Wortenia Senki (LN) - Volume 13 - Chapter Pr

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The Kingdom of Rhoadseria’s royal castle was located in Pireas, the capital city. In a room in that castle, two women stood opposite each other, separated by a table with a map spread on it. The time was three in the afternoon—the perfect time for tea.

The sky outside the window was thankfully clear. Beautiful and fragrant flowers bloomed in the castle’s garden, which the royal gardeners tended to meticulously. Had the two women had the time to relish the head cook’s prized cookies along with a cup of tea, it would have surely been a pleasant afternoon. Unfortunately, neither could enjoy a break.

One of the women was the sovereign of the country, the young Queen Lupis Rhoadserians. The other was her most devoted knight, Meltina Lecter. Both were exceptionally beautiful, but their grave expressions soured their fair features.

Their anxiety was understandable. If the news they’d received yesterday from a spy in the north was true, then hostilities had opened near Epirus several days ago.

“We should have done something before things got out of hand like this,” Queen Lupis said, a deep sigh leaking from her pink lips.

There was only sadness in her voice, a concern for her subjects embroiled in the fires of war. It would deprive them of property and fortune and, in some cases, even their lives. Queen Lupis deeply regretted the decisions she’d made, the choices that had driven her people to this crisis. This was an unusual reaction, though, for someone in the ruling class. Most nobles were deaf to the cries of their subjects.

Meltina’s heart shook to see her mistress react with such sorrow. She appreciated Queen Lupis’s love for the people, but she disapproved of her indecisiveness, which had prevented Lupis from making the necessary choices. Complaining about it now would have been pointless, however. Lupis had always cared for the commoners despite her royal status. Her kindness defined her reign as a queen, for better or worse.

“Yes, perhaps we should have done something, Your Majesty,” Meltina said. “I agree that this is far from ideal. The people of the north will see their peaceful lives crumble away. This will no doubt affect the entire country. But at present, I do think that this would be our most efficient course of action.”

Lupis directed a sorrowful glance at Meltina. They had already agreed to this. Meltina had drafted this plan to rectify the situation, and it had cost a great deal of time and manpower. There was no stopping it now.

Honestly, I have my qualms about the war in the north as well, but...there’s no other way.

Meltina felt the same as Queen Lupis, but it was too late to change it. If someone were to ask Meltina for her stance as a knight, she would have unflinchingly obeyed Queen Lupis. A country should never expose its subjects to danger, and it should never willingly sacrifice them either. That was what Meltina believed, now that she had authority over Rhoadseria’s internal affairs and its military.

With Helena Steiner, the greatest warrior in Rhoadseria, now stationed at the Xaroodian border to observe the O’ltormea Empire, things were different. Meltina wasn’t just a mere knight right now. Helena was absent from the castle, so Meltina was managing the knights in her place. That meant that Rhoadseria’s public order and national defense were also Meltina’s responsibility.

If we’re going to hold on without sacrificing anyone, this is the best solution. But...

Meltina now understood that this ideal was only available to those with absolute strength. She had been forced to realize this. Her strength was limited, so such ideals were out of her reach.

A knight’s pride... It’s important, yes. But that’s not enough to protect anything or make anyone obey. It was so simple, yet I didn’t understand. That’s why I couldn’t get anyone to acknowledge us.

Meltina recalled how she had insulted and shouted at court officials. Whenever she thought back to it, her face would go red with shame.

I might’ve been too occupied to notice it at the time, but I found fault with everyone. Of course they dislike me now.

Emotion brewed within Meltina. Her peers no longer regarded her favorably. No, it was worse than that. They disliked her. She had been striving to do better recently, but most of the governing bureaucrats still viewed her with aversion. And in a sense, they were right to do so. There was a time when all she did was point out their faults.

But I’ve changed. I know I have.

The higher one’s position, the greater the burden of responsibility. If one gained power beyond their means, they could end up in a situation where the strain of their position was too much. That described Meltina’s behavior earlier this year. She had suspected everyone below her of being disloyal traitors. On top of that, Queen Lupis had placed great expectations on her, adding even more pressure. She had been, for all intents and purposes, cornered by her role and its responsibilities.

But the arrival of one letter had changed everything. It was a letter from Helena, informing the palace that she’d be garrisoning a town by the Xaroodian border in preparation for a possible reinvasion. At first, Meltina had expected Helena to rebuke her for her ineptitude, but by the time she finished reading it, she had been shocked. After the customary greetings, Helena had expressed her gratitude to Meltina and included a tale from her younger days about a personal failure, as if she was sharing a funny anecdote.

