Wortenia Senki (LN) - Volume 4 - Chapter 3

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Chapter 3: Clash 

“Everyone! We have finally reached this battlefield...! The last confrontation is about to begin. This battle will decide the fate of the kingdom of Rhoadseria. The enemy’s numbers are few. I am confident that if each and every one of you will fight to the best of your ability, our victory will be unshakeable. I believe in your loyalty and strength...! Let victory be upon us! Glory to the kingdom of Rhoadseria!” 

Princess Lupis stood upon a platform, speaking before the knights. They responded to her oration with cheering that shook Heraklion’s plains. 

“““Victory! Let victory be upon us! Glory to the kingdom of Rhoadseria!””” 

Raising their fists to the heavens, the knights cheered as they clicked the butt-ends of their spears into the ground. The grudges General Albrecht had built up over the years among the knights were now on the verge of erupting like a volcano. Finally, they had their chance for revenge. 

And under such overwhelmingly favorable conditions, at that. The effects of Duke Gelhart’s defection to Princess Lupis’s side were swift and noticeable. It wasn’t for nothing that he’d spent his years in the palace, embroiled in political power struggles. 

Duke Gelhart accepted all of Ryoma’s conditions, and immediately began working to undermine the other nobles, namely the ones beneath Count Adelheit. Coupled with Ryoma’s own efforts, the results of the endeavor were exceedingly potent. 

It all happened the day before Lupis gave the knights her speech. Count Adelheit was unable to contain his surprise upon learning of an unexpected visit from Duke Gelhart, but still greeted him out of polite courtesy. 

“Ah, Duke Gelhart... My apologies for the other day...” 

Count Adelheit was currently in a camp outside of Heraklion, gathering his forces to meet Princess Lupis’s. Count Adelheit was quite surprised to find Duke Gelhart had left the safety of Heraklion’s walls for the dangerous areas of the battlefield. 

“Oh, no, pardon my sudden intrusion.” 

Saying this much was the kind of lip service one would expect. There was no denying that Duke Gelhart felt quite bitterly over Count Adelheit’s betrayal. He did serve alongside him for many years in the nobles’ faction. It was only natural he’d be upset. 

However, one couldn’t see that anger burning in Duke Gelhart’s eyes. He was a haughty man, to be sure, but was capable of deprecating himself as much as necessary if it suited his needs. Perhaps one would call him a good actor. Or simply an adult. 

Of course, he couldn’t quite fool Count Adelheit, who had served as his number two for years, but it still served to ease up the conversation. People were more prone to listen to someone when they spoke calmly, and not listen when they were being looked down upon. 

“Still, to see you come all the way here... I must wonder what business you could have with me. We’re preparing to battle as General Albrecht ordered, so I haven’t much in the way of free time... Our battle with Princess Lupis is set to begin soon...” 

Count Adelheit’s words were correct, but carried their implications. In other words, he didn’t have the time to spare for Duke Gelhart, a man in his decline. 

“Ah, I’m sorry to hear I’ve found you at a bad time... But Count Adelheit, have you heard of the steep measures Princess Lupis is taking right now?” Duke Gelhart asked ominously. 

Count Adelheit knew what Duke Gelhart was going for, but he still couldn’t help but ask. 

“Steep measures...? Just what is the princess plotting?” 

“You’re interested to hear?” 

“Of course. Do tell.” 

If Princess Lupis was trying some kind of tactic, Count Adelheit couldn’t ignore it, even if it was Duke Gelhart who delivered the news. The nobles’ instincts spurred them to keep their households safe, and so being driven by emotion and ignoring this wouldn’t do. He would simply have to confirm the truth of what he heard here later. 

Duke Gelhart spoke abruptly, with Count Adelheit eyeing him suspiciously, trying to ascertain the authenticity of his words. 

“Princess Lupis has sent small groups of her knights to burn down the territories of the nobles associated with General Albrecht.” 

At that moment, Count Adelheit became completely pale. 

“I-It can’t be! That’s impossible... Princess Lupis isn’t one to allow such conduct!” 

Adelheit couldn’t help but raise his voice. True, burning down territories was a viable tactic in prolonged wars. Ravaging the enemy’s territories chipped away at their financial prowess and applied psychological pressure. It also allowed for the other side to acquire more goods to fund their war effort. It was a truly effective strategy. 

But this war was different. It was a war between fellow Rhoadserians. Princess Lupis burning down the nobles’ territories would be dealing a blow to her own country’s economy. It was effectively a suicidal tactic that dealt as much damage to her as it did to her foes. 

And to begin with, would Lupis Rhoadserians, known for being merciful, employ a tactic that burdened her commoners? 

“I find it hard to believe... The princess wouldn’t do that... Are you sure you haven’t heard wrong?” 

Count Adelheit’s question was understandable. He’d seen her in a few audiences, and didn’t think she was a person of that caliber. That very thought was what Duke Gelhart was aiming for. He was confident he’d managed to fool Count Adelheit with his words. 

“True. Princess Lupis is a kind one, as you say...” 

“She is, so you must be somehow mistaken. She would never agree to hurting Rhoadseria’s citizens!” 

His tone seemed to imply that despite siding with the rebels, Count Adelheit didn’t seem to quite understand that he was opposed to Princess Lupis. This was perhaps proof that he didn’t understand the true meaning of this war. In conventional war, attacking the enemy’s territories when they’re relatively unguarded is an obvious tactic. 

But Count Adelheit’s somewhat complacent perception was one most nobles who’ve met Princess Lupis in her audiences would share. Put another way, her kind and merciful nature is what spurred them to rebel in the first place. 

Yes, the count’s perspective would’ve in fact been correct... Until now. 

Duke Gelhart suppressed the smirk rising to his lips and continued speaking with a humble expression. 

“However... That man serving under the princess wouldn’t shrink away from such foul means...” 

