A Harem By The Time He Noticed
Rion and his group headed out to Camargue first thing in the morning with the intention of accepting the commission.
Although Alice previously deferred the matter of the commission, it was a job they had intended to take from the beginning. It was, after all, the main reason Rion appeared in Bandeaux for the first commission. Despite that, Alice took the initiative in arranging the delay, to reinforce the credibility of his amnesia— or so the pretext went. The truth of it was not that pretty, seeing that she did it merely out of spite.
The moment the contract was established would be when he put his plans into motion, and it was for that reason that he brought all of his subordinates in tow. They were instructed to stay the night in the nearby villages prior to their summon. In total, they numbered nearly 3,000 strong.
“… Stop pouting already.”
Rion spearheaded the march with Alice riding by his side. Though beside him, she had focused her gaze in a different direction throughout the trek.
“I’m not pouting.”
“Yes, you are. You’ve been facing away from Ariel all this time.”
To his other side was Ariel, as well as Charlotte. The formation of the lineup clearly illustrated that Rion had never suffered from amnesia, but he paid it no mind, even if anyone were to doubt him. Having memory loss served as nothing but an excuse in the case that Gran Flamm were to request him to act as its retainer or royalty.
“No, I’m not. It’s not like I hate her or anything.”
Rion couldn’t believe his ears. Even the mention of Ariel’s name had been a taboo for herーand she had always made that clear. Granted, he could think of one reason behind her sudden change in attitude.
“What did you and Ariel talk about yesterday?”
Ariel had sought for Alice, declaring that she would question the latter in person. However, whatever their conversation entailed, neither women filled Rion in on the contents.
“… Not telling.”
To Alice’s refusal, Rion directed his gaze toward Ariel, searching for an answer.
“It’s a secret between me and Alice. We aren’t telling anyone of the matter, especially you, Rion.”
It was clear as day that Ariel’s sentiments toward Alice had also undergone a change. As curious as he was, it was beyond him to pry any further. Moreover, judging from the way Ariel answered his question, she seemed to have singled him out for reasons unknown to him.
“…Then, are you angry about something?”
Rion returned his focus to Alice and asked her a different question.
“I’m furious at a certain man who failed to console a woman who was crying because he was too occupied flirting with another.”
Namely, Rion. But it was a false accusation on her part.
“…I wasn’t flirting with her.”
“Then what was it that you did?”
“Liar! I know you’ve laid your hands on that chaste maiden past her prime and made her into a woman!”
Charlotte’s eyes widened, shocked to hear what Alice had called her. Noted, it was true that she remained chaste even after her marriage.
Upon Charlotte’s expression, Rion scolded Alice.
“Stop saying those irresponsible things, will you? You’re being awfully rude to her, and I did not do anything to her. Nothing at all.”
“And how would I know that?”
“Listen. It may only be on paper, but she’s already wedded to someone else.”
“If anyone were to overhear, we would be charged with infidelity. You need to start minding what you speak.”
To make it worse, Charlotte was the king’s concubine. Although she was not queen in name, she held the position alongside the reigning king. Rion would be charged with a felony punishable by death.
“Sigh… It makes me wonder where the Rion I knew had gone. When did that faithful man become this mess of a harem protagonist?”
Everything Rion said fell on deaf ears, for Alice didn’t care whether or not physical contact occurred between them. She was only displeased to discover yet another woman flocking to him.
“No, I’m… I’m not like that.”
Rion detested the very existence of harem protagonists as well.
“You may be saying otherwise, but you might want to check what’s actually happening in reality.”
“Besides, you’re the one who forcefully drew out Charlotte’s feelings, inducing her to safeguard Ariel and Frau.”
He uttered the latter part in a whisper to prevent Charlotte from overhearing.
“That’s not my fault. You’re the one who requested that of me.”
Rion had requested Alice to use her powers as a fragment of the World to protect them. Though it had been realized in a form he would have not expected, it was far too late for him to complain.
“See that over there? There we have another harem candidate in sight. Quite a strong contender at that.”
“What did you say?”
Ariel’s ears perked to Alice’s remark. While she knew of Rion’s philandering nature, Ariel forgave his womanizing tendencies, for she knew he would not forge any lasting relationships with them. Every woman he approached was but merely a means to an end, but from Alice’s tone of voice, this was not the case.
“She’s not. I employed Miss Lisa as a maid. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Ariel sifted through her memories, trying to recall this name that she recognized. Although, it would have been more efficient to scrutinize the person who waited ahead of them.
“Master Rion, I have been expecting you.”