Why did she send me that letter?

Meltina still didn’t know the answer to that question. She’d sent Helena a letter thanking her, but she hadn’t heard back. Maybe the country’s bleak state had stirred up some kind of parental affection in Helena. Or maybe, being an elderly woman whose days were numbered, she had felt compelled to interfere in a younger protégé’s business. Whichever it was, Helena’s letter had opened Meltina’s eyes.

Recently, people were gradually acknowledging Meltina’s devotion to work. Still, it would take years to completely overturn the bad reputation she’d made for herself. She had left too many negative impressions. It wasn’t just with the bureaucrats either. Even the knights, who would normally be dependable allies, were cold with her. The reason for that was clear; they envied the affection and trust Queen Lupis directed at her.

I should have found the right time to speak with Her Majesty about this. I knew that.

Meltina could understand the knights’ displeasure with her, and she even knew how to elevate it. People like Mikhail and Meltina had been Queen Lupis’s confidants for many years, so promoting them to important positions seemed like the natural conclusion. Elevating people she couldn’t trust to positions of power was a risk, no matter how qualified they might have been.

It was often said that having incompetent allies was worse than having capable enemies, but rulers were prone to promote people they could trust, even if they weren’t the most capable. People could grow into a role and become more skilled given enough time. Building trust, however, was much more difficult. Trust was the fundamental reason Queen Lupis had banished Ryoma Mikoshiba to the Wortenia Peninsula.

All things considered, Queen Lupis’s trust in Mikhail and Meltina was understandable. In most circumstances, it would have been a positive relationship. But that wasn’t the issue here. The issue was whether Meltina’s peers believed she had the skills to match the queen’s trust.

As a knight, I’m confident in my swordsmanship, but...

Meltina didn’t think she was qualified to lead others. If she had been, she wouldn’t have butted heads with those around her so much. It was only natural her self-esteem would plummet. But the truth was that Meltina wasn’t as poor a leader as she made herself out to be. There were many people more confident than she was, but even more were worse than her. This might not have meant much to Meltina, but she was better than most people in her role.

But despite her skill, Meltina had one critical shortcoming: she lacked leadership experience. Meltina and Mikhail were both skilled in martial matters. Meltina might not have spent much time on the battlefield, but she always ranked high during the martial tournaments in the capital. She’d even beaten Mikhail in a few official duels in the presence of the royal family. The two of them were among Rhoadseria’s finest knights.

Unfortunately, this was also the reason behind their intense sense of superiority, and the reason they turned to their martial prowess to solve problems. People were suited for some things and ill fitted for others, and one person couldn’t address every single issue with the same approach.

I hope I’ve become a bit better.

Helena’s letter had taught Meltina one simple fact: not even Helena Steiner, Rhoadseria’s fabled Ivory Goddess of War, could hope to save everything. It was a truth Meltina, who greatly respected Helena, hated to admit. But Helena’s frank, almost confessional letter had changed something within Meltina.

Helena’s calm, collected face surfaced in Meltina’s mind. Everyone in Rhoadseria respected and admired this heroic knight. It wasn’t just the knights either; commoners and nobles alike all looked up to her. One couldn’t help but revere this tragic heroine who had elevated herself from a mere commoner to the rank of general.

Meltina idolized Helena, and it had been her lifelong aspiration to become a knight like Helena. Meltina’s admiration even matched her loyalty to Queen Lupis. The first time she met Helena, Meltina had been terribly nervous and too overcome with emotion to speak. So seeing this side of the woman she revered so much had changed something within her.

But while some part of Meltina didn’t want to know Helena’s opinion on the current situation, she was anxious to find out.

Would Lady Helena support this decision? Wouldn’t she say there’s another way?

That doubt shackled Meltina’s heart. She was confident that her choices were the only way to save this country. She hadn’t decided on them because they were the easy way out; she had reached them after much deliberation. She’d made that choice knowingly, even if it meant bending the knightly ideals that had guided her so far.

But even after all she had done, Meltina couldn’t shake her anxiety. Had she consulted Helena about it, Helena would have likely laughed off Meltina’s concerns. After that, she’d have smiled and praised Meltina for being so aware, because it showed that she understood what was required of a country’s leader.

