Wortenia Senki (LN) - Volume 18 - Chapter 2

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Chapter 2: Deceivers’ Den

That day, a solemn atmosphere hung over the palace in Rhoadseria’s capital. The sentries standing guard in the audience chamber were more tense than usual, like soldiers about to depart for war. The nobles gathered on both sides of the room looked just as nervous.

In the midst of all this, three guests walked slowly toward the throne where Queen Lupis was seated. The one leading the trio was an aging man clad in an extravagant priest’s garb. In contrast to those around him, he didn’t seem the slightest bit nervous and instead wore a pleasing smile on his lips. Be that as it may, despite his agreeable demeanor, he gave off an inexplicable air of dignity that pressured those around him. He walked with the confidence that he had the gods’ blessings on his side.

Following closely behind him were two knights, who were obviously his bodyguards. Aside from that, they also served as part of the diplomatic delegation. The metallic great helms they wore hid their expressions, but their armor and swords were decorated here and there, and their capes were pure white with golden threads. Most eye-catching of all were the crests emblazoned on their capes. They bore an image of scales—a symbol of the God of Light, Meneos, who governed over justice and law—and the symbol of a cross. This alone made it clear what the knights’ social status was.

More than anything, though, their gazes behind their helmets and their posture were proof of their skill, which was to be expected. They were members of the Eighteenth Order of the Temple Knights, one of the most capable and accomplished knight orders in the Church of Meneos.

Watching them approach, Queen Lupis sent a signal with her eyes to Meltina and Mikhail, who stood at her sides, and nodded briefly. She then solemnly said, “Cardinal Roland, I thank you for coming all the way over from Menestia. I welcome you to my country with open arms and thank you for offering help to my kingdom in its time of need. Let us take this day as a chance to mend the scars of our painful misunderstandings and the tragedy that followed them.”

The moment those words echoed through the room, all the nobles held their breaths. Everyone present knew what this day meant. Rumors were already spreading that the Temple Knights would serve as reinforcements for the expedition to the Wortenia Peninsula. This decision would have repercussions on Rhoadseria’s national policy and the people’s sentiments, so to make this choice, one would have to make adjustments beforehand. At the very least, the queen couldn’t decide this matter all on her own. Queen Lupis knew this, and she’d prepared thoroughly so as to not cause any unnecessary backlash.

In that regard, one could say this matter had already been decided, which shouldn’t have come as a surprise to the nobles. Even so, most of the people present in this room were half in doubt about using the Eighteenth Order, owing mostly to the events of the past. They didn’t want to believe it, but now that the queen had spoken, there was no doubting it anymore. The nobles watching on realized it was the kingdom’s consensus that they accept the Church of Meneos’s army.

Nevertheless, one person couldn’t help but feel conflicted about this happening, and that person was Queen Lupis herself, the very woman who’d greeted Cardinal Roland.

As far as I can tell, few people have noticed that Queen Lupis has mixed feelings, though.

There was nothing questionable about her attitude as she sat on her throne. She had a welcoming smile, and diplomatically speaking, there was nothing with which to find fault in her conduct. The nobles’ expressions made that clear. Most of the people in the room took Queen Lupis’s words at face value.

But Cardinal Jacob Roland, the Church of Meneos’s representative in this land, could see that she was very much forcing herself to keep up this facade. Cardinal Roland’s eyes could easily perceive that her right hand, which was sitting on the throne’s armrest, was extremely tense.




Her attitude is friendly, her words are warm, and her intonation is all natural. At first glance, it seems she’s being very welcoming, but... Hm, let’s see.

Cardinal Roland fixed his eyes on a certain point on the throne.

She could just be nervous, but, well, it seems to me that she’s suppressing some anger and humiliation. 

