“The Conclusion Of The War Is A Start Of Another Battle.”
Ultimately, Rion’s forces retreated to a place located a short distance from the border between the Kingdom of Merica and the Kingdom of Orcus. The only thing separating them from salvation and successful escape was a hilly area of no-man’s-land.
However, the Gran Flamm army stopped at the border of the region and started to reform ranks instead of pressing on. There were no signs of yet another counterattack, just one, purely defensive, square.
「…Have we been found out?」
Princess Olivia sounded worried seeing that behavior. There was no other reason for them to stop here and do that.
「It matters little, Lady. We are here, all that remains is to shut the trap around them.」
「True, I guess.」
Olivia’s plan was to seal the escape routes of the Gran Flamm’s forces in this hilly region, encircle them, and exterminate with a pincer attack. All preparations for this had been completed.
「Let us proceed, then. Vanguard, advance! Crush the Gran Flamm Army!」
Triggered by the voice of the Princess, the vanguard troops of Merican Army started advancing all at once. They alone matched the whole remaining Gran Flamm Army.
And so, yet another battle in this pursuit commenced. By now, the Mericans had lost count of how many of those had been fought.
And the results of this one thus far were also familiar, the formations of the Gran Flamm troops remained stubbornly solid and unbroken.
Seeing the deadlock, Olivia made another move.
「…Have the main forces advance.」
「Will that not delay the encirclement, My Lady?」
The original strategy called for the main forces to set up an encircling net along the right and left sides of the battle while the vanguard kept the enemy pinned in place. Having them proactively attack the enemy so early was a marked departure from the original arrangements.
「The Gran Flamm army must be pushed into the hills before we think of that. The rearguard will take over from the main forces and set up the encirclement. The situation calls for the whole army to be sent into the battle.」
The headquarters were attached to the rearguard and this was where Olivia and Yuri were stationed. The Princess’ guardian felt somewhat hesitant about committing all the forces like that, but he decided to believe in Olivia, the War Goddess.
Sending the main force into combat more than doubled the number of Merican soldiers fighting. Rion’s forces, unable to handle this much pressure slowly started to fall back.
「Bring us closer to the frontline.」
As she saw the plan of pushing the Gran Flamm Army where she wanted them become reality, Olivia decided to speed up the encirclement and advance with the rearguard now.
The signal to fully commit would be the sight of the friendly troops appearing from behind her enemies to conduct a surprise attack. Her order was to begin the preparations for that.
「Already?! Why are they here so fast?!」
A war banner unfurled on the hill behind the retreating Gran Flamm Army. The banner was black with a sparrow over a new moon and it belonged to the Kingdom of Orcus. Olivia’s army, however, was yet to push Rion’s troops into a location suitable for a full encirclement or even advance close enough to make that possible as the plan demanded.
「Hurry up! Block the left flank of the Gran Flamm Army! And send messengers to the main force, they are to seal the right flank of the enemy!」
The new arrivals prompted Olivia into huge readjustments of her formation in order to set up the encirclement in time. Perhaps due to having noticed this development, the Gran Flamm army also started to shuffle around busily. And while that was going on, the Orcus army started its attack too.
「Unbelievable! They were just supposed to seal the Gran Flamm’s rear! How can they be making their betrayal so obvious!」
Olivia couldn’t hide her frustration that the newly arrived army didn’t move as planned. The Grand Flamm Army might get shaken by the betrayal of their ally, but now the area behind her enemy was full of openings that could allow them to escape. The meticulously planned encirclement net suddenly gained a hole.
「Make haste! We must at least try to reseal the openings behind them!」
The original plan had assumed that the war would finally be settled in this place. However, Olivia had now hastily given up on that and placed precedence on sealing Rion’s escape route. As long as her enemies were kept within Merican land, there would be other opportunities to destroy them.
The rearguard under Princess Olivia that was leading the fight on the left flank now disengaged and started to circle the battlefield heading towards the enemy rear. That caused the column of troops to show flank to the Gran Flamm army.
