Wortenia Senki (LN) - Volume 2 - Chapter 2

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Chapter 2: Entangled Plots

“Behold! Before you stands the capital of the Kingdom of Rhoadseria, Pireas!”

Jerked awake by Mikhail’s words, Ryoma rubbed his eyes groggily and cast his gaze ahead. He’d been wary of a possible attack over the last few days, and hadn’t gotten much sleep.

“Whoa. So that’s the capital... It’s pretty big.”

There was still some distance to cross before they got there, but the spires of the royal castle were coming into view beyond the plains. The castle stood at the center, and the city was formed by the ramparts which divided it into wards. The outskirts had long expanses of wheat fields, and people were walking in an orderly fashion along the stone-paved road to the capital. Seeing how the baskets on their backs were full of vegetables, they were likely farmers who lived nearby heading to sell their crops in the capital’s market.

I see... So you can’t farm inside the walls after all... Still, I felt like this was similar to medieval Europe, but it really is a whole different world. Clinging to any preconceived notions could cost me my life...

The crops which cities consumed were produced in the surrounding farmlands. Cities were established to distribute those goods and store them in case of emergency. In that regard, it was no different from Ryoma’s world. But on the other hand, the sheer scale and scope of this city was larger than any town in medieval Europe could ever hope to reach.

A massive city, standing at the center of the plains. It was hard to tell from a distance, but it was large enough that Ryoma wouldn’t be surprised to hear it supported a population as large as one million people.

“Naturally! This is the capital of Rhoadseria, one of the mightiest countries in the continent! To begin with, in the olden days of our grand country...”

Smiling wryly at how tinged with superiority Mikhail’s explanation was, Ryoma turned his gaze to the fortified town which was beginning to take clear shape before them.

Passing through the slums spread outside the gate, they went through the outermost wall into the city. Mikhail sighed and whispered, “Well, it’s a good thing we got here in one piece. I was expecting an attack from the nobles’ faction...”

The area beyond here was governed strictly under Rhoadserian law. There was a large difference in how strongly the law was enforced inside and outside the walls. Mobilizing troops required the palace’s approval, and any group of armed people moving around ran the risk of being interrogated by the guards. Being violently attacked was very unlikely.

“Well, I thought the chances of that were slim to begin with, honestly...”

“What do you mean?” Mikhail cast a probing gaze at Ryoma.

“They went to the trouble of faking that request to arrange the raid. From their perspective, everything is probably laid out and prepared already.”

Preparing a countermeasure after confirming the situation was no small task, even in Japan’s developed society of information. And this world lacked the communication and information technology Japan had, so it would not be uncommon for days to pass before the person who set up this trap realized what had happened. If the people in charge of this plot were cautious, they would likely think they were back at square one.

But that was just Ryoma’s gut instinct on the matter, of course. That was why he sacrificed his sleeping time in order to remain vigilant. However, it seemed Mikhail didn’t take kindly to Ryoma’s words.

“However lowly the traitors of the nobles’ faction may be, you think they’d so easily ignore their master’s orders...?” So displeased, in fact, that his tone was quite sharp and vicious.

It hadn’t even been a week since they’d been attacked, but Ryoma had a pretty good handle on Mikhail’s militaristic personality. He seemed to hold a great deal of contempt for the concepts of fleeing and surrendering, and had a radical dislike of reacting to a failure or a crisis by pulling back and reassessing the situation.

He was the type to never give up a fight until he won. Saying he had great force of will was putting a positive spin on it, but his personality was simply too direct and simple-minded.

I don’t personally dislike that about him... But he’s not suited for his job. He’s the kind of guy I’d never want to see get into stock trading and gambling.

“Well, it depends on what the people in command are thinking.” Ryoma said, directing a sober expression at him. “They’ve probably clued into how their plot failed, so they must have decided to stay on the side of caution and pull back to reassess things.”

“At times like these, is an outstanding warrior not meant to use their strength to conquer adversity, and lay down his life in the name of his lord’s objectives?” Mikhail said, his words resonating with the clear mindset of a warrior.

But Ryoma couldn’t bring himself to praise Mikhail’s pride and conviction. As a single knight, perhaps Mikhail’s way of thinking would be lauded as valiant and brave, but not knowing when to retreat was a major flaw for a commander. And, perhaps unfortunately, Mikhail was no low-ranking knight.

“Not everyone clings to a knight’s honor like you do, Mikhail.”

“You intend to insult chivalrous honor?!” Mikhail met Ryoma’s exasperated tone with a face reddened by indignance.

“That question rings pretty hollow, coming from the man who turned his back on chivalrous honor to stage an assassination.”

Ryoma’s reply made Mikhail’s face contort in frustration. That was the very last thing he wanted to hear right now.

“Rrgggh... Th-That was... I had no other alternative...” He stuttered his excuses powerlessly.

That stood as proof that even he couldn’t justify assassination as a means to an end. He must have been wishing the ground would swallow him up in that instant. As if fleeing the conversation, Mikhail moved to the wagon where the injured were lying. His heart was torn between his pride and the wellbeing of his kingdom.

“Heh. What’s the point in crying over spilt milk, anyway? Besides, I don’t think assassination is the wrong way to get things done.” Ryoma said quietly with a sigh, looking at Mikhail’s back as he began tending to the injured with Laura.

“Not the wrong way, you say?” Sara, holding the reins on the driver’s seat, tilted her head quizzically at Ryoma’s defense of Mikhail.

Her surprise came from several days of listening to her master’s conversations with Mikhail, and coming to realize their worldviews didn’t mesh.

“Huh? Well, yeah... There’s nothing wrong with picking assassination in and of itself.” Ryoma replied to Sara’s innocent question with a bitter smile. “Depending on the situation, I might decide to go for it too.”

Indeed, if one used their own common sense, assassination was a terrible thing. But if a single person’s death could lead to preventing the death of many and stopping discord and strife, Ryoma didn’t think it was an option one should easily discredit. In terms of good and evil, assassination certainly fell under evil; Ryoma didn’t question that. But what mattered now was a question of necessity.

“At the end of the day, assassination is just a means to an end, and what matters is whether you can fulfilll that objective...”

In this example, the objective of the knights’ faction was to prevent the nobles’ faction from elevating the illegitimate child to the status of Queen of Rhoadseria. So if one were to ignore good and evil, in terms of efficiency, assassinating the aforesaid princess would mean greatly minimized losses for Rhoadseria, rather than an open war between the two factions. No matter which faction won, if the country fell into discord, the only ones to suffer would be the citizens and farmers. The public order would deteriorate and the country’s productivity would decline.

So in that regard, assassinating the princess may not have been a praiseworthy idea on the surface, but it wasn’t a bad idea in and of itself. If nothing else, it was better than the statesman in charge of the country thrusting needless strain on the citizens due to their adherence to justice or ideals.

That hinged on them gaining accurate, detailed information, though. And it was that point that caused Ryoma to think the knights’ faction were fools.

The fact that they’d planned and executed an assassination plot while not suspecting or scrutinizing the information they’d received, for no reason other than one of their own had delivered it to them, was all too reckless. If they were to fail, it could very well cause their target to see the very fact an attempt on their life was made as a reason to employ violence in return, giving them a justified pretext to strike back. Ryoma doubted they’d thought that far ahead.

“Well, if Mikhail and his subordinates are any indication, the knights’ faction are all meatheads, but not much I can do about that, I guess...”

“What’s a ‘meathead?’” Sara quizzically tilted her head at the epithet Ryoma had muttered.

She’d likely never heard that term before.

“Oh, it’s a person who’s all brawn and no brains. Someone who’s really strong but doesn’t think before they act,” Ryoma shrugged.

“I see. So that makes them meatheads, then.” Sara gave a deep nod, seemingly convinced.

They hadn’t spent that much time together, but the way he spoke seemed to pique her interest. And indeed, Mikhail and his surviving subordinates were all impulsive, or perhaps thoughtless, and ultimately not at all the type to think things through.

“But I’m surprised those meatheads went along with your proposal.”

“Well, yeah. Mikhail might be a meathead, but he’s not an idiot. He understood once I explained my reasoning.”

That day, Ryoma’s proposal shook Mikhail’s heart to the core. And that was only natural; anyone would be suspicious if a person they’d just tried to kill suddenly asked for their cooperation. Especially after Ryoma’s plan got many of his men killed.

Mikhail had led a total of fifty troops from the capital to carry out the assassination. There were only five people still clinging to life in the wagon right now. This made a total of six survivors, including Mikhail. So naturally, their hatred for Ryoma Mikoshiba was very strong. It may have been an outcome they had brought upon themselves as the assailants in that attack, but so many of their comrades had been killed by Ryoma’s counterattack...

Still, Mikhail went with Ryoma’s proposal. Or rather, was forced to, regardless of his will. Refusing it would have left him with no other options. He’d failed to assassinate the illegitimate princess, and had lost most of his men. Just in terms of bolstering their military force, the knights’ faction had nothing to lose by gaining the cooperation of Ryoma and the mercenaries.

In addition, inspecting the corpses of the merchants showed that Ryoma’s suspicions were correct. Mingled in with the corpses were a few familiar faces belonging to the nobles’ faction, which went to show this attack was all set up by someone in the nobles’ faction.

Still, even if Mikhail was convinced, that didn’t mean his subordinates accepted this partnership easily. Wrapped as they were with ropes, they ignored the blood moistening their bandages and unsheathed their swords, glaring at Ryoma with alert eyes. In the end, they only accepted things after Mikhail convinced them, but they still burned with hatred for Ryoma. This was also apparent from the scornful gazes they directed at Laura, even while she replaced their bandages.

“Well, Laura’s spell was just that powerful. No way around that...” Ryoma shook his head as he watched Mikhail tending to the wounded. “Plus, Boltz and his group chipped in a lot too.”

“Yes, they truly are experienced mercenaries. They were able to coordinate with Laura without any practice.”

When several people chanted the same verbal thaumaturgy spell, its power could skyrocket and have even greater effects. Though the timing had to be absolutely precise, and it all came down to Boltz and the others being able to work with Laura.

“When I first heard about it, I wasn’t sure if it would work.”

“Lucky for us that it did.”

“Yeah. After all, we couldn’t afford to completely wipe out the enemy, but looking back at it, asking them to greatly diminish their numbers and nothing else was a bit crazy... But Boltz’s group did good.”

Since Ryoma needed some of the enemies to survive so he could get a handle on the situation, killing all of them wouldn’t work, and their means were limited. Honestly, just ordering to kill them all without mercy would have been simpler...

“Oh! You called, lad?” Hearing his name called, Boltz drew his horse close to the carriage.

“No, I was just saying you really did a good job back there, and that we wouldn’t have gotten out of it if it weren’t for you.”

“Well, I’m real glad to hear you say that, lad!” Boltz responded to Ryoma’s praise with a proud smile. “But the credit’s all yours for getting us through this alive, you know? We just chanted a little thaumaturgy, can’t compare to that.”

With that said, Boltz jovially moved his horse away from the carriage. He was probably a bit flustered by Ryoma’s words, and upon realizing he wasn’t being called on, went back to his position.

“But what will we be doing now, though?” Laura suddenly asked from behind Ryoma.

“Whoa, where did you come from? What about the wounded soldiers?”

Ryoma’s question made Laura’s expression cloud over. “Yes, Mikhail said he would take care of them. It’s probably better left in his hands than mine...”

She’d taken on tending to the wounded out of genuine goodwill, but the surviving knights seemed to be opposed to her presence. They had once thought her to be the source of all their troubles, and it would take time for them to change their attitudes. Her words just now were implying all too directly that it would be better for Mikhail to do it than an enemy like her.

The moment Ryoma heard her explanation, he pursed his lips and clicked his tongue sharply. Directing any sort of grudge at Ryoma and his group was terribly misguided to begin with. They were the ones who had been manipulated by erroneous information and tried to kill Ryoma and his group, who were complete outsiders to their feud. Even if they showed anger over the friends Ryoma killed in his counterattack, it would feel like nothing but unjustified resentment.

Despite the fact it wouldn’t have been odd for Ryoma’s side to kill them all, they didn’t mouth a single word of thanks even as their wounds were being treated. They certainly didn’t seem to understand their position in all this. But putting that into words would make it impossible for the two groups to ever cooperate.

“Well, whatever. What’s their condition right now?”

Even though he still felt bitter about the surviving attackers’ attitude, Ryoma changed the subject. A significant number of the Crimson Lion group’s people were injured during the first raid too, and their condition could greatly influence what they did going forward, so hearing about them was top priority for Ryoma.

“Well, the majority of them got away with only scrapes and cuts, but between the few who were severely injured and the mercenaries, we had enough nostrum stored to go around, and they should all make a decent recovery given a few more days. Your injuries were actually the most severe out of them.”

