“Viscount Frey’s Rebellion.”
Olivia Clockford, the Second Princess of the Kingdom of Merica, had become a prisoner of war. But out of all the possible sources, the one that the Kingdom of Gran Flamm learned about this fact from was Olivia’s mother country itself. Specifically, those were one of the very first words Merican envoy uttered when he arrived to conduct post-war negotiations.
The person responsible for the process on the Gran Flamm side blundered heavily by showing his confusion at the unexpected situation. This betrayed that nobody in the capital had the tiniest clue about what had happened.
Princess Olivia, without a doubt, had been taken captive, but the opposing negotiators clearly knew nothing of this. It was Merican envoy’s turn to be briefly confused, but soon, based on this unexpected piece of news, he had suspended the talks and returned home giving “necessity of investigating further” as the excuse.
The negotiation process, that was supposed to start off with Merica at a huge disadvantage, stalled in its infancy. The Merican side wished to exploit the situation, but that required figuring out Olivia’s whereabouts — a problem that resolved itself quickly and effortlessly.
The treacherous Kingdom of Orcus, showing no sense of decency or honor, dispatched an envoy to their erstwhile allies. The Mericans initially expected selfish pleas for forgiveness and succor, but were instead offered information on the Princess’ location and a tantalizing prospect of her unconditional return.
All that was met with much skepticism at first, but all doubts were dispelled by Olivia’s handwritten letter. Merica knew what it needed to know, it began to act towards the Princess’ release.
Those developments filtered to Grann Flam with a bit of delay, but, once that happened, all eyes turned to Bandeaux.
「So Princess Olivia of Merica was captured? That’s quite a feat.」
Said Rion, the person who happened to achieve that feat.
「The magnitude of the achievement is of secondary importance. His Majesty was led to believe that her highness Olivia is being held at your residence, sir Viscount, and tasked me with verifying the veracity of that information.」
And this was said by the royal envoy. His objective was to find out the truth behind the information Gran Flamm obtained from Merica during the aborted negotiations.
「At my residence? Are you sure no sort of mistake has been made?」
「That is the news that reached the palace, sir Viscount. Moreover…..」
The envoy’s gaze wandered towards the warrior-maid standing at Ariel’s side. By a curious coincidence, the girl’s characteristics and what the envoy had been told of Olivia matched perfectly.
The Princess was described, among other features, as a tall woman with silver hair and blue eyes. She was supposed to be a beauty in her own right. And, well, that maid carried herself with an elegance not usually seen in common staff.
「Lord Frey, may I ask who that lady is?」
「Eh? Is there something wrong with that warrior-maid?」
This was a role unknown outside Bandeaux. The phrase itself was coined by Venus to describe the clan girls following Ariel into battle.
「Warrior-maids are women who take care of the needs and security of my wife.」
「I see. Who may that lady be, then?」
「A warrior-maid, obviously?」
「…Yes, we have established that already. May I enquire when did you take her into your employ?」
「Quite recently, actually. She displayed a rare talent for military matters, despite being of the fairer sex, and we hired her as an instructor for other warrior-maids.」
Which meant the girl also possessed the Princess’ gift for war.
「…Now I am curious, where did she come from?」
「Originally? Kingdom of Merica, I think?」
The country of origin was a match too.
「Isn’t that right? Miss Olivia?」
And even the name… Clearly, it was Olivia herself.
「Dear guest, is anything wrong?」
「Sir Viscount, how can you ask? Is that not her highness Olivia in person?」
「A princess seeking employment as a maid? Isn’t that just preposterous?」
「Have you not called her “Miss Olivia” just now?」
「Ah, you’re right, they do have the same name, don’t they? What a surprising coincidence.」
「I implore your lordship to not play the fool! Such coincidences never happen!」
Of course not. As the messenger had said, Rion was just playing the fool.
「Well, one certainly happened here. Would you please listen to my explanation and think about it carefully?」
Rion showed no sign of faltering in front of the envoy’s angry outburst and replied in a calm tone.
「Certainly, your lordship.」
「If this really was Princess Olivia, why would I even attempt such a ploy? If I were to try hiding the Princess, I would not address her with her name. In fact, I wouldn’t even bring her here. Be assured that if her highness Olivia were to fall into my hands, I would take her to the capital post-haste instead of making her play a maid.」
Rion’s explanation was perfectly reasonable, but the envoy couldn’t just accept it unchallenged.