Count Adelheit’s expression stiffened. He had guessed at what Duke Gelhart was trying to say. 

“That man... You mean, that rumored devil...” 

“Indeed...” Duke Gelhart nodded slowly. “The Devil of Heraklion, they call him.” 

“Ryoma Mikoshiba...” Count Adelheit spoke his name fearfully. 

Duke Gelhart nodded silently. 

Ryoma Mikoshiba. The man who drowned thousands with a flooding attack and viciously slew the survivors. The people living in Heraklion and its surroundings had fearfully dubbed him the “Devil of Heraklion.” 

This was a false image that resulted from the rumors Ryoma spread being greatly exaggerated, but the uneducated masses believed them. Indeed, even in this world of endless strife, a commander who accepts no surrenders and takes no prisoners is unusual. Most would take all the prisoners they could in hopes of demanding ransoms for them, or sell them to slave merchants. 

The rumors had already reached Count Adelheit’s ears. Many commoners brought them up when they begged to be allowed to go back home, after all. 

“But... Those are just rumors, right? You’re not saying he’s a real devil, are you?” 

Duke Gelhart laughed loudly and shook his head. 

“I didn’t expect to hear such nonsense from a count such as yourself. The only ones who would believe him to be a devil are the lowly masses.” 

But he then stopped laughing, and all emotion left his face. He looked around, as if worried that this devil might be hiding nearby. 

“But I certainly think that Mikoshiba fellow is cruel and merciless enough to be called a devil. That flood attack and his actions after that make it clear to me that he won’t hesitate to burn any territories down.” 

His whisper was full of terror toward Ryoma. He was no real devil, of course. Ruthless though he may be, he didn’t gain any kind of sick pleasure from killing. But that image of a devil was important, and Duke Gelhart did harbor actual fear toward Ryoma. He was only half-acting here. The other half was his honest feelings. 

“Well, yes, I suppose that’s something the Devil of Heraklion might do, but... Are you sure what you’re telling me is true?” 

Count Adelheit didn’t seem to believe it yet. Or rather, didn’t want to believe. And Duke Gelhart understood his feelings perfectly well. But he’d only come here to sow the seeds of fear and suspicion in his heart. 

“Oh, I’ve simply heard this rumor and thought I should share it with you. Whether you believe it or not is up to you, good Count... Now then. I suppose I shouldn’t take up any more of your precious time. I will take my leave.” 

“H-Huh... G-Going back already? You shouldn’t have to hurry!” 

Count Adelheit seemed to have forgotten what he said at first and now tried to get the Duke to stay. A part of him felt he couldn’t simply let him leave after he had left him in so much anxiety. He wanted more clear information. 

“Oh, no, I couldn’t dare impose on you any longer... Ah, I know. If you want to hear more about this, ask the town’s merchants. That’s where I learned of this rumor. I’m sure they’ll be able to give you a clearer answer.” 

Count Adelheit couldn’t keep him any longer after he’d said this much. 

“I see. Thank you for sharing this information with me.” 

“Oh, no, pardon me for intruding when you’re so busy. I bid you farewell, then.” 

With that said, Duke Gelhart left the tent. As he watched the man leave, Count Adelheit’s mind started accelerating. 

“Come! I need someone!” 

He rang a bell, which prompted an aide to run in. Count Adelheit ordered him to gather his army’s commanders. He would send them to investigate the authenticity of Duke Gelhart’s rumors. 

The information would reach him that very night. Apparently, some of his subordinates caught wind of the rumors and were looking into them already. 

“Then it’s true?!” 

Count Adelheit was taken aback by his subordinates’ report. 

“It’s hard to say if it’s true, but... That’s certainly what the merchants in Heraklion say...” 

His aides’ words viciously knocked down his heart. Nobles were always ones to only bet on the winning horse. Preserving their family’s prestige, wealth, and territory was always the first thing on their mind. They clung stubbornly to their territories, and even if they didn’t cherish their subjects, no governor would sit back and let his land burn. 

Nobles produced nothing, after all. They lived by feasting on the wealth produced by their people. So they couldn’t afford to have their lands put to the flame. And to top it off, this dispatch of soldiers took most of their lands’ men, leaving only the women and children there. Setting up a defensive line like that was unthinkable, and any nobles that left their estates behind to come here would be hit particularly hard. 

This is awful... Terrible, even... But... What do I do...? 

Count Adelheit felt the anxiety wash over him. If the rumors were true, he had only one choice: to pull back his army, and use it to defend his territory and family. But if they were to turn back and go back home with nothing to show for it, all they would have left is debt. His own men hadn’t locked swords with the enemy yet, but they were still putting their lives on the line. Not offering them any recompense would be too much. 

The same held true for the commoners. They put aside their daily livelihood to enlist. They didn’t require any actual prize, but he would need to at least exempt them from next year’s tax. So no matter what he did, going back empty-handed would only result in dissatisfaction. 

But if it’s true, my family... My wife and grandchildren... 

If they were to be taken captive, he would pay off their ransoms. If they were sold off to slavers, he would buy their freedom back. But if they fell to the hands of the Devil of Heraklion... That man would ignore all dignity shown toward nobles and slaughter woman and child alike. 

Count Adelheit’s heart was shackled with fear. His sons, who were standing at his side, understood the reason behind their father’s complicated expression perfectly, but couldn’t find any words. No, it was likely that everyone present in the tent wanted nothing more than to leave this place to help their families... 

“Sir count! My apologies!” A soldier entered their tent, apparently to report something. 

“What is this?!” Count Adelheit glanced at him coldly, annoyed at having been distracted from his thoughts, and dismissively waved his hand. “I said that we are not to be disturbed!” 