Well, she called them severe, but it probably seemed like he was bleeding profusely because of all the cuts and scratches he’d suffered from the hail of arrows. In actuality, thanks to them having prepared a good amount of nostrum, all his wounds had already scabbed over, and all that remained was for time to work its magic and for the scars to heal.

When it came to treating visible wounds, it was a lot easier and simpler in this Earth compared to Ryoma’s.

“That’s good, then...” Hearing Sara’s explanation, Ryoma’s lips curled into a smile. “At worst, we may have to fight at least once.”

Ryoma’s words made the twins’ faces stiffen with tension.

“Are you saying the audience with the princess may not go over well?” Laura asked.

“Well, it’s a possibility.” Ryoma nodded quietly.

Honestly speaking, this offer was something of an all-or-nothing gamble for Ryoma. Whether the knights’ faction or the nobles’ faction won the coming conflict was none of his concern, and normally, he wouldn’t stick his neck into such an irritating power struggle. But since he’d been unintentionally swept up in this political strife, he couldn’t afford to not take sides with one of them.

What if he chose not to? In that case, Wallace would indict Ryoma, pushing all the responsibility onto him, and there was even the option of the guild dispatching assassins in retribution. The probability of that option felt very high, and Ryoma’s group would have absolutely no means of opposing it.

They would likely be able to repel one or two attempts on their lives, but even if they kept evading every individual assassination, they would have no real solution. So long as the guild’s power as an organization over the continent remained, or they didn’t flee to a place where its hand could not reach them, they would never know peace.

At the end of the day, the most troublesome aspect of this whole charade was that the one person who decided who was right and wrong in this situation was the guildmaster Wallace himself, who’d concocted this entire ordeal. The culprit effectively doubled as the judge, and no matter what proof Ryoma’s group presented or what testimony they brought forth, it wouldn’t matter.

So, were they to perhaps ask another city’s guildmaster for help? That was actually a problematic issue in itself as well. Ryoma, being a nameless mercenary, was naturally out of the question, but would even Lione’s group, who had gained somewhat of a name for themselves as a skilled mercenary group, truly be able to have their word taken seriously when pitted against Wallace’s? Worse still, since the affair dealt with the power struggle of a country, it was clear guildmasters in other cities wouldn’t want to be involved with this case.

Both the feeling of fellowship towards another guildmaster and the strength of a country flickered behind this whole affair. No one, except for an extremely righteous person, or one who was very keen on bringing Wallace down, would be willing to discard their policy of self-defense in such circumstances.

So in this situation where they had no other allies, if Ryoma and his group were to complain to another guildmaster, it would simply seem as if they were making excuses for failing their mission, which was the greatest trap sprung against them. Ultimately, being in the right wasn’t enough; they needed the power to make others recognize that they were in the right.

In other words, in order to survive, Ryoma and his group needed to speak to a guildmaster other than Wallace, while having the support of someone with power. And to have their demands judged fairly, it would have to be someone with more power than Wallace.

And if anyone possessed the power and authority to help them right now, it was the knights’ faction. The nobles’ faction had already antagonized them, so they were naturally out of the question, and while it may have been different if they were influential members of another country, the neutral faction would see no merit in helping Ryoma. Which left the knights’ faction as the only possible force that would offer Ryoma their aid once the fighting ended.

Ryoma’s sole realistic means of breaking through this situation was to gain the backing of the Kingdom of Rhoadseria as a nation, in exchange for his assistance in the power struggle against the nobles’ faction. The guild may have had branches across the continent, but they still wouldn’t be able to challenge an entire country directly.

However, that was all just Ryoma’s circumstances. The knights’ faction had no clear reason to give Ryoma their support. On the contrary, he was even responsible for the death of some of their men. A sentimental person wouldn’t lend an ear to Ryoma’s excuses, and would behead him on the spot.

Hence why this was such a gamble; would such a rational person unwavered by emotion exist there? And would that person see the value in using Ryoma?

After crossing through wall after wall, their carriage finally reached the drawbridge leading into the castle.

“Right... Now it’s all down to my ability to speechify.” Ryoma whispered in tense anticipation as they passed under a massive castle gate set along the road to the palace, his gaze turning toward the sharpened roof of the castle looming ahead.

From this point on, Ryoma would put his life on the line in a massive gamble for the third time since his arrival in this world. The strength of his will burned in his eyes.

“The First Princess of the Kingdom of Rhoadseria, Lady Lupis, makes her entrance! All those present before her, kneel!” A black haired woman entered the audience chamber, which had a red carpet laid out across it, and announced the entrance of the princess.

Seeing Mikhail kneel down and lower his head, Ryoma imitated his actions and kneeled on the red carpet. He was, after all, a person from Japan, a nation which had almost entirely abolished the concept of royalty. Japan did have the oldest running imperial household in the world, and while they weren’t shut off from the whole world, an average high schooler wouldn’t be allowed to meet them.

Ryoma’s knowledge of etiquette was limited to standing still and bowing his head, and so he had no way of knowing which courtesy was expected out of someone meeting royalty in this world. So all he could do was mimic Mikhail’s actions with a dubious expression on his face, in a spectacular embodiment of the expression “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

That said, Lione, who had been granted permission to meet the princess with them, was also only capable of awkwardly following Mikhail’s example; this likely meant the majority of people were just as clueless about how to behave in the presence of royalty as Ryoma was. By contrast, though, the Malfist twins carried themselves with elegance and dignity. They may have been slaves until just recently, but they were still descendants of a line of high-ranking knights which held important posts in their country. They had likely been strictly taught such forms of etiquette since they were infants.

I should’ve asked them to teach me this stuff ahead of time...

With that thought in mind, Ryoma simply awaited the princess’s entrance.

A solemn air hung over the audience chamber. This room Mikhail led them into had a great deal of depth and length to it. A red carpet was spread from the entrance all the way to the throne, and on both sides of it stood armed guards with menacing expressions on their faces. There were roughly twenty of them. They had no intent of harming the princess, but this was dangerous for Ryoma’s side, as there were only four of them.

I suppose there’s not much we could’ve done about that. I’m just glad they let us actually meet the princess... Though a private audience with her would have been better...

After entering the castle, Ryoma and the others spent, or rather, were confined in a room for several hours alloted to them at Mikhail’s order. That treatment was to be expected, though. Even if Mikhail could guarantee their identities, as far as the residents of Rhoadseria’s palace were concerned, Ryoma was a suspicious stranger of unknown origin.

But while Ryoma didn’t know exactly what kind of report Mikhail gave, when he showed up in the room they were confined in again, he took them straight to an audience with the princess. Based on what information he delivered, the group may have been taken to have their heads lopped off without any audience held, but the odds seemed to be in their favor. If nothing else, Ryoma would at least be given a chance to speak.

After a few moments of kowtowing, Ryoma could hear the sound of a door on the other side of the throne room opening, followed by the echoing of several people’s footsteps.

Princess Lupis and her entourage, in all likelihood. Ryoma’s group waited for her to speak, still kneeling.

“Raise your heads.” A dignified woman’s voice echoed through the room.

As Ryoma raised his head respectfully, his gaze met that of a young woman clad in nobles’ clothes. Her hair was a dazzling silver shade, just like Laura’s. In terms of age, she looked to be in her mid-twenties.

She was Lupis Rhoadserians, candidate for future ruler of this kingdom.

Not taking a seat at her throne, Lupis simply looked down at Mikhail, who remained kneeled and did not raise his head.

“Mikhail Vanash, vice-captain of the royal guard. Rise to your feet.”

As she spoke Mikhail’s name, Lupis’s expression was steeped with severity and calmness. But at the same time, Ryoma sensed a great deal of immaturity from her, stemming either from her age or her lack of experience.

Vice-captain? I thought this guy was a hotshot, but he’s gotten to a fairly high standing in the kingdom, hasn’t he? No wonder he managed to get us an audience with the princess so easily... But that said, he’s pretty impulsive. And he led the assassination attempt himself... Either the knights’ faction really is that understaffed, or maybe they’re just picking people based on pedigree and not ability? I guess in the end, the question is whether or not he’s profitable.

Upon realizing that Mikhail held a stronger position than he’d first suspected, Ryoma couldn’t help but thank God. His individual martial prowess aside, Ryoma recognized Mikhail’s extreme inaptitude as a commander because of his impulsive nature, and wouldn’t have guessed he held such an influential position as vice-captain of the royal guard.

But conversely, the fact that someone as impetuous as Mikhail reached such a high rank in this kingdom was worrying its own way. In order to gain more things to consider, Ryoma kept silent and listened to Lupis’s words.

“I’ve already heard of your report from Meltina. I can only say that I was quite disappointed to hear you failed to carry out your mission. Your failure this time has cost the lives of many promising knights... All of whom laid down their lives in the name of keeping this kingdom’s order. And yet you stand before me, as both commander and survivor... As princess of this country, I would have no choice but to order your death.”

Lupis’s seemingly rebuking words heavily chilled the atmosphere within the audience chamber. But then, Lupis softened her cold, stiff expression.

“However, you are an exceedingly valorous knight, loyal to the royal family, and this kingdom cannot stand to lose one such as you now, when it stands on the brink of crisis. And so, in consideration of that, along with your past achievements, and this mission being the result of a sly deception by the nobles’ faction, I have decided to postpone the execution of your sentence until the day we conclude this conflict with the nobles’ faction. And I permit you to absolve yourself of your crime with your deeds in the battles to come.”

A stir ran through the audience chamber. Her ruling was likely an unexpected one, as Mikhail’s face was frozen in shock.

“Your Highness.” The black haired woman who had entered the room before Lupis spoke up. “Are you quite sure about this?”

“I have no qualms about this. I cannot do something so foolish as sentence such a loyal, skilled knight to death when a civil war looms ahead. I may have granted him a stay of execution, but I have not declared him innocent.”

With Lupis’s words echoing through the audience chamber, the murmuring in the room gradually died down.

“I give you my word that I shall answer your expectations, Princess Lupis!” Mikhail bowed his head deeply, showing the deepest gratitude he could toward the princess’s kindness.

I see... So she values his usefulness. Their faction is already in a weakened state, so she doesn’t want to weaken her position any further... Plus she only stayed his execution, and didn’t deem him innocent. If Mikhail doesn’t garner enough achievement to buy his own life back, he’s finished... Yeah. Not bad. I thought she was just inexperienced, but she definitely takes other people’s feelings and stances into consideration while she manages them... I’m not sure if Mikhail’s that skilled of a knight, though.

While he had some faint doubts regarding her appraisal of Mikhail’s skills, her judgment was far more sound than he’d anticipated. If all she wanted was to spare Mikhail’s life, the bereaved families of those who died under his command during the raid against Ryoma wouldn’t sit by idly.

Still, pushing all the blame on the field commander when this ploy had fooled the entirety of the knights’ faction higher echelon would not have been right, either. In that regard, the compromise of allowing him to offset his punishment by gathering merit through his achievements in the immediate future could be seen as a decision which served to maintain the delicate political balance.

Not bad... I suppose I’ve been dealt a better hand here than I thought... If she’s really what she seems to be, she should be able to understand the validity and advantage of my plan... But there’s still one problem...

Ryoma had cautiously examined the reactions of the people around them when Princess Lupis announced her clemency of Mikhail, and noticed something; several of the people present in the audience chamber scrunched up their faces in frustration and enmity. It wasn’t a blatant expression, of course, and they didn’t so much as click their tongues. But for just a brief moment, their honest feelings had broken through.

Looks like this doesn’t just boil down to a conflict between the knights’, nobles’ and neutral factions...

Putting aside whether Mikhail was skilled enough to buy anyone’s ire, the problem here was that people within his own faction existed who would rejoice at the prospect of his death, when normally one wouldn’t wish for one of their allies to die. If they were wishing for a comrade to meet their demise, then...

Is this just a power struggle within the faction? Or could it be, not everyone in the knights’ faction is loyal to Princess Lupis? Well, I guess that would explain it, but... In that case, that’s another reason I can get on Lupis’ good side.

Though he was pleased to see the chips were falling in his favor, Ryoma refrained from showing it on his face. Being smug right now, at an ill-suited moment, could fatally damage his chances.

Hold on, now... I’m not out of the woods yet. The battle’s just starting. I have to persuade the princess and that woman first... If I rouse their suspicion by mistake, they could have me executed on the spot...

Ryoma directed a probing glance at the woman standing beside the princess. She was a large-built woman, with long, sleek and tied up black hair. She stood at the princess’s side, seemingly serving as her shield, and was clad in heavy iron armor with two swords sheathed at her waist; she seemed to be quite adept at using them. She also appeared to have the deep trust of the princess, who didn’t show so much as a hint of displeasure at the fact this woman had questioned her judgment.

