“The Fall Of The Kingdom Of Gran Flamm”
The Kingdom of Gran Flamm slowly descended into an ever-deepening state of disorder. All this happened because Lancelot finally decided to make his move and he acted without hesitation. The majority of his father’s vassals had already turned to young Aquasmea’s camp, and now he abandoned subterfuge turned to more forceful methods. He announced that the remainder that chose not to change sides would now be crushed. The threat was acted on promptly bringing an end to two noble clans that had declared themselves to be against his ambitions. This prompted all those still on the fence to reconsider and fall in line one after another.
As a result, up to two-thirds of Marquess Aquasmea’s former power base now stood on his rebellious son’s side. The old aristocrat’s chances of prevailing were very slim and he had offered to settle the dispute by reinstating Lancelot as a family member and yielding his own position as the lord of the House.
He did send a counter-offer, though. He would settle for no less than Marquess Aquasmea’s suicide, and the death of Lancelot’s younger brother. This was Maria’s idea. Relenting here would mean that House Aquasmea would continue to exist, and this was not what they wanted. What Maria wanted was not a country ruled by the House but a country ruled solely by her and her husband. She could not, would not, allow any possible threat to her influence or power. The old man would never accept, of course, but he was not the intended target of the counter-offer. It was a thinly veiled offer to those vassals that were still on his side – the Marquess’ death will be your salvation. It didn’t take long for somebody to take a stab at survival. The living Aquasmeas were all assassinated. The power was now all Lancelot’s. And thus came the end of the House Aquasmea, one of the three Gran Flamm marquess houses, even if its bloodline was not yet extinguished, its last surviving member cast of the name and adopted a new one – Alexandros. And then Lancelot Alexandros proclaimed himself a king of a new realm bearing his name.
Kingdom of Gran Flamm hadn’t been just standing by idly watching all this unfold. The officials of the Crown had all this time tried to convince the Marquess to allow them to help, and after his deaths appealed to his former vassals for Lancelot to be shunned and declared an outcast. To no avail. And since the diplomacy failed, the war was inevitable. Gran Flamm would move against another kingdom once more, even if that kingdom, Alexandros, had not been officially recognized by anyone yet. The Crown would field sixty thousand knights. Houses Fatillas and Windhill would add another twenty thousand each for a total of hundred thousand, roughly three times the known strength of the enemy. Both armies soon converged on each other, the battlefield would be the Basin of Corsi three weeks travel to the west of the capital. But the war did not start where the Gran Flamm side expected it to.
“Hold the gates! Do not allow the enemy to enter!”
The shouts of the Royal Guard could be heard everywhere in the palace. The place was in a state of chaos. An unexpected attack by the supposed ally, the Windhills, took the capital by surprise. The gates to the capital fell easily and now the thirty thousand traitors were storming the royal castle. The unexpected enemy immediately started a siege of both the front and the rear gates and the situation inside was rather dire. Not many defenders remained behind when the army set out to do battle, maybe four thousand knights and Royal Guard in total.
On top of that, a small unit of enemy troops managed to infiltrate the grounds beforehand when Erwin Windhill arrived with an escort supposedly to seek an audience with the King. That unit then managed to reach one of the side gates allowing the main enemy force into the castle walls.
“…Your majesty,” pleaded the Knight Commander. “Please.”
What he hadn’t given a voice to, was obvious – it was not possible to force the enemy back. The fall of the palace was imminent. If the King fell here and now, the army that had been sent on to fight Lancelot would just crumble. Frederick would rather retreat now and attempt to recover the capital later.
“You would have Us flee? Where could We possibly run to?”
“Leaving the capital comes first, Sire. Then we can worry about where to go to gather an army to recover what we lost,”
Truth be told, Frederick had to admit there was probably nowhere to escape in the current situation. They didn’t even have a clear idea of what was happening in the outskirts of the capital.
“While We do understand…”
“There is no time, Sire. You must make a decision.”
The Knight Commander pressed his wavering monarch. There was a way to escape the castle, but shaking off the certain pursuit would still be challenging. It was imperative that the enemy didn’t learn the King was on the run for as long as possible.
“…Very well. So be it.”
The King decided to leave the capital since were he to fall at this moment, his kingdom would fall with him. For people like Ariel and her group, this was a chance. The crumbling Kingdom had no time to concern itself with its now useless hostages. If they were to escape right now, there would almost certainly be no pursuit and Rion’s wife had plans in place ever since she had been made to live in here. Yet for all this perfect opportunity, there was a serious hindrance too.
“It is dangerous to remain here. We must leave the castle.”