Nevertheless, reaching that understanding at this point in time was a lot to ask of Meltina. She was only entering her mid-twenties, while Helena was well into her sixties. Meltina was young enough to be Helena’s granddaughter, if not her great-granddaughter. Their military experience wasn’t even comparable. It would take many years for Meltina to reach Helena’s level as a knight. In fact, it was unlikely she’d ever become a war hero like Helena. Meltina also knew it would be presumptuous of her to think she could match Helena that easily.

Meltina kept asking herself one question: how would Helena tackle the multitude of problems standing in her way? She had faced hardships and handled them how she thought Helena would have, and little by little, Meltina had matured. And it all stemmed from her love for Rhoadseria.

Because Meltina had changed her state of mind, she felt that Queen Lupis’s words were nothing but irresponsible hypocrisy. Yet Lupis’s decisions stemmed from the same qualities that made her both a good person and a good ruler.

But if I say that now, it’ll sound like exiling that man to Wortenia was a mistake from the get-go.

Now there was a war between the ten houses of the north, led by Count Salzberg, and Ryoma Mikoshiba—a clash between the fabled defender of the north and a national war hero. Whatever the outcome, it would be a painful blow to Rhoadseria as a whole.

As queen, Lupis couldn’t ignore this war. With Rhoadseria’s national power greatly exhausted by the previous civil war, she couldn’t afford to turn a blind eye to this development. Queen Lupis knew this too, yet she’d chosen not to interfere. She’d had valid reasons to, of course. There was the worsening public order as well as the uncooperative nobles. The national law might have forbidden private territory disputes among nobles, but in order to uphold that law and prevent war, the palace would have to use their overwhelming military might.

For example, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, a unifier of Japan who ended the Warring States period, sought to prevent the daimyos from squabbling over territory. To do so, he enacted a law called “Soubu Jirei,” a peace edict that forbade disputes among the daimyos. In so doing, he kept Japan unified under his rule.

The famous siege of Odawara Castle occurred during this unification period. The Hojo clan, who governed the Kanto region, took control of Nagurumi Castle from the Sanada clan. As a result, Hideyoshi marched an army of two hundred thousand men from all over the country to attack Odawara Castle, the Hojo clan’s main castle.

Odawara Castle was a highly fortified structure that once held back the celebrated war hero Kenshin Uesugi. Relying on the castle’s defenses, the Hojo clan hoped to keep Hideyoshi at bay. They holed up in the castle, but Hideyoshi’s army crushed them, and his name as a military leader was sung throughout the land.

After conquering that region, Hideyoshi only had two more territories to seize—Oshu and Ushu, known today as the Aomori and Akita prefectures. The rebellion led to some issues of how to punish the ringleaders, but historically speaking, Hideyoshi managed to unify all of Japan in less than a year after that incident.

It was said that Hideyoshi’s law, Soubu Jirei, brought centuries of prosperity and stability to Japan. But the only reason the law stopped the daimyos from fighting was because of Hideyoshi Toyotomi’s staggering strength behind it. In fact, Nobunaga Oda and General Ashikaga made similar declarations during the Warring States period. How effective their orders actually were depended on the situation.

What separated an effective law from an ineffective one? The answer was simple. It came down to whether the lawmaker had the power to physically punish those who broke it. It wasn’t at all a matter of whether the law was good.

In another example, during the Edo period, Tsunayoshi Tokugawa created a law for the mercy of living things. It was meant to protect animals, orphans, and the elderly, as well as the injured and ill. But that law tormented his subjects.

It’s a famous law in Japanese history, considered foul and evil. The law originally forbade the abandoning of infants and the killing of animals. To a modern citizen, such a law would seem reasonable and ethical. But at that time, it was indeed a terrible law, and the reason was simple. The punishment for breaking it was much too harsh. A warrior by the name of Ito Awaji no Kami Motohisa killed a mosquito, and he was deemed a sinner for it.

Of course, the law never intended to say a mosquito’s life was more important. The idea that all life is precious is an easy-to-grasp concept. Ito Awaji no Kami Motohisa merely felt it sting him and reflexively squashed it—a normal reaction. In most cases, it would have ended with him washing his hands or wiping them with a cloth. At most, he’d have to prepare a grave and hold a memorial service for it. The insects might not have been satisfied with it, but the crime would be absolved. Instead, he was sentenced to exile, a verdict second only to death.