“Y-Yes, I am aware, but...” the soldier stammered timidly. “Viscount Romane and several other nobles have arrived, saying they seek an audience with you... I’ve informed them of your orders, but they insist that it is urgent... Erm... What say you?” 

The count sighed. He probably knew the reason Viscount Romane arrived. 

“Very well. Guide them in...” 

Watching the soldier leave, Count Adelheit spoke to his eldest son. 

“What do you think? So it really is...” 

“My opinion is likely the same as yours, Father...” 

“So you think so, too... What are we to do?” 

Count Adelheit prided himself on having raised his eldest son into a wise man. 

He’s of the same opinion as me. So if nothing else, he’s no fool... However... 

“It’s probably for the best if we pull back our numbers, even if by force... Staying here won’t raise our morale and I don’t believe we’ll win. And the longer we draw this out, the greater the chance our conscripted soldiers rise up in rebellion.” 

They wanted to go back home if they could, but the nobles couldn’t simply withdraw from this battle so easily. Doing it thoughtlessly would simply mark them as traitors and turn the rest of the nobles’ faction against them. But his son suggested they retreat, even with that in mind. 

So what do we do...? Do we pull back, or stay here...? 

Multiple possibilities popped up and then fizzled out in his mind, but his thoughts were soon disturbed by a man’s voice. 

“Your elder boy’s words are most apt! This war is all but over.” 

The soldier likely showed him the way here. Six men clad in armor entered the tent. 

“Oh, Viscount Romane...” Count Adelheit spoke to the middle-aged man standing in the middle of the row. “A pleasure to see you... But still, could you explain what you meant by this? We can’t simply turn around and go back to our territories with Princess Lupis marching on us.” 

Romane was a short, middle-aged man, who rudely settled down into a chair without being prompted to do so and crossed his arms brazenly. His conduct was far ruder than is normally tolerated by the nobility, but no one made to blame him for it. They knew saying anything would be wasted effort. 

“Spare me the empty courtesy, good count. We haven’t the time for this right now... We will be returning to our territories,” the viscount said plainly. 

The curtness of it all only lent his words more credibility, though. 

“What?!” Count Adelheit went pale. 

Has he gone mad...?! 

Viscount Romane was part of Count Adelheit’s faction, but was always a very haughty person who was exceedingly hard to deal with. But that nature also granted him some positive traits. He was a skilled warrior and made himself into something of the low-ranking nobles’ leader figure. 

The low-ranking nobles each only had a force of several dozens to a hundred or so, which on its own wasn’t a number one could fight a war with. At most, it could be used for camp security or managing the food stores. But even such small forces could become significant numbers when gathered. 

But of course, simple cooperation wasn’t enough. When people of equal rank gathered together, it would only result in them getting in each other’s way. That was simply how nobles tended to be. However, so long as someone held authority over the soldiers as a commander, any gathering of men could become a useful force. 

It could happen through dignity, intimidation, or wealth. So long as people were led by someone with something that let them stand superior to others, any pawn on the chessboard could be made into a knight. That was why Count Adelheit tacitly put up with Viscount Romane’s attitude. 

But his declaration that they would leave of their own accord was one thing he couldn’t stay silent on. 

“That’s impossible!” he shouted at him, mustering all the dignity he could. “How dare you do that on your discretion?! Do you intend to betray Duke Gelhart?!” 

Count Adelheit and the rest of the nobles had already usurped the faction from Duke Gelhart in favor of General Albrecht, but were still technically considered the Duke’s army. Even if he was left with no effective authority or power, he was still nominally the banner they gathered beneath. 

But Viscount Romane simply regarded the Count with a sneer. 

“You say that now, of all times? We only turned our backs on Duke Gelhart a few days ago. As aged as you might be, good count, I’m sure your old mind can still recall what happened several days ago.” 

His voice was thick with clear scorn, to which the count’s aides reacted by reaching for their swords. 


Count Adelheit stopped his men from cutting the viscount down. He then turned a resigned expression at the man. 

“You are right. There’s no point in trying to keep up appearances at this point. Then let us get to the main question here... Why?” 

He asked the viscount why he decided to retreat back to his territory. He already had a fairly good idea of what he would say, but he wanted to hear it straight from the man’s mouth. In so doing, he would be able to decide how to act himself, too. 

“Does it even need to be said...?” Viscount Romane went red with irritation. “It’s the rumors...” 

He was probably quite annoyed. 

“I knew it... So they’re true...?” 

Viscount Romane shook his head. 

“So you’re retreating without confirming the rumors...? All of you...?” Count Adelheit looked to the young men standing behind the viscount. 

One young man stepped forward to meet his gaze. 

“We don’t believe the authenticity of those rumors matters at this point, sir count,” he said. 

Count Adelheit couldn’t recall his name. 

He must be one of the low-ranking nobles under Viscount Romane. 

“Which house do you hail from, young one?” 

“This one is Lechre, eldest son of Baron Mondo’s household,” Viscount Romane answered. “I’ve taken him under my wing. His father is a complete and utter good-for-nothing fool, but Lechre here is quite the promising young man. He’s my most highly-valued aide.” 

Count Adelheit’s gaze turned sharp at that introduction. 

Eldest son of the Mondo household... His father, the current governor, is said to be quite the fool, but I did hear his son is quite impressive... And sure enough... 

There were several hundreds of nobles in Rhoadseria. Most nobles might be acquainted with most of the others, but Count Adelheit was the nobles’ faction’s number two man. To him, the majority of the nobles were no different from the common rabble. 

But he did know a bit about the Mondo household. The current governor, Lechre’s father, suddenly started raising the tolls for entering his territory. Thanks to that, the merchants employed by the count had been complaining quite a bit. 

Having dug up what he could from his memories, the count once again fixed his gaze on Lechre. 

“I see. Then, Sir Lechre, let me ask you again. What did you mean by that?” 

