Those Who Remain Unchanged, Those Who Changed, and Those Made to Change
Upon this day was the second military council held between the Kingdom of Gran Flamm and the Wonderland Mercenary group. Though this time, only Alice and Rion were present as representatives.
However, even though this was a military council, the first order of business addressed remuneration. The two parties in question had not actually signed a contract yet.
“As for the matter of remuneration, we will give you the plains south of Bandeaux’s mountain ranges. Not only will it include the Sakami River but also the Mikuri River beyond that.”
It was Prime Minister Cid who proposed that. His demeanor towards Rion had returned to how it was initially. Just after the second meeting, not only was he calmer, but it was also clear that he had a scheme planned.
“Is Bandeaux not included?”
In addition to his change in attitude, the reward also changed. His proposal lacked any mention of the Bandeaux territory.
“The southern plains are richer than the Bandeaux territory. Is this not a far better reward?”
The river bordering the south branched into the Mikuri River, and thus the territory was more expansive. Certainly, the conditions were generous in terms of the land alone, but the problem was exactly that: the land.
“There is a question I’d like to clarify. That land and all that was included belongs to the Great Alexandros Empire. For this to be our reward, we would need to recapture it for Gran Flamm, would we not?”
Rion pushed aside the debate of affluence and posed this question since it was the more important issue at hand.
“In regards to that, I would like to leave the recovery of those lands to you. In exchange, leave the capture of the Royal Capital to my country.”
“In that case, is there any need to hire us?”
Rion had surmised what the prime minister had in mind. Barely resisting the urge to sigh, Rion continued asking questions.
“We want to separate the Alexandros army from the capital as much as possible. The plan to attack the southern region is for that purpose.”
The Kingdom of Gran Flamm wanted to use a diversion during the campaign to recapture the Royal Capital. As for the diversion, they wanted to use the Wonderland Mercenaries to achieve that.
“Let me confirm this. Our participation in the battle for the Imperial Capital is unnecessary?”
Once Rion expressed his approval, the atmosphere relaxed. They feared that Rion would refuse their proposal. Though, if they were that afraid, they shouldn’t have done anything that would anger the other party. It seems this idea doesn’t get around.
“However, as promised, you have to tell me the entire strategy. If this fails, the side diverting will also be in danger after all.”
“Got it. Well then, Knight Commander Marcus.”
The one to present the strategy was Marcus, chief of the Royal Knights. He stood on the Prime Minister Cid’s cue.
“I’ll give you a rough outline of the plan to recapture the Royal Capital. Needless to say, this is a top secret plan and must not be carelessly discussed.”
This statement was exclusively addressed to Rion. Other than Rion and Alice, the other attendants were all statesmen of the Gran Flamm Kingdom, so naturally, they were already aware of what was to be unveiled.
“It seems the Alexandros army is retreating all the way to the Imperial Capital. Given that, it is highly unlikely that any engagements will happen along the way.”
“Will you spare the cities along the way?”
There were several cities along the way to the capital, and no fighting meant that those cities would be left alone. This, Rion failed to grasp.
“Even if we attacked it successfully, we don’t actually have the leeway to position our soldiers to defend it, so it is best to ignore them.”
“…And what of the aristocratic armies?”
“We do not trust them.”
“So what will differ if we left them alone?”
Even if the aristocrats betrayed them, the city would only return to the Empire. Even if the situation was left unattended, Rion thought nothing would change.
“Recapturing those cities will require time. It will only be advantageous to Alexandros.”
In the previous battle, the Empire lost many of its guns and cannons, but those would be replenished over time. Moreover, Gran Flamm refuses to allow them to recover.
“So wouldn’t you think it’s best to leave it to the aristocrats?”
Since Gran Flamm seemed to make light of the aristocrats, Rion drew focus to them. He thought it was fine to reward them if they were allowed to successfully attack and capture it. It would lead to loyalty and, in turn, create more trust. But as things stood, it would only encourage the betrayal of the aristocratic families.
“When we fell the capital, the cities along the way will naturally bend.”