「Moreover, I am fully satisfied by the marriage with Ariel, my dearest wife. The thought of taking a concubine never crossed my mind. Even if a beauty, like the Princess is rumored to be, were to fall into my hands, I would not be interested.」
「…Sir Viscount, I do not doubt that, but—」
「Heavens! What can I say to make you believe me?」
Rion looked like he started to tire of the conversation. The envoy had no answer, but with the situation as it was, he could neither conclusively confirm or deny Olivia’s presence in Camargue to his superiors.
「…I fear your lordship will have to make a journey to the capital to explain this in person.」
So he figured the best solution will be to push the problem on Rion. Once Viscount Frey made an explanation in person, even if it proved to be a lie, it would not be the envoy’s problem.
「I will have to refuse.」
However, Rion refused out of hand.
「May I ask why? Your lordship bears the responsibility of reporting important matters.」
「And I will do so in due time. I have just returned from the war. Having faced death at every turn, my body is weary and not ready for long journeys.」
「When can the palace expect Viscount Frey?」
「Hard to say. For a long while now I have been busy with a duty that rightfully wasn’t mine leaving my territory without proper supervision. There’s a lot of piled up, overdue matters I have to take care of first. Sorting that out will take some time, once I’m rested, of course.」
Rion managed to make his answer sound both condescending and bored of the trivia, while at the same time adding yet another reason why he couldn’t possibly go.
The envoy had no authority to accept any excuses, though.
「While sir Viscount’s arguments are sound, I am not the person they should be addressed to.」
And he admitted that honestly.
「Speaking of weariness, isn’t sir tired from his long journey too?」
Rion was confident he had said enough and, suddenly, changed the subject.
「Well, I will not deny….」
「Then, I insist sir gives some rest to your body and soul. And luckily, there are plenty of establishments in town that can be of assistance in this.」
Even as the envoy said that, his resolve was already shaken. He had heard the rumors about Camargue’s pleasure quarter and he was already planning a visit given a chance.
「Your companions are welcome to go too, of course. Hmm… Now that I think about it, reservations might be in order. Worry not, I will handle the details.」
「Is that so… Ah, however..」
「Oh, do not worry about the cost. The castle is unable to accommodate sir properly, so do treat this as substitute lodgings. I have no ulterior motives.」
「Oh, if that’s the case, I guess I will have to accept.」
Since there was no cost, and Rion stated publicly he expected no favors in return, the envoy stopped trying to resist.
「Well then, let’s have someone guide you. Can someone please arrange lodging for sir envoy’s party and guide them there?」
「At once, Lord.」
With this, the day’s negotiations came to a conclusion. But Rion didn’t plan to do away with the subject for just today, he wanted to suspend them entirely for the time being. In the meantime, the envoy would spend the days at the inn enjoying a specially prepared hospitality package. He would be unlikely to complain.
「…What are you trying to do?」
Olivia asked Rion once the Crown’s emissary withdrew. She had been told nothing, just been requested to stand there in a warrior-maid uniform.
「I’m buying time. The bargaining chips are not ready yet.」
「This is not what I ask about. Why did you give them a hint that I am actually Olivia?」
「Ah, that. I need to make them understand that you’re here. It would be bad if the messenger was stupid enough to start believing otherwise」
「…To what end?」
Being, for the first time, faced with how Rion tended to explain things, Olivia struggled. He wasn’t the kind to lay out his plans clearly without some prodding.
「I’m going to receive a firm invitation to the capital, I guess.」
「It will become one more issue to negotiate. Not that I actually plan on making demands.」
He had no intention of pushing for anyone to be killed or stripped of their status. The contents of the negotiations were certain to leak to his targets and cornered humans were both dangerous and unpredictable. Rion wanted the Kingdom to act of its own volition and not under duress.
「I understand… nothing. Do you really plan to continue opposing your country? You may be a very strong fighter, but you just do not have the numbers.」
「I have no desire to escalate this to an armed conflict. If that was my intention, I wouldn’t hand over the army I led.」
Nearly all of the soldiers and knights of the Kingdom that saw combat under Rion in Merica had returned to the capital already. Only those that really didn’t want to leave remained behind. Sol was one of them, but he had stayed to stop Rion if the youth were to go on a rampage.
「How do you plan to do it?」
「With your help, of course. I have a task for Princess Olivia now, shall we proceed to fitting the dress?」
Olivia still remembered what Ariel had said back then on the battlefield. She was now rather unreasonably wary of this boy that had slept with numerous women in the past.
「…Do not misunderstand, please. New dress is just to demonstrate that you’re being treated well. I can arrange for a set of armor if you’d rather have that.」
「Ah. In that case I’d rather have something like what you wear now.」
「A knight uniform? Is that something you usually wear?」
Rion always had, of course. Ever since the day he had been given the option when serving Vincent.