The woman made her salutations in maid attire. The elegance that adorned her every movement was unthinkable of a maid of ordinary calibre, and this helped jog both Ariel and Charlotte’s memory.
“Lisa? Lisa Stork, is that you?”
Charlotte muttered her name in surprise.
“My, if it isn’t Lady Charlotte and Lady Ariel! It’s been so long since we last met!”
As though reminiscing her past as a student of the Royal Academy, Lisa was smiling at her former juniors.
“Lisa… um, may I inquire as to why you are dressed like a maid?”
“Why, it is because I am one. As fate would have it, I now work for Master Rion. For that same reason, please do not act so polite toward me, Milady.”
“How could I? To this day, I still think of you as my esteemed senior.”
In the academy, Lisa was her senior by a year, but that was not the full story. When considering peerages, Charlotte was the daughter of a marquis and should have held a higher rank, but Lisa had proven herself to be an exception.
Flawless in appearance, manner, intellect, and personality— Lisa possessed all the qualifications to be called the belle of high society in the future. Every female student who attended the academy aspired after her.
“While it makes me happy to hear your sentiment, both you and I have etiquettes to uphold as master and servant.”
“Don’t worry about it. I never liked those trifling things anyway. If the two of you are friends, then act as friends do. As long as you’re not in formal gatherings, of course.”
Rion cut in from the sidelines. It was his belief that people should make a distinction between their public and private lives.
“Then, I shall do as you say, Master Rion.”
Lisa replied as she gracefully bowed to her employer with an elegance exceeding anything a person would expect from a maid. Truthfully, she would pass as the head maid of a castle somewhere.
“‘I shall do as you say,’ she said. Is it just me or does it sound erotic? The way she said it was upright, but there’s a strange allure to it somehow.”
“Indeed. She smells like trouble.”
Alice uttered more ill-mannered remarks, but this time, Ariel voiced her agreement. Both women seemed to regard Lisa as a common enemy.
“Somehow… the way you both nod in agreement makes me believe that you two are a close pair of sisters.”
“Huh?” “What did you just say?”
To her remark, the duo shouted in displeasure. Though, that simply bolstered Lisa’s belief, if nothing else. Regardless, Lisa seemed capable of poking fun at others.
“I suppose I should not delay your march any further. Please accept my deepest gratitude for listening to my selfishness this time around.”
“No need to thank me. I also am an orphan, so it flatters me to know that you care for war orphans, that you want to save them. Though, who am I to say… when I might as well be the cause of their parents’ deaths.”
Lisa had followed Rion to the battlefield, gathering the children who lost their parents in war into protection under his wing. For that, she ventured into danger, and Rion, convinced by her fervor, gave in.
“Not at all. I believe that you are far more admirable than those who merely twiddle their thumbs while doing nothing whatsoever. It is my pleasure to be able to serve you as my master.”
“You’re giving me too much credit. Anyway, there’s still time until your departure. I have assigned a few escorts for you. Still, take care out there and don’t overdo it.”
“Yes, Master. Thank you very much for your concern. I, too, will be praying for you success and safety.”
Lisa bowed deeply before returning to the carriage from which she rode.
“…It goes beyond my wildest imagination that you would also lay your hands on the Lisa Stork.”
As soon as Lisa left the scene, Ariel muttered those words half in admiration and the other half in contempt toward Rion.
“No, I never touched her or anything of the sort. It’s just that she and I go way back.”
“You are certain we are talking about the same person? Lisa Stork is the unsullied— or perhaps immaculate would be the better word for her… Anyway! She wouldn’t give the slightest chance for male students to approach her, earning her the alias of the Holy Maiden! Say, how did you get acquainted with such a woman?”
“Ariel… are you sure you didn’t change your personality overnight?”
The way she talked so passionately managed to bewilder Rion.
“I’m surprised is all!”
In her mind, Lisa’s figure was far too disconnected from Rion back in the Royal Academy days.
“I’m just as surprised. How did you become familiar with one another? Lisa held the image of a flower flourishing on a steep mountain, and I almost never witnessed her speaking with men.”
Charlotte’s curiosity peaked so much that she forgot to feel jealous about the situation.
“You girls are making mountains out of molehills. We met in the library, then we began to exchange greetings… Eventually, we started trading our opinions on the books we had read and such.”
“Hold on. You helped her with her studies?”
Charlotte was unaware of Rion’s activities within the academy. And so, she could not fathom that there was anything that could still be taught to a multi-talented girl, especially with knowledge that Rion was an orphan from the slums before he assumed his role as valet.
“I suppose you didn’t know that Rion had studied materials beyond our academy’s curriculum. If he had sat for an examination, he would have scored quite high in the rankings.”