“Thus, the matter of Mikhail is settled. Now, let us move on to the main topic.” Lupis turned her gaze to Ryoma’s group of four.

“I see. Sure enough, you are a girl of adolescent age with silver hair...” Princess Lupis first tried to dispel the greatest source of doubt. “Is it true that you are not a daughter of King Pharst the Second?”

“Yes. My name is Laura. Laura Malfist. And this girl right here is my sister, Sara.” Sara nodded silently at Laura’s words.

They looked like reflections of each other in terms of their features.

“I see... The resemblance between you two is uncanny. Hair colors aside, one could say you are each the spitting image of the other...”

Lupis’s words made everyone’s gazes gather on the Malfist sisters. Indeed, being twins, their faces and physiques were practically identical with the exception of the color of their hair. It was quite visible the two were related by blood.

“Your Highness... We’ve received no intel that the illegitimate daughter had any siblings.” The black-haired woman whispered in Princess Lupis’ ear.

“That surname, Malfist, is familiar to me... Does it not belong to a knight family from the central continent?”

“Yes, indeed. They were a line of knights that served the kingdom of Quift, which was destroyed by the kingdom of Shadora some years ago... The color of their skin and the shape of their faces does seem similar to the central continent’s people.”

Their gazes were fixed on the sisters, and for a few seconds, their gaze was returned.

“I see... Certainly, you’re different from the illegitimate daughter we’ve been told of.” Princess Lupis whispered in a resigned fashion.

Her disappointment was understandable. If Laura was King Pharst’s the Second’s daughter, killing her would remove the thorn about to plunge Rhoadseria into turmoil. Furthermore, the fact that the illegitimate daughter was moved into the country at this time, to the extent where Laura was used as bait to hide her, meant that the antagonism between the knights’ and nobles’ faction would develop into an unavoidable conflict.

Regardless of whether the situation would devolve into an armed conflict or if a political solution was possible, this matter would lead to a great decline in Rhoadseria’s national power. It was, naturally, a matter that greatly weighed down on Lupis, who was a candidate for future sovereign ruler of the country.

“In which case, we cannot hold you accountable for having fought our kingdom’s knights...” Princess Lupis whispered, furrowing her lovely, well-kept brows.

They danced to the tune of false information and instigated an attack on complete strangers. If one were to consider who was at fault here, it was hardly fair to judge Ryoma’s side for killing them. If nothing else, she would have to keep up the appearance of being magnanimous on the surface.

“I’m humbled. Thank you for your generous words, Your Highness.” Ryoma said and bowed his head in reverence.

In actuality, Ryoma’s group were victims who had become involved against their will, and could have acted indignant in this situation. But considering the class difference between a commoner and royalty which stood between them, and factoring future relations into it, being needlessly overbearing was a questionable play.

Demanding that justice be done with respect for one’s rights does not always yield the highest possible profit. No, in a hierarchical society and a world without any conception of human rights, the weak crying out for their rights to be respected would only end up with their heads unceremoniously mounted on a pike.

“You needn’t be so formal.” Lupis smiled gently upon seeing Ryoma’s attitude. “We’ve caused you a great deal of trouble... Is there anything you wish for?”

Her words were far more magnanimous than one would usually believe. She must have indeed been an amicable, kind person at heart.

Ryoma pretended to ponder for a moment at Lupis’s words. He’d already decided everything ahead of time, but coming out and saying it would give the game away.

“It’s not much of a wish, per se... But there’s a matter I would request your assistance with.” Ryoma spoke with an apologetic tone.

“You refer to the offer you have discussed with Mikhail?”

“Yes, exactly.”

Princess Lupis’s expression took on a bothered shade at Ryoma’s words. Given her position, she’d have surely preferred to not get involved with Ryoma any further. If possible, she would have just given them money and sent them away at once, because as far as the knights who’d had their friends slain by Ryoma were concerned, Ryoma was quite literally an enemy.

“It’s a matter I can’t decide upon this very moment... Surely you understand why?” Lupis’ probing gaze was fixed on Ryoma’s face.

Lupis was essentially asking Ryoma whether he realized that, while she personally didn’t mind joining forces with him, the act would cause unrest in her court, and she couldn’t afford to have the knights’ faction collapse in on itself with the looming conflict against the nobles’ faction.

“Of course, I’m well aware of your position, Your Highness.” Ryoma’s eyes lit up with pure will, focused squarely on Lupis’s own eyes. “But with all due respect, if you choose to maintain the status quo, you will almost certainly never sit upon the throne.”

He wasn’t allowed to show even a trace of self-doubt. Ryoma was now setting out to fight.

“‘“Insolent fool! You dare speak above your station, lout?!”””

And as expected, the audience chamber erupted with angry shouts.

Those reactions were obvious, given he’d made the provocation intentionally, but the princess and the woman standing beside her didn’t change their expressions. The one who raised his voice was a man standing one step below the throne.

“Your Highness! This disrespectful ruffian ought to be executed at once!”

A well-built man who had earlier scowled at the princess’s sparing of Mikhail directed a pleading gaze at the princess, with those around him raising unanimous voices of agreement. Their pride probably couldn’t bear to be wounded by some arrogant commoner of unknown origin.

“Please wait, General Albrecht. Should we not hear what Her Highness has to say here first?”

“What are you saying, Meltina?! Do you intend to simply take this insult and say nothing? What happened to your honor as a Rhoadserian knight?!”

I see, so that’s Meltina. The princess’s closest aide.

Ryoma tilted his ears cautiously, paying heed to the argument between Meltina and the man called General Albrecht.

“Wait just a moment. This man did not insult us specifically! He simply detailed his personal take on the matter! His tone may have been too sharp to be respectful, indeed, but to execute him for it would be far too overbearing. It would tarnish Her Majesty’s good name.”

“Are you a fool? The man clearly said that we would lose! What would you call his words if not an insult to Rhoadseria’s knights?! If anything would tarnish Her Majesty’s name, it would be letting this man walk away with his life!”

Meltina’s words were reasonable, but were not serving to placate others’ emotions. It was especially in places like these that emotions tended to run strong and cloud one’s better judgment as people obstinately clung to their honor. General Albrecht was a fine example of that.

In the end, the one who cut the pointless quarrel down was Princess Lupis, who had remained silent since Ryoma said his piece.

“Stop it this instant. We are in the presence of guests!”

Princess Lupis’s calm but clear tone brought everyone to silence. Said guests were without doubt Ryoma and his comrades. Regardless of whether she actually saw them as guests, Lupis’s words had enough power to them to quiet everyone down.

Perhaps realizing how laughable they looked squabbling in front of a man who had just been deemed lowly and uncouth, Meltina and General Albrecht hung their heads in silence.

“Pardon this shameful display... I too wish to triumph over the nobles’ faction while losing as few of our men as possible. That is the only way to defend our country’s people... Can you do this?”

Lupis finally asked Ryoma the question he’d been longing to hear.

“Of course. I promise to live up to your expectations, no matter what.” As he said this, Ryoma bowed his head respectfully before the princess.

His audience with Princess Lupis behind him, Ryoma was led to a room deep in the castle alone. With a chamberlain walking ahead of him, Ryoma recalled the look of loathing in the general’s eyes as he left.

Yikes, looks like he hates me. Makes sense, I guess. I’m just some commoner who popped up out of nowhere, after all...

There were certainly a few points to regret, looking back on the audience. He’d have wished to join the knights’ faction in a way that didn’t spark that much conflict. That said, regretting it now wouldn’t turn back the clock.

I guess just piquing the princess’s interest should be my biggest accomplishment here...

In actuality, Ryoma hadn’t said a word about officially joining the knights’ faction yet. Which was obvious, given he didn’t have any achievements to show for it. He’d have to make his merits clear in his upcoming dialogue with the princess.

Ryoma’s battle wasn’t over yet. If anything, the crucial moment was just ahead of him.

The chamberlain led him to what was apparently one of the personal rooms used by the princess. Crimson rays of dusk light painted the room red through the white lace curtains.

“Thank you for waiting.”

Shortly after he’d sat on the sofa, Princess Lupis entered the room, accompanied by Meltina.

“No, I’m just grateful you were willing to listen to my unreasonable request, Your Highness.” Ryoma said, and then rose to his feet and bowed his head deeply.

They decided to discuss the rest in private, because it would be inconvenient in the audience chamber. That held true for both Ryoma and the princess, and so the two moved their conversation into this room where prying eyes wouldn’t reach them. Ryoma was the only one called over, for the sake of security.

“Well, you don’t need to be so stiff. Only Meltina and myself are here, so you may make yourself comfortable.” Lupis’s personality wasn’t very strict, it seemed.

“Yes. Excuse me, then.”

After watching Princess Lupis and Meltina sit down themselves, Ryoma sat back down on the sofa.

“Let us begin our discussion, then.”

Meltina looked at Princess Lupis’s eyes for confirmation, and began speaking. “I suspect you’ve already noticed, but our military inferiority is so dire that no matter how many soldiers we would be given, it likely won’t be enough.”

Meltina cut right to the heart of the matter, and this meant that they didn’t mind Ryoma joining the knights’ faction. But she then directed a gaze at Ryoma that made it clear she was going to cut things off here.


“You can’t ignore the complaints of the family and friends of the people we killed?”

Meltina nodded at Ryoma’s words.

“Yeah, that makes sense... So, what are your conditions?”

“That you bring us enough merit to offset that.” Meltina answered Ryoma’s question succinctly.

However, there were many implications to what she said. Meltina’s goal was to ascertain that Ryoma was a person with enough power to make good on his promise.

“I see... so you want me to show that I have more value than just pure military might.”

Lupis nodded deeply.

“I’m sure you realize this, but if all we wanted was pure war potential, we would just hire unrelated mercenaries to fight for our cause.”

True enough, hiring unrelated mercenaries with no stakes in the conflict from the guild would be simpler than trying to offset an already soured relationship. However, Ryoma replied without a hint of hesitance.

“In that case, I think you’ll find I’m a much better bargain, Your Highness.”

“And why is that?” Meltina regarded Ryoma’s confident words with a dubious glance.

“Because I’ll bring you victory.”

Hearing Ryoma’s words, a giggle escaped from Princess Lupis’s lips.

“You’re quite the confident one, aren’t you?”

“You humble me, Your Majesty.” Ryoma bowed his head respectfully. “But I speak no lies.”

His attitude reeked of hypocritical courtesy, but somehow it made Ryoma seem awfully convincing.

“We can’t believe you based on words alone, though.”

“Of course not, Your Majesty.”

That much was obvious. If the candidate to the throne was the type to believe him based just on what he’d said, Ryoma would consider himself to be in deep trouble.

“Can you prove it, then?” Princess Lupis’s tone was jestful, but her eyes burned with the murderous intent of a wild animal.

Ryoma heard that the nobles often gossiped over her tendency to be too kind to the commoners, but it seemed there was more than just naive kindness to this woman.

“Of course... That is, I’d very much like to prove it to you, but first I need to confirm a few things, if you don’t mind?”

Up until now, everything had gone as predicted, but it was a whole different ballpark starting from now. He’d felt something wasn’t right in the audience chamber, and figuring out what that was now stood as the main objective for Ryoma.

“What is the meaning of this? Did you lie to Her Majesty?” With cold enmity in her eyes, Meltina reached for the swords at her waist.

She would likely try to cut him down where he stood if he gave the wrong answer here.

“You can’t expect me to come up with a measure to solve the situation when I don’t have a full grasp of what’s going on, can you? Or rather... There were a few points I found suspicious back in the audience chamber. The situation seemed rather different from what Mikhail told me earlier. I hoped you could explain the circumstances to me directly, Your Majesty.”

Ryoma’s explanation caused Meltina to turn a questioning gaze at Princess Lupis.

“Could you explain what exactly it was you found suspicious?” Lupis asked Ryoma, trying to maintain her composure.

She wouldn’t let it show that she was flustered at a time like this. But judging by the restless movement of her eyes, Ryoma realized that his feelings of suspicion weren’t just in his head.

“Hmm, well, to begin with, from what Mikhail told me, you’re the one in charge of the knights’ faction, but it’s not actually that simple, is it?”

A shiver ran through the two of them at Ryoma’s statement.

“Why makes you say that?” Lupis asked back, trying her hardest to feign calmness.

“The thing that bothered me the most is that when you pardoned Mikhail’s life, the people right below you made some rather bitter expressions. It was just for a moment, though, but I became sure of it just now. When I saw your face.”

A heavy silence hung in the room.

“I see... And what do you think is the truth here?” Princess Lupis finally broke the silence.