A flank that was suddenly attacked by two spells in the shape of a bird.
Olivia had a clear understanding of what was coming. A fire and a wind magic. Her surprise was caused by the sheer size of the effect and the fact she had never seen this exact spell before.
「Deploy a defensive magic! Hurry!」
Nevertheless, she recovered from her surprise quickly and instructed her subordinates to defend the formation. She also added her own magic to those efforts.
Numerous magical barriers unfurled mid-air. One of them was much larger than the others, that particular one belonged to the princess.
However, Merican attempts to counter the attack proved futile. The Gran Flamm spells simply avoided the barriers, as if alive, and found its mark.
The two birds flew to a space right above Olivia’s column, merged into one, and exploded.
The blast tore a huge gap in the rank of the soldiers flinging corpses high into the air.
「….What on earth just happened?」
Olivia was dumbfounded by the unbelievable development. She had never heard of magic capable of moving and acting freely as if self-aware.
This was in part because, so far, Rion had fought while hiding the true capability of his magic. But, here and now, he was finally ready to be done with the war and settle the scores. He no longer felt the need to hide his cards.
His army suddenly reformed its ranks, shedding all pretense of confusion and disorder, and he himself emerged from its ranks at the head of a cavalry unit.
His strategy was not really that different from the one he had used at Harcourt — throw enemy ranks into disarray with a large-scale magic attack, exploit the opening with a cavalry charge, and eliminate the leadership.
The only different element was the treasured personal guard that until now he had carefully protected and kept hidden at his side.
「…What are those?」
Olivia was referring to that exact cavalry unit of a personal guard that now appeared out of her enemy’s ranks. She wasn’t even sure if it was correct to call that formation cavalry. The Gran Flamm honor guard rode atop creatures that might have resembled a normal horse but sported a horn on their foreheads.
She didn’t know of Nightmare, so she couldn’t know these creatures were of the same species, gathered and tamed for the use of the newly formed Beast Mounted Honor Guard Unit of Viscount Frey.
「…Those are… Demonic beasts… Possibly?」
Even Yuri couldn’t tell for sure. For all of his career as a Royal Guard, he had never had a chance to subjugate a demonic beast. In fact, he had never actually seen one in person.
But he could tell that the incoming mounted formation advanced on them at an astonishing speed.
「Reform the ranks! Prepare to intercept the enemy cavalry!」
Flustered, Olivia began to order her army again. Those that heard her obeyed and arrayed in an orderly line in front of the beast riders. They stood no chance.
The infantry was annihilated in an instant, some simply pierced by the horns, some flung high and away. The human riders didn’t even have to lift a finger.
Merica still held an advantage in numbers and more soldiers of the rearguard arrived to throw themselves at the enemy in order to blunt the charge. To no avail. Those that aimed for Rion at the tip of the spearhead were blown away without even getting close.
Inadvertently, Olivia voiced her admiration. That was just how terrific to behold Rion’s way of fighting was with magic being constantly deployed around him and attacking anyone who tried to approach.
Yet as soon as Rion himself moved to attack, the magic around him transformed to defend him instead. Blades would be deflected, spells nullified… It was a complete method of fighting, one using both the sword and the sorcery. One without any flaws.
「My Lady, we need to flee.」
Yuri was certain that the youth and his beast riders would not be stopped.
「Are you really telling me to run?」
「Yes. I am telling you exactly that.」
There was no more time for subtleties and Yuri answered frankly. The fall of Olivia would spell the loss of the battle. And the ultimate cost to the kingdom would be even higher.
「That… Is no longer an option, it seems.」
Olivia saw that another massive spell had been unleashed on her formation. This time it was a huge tornado that filled the sky as it went on a rampage across her ranks causing chaos and destruction in its wake.
The beast riders made perfect use of this opening and closed in on the Princess in one decisive push.