That was certain to be the case. In the first place, the eastern territories consisted of lower rank aristocrats, so the scale of the cities were small. They would be unable to continue defending their territories alone. However, if the capital returns to Gran Flamm, the territories sandwiched in between would have no choice but to concede. Though those who offer obedience for those reasons could not be trusted. If the situation were to change, such people could easily return to the Empire.
Entirely unconvinced, Rion urged the discussion further. He learned that the kingdom was in a hurry to obtain results and only that. They didn’t consider expanding their sphere of influence by taking down cities one by one until the capital.
Rion found this logic difficult to understand. It was perfectly sound to directly attack the imperial capital, but it was questionable that the kingdom failed to consider what happens afterward if they failed.
“In regards to the strategy to capture the capital, I’m thinking of a surprised attack by a separate corps.”
This alone said nothing about the operation. The reason Marcus cut his words there was to ascertain Rion’s reaction to the strategy.
“… Contingency measure in case of failure?”
Rion skipped past the details and moved onto the next step, which was not the reaction Marshal Marcus had hoped for. On the contrary, it was wholly unexpected.
“The chance of failure is high. Naturally, you should be thinking about the following step.”
“… Why did you come to such a conclusion without even listening to the details?”
Of course, Marshal Marcus was perplexed and enquired Rion about the reasoning behind his remarks.
“I thought it was a surprise attack from the underground? If not, then I apologize. Tell me what the plan is.”
“…It is indeed a surprise attack from the underground. Though, where’s the problem with that?”
Not only did Rion’s words imply that there was a high chance of failure, but it also outright stated that the plan would fail. Marshal Marcus felt ridiculed.
“Are you seriously listening? Then, let me ask you this. The underground was the demon’s hideout, right? And who knows of its existence?”
“Even in our kingdom, only a handful of people.”
“…Are you playing dumb? Both the Emperor and Empress should be counted among those numbers. Why would you think that they haven’t prepared for an attack there?”
“Even if they were prepared, they wouldn’t be able to use their artillery underground. That’s an advantage for our army.”
“You think you can win against the enemy without cannons?”
Rion folded his arms together and closed his eyes. Those around him figured that he had begun mulling over something, but they had no idea what it may be about. Nor will they understand. If there is a person who knows, there would only be one.
“I told you, didn’t I? At the point of the Bad Ending, the Gran Flamm kingdom is finished. The idea to go to those lengths to save such a country is unreasonable.”
Alice opened her mouth and broke from her silence. For those of Gran Flamm, what she uttered was as good as a rant. The people around Rion had their mouths agape, ready to protest, but Rion spoke ahead.
“… Placing people on pedestals makes them grow, but I suppose that there are also cases where such an action would ruin them.”
Folz had grown tremendously since he was entrusted with Camargue, but this case is the complete opposite.
“The people may change, but the consciousness of the nation will not. Look at this continent— small nations ranking at the bottom have nothing but the consciousness of a big nation. Even though they haven’t started a thing, they felt as though they have already won. The same concept applies here.”
Alice continued with her sharp remarks. She had been bearing her anger the whole time, but now that she could put them into words, she couldn’t be stopped.
It was clear what the people of Gran Flamm were thinking. Rion’s return delighted them, but when that delight settled down, greed kicked in. With Gran Flamm’s restoration, a young and excellent king is an indispensable asset. What comes after the kingdom’s restoration was to suppress Rion’s influence.
Even though nothing had started, their intention was not to award Rion with Bandeaux or the honor of capturing the Royal Capital.
For Alice, nothing could be more absurd than this. The way the Gran Flamm officials thought was exactly the same as the malice Alice made full use of when she was a part of the World. However, knowing that it still hadn’t faded even now only served to anger her more.
“Let’s just pretend this meeting never happened.”
“What did you say?”
“Since our conditions were not met, we cannot accept your country’s request. The negotiations have been terminated.”
Rather than angry, Rion was simply astonished, not only towards them but also to himself. After further consideration, everyone in this room had always thought of him as a mere hindrance. Even after all this time, that part remained the same.
“… Are you serious?”
“Of course. We don’t accept jobs we don’t like. It’s always been that way, and this time, it is no different.”