Naturally, Ariel knew well of his capabilities.
Charlotte believed Ariel’s speculation; however, both of them slightly misunderstood the matter.
“No, no. You’ve got it wrong. We weren’t studying our interactions. We were only exchanging opinions on some books.”
“She read many poetry books, and she seemed quite fond of satire. She loved reading whole compilations of it. Then, we would discuss our interpretations and compare them.”
The writers had made use of vague expressions and wrote their opinions in the form of poems. One wrote about his discontent of the society at large. The other about his criticism toward his nation, and another about his misfortune after being tricked into committing a crime. Such books containing criticisms were scarce in this world. Only a few of them existed.
That said, the majority of the authors were nobles. The talent to pour their thoughts into abstract expressions was believed to be proof of their wit, and thus, those writings were highly valued in the eyes of other nobles, becoming a part of their culture.
“Rion… you can actually understand poetry?”
“I am nowhere that great. I only shared what came to mind when I read them. That was how we got along. Though now that I think about it, I had spent quite the amount of time with her.”
Rion fancied cooping himself up in the library whenever he was free during the day. He was a valet, yet he was more studious than the rest of those who frequented the library. This was how Lisa took interest in him.
His other strong points included the fact that he was indifferent toward her. His lack of interest was seen as his sincerity, and it melted Lisa’s cautiousness toward his identity as a man. Although, her perception of Rion as a sincere man was a large misunderstanding on her part.
“I would often see her in the library when she was not attending class. It seems that she was a diligent student.”
“A strong contender… Now I understand what that was all about.”
Even the naive Charlotte perceived the truth that Rion could not. It revealed the depths of how dense Rion was in regards to a maiden’s heart. It was not actually that difficult to infer that Lisa would frequent the library to meet Rion more often.
“Rion, pray tell. Are there any other acquaintances from the academy that you’re keeping with you?”
Ariel suspected that even more rivals had come her way. After all, two limbs weren’t enough to count the number of women whom Rion had shared a bed with.
“Other than Miss Lisa? If limiting to those whom I meet often, the answer would be none.”
“Then… what if you’re including the other ones?’
Ariel was not one to be misled by Rion’s play on words.
“Yes. Though, they can hardly be called my acquaintances.”
“…And whatever do you mean by that?”
“Orphans are not the only ones I have taken under my wing. Still, I don’t believe that I’ve ever… met them personally. Well, you’ll understand what I mean when the time comes. We can see the outer wall now, so they should be able to notice us anytime soon. Ariel, take Miss Charlotte to the backline with you. I don’t want to feel like I’m belittling them too much by riding alongside you whilst pretending to have lost my memories.”
Mercury commandeered the troops as they approached Camargue. Following his orders, the members of the Wonderland Mercenary Group displayed their discipline by forming into files as instructed. It was all in preparation to enter the gates of Camargue.
The mercenary group consisting of three thousand men should not be made light of simply because they were paid soldiers. Wonderland was a group that prioritized quality over quantity, which made them the best armed forces in the world.
A military formation could be seen approaching the walls, and the three thousand strong troops could be seen clearly with the naked eye. It was a number too large to be made up of bandits and yet it was too small to be imperial soldiers. Moreover, that possibility was nonexistent since their recent withdrawal from Bandeaux.
The sudden appearance of the incoming troops brought Gran Flamm into a red alert, and such swift action was made possible thanks to Arnold’s command.
“…Whose banner would that be?”
Arnold asked of the knight commander. The former had his eyes fixated on the unknown army approaching from the outer wall of the city.
To be more specific, he was focused on the battle flags that were hoisted in the formation. Although he intended to identify their affiliation from that distance, it proved to be a fool’s errand. In the end, no one in the kingdom knew of the design on the mercenary group’s banner.
“I have never seen that flag before. The soldiers are wearing black, otherwise red for their armors. It’s safe to say that we aren’t dealing with the Mericans.”
“They aren’t from Orcus or Hashu, either. Is it possible that they hailed from the Eastern Alliance that I’ve been hearing rumors about?”
“That possibility exists. However, the number of soldiers present would not match in that regard. Three thousand is too little for an army of their scale.”
The more they discussed, the more they steered away from the truth.
“I believe they belong to the mercenary group.”
Sol told them after finding it unbearable to remain silent. While the soldier count had increased significantly from when he last remembered, he was able to recognize his master’s Magical Beast Cavalry even from afar.
“…That makes sense. I’m amazed they can maintain a whole three thousand soldiers without affiliations of any kind.”