The Church of Meneos wasn’t made up of lofty, virtuous people. Much like every regime in this world, including Rhoadseria’s, the church had to fight and struggle day and night. As a superpower with influence all over the western continent, one country’s battles couldn’t compare to the scale and intensity of the church’s struggles. They threatened, pacified, and deceived. Many of its members had no belief in the faith and were simply lowly jackals hiding behind the shield of “the will of the gods.” After having contended with them for so many years, Cardinal Roland could see through Queen Lupis’s pretending with ease.

However, even though he could see through her lies, Cardinal Roland didn’t regard Queen Lupis with hatred or disgust. Quite the contrary, in fact. He felt genuine pity for her.

I can’t very well blame her. Unfortunate events aren’t so easy to forget.

The three kingdoms of the east didn’t want to get involved with the Church of Meneos if possible. The long history that had been carved into the western continent’s soil stood as evidence of their opposition, and given the past the two knights behind Cardinal Roland had, the entirety of Rhoadseria’s people surely viewed them with animosity.

After all, the Temple Knights had dispatched the Eighteenth Order, an elite group also known as the infamous Colsbarga Grave Diggers. True, the tragedy of Gromhen was a thing of the past and few people knew what had really happened there, but the stories had been passed down from parent to child to grandchild. For those involved, the stories were equivalent to facts. They were deeply rooted in Rhoadseria’s people regardless of social standing.

Still, Queen Lupis couldn’t afford to reject the Church of Meneos’s reinforcements. In its present state, Rhoadseria couldn’t handle any friction with the church. Cardinal Roland understood this, so he bowed his head to Queen Lupis, treating her with respect.

“I’m honored by your words, Your Majesty,” he said, slowly beginning his congratulatory address. “This day will surely leave a brilliant mark on Rhoadseria’s history, and I’m sure the God of Light will share his divine protection with your just cause.”

This was his average, routine greeting, but despite the fact that it was merely a formality, those words were what Queen Lupis wanted to hear right now.

“Thank you very much, Cardinal Roland. With the blessing of a cardinal, a representative of God such as yourself, I know that Meneos has acknowledged the rightness of my cause.”

Cardinal Roland wordlessly bowed his head to the throne. 

After finishing his audience with the queen, Cardinal Roland walked through the palace’s corridors, followed by his bodyguards. He was headed for the queen’s office. They had finished their official greeting, but they still needed to discuss more clandestine matters behind closed doors.

Queen Lupis’s words and attitude during their audience came to the cardinal’s mind. He had to ask himself why she’d accepted the Church of Meneos’s support, but in a sense, the answer to that was evident.

Her regime hasn’t been going too well. I can’t say that’s entirely her fault, but the people will be hard-pressed to understand her struggles.

Queen Lupis had managed to attain the throne by winning the civil war, but her reign hadn’t been a good one so far. The realm had been ravaged by years of the nobles’ tyranny and the scars of the war. National finances were in dire straits, and the nobles who held local authority over the kingdom’s domains refused to obey her decrees.

And in the midst of all that, O’ltormea’s invasion of Xarooda had struck a truly lethal blow to Rhoadseria. Due to that, the commoners lived in destitute poverty. Financially speaking, the country was in its death throes, and economic collapse was a very possible outcome.

The economic depression meant that the social welfare policies Queen Lupis had tried to enforce had all ceased to function.

Restoring the sovereign’s authority by investing in welfare work to support the people’s livelihoods isn’t a bad idea in and of itself. Except...

The Church of Meneos was familiar with the effectiveness of this method, as they gathered and raised orphans, but it meant nothing if one didn’t keep it up consistently, all the time.

Canceling it halfway through is the worst possible thing she could do.

Once people got their hands on something, they hated nothing more than to lose it. If they never had that something to begin with, being denied didn’t hurt, but once they had gained it, they refused to let go. This held true for social welfare and public utilities.

I do think it was a painful decision for Queen Lupis to make.