That is just one example, but at the time, such stories were rampant. Everyone wanted the law abolished, but that didn’t happen until Tsunayoshi Tokugawa passed away. How just or moral a law is isn’t relevant. Power is what decides these things. For as long as he lived and held the rank of shogun, no one could overturn that law.

Queen Lupis lacked the strength necessary to enforce the law forbidding nobles from fighting. And trying to interfere now could drag her down like quicksand. After all, it would mean going up against Ryoma Mikoshiba.

After a long silence, Lupis finally asked, “So you’re saying we should stick to our original schedule?”

Meltina nodded.

Mikoshiba is a problem, but Count Salzberg and the ten houses of the north are an impediment to Her Majesty.

Ruling from Epirus, a citadel city at the heart of the northern regions, Count Salzberg’s duties included dealing with the monsters from the Wortenia Peninsula and guarding the northern borders. But for many years, Count Salzberg used this role as a pretense to ignore the king’s summons.

The nobles of the ten houses, who united under Salzberg, were just as vile as he was. They had refused to act during the civil war, which had proved their disloyalty to Queen Lupis.

Count Salzberg had accepted Meltina’s order to investigate the Wortenia Peninsula, implying he did have some loyalty to the crown, but based on his temperament and past actions, the truth was quite different. The order had simply given him just cause to inspect his new neighbor, which he only did to protect his own vested interests.

Besides, Count Salzberg has...

Meltina remembered a rumor that had been going around Rhoadseria’s aristocratic circles.

I don’t know the details, but the fact that these kinds of rumors about him are spreading suggests he’s a fairly problematic person. Even Duke Gelhart had to think twice before crossing him.

Very few people knew the truth about the rumors. The topic was taboo among Rhoadseria’s nobles. But exactly because it was taboo, people kept spreading the rumor. Queen Lupis was no exception. It had piqued her curiosity.

“Are the rumors about Count Salzberg true?” she asked.

Meltina shook her head. “I don’t know. But if they are, he’s committed patricide.”

“There’s no smoke without fire, you say?”

“We don’t know the truth. I don’t even know if the House of Lords ever investigated it.”

There was absolutely no evidence that the House of Lords, which supervised Rhoadseria’s nobles, had looked into the matter. But a lack of records didn’t necessarily mean that there had been no investigation. It could have been forcibly stopped somehow.

“But those rumors began during the reign of your father, His Majesty Pharst II,” Meltina added. “They’ve been circulating all these years, long after Salzberg inherited his father’s title. There must be some reason for it.”

Rumors were nothing more than hearsay, and judging a person based on that alone was dangerous. But if a rumor persisted long enough, there could be some truth to it. If nothing else, it wouldn’t remain relevant without some kind of basis to it. Between the rumors Meltina had heard about Count Salzberg and the information she’d gained herself on the man, she had concluded that he was definitely guilty.

Sensing that Meltina was convinced of this, Queen Lupis sighed. “I see. So how do you see this developing?”

“Well, rationally speaking, it’s impossible for Ryoma Mikoshiba to overcome Count Salzberg and the ten houses. He did send quite a few soldiers during his dispatch to Xarooda, but his army can’t be that large.”

Ryoma Mikoshiba had led several hundred soldiers in the expedition to Xarooda. Since he was a baron, and it was possible that all those soldiers were knights who could use martial thaumaturgy, Ryoma’s army would be much larger than a noble of his standing should have. The same could be said of Count Salzberg, however. House Salzberg was the old clan that had guarded the northern regions since before the kingdom’s founding. Because of that lofty justification, House Salzberg’s domain was allowed to grow larger than that of a simple count.

House Salzberg alone had an army that was nearly the size of a duke’s, and the ten houses of the north were reinforcing his ranks as well. Count Salzberg also had the Twin Blades—Robert Bertrand and Signus Galveria—at his beck and call. No matter how many tricks Ryoma used within the Wortenia Peninsula, Meltina didn’t think he had the means to overturn this difference in strength.

Count Salzberg is a problematic man surrounded by dark rumors. His strength rivals Lady Helena’s, as painful as that is to admit.

Meltina was confident in her swordsmanship. There had been times when people turned their nose up at her for being a woman, but each time someone did, Meltina had proved them wrong with her abilities. She wasn’t so overconfident that she thought she could defeat the Twin Blades, though. The same probably held true for Mikhail Vanash as well.