That was pretty much stating the obvious, but Ariel could neither say that nor admit that her would-be rescuer was the main problem in her doing just so.
“Of course, Highness, we will prepare to make our escape. Please go on ahead.”
The hindrance was named Arnold and came with a gaggle of Royal Guard. The Prince had made all haste to the inner palace to rescue Ariel and her retinue, not knowing that while she had indeed wanted to get away, she wanted to get away from the Gran Flamm Kingdom people too.
“Preposterous. The enemy has already infiltrated the castle. It would be dangerous to leave all of you alone.”
“Your safety is of far more concern than my own, Highness. I would expect the Royal Guard to agree, no?”
The question was accompanied by a pointed look at Lambert and his people. Ariel knew her former fiancee well enough to understand he would not be persuaded.
“We do not disagree, lady. Still, I believe it would be better for us all to escape together.”
“Will we not be just a burden? Are you really happy to expose the Crown Prince to such danger?”
Lambert was not deaf to Ariel’s arguments and his resolve was shaken a bit. After all, Arnold’s safety was indeed the highest priority in this situation.
“Oh, enough chatter people!” Arnold didn’t give them time for more. “We have no time for this, the enemy will soon be upon us.”
Generally speaking, he was right too. Which is why Ariel’s attempt to convince him otherwise was doomed from the start.
“…Highness. What is the plan, how would you have us flee?”
Having come to terms with this, Ariel changed her tack. He would escape with Arnold now, but attempt to lose him once they were safely out of the capital.
“This castle has a secret exit route known only to the royalty, we can use that to get out safely without anyone knowing.”
“…Only to royalty? Is Your Highness sure of that?”
“This castle has been built a century ago. Did the royal house really manage to keep it secrets through all this time? After all, we are under attack from a Marquess, are we not?”
The ambitions and designs on the throne by the aristocratic families were older than the castle itself. The disloyal had always hungered for information, which made it hard to hide knowledge like this for long. And the Crown never fully appreciated the extent of the Houses’ dogged determination.
“…There are many such paths to choose from. I do not believe they had all been discovered.”
“But neither can Highness confidently state they had remained a secret, no? What if the route we choose is compromised with the enemy waiting in ambush there?”
“We have to use one of them, nevertheless. There is no other way out.”
“…Oh, enough already. Sol, we are escaping.”
Ariel no longer felt like tagging along with the Crown Prince, but Arnold was right in that there was no time for arguments either. So in a clear display that she was fed up with the man, she shifted her attention to Sol.
“Understood, Milady. Let us proceed at once.”
Sol had no objections, he also saw escape as their first and foremost priority. His words jolted Venus and warrior-maids into action. The necessary preparations had begun.
“Do make hurry,” said Arnold. “The hidden passage is near Father’s room.”
The Prince assumed he just managed to convince Ariel. He was quite wrong.
“We are not using that.”
“We know a safer way out. Come with us.”
Paying the astonished Arnold no heed, Ariel went to Fleur and picked the girl up into her arms. In the meantime, Venus was busy unceremoniously emptying the contents of one of the wardrobes straight onto the floor. The empty piece of furniture revealed a hole cut into the wall.
“I shall lead. Follow carefully,” said an unexpected voice from inside. It was Bravd hidden in the pitch-black tunnel.
This particular hidden passage was the work of Clan Black made possible by the bustle involved with the renovation of the inner palace when Ariel moved in. It had been used by clan members over the last four years at least and made partial use of some of the already existing hidden routes. Bravd’s operatives had absolutely no difficulty in finding and mapping the other hidden routes while they investigated the castle ground, which gave Ariel even more reasons to doubt Arnold’s way out was still undiscovered and safe. On the other hand, the exit they were planning to use was newly constructed by Clan Black and thus very unlikely to be known.
“Alright. Vanguard first.”
Half of the warrior-maids entered the tunnel on this order. Somehow, they were all suddenly heavily armed.
“Our turn now. You too, Charlotte.”
And, just like that, Ariel, Charlotte, and Sol with Fleur in his hands disappeared inside the wardrobe, followed by the remaining warrior-maids.
“…Your Highness,” prompted Lambert to wake Arnold out of his stupefaction. The bodyguard was confused too, but he never forgot his duty.
“…Right. Let’s move.”
The Prince and his guards went into the tunnel. This was the first time in a long while that made Arnold feel like Ariel reasserted who she really was. A woman worthy of her husband.