Queen Lupis had decided to end the welfare work because she knew the national budget was in crisis, but the situation had still been salvageable at that point. When Ryoma Mikoshiba joined the expedition to Xarooda, he formed a trade treaty between the Kingdom of Helnesgoula and the three kingdoms of the east. Thanks to that, the finances of each country had greatly improved.

Of course, the improvement wasn’t immediate, but the treaty definitely revitalized trade among the countries involved. The tariff restrictions had caused a temporary drop in tax revenue, but that was only a by-product of the increase in trade activity. Given a few years, the countries were guaranteed to make more profits than ever before. However, before that could happen, several incidents had taken place.

Was that just coincidence, or an inevitability?

The one who’d suggested the trade treaty was Ryoma Mikoshiba, who’d accompanied Helena Steiner to Xarooda. He was also the one who’d caused the tragedy in the House of Lords and tried to drive the country into ruin.

Did he plan all of this ahead of time?

If this was all just coincidence, Cardinal Roland could only say that Ryoma was a very lucky man—lucky enough that the gods must have been giving him their favor. The cardinal had to assume this was all luck, because the idea of Ryoma having planned everything was simply too frightening.

Being a major member of the Church of Meneos, Cardinal Roland survived the dangerous world that was the church’s higher echelons and was a terrible monster in his own right. Even so, he wasn’t confident that he would’ve been able to achieve the same things Ryoma had if he had been in the same position. If he were to assume that everything Ryoma did since becoming Wortenia’s governor was all part of his plan, then there was only one answer.

He’s a devil. That’s all I can say. They call him the Devil of Heraklion for good reason. 

Of course, Cardinal Roland didn’t entirely believe it, but some part of his heart warned him that he mustn’t completely discredit the possibility.

But there really isn’t much he can do this time.

Having made enemies of all of Rhoadseria, the only way the Mikoshiba barony could possibly win was through diplomatic help. Normally, a single noble asking another country for military aid would be met with silence. While it might be possible if his land bordered with another country, the Wortenia Peninsula was just that—a landmass surrounded by sea from three directions, its sole land route on the southwest border connecting it to Rhoadseria.

Ryoma Mikoshiba could offer northern Rhoadseria in exchange for aid, and it might be a viable bargaining chip, but if a country were to agree to that deal, Rhoadseria would view it as an enemy. No country wanted northern Rhoadseria badly enough to risk going to war over it. After all, Ryoma’s schemes had left it ravaged.

In other words, there’s no chance Myest or Xarooda would offer Baron Mikoshiba reinforcements.

The only person who might help him was the Vixen of the North, Queen Grindiana of Helnesgoula, but she was occupied dealing with the Holy Qwiltantia Empire and the O’ltormea Empire, meaning that the chances of her sending reinforcements were slim.

Besides, Queen Lupis had sent a secret message to her just in case and gained Grindiana’s implicit promise that she would not involve herself in the subjugation of the north. That way, Grindiana wouldn’t be able to make any excuses that Queen Lupis hadn’t contacted her about it. Also, when buying supplies from different countries, Queen Lupis had brokered agreements of noninterference from those kingdoms as well.

I heard she was inexperienced with politics, but Queen Lupis has matured considerably. Or maybe she was heeding advice from her aides?

The preparations for the subjugation of the north were nearly complete. All that remained were for the forces of the southern nobles to arrive and for the army to gather the supplies bought from other countries, after which Queen Lupis would only need to give the order to start the subjugation. Then a force of two hundred thousand Rhoadserian soldiers would lay waste to the Mikoshiba barony—a future as probable as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.

Cardinal Roland was beside himself with expectation. Was Ryoma Mikoshiba a mere fool, or would he prove himself a resourceful hero once more?

“Your Grace, please come this way.”

Those words pulled Cardinal Roland out of his reverie. While he had walked, lost in thought, the chamberlain leading his group down the hall had stopped before a door.

“Yes. Thank you,” Cardinal Roland said to the chamberlain, then opened the door and entered the room. His informal meeting with Queen Lupis was about to begin.