Ryoma Mikoshiba’s army might be powerful. And he has those twins and the red-haired mercenary on his side too. However...

Laura and Sara were among his aides, and seasoned mercenaries like Lione and Boltz were in his service. Still, it was probably safe to assume that Count Salzberg had the advantage, both in his army’s size and his commanders’ skills.

“Honestly speaking, I wouldn’t mind if either of them lost,” Meltina said.

“Yes, agreed,” Queen Lupis whispered.

Meltina didn’t care who won the war.

If Mikoshiba loses, that’d solve a problem for us. And on the off chance he wins, we can use the war as a reason to bring him to judgment.

The same could be said for Count Salzberg. Both of them were thorns in Queen Lupis’s side. Letting them kill each other off would be the best possible development for her.

Still, if we don’t interfere in this war at all, other countries might look down on us.

Stopping the war was impossible at this point, and they had no desire to do so. Queen Lupis had already rejected that idea. But Meltina couldn’t allow the other nobles to catch wind of this ploy.

Queen Lupis’s disposition was that of a benevolent queen. That included her flaws—indecisiveness and naivete—but her kindness wasn’t a negative trait in and of itself. Allowing something to tarnish that reputation could influence her regime’s future.

Ideally, we need to set things up so it looks like we tried to stop the war but failed.

Doing so would give the impression that Queen Lupis had done everything she could have to help the country.

Maybe we should strike now, while we have the chance.

Like divine revelation, Meltina’s mind began hatching a plot.

We need to find the right person for it. I’ll have to consult Mikhail.

It was hard to say if Mikhail was at all the right person to talk to, but Meltina’s idea was nothing short of illegal dirty work. She would have to choose her cohorts carefully, or it would place both herself and Queen Lupis in a very precarious position.

Aside from Queen Lupis, there was only one person Meltina could confide in. Recalling the face of her colleague, whom she’d hardly seen the last couple of years, Meltina bowed to Queen Lupis and left.

Later that night, after concluding her talk with Queen Lupis, Meltina left the palace and made her way to Mikhail Vanash’s mansion. As soon as she entered his reception room, she bowed her head and said, “I’m sorry for coming on such short notice.”

This was a sudden, unscheduled visit. If they were commoners, it wouldn’t be much of an issue, but both House Vanash and House Lecter were knight families. If Mikhail were to rebuke her for this impolite act, Meltina would have nothing to say in her defense. Even the butler who ushered her inside had been displeased, apparent from his frown. Even so, displaying such an attitude toward a guest was that much more shameful, so the butler had been rather rude.

Mikhail, however, shook his head and dismissed her apology. “Don’t let that bother you. You’re always welcome at my doorstep, Lady Meltina. I’ve nothing to do with my time but polish my sword skills.”

Mikhail smiled sadly and gestured for Meltina to take a seat on the sofa. He grabbed a bottle of wine from one of the shelves and placed it and two glasses on the table.

“So, how can I help you?” Mikhail asked, uncorking the bottle and moving to fill her glass.

Meltina placed a hand over the glass’s rim and stopped him. This signaled to him that something was off. Mikhail narrowed his eyes, recorked the bottle, and said with a dubious expression, “No time to drink? Hm... This must be important.”

Mikhail was surprised. Meltina had never visited his mansion uninvited like this before.

Meltina went on to explain the war in the north, as well as her plot. Her explanation lasted some ten minutes, and when she finished, everything went quiet.

Finally, Mikhail sighed, breaking the silence. “I’ve heard about Ryoma’s dispute with Count Salzberg. I’ve been wondering why Her Majesty wasn’t interfering, but... Well, now I see.”

There was something damning in his tone—a criticism of how Meltina had bent her knightly honor. Mikhail did understand what was driving her to do this, though. There was a time that he had also pursued his personal justice and thought of nothing but proving his loyalty. He firmly believed in the knight’s path. Even now, that desire remained, but he’d come to realize that ideals simply weren’t enough on their own.

“If there were some other means,” Meltina said.

“Other means... Right.”

They fell silent again. Conflict and regret were brewing in their hearts. But the die had already been cast.

You’ve changed... Mikhail thought, looking at the woman sitting opposite of him. The Meltina Lecter he knew had been a woman burning with knightly ideals, who would always abide by justice.

No, you had to change.