「The skirts do not agree with me」
「Very well, I’ll arrange to have one made. Some measurements will be required, please bear with that.」
「Certainly. But who will it be shown to」
「Are you really that confused? I expect an imminent arrival of your father’s envoy, he should be within the borders of the territory now, in fact. And, obviously, he will demand your immediate return.」
「…A demand you will reject.」
Allowing Olivia to return to Merica, would strip his stand against Gran Flamm of all its meaning. In the end, Olivia was no wiser about Rion’s plans than when she had started the conversation.
「Oh, I will agree, eventually. As long as necessary conditions are met.」
「What kind of conditions?」
「Is diplomacy something you’re usually involved in too?」
「…No, not really.」
「I’ll make an exception for you just this once. I want a rank in your kingdom, and a higher one than Viscount.」
「…Let me give you a piece of advice in gratitude. That can only happen if you survive.」
Rion could demand, and be promised, anything he wanted. But once Olivia was returned, there would be no reason to honor those obligations and he would likely die as soon as he tried to set foot on Merican soil.
「I thought so as well. I guess it’s necessary for me to remain as the lord of Bandeaux in addition to the demands I listed previously. 」
「…Are you serious?」
Becoming one of Merican nobles while remaining as the feudal lord of Bandeaux… That was tantamount to handing over the territory to Merica. If that were to happen, their sphere of influence would grow vastly and Rion would not only stop being a target, he would become indispensable. Nobody else would be able to protect those gains.
「Who knows what will happen? After all, I am yet to start the talks with either country.」
Olivia still couldn’t figure out what Rion wanted, but she was now adamant she wanted him in her country. She had realized his talents are not limited to war.
As a member of a royal clan, she valued him higher now than Bandeaux itself.
Some time later, as Rion had expected, Merica’s envoy had indeed entered Camargue. And Rion welcomed his party lavishly.
This was not because he was happy to see them, but to let Gran Flamm’s emissary know the competition was here. This raised more chaos and confusion at the royal court. Conducting independent diplomacy with an enemy nation carried pretty obvious implications.
Viscount Rion Frey, the hero of the Kingdom, had rebelled. And the whole country was shaken to the core.
Arnold entered the room slamming the door violently behind him. This alone was enough for Charlotte and the Clan Heads to figure out the result of his efforts.
The Prince unceremoniously grabbed a chair, sat down, and sighed. Deeply.
「The idea was rejected.」
「As we guessed it would, highness.」
It was obvious to Charlotte from the beginning. Trying to send the Clan Heads to negotiate with Rion was doomed to get nowhere, nobody would agree to let a potential enemy have his valuable subordinates back.
「Rion’s rebellion is assumed to be a fact, even though there is no supporting evidence.」
Rion had sent back the soldiers he had been leading. He was not mobilizing his territorial forces. He even accepted the King’s envoy who was apparently on the way back to the capital right now.
「But there is no evidence to prove he remains loyal either.」
「Which is exactly why I recommended dispatching people Rion trusts to ascertain his motives.」
「They remain his subordinates, highness. As expected, I should be the one to go. He may not trust me, but I do think he will talk to me.」
「Impossible. House Fatillas will never consent. Windhills are the only great family that does not support launching a punitive campaign in Bandeaux at the moment.」
「That is an impressive number of enemies for Rion to have.」
Rion didn’t fear his enemies. That was a strong point of his, but it could also be a weakness. Like now, when all those who had refrained from criticizing the King’s trust of Viscount Frey in the past suddenly started attacking Rion all at once.
「That is how impressively strong he has become. Many important people fear him now and they relish the chance to put him down. And many people of lesser status sympathize with him in turn. It is a classic confrontation of those with vested interests in status quo and those desiring change.」
「A confrontation in which Rion’s supporters lack power.」
「Ah, but they do not. And that is a problem.」
「…What is highness talking about?」
「There are officials pointing out that the rebellion can spill beyond the borders of Bandeaux and spread to the entire country. Even in the capital, it is possible to find common citizenry ready and willing to side with Rion and criticize the Kingdom.」
The general public was a very sentimental beast. In the past, it had been made aware of Rion’s and Ariel’s leading roles in the tragedy of the couple’s own life. It had watched, through rumor, gossip, and bard’s song as those two had found a semblance of happiness. It was sympathetic. And now it thought it was seeing the Crown try to take it all from them again. It was not a very logical point of view, but the potential explosion would be no less fearsome for that lack of logic.