“There’s no doubting the knights’ faction is united under your banner, but not all of them are directly under your command. If I had to hazard a guess, that general who was arguing with Meltina is the center of another faction... Or maybe it’s the other way around. That is to say, the knights’ faction is centered around him, and you’re just a symbolic figurehead? Of course, there’s also the chance they all just really hate Mikhail.”

Another long silence fell over the room. The expressions on the pair’s faces made it clear that their hearts were surging with tension at Ryoma’s words.

Looks like I was spot on... Which means I need to change my attitude. No, I should listen to what the princess’s objective here is first...

“You realized that during the audience earlier?”


“I see...” Lupis said after yet another long silence, with Ryoma nodding at her words which followed it. “I suppose you truly are a good bargain...”

“Your Majesty...” Meltina’s voice was full of regret and sadness.

“It is fine... If he saw through everything that easily, there’s no point in trying to gloss things over, is there?” Princess Lupis said, and turned her gaze to Ryoma. “It’s like you’ve said... I’m nothing more than a nominal figurehead to them. Control over this country at the moment is divided between Duke Gelhart, who leads the nobles’ faction, and General Hodram Albrecht, who has the knights’ faction under his thumb.”

Royalty that held no real power. Lupis’s expression turned somber, as if she was being tormented by the humiliation of it all.

“I see, so General Albrecht was the man who argued with Meltina back there?”


Even if he was admonishing, his attitude was one that clearly didn’t care much for how others saw him. He was evidently an arrogant person.

“I think I understand... Could you explain the situation for now? I can’t really think of a way to change things without a clear view of the political map.”

“Yes, of course...” Lupis seemed to have become pensive at Ryoma’s words, and then began speaking. “I’ll begin by explaining what the knights’ faction is.”

Lupis’s explanation took some thirty minutes, with Meltina appending a few facts here and there.

“I can see why you’re pessimistic. The situation’s pretty bad.” Those were Ryoma’s words upon hearing Lupis’s explanation in its entirety. “Even if the knights’ faction wins this conflict, there’s nothing but the worst possible future ahead of you.”

So long as General Albrecht held all the real power, Lupis would be rendered superfluous as soon as the conflict with the nobles’ faction concluded. Having her freedom taken from her and being forced into confinement was, ironically enough, one of the less terrible ways things could end for her. If Albrecht was the kind of person to not mind having the stigma of treason appended to him, he could just claim the throne after the nobles’ faction was done with. No, he wouldn’t even have to usurp the throne, since he could just keep Lupis under his control as a puppet ruler.

In other words, there were two necessary conditions for Princess Lupis to survive this struggle. Firstly, they had to win victory over the nobles’ faction. The other condition was to increase the influence of her own side, the princess’s faction, mustering their strength to the point where they’d be able to stand up to Albrecht’s tyranny.

Achieving either one of those would be a challenge, but if they didn’t achieve both, Lupis’s fate would be sealed. And Lupis and Meltina were well aware of that.

And here I thought this was going a little too smoothly. To think only a third of the knights’ faction have sworn loyalty to the princess...

The princess’s faction were like cornered rats, hence why they were interested in hearing what Ryoma, who flew in out of nowhere, had to say. They were grasping at straws, all in order to survive.

“I wish to make the princess this country’s true ruler! Can you make that happen?”

“Meltina... Thank you...” Lupis thanked Meltina for her ardent, faithful words.

This stood as proof that they shared a relationship of trust that went beyond simply a master and her servant.

“All right... So, let me go over the conditions again. First, we need to make sure the princess becomes the ruler of Rhoadseria. And we also need to make sure she’d no longer be a puppet in the hands of the knights’ faction. Did I get everything right?”

The two nodded vigorously.

“In that case, I think I can work it out. Whether you actually hold the throne for long after you gain it depends on your capabilities, but if it’s just helping you regain your true power, I can manage that.”

He did, in fact, have confidence that he could make Lupis win.

“Is that true?”


The pair’s eyes filled with happiness and doubt at Ryoma’s proclamation.

“How do you intend to do it?” Meltina leaned her body forward, as if bracing herself.

“By bringing the neutral faction over to our side.” Ryoma replied.

However, as soon as they heard his answer, both their expressions filled with disappointment.

“Hmph... I was a fool to believe a man like you,” Meltina whispered, as if he’d just tried to pull the wool over her eyes.

“Oh? You don’t like my idea?”

“Of course not! I’ve been leading the initiative to do that for a long time now!”

“Oh, you have?” Ryoma asked with a smile on his lips.

“That’s right! Just about anyone would come up with the idea of having the neutral faction turn to our side as a way of improving our position!”

Or rather, there was basically no other way, save for asking the neighboring countries for help in exchange for Rhoadseria’s lands. And it went without saying that doing so would spell Rhoadseria’s eventual destruction. If they were to have Princess Lupis take charge of the country while retaining its independence, they would have to incorporate the country’s own internal forces into their faction.

And additionally, taking in the neutral faction, which was merely watching by the sidelines, was far more realistic than expecting to divide the nobles’ faction that opposed them or the powerful knights’ faction.

“I see, so you tried it... And no one took you seriously.”

“Wh-Why, you...!” She likely thought he was mocking her, because she unsheathed one of her swords and held it to Ryoma’s throat. “Do not look down on me!”

Yeah, makes sense... If she acts like this at every little taunt...

He’d assumed Meltina had a fairly quick-tempered personality from how she argued in the audience chamber, and as it turned out, he was right. She may have had a handsome face, but her temperament was spirited; not unlike Mikhail’s in that regard.

Her loyalty to the princess is strong, but... I’d kind of wish Lupis would have gotten some brighter people to act as her aides...

That thought surfaced in Ryoma’s mind, even as the sword remained pointed at his throat. It was clear as day to him why the neutral faction had rejected her invitation.

“Stop it!”

“But, Your Highness!”

“Meltina! Calm yourself!”

Hearing Princess Lupis’s rebuke, Meltina sheathed her sword, however bitterly.

“All things considered, I do understand why Meltina would be upset,” Princess Lupis said, anger in her voice. “Are you saying that you would be able to bring the neutral faction to our side, even while she couldn’t?”

While she showed royal magnanimity, she did not swallow Ryoma’s words without any proof, and was visibly quite annoyed herself.

“I’m about 80% sure I can.” Ryoma answered her gaze with a bitter smile. “But before that, there’s something I’d like to ask Meltina to do. Would you mind?”

Meltina and Princess Lupis exchanged gazes at Ryoma’s question, and then nodded silently.

“You certainly took quite a while. Did it go well?” asked Sara.

The sun had sunk below the horizon several hours ago, and the curtain of night draped across the heavens. It was long past dinnertime, and most of the castle’s inhabitants were already in their beds. Despite that, the Malfist sisters greeted Ryoma with a smile.

“Yeah. I’m surprised to see you two are still awake at this hour, though.”

“Naturally. We could never sleep without knowing our master has returned!” Laura said, and Sara nodded in agreement.

“Ain’t like yer the only ones still awake, though...”

He turned his gaze into the room, where Lione was reclining with her legs propped up on the table, holding a bottle of alcohol in one hand and sending a dissatisfied glare his way.

“What are you doing here, Lione?”

“Oh, spare me that shit, ya berk! I’ve been on pins an’ needles this whole time over yer little chat with the princess.” Lione grumbled, draining the remaining contents of the bottle in one swig.

“Doesn’t seem that way from where I’m standing, to be honest.”

The sight of the empty wine bottles littering the table didn’t make her claim any more convincing, either. He didn’t know when she’d started drinking, but there were more than a dozen bottles rattling around.

“Sis here believes in you, lad.” Boltz, who had likely been drinking together with Lione, chuckled teasingly with his face flushed red.

“Stop running yer mouth, Boltz!” Lione shouted at him, before the smile disappeared from her lips and she turned to Ryoma. “So, how’d it go? All according to plan?”

She’d apparently sobered up for a moment, which apparently meant she was drinking with some responsibility after all. Boltz’s expression was one of utmost seriousness as well. Years of mercenary work had likely instilled survival instincts in them deeply enough that those instincts remained lucid no matter how much alcohol they consumed.

“Yeah. I figured I’d give you the details tomorrow, but all the better if you’re here now. Sara, Laura, sit down over here.”

“Erm... What about dinner?”

The sisters had grown accustomed to overseeing all of Ryoma’s business. The palace’s dining hall was closed by now, but they stood ready to prepare something if their master said he was hungry.

“Ah, that can wait for later. I’ll make do with these for now.”

Ryoma stuffed his cheeks with the beef jerky Lione snacked on while she drank, and signaled for them to take a seat.

“As you wish.””

After confirming everyone was seated, Ryoma began to explain what he’d learned from his audience with the princess.

“What?! The princess’s position was that inferior?!” Lione couldn’t help but raise her voice at Ryoma’s report.

Boltz and the Malfist sisters remained silent, but their expressions were filled with sadness.

“Yep... Well, what’re you gonna do.” Ryoma shrugged with a bitter smile.

“But the knights’ faction being drawn into a factional feud between those with loyalty to the princess and those loyal to the general... that certainly complicates things.” Boltz, with his array of life experience, could easily see the problem.

“Well, that’s just how the people on top are, innit?” Lione responded to Boltz’s words with a far-sighted comment.

Be it Ryoma’s Earth or this one, commoners seemed to view those in power the same way.

“But in this situation, they can help us, right?”

Boltz’s question hit the nail on the head. They could get on their hands and knees and beg as much as they wanted, but Lupis wouldn’t help them without any recompense. With her own back up against the wall, she didn’t have the leisure to help someone she’d never met before without anything to gain from it.

“Well, not with the current circumstances being what they are. Whatever the case, if the princess’s faction can’t crush General Albrecht after they deal with the nobles’ faction, she’s done for. But even if the princess understands this, it doesn’t look like she’s capable of increasing her political standing.”

“So what do we do? Shoulder General Albrecht instead?”

“No. I saw the general himself in the audience chamber this afternoon, and he looks like he has his own issues. I don’t think throwing in our lot with him would yield anything.”

Honestly speaking, until he’d seen things play out in the audience chamber, Ryoma wasn’t considering the idea of helping Princess Lupis at all costs. If it was possible to take the side of General Albrecht, he wouldn’t have insisted on helping the weaker side needlessly.

But seeing General Albrecht during the audience— the way he spoke, the way he eyed Ryoma and his group— Ryoma could easily imagine him scoffing at their request and ignoring them. At worst, he’d even send soldiers to kill them, to prevent them from possibly getting in the way.

True, Albrecht was the stronger one here, but since he wouldn’t help them, he was essentially worthless to Ryoma. During Ryoma’s life in Japan, he’d seen plenty of people who looked at others the way Albrecht looked at them; egotistical monsters who cared only for feasting on their own gain and profit. Any promise Albrecht might make would be meaningless, since he’d never fulfill it.

“So our only choice is to have Princess Lupis build up her strength, huh...”

Boltz assessed the situation with the cold-hearted prowess of a mercenary; all the more evidence of how his words were lacking in optimism.

“It’s not all bad, though. At the very least, if we support the princess’s faction, we can count on them to support us.”

Pacts and promises made in times of inferiority, where the odds of victory were slim, had strong binding power. And in addition, Ryoma realized from their brief meeting together that Princess Lupis wasn’t the sort of person who’d renege on a promise.

“But can we really split the neutral faction?”

“Yeah. I asked Meltina earlier about exactly how she handled the negotiations last time. If I go, I’ll be able to win them over for sure.”

Everyone looked at Ryoma with amazement as he answered Lione’s smile with a confident smile of his own. They had no idea what made him so certain of that.

“I’ll explain once I actually succeed with the negotiations, but for now, I’ve arranged to have Lione’s group integrated into the princess’s direct chain of command. You’ll mostly be handling bodyguard and training duties, but...”

Ryoma cut off his words there and turned a worried glance in Lione’s direction.

“What... Is there a problem?”

“No, but... Lione, just how many people are in the Crimson Lion group?”

“If you mean guys who can fight, twenty-two, including us,” Boltz cut into the conversation. “One got hit by an arrow during the raid, so once he recovers you can make that twenty-three.”

“That won’t be enough... Lione, think can you round up 70 or 80 more mercenaries without going through the guild?”

“Well... There’s a few groups we’re friendly with, so I could round up those numbers...” Ryoma’s words likely came as a surprise, because Lione’s reply was a somewhat evasive one. “But since we won’t be doing it through the guild, we’ll be paying more than the usual market price. D’ya have the money for that?”

“How much are we talking?”

“Well, it depends on how long we hire them for... If you want 70 to 80 people on the same level as us, it’ll be... At least three hundred... No, five hundred golds.”

“All right. I’ll get Laura to withdraw that amount tomorrow, so go and gather those mercenaries for us.”