The warrior houses of Vanash and Lecter had served the royal family since the country’s inception. That tradition had been passed down uninterrupted to Mikhail and Meltina. When compared to the Tokugawa shogunate, they were like high-ranking retainers to the shogun. Describing their relationship with each other, however, was difficult. They were colleagues serving Queen Lupis through their formal titles. Or rather, they had been colleagues.

Mikhail had disobeyed Ryoma’s orders during the civil war, a move which had greatly damaged his reputation. He was now relieved of his duties, and all he could do was wait for a chance to redeem himself. By comparison, Meltina was Helena’s stand-in. She had authority over internal affairs and public order. Regardless of their relationship in the past, Mikhail and Meltina were no longer equals. Be that as it may, Mikhail still remained a knight of Rhoadseria even after he’d lost his position, so they were colleagues in a certain sense. But that was like calling a manager and a junior employee “coworkers.”

One thing was certain. Meltina and Mikhail had a connection that bordered on a familial bond. Since there were ten years between them, it was closer to a father and daughter relationship, or a much older brother and a younger sister. For nearly twenty years, they had supported Queen Lupis together, long enough to become as close as family.

This was why Mikhail was so saddened to see that Meltina had changed so much. The fact that the situation had warped her so much weighed on him, but he knew he had only himself to blame. Looking back on his past failures, Mikhail had decided to change. Meltina, on the other hand, had changed because of the responsibility and position she held within the kingdom. Those had forced her to change.

It’s all my fault. This is all because I was so impatient back then.

A scene Mikhail had viewed in his dreams numerous times came to mind. When he’d seen Kael Iruna, a man who’d betrayed Queen Lupis and joined the nobles’ faction, he had lost his temper. He’d ignored Ryoma’s orders and charged ahead. It had led to the deaths of many of his subordinates and his own shameful capture.

If only he’d waited and followed orders, they would have been able to hang Duke Gelhart for his crimes. That would have crushed the nobles’ faction’s future machinations. Everyone might have looked at him differently. Ryoma Mikoshiba would have been treated much differently too.

Perhaps we could have been comrades...

In the end, Mikhail was just heaping one convenient theory on top of another. It was nothing more than whimsy, a dream of Mikhail’s where he never failed. But no amount of regret could change the past. Only the future was subject to change.

Very well, I’ll play along.

That was why Mikhail decided to cooperate with Meltina’s ploy. It would mean discarding his own justice and beliefs, but he honestly believed it was the way to atone for his past mistakes.

“And who’s going to take on that role?” he asked.

Meltina’s face hardened. She was about to ask him to find someone who’d pretend to be a messenger in Her Majesty’s service—a jester hiding behind a dignified position.

This “messenger” couldn’t possibly succeed. If they were to do so, it would place their entire faction in a compromising position. But by sending a messenger, they would be refuting Ryoma’s claim that he was fighting for the good of the kingdom. It would solidify the fact that Ryoma was disobeying his liege’s orders.

Depending on the north’s state of affairs, it was possible that the messenger might be held responsible. Should the war end in a cease-fire, people would certainly inquire who had sent him. Meltina would defend him as much as she could, but she couldn’t cover for him too much, lest it raise suspicion about her involvement. How to punish the messenger would be left to chance. At best, he would get demoted, but even his entire household could be wiped out.

Meltina had to pick the messenger carefully while considering the worst-case scenario. In other words, she needed to find a sacrificial lamb. She knew that, but saying it out loud took courage.

Mikhail saw the conflict raging in her eyes. Wishing to lighten her load a little, he said, “I think I know someone who would fit the role. Leave the choice to me.”

Meltina raised her face to look at him. Mikhail smiled and nodded.

“Could you?” she asked.

“Yes. But what about the letter?” If they were going to send a messenger from the queen, they’d need the queen’s seal.

Meltina shook her head but didn’t elaborate.

“I see,” Mikhail said. “Yes, it would be best to not include a letter. We’ll have them pretend to be a secret messenger, then?”

Meltina nodded.

If everything looked too official, it could really lead to a cease-fire, and they didn’t want that. They preferred to let their opponents wear each other down. And if one side won, they would prosecute the victor. If they wanted to achieve that outcome, it wouldn’t be a good idea to use an official letter with the queen’s seal. A secret messenger fit Meltina’s ends much better.

Is that really the best thing we can do here, though?

Mikhail felt a twinge of anxiety. He agreed with Meltina that a cease-fire wasn’t a desirable outcome, but they definitely needed a letter for this. As far as he knew, Rhoadserian law demanded it.