「…Are you the Princess?」
Olivia stared at the pair of red and blue eyes in front of her.
「You must be Viscount Rion Frey.」
「Correct. But there’s no time for pleasantries, Princess, I’m taking you captive」
「I shall not allow this.」
Yuri cut in between Rion and Olivia with his sword drawn.
「Nobody asks you. Or the Princess for that matter. Nightmare, fly.」
Nightmare soared over Yuri’s head, Rion safely on her back, landing right behind Olivia’s horse. The Princess, paralyzed by surprise, was dragged from the saddle by Rion straight onto the ground.
And then Nightmare immediately rested one of her front legs on the girl’s back. It was an exemplary cooperation between the mount and its rider.
「Don’t even twitch, sir knight! Try anything and the girl gets trampled into mud.」
「Call me what you wish. But you will have your army retreat for me, won’t you?」
Yuri found himself hesitant to just agree. There was no guarantee that the Princess would be released even after Merican troops were called off.
「I see. Go ahead, Nightmare.」
Rion didn’t hesitate for a second. Nightmare never had any reason for hesitation in the first place. Olivia’s scream rose into the sky.
Yuri pleaded in a hurry.
「You heard my demands, they didn’t change. They withdraw, I stop. What happens to her is up to you.」
Yuri couldn’t allow his royal charge to die, regardless of how unreasonable would the demands that followed be. He had to assent.
So he instructed the hostilities to cease and started preparing the army to withdraw, all the while looking for an opening to save Olivia. To no avail. No chances presented themselves.
At times when Rion looked distracted, Nightmare was vigilant. When the beast looked off focus, the rider had no vulnerabilities. Yuri could do nothing.
Eventually, with a look of deep anguish on his face and teeth gritted so tight it was almost audible, Yuri issued the order to leave the field. Both to the rearguard and the main forces.
「Tie the Princess up.」
Seeing the Mericans pull back a considerable distance, at last, Rion gave an order to one of his subordinates.
Olivia immediately voiced dissent.
「 You dare complain?」
「I certainly do. I am a princess of royal blood. I may be your captive, but I *will* be treated with respect due to my rank.」
「Oh? Does such a custom exist?」
「Etiquette demands it. Sir.」
There indeed was a special privilege for captured royalty and nobility. But for them only. All other captives had no rights whatsoever and could be dealt with as one saw fit.
「…And you will not struggle?」
「I shall act as custom demands as long as proper treatment is extended to me.」
「…Should I trust you?」
「I do not lie! I am a princess of the Kingdom of Merica!」
「I have never met a human that doesn’t lie. But customs are customs, I guess. Do you require healing?」
「…If you would be so kind.」
Olivia looked flustered at finally being given the treatment she demanded. She hadn’t actually made those demands because she considered the privilege indispensable. She simply didn’t want to be tied up.
「Ari, I’ll leave that to you. Give her a full examination too.」
「Alright. I will handle this.」
Rion left the healing and the body examination in capable hands of Ariel who suddenly appeared at his side.
She started by removing the sword at Olivia’s waist. and, with the help of others, the Princess’ armor. Then she went about collecting the weapon hidden underneath the breastplate and making sure no further surprises were to be found among the captive’s clothes.
This was done while Olivia’s body was still sore, but the girl’s obstinate character made her keep mum.
Only when Ariel was sure no more concealed weapons would be found did she finally use the healing magic. Since the injuries in question were mostly bruises, not open wounds, they would not disappear, but the pain itself subsided noticeably.
After the treatment, Olivia was capable of standing up as if nothing happened to her.
「A horse will not be allowed unless Lady Olivia agrees to have the hands and feet bound. 」
「…I gave my word I shall not escape.」
「Unfortunately, experience left me with little trust in promises of the royalty.」
「Do you think of having me walk the entire way?」
「Of course not. A carriage will be prepared for you.」
「…May I ask, when?」
「That is a question for Prince Alexander, he is the one in charge of arrangements.」
Hearing the name Olivia turned around and saw a familiar face hiding in the crowd. She was already acquainted with the prince of Orcus.