“Uhh... Right. If ya got the money, then it should be fine. Leave it to me.” Even while she was taken aback by Ryoma agreeing to that sum so easily, she bumped her fist against her chest in a reassuring gesture.

“Right, so starting tomorrow, it’s the real deal. Everything’s riding on what we do from here on out!”

Everyone in the room nodded deeply at Ryoma’s words; they understood how they couldn’t afford to lose in the turmoil to come, if they were to weather this situation.

“My apologies for coming at such a busy time. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your patience, Count Bergstone.” Ryoma said, bowing his head deeply to the man sitting before him. “I am Ryoma Mikoshiba, an emissary sent by Her Highness, Princess Lupis. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

They were in a plot of land some two days by carriage away, to the north of the capital, Pireas, in a manor belonging to one of the neutral faction’s nobles. The sun was right at its zenith, and ordinarily this would be the perfect time for lunch; in other words, not the most appropriate time to visit a noble’s estate.

“Oh, no, I could not treat Her Majesty’s emissaries too crudely, could I? All the more when you have Her Majesty’s sworn aide, Lady Meltina, with you.”

Count Bergstone concluded his words with a haughty laugh that echoed through the room, and composedly motioned for them to sit.

Count Alan Bergstone turned 43 this year. While possessing a wealth and territory worthy of his title, he was considered a middle-class noble among the Rhoadserian aristocracy.

“So? To what do I owe this visit from Her Majesty’s emissaries?”

Needless to say, this wasn’t an honest question. Emissaries from the princess’s faction were visiting Count Bergstone, a neutral faction noble, in the midst of a very fragile political climate in the kingdom of Rhoadseria. Anyone with an ounce of their wits about them would pick up on the reason behind this visit.

“Right. Let us start with the completion of our mission, then.”

Ryoma’s words made Count Bergstone furrow his brow. The fact of the matter was, Meltina had already asked for his assistance a month ago, and his answer at the time was evidently a “no.” Seeing the princess had sent emissaries his way again made him actually quite exasperated, as he expected this conversation to be a repeat of the last one.

But Ryoma’s unexpected words took Bergstone by surprise.

“A mission, you say?”

What is the meaning of this... And just who is this man? I don’t recall anyone like him being in either of the factions...

Bergstone was puzzled, as he was sure Meltina would be leading the talks. Why would she entrust the crucial matter of asking for official cooperation to some unfamiliar man with no name for himself? Having been forced to lead an unfortunate reclusive lifestyle for many years, Bergstone had prided himself on having as keen a sense for the political map in the palace as a tuned antenna. As such, him not knowing the name or face of this emissary ought to have been impossible.

But Count Alan Bergstone stifled those doubts, prompting Ryoma to continue with a gentle smile.

“Yes. It is with heavy heart that I must inform you Her Majesty the Princess is greatly saddened.”

“Oh? Whatever weighs on her kind heart?” Bergstone’s expression showed no hint of wavering at Ryoma’s words.

“Why, at seeing the fate approaching the long running Rhoadserian noble house of Bergstone, of course.”

Bergstone had to desperately swallow the profanity that had surged all the way up to his throat at the sound of Ryoma’s almost insolent words. He’d naturally expected to hear, just as he did when Meltina tried to bring him to their side, of the factional struggle between the nobles’ faction and the knights’ faction. But for some reason, the topic had changed to the fate of his house, and since the princess’s sorrow was brought up as the preface of the matter, it must have been a grim affair indeed for his family.

Since he’d treated him as he would anyone else asking for help, it was only natural Count Bergstone would be overcome with the desire to shout vilification now. Was the princess’s faction, weakened as it was, in any position to worry for others’ wellbeing?

Despite this, Count Bergstone’s many years as a noble granted him the tolerance to smile as if nothing was wrong.

“Oh? The fate of my house, you say? Why, how very honorable... Her Majesty worries over the fate of such a minor noble house as ours, even when beset by as many troubles as she is. It is the height of honor. Could you relay to Her Majesty my deepest gratitude for her kindness?”

His reply was just about perfect. It maintained his aristocratic dignity, and while being grateful to the princess on the surface, mocked her between the lines. It held the implied meaning of, ‘are you truly in any position to worry about us?’

Hmm, so far everything’s going according to the information I got.

Ryoma was relieved to hear the sarcastic sting in Count Bergstone’s reply, because he thought that what Princess Lupis needed right now was someone capable of spinning plots who would serve as the brains of her faction. She wasn’t lacking in military might alone. Politics, economics, diplomacy, culture; all of those were matters she was lacking in.

Well, I suppose that’s because all of Princess Lupis’s aides are from the knight class... It only makes sense they’re nothing but a bunch of meatheads.

And indeed, what was sought out of a knight was martial prowess and loyalty for the crown, to serve as the shield defending the kingdom and the royal house. Ryoma understood full well that a militaristic nature had its uses.

The problem was, they persisted so much in that nature that they had a tendency to act recklessly or look down on pragmatic assessments of the situation. Their loyalty was firm and absolute, not unlike the disappearing but still present idea of selfless devotion in modern Japan.

Of course, that line of thinking wasn’t flawed in itself; knights had to have honor and pride. But from an organizational perspective, having a group made up of only those kinds of people may have made for an organization that was terribly easy to control, but also made for one that was extremely incomplete and flawed.

It was for this reason that, of all the candidates to bring over to the princess’s faction, Count Bergstone was the first to catch Ryoma’s eye. This middle-aged man, who once held significant political power, but earned the ire of both Duke Gelhart and the late King Pharst the Second with hypocritical courtesy and haughtiness; who was ostracized from the palace once his main backer, his stepfather, passed away, and forced into a reclusive life...

“You’re too modest, Count Bergstone. You have great territory, which boasts an impressive population. From what I gather, you’re capable of conscripting a thousand men? That doesn’t sound like a minor noble house to me.”

Compared to Duke Gelhart, who ranked highest among the nobles, the military might the Count held was certainly insignificant. But there weren’t many nobles in Rhoadseria capable of conscripting a thousand men, and if Count Bergstone was considered a minor noble, some eighty percent of the nobles in all of Rhoadseria would fall under the same category.

“Oh, you hold my house in higher regard than it demands, sir emissary. Perhaps your quarrel with the nobles’ faction has rendered you incapable of sound judgment? Ahaha.”

His words were steeped with mocking. They may have been spoken with a calm voice and feigned friendliness, but were close to an outright insult.

“No, not at all. My judgment is quite sound, I believe. As proof, from what I hear, Duke Gelhart has shown great interest in you already. Or maybe you’re already a part of the nobles’ faction by now?”

Suddenly, Ryoma’s serene expression inverted in an instant, taking Count Bergstone by surprise.

“What...? My, this is... quite the bother. I would have to ask you refrain from dignifying such a groundless rumor.”

Deftly hiding the surprise that came over his face, Count Bergstone smiled amicably again.

“Oh, is that a fact?! Well! Then I’m sure Her Highness would be quite relieved to hear that. She was, after all, quite saddened to hear that a noble of your caliber might be taken advantage of by the nobles’ faction until they’re of no use, and earn nothing for it.”

“What!” Ryoma’s words made Count Bergstone go pale. “What is the meaning of this?!”

At this point, nothing remained of the calm, collected gentleman he’d played the part of just a moment ago. Ryoma’s implication that he might be used by the nobles’ faction until they had no more need for him was one thing he could not ignore.

“Goodness, why so temperamental? I thought this was only a groundless rumor.”

Hearing Ryoma’s mocking words, the Count sank back into his chair and heaved a deep breath, shaking his head.

“Hmph... Enough, there’s no point to us prodding at each other’s motives any longer...” Count Bergstone spoke with a somewhat resigned tone. “You already know I’m part of the nobles’ faction by now, correct?”


Ryoma spoke as if he knew it the whole time, but Meltina, who was listening in beside him, was struggling to hide just how shocked she was.

Impossible! What is going on? Count Bergstone turned to the nobles’ faction?! Since when...? Did the nobles already make their move by the time I visited? No, more importantly, how long did this man know about this? Did he already know by the time he was granted an audience with Her Highness...? Blast, this is no good... I must stay loyal to my duty for now. Saying anything needless now would only complicate matters for him...

Countless thoughts were swirling around in Meltina’s mind, but she desperately stifled her doubts, concluding that watching over the conversation stoically would be the wisest decision.

It was only natural Meltina would be confused, though. Ryoma told her nothing ahead of time. Her allotted role was to introduce Ryoma, a newcomer, as a member of the princess’s faction. That and nothing else.

The conversation continued without regard to her confusion.

“I don’t know how that information leaked out, but I’ve made my decision, and I do not intend to change it.” Count Bergstone leveled a challenging glare at Ryoma.

Now that it was clear that he was part of the nobles’ faction, he wouldn’t make any pretenses of joining the princess’s faction, which was now his enemy. Ryoma shrugged away that expression.

“Well, I don’t particularly mind that. I haven’t any intention of imposing on you.” Ryoma’s lips then contorted into a smile.

“What?! Then what did you even come here for?!” Count Bergstone went red in the face at Ryoma’s all too unexpected response.

“You being part of the nobles’ faction isn’t that big of a deal to us. The only one who stands to lose from this is you, Count Bergstone.”

Ryoma’s words made the count sink into thought.

“What do you mean...?” Count Bergstone eventually managed to spit out that question. “What are you talking about? I stand to lose here?”

Suspicious as he was of enemy subterfuge, the idea of him losing from this arrangement concerned him.

“Oh, you weren’t aware...? I see. I suppose leaving you unaware as you are would be pitiful, so I’ll explain things a bit.”

As Ryoma proceeded to explain things with the same light-heartedness as if they were conversing over tea, Meltina and Count Bergstone gradually went paler and paler.

“On what condition did they persuade you to join the nobles’ faction, Count Bergstone?”

Bergstone replied to Ryoma’s question with a sour expression. He’d likely realized bluffing would yield little returns at this point.

“I was promised that once Princess Radine, the heir backed by the nobles’ faction, rises to the throne, I would be given more land and receive the position of Minister of Finances.”

“My, those are some very favorable terms.”

As Ryoma responded in an almost mocking manner, Meltina swallowed nervously.

The Minister of Finances? The nobles’ faction isn’t even trying to hide the way they’re throwing their power around. But to think that position was what swayed him to join their side...

For Meltina, who ardently believed both nobles and knights were to hold unwavering loyalty to the crown, this was a detestable, shameless act. She had to stop her hand from reflexively going to the sword sheathed at her waist.

“Of course! Can the princess’s faction make me any offer that would match those conditions?!”

Ryoma had to put effort into hiding his mockery of Count Bergstone’s unashamed tone. The fact he innocently believed the nobles’ faction would fulfill their end of that bargain struck Ryoma as laughable. True, they were very favorable conditions, but they held no value if those promises went unfulfilled.

“Well, putting aside whether Princess Lupis can offer you the same conditions, what were you asked to do in return?”

That question made the count fall silent. He’d exposed the fact he was part of the nobles’ faction since he was led on by the implication he would lose from that decision, but exposing the plans of the nobles’ faction to the princess’s faction was unreasonable.

Ryoma, however, predicted everything even without the count having to respond. Even if it wasn’t obvious to Bergstone, driven as he was by greed, Ryoma, who had no stakes in the matter, understood things clearly.

“They asked you to prevent the other neutral faction’s nobles from interfering, and not to mobilize your troops. How about it? That’s about right, isn’t it?”

“What?!” That single word of surprise slipped from the count’s lips.

“Well, with the way the nobles’ faction is right now, they’d have nothing else to ask from you.”

Realizing his assumption was right on the money, Ryoma gave a wicked smile inside his head.

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t you think the rewards of expanding your land and giving you the position of Minister of Finances are a bit inflated, given the work you’ll be doing?”

Those words caused Count Bergstone to lapse into thought. True enough, those conditions were exceptionally favorable for him. Appealing to the neutral faction and not moving his troops were both actions he would lose essentially nothing from; at worst, he had nothing to lose but the sweat of his brow while going to convince his neighboring nobles to not get involved.

“They’re only that inflated because they didn’t intend to keep that promise anyway.”

Ryoma’s icy words caused all the color to drain out of Count Bergstone’s face.

“I-Impossible... That can’t be...”

But while he claimed he didn’t believe it, the anxiety sprouted up in his heart.

“Those aren’t realistically possible promises to begin with. Both increasing your land, and making you the Minister of Finances. After all, it’s the nobles’ faction that you’re a part of.”

The problem lay in exactly what it was knights and nobles did on this Earth. The nobles were a gathering of people who were given territory by the kingdom, and were recognized as having some degree of autonomy.