Would forgoing the letter cause us trouble down the line?

Mikhail, a warrior by nature, never did like paperwork. When he served as vice-captain of the royal knights, he’d always asked people to handle the paperwork for him. But now that he spent his days at home, he’d started delving into fields other than tactics and combat. Much like Meltina, Mikhail had learned from adversity.

That was why he’d felt a sense of foreboding when Meltina said they wouldn’t use a letter from the queen. He couldn’t quite place his finger on what was making him so uneasy, though. But without knowing what was so disconcerting, he couldn’t tell Meltina to stop.

I might have a bad feeling about this, but that doesn’t necessarily mean much.

That was Mikhail’s conclusion, based on the countless times he’d acted out of his short temper in the past. He couldn’t be confident in his hunches.

Unaware of his conflict, Meltina continued, “So, Sir Mikhail, who were you considering?” She wanted to know the name of the candidate he had in mind since they would be essential to their plan.

“How about Vector Chronicle?” Mikhail offered.

Meltina immediately understood Mikhail’s choice. “Yes, I imagine he’ll accept the job eagerly, but...” Her expression clouded over with pity and regret.

“I understand what you want to say, but cold as it may be, that man doesn’t have a future. If there was anything I could do to help him, I would, but...”

Mikhail wasn’t happy about suggesting his name. But not many would readily accept such a dangerous task, and given all the factors at play, Vector was the most suitable man for the job.

Vector Chronicle was originally a royal guard, like Mikhail. But after he accepted the title of baron following his older brother’s sudden death, he had moved away from the capital, to his own domain. During his time as a knight, Vector had once served as Queen Lupis’s personal guard. Because of this, he was close with Mikhail and Meltina, who would often lock horns with other nobles.

His domain, the Chronicle barony, was located exactly between the capital and the northern regions. According to what the capital knew, the hostilities in the north were either on the verge of opening or they’d already begun. The situation had to be handled quickly, and since his territory was north of the capital, he could arrive at the frontlines much sooner.

That wasn’t the main reason Mikhail mentioned Vector’s name, however. Like he had said, Vector didn’t have a future. There was a disease in this world called Carrion disease. One of Helena’s closest aides, Chris Morgan’s grandfather, was afflicted with this illness. It stemmed from a critical depletion of prana in the body and had a small chance of occurring in severely weakened people.

There was an existing treatment for the disease, but it required expensive nostrums that could only be purchased from the central continent. Only those in power had the connections required to obtain them. But even if one were to get the nostrums, they would only cure the disease in its early stages. Once the disease developed past that, treatment wouldn’t help.

What made this disease especially awful was that it developed very slowly. Over the course of roughly ten to twenty years, the patient’s flesh would gradually begin to decay. The process was quite painful, and it continued to torment its victim until it extended to their heart.

It would mean giving him one final mission.

If Mikhail and Meltina had known that Vector had Carrion disease, they would have tried to help him before it developed beyond treatment. But it happened before Queen Lupis took to the throne. Duke Gelhart had been leading the nobles’ faction, and General Albrecht’s tyranny had been on full display. That had made it difficult for him to reach out to his comrades. Mikhail and Meltina had only learned about his illness after it had progressed past the treatable stage. Meltina vividly remembered how Queen Lupis had blamed herself and her own lack of power when she’d learned of his condition.

Sadly, no matter how much his peers lamented it, Vector’s fate had already been set in stone. The only thing that remained was to either sit by and watch him die a meaningless death or grant him a chance to die as a knight in the name of the kingdom. This was a shameful task that would yield no rewards. It was certainly not a job one would give a dying friend.


Mikhail was convinced that he was doing the right thing, just as he had been when he cast aside his knightly convictions and resolved to assassinate Princess Radine during the last civil war.

“Share a cup with me. At least one,” he urged and uncorked the bottle again.

This time Meltina didn’t stop him. He filled her glass with amber-colored wine. He then filled his own to the brim, picked it up, and raised it to eye level.

“Very well. Just one,” Meltina said.

Meltina wasn’t a good drinker, but this time she played along with Mikhail. The two of them emptied their glasses in one swig and slapped them back down on the table, as if paying tribute to a friend that wasn’t there.

That night, a man rode out from the back of Mikhail’s estate, heading north. Hidden on his person was a fateful secret letter...

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