If they did not belong to any nation, the answer would have to be the mercenary group by process of elimination. Assuming that they were a part of a country was illogical to begin with. Despite that, Arnold was just checking the possibilities.
“I suppose that explains why their commissions are so expensive. But if two people are worth a hundred gold coins, then three thousand soldiers would—”
“You need not bother calculating it. It would undoubtedly be an amount that we won’t be able to pay. This would spell trouble for us.”
The fact they were approaching Camargue displayed their intention to accept the contract, but Arnold felt conflicted about the matter of the reward that was still up in the air. The number of mercenaries-come-reinforcements had caught him off guard.
Arnold was earnestly befuddled by the turn of events.
“Despite that, both the kingdom of Merica and the Eastern Alliance were able to employ them. Hence, I believe they will not charge us an amount that is insurmountable.”
“We can only hope. It seems their messenger is here. Make sure to ascertain their affiliation before you let them through the gates. Also, we’re holding a war council pronto. Gather out key members into the council room.”
While he instructed Marcus to confirm the troop’s identity, he also notioned for him to make arrangements for the war council. It displayed Arnold’s impatience, but it was inevitable given the situation. Arnold would be meeting Rion for the first time since he became king. Rather than feel the least bit sentimental about it, he looked forward to how Rion would respond during the imminent council. In spite of that, his anticipation was mixed with anxiety and worry.
The scene switched to the council room, and the authorities of Gran Flamm could be seen gathered around a big table. As usual, restlessness could be seen on each of their faces. Without a doubt, Rion would make his appearance this time.
Two knocks sounded from the door, heightening the tension that circulated within the room.
“The members from the Wonderland Mercenary Group have arrived!”
From the knight’s announcement, it could be surmised that they were having several guests instead of just one. The chances of him appearing increased even more.
“…Let them through!”
The slight pause in Lambard’s instruction hinted at his nervousness.
The door opened, revealing a few figures behind it. Sighs could be heard around the room as though its inhabitants were releasing their pent-up tension.
Black-haired and wearing a knight’s outfit draped with a similarly black mantle—The man dressed in pitch lacked heterochromia, but his pupils were crimson as if aflame. Without a doubt, he was Rion.
“Is it fine for us to enter now?”
Rion asked Lambard, who stood close to the door dumbfounded.
“Ah, please. Take a seat on the empty chairs.”
Rion drew a cursory glance around the room and spotted several empty chairs. He then slowly made his way over there, with Alice and his other companions following behind him.
As he reached his chair, however, he did not immediately take his seat. Still on his feet, he again addressed Lambard.
“Well then, shall we start with our introductions?”
“…If you would please.”
To Rion’s question, Lambard withheld his urge to say no. The people present already knew of Rion’s identity, but with the difference in persona, he began to believe that Rion really had amnesia.
“Vice-captain of the Wonderland Mercenary Group, my name is… King. I’m sure you’re already well-acquainted with Alice here, so we can skip hers. Next to her is Spade, the commander of our Black Cavalry Division.”
“…Pleased to meet you.”
Mercury gave his greeting in an awkward tone. From the moment he entered the room, he was subjected under the stare of none other than Kiel, who was still stupefied by his appearance.
Upon hearing Mercury’s greeting, the latter was unable to hold back his tongue.
“You know him?”
Asked Arnold, curious about Kiel’s reaction.
“If my memories haven’t failed me… he’s Mercury, my own son.”
“Since you introduced yourself as ‘Spade’, have you lost your memories as well?”
Even though he was the one asking, Kiel already knew the answer before it was spoken. Mercury flinched under his father’s gaze after all.
“…Fortunately, my memories are well intact.”
“I see…Would you mind telling me why you left Bandeaux?”
“A shackle is necessary to restrain a man.”
Mercury answered truthfully, though others might have imagined differently. The speaker and the listeners were of the same mind about the subject being Rion, but where he would be shackled to was open to interpretation. His words could be taken as an attempt to regain Rion’s memories.
“I see…I understand. My deepest apologies for hampering the council with my private matters. I have no further questions.”
“Well, then. Next to him is Heart, the commander of our Red Cavalry Division.”
Rion took Kiel’s reply as a cue to resume.
“Pleased to meet you.”
Heart’s real identity was Ares, son of Cassius from the Red Faction. Arnold signaled Kiel for confirmation, to which the latter made a slight nod.
“And lastly, Ross, the commander of our Maneuvering Infantry Division.”
The man called Ross simply made a slight bow. Arnold glanced over at Kiel once more, but this time, he was answered with a headshake.
This one did not originate from Bandeaux and only became Rion’s subordinate after the latter had left the city.
“Should we introduce ourselves as well?”