For Rion, decisions regarding contracts take precedence over personal convenience, and it was not only Rion who engaged in mercenary work. The significance between a sincere job and a sincere contract was one concept that established the line of mercenary work within this world.
“The contract has been refused. What will be your plans for later?”
“You don’t have to tell me, of course. I will never spread what I heard here, so rest assured. Observance of confidentiality is a reason why my customers trust my mercenary company.”
“You won’t even try to negotiate?”
“There is nothing to negotiate about, for the negotiations have been broken. You will have to excuse us now.”
With those words, Rion stood up from his seat and headed towards the door leading away from the conference room. No one dared to stop his exit, though the Gran Flamm officials were mistaken about one thing: that this is also part of the negotiations.
What influenced them to think so was due to Alice remaining in the room, and this was because she stayed behind to make them think that way.
“If there’s something you want to say, speak up.”
Prime minister Jade addressed Alice who kept her silence, but she made no inclination to answer his call.
“Since you chose to stay behind, that means there is still something to say, right?”
She remained without a word, not offering up any answers. Though, it looked as though she was trying to probe something.
“How about you start speaking up?”
She finally answered them, but her words were way out of the prime minister’s expectation.
“Shut up, you say?”
“There is nothing to say to you.”
“… Then, why do you remain here?”
“Silence. You’re making it hard to feel Rion’s presence. Enough of this. I’m out of here.”
Alice pushed herself off her seat and headed towards the door. The others surrounding her couldn’t comprehend what her deal was, but the only notion they knew involved their lack of knowledge on Rion’s destination.
“…Where are you going?”
“Hm? To the east, I suppose?”
“And by that, you mean?”
Rion’s impatience was understandable, considering that the other party lacked comprehension from that hint.
“The Eastern States Alliance. Isn’t that obvious? Bye then, I’ll pray that we’ll never meet again.”
“Hold on a minute! Are you seriously saying that?”
Prime Minister Cid finally realized that they might have been mistaken.
“… I’m really getting tired of you all. Haven’t you realized why we declined your request? If only you knew, then you’d know exactly why I still remain.”
“… To prevent us from chasing after him?”
If they factored in the ongoing negotiations as consideration, this was the conclusion they would draw. The Gran Flamm Kingdom’s negotiation partner was no one other than Rion, and that very person was about to leave the vicinity.
“How idiotic. We simply aren’t the kind to engage in frivolous negotiations. WE only show our good will and try to decipher whether or not our employer is trustworthy. All of you had just failed to showcase that. All this unnecessary haggling was brought on by your own stupidity.”
“…That can’t be…”
An astonishing strategist. This was the impression Gran Flamm had of Rion, and thought that much was true, his ingenuity was something only revealed toward his enemies. In regards to his employers, he will act sincerely within their best interests, so long as they did not betray him. That much remained the same even if the prospective employer was Gran Flamm itself.
“Seeing that you had answered our sincerity with malice, Wonderland Mercenary corps no longer sees any reason to accept your request. That much is settled, and I’ve surmised as much. But for you to play it so accurately to my expectations, it’s irritating.”
“… Give us another opportunity to negotiate and…”
“Eh? After all of this, you could still say something like that? Isn’t that amazing? It almost makes me want to grant you just that, considering your shamelessness, but that’s a little hard, you see. Mm, whatever should I do?”
Or so she said to the prime minister. She may show signs of consideration, but there was no way she would actually grant that.
“Jade! She’s just buying some time! I don’t care who, but just hurry up and chase after Rion! Close all the gates. I don’t care if you have to put the entire palace on emergency stance.”
“Huh? R-right, by your will, sire!”
Arnold was the first to see through Alice’s act. Though he was a little too late to realize it, his instructions came bold and clear.
“Tch, he found out.”
“There is something We must ask of you…”
“What is it?”
“Was our frivolous negotiations really the sole reason for refusing our request?”
Arnold asked, fully aware that it was not the case. When Rion asked about the strategic details earlier, Alice only reacted harshly after the plans were explained. If their method of negotiations was the sole reason for refusal, they would have reacted much sooner.
“No, it’s our job to turn a losing strategy into a winning one. It’s not to get mixed up in a losing battle. You devised a plan with obvious flaws and, after having those flaws revealed, were not willing to fix it. Would you willingly fight with such an ally?”