She will likely ask me to not interfere with the war. I hear she already asked Myest and Xarooda.

Besides that, Queen Lupis probably wouldn’t ask for much. All she wanted was for a representative of the faith to acknowledge the subjugation of the north so she would have the formal recognition that the gods sided with her cause. At the same time, though, she had to remain cautious, lest her actions increase the church’s influence over her kingdom. This meant she needed to keep the Church of Meneos’s involvement to a minimum.

Both sides would have to tread carefully through these negotiations.

“Thank you for sparing us your time, Your Majesty,” Cardinal Roland said, bracing himself for the negotiations ahead.

Shifting gears like this abated some of the caution he’d harbored toward Ryoma Mikoshiba just seconds ago. Because of that, Cardinal Roland couldn’t have imagined where Ryoma was and what he was doing at that very moment...and how those actions would turn the very premise of the coming conflict on its head.

A fleet of ten ships was anchored some twenty nautical miles away from Grantran, a trade city on the northern tip of Myest. Drawn on their sails was the emblem of the Kingdom of Myest, the country that boasted the biggest navy and the largest number of trade cogs among the three kingdoms of the east.

Brawny sailors moved along the decks of those ships, working nonstop. Some were scrubbing the floors with mops, some were lifting weights to remain in shape, and some were servicing their weapons. Needless to say, they had good reason to remain anchored in the middle of the ocean: they were waiting for someone to arrive.

At last, the lookout on the mast of the main ship finally called, “Ship spotted from the northwest!”

The men aboard the ships scrambled about. They were anchored in a region far from any trade sea route, so normally no ship would be sailing through these waters. Therefore, the possibilities as to why one was approaching were limited.

One option was that it was a trade ship that had gone off course. The weather easily influenced any vessel, and sea monsters infested the waters. Any number of factors could have sent a trade ship off course.

The more likely option, however, was that it was a pirate ship. The Mikoshiba barony had eliminated most of the pirates who used the Wortenia Peninsula as their hideout, but it hadn’t completely eliminated every single pirate crew in the region. Most of the pirates had left the surrounding waters out of fear of the Mikoshiba barony, but some still frequented Myest’s sea routes, so it was natural for the crew to be wary of pirates.

As the sailors moved around the deck, a woman climbed out of the ship’s interior and shouted to the scout, “Check the crest on the ship’s flag!” This wasn’t a foolproof method of identification, since a pirate ship could fly a fake flag, but it was still an effective way of identifying a ship’s affiliation.

At the woman’s orders, everyone around her tensed up. She was in her thirties, with sleek black hair and snow-white skin. She was beautiful, but something in her features was as sharp and cold as a blade. It was clear to all that she had a warrior’s nature.




“It’s the crest of a double-headed serpent coiled around a blade!” the lookout shouted back. “It’s a Mikoshiba barony ship!”

Hearing this, the woman, Ecclesia Marinelle—Myest’s general, nicknamed the Whirlwind—gave a satisfied smile.

“Right on schedule,” Ecclesia’s lieutenant said as he climbed to the deck too.

Ecclesia nodded.

A top secret meeting at the request of the Mikoshiba barony, one which was to remain undisclosed to Rhoadseria, was about to transpire. They had decided to meet out at sea so as to minimize any leaks.

Not long after his initial report, the lookout called again, “The ship will come alongside us soon!”

Ecclesia fixed her eyes on the symbol of the double-headed, red-eyed serpent weaved in gold and silver threads on the other ship’s flag.

It sails so fast.

The lookout’s visibility was good; given the height of the post and his eyesight, he could see quite far out. Using the timing of both of the lookout’s announcements, Ecclesia could calculate the ship’s speed, and her estimate turned out to be startling.

It’s very fast. Faster than a ship with square sails should be. Especially considering the wind’s direction right now.

Ecclesia swiftly looked up to the flag flapping above the ship’s mast. The reality of what she was seeing was baffling. Myest was a country of skilled shipbuilders, and she was the country’s general, but even she couldn’t mask her surprise.