“The rumor is already circulating among the commoners, and they refuse to listen to our orders, insisting that they go home.” 

The commoners would be the ones hurt most by the territories being razed, as their houses and assets would all be burned to ash. Nobles could still receive the favor of their relatives, but the commoners were struggling just to defend their hard-earned livelihood. They couldn’t care much for someone else’s life at this point. And so, they wanted to go home and protect their meager fortunes and families. 

Count Adelheit, however, simply clicked his tongue and gave the boy an exasperated, mocking look. 

“Such foolishness... Is there ever a time they don’t complain over something or another? Hurt a few of them to set an example and be done with it.” 

If someone said anything like this on Ryoma’s world, it would cause a huge scandal. He would be labeled a fascist and militarist and receive the verbal equivalent of a lynching in terms of criticism. 

But what he just described was a commonly used means of maintaining public order and governing a noble’s territory in this world. And a highly-effective one, at that... At least normally. But this time things were different. 

“Well, you see...” Lechre shook his head. “The commoners are willing to revolt... They’ve physically resisted us.” 

“The commoners did what?!” Count Adelheit rose from his chair. 

He was quite shocked by what he’d just heard. He didn’t think the commoners were that well-supported. 

“Yes, we’ve quelled their resistance this time, but several knights were severely injured. Things ended favorably this time, but they could well have died at that rate. We’ve looked into it, and similar things are happening throughout the nobles’ faction... And...” 

“And what? There’s more?!” 

Count Adelheit honestly didn’t want Lechre to say any more. If things got any worse, even a bold man like him wouldn’t be able to take it. 

“Marquis Schwartzen and his clique are already retreating.” 

All the blood drained from Count Adelheit’s face at the sound of that name. 

“It can’t be... How dare he?!” 

Marquis Schwartzen was the nobles’ faction’s third most powerful man. Duke Gelhart trusted Count Adelheit more, and so he was above him within the faction. But in terms of the size of their territories and the low-ranking nobles under their wing, Marquis Schwartzen was second only to Duke Gelhart himself. The forces he contributed formed the second greatest chunk of the nobles’ faction’s total ranks in this war. His retreating from the battlefield was something that couldn’t be ignored. 

“Did you report this to General Albrecht?!” 

This was what interested Count Adelheit the most. It was only natural to look up to General Albrecht’s decisions, since he held supreme authority over the army. But Lechre simply replied with a crooked, malignant smile. 

“Surely you jest. What would reporting this to him now achieve...? Marquis Schwartzen’s army has notified us they will attack us if we interfere with their retreat. And so we can’t do anything... Marquis Schwartzen’s army forms a fourth of the nobles’ faction’s forces. If we clash with them, well, perhaps we would emerge victorious, but we wouldn’t get away unscathed.” 

“That’s... true.” 

“In which case, what should the nobles do now? What would guarantee our survival? Would it be reporting to General Albrecht?” 

Sensing the meaning lurking behind those words, Count Adelheit’s expression contorted in a nasty fashion. 

“Sacrifice General Albrecht’s forces...? And you all agree to this?” 

They responded to his words with silence. A silence that meant consent. It was sickeningly foul, but even as he was disgusted with their approach, he did understand why they did this. This was all the work of the nobles’ instincts, instilled in them since birth. They spurred them to do anything to defend their status and family name. 

And Count Adelheit knew that making a fuss all by himself at this point would achieve nothing. Leaning heavily back into the backrest of his chair, he heaved a resigned sigh into the air. 

“Very well... If you’re resolved to go that far, I’ve nothing left to say. I’ll abide by your decision.” 

Everyone else nodded silently. 

“I’m glad you understand,” Viscount Romane said and turned on his heels. “We will retreat at once, then. Regardless of whether the rumors are true or not, we must attend to the defense of our territories!” 

As he watched him leave, a whisper escaped Count Adelheit’s lips. 

“We betray Duke Gelhart, and then turn on General Albrecht, too... Maintaining the power of one’s families may require one to dirty their hands, but still...” 

The aides standing at his sides were all uniformly silent. They, too, were feeling the bitterness of what being a noble meant.

“But Your Highness! You must give the order to march!” 

As Princess Lupis stood frozen in place, unable to give the order to march on Heraklion, Meltina implored her. Thanks to Ryoma’s schemes, the noble armies that were deployed around Heraklion had all returned to their territories. 

With Duke Gelhart on their side, all that remained was to defeat General Albrecht, the 2,500 knights under his command and the small army of one thousand men belonging to low-ranking nobles who didn’t understand what the others were doing and stayed behind. They had holed up in a corner of Heraklion. Their morale was, of course, at rock bottom. 

By comparison, Princess Lupis had 25,000 men under her command. Not too long ago, Princess Lupis was on the back foot, but now the tables had turned completely. The knights standing before her all eagerly awaited her orders. Being indeed ten times the enemy’s numbers, their morale was, naturally, sky high. 

But Princess Lupis’s heart was gripped by a dark emotion that was the direct opposite of her knights’ elation. She wasn’t able to rejoice in a situation where it wouldn’t be odd for her to flit around in joy. 

Her terror of him hung over her like a shadow. 

So this is his power... He overturned such a position of weakness... Ryoma Mikoshiba... He scares me. His intellect and wit scare me. His ruthlessness scares me. The heart, that lacks all respect for royalty, scares me... And if we defeat Albrecht, that man will leave this country. That’s fine... That’s what we agreed on, to begin with. But what if he turns against me...? I won’t be able to match him, no matter what... Is there even anyone in this country that can? Even Helena admits he’s better than her... If he were to ever turn against us... This country will fall into a far larger crisis that Gelhart or Albrecht ever were... 

She knew this from the very beginning. No, perhaps it would be more correct to say that she’d fooled herself into thinking she knew that. The anxiety she’d become aware of, and that she’d tried her hardest not to think about, surged up in her heart now, when they were on the cusp of routing General Albrecht’s army. 