Arnold inquired after Rion concluded his and his companions’ introductions.
“No need. We don’t intend to nor is it necessary for us to know your names. First and foremost, the contract hasn’t been established yet.”
“…Is this about the reward?”
“That, and we have a few conditions for you to follow. To reiterate your request, it is to recapture the royal capital, which is now named Tokio, the imperial capital of Great Alexandros. Is that correct?”
“Yes, exactly that.”
Rion blatantly refused the introductions and moved onto the next topic, giving Arnold no leeway for doubt. It wasn’t that Rion was afraid of the outcome but that he found it to be too troublesome to deal with.
“Very well, I want to know what this ‘recapture’ business specifically entails.”
“For example, if you’re going to ask us to seize the imperial capital unharmed, we would have to refuse. That is simply impossible. But if you only want to drive away the imperial army from the capital, that can be arranged. In the end, your initial request can be perceived in a myriad of ways.”
“…In that case, it is the latter. I want you to drive away the imperial army. It is important that you don’t destroy the whole city. At the very least, it should retain its function as the royal capital later on.”
“So destroying it is not within our options… Alright, I will note that as part of our contract.”
Arnold had said it half in jest, but the response he received surpassed what he had imagined. He couldn’t determine whether Rion was joking about destroying the capital or not, and he wanted to believe that Rion only spoke in jest.
“How much should we pay you for that?”
“Hold on, we have more conditions from our end. I suppose you already have formulated several strategies of your own. However, if we deem that they aren’t acceptable to enact, we will be acting on our own instead. Additionally, we will desire that you not interfere with our plans.”
“…What did you say?”
“Oh, yes. There are potential cases where we will need your assistance with a few things. If such situations arise, your army shall move according to our strategies instead.”
“…Will that help us regain the capital?”
“A strategy is only called so because it will let us succeed.”
“…So be it.”
Marcus couldn’t stop his voice from rising in objection. Even if the knight commander had approved of Rion’s capabilities, he did not agree to Rion effectively commandeering their entire army. As a retainer, he believed that he obeyed the commands of his lord and no one else.
“However, that’s only if the strategies we currently have are lacking. Do we have an agreement?”
“Of course. Let’s move onto the last topic, the reward.”
“…How much gold will it be?”
“It’s an amount that you won’t be able to gather. Therefore, we want to propose that you pay with land instead. How do Bandeaux and the southern lands sound?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“From the south, bordering the Orcus and Merican kingdoms, are territories that span a straight line to the west. To be specific, it goes until the river located in the southern region of Bandeaux that should be flowing from the mountain district around that area. What was it called…the Sakami River or something?”
“Why do you also want the southern lands?”
“Need you ask? A bigger territory will yield more tax revenue. Thus, we will be able to cover our cost and eventually profit in a relatively shorter period of time.”
“The Sakami River…”
Arnold understood why Rion wanted Bandeaux as part of the reward. If he was lying about his amnesia, it would make sense that he wanted to reclaim his former domain.
Even so, he couldn’t comprehend why Rion desired the southern lands as well. It forced him to contemplate what had tempted Rion so.
“Would you mind giving us your answer?”
On the other hand, Rion didn’t want to delay the matter any further and decidedly cut Arnold’s thoughts short.
“But if we refused to give you the land?”
Which he wouldn’t. He presented that inquiry to buy more time to think.
“If you can suggest something else with equal value to what we have put forward, we will consider it. Otherwise, the negotiations will have to end here.”
“A substitute for the reward…”
Arnold’s train of thoughts changed tracks from thinking about Rion’s motifs to considering what rewards would be suitable in exchange.
“If you can’t immediately come up with anything, we can postpone the matter until tomorrow. How does that sound?”
Unexpectedly, Rion was the one who extended a lifeline.
“….Alright, I’ll take you up on those words.”
Arnold couldn’t read Rion’s intentions in the end, but he gladly accepted Rion’s offer as it would give him the time he so wanted.
“Sure. Anyway, we don’t like to waste our time idling. For now, can you permit us to cross the border?”
“Why would you want to cross the border?”
“We need to grasp both our enemies and the battlefield beforehand. We will send a few units with regard to that matter. Hence, we require your permission.”
“…I understand. I’ll send the word.”
And so, the second day of negotiations came to an end. The mercenaries of Wonderland took off from Camargue at once, along with the select few who would infiltrate various locations within Great Alexandros territory, Lisa included among the latter.
Regardless of how Gran Flamm would respond next, Wonderland had begun its move.
translated on 7th May 2020
Translation by Hikkinomori Translations
with the kind permission of the author
All rights to Ayato-sensei