The wind was blowing against the Mikoshiba barony’s ship.

Myest uses jibs, triangular sails that are stretched with stays supporting the mast. But when sailing in a headwind, it takes a great deal of skill to just maintain one’s speed. Even then, they can’t keep this up...

Excitement filled Ecclesia’s heart. This was proof that she was right to come to this meeting. She walked toward the staircase leading into the ship so she could prepare for her guest and descended down the stairs into her cabin, her lieutenant following close behind.

“But, ma’am...” her lieutenant said teasingly, “I didn’t know you were looking forward to seeing him so much.”

Ecclesia, the woman known as the Whirlwind, laughed out loud. “Why would I not look forward to it? After all, Lady Helena acknowledged his talents.”

Ecclesia returned to her office, preparing to greet her much-awaited guest.

After riding the Atalanta, a galleon that had departed from Sirius’s port, to their agreed upon meeting spot, Ryoma boarded the Myest ship that awaited him and followed an escort to Ecclesia Marinelle’s office. Once they’d exchanged greetings, Ryoma settled on a sofa, and Ecclesia brought out a teapot and personally served him tea. It was a privilege indeed to have Myest’s famed general serve him like this.

Ecclesia poured the boiling water into the circular teapot with practiced motions.

It looks like she prepares tea herself every day.

Being the daughter of the king’s younger sister, Ecclesia had royal blood running through her veins. She even had a claim to the throne, albeit a very weak one, so within noble society, her bloodline was highly prestigious. Ryoma couldn’t help but be taken aback by the sight of a woman of such status personally preparing tea. Moreover, he was impressed by how refined and practiced her motions were.

“Here you are,” Ecclesia said, placing the cup in front of Ryoma.

Is she expecting me to guess what kind of tea this is? Ryoma figured that was Ecclesia’s intention, based on the amused smile on her lips, and picked up the teacup. It smells like menthol, like peppermint. Reminds me of Uva tea, so it must be from the southern continent.

He could tell if it tasted good or not, but he couldn’t quite distinguish which region it was from like some kind of gourmand. He could pretend to know, of course, but if he got it wrong, it would be difficult to dispel the awkward air after, and it could end up influencing the coming negotiations.

With that thought in mind, Ryoma elected to give up. “It’s got a wonderful, moderately bitter flavor. The aroma is rich and impactful, and when I take a sip, it has this exhilarating minty flavor. It’s splendid tea.”

This was a safe, passable answer.

Sensing Ryoma’s objective in his answer, Ecclesia smiled softly. “Yes, that’s what makes tea produced from the Barua region unique.”

Ryoma cocked his head curiously, unfamiliar with the region, and Ecclesia elegantly placed a hand over her lips and let out a chime-like laugh.

“It’s a region in the Torphana Empire, on the central continent. It’s a mountainous strip with high peaks, and the teas produced there all have this unique attribute. The white wine you served at your dinner party was produced in the same region.”

Ecclesia punctuated this with a teasing giggle, a gesture Ryoma met with a sheepish smile. Reconsidering his impression of her, he said, “It seems I need to do my research.”

On the surface, this was a friendly exchange, but their verbal battle had already begun.

I see. So she’s gathered information on me.

Ryoma had asked Simone to purchase most of the food and drinks he’d served at his dinner party through the Christof Company. The company’s galleons had gathered the majority of them directly from their production areas—meaning they hadn’t passed through Myest, which was usually the western continent’s source of imported goods. Despite that, Myest knew where the wines he’d used for his dinner party had been made. Ecclesia had implicitly stated she knew this by using this tea as her weapon, and the purpose behind that gesture was clear.

It’s unlikely there are Myest spies in Sirius, so they either planted them in Count Salzberg’s estate or the Christof Company’s supplier. Or maybe one of the nobles from the evening party leaked it? Either way, Myest seems to be very wary of me.