「I see, so you are in charge of arranging transportation. I look forward to seeing the kind of carriage you shall procure, Alexander.」
「Y-Yes. O-Of course. I will prepare a splendid carriage that will live up to cousin Olivia’s expectation.」
「Splendid. Please do so. Do you not think it would be wonderful for your kingdom to meet my expectations in the same way?」
「We… There were circumstances…」
The Kingdom of Orcus should have invaded Gran Flamm at the same time Merica had launched its attack. Yet here they were, not only dishonoring that agreement but even switching sides once the war had started. Olivia considered this an unforgivable betrayal.
That betrayal, however, was forced by the Bandeaux Clans led by Ariel in cooperation with the armies of Hashu. Roughly at the moment when Merican troops crossed the Gran Flamm border for the first time, the joint Bandeaux-Hashu army marched into Orcus territory under the pretext of fulfilling the alliance obligations. Had Bandeaux forces trespassed unassisted, the Orcus Kingdom would try to fight them. But Hashu was a country of comparable power, and with the news of the interception in progress, the alliance with Merica was no longer tenable.
「Oh, you know each other? That’s good.」
Having witnessed this exchange, Rion called out to Alexander.
「Like you did not know that already…」
The Prince was not a fool. He had understood nearly as soon as Orcus was “visited” by its allies that Rion had been aware of the agreement with Merica and that the young viscount had exploited that knowledge for gain.
Having fallen for his schemes again, Alexander found himself in the worst kind of situation. One where he would be responsible for the imprisonment of Olivia. He now had no choice but obey any and all of Gran Flamm’s whims.
However, Rion, as usual, thought further ahead.
「Then, with that tiny detail no longer a problem, I will have you host the Princess in the Orcus Kingdom for the time being. After all, Bandeaux is completely unsuitable for that purpose.」
「…Can you repeat that, please?」
「I will be leaving the Princess in your care, please treat her well on my behalf.」
「Are you serious?」
「You two are apparently acquainted, this should make her more at ease. I will require her to visit Bandeaux at times, of course, but let’s think of that as sightseeing, alright?」
「…Is that so.」
Alexander was at a loss. His country had clearly committed treason against its supposed ally, Gran Flamm and yet they were entrusted with a very important prisoner just like that. Was Rion implying that it was fine for Olivia to flee? Was he that confident that Orcus could not afford another treachery? The Prince was inclined to believe in the former.
After all, a detailed investigation proved conclusively that Rion had little loyalty or regard for the Kingdom of Gran Flamm.
「What are you doing?!」
Rion’s allegiance might have been nonexistent, but Sol was present and very loyal. With the battle over, he separated from the troops and came over to join Rion.
「What are you on about?」
「The captured Merican Princess. Is it not obvious to hold her at the capital?」
「She was captured by me. She is mine.」
This rather ambiguous statement raised a blush on Olivia’s cheeks and a stern look in Ariel’s eyes.
「What are you even thinking!?」
Sol didn’t get any weird ideas, he just flared up in rage.
「We did have our retribution for the surprise attack on the command post. But only as far as Merica is concerned.」
Sol had by now gotten used to Rion’s occasionally confusing pattern of speech. He grasped that there was someone else apart from Merican army that was overdue some payback. He just didn’t see who could that be.
「Don’t tell me that you didn’t notice at all?」
Sol hadn’t noticed. It would be much stranger if he had…
「How do you suppose Merica found our command post?」
「By the movements of the messengers or something like that, I guess?」
Sending orders and gathering information to all the different units required a large number of messengers to come and go from the command post. It wouldn’t be odd for the enemies to pick up on that.