The other end of the hidden passage was located inside a certain building in the general area of the slums. The place looked like an inn at a first glance, but there were no actual guests inside, Clan Black used it as their base of operations in the capital
This location was very close to the slums, and since they couldn’t see any signs of Windhill troops yet, it meant the capital was yet to fall. Triumphant soldiers would trickle here looking for women. How fast, and how many of them would come here making use of the general confusion depended on the capability of the person in charge. And while Erwin was no a fool, and wouldn’t earn the resentment of the civilians by letting his soldiers go wild, his intentions wouldn’t necessarily reach or be followed by every last soldier. This is why, the majority of the slum’s population, especially the young women, were preparing to flee into the countryside.
“Big Sister, this way.”
“… Ain,” said Ariel looking at the man that stood before her. “You have returned?”
Ain was supposed to be searching for Rion’s whereabouts. But then again, it had been four years ago. Having him return by now was not really strange.
“Yes. A lot of things needed preparing for today.”
This meant Resist had also predicted that this would happen”
“…I everybody here fine?”
“We will take you towards Bandeaux. Is it fine to take the others with you?”
What Ain was really asking about was how to treat Arnold and his people.
“If it is fine with you and the parties involved.”
“We do not mind. Being discovered now doesn’t matter.”
There was a smugglers route that connected the capital to Bandeaux. It had been used by the organization to move goods until now, but it no longer mattered if it was discovered by the people of the Crown. And besides, it was but one route of many.
Ariel turned to the Prince awaiting his decision. Since Ain had no objections, what happened to Arnold now was entirely up to the man himself.
“To Bandeaux, huh…?”
If he would really be led to Bandeaux, then there was hardly a more desirable outcome. That land was Crown Prince’s fief and its retinues were an army trained under his direct command. With a period of war looming ahead of them, he wished to reunite with those troops as soon as possible. However, there was still the question of his father. Realistically thinking, if the King managed to escape the castle, the government would establish a base of operations near the capital, gather an army, and go on a counter-offensive. Was it really fine for Arnold not to be present there?
“My Lord, I believe you must go to Bandeaux.”
Seeing the Prince’s face creased with worry, Lambert chipped in with his opinion.
“In a worst-case scenario, Bandeaux will be the last stronghold. That place is hard to attack. Once fortified properly, it would offer peace of mind for any counter-offensive.”
The worst case scenario would mean the King being killed in the fighting, and given what Ariel had said before, his survival couldn’t be taken for granted. Even if his father managed to escape safely, there was no guarantee he would manage to gather enough soldiers and strike back successfully.
If he was with his father, and they both lost their lives, the Kingdom would end.
“That is true. So be it, we go to Bandeaux for now.”
“You done talking?” asked Ain impatiently. “ We want to go as soon as possible.”
They wouldn’t be Rion’s subordinates if they let down their guard just with securing an evacuation route. Also, Resist in general, had a rather poor opinion of the Prince and Ain was no exception to that.
“We are. We will be relying on you to guide us safely.”
“Good. Follow. This way, Big Sis. And you Little Lady must watch your step, alright?”
Ain didn’t try masking what he thought of his companions at all.
Ariel was not done, however. She knew that this wasn’t the proper place to ask this, but she absolutely had to know and couldn’t resist asking any longer.
“A while yet, Big Sis. Not everything is in place quite yet.”
Ain managed to guess what Ariel was going to ask about and managed to come back with a cryptic enough answer. Perfectly meaningless to those that didn’t know Rion was still alive.
“We are going to be ready not long from now. Please do wait until then”
“Yes… Yes, of course.”
Ariel was desperately trying to hold back her tears. She had believed in Rion all this time, but her worries accumulated nevertheless. After all, there had been no news from him in four years. Ain’s words had dispelled all that gloom. He had told her to “wait” for now. She did not know what kind of preparations were underway, but she knew that they were for Rion’s return. For the moment, that was enough.
The capital did fall that day. As soon as it became obvious that Windhill forces would prevail, those knights still loyal to the King left the city to regroup under the monarch and fight another day. Erwin, having gained complete control, proclaimed a founding of a new kingdom. The Windhill Kingdom.
The King did manage to escape that day but was unable to plan for an immediate counter-offensive. Those sixty thousand soldiers sent against Lancelot had suffered a crushing defeat and scattered to the winds. The news of the capital’s fall made many of them lay down their arms and desert the commision.
The timing of the two defeats was too perfect a coincidence for there not to be a secret agreement between Lancelot and Erwin.
Faced with a situation like this, Marquess Fatillas made a choice of his own and announced his own secession, proclaiming himself to be a king in his own right. The once great Kingdom of Gran Flamm had now shattered into four warring states, announcing a new period of tumultuous, turbulent times.
revised at 30th December 2018
Translation by Hikkinomori Translations
with the kind permission of the author
All rights to Ayato-sensei