Still, she had to push that fear away. 

No... I’ll need to think of that later. Right now I need to get rid of Albrecht! 

Nodding back to Meltina shortly, Princess Lupis fixed her gaze forward. 

This was all... all for this moment! 

“All forces, march!” 

Meltina nodded to Princess Lupis and pointed in Heraklion’s direction. Right now, beating Albrecht was what mattered. 


Raising their voices once again, the soldiers set off at once. They had but one goal: To claim General Albrecht’s head.

“Master Ryoma... Are you sure?” 

The knights led by Princess Lupis made for Heraklion, kicking up a cloud of dust in their wake. A group of people overlooked the march from high ground located a short ways off from the knights. 

“Yeah, us participating in Heraklion’s invasion would achieve nothing,” Ryoma answered Laura’s question shortly. 

The people present here were the hundred or so mercenaries lead by Lione and Boltz, as well as the Malfist sisters. Everyone was geared and ready to head for the frontlines, but their commander, Ryoma, didn’t move to the battlefield. 

“But lad... This war won’t end if we don’t attack Heraklion, you know?” Boltz voiced his doubts, mouthing the question everyone present was asking themselves. 

“It won’t end if we don’t attack the city, eh...? I see... Do you all feel that way?” 

Everyone nodded at Ryoma’s query. General Albrecht wasn’t going to move his army out of the city, and so the war wouldn’t end until they took Heraklion. Duke Gelhart had already turned to the princess’s side, after all. Ryoma smiled, realizing the meaning behind Boltz’s question. 

“So let me ask you something, instead. Right now, General Albrecht is in the city with his knights and the nobles that didn’t bail in time. Now that Gelhart is on the princess’s side, the general is the last enemy we have left. We good so far?” 

Everyone nodded. The rumors Ryoma spread about his supposed scorched earth tactics made the defending nobles pull back their forces and retreat home. Thanks to that, there was no sign of any soldiers in Heraklion’s vicinity, and this was how Princess Lupis was able to carry out this final battle. Since Duke Gelhart swore allegiance to Princess Lupis, her only remaining adversaries were General Albrecht and his lackeys. 

“What’s the size of Princess Lupis’s forces?” 

“Twenty-five thousand men.” 

“Like Sara said. And Albrecht’s?” 

“Three thousand, give or take five hundred men!” Boltz chimed in. 

“Exactly.” Ryoma looked around at everyone. “They’ve got almost ten times his forces, so do you really think Albrecht holed himself up in Heraklion in that situation?” 

Everyone then realized what Ryoma meant. 

“So yer saying he isn’t hiding in the city, boy?” Lione asked. 

“Yeah. Well, honestly it’s probably more of a 50-50 chance... From what I know, Albrecht is a very haughty, unpleasant old man, but at the same time, he doesn’t know when to give up.” 

“So whaddaya think mister general-who-won’t-give-up’s gonna do?” 

“Well, for starters, if he holes up in Heraklion, he can’t hope for reinforcements. The nobles’ faction turned their backs on him once and won’t send troops to help him again. Duke Gelhart won’t shelter him, either. If he shows up, he’d organize his army and send it to crush Albrecht. Which means he’s got two options, accepting defeat, or running away... But I can’t see that weasel picking honorable defeat.” 

“What, so him runnin’ is the only option left... But can he really do that under such a disadvantage? We’re talking ten times his men in numbers here. Ten times. Runnin’s easier said than done; he’ll need to cut through the siege and evade pursuit.” 

He wouldn’t accept defeat, and holding a siege wouldn’t work. So his only choice was to flee Heraklion and run. Even a child could come to that conclusion. Lione’s response was apt, though. She’d seen many battles and knew how difficult a retreat could be. 

Marching an army forward was relatively simple, but once one wanted to retreat, things suddenly became that much more complicated. 

On top of that, knights had superb individual combat skills, but their performance dropped when it came to working in formations. And what mattered the most in a battle of retreat was not individual strength, but specifically teamwork and working in a formation. A group can only survive so long as everyone covers for each other. 

Conversely, when people start ignoring the formations and going off on their own, those left behind only die. Of course, based on the conditions of the battle, different tactics bring forth different results, as history has shown plenty of times. 

So not only were the knights forced into a battle of retreat, which they weren’t fit for in the first place, they had to do it under an overwhelming numerical disadvantage. Their chances of surviving were essentially zero. 

“Yeah, I think you’re right there.” Ryoma nodded at Lione’s doubts, and went on to state his own concerns. “Well, I did tweak things a bit to make it come to this... But all that is assuming General Albrecht retreated with his men... I think that at worst, he may have abandoned his knights and bailed alone...” 

Everyone was dumbstruck by Ryoma’s suggestion. 

“No, boy... That’s too much.” 

“Lad! Isn’t that a little...?” 

True, he could escape without his men, but would a knight that climbed to the rank of general ever make that choice? A king or a noble was one thing, but knights stubbornly clung to their honor and good name. So abandoning one’s men and retreating, and before a decisive final battle, at that? 

Even Boltz and Lione, who had seen countless battles, had trouble remembering anyone that shameless. But Ryoma still considered the possibility. He knew some people would stop at nothing if it would ensure their survival. 

“I mean, it’s all in the realm of possibility so far...” Ryoma shrugged. “It doesn’t change the fact our side needs to attack Heraklion. But a force of our size isn’t gonna influence the outcome of that battle, you know? So I asked Princess Lupis for permission to act in a separate group.” 

I see. Lione turned an exasperated gaze at Ryoma. So the general holed up his forces in the city so they can serve as a decoy to draw attention off of him. He basically ordered his men to die for him... A nasty old man to the end, ain’t he. But still, the boy read through the weasel’s actions and moved accordingly. Damn... 