「I do not wish for that. If Rion actually attempted a rebellion, he could succeed, couldn’t he?」
「Do not say that, even in jest. Even I was shaken when I heard this idea for the first time. I actually wondered if this was not a long-term plan of his.」
「Begging your pardon, highness. That is not possible.」
Kiel was the one to interject. This topic could not be ignored even if it actually was a joke shared between Charlotte and Arnold.
「If the current situation develops into an armed conflict, the losses on both sides would be enormous regardless of the outcome. I do not deny that Lord Frey has little love in his heart for this Kingdom, but he would never let bystanders get entangled in whatever plan he decided to pursue.」
「…That… rings true. Accept my apologies.」
「I should be the one apologizing, highness. I have stepped out of line just now.」
Kiel’s status wouldn’t even normally allow him to share a table with Arnold, so interfering in Prince’s conversation was more than presumptuous. The royal didn’t care much for that, but his personal guard was here too and the protocol had to be at least paid lip service to.
「Let’s go back to the main subject. I have been thinking for a while just what is Rion trying to achieve, with little of note to show for the effort. So I decided to interview the returning soldiers.」
Arnold was being very careful to appear to be speaking to Charlotte, but in reality, he wanted Kiel and the others to hear this. Unfortunately for the young lady, this was exactly why she was at the table today.
「What did you discover, highness?」
「The mater is delicate, do make sure to keep it a secret.」
「Somebody betrayed us.」
「At the very least, Rion appears to think so. He has doubts about why was his command post discovered and how did the enemy learn it was a key target.」
「…Intriguing questions indeed, highness.」
「Lambert, have you learned anything?」
「I have, my Lord Prince.」
The man, called Lambert Scythe, was a member of the Royal Guard and the Crown Prince’s personal guardian. He stepped forward from behind Arnold and began to explain.
「My Lords, Lady. Allow me first to explain how I have arrived at my conclusion. I was tasked with preparing a detailed chronological report of the events of the war against Merica. That required not only a careful lecture of the written accounts, but also face-to-face interviews with the soldiers that returned from the front.」
「I see. What did you find?」
「The written accounts do not match what the soldiers say, my Lord Prince.」
「…How do they differ?」
Up to this point, everything that Lambert said matched Arnold’s expectations. The Prince also had become aware of the irregularities and that had been what had prompted him to have his Royal Guard investigate. The only important unknown remaining was what did the written and oral accounts of the war disagree on.
「In the exact order of two events — the assault on Viscount’s Frey command post and the Merican army’s about-face to attack towards the south.」
「The command post was attacked first, I presume.」
「If the accounts of soldiers are to be believed, my Lord Prince.」
Lambert did not look upon Rion kindly, he treated the young Viscount’s hostility towards the Prince as unforgivable. Nevertheless, he could be trusted to investigate thoroughly and impartially.
「If the soldiers do not lie, and I fail to see why they would, the written reports from the war have been doctored. They state clearly that Merican army turned south first and then found the command post by accident second. This is not a benign case of an accidentally messed up chronology.」
The Crown Prince Arnold was very explicit in what he was telling Charlotte, and, “coincidentally”, the Clan Heads.
「Does this mean that Rion was sold out to the Kingdom of Merica, highness?」
「That is a justified point of view. And, in my opinion, the main reason behind his actions.」
「So if we find and catch the perpetrator…」
「The matter is more complicated than it looks. The documents are co-signed by the Marshall of the Crown and the Head of the Intelligence Bureau, implicating both of them in the betrayal. At the very least, we are talking about dismantling the management of both the Kingdom’s spy network and its armed forces. The effects will be hard to overstate.」
「…I see, but that is what Rion wants, isn’t it. If fear of consequences will stop you from grappling with this problem, then you will have to face a more serious one. Thank you very much, highness. I understand at last.」
If those two very important people were actually traitors, more conspirators were almost guaranteed. The high echelons of Crown Army, a considerable number of high-ranked Intelligence Bureau operatives… Maybe even whole organizations if passive collaborators were to be included.
Not only would the affected branches of government be thrown into chaos, they would also lose trust and respect of the citizens. Exposing them would have to be handled very, very carefully.
However, were Rion to place Bandeaux under Merican reign, his fief would be shielded from the worst after-effects. The situation could yet develop into an existential crisis for the Kingdom.
「Yes, we do know his reasons. But I think he is overdoing things a bit. How exactly does he plan to defuse all this when he gets what he wants?」
「Asking the person himself is likely the fastest way to know, highness.」
「…So in the end, we are back to that, eh?」
Even though things were clearer for them now, they still ended up back where they had started from. And somehow, nobody found the idea of asking the person behind this mess for more details in any way strange.