So long as one used the appropriate means, gaining information wasn’t terribly difficult, especially in cases like this, where it wasn’t a closely guarded military secret. Nonetheless, it implied that Myest was interested in Ryoma, because no one sought out information on a person they didn’t care about.

“It seems I put you through some trouble,” Ryoma said.

“Oh, no, this is all business. But we do believe we can be more cooperative in the future,” Ecclesia replied, at which point her expression clouded over. “For instance, rumor has it the Wortenia Peninsula has a demi-human settlement, and apparently they employ advanced endowed thaumaturgy techniques. Plus, there are monsters native only to the peninsula itself that yield rare ingredients for medicine and gear. We are currently purchasing these products from the Christof Company and from Lady Yulia’s family, the Mystel Company, but we believe that Myest can be of help with selling these unique native exports of yours.”

Ryoma cracked a cynical smile, sensing the true meaning behind her words.

They can ‘be of help,’ huh?

On the surface, it would indeed be helpful, but in essence, they were asking for a cut of the distribution. They didn’t like the idea of the Mikoshiba barony hogging this proverbial pie all for itself.

We have a monopoly on the gear Nelcius’s tribe provides us. I can understand why they’d want a cut of that.

Myest was a country of merchants; it largely relied on trade revenue, and trade was governed by the flow of people and goods. For many years, Myest had controlled that flow, and monopolized trade with other continents too. Recently, however, a new entity had formed in the market, and it had shaken the monopoly Myest held.

Myest probably can’t ignore us.

Still, the Kingdom of Myest had remained courteous so far. Despite the Mikoshiba barony rising up as a business rival, Myest hadn’t resorted to direct means to crush the opposition.

For us, that’s a stroke of luck, but...

Ryoma intended to maintain his monopoly on the endowed thaumaturgy gear, but when it came to ingredients harvested from Wortenia’s native monsters, he was actually looking for a new channel to sell them through. Developing Wortenia required a staggering amount of funds, and with Queen Lupis’s subjugation of the north approaching, he needed to further reinforce his army. Honestly speaking, every extra coin he could scrounge up would be a huge help.

Unfortunately, Simone and Lady Yulia had recently reported that, for the time being, the most they could do was maintain the status quo. They could begin expanding their market outlet, but they lacked the manpower to maintain that endeavor. At worst, trying to expand would detrimentally affect that status quo.

Ecclesia’s offer would benefit Ryoma in that it was essentially a business partnership.

And they’re likely offering this because they know of our circumstances.

Ecclesia was a hard negotiator, it seemed.

She’s a general, but she has a merchant’s eye as well. I wish Lupis could have taken a leaf out of her book. Still, what to do?

Ryoma couldn’t just sit there and be impressed with her. His thoughts moved rapidly until he came up with a proposal.

“Yes, I see. You’re right. Your help would be mutually beneficial for both of us, but...”

“But what?” Ecclesia asked.

“It’s just I heard that Rhoadseria asked Myest to remain uninvolved with regards to our feud, and Myest consented. On top of that, if the northern subjugation begins, we’ll certainly be forced into a disadvantageous position. So while I’d love to expand my business prospects, I’m honestly not sure if it’s possible right now.”

Ryoma smirked. It was a perfect counterpunch. Ecclesia wasn’t going to give up this easily, though. She unflinchingly agreed with him.

“That much is fact. Given my country’s history with Rhoadseria, we have no reason to refuse Queen Lupis’s request. My suggestion was for what will come after the northern subjugation is resolved. And our country will not spare any expense in offering you some degree of aid.”

Her words were contradictory.

She accepted Lupis’s request, but she wants to help me after I conclude the northern subjugation? It’s not what you say, but how you say it, I suppose.

Ecclesia was trying to outfox Queen Lupis, but perhaps this was the essence of politics.

The Kingdom of Myest must think Lupis is a cause for concern.