A knight, on the other hand, was essentially a label applied to all those who defended the royalty and the nobles, had the ability to wield thaumaturgy, and were paid salaries by their employers. While they were a class which obeyed the nobility, knights were rarely given land. Only a handful of the most excellent, high-order knights were bestowed that honor.

Of course, knights were the central pillar of the country’s military might, and most of their position revolved around the army. There were some special positions both knights and nobles could ascend to, but fundamentally speaking, only nobles were given posts that dealt with domestic affairs, while knights were given posts that dealt with defense.

And this was where the biggest issue lay.

If they were to defeat the knights’ faction, who were in charge of military operations, would there be any seats remaining in the hypothetical new government for a role that had to do with internal affairs?

The answer was no.

Of course, there was the chance of the current Minister of Finances dying in the conflict, but there was no way of knowing that at the moment. And even if that happened, the probability of Count Bergstone being the one to take that position was decidedly nil. They would just appoint someone who was in the nobles’ faction to begin with.

If a particular person helped shift a faction from a position of inferiority to victory, that kind of exceptional promotion may have been possible. But in this particular conflict, the nobles’ faction had the overwhelming edge over the knights’ faction already, and someone who decided to join later, as if betting on a winning horse, wouldn’t be picked over those who had supported the faction since the start of the conflict. If they were, those members who were in the nobles’ faction to begin with would be greatly dissatisfied.

The same held true for increasing the count’s territories as well, and that was because the knights hardly had any territories to give. If Duke Gelhart were to give any territories, they would have to be those under the royal family’s control.

If he were to weaken the royal house and usurp the throne at some point, perhaps giving those lands away was eventually possible. But should the nobles’ faction win, Duke Gelhart would become the most influential man in the country, and putting aside any ambitions he held toward the throne, he would never give the royal family’s lands away to a former neutral noble who joined his side this late into the power struggle.

No, he would have no land to give to a noble who entered the conflict so late and contributed nothing. If Gelhart were to give away territory, it would be given to trustworthy people that had served him for many years. And if he were to do otherwise, his faction would collapse in on itself, since the nobles it was comprised of weren’t offering their loyalty for no recompense either.

As Ryoma explained himself, Count Bergstone’s face lost all color.

“So, I was a fool the whole time...” Words of self-derision left his lips.

If the nobles’ faction was truly considering making Count Bergstone their ally, they would not have given him such a simple task. They would naturally have him earn the reward he would gain after the war by performing a duty befitting it.

They likely told him not to move his soldiers so he wouldn’t actually commit any kind of military exploit by some coincidence. If he never took to the battlefield, he naturally wouldn’t gain any kind of glory that others would recognize. It was likely all intentional.

Even a child could understand this logic if they were to stop and examine things carefully, but it didn’t occur to Count Bergstone until Ryoma mentioned it.

They manipulated me, using my greed...

Count Bergstone realized that he had been spurred by his own foolish desires, and failed to judge things carefully.

“I see you’re finally convinced.” Ryoma nodded with satisfaction, reading Count Bergstone’s emotions from his expression.

In fact, Meltina, who was sitting beside them, easily realized everything from Ryoma’s explanation, and had nothing to add.

“What should I do?” Count Bergstone asked Ryoma.

His expression was thick with fright and concern.

“Well, let’s see. You can already see where you’ll end up by sticking to the nobles’ faction, and turning to the knights’ faction would just mean that overbearing General Albrecht would toss you away once he’d be done with you, right? And that said, you can’t go back to being neutral anymore...”

Ryoma’s words were thick with implication. After a moment of thought, Count Bergstone made a suggestion.

“But if I were to help Her Majesty the Princess...”

He’d trailed off, but he was essentially asking how Princess Lupis would treat him should he join her side.

“Well, let’s see. I think becoming Minister of Finances might be a reach for you, but...”

Ryoma’s words made Count Bergstone’s eyes cloud over with disappointment. Having been promised that position had left him quite attached to the idea. Ryoma’s next words, though, returned the vigor to his face.

“If Princess Lupis wins this war, most, though not all of the nobles’ faction, will likely be purged in the process... Which would naturally mean some positions will open up. And that would also open up territories she could give away, in which case... you follow?”

The seductive poison leaving Ryoma’s lips attacked Count Bergstone’s heart. In other words, if the princess’s faction won, the nobles’ faction would be greatly diminished, freeing up existing stations which would be filled by those who cooperated with her. And since the princess still served as the symbol of the knights’ faction, at least in the public eye, joining her at this point would allow him to amass a significantly strong position in her faction.

Furthermore, since the enemy was the nobles, defeating them would allow the princess’s faction to confiscate their lands, and Count Bergstone would be allowed to take part in divvying up the spoils.

This isn’t a bad offer... Much better than being used and discarded like a pawn by the nobles’ faction, and I’ll be able to pay them back for humiliating me like this. But... that’s all assuming Princess Lupis wins over the nobles’ faction. If she can’t, this whole discussion would be moot... In that case, being used by the nobles’ faction might actually be less harmful.

Count Bergstone’s heart was torn between greed and self-preservation.

“Sir Mikoshiba... I’m sorry, but I’ll need some time to think it over.”

“That’s reasonable enough. But how long will you need? We’re actually quite pressed for time ourselves, so we are not in a position to be waiting for days.”

Ryoma didn’t think Count Bergstone would consent to helping Princess Lupis right here and now. From the count’s perspective, this was a major decision that would influence the course of his life. If he were to agree to it immediately, Ryoma wouldn’t trust him.

But put conversely, they couldn’t stand to wait for him to decide too long, since they would have to go and attempt to persuade other neutral nobles.

“I would appreciate it if you could give me tonight to mull things over... I will give you my answer on the morrow, so would you care to spend the night here in my mansion?”

“Very well, then. I shall eagerly wait for you to make the wise decision.” Ryoma took Count Bergstone’s extended hand, and shook it firmly with a smile.

Meltina gazed upon the two of them silently, gripped by an inexplicable fear for Ryoma Mikoshiba.

“Oh, what am I to do...?”

After delaying his decision to tomorrow, Count Bergstone shut himself off in his study, pacing about and asking himself that question over and over.

“That man... What he said is most likely true... Why didn’t I realize it when the nobles’ faction made their offer...?”

That was his biggest lament. Looking back on it, it was a foolish decision, and no amount of regret would be sufficient. His only explanation was that ten years of reclusive life had dulled his once-sharp intellect.

Had he stayed in the neutral faction, then he would have remained unrelated to the conflict no matter which side won. Remaining neutral may not have increased anyone’s territory or enabled his comeback into the palace’s affairs, but it would have allowed him to retain the lifestyle he already had. But he was led astray by sweet temptations to side with the nobles’ faction, which left him with two choices.

Those choices: remain on the side of the nobles’ faction knowing full well he’d be used as a pawn, or bet on the tables being turned and join the knights’ faction. Returning to neutrality would be impossible now. If he would, once the fighting ended the winner would inflict severe sanctions on him.

But even while aware of the position he was in, Count Bergstone couldn’t come to a decision. And the biggest reason was that the people who brought this news to his attention were emissaries from the princess’s faction.

Even as he was forced to live in secluded retirement, Count Bergstone kept his ears open regarding the kingdom’s political relations in anticipation of the day he’d return to political activity. And so he knew that Princess Lupis was currently little more than a political figurehead for the knights’ faction to gather under, and that all the true power lay in General Albrecht’s hands.

“That man came with Lady Meltina... which means he’s directly connected to Princess Lupis. Which means I’m not being invited into the knights’ faction, but the princess’ faction.”

Would Princess Lupis remain a puppet in General Albrecht’s hands? Regardless of her decision, once the war with the nobles’ faction ended there was a chance of another fight breaking out between the knights’ and princess’s factions. And so he was invited not only into the weaker faction in this war, but also to the weaker faction within it. It was only natural Count Bergstone would hesitate.

“If I support them, I’ll have to be prepared to lose everything...”

He would have to be resolved to cast aside his family name, the riches he built up over the years and the territories he’d amassed to this day.

“The problem is whether Her Majesty can win...”

In the end, all of the problems came down to that question. Could the princess’s faction win? Count Bergstone’s loyalty to the crown was by no means weak, but his fealty wasn’t so great that he would place his family at risk over it. He wouldn’t say honor and loyalty were devoid of meaning, but a man couldn’t live on those things alone.

“Back then, I didn’t think the princess’s faction stood any chance of winning...”

Meltina’s method of bringing people over to their side was decidedly simple; claiming Princess Lupis’s legitimacy as an heir and appealing to their loyalty. And while those were certainly important things, they wouldn’t be sufficient reason to move the heart of the neutral faction’s nobles.

And why so? Because anyone who placed such importance on their loyalty to the throne or the legitimacy of the princess would not have chosen to become part of the neutral faction to begin with. Anyone who cared for those would have come to offer their loyalty to Princess Lupis long before Meltina would come into the picture to convince them.

What Count Bergstone wanted to hear was how Princess Lupis would repay his loyalty, should he choose to help her. That was what mattered. Helping the princess was all well and good, but mobilizing troops would require gear and rations, and any soldiers who’d achieved impressive feats needed to be granted due honors. Even in a hierarchical society, the simple words of ‘well done’ wouldn’t suffice.

But Meltina didn’t understand this. All she did was speak of loyalty to the princess over and over, like a broken record, and moving anyone but the most loyal nobles with that was impossible.

That was why Count Bergstone turned his back on the princess. If her closest aide, Meltina, was incapable of that level of intelligence, he had no choice but to judge that none of the people on her side were exceptional enough.

When all was said and done, a faction was only as strong as the people within it, and what decided victory was which side had the superior manpower.

And so Count Bergstone turned his back on Princess Lupis and happily took the invitation from the nobles’ faction. Anyone would have wanted to take a fight they knew they could win; all the more so when presented with the tempting reward of expanding their territory and gaining power.

But after today’s conversation, Count Bergstone was incredibly conflicted. It was all down to the emissary who had arrived today from the princess’s faction, Ryoma Mikoshiba...

“I don’t know who that man is supposed to be, but... He’s sharp. Perhaps too sharp...”

Ryoma Mikoshiba. The mysterious man who appeared in the princess’s faction, which he had believed was devoid of any wise, forward thinking individuals.

I’ve only met him today, but I can say with some confidence that his judgment and ability to assess the situation are quite reliable.

In the short time they’d spoken, he left a strong impression on Count Bergstone’s heart. His mannerisms were good, and just in terms of diplomacy, he already showed impressive prowess.

Which meant future tidings for the princess’s faction may well have changed for the better. The nobles’ faction had likely attempted to lure in other neutral nobles the same way they had tempted him, but after hearing that man’s words, no one would be foolish enough to take their offer. In other words, the possibility of being able to recruit the other neutral nobles was certainly there.

Yes, with Ryoma Mikoshiba by their side, the princess’s faction would grow in power, and it was perfectly possible for Princess Lupis to become sovereign over the kingdom of Rhoadseria. And so, Count Bergstone was conflicted.

“Aaah... What am I to do...?”

Suddenly, someone knocked on the door to his study. Count Bergstone’s mind, which had been running in a maze of those thoughts and considerations, snapped back to reality at once.

“Sir?” The voice of one of his maids brought his conflicted mind to reality. “Dinner is ready, and the guests are already seated at the dining table.”

Gazing out the window, he found the sun had already set, and a curtain of darkness covered the outside view. His meeting with Ryoma ended a bit after one in the afternoon, which meant Count Bergstone had spent five to six hours wallowing in anxiety in his study.

“Ah, yes... I’ll be right over.” Count Bergstone gave that pithy reply before fixing his appearance and setting out for the dining hall.

After having dinner, Count Bergstone’s concerned wife, the countess, entered her husband’s study after he shut himself in again.

“Oh, it’s you... I was merely mulling over things.” Count Bergstone smiled to cloak his tiredness and prompted his wife to sit on the sofa. “What are you doing here so late at night?”

“You were acting oddly during dinner, so I was just... Did anything happen?”

The roast chicken they served during dinner was the Bergstone kitchen’s most prided dish, but in contrast to his usual gormandizing ways, the count hardly touched it. From his perspective, now was hardly the time to be enjoying a meal.

“No... Nothing’s wrong. Nothing you should concern yourself with.” Embracing his wife’s shoulders, he tried to soothe her with a gentle smile.

However, having been married to him for as many years as she had, she could easily see through the grim shadow hanging over her husband’s heart.

“No! That’s not true. We’ve been married for twelve years... How could I not tell something is wrong with you?!”

The countess was concerned for him from the bottom of her heart. They had been bound in what was commonly called a political marriage, but the countess deeply loved her husband, who was to turn forty-three this year, and Count Bergstone loved his wife just as deeply in return.

“Is it because of the guests who arrived today?”

The count had been fine that morning, but had suddenly shut himself in his study after noon time. It would only be natural to suspect they were the reason.

