attacked the Merican Army headquarters, he had not faced a numerous opposition. Only enemies present were the escorts of their commander-in-chief, Princess Olivia.
This had been undeniably unlucky for Merica. As a result, they had ended up driven out of that fortress and chased all the way back into their territory by the nine thousand soldiers under Rion.
That state of things couldn’t last of course.
After all, the quarry had now been running through a friendly territory and once the nearby garrisons and retinues had learned of the situation, reinforcements and relief had begun to trickle in from all around. Eventually, the pursued had grown strong enough to turn on, and overwhelm, the pursuers.
The roles had reversed. Now it was the Gran Flamm army’s turn to start running hopelessly. But, even at this point, nothing would go according to Merica’s wish.
「Keep attacking! Do not allow them to escape this time!」
The voice of the Merican Princess rang in the air. Her enemies were retreating, true, but in an organized manner and at a reasonable pace.
And, while on the back foot, they counterattacked viciously whenever they spotted an opening. Those openings were not rare occurrences either, the Merican forces were a mixture of various units and formations. Their cooperation was impressive, but there was a noticeable lack of coherence.
「Magic corps! Attack the enemy vanguard!」
Following Olivia’s orders, the magicians of her army started their arias. And as before, they were assaulted by hostile magic at this exact moment.
The enemy’s spells were not many, but they struck just as her own mages were defenseless while chanting and they reaped a heavy toll.
「…This again. Just what is happening!?」
This kind of scene had played itself out a number of times now. Every time Merican magic users stepped forward to attack, they were checked by the enemy like this. The Princess clearly felt she was slowly losing the upper hand despite the overwhelming advantage in numbers. Her own magic potential was being worn out while the enemy’s remained unchanged.
She watched as those of her mages that managed to finish their spells unaffected launched their magic successfully. She again witnessed most of those spells being shot down by counter-magic and the rest deflected harmlessly.
A magical assault was never certain to inflict damage. Depending on the type of the spell, even an intermediate level of magic could be deflected by a well-positioned shield of a trained knight. Advanced class spells would be much more certain to do damage, but the mana requirements of those were insane and not many mages were capable of using them. They could only be feasibly used when the circumstances presented a vulnerable, trapped enemy.
It was a truism that stronger spells would win duels, but wars were not affairs of individuals.
「Bring down the vanguards in one go! Now!」
Nevertheless, the Princess chose to use such magic. She could not afford to let the Gran Flamm army escape from here. All the battles in this campaign had turned out to be a huge personal humiliation. She had never experienced such a thing. She had never had to turn her back to an enemy and flee.
Earlier on, she could reason those defeats away with her numerical disadvantage. But now that excuse was gone and the situation showed no signs of improving. True, she might no longer be the one fleeing but seeing her army be chased off the field whenever it displayed an opening gave her fits from anger.
「…Have a taste of my vengeance! Aqua Storm!」
She successfully chanted an aria and conjured a huge water tornado out of thin air. The water vortex swayed and shook as it advanced on the Gran Flamm formation. She could already imagine it crushing their lines and flinging numerous enemies high in the air, but it never made it there. A single man stepped out of the ranks, made a crushing gesture with his hand and her spell unraveled, collapsing on itself harmlessly.
「…What… kind of person? Just what on earth is that guy!?」
She would begrudgingly admit that it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that her army experienced such a rough war because of this man. He was in charge of the enemy forces and he commanded an astonishing type of magic capable of crushing anything magical Merica had to offer.
「Rion Frey. I have heard the rumors, but this is beyond my expectations. He really is splendid.」
Yuri Stewart, the royal guard of princess Olivia gave his honest impression.
「…Did the rumors describe someone strong enough to warrant the name of a demon or something?」
The guardsman’s behavior calmed down the feelings of the Princess. It was made obvious by the change in how she spoke and it was something Yuri had aimed for.
「I couldn’t possibly tell, My Lady. There was certainly no exaggeration when people were gossiping that a hero was born on the Gran Flamm soil.」
The rumors regarding Rion had even reached the Merica Kingdom. They had been guaranteed to do so, in fact. A country like Merica would not slack off on the information gathering and their excellent intelligence network had been one of the reasons they had thought they could win the war at this moment in time.
And they would have been right if not for the fact Rion, on whose ability they had had no good read, had been in charge of the defense effort.
「He will truly turn into one if we let him escape. We cannot possibly allow such a thing to happen.」
「Yes, Lady, I am aware of that. However, you must not become flustered. Make taking him down here for sure a priority above all else.」
「You are right, of course. And while I do not want to use our trump card…」
「It will remain hidden if he dies. Let us dispatch a messenger. If we are able to secure the rear of the planned location, he will no longer have a way out. Not just Rion Frey, we will be able to defeat all the invasion force.」
「Agreed. Let’s wish for that to happen.」
Thus, Merica decided to use the ace in its sleeve that it had kept hidden until now. But, at that time, they still did not know it would soon lose all value. After all, they were not the only one with hidden trump cards.