Lione cussed at the old general in her heart. Ryoma didn’t make any definitive statements, but everyone present didn’t think it was fifty-fifty like he said. They felt like that future would definitely come to pass. And it was true that with this much of an advantage, it hardly mattered if Ryoma and his group took part in the attack on Heraklion. 

But considering their reward after the war, their decision to not participate might not put them at a disadvantage, but it certainly didn’t help them. Ryoma being here despite that meant the probability of Albrecht trying to escape was exceedingly high. 

“Still unconvinced?” Ryoma asked, to which everyone shook their heads. 

It seemed his explanation was enough. 

“All right. Now we just need to wait for Gennou to return...” 

“Gennou?” Laura asked, looking around. 

Sure enough, Gennou and Sakuya weren’t in sight. 

“Oh, don’t worry... I just sent them to get in contact with our people inside the city... Oh! Speak of the devil, here they are... How did it go, Gennou?” 

The mercenaries he had disguised as merchants were scattered all around Heraklion, working undercover. Most of their work consisted of leaking rumors to the commoners regarding Ryoma Mikoshiba, while some also infiltrated the city itself and reported on the enemy’s movements. With Duke Gelhart’s turning coat, they focused their investigations on General Albrecht. 

Gennou and Sakuya snuck into Heraklion to serve as their contacts, and Ryoma had just caught sight of them approaching. 

“We’ve kept you waiting, milord.” 

“Pardon our tardiness.” 

The two lowered their heads at Ryoma, apologizing for taking too long to return before turning to the main topic at hand. 

“Your guess was accurate, milord... The ones watching the general’s estate report that he summoned merchants just yesterday, and apparently negotiated some kind of deal with them.” 

Ryoma nodded at Gennou’s words. 

“Negotiations, huh? Do they know what it was?” 

Ryoma anticipated Gennou’s report, but didn’t plan to jump to any conclusions regarding General Albrecht’s motives yet. 

“Yes, they asked one of the merchants on his way out. Apparently he sold off clothes and some title deeds. Looks like he liquified his assets in a hurry.” 

“Right... So that means...” 

Turning his assets into cash could only mean one thing. He was trying to escape the country, after all. 

“I think it’s safe to assume he was gathering funds to escape...” 

“He apparently bought a lot of preserved foods, too,” Gennou said. 

“Preserved foods... Yeah, he’s definitely cutting off his men...” Ryoma’s gaze sharpened. 

If he was going along with his men, he wouldn’t need to buy food, since the army had units that dealt in provisions. The supreme commander wouldn’t need to rely on a merchant for food, and yet he did. Which meant he didn’t want his men to learn about what he was doing. 

“He likely drew everyone’s attention to Heraklion so he could escape during the battle.” 

“What about his escape route? Any ideas, Gennou?” 

“Nay.” The old ninja shook his head. “Sadly I could not dig that deep. However...” 

“What? Does something seem off to you?” 

“If he intends to take his family along, I do not think it likely he will escape on foot. I’ve seen carriages being loaded, so I suspect he may use the highway.” 

“Master Ryoma! Here!” Sara swiftly spread out a map she’d been carrying in front of Ryoma. 

“So this here is Heraklion... There’s about four roads he could take.” 

Ryoma quickly found the seven highways extending from Heraklion. Three of them were already seized by Princess Lupis’s forces. There was the possibility that Albrecht would pick those roads precisely for the sake of slipping right under the princess’s nose, but it was a dangerous choice to make if his family was with him. Ryoma kept in mind that Albrecht’s name and face were well-known within Rhoadseria’s borders as he narrowed down his choices. 

“That leaves the southeast, south, southwest and west highways...” Laura pointed out. “And since he’s taking his family, we can probably rule out the west one leading to Xarooda.” 

Ryoma nodded. 

Right... The land of iron, Xarooda, has steep mountains. The terrain is too harsh for him to escape with his family... 

“I think Laura is right.” Sara said. “We have been specially trained so we would be able to pass through that terrain, but ordinary women and children would have trouble. In which case, we can rule out the southwest for the same reason.” 

Lione peeked into the map, and pointed at two roads extending south. 

“Which leaves the southeast and south.” 

Both roads led into the southern countries’ regions. It was a gathering of countries and the site of some of the most tumultuous fighting in all the western continent. But that only meant that it was the perfect place to hide. 

“Two roads, huh... So which one...?” 

Ryoma looked up. He had about one hundred men on hand. They were all skilled, bright warriors, but the enemy would be resisting desperately. It would probably be wise to assume they matched his men in strength. In which case, the deciding factor would be how many men they had. 

General Albrecht wanted to avoid being seen, so he couldn’t bring a large army along to defend him. That said, ten or twenty knights simply wouldn’t be enough to guard him and his family. 

Splitting my forces would be a bad idea... But we can’t let Albrecht get away, either. What do I do here...? 

Considering Rhoadseria’s future, they had to kill General Albrecht here. And there was the promise he made to Helena, too. Ideas popped in and out of his mind. As intelligent as he was, everything had a limit. He only had so many men and two roads to take, and he couldn’t think of a tactic that would compensate for that. 

“Master Ryoma,” Sara whispered in his ear, pulling him from his thoughts. 

“What, is something wrong?” 

“We’ve received a report of a unit approaching us.” 

“The enemy?” 

Sara shook her head. 

“It’s Lady Helena.” 

Ryoma’s expression changed upon hearing her name. 

“Helena... She should be attacking Heraklion with Princess Lupis... Are you sure?” 

“Yes. They should arrive soon.” 

“All right. Show them the way.” 

Sara nodded and left. Eventually, the sound of hooves reached his ears from the road ahead as a group of twenty to thirty people arrived on horseback. 

“Oh, thank goodness. I got here in time!” 

