“Four Kingdoms In Turmoil”
In the end, the old kingdom dissolved into four new ones: Alexandros in the west, Windhill to the north and in the central capital region, Fatillas to the south and what remained of the loyalists to the old regime in the east. That would change in just a few months, however.
Windhill forces withdrew from the old royal capital. The region and the city were then occupied by Lancelot, who subsequently proclaimed himself an emperor and renamed his country the Great Alexandros Empire. A demand was issued to the other three regions that they submit as vassals and recognize the emperor as their new liege lord. King Erwin responded first, swearing his fealty in return for a promise of full autonomy within his lands as was stated in the secret treaty between him and Lancelot.
The other two regions, confused by the quickly changing situation, refused of course. After all, why would they surrender their authority to an unrecognized “emperor” under unspecified terms?
In the meantime, Alexandros forces were busy gaining full control over the central region to implement their plan of fully transferring the imperial administration to the old capital. For now, all the political life of the nascent state took place in Coteau, where the Empress of the Great Empire, Maria, ruled the lands while her husband was in the field leading the troops.
Right now, she was not happy.
“Gran Flamm, I can understand. But for Fatillas to refuse too?”
“The demand was rather abrupt, Your Imperial Highness,” replied the reporting courtier. “It is hard to blame them.”
The sentiment was not unjustified, but uncharitable eyes might see it as quite impudent.
“…Do I, the Empress, hear a critique of my decisions, perhaps?”
Realizing he had made a verbal slip-up, the man turned bone-white.
“M-most benevolent E-empress, I, I w-wouldn’t dare…”
To him, and many others, Maria right now was a completely different person from how she had been in the past. The once-gentle and kind lady would now throw any and every one of her subordinates into gaol at the slightest hint of imagined offense. People considered this a predictable evolution of someone who rose to great power, but they were wrong. Maria had never changed, she just no longer needed to keep up appearances in order to gain favor.
“You shall be forgiven,” she said, delighted by the look of pure fear on the man’s face. This little test of her authority proved quite satisfying. “Once.”
“My deepest gratitude, O Great One.”
“Begone. Next on the agenda…?”
She lost interest in the man and her gaze wandered to the seven officials standing at a respectable distance and stopped on Balder Cohen, the Empire’s prime minister and one of Maria’s former capture targets. Over the last four years, she had regathered every single of those men she had to let go in the past. The ones she favored most had been organized into a separate group that was named Imperial Guard only because Team Maria seemed like it would have been too conspicuous. Balder had been a member, but his resourcefulness proved so valuable that he had been pulled out of the group and promoted to the highest civilian post.
“All is going according to plan, Your Imperial Majesty. Once House Fatillas learns of the favorable treatment the Windhills enjoy, they will surely see the light. And if they do not… Well, a chance at gaining direct control over the southern territories is not a bad outcome either.”
“You are right. Does that mean we leave the east to Erwin?”
This was another of the treaty promises. Alexandros would gain control over the land currently held by House Fatillas, while Windhills were to claim the eastern territories and fight the remnants of the old regime there. It was a pretty transparent ploy by Erwin to limit the amount of influence Alexandros Empire could gain over him. The young Windhill clearly hadn’t given up on his ambitions even after swearing fealty to the Emperor.
“That has been one of the promises, Empress.”
“What would happen if we went after the Gran Flamms anyway and told Erwin to make do with southern territories instead?”
Maria wanted to attack Gran Flamm. To conquer it. To make Arnold bend his knee to her.
“It would make going after Merica in the future harder. But not impossible, since we still could go through the eastern kingdoms.”
Balder was an accommodating man, he would never oppose Maria outright, and she liked that about him very much.
“Do you think Erwin might try to conquer Merica himself?”
The Prime Minister did not believe Windhill army to be capable of achieving the feat. Conquering Merica might be possible for the Alexandros Empire, but that was only due to their new weapons, those so-called “firearms”. So overall, he estimated the chances of Erwin seeking that war to be pretty much nil. He was aware though that Maria might take it in a different way depending on how he phrased the reply.
“That cannot be ruled out, but the chances of that happening are rather remote, Your Imperial Highness.”
“Still, if Erwin managed to conquer Merica, he would get insufferably full of himself…”
Maria was also aware of Erwin’s aspirations. Their relationship a very long way and she had pretty accurately figured out his personality.