This was the natural conclusion. Queen Lupis could not rein in the nobles’ oppressive ways, and her reign was constantly unstable. Because of that, when their mutual ally, Xarooda, was attacked by the O’ltormea Empire, Rhoadseria hadn’t been able to dispatch a proper expedition to aid them—despite the fact that Xarooda was a defensive line that held the O’ltormea Empire in check.

Of course, this was just a single mistake, and if there wasn’t any reason to believe it would happen again, Myest would surely overlook it. Unfortunately, there was no guarantee that things would be any better next time.

And this is why they agreed to meet me today.

This feud between Ryoma and Queen Lupis could affect Myest’s security. Even Ecclesia’s little riddle earlier was a means to probe Ryoma for a reaction. They had placed Ryoma and Lupis Rhoadserians on either end of a scale and were trying to gauge which one to join forces with.

Ryoma cut right to chase. “Can I take ‘aid’ to mean that you will dispatch reinforcements to assist me?”

When Ecclesias said “aid,” she meant they would help when the time came to negotiate with Rhoadseria. But even knowing this, Ryoma intentionally asked if Myest would deploy their army. In doing so, he was testing her.

Silence hung over the room until Ecclesia finally said, “Sending reinforcements isn’t impossible in and of itself.”

She brought her cup to her lips and leveled a testing gaze at Ryoma, carefully examining the meaning behind his words. She then let out a soft sigh.

“That said, the land route will likely be closed off to us. Queen Lupis isn’t foolish enough to blindly believe my country’s word. We would have to rely on a sea route, and since we would have to hide the ships’ affiliations, we won’t be able to dispatch too many troops.”

Her estimate was very realistic. Minute details could go on to influence things ever so slightly, but if Myest seriously intended to send reinforcements, they would have no choice but to rely on a sea route. And since Myest had formally accepted Rhoadseria’s request for noninterference, Myest would have to dispatch those soldiers in an informal manner, which would limit the forces in number. If nothing else, they couldn’t send more than ten thousand troops, and that wouldn’t be enough to oppose the northern subjugation army, which was said to number two hundred thousand soldiers. It would be like pouring water on a hot stone.

Knowing all this, Ryoma nodded profoundly to Ecclesia. It was evident that he didn’t simply want reinforcements.

“May I ask why?” Ecclesia said. “With our kingdom’s might, there are other options you could pursue.”

In other words, she was asking why Ryoma hadn’t negotiated with Queen Lupis for a compromise.

Ryoma remained composed as he honestly answered, “It’s simple. So long as that woman is Rhoadseria’s ruler, we’re all fated to die. If anything, I’d like to ask you one thing: do you think Rhoadseria has any future with Lupis Rhoadserians on the throne?”

His words were brimming with confidence, and his eyes insisted that she must know he was right.

Whether she wants to admit it is another matter.

The Kingdom of Myest and the Kingdom of Rhoadseria had maintained a neutral relationship for many years. Sometimes they were rivals; sometimes they were allies. They would clash occasionally in small border skirmishes, but history demonstrated that whenever the southern kingdoms or the O’ltormea Empire came knocking at the door, the three kingdoms of the east would join forces to repel them. That relationship was on the verge of changing, however.

“So it really is true,” Ecclesia muttered. She had already vaguely come to that conclusion. She had been harboring the same concern as Myest’s top brass, which was why she’d come to this meeting today.

The responsibility doesn’t lie entirely with Queen Lupis, though.

That was why Ryoma had initially wanted to help Queen Lupis’s regime. Unfortunately, Ryoma’s feelings had failed to reach the queen, who insisted on repeatedly trying to eliminate him. This meant he was going up against the nation, and his chances of victory would be nonexistent.

Even knowing this, if Ryoma wanted to ensure that he lived on, there was only one thing he could do. He’d have to remove the cancer eating away at Rhoadseria. Much like a medical operation, this came with major risks and side effects. Anyone would choose to avoid this if they had any other alternative, but if there was no other way, one had to make the choice.