Helena got off her horse in front of Ryoma, greeting him with a calm smile. Ryoma felt there was some dark passion to her smile. 

“What are you doing here, Lady Helena? Shouldn’t you be helping attack Heraklion right now...? Are you sure it’s all right for you not to be there?” 

Helena met Ryoma’s natural question with an implicit smile. 

“Oh, but you’re not taking part in the attack either, are you? So the same holds for me... You see? It’s not that I don’t believe in you, but...” 

It’s no wonder she became a national hero... She might be old, but her mind is still sharp. And she wants to deliver the finishing blow herself... 

Ryoma realized what Helena was after. She came to cut off Albrecht’s escape, same as Ryoma did, and settle the score with her own two hands. 

“How many men do you have, Lady Helena?” 

“About three hundred.” 

God, she’s really out to kill him... Figures, I guess... 

The black flames of vengeance burned in Helena. Helena had roughly three thousand men under her direct command in this war, and she took the three hundred closest to her in order to come here. It was a show of just how resolved she was. It meant that she would stop at nothing to claim Albrecht’s head. Even if General Albrecht were to choose to surrender, she would ignore it. 

“So, what’s the situation? Has Albrecht escaped Heraklion yet?” 

Ryoma shook his head. 

“I see... And there’s no chance of him trying to hide in Heraklion and dying honorably, is there?” she asked anxiously. 

It was all speculation, and Helena wasn’t foolish enough to think her predictions were always right. And they couldn’t afford to be wrong this time, because if they were, Helena’s vengeance would end right then and there. 

“No, I don’t think so. I had my people look into it, and apparently he liquidated a lot of his assets to fund his escape... I think it’s a safe bet that he’s trying to escape to the border and try for a comeback in another country.” 

“I knew it... That does feel like something he’d think of,” Helena spat out bitterly. “Any ideas on which way he’d go?” 

Ryoma took the map from Sara and spread it out for Helena to see. 

“We narrowed it down to two options. Considering they were preparing carriages and that his family isn’t used to harsh journeys, we think he’ll go south.” 

“Hmm, yes... If he went north or east, he’d have to go through the capital.” Helena nodded lightly. “He’d probably avoid going through there. He could try to go around it, but those regions are under the nobles’ faction’s control. If he tried to go through them, they’d probably sell him out to the princess to buy her favor... Plus, it’s the longest path to the border.” 

Princess Lupis was on the verge of winning the war, and the ones who’d simply looked on from the sidelines or opposed her were scrambling for ways to garner her favor and retain their status. Heading to the capital’s vicinity at a time like this would be suicide for Albrecht. 

It was very likely he’d avoid it. Everyone was out to offer his head up as tribute, after all. 

“The east isn’t likely, either... Xarooda’s border areas are mountainous and steep... Which leaves...” 

Helena came to the same conclusion as Ryoma, though she didn’t seem at all conflicted. She was confident, somehow. 

“Ryoma, are you torn between the south and southeast?” 

Ryoma nodded quietly. 

“Then let me solve that problem for you.” Helena said and pointed to a certain point on the map. “Albrecht will be trying to escape from the south. I can’t see him going anywhere else.” 

Helena was completely confident. 

“Not to be disrespectful, but what’s your basis for saying that?” Ryoma asked. 

He felt the confidence in Helena’s words, but didn’t intend to trust her blindly until she told him what the foundation behind it was. But the next words to leave Helena’s lips made that clear. 

“His wife is descended from a noble family in the kingdom of Tarja.” 

The kingdom of Tarja was located several hundreds of kilometers south of Heraklion. His wife’s country of origin would indeed be a good place to flee to. Her connection to them would help when they sought refuge. 

“I see... Yeah, her having a connection to the place makes Tarja a good option... Except, what if he assumed we’d think that and goes the other way?” 

Ryoma didn’t intend to nitpick, and admitted her idea was convincing. But when Ryoma planned to escape the Empire of O’ltormea, he knew that picking the optimal way didn’t always yield the best possible result. Because it was precisely that path that drew the most attention and was the easiest to predict. 

That was why at times intentionally picking the less optimal way would throw one’s opponents off-guard. 

“So you’re saying he might intentionally pick the other way. But I don’t think we need to worry about it this time... Because if he goes southeast, he’d find himself in the kingdom of Britannia.” 

Helena pointed at the country neighboring Tarja. 

“It’s about the same distance as Tarja, isn’t it? Can’t he flee there?” 

Helena smiled wryly. 

“I doubt he can. Tarja and Britannia have been rivals for years. If it was just Albrecht, perhaps he would have gone there, but his wife is Tarjan. Taking her there would be dangerous. And he can’t discard his wife, either. If he does that, he really will run out of factions that would help him...” 

“You think he’s aiming to rebuild his power in Tarja? That he’s still looking to build up his influence?” 

“Oh, yes. There’s no way he would back down even after this... He’s not that naive of a man, you see.” 

If Helena was right, then there really was no doubting he was heading for Tarja. He’d rather go to the country his wife was related to over the country that had nothing to do with him. 

But Helena’s words only made another doubt surface in Ryoma’s mind. He hadn’t considered Albrecht’s wife until now, but now realized Helena’s vengeance wasn’t limited to Albrecht himself. The blade of her revenge would extend to his family, too, which naturally included his wife... 

The problem was the potential that the kingdom of Rhoadseria would make a new enemy for itself by letting Albrecht’s wife die. 

Helena knows Albrecht better than I do... I should probably work according to her judgment here, but... I’m worried about his wife being a noble of another country. Should we really let her kill someone like that...? 

Ryoma didn’t think a country would put up with one of its people being killed by a foreign country’s army. They’d ignore the circumstances and react emotionally, which was how many wars broke out. 

Ryoma shrugged that concern away. 