「That’s plausible, I admit. Still, how could they have known that taking out this one place would collapse our whole chain of command? After all, there was supposed to be a robust counterintelligence net deployed in the area.」
「One of the messengers must have been captured and interrogated.」
「Don’t you think we would have known? Also, don’t try suggesting that they mounted an attack before it was possible to learn about losing an agent. You know best how much time it takes to prepare that amount of troops.」
Rion’s headquarters had constantly monitored who went where and when. There had even been a system to report that a courier had reached his destination.
Anyone that went missing would be identified without a fail. Sure, it would take some time, but assembling a strike team the size that had hit the command post would have taken longer.
「…We lack evidence.」
All this left only a few possibilities remaining, one of those obvious. Which is why Sol raised the matter of proof.
「But we have an eyewitness. Lady Olivia, who gave information to your side, pray tell?」
「I-I do not know.」
Olivia replied to the sudden question reflexively. And that caused her to blunder. Admitting to not knowing the traitor’s identity confirmed said traitor’s existence. Which was exactly why Rion asked her out of the blue like this.
To be fair though, even if she denied the traitor’s existence, Rion would follow the clues and eventually find the truth. The end result would not differ.
「…What is your plan?」
Sol had accepted the traitor hypothesis. His question was a sign of agreement and also worry that Rion’s plan could bring great chaos to the kingdom.
「There’s nothing to do without knowing the identity. I have my suspects, but there might be a mastermind behind them.」
「So? I know you will not sit idle and do nothing.」
「Those I suspect are out of my reach, so I’ll have someone that can get to them do the work. This is why I need the Princess.」
「…Can you not do anything that could plunge the kingdom into–」
「You really understand nothing, don’t you?」
Rion interrupted Sol’s mid-sentence looking astounded.
「I have acknowledged the existence of the traitor.」
「That’s unimportant. You are one of those betrayed. And not just you. Everyone here, the whole army, almost died because of that treachery. Our villain is someone who doesn’t mind tens of thousands of people dying when it suits him. And you want to return to a city where such a person holds power?」
Sol understood he had erred again. He let himself be exploited so that Rion could indirectly address the army around them.
The seeds of distrust would undoubtedly spread like wildfire affecting every single soldier of the ninety-thousand-strong army of the Gran Flamm Kingdom.
「What I aim to do will purge the traitors from the capital. Do you have anything against this?」
Purging of traitors was an excuse frequently employed by rebels. However, that exact frequency showed its effectiveness. An effectiveness Rion just demonstrated. For now, a Frey Rebellion was just a vague threat on the horizon, but Sol was certain that were someone seriously try to impede Rion’s aims, the youth wouldn’t hesitate from making it a reality.
He feared that future so much, he decided against pushing the youth further right now.
「Fantastic. Let’s return to Bandeaux immediately. It would be a problem if Merica decided to try something funny while we are idling here. I don’t want to fight past this point.」
Many took these words as a message for them, which was intended. The side event had thus concluded. The battle was over.
But another conflict was brewing on the horizon.
「It would be good if Lady Olivia made sure not fall for him.」
Olivia was bewildered Ariel’s cryptic sentence.
「Do not fall in love with my husband. Can the Princess do that?」
「….He is considerably younger than me, is he not?」
Princess Olivia was already well over twenty and past the prime marriageable years. She was allowed to remain single due to her value as a military leader.
「Rion had already slept with women at the age of ten.」
「Those women were as old, if not older than Lady Olivia. Some of them were rather mature, in fact.Compared to those days, my husband is much older.」
Ariel’s words were quite a blow to the Princess. She was not just royalty, she was also unsullied.
「…In the end, Lady Olivia is just a child, a most dangerous kind of person.」
Ariel spoke that last sentence with Charlotte in her thoughts. When women chased Rion proactively, he might establish some sort of relationship with them, but he would never fall in love. But conversely, those innocent ones with an idealistic vision of love that desired only feelings were a danger. A very real danger as far as Ariel was concerned.
「…I am sure I shall be fine.」
「…I hope that is so.」
This, of course, was not the looming conflict mentioned earlier. This was just Ariel being jealous.