Ecclesia gazed at Ryoma, her heart brewing with cold calculation. The decision she was about to make would decide Myest’s future.

But Myest seems to have considered this possibility.

Ecclesia was a highborn woman with royal blood, as well as one of Myest’s prided generals, but she wasn’t the kingdom’s sovereign. Normally, she wouldn’t have the authority to make this choice on her own. Her expression, though, implied she was allowed to and intended to make that choice.

A long moment passed before Ecclesia finally made her choice.

“Let’s hear your conditions then, Lady Ecclesia,” Ryoma said.

“This agreement will only be operative after the northern subjugation is resolved, but the Kingdom of Myest is interested in forming an anti-O’ltormea alliance with the Mikoshiba barony,” Ecclesia explained. “In exchange for that, my country will lend you an elite unit to help you during the northern subjugation. Of course, they will be sent as a mercenary group of unknown affiliation. At the same time, we will aid by providing supplies.”

Given Myest’s position, this wasn’t a bad deal. Even if it was in an unofficial capacity, Myest’s general, Ecclesia Marinelle, had declared that she would nullify and void her kingdom’s promise of noninterference. The meaning of that promise was a heavy one.

Ecclesia might not be queen, but it seems she has been entrusted with full authority.

If Rhoadseria was to catch wind of this, Myest would be branded as a treacherous country that went back on its word.

I suppose it could also be a lie to dupe me, but would they go through this many risks just to trick me? 

After all, to a bystander, the Mikoshiba barony looked like it was at a severe disadvantage compared to the northern subjugation army of two hundred thousand men. Nevertheless, Ryoma had a plan to defeat Queen Lupis and her army, and he’d only come to negotiate with Myest about what would happen after the war. He could defeat the northern subjugation even without help from another country. Only a select few of his officers knew about his plan, and even they didn’t understand the true aim behind it. Only Laura and Sara understood the full scope of his scheme.

If Myest set out to trick Ryoma for the sake of disposing of him, they wouldn’t need Ecclesia to offer false promises in this meeting. All they’d have to do is abide by their oath to Rhoadseria and remain uninvolved.

But I need them to shoulder more of a risk.

Ryoma understood Myest’s position, but that didn’t mean he’d settle for less in these negotiations.

“Your terms aren’t bad, but I need to add two more conditions,” Ryoma stated.

“And those would be...?” Ecclesia prompted.

“First, I ask that the unit you send be Myest’s prided cavalry archers. Second, I ask that their commander be Ecclesia Marinelle, the Whirlwind.”

The instant Ryoma said this, their gazes clashed, invisible sparks flying through the air.

“You do understand the meaning behind your request, yes?” Ecclesia asked.

Ryoma nodded unapologetically. “Of course. Let us make it so that among the ‘unaffiliated mercenaries’ you send me, there just so happens to be a woman who looks a lot like you.”

Ecclesia keenly picked up on the meaning behind his words. She became contemplative once more, before eventually reaching for the teacup on the table and sipping on her tea. She then leveled a challenging gaze at Ryoma.

“I understand. Very well. However, I need to append a condition too. Baron Mikoshiba, I request that you serve as an intermediary between my country and the demi-humans.”

Ryoma knit his brow. Her request was unexpected.

So that’s her angle. I see she looked into my circumstances. If this is her reason, I can see why Myest would go so far as to renege on their oath to Rhoadseria to approach me. I guess that kind of demand makes sense, considering that they’re a trade country that made a fortune off of trading with other continents.

The question was whether he could accept that demand. Saying no would be easy, but then Ecclesia would refuse to answer his demand that she join the forces Myest would dispatch.

So, what will profit me more? Hanging on to that monopoly, or gaining their cooperation?

This was an issue of resolve. The two of them glared at each other for a long second, after which they both reached out to shake hands. Both of them knew that making this choice was their only way forward.

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