“But if Your Imperial Highness made him fight the Gran Flamms, as per the treaty, he would probably have a hard struggle on his hands. The army of Bandeaux did not go anywhere, after all.”
Trying to reinforce Maria’s misgivings, Balder raised a prospect of Erwin in trouble. This had actually been an idea he mulled over for a while now. Any war between Windhills and Gran Flamms would be a bloody and protracted one, giving Alexandros the time needed to not only subdue the southern regions but also to conquer Merica. Pulling that off successfully would open the way to hegemony over the entire continent. He was almost certain that leading the conversation in this direction would cause Maria to want to go after the Fatillas Kingdom. Almost.
“…Is the Bandeaux Army still that strong?”
Maria came to personally know the strength of the Clans during the struggle against the Demon God. And now, her interest was piqued more by the prospect of that strength increasing than by the prospect of future conquests.
“It actually grew under Prince Arnold’s command. Their individual prowess is still there, while their power as a unit increased due to expanded numbers.”
“Hmm, I see. What to do, what to do…”
The Prime Minister’s brows furrowed at this reply. It suddenly occurred to him that mentioning the strength of Bandeaux forces might have been a mistake since it scratched at one of Maria’s inferiority complexes. And he had learned the hard way that, ever since her ascension, the Empress had a strong preference towards eradicating whatever made her feel inferior. It was a strong possibility she would order the Bandeaux to be crushed right this instant.
“…Oh, alright. Let’s save the best for the last.”
Thankfully, after musing on the problem, Maria came up with a decision that allowed Balder to proceed with the optimal plan. It was a huge relief.
“In that case, with your leave Your Imperial Highness, we shall start our preparation to subjugate the south.”
“When do you expect to launch the campaign?”
“As soon as His Majesty, the Emperor, finishes securing the new capital, Toque. One month at most.”
“I see. I better start working out a bit then.”
“Does My Lady plan to take part in the expedition?”
This was slightly unexpected.
“Obviously. The Imperial Guard will be going with me too. I want them to gain more experience before we go to settle the scores with the clans of Bandeaux.”
“Your Imperial Highness…”
“What now? Are you against me setting out to battle? Am I not the hero of legends?”
“…Never, My Empress. We shall do as you wish.”
Balder was under no illusions, the wish for “more experience” was just an excuse. Balder had been a member of the Imperial Guard, he knew that it was organized not only by ability but also by looks. It was a thinly disguised harem of the Empress, and Maria hadn’t really changed all that much since the Academy days. Elevation to the throne did, however, limit her ability to freely meet with the opposite sex and there was a gaggle of maids following her all the time. For Maria, this was unbearably suffocating. Going to a campaign would relax those restrictions. The Prime Minister wouldn’t say a word to anyone about this, though. He was fully aware sky itself would crash down of him if he tried.
Having their capital taken from them, the remnant of the Kingdom of Gran Flamm was left to lick its wounds and rebuild its scattered armies as it retreated to the east. There was no other choice, the north, the west, and the south had all declared themselves independent after all. Thus, the government had to flee to Bandeaux. There, on the easternmost fringes of the once great country, the royals would dig in and rebuild while plotting their counterattack.
It wouldn’t be a simple process, though. The east was the smallest of the regions under Gran Flamm’s rule and they struggled to attract the support of its still undecided nobility. Noble Houses were loath to throw their lot with a losing side. Daily meetings were held in Camargue in an effort to find a way out of the impasse. But the frequency and the intensity of the deliberations couldn’t obscure a simple truth – there was nothing that could be done for now.
The King was present at all of those meetings and mostly listened in silence. Today, though, he suddenly muttered to himself –
“…Can there really be no alliance with House Fatillas?”
Alliance meant recognizing the southern regions as an equal and independent party. This showed just how cornered did the King feel himself to be to even consider that.
“Does Your Majesty really wish for an alliance?” asked Cid Lightham, the Prime Minister, timidly.
The man was under no illusions, to do nothing was to follow a road to certain doom and, thus, thought of allying with House Fatillas had also crossed his mind if such an alliance would be at all possible. But that would also mean giving up on ever restoring the old border, and was anxious to know if the King understood that too.
“There is no choice really, is there? It is either that or certain downfall. And we cannot even be sure our proposal will be accepted.”