“Does it... have anything to do with the palace?” Noticing her husband’s expression change at her prior question, the countess pressed forward.

Being a noble’s legal wife meant she wasn’t removed from power struggles within the country, since her husband’s choices could decide the fate of the entire house. And that held all the more when these struggles dealt with the fate of the country as a whole.

“Dear...” Seeing her husband’s attitude, the countess became convinced. “Aren’t we husband and wife...? I might not be of any help to you, but if I could carry at least some of the burden, could you please tell me what’s the problem?”

Count Bergstone couldn’t help but be touched by his wife’s sincere words. Perhaps he really did want to tell this to someone... Maybe he really was this conflicted.

“I may not be knowledgeable with politics...”

After Count Bergstone came clean about his concerns, the countess began giving her hesitant but clear take on the matter.

“But if you were to earnestly support Her Majesty now, when she is weakest, I doubt she would treat you badly.”

While she claimed to not be knowledgeable on the matter, her opinion was one that would not put the name as the lady of the Bergstone house to shame. But even as her words made him happy, Count Bergstone shook his head slowly.

“I know that, of course. But that’s not the problem. The issue is whether Her Highness can win, even with my help!”

The countess knew that well enough; it went without saying. The princess’s faction was the most inferior of all, and lacked resourceful manpower. That was why Count Bergstone would earn so much in the event of their victory. But that was only if they won... If they were to lose, he would lose everything. It was that fear which bound and paralyzed the count’s heart.

But the next moment, the countess said something that shook his heart.

“Then, Dear... Shouldn’t you just lead her to victory?”

Those words were all too unpredictable for Count Bergstone. And as her husband stood there frozen with surprise, the countess began saying what her heart earnestly believed.

“You are a talented man. Ever since I married you, I’ve not once doubted your talents... I truly believe you are a man worthy of shouldering the fate of the kingdom of Rhoadseria. And that is why I do not wish to see you waver! Take back the confidence you had before! The way you were twelve years ago, you would have never allowed yourself to falter here! Yes. The way you used to be...”

An anger that had built up over many years made the countess shiver.

“The way I... used to be...”

Blankly staring at his wife as tears filled her eyes, the image of his old self, overflowing with confidence, surfaced in Count Bergstone’s mind. Twelve years ago, when he was still in his early thirties, he was one of the most influential people in Rhoadseria. A young politician of boundless wisdom, assertively involved in domestic trade and even chosen to be one of the palace’s bureaucrats.

But pride comes before a fall, and what set Count Bergstone’s life, which seemed set to be smooth sailing, onto an off-course direction, was his greatest backer, and the father of his wife, former prime minister of the kingdom of Rhoadseria, Marquis Ernest, losing in a political struggle against Lord Gelhart. As a result, his territories were confiscated and his family brought to the brink of extinction. The majority of his blood relatives were exiled from Rhoadseria.

The only remnants of Marquis Ernest’s bloodline were Count Bergstone’s wife, who had married into his family, and her sister, who had married another noble. And before he knew it, Count Bergstone was expelled from the epicenter of politics.

It wasn’t a question of the count’s talents. Just the fact that he had wed the daughter of a past political adversary put him in the bad graces of Lord Gelhart. Furthermore, his confidence in his own talents bought him the dislike of the deceased King Pharst the Second.

No one remained to extend a helping land after he had lost his stepfather, who served as his backer, and was shunned by the king as a foolish, pompous neophyte. In the end, Count Bergstone was expelled from the palace and forced to live a reclusive life in his territory.

In the twelve years since, Count Bergstone acted only to desperately protect his lands. His joining the neutral faction was simply owed to him waiting for the coming storm to pass him by. His heart was set on defense. And little by little, that defanged him.

“I wouldn’t have wavered about this before...” Count Bergstone’s face filled with life.

Just like the countess said, twelve years ago Count Bergstone would have taken the gamble without a moment’s hesitance, and would have been completely confident in his abilities. He may not have been as talented as he once believed, but one thing was for sure; if he didn’t believe he was, he would remain a loser who lost before the battle ever started.

What would I have done in this position twelve years ago? Would I have even waited for Meltina to get involved? No... I wouldn’t. I would have offered myself to the princess’s faction on my own, and helped Princess Lupis. No telling if the princess can win? Nonsense. If I do not know, I simply need to make sure she wins with my help!

His wife’s words brushed the rust off the heart of the man who had been preoccupied with nothing but defense for twelve long years. And at that moment, the flame of ambition that once burned in his heart as a younger man was rekindled.

“If I side with Princess Lupis, either great glory or bitter defeat will await. And of course, you will share my fate... Are you still content with that decision?”

Bergstone asked the wife who had accompanied him all these years one last time. At that point, this all went without saying, but this was still a gesture of affection toward his wife.

“I am. Even if this path leads to the gallows, I will march along it by your side!”

And once he’d decided, the count would not waver any longer. He would not try to judge whether he could win or not, because he’d already decided he would use all his power to help make Princess Lupis the true ruler of the Kingdom of Rhoadseria.

“I will go meet Elnan at once. Help me prepare to leave.”

“Right now?” The countess asked, puzzled.

He’d already waited twelve years, and it was a bit too late to leave.

“Yes. I’ve delayed my response to Sir Mikoshiba until tomorrow, but simply giving my assent tomorrow would be far too dull.”

Count Elnan Zeleph— a neutral faction noble whose lands shared a border with Count Bergstone’s, and also the man who had wed the countess’s sister.

The only one to earn any merit from my turning from the nobles’ faction to the princess’s faction alone would be Sir Mikoshiba... But if I draw Elnan to the princess’s faction, the merit would go to me. And Elnan is my brother-in-law... Likely the only man I can still trust.

Having resolved to side with the princess’s faction, his mind gained the sharpness it had once had in his younger days. If he were to simply switch sides to the princess’s faction as things were, the credit would go entirely to Ryoma Mikoshiba. No one would hold Count Bergstone in high regard for switching sides.

But what if he were to bring another noble into the fold as he joined? The credit would all go to Count Bergstone. So if he was to solidify his position in the princess’s faction, he couldn’t afford to fail.

“You do whatever you can to keep Sir Mikoshiba here! Understood?! Do not let them leave before I return!”

“Yes, dear. Be careful on your way!”

Seeing her husband’s face regain the radiance of years past, the countess bowed her head deeply.

“What is the meaning of this?!”

Duke Furio Gelhart, prime minister of the Kingdom of Rhoadseria and head of the nobles’ faction, involuntarily slammed his fist on the ebony table furnishing his office. His side supposedly held an absolute advantage over his opponents, but over the last few days he’d been receiving one disturbing report after another.


“Well, what? Get to the point.”

Fearing his master’s displeasure, Gelhart’s aide hesitated to speak, which only spurred the duke’s ire further. He was a man at the age of fifty-six— the prime of a politician’s life. Gelhart’s hair was a carefully combed shade of blond streaked with grey. The diligently trimmed mustache over his lips implied his neurotic nature. He looked quite the refined gentleman at first glance, but the enraged expression currently on his face washed away all traces of that elegant countenance.

But his anger wasn’t for lack of good reason. His aide was, in fact, just as confused at this flurry of unexpected, troubling news. The only thing they knew for certain was that members of the neutral faction they’d signed secret agreements with had been turning to the enemy’s side one after another over the past week. And while they were mostly middle-class nobles, they all had lucrative lands under their control.

Of course, lucrative as they were, their lands couldn’t match his lands, or those of the other nobles who formed the core of the nobles’ faction. Even the strongest and largest among the middle-class nobles, Count Bergstone, could only conscript a thousand soldiers at most and a few dozen knights, and perhaps add mercenaries to the mix. Whatever the case, his forces would only number at slightly over a thousand.

But even if one noble alone couldn’t turn the tide of the war, it could be problematic if those nobles consolidated their forces. There was a parable of how, during Japan’s Warring States period, a conqueror by the name of Motonari Mori ruled the Chugoku region, and taught his son of the Legend of Three Arrows. While it was dubious whether that story can truly be attributed to Motonari, it was an anecdote that stressed the importance of unity.

This parable had a single meaning: no matter how small forces may be on their own, they can become a mighty army if they come together.

Of course, being a denizen of this Earth, Gelhart couldn’t have heard of this Rearthian precept before, but he understood the meaning behind it on his own, thanks to many years of experience. It was for this reason that Duke Gelhart showed unusual graciousness in a plot against the most influential neutral nobles. The bait he offered them was the prospect of increasing their territories and guaranteed positions within the government once the fighting concluded.

The result was that the many nobles who were displeased with the way he had treated them for a long time turned to his side with almost comical ease. In the end, the neutral faction was a gathering of nobles who were driven out of the political core, and were out of touch with the changing of the times. Given the chance, they would pounce to his side, their eyes alight with greed, and conveniently manipulating such fools to achieve his ends was a simple matter for the man who held the politics of the Kingdom of Rhoadseria under his thumb.

Or so it had been, until the winds suddenly started changing direction recently. And furthermore, those who switched sides were influential members of the neutral faction, ones who had been offered significantly favorable conditions.

Someone’s manipulating things from behind the scenes... And it’s someone bright.

Duke Gelhart’s well-cultivated political sense of smell picked up on a plot being spun by some unseen enemy. The conditions he demanded of the neutral nobles were that they not mobilize their troops, and that they back Princess Radine; that was all. The risk on their behalf was minute, while the merit they would gain was quite large. And so the neutral nobles, who were forced to lead their days in misfortune and obscurity, flocked to his side.

It goes without saying that Duke Gelhart had no intention to fulfill those promises to begin with, and he didn’t see them as members of the nobles’ faction or his allies. He simply didn’t want them to make any kind of needless movements that would throw the war situation into chaos.

Besides, if Gelhart were to calculate the number of territories he’d have to give up should he hold up on his end of the bargain, it would turn out that he’d have to give away half the kingdom’s territories. And moreover, these agreements held no binding power; they were all done in secrecy, and since no contracts were written down, the law granted them no power.

Ergo, the deciding factor would be the might of the arm, and Duke Gelhart was the stronger one. Once the nobles realized they’d been duped, it would be too dangerous for them to turn to forceful measures. Everyone, save for the ones most lacking in prudence, would simply yield to the situation, keep their mouths shut and do nothing, displeased as they may be. It was a reasoning even a child could understand, if one simply disregarded their greed and calmed down to think about it.

Duke Gelhart’s plot was meticulous to that extent, and it all tipped over this late into the game.

They must have sided with someone quite intelligent... Surely.

A sharp click of the tongue escaped Duke Gelhart’s lips.

“We only know two things for sure. The nobles who promised us their assistance are swearing allegiance to the princess’s faction one after another, and...”

The aide then trailed off. He knew that what he was about to say would make his master explode with anger; contrary to his appearance, he had a surprisingly short temper. But at the same time, his many years of experience taught him that keeping quiet would lead to the same result.

And so, steeling himself for the scolding sure to come, he fulfilled his role.

“Some of the nobles who turned are showing an unusually firm approach towards us...”

“What do you mean, ‘firm approach’...?” Duke Gelhart asked, somehow feeling as if he was being made fun of here. “Are they increasing their territories’ defenses?”

Irritating though it was, in the end, he didn’t take the resistance of the weak seriously. But what his aide said next made the color drain from Duke Gelhart’s face.

“They’re... gathering their forces and marching to the castle...”

“What?!” The duke couldn’t hide his surprise.

This wasn’t something which could be overlooked. Honestly speaking, Duke Gelhart wasn’t particularly bothered by the neutral nobles turning sides. But the neutral faction’s nobles mobilizing their territories’ soldiers and stationing them in the capital changed the situation drastically.

A faction had turned coat on them. While this may have seemed like a significant loss of military might, such was not actually the case, since anyone who joined them at this point in the game were opportunists who dreaded seeing harm come to them in the first place. They were parasites who gladly took the bait they were offered, but wouldn’t contribute to the faction which graciously fed them.

So in this case, even if they did carry the banner of the princess’s faction, they would be utterly uncooperative, offering no military or financial assistance to the faction. Or at least, that’s how they acted until now...

This was why Duke Gelhart didn’t ask the neutral faction’s nobles for much cooperation when he brought them over to his side, deciding all would be well so long as he ensured they wouldn’t turn against him. He knew asking for anything more would be pointless.

Hence why this report made Duke Gelhart panic as much as he did. He’d thought they would simply lend their cooperation to the princess’s faction for form’s sake and nothing else, and wait for the storm of civil war to pass.

“What do you mean...? They pledged allegiance to the princess’s faction out of a genuine desire to help? Who would even do that to start with...?”

“Count Bergstone and Count Zeleph are the prime leaders; they are leading their forces and other small nobles’ armies into the castle.”