“We would not, but is it as bad as you say? We know it isn’t perfect, but is it not effective at silencing the cannons?”
“Did you not listen to a word he said? That’s a failure. Would the you before kingship be the kind of person to be satisfied with a less than perfect strategy?”
“… So this was about me?”
Those words Rion mentioned about status ruining a person was referring to Arnold, himself. It only clicked once he heard Alice’s input.
“And you didn’t even realize it. You must be ill. Fine, rather than tell you what’s wrong with the strategy, I will explain to you just how the defenders will react.”
“Ah, how will the enemy respond then?”
“If it were that woman, she wouldn’t even bat an eye with the use of cannons. She would probably resort to using her soldiers to carry shells and bombs and have them charge forth. If her soldiers end up buried alongside the ammunition, she wouldn’t be the type to spare them a single glance.”
“… That’s true.”
With how the Empire had fought up until now, that indeed was very likely to happen. Why haven’t they predicted that the enemy would have already prepared in advance for an underground assault?
“Will you stop looking down on your enemies? Just how many times have you lost so far? The enemy isn’t that stupid woman. It’s the Great Alexandros Empire. There is no way that everyone within that empire could possibly be an idiot, right?”
The points she made were not necessarily correct, but they truly were underestimating Maria. “We only lost because she resorted to underhanded tactics.” Arnold discovered that those thoughts were nothing but excuses.
“Can We still make up for it?”
The emergency alert sounded. Camargue would soon enter into a state of crisis, and no one would be able to leave the city. However, Arnold was skeptical if the same could be applied to Rion.
“Depends on the rewards, I guess? If you change the terms, I might give it a second thought.”
“Annulment of the concubinage. All of the parental rights will go to the mother. It would be tragic if the mother is not included, and naturally, all of those who serve her.”
“Is that Rion’s personal condition?”
The way she worded it was a bit incomprehensible, but she was referring to Charlotte, Ariel and her daughter, and Sol. Those conditions basically nullified the amnesia excuse was what Arnold surmised of the matter.
“And who is this Rion? Those were simply my terms. Mine. I want female friends, and I feel like I would get along with the two of them just fine. Besides, I want the child as well. It would be a bother if there’s not her to take care of her after all.”
Alice continued to play dumb.
“… Are you serious?”
“You keep asking that, but of course I am. Don’t you think that this would make them happy?”
In other words, she had made prior arrangements with Ariel. Though, it was not surprising that Ariel would want to return to Rion. What shocked him a bit was that Charlotte was included.
“So how about it? I’m pretty sure your end knows that we have long run out of time.”
“… I understand, and I accept those conditions but…”
“… No, nevermind.”
Without further time for negotiations, Arnold determined to put off the matter of Charlotte for another time. Most importantly, he had to ascertain Charlotte’s feelings foremost before that.
“Very well. I suppose I can chase him for you. Though I wonder how far he had already gone. Wait. This isn’t the time to be saying this either, huh.”
She dashed out of the conference room, looking to be genuinely flustered this time, further proving that the emergency gate closure would cause no hindrance to Rion vacating the city’s premises.
“In the end, We have to rely on Rion again. What have We been doing all this time?”
These kinds of thoughts bothered Arnold. His reliance on Rion in times of need was no different from his father, the late king. It was the very act that he criticized his father for.
“Prioritize the kingdom’s restoration for now, Your Majesty. For that, you must find resolve to use anything at your disposal.”
Prime Minister Cid may attempt to comfort Arnold, but if they truly prioritized the kingdom’s restoration, they shouldn’t have negotiated with Rion in the first place. They should have just allowed him to do as he pleased.
Arnold believed it wasn’t possible for them to effectively take advantage of Rion for their means, but he could not allow himself to voice that notion.
Even when he became king, he held no real power. He had nothing to offer to his retainers to keep their allegiance in check, and the only thing he could rely on was their loyalty toward him. Regardless, it would be pompous of him to say that.
Rion was about to leave the castle when he was abruptly stopped by an unexpected individual. It was the former queen, his mother, who appeared before him.