“Your Majesty speaks the truth. It is worth to note, however, that the Kingdom of Fatillas is also hard pressed by circumstances with traitorous Aquasmea to the north and ever ambitious Merica to its south.”
The possibility that Gran Flamm’s old enemy would make use of this pretty much ideal opportunity was extremely high. The previous balance of power was broken and Merica would without a doubt claim victory when facing the brand new Kingdom of Fatillas on its own.
“Noted. Send an envoy at once.”
“By your will, Sire.”
“We will plan our next moves once we hear a reply.”
It was clear that the King had lost all his energy and will to fight. It would take at least two months for the envoy to return with a reply. Doing nothing for such a long time was suicidal. This was where Arnold joined the discussion.
“Should we make plans for our campaign in the meantime?”
The Prince came to Bandeaux precisely to make it into a base of the Kingdom’s counteroffensive. He could not bear this idle wait for the envoy’s return.
“Once the alliance is concluded, son.”
“There will be no alliance unless the other party sees merit in joining one, my liege.”
“…Are you trying to say we offer none?”
There was, in reality, not much that Gran Flamm had to offer. Its military power lagged behind the other three splinter states with army numbering barely a fifth of what it was before the war. Arnold’s father was pretty much in denial and didn’t want to see the truth. For him, acknowledgment of independence was enough of a concession that Marquess Fatillas should be more than happy with.
“Even if I am wrong, and the alliance is signed, how are we to proceed?”
“Lancelot and Erwin are bound by vassalage and together they are stronger than our potential alliance in every single aspect. They have no reason to fear us and we will still have to prove our superiority somehow.”
“That much is obvious. Painfully so.”
“I agree, Sire, which is why we should be meticulously planning our campaign already. We are short on time required for that as is.”
“Why won’t you come up with a plan yourself, if you think the situation that urgent?”
Recent events had clearly grown the rift between the father and the son. A king who had just witnessed the collapse of his kingdom and a crown prince that proactively pushed for action didn’t really mesh well. You could clearly see which one of them grew up in a peaceful era and which one matured in turbulent times.
“As you wish, Sire. Here is my plan.”
Arnold had a plan already, and now that he obtained his father’s permission, he would present it for adoption as the Kingdom’s official strategy. The King smiled bitterly seeing how he had been played by his son, but it was too late to stop the Crown Prince now.
“Our envoys should not only be dispatched to the Kingdom of Fatillas, but also to the courts of Orcus and Hashu, both to explain our current predicament and to ask for military help as per existing treaties.”
“…They would never send troops to help.”
“It is not impossible. And even if the envoys achieve nothing, their journey will not be in vain. We will be able to gauge the mood regarding our situation. It matters whether they want to aim for independence, or even submit to another crown, it would mean one more border to watch.”
The King was speechless. Nobody before now had considered the very plausible possibility of an attack coming from the east, even though Gran Flamm, as it was now, was pretty much equal in strength to the two kingdoms.
“And that is why we must, absolutely must prevent Orcus, Hashu, or both of them from attacking us. An unequivocal display of strength is required.”
“We must win the war against Erwin Windhill.”
“Why not the Aquasmeas?”
“The… Emperor… will take his armies south against House Fatillas while his lackey will move against us. This is going to happen regardless of what we would prefer. So the only problem remaining is how to fight given our present state.”
“…Where does this certainty come from?” asked the King with eyes wide from surprise. The way Arnold carried himself right now was so very much like Rion.
“An informant reached out to me, I believe them to be extremely credible.”
“A battle against Windhills alone, eh?”
This prospect lifted some of the weight from the King’s soul and new strength could be seen in his gaze as he contemplated this situation.
“We must decide upon our course of action, Sire. Bandeaux is a very defensible place, hard to take. We could just defend here, but that would mean we surrender the outlying areas.”
The lands in question were also, at present, a part of Gran Flamm’s dominion. Not one of its lords, however, could be called a loyal subject of the Crown. They cooperated because the royal army happened to be the closest military force large enough to force them to do so. If these lands were to be surrendered to Windhills, the local nobility would change sides without a second thought. The Kingdom had to prove it was capable of retaining hold over these lands to make the nobles convinced siding with the Crown was actually worth it.