Perhaps this was his just desserts for viewing them as insects he could crush at any time. Rage bubbled up from Duke Gelhart’s heart like black, adhesive pitch.

“Grrr... Damn that Count Bergstone! Just how much does he intend to get in my way?! I should have done away with him before after all...”

But the next moment, Duke Gelhart realized he was on the verge of overlooking a vital point, judging by how confused he was.

“Wait, did you say the princess’s faction? They joined the princess’s faction, and not the knights’ faction?” Duke Gelhart stressed the point, which prompted his aide to nod with a hardened expression.

“Yes. I doubted it myself, but I made multiple efforts to verify, and... They have definitely joined the princess’s faction, not the knights’ faction.”

These two things may have sounded identical on the surface, but in truth, the difference was palpable. The knights’ faction certainly were backing Princess Lupis as their banner; however, they were only supporting her because on top of being the princess, she had served as captain of the royal guard for the last few years. There was no other reason for General Albrecht to be supporting her.

The only ones who swore true fealty to the princess were, aside from the lowest ranking knights, the vice captain of the royal guard, Mikhail, and a scant number of others. The majority of middle-class knights, the ones commanding the units, were taken into Albrecht’s faction, and gathering so many of them granted the faction considerable influence.

Princess Lupis was a mere figurehead for the knights’ faction.

But what would happen now that nobles, however few, were offering their support to the princess? They had soldiers to match the size of their territories, and the financial resources to hire mercenaries.

If Counts Bergstone and Zeleph were to bring all their neighboring nobles over to Princess Lupis’s side, she would be nearly four thousand soldiers strong. Of course, that wasn’t even a sixth of the forces under Duke Gelhart, leader of the nobles’ faction.

Duke Gelhart had gathered an army of 2,500 from his own private fortune, and if he were to conscript the peasants from his vast territories, his forces alone would amount to 25,000 troops. Adding the nobles’ faction soldiers and mercenaries into the mix would bring that number to 65,000 troops.

Meanwhile, General Albrecht commanded Rhoadseria’s six knight orders, which had 15,000 soldiers in all. Even if one excluded the forces that couldn’t be moved from national defense, he could still mobilize about 8,000 to 10,000 troops.

The forces Princess Lupis had gathered at this point likely numbered 15,000 men when put together with the neutral faction’s troops, but since Albrecht’s forces also included knights capable of using thaumaturgy, he still held the advantage.

The most disturbing part, however, was that the nobles had defected to the princess’s faction. Duke Gelhart had his aide leave, and sank deep into his chair, pondering things in a relaxed manner.

Princess Lupis... Is she trying to reclaim power over the country from Albrecht?

That thought surfaced in Duke Gelhart’s mind. It was the one conclusion he could come up with, judging from the actions of counts Bergstone and Zeleph. But he was forced to reject the idea.

No... Impossible. Princess Lupis could never manage that...

Duke Gelhart doubted the princess’s ability. She was currently twenty years old and had an amiable personality, lacking the haughtiness commonly found in royals. Her kindness, which placed the lives of the people first, as well as her beauty, bought her a truly immense amount of trust from the commoners.

She had also served as captain of the royal guard for five years without any fault to her name, so one couldn’t claim she was impotent... At least, in terms of commanding the military.

But perhaps that was natural, because Princess Lupis had no political experience. No matter her talents and disposition, she ought not to be capable of deftly handling something she had no experience with.

If one of her associates was wise, things may have been different, but she had few supporters that were in any way worth mentioning, mainly the vice captain of the royal guard, Mikhail Vanash, and her personal aide Meltina Lecta. And Duke Gelhart was confident enough that, setting their martial prowess aside, they weren’t much graced with wisdom. Experienced as they may have been, they weren’t much help for managing the kingdom.

In other words, Princess Lupis was utterly incapable of ruling over the Kingdom of Rhoadseria on her own.

If Princess Lupis were to completely control either the military or political field, things may have been different... I suppose that’s why Albrecht backed her; to strengthen his own influence and authority.

Duke Gelhart could easily understand General Albrecht’s way of thinking, since they were both the same type of person.

Albrecht will likely abandon the princess within three years... After that, he’d likely have her secretly killed or imprisoned. Otherwise, he might have her as a mistress, given her beauty.

Duke Gelhart himself wasn’t much fixated on the throne. He likely saw himself as a man who preferred substance over fame. Compared to him, General Albrecht was one to lust for both substance and fame. He made do with substance alone for the moment, but it was plainly visible he would one day wish to reach for fame. The fame of being Rhoadseria’s king...

Well, if I win, she’ll be put to death, so it’s all the same to Princess Lupis no matter which way the wind blows...

Having gained Princess Radine as a new banner to unite this kingdom under, Duke Gelhart saw Princess Lupis as nothing but an obstacle. Having two heirs to the throne would simply serve as a trigger to spark future conflict.

That said, Duke Gelhart had his own doubts regarding Princess Radine’s authenticity as an heir. True, she had the late king’s silver hair, her physiognomy was similar enough to his, and she carried his will and testament, so one couldn’t easily assume she was an imposter.

But as a tactician set on winning this conflict, Duke Gelhart couldn’t help but feel that there was something deliberate to Rhoadseria’s current state of affairs. The former king passes, and just as his heir is about to take the throne, an illegitimate child is discovered. The timing of it all was simply too suspicious.

And still, Gelhart backed Princess Radine because he absolutely needed an heir to the royal bloodline as his banner if he was to oppose General Albrecht. If he were to oppose the knights’ faction while they backed Princess Lupis without a similar icon of his own, he would simply be branded a traitor. And if that were to happen, even his proteges from the nobles’ faction could turn their backs on him.

Gelhart himself thought this was foolish, but having a greater cause was absolutely essential in war. Even a false, fabricated cause...

Well, so be it. Even a fake princess will become a true one, so long as I acknowledge her as such... And if she does turn out to be fake, I can do away with her later.

With that thought in mind, Duke Gelhart smiled. Now that he had a princess to use as his cause for the war, it all came down to military power, and the nobles’ faction held the numerical superiority. That fact wouldn’t be overturned by the princess’s faction taking in a few neutral nobles.

The question is, what spurred the princess’s faction to make their move all of a sudden... Mikhail and Meltina aren’t that resourceful. Just who brought upon this change?

His advantage remained strong, so he could ignore this, but the princess’s faction’s sudden machinations weren’t a development he saw as favorable.

“Someone! Come here at once!”

Having gathered his thoughts, Gelhart called to his aides in the adjacent room.

“You called, milord?”

“Yes. The movements of the princess’s faction have me quite concerned.”

“Should we send over some spies?”

“Yes. Money is no object here; I’ll need you to hire the most skilled people you can find.”

The aide couldn’t hide his surprise. He was well aware his master was by no means an extravagant person with money.

“And then, have them find out if the princess’s faction has gained some kind of new, wise advisor... If such a person exists, have them killed at once!”

This was hardly a naive decision for Duke Gelhart, who had won many a conflict in the past. He made his way through by nipping potential obstacles in the bud and taking possession of authority.

“As you wish.” The aide bowed his head respectfully and left the room again.

“Anyone who gets in my way, no matter what, will be crushed under my foot!”

Duke Gelhart was resolved to use any means to win, and gain the sweet fruit of power over this country...

It had been half a month since Duke Gelhart’s aide ordered the investigation, on a certain afternoon. A man and a woman gazed at Ryoma’s back from an alleyway, as he marched through the streets of the capital Pireas.

“So that’s our current target, then...?”

“Yeah, he’s a novice mercenary. Can’t use any thaumaturgy yet. Not much of a challenge for you.”

To avoid the eyes of others, the two wore robes and hoods to cover their faces, but judging from their voices, it was a young woman and a middle-aged man.

“I wonder about that.” The woman directed a suspicious gaze at the man. “From the way he carries himself, he doesn’t look like a typical mook.”

“You’re doubting my research?” The man seemed angry at having doubt cast over his work. “He definitely can’t use thaumaturgy, and he’s a rank E newbie. Check the guild yourself if you don’t believe me.”

“You’re crazy skilled for your age, but I’ve got confidence in my own business, ya know? Still, you’re the chief’s successor. If you’re not happy with my methods, why not ask the chief to have someone else handle this for you?”

He likely took a great deal of pride in his work; his eye narrowed to a slit and shone with a cold light.

“I apologize. I didn’t mean it like that, and I’m sorry if my words offended you.” The woman bowed her head earnestly.

A silence fell between the two for a moment.

“Nah, I’m sorry... I said a bit too much myself.” The man murmured quiet words of apology, likely feeling his attitude was immature.

“Don’t let it bother you. More importantly, what about those two with him?”

The woman’s gaze fixed on Sara and Laura, who were walking beside Ryoma.

“They’re a couple of former slaves. Evidently, they follow the kid wherever he goes. But they were both trained as war slaves, so they’re pretty capable. Watch out for them if you’re planning on taking him out.”

“Understood. Thanks.”

“Right, you can leave the itinerary to me. You’ll need to sneak in as soon as preparations are complete, so rest up at the inn for the time being.”

Leaving those words in his wake, the man disappeared into the alley.

“Ryoma Mikoshiba, huh...”

Having been left alone, the woman whispered Ryoma’s name one more time before vanishing into the crowd.

The cogs of the western continent’s history were once again shifting, with the young man named Ryoma Miksohiba as their axis. The sky was bright and free of clouds.

This was Duke Gelhart’s castle, standing in the heart of the citadel city of Heraklion. Standing beneath the pale blue moonlight, a girl standing at the castle’s balcony looked up to the night sky, leaning against the guard rail. What thoughts filled her eyes with such sorrow?

Grabbing the golden brooch dangling in the valley of her abundant breasts, the girl spoke the one question weighing down on her heart.

“Who... am I?”

That doubt came into being on that fateful day, and even months later, she hadn’t yet come up with the answer.

No, there already was an answer by now. The cold, metallic sensation of the crown upon her head said all there was to say. But the girl’s heart couldn’t accept this answer so easily.

This gemstone-inlaid tiara, resting between her carefully-combed silver locks. That dazzling splendor was a special privilege that no one, aside from this girl and Lupis Rhoadserians, were allowed to carry on their person in this Kingdom of Rhoadseria.

I’m royalty...? This country’s... Rhoadseria’s ruler...?

Every time that thought crossed her mind, a shiver rushed down her spine.

She couldn’t deny she had once admired and dreamed of being a princess, as most girls do. She never knew her father’s face, and was bereft of her mother since before she could even remember herself. And so, the only thing an orphaned girl without a soul to care for her in this world was allowed to have was the freedom to dream.

To dream of being an heir in some affluent family; to dream that her unfamiliar father still lived somewhere, and would someday come to pick her up; to dream that she would eat luxurious meals to her stomach’s content and wear dresses of silk.

As she worked as a maid in the manor of a governor of a small agricultural village on the outskirts of the kingdom of Myest, the sole pleasure she had was dreaming.

Until that day. The day those dreams ceased to be lovely, guileless phantasms and became reality.

“Is this truly the right path?” That single small question rung ever so severely in her ears.

No. It is not... At this rate, this kingdom will descend into war. All for the aim of making me its ruler.

Much blood would be spilled and many lives would be lost, all for her sake. And she wasn’t staunch enough of a dreamer to not realize the gravity of it all.

Honestly speaking, she truly believed it would be better if she were to simply disappear without a trace. Better for herself, and for the kingdom of Rhoadseria.

I want to run away... But that man won’t allow it anymore.

Alas, contrary to that desire to flee, she realized better than anyone that she was past the point of no return.

Yes, that day. Since the moment that man visited the manor and spoke to her, there was only a single path she could walk down. Once Duke Gelhart, leader of the nobles’ faction, became her backer, she had lost the freedom to return.

Not at this point. If she were to attempt to abdicate from this position, the responsibility of sowing the seeds of discord within the kingdom would fall entirely on her.

She was born and raised as a commoner, and so she was familiar with just how selfish and uncaring those in power were better than she cared to ever know. And from her perspective, Duke Gelhart was the most typical model of a noble.

That man will stop at nothing to protect himself and his family’s name...

If the circumstances turned against him, Duke Gelhart would push all the responsibility onto her without a second’s thought to protect himself. And if he did, she would be left with no support and no means of resisting him.

And it went without saying that the punishment for impersonating royalty was death.

I suppose it’s pointless... The wisest move in this game, it seems, is not to play.

However, while her mind understood this perfectly, her heart remained unconvinced.

The girl’s name was Radine Rhoadserians. One of the two sole heirs to the kingdom of Rhoadseria.

As the pressures of anxiety and duty bore down on her, Radine desperately sought a way she could strive on... a way that would allow her to survive.

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