Rion naturally continued his amnesiac facade, but that deceit did not go through to the former queen.
“Why make up such an excuse?”
The Queen differed from others who tried to avoid the subject while perceiving that it may be a guise. She would instead go and directly ask him, fueled by the feelings that stirred within her.
“I would be troubled to answer that, seeing that I only spoke the truth. I am but a mere mercenary, not this Frey that you mention.”
“Do you think that I as a mother can mistake my own child?”
“That does not matter to me as I do not consider you a mother. Asking me to act as your son is just not possible.”
No matter who the other person may be, as long as Rion doesn’t recognize them, any relations between them were nonexistent. For the time being, Rion had no other choice but to insist on this.
“Whether or not you remember, I am still your mother.”
“That’s your own one-side grievance.”
Rion’s irritation transitioned into anger.
“I am the one who gave birth to you, you know?”
“… Is having given birth enough for a person to claim to be someone’s mother?”
The former queen’s words furthered Rion’s anger.
“What are you saying? Filial relationships can never change ever.”
“For me… even if for an instance where I regain my memories, I believe that it would be impossible for me to think of you as my mother…”
“… What do you mean by that?”
Although Rion spoke of it as if he were an unrelated party, he was obviously revealing his true feelings, feelings that the Queen could not come to terms with.
“If there was anyone I would recognize as my mother, it would be the woman who raised me despite being a mere prostitute in the slums.”
He doesn’t really know the identity of the woman who raised him. Nevertheless, he heard from the slum residents that the woman suddenly came into the slums one day with him in tow and that she worked by selling her body.
“I don’t recall much because she passed away not long after I’ve matured enough to understand what’s happening around me. I didn’t have the leeway to think about her either because I was so occupied with worry over my environment. But these past few years gave me plenty of time to reminisce about her.”
That woman was both frail as she was docile, and as one would expect, she was unable to endure a life in the slums. Her efforts resulted in a ruined body, and she passed away. After that, Rion who lived on his own in the slums felt bitterness toward her death.
Despite that, ever since he discovered the circumstances of his birth, the reason he was abandoned, and the circumstances surrounding that woman, he felt ashamed of his stupidity. She wasn’t the one who gave birth to him, but she did everything to raise him, even if it endangered her own life.
“She chose the slums to hide me who has heterochromia from the public eyes. And above it all, she whored herself out to raise me. Compared to her who did everything, she who sacrificed her own life, what did you do?”
Rion now asked about the truth that he wanted to avoid facing. Such a question is one the late queen would be unable to answer. He only asked her to impart his will in regards to it.
He could not forgive the mother who abandoned him to preserve her own life, and he certainly had no plans of trying.
The former queen’s shoulders drooped dejectedly, her gait feeble as she drifted away from the scene. Even as he watched that receding back, Rion could not feel any pity.
“So it concludes.”
Alice’s voice suddenly piped in. Thanks to Rion’s delay, she managed to catch him within the castle.
“It had to be said someday, and it seems that someday was today.”
“Ah yeah, what took you so long?”
“Negotiations. I’ve recovered the hostages.”
“If it’s Ariel and the others, we can take them anytime anyway, right?”
They can easily retrieve Ariel and the others from Camargue if they so pleased. And if they did that, they wouldn’t need to fear discovery by the Gran Flamm kingdom. Apart from Camargue castle, there were many byroads that remain hidden from Gran Flamm’s knowledge.
“… You can meet boldly this way though?”
The lack of appreciation in his words made her feel a bit dissatisfied.
“However true that may be, what did they ask in return?”
He suspected that Alice may have promised something outrageous in exchange for the favor.
“It’s a part of the operations, but there’s still plenty of room for diplomacy.”
“If that’s true, how commendable. Will the discussions take place immediately?”
“Yes, so come right back.”
Circumstances did not obligate him to take Gran Flamm’s request by all means, but if one were to ask whether or not he needed their assistance, he would only answer one thing: It would be preferable if they had assistance to offer.
Whatever can be used, use it. That was Rion’s motto.
Translated on 20th January 2021
Translation by Hikkinomori Translations
with the kind permission of the author
All rights to Ayato-sensei