“We must meet them in the field.”
The choice was painfully obvious. Bandeaux on its own couldn’t support the royal army at its current strength of twenty thousand swords. The present strength of the Kingdom was not sustainable without beating Erwin and taking at least some of his land.
“Shall we proceed on that basis, Your Majesty?”
“…If we do… Can we win?”
“We must. We do not have the luxury of allowing for a defeat.”
“…Yes. We certainly do not.”
There was no point in fearing defeat since inaction would bring destruction regardless. All that would change if the were to be beaten was how fast the end would come. Thus, with the blessing of the King, the royal army started to plan an invasion of Windhill’s domain.
While the government officials were discussing the future of the Kingdom, a completely different group of people was having a nice chat over a tea.
“Will things really turn out alright, Milady?” asked Sol with worry on his face.
“Arnold is no fool. Once you provide the Crown Prince with enough information, he will choose the right way forward.”
The Prince’s information came from Clan Black and was naturally known to Ariel too.
“The King, however…”
“You worry too much. Even a fool like him will see that doom will come regardless of how many defensive battles they win.”
Her evaluation of the King was rather harsh. It didn’t help that she wasn’t happy to end up in the same place as all the government after all the preparations to slip away while in the capital.
“I admit, Milady, the disparity in strength does concern me.”
“I cannot fault you. Erwin has… twice as many troops, I guess?”
“He does. The Windhills, together with the scant numbers their vassals add to the total, can muster forty thousand.”
Only the Alexandros Empire could muster significant numbers of vassal forces, both because its territory vastly outstripped the other three states and because a huge number of former Gran Flamm military personnel threw their lot with Lancelot.
“He would not deploy all of them, though, would he?”
Sending all forty thousand to the east would leave Erwin’s domain virtually empty, while the duties like maintaining the public order or garrisoning the border wouldn’t go anywhere.
“Under normal circumstances, no. But if he is certain Lancelot will leave him alone, he might empty the border fortifications. That would give him thirty thousand. Even more in the worst case.”
“How would he even gain such certainty?”
“If I was in Erwin’s place, I wouldn’t believe any assurances from Alex’ side. Neither would I think that twenty thousand strong border force could stop them if they betrayed me. I would take all my forces to overwhelm Flamm and assimilate its strength into mine as fast as possible.”
“Sensible… Let me ask though – Alex? Flamm?”
It obviously referred to Great Alexandros Empire and the Kingdom of Gran Flamm, but Ariel was curious what prompted Sol to adopt such shorthand in the first place.
“Ah, it’s because of miss Venus.”
“I heard that Milord had a habit of shortening long names. Miss Venus seems to have taken a fancy to that and adopted his manner.”
“Oh, you are discussing such things together?”
Those two had been spending a lot of time together in the course of their duty, but such things must clearly have been discussed after hours. She couldn’t recall having personally witnessed such a conversation.
“We are, My Lady. I frequently ask for stories from Milord’s past.”
“Is that so now…”
Ariel’s gaze wandered in the direction of Venus who waited a bit behind. The girl, understandably, turned beet red under the silent question.
“I was curious about Milady as well, but I was told you have largely remained unchanged. I was also told that Milady’s parents addressed Milady in a particular affectionate way?”
“They did, they called me Ari. I told my husband to do likewise, but he would always reply that being married was no excuse for overfamiliarity.”
“That…” was something Sol struggled to understand.
“Ah well. Sometimes, Rion is stubborn about the strangest things. But on that subject, why don’t you address Venus as Vee?”
“Milady? Why should I?”
“Hmm, I guess the two of you are similar in that regard then?”
“Are we? How so?”
Actually, at this point in time, Sol neither had any special feelings towards Venus nor noticed that the girl fancied him. In a way, he was similar to Rion when it came to his love life.
“Ah, nevermind. Let’s discuss our preparation while there is still time to do so.”
Rion would certainly come back soon, and that was why Ariel had decided to remain in Camargue. Not to mention that it would be dangerous to travel the world with Fleur while looking for him. Since she would be staying here, it was essential that Gran Flamm became capable of protecting Bandeaux for as long as required. And, for that purpose, Ariel would grudgingly lend her hand.
revised on 5th January 2018
Translation by Hikkinomori Translations
with the kind permission of the author
All rights to Ayato-sensei