In for a penny, in for a pound. This isn’t my world. So long as we get rid of the corpse in a way it won’t be found, Rhoadseria can act dumb. 

For better or worse, the technological standards of this world were low. Burying a corpse would be enough to make sure it wasn’t found. There was no means of identifying DNA in this world, so once a corpse decomposed enough there would be no way of knowing who it belonged to. 

“Very well. I’ll abide by your commands.” 

By saying that, Ryoma showed he prioritized Helena’s vengeance. Helena nodded quietly. 

“Very well. What shall we do then?” Ryoma asked. “Attack them as soon as they leave Heraklion? Or wait further ahead and ambush them?” 

Killing him near Heraklion would make it easy to make excuses in case her motive of revenge came to light. Killing him far away from the city, however, enabled them to move more openly and dispose of the bodies without fear of being seen. 

“I think here would be a good spot...” Helena said, indicating a certain point on the map. “What say you?” 

It was a forest that stood relatively isolated from any towns or cities, an ideal spot for deploying their men. 

“Right... Then we should probably split our forces in two... I’ll take two hundred and play the role of the hunting dog. That should make it easier for you, right?” 

Helena closed her eyes, feeling the intent behind his words. 

“Ryoma... Thank you.” 

Those words reflected the emotions in her heart... and spelled doom for General Albrecht and his family.

“No one’s coming after us, right, Kael...?” General Albrecht asked as he peered out the carriage, looking at Kael who rode his horse parallel to him. 

“Yes, milord... For the time being... I don’t think anyone’s realized we’ve escaped.” 

“I see... It’s a good thing I abided by your advice and made to escape as soon as Lupis’s forces moved in on us.” 

“Yes! I’m grateful for your kind words!” Kael bowed his head respectfully. 

Hmm, it was essentially a gamble, but... Looks like it’s going well. This man was more useful than I thought. Good manpower to pick up, considering what’s to come... 

General Albrecht nodded, appreciating Kael’s performance so far. Albrecht had liquified his assets and gathered his aides in his estate, waiting for the right time. For the chance to escape Heraklion. 

That time was that day’s afternoon. When Princess Lupis’s armies began marching to take Heraklion. 

The city itself was in a state of chaos. The news of Duke Gelhart’s turning to Princess Lupis’s side hadn’t spread to the commoners, and so it seemed to them that the princess was marching to purge the duke’s rule. 

Normally, what the ruling classes did had nothing to do with the commoners, but an army marching on a city meant there would naturally be civilian casualties. And so, the commoners elected to flee the town, all to protect their lives and meager fortunes. 

General Albrecht and his entourage used the chaos that resulted from the commoners’ flight to escape the town. 

“Hmph! They’d do well not to delude themselves into thinking this is over. I will get back at them for humiliating me... Lupis! Gelhart! You will rue the day you crossed Hodram Albrecht!” 

Relieved by the fact that there were no pursuers in sight, words of vilification slipped from General Albrecht’s lips. He’d become completely indignant. Calling a member of royalty by their name and nothing else was usually a crime punishable by death, but he had already given up on his position in Rhoadseria. 

Nobility, knighthood, royalty. Hodram Albrecht had already been expelled from the ruling classes of the kingdom of Rhoadseria. Still, his grudge had no legitimacy. The fact of the matter was that Princess Lupis didn’t set him up. He betrayed her of his own will and set up Duke Gelhart. The only one who set any traps and betrayed anyone was General Albrecht. 

But right now, his mind wasn’t thinking that way. The only thing he was thinking about was how to blame everyone else for his plight. And it was perhaps this nature that resulted in him being forced to flee the country in the first place. 

“How are my wife and daughter?” General Albrecht turned his gaze to the carriage moving behind his. “They’re not inconvenienced in any way, I hope?” 

“No, milord! The men are doing their utmost to make sure they’re spending their time pleasantly.” 

“Good. Those two are my last hope, after all. Am I clear? I won’t tolerate any mistakes.” 

“Rest assured, milord. We will escort you to Tarja safely... Am I right, men?!” 

Kael prompted the men riding around the carriages. 

“““Leave everything to us, sir!””” 

Albrecht’s final hope was also the final hope of everyone else here. All of them were people who couldn’t stay in Rhoadseria any longer. That was their punishment for living lavishly behind the shield of the general’s tyranny. 

Taking bribes from passing merchants or stealing another’s achievements to move up the ranks were among the lighter crimes people carried here. The worse ones ravaged the wives and daughters of their peers, and the most despicable of them even killed them to make sure they didn’t talk. 

The general’s backing was the only reason these people could walk with their heads held high in blatant disregard of the law and common human decency. And with that gone, their lives were hanging by a thread. Even if they weren’t tried by a court of justice, their victims would never forgive them. 

The men understood this perfectly well, and this was why they didn’t betray General Albrecht. His flourishing translated to their success, and his decline meant their demise. They weren’t on his side out of loyalty, but out of a simple pragmatic perception of profit. But put another way, this is what made them precious, trustworthy pawns for the general. 

“Good! You need only wait until I wed my daughter to Tarja’s prince. I will gain power as a maternal relative, and things will swing in my favor. I will see to it that you will all be treated accordingly!” General Albrecht laughed with satisfaction. 

“““Yes!!!””” The surrounding knights replied in unison and bowed their heads. 

This was General Albrecht’s last resort. The existence of the daughter he’d produced with his wife, a Tarjan noble. He intended to have her marry a Tarjan prince, and use that to elevate his status. 

Of course, this was just his wish. He hadn’t spun any plots among the Tarjan royalty yet. But he had very few paths open to him, and this was the one that gave him the best chance of regaining his powerful position. His heart was far from broken. Men that had tasted the sweet fruit of power tended to become greedy. 

I... I can’t be finished here! I will regain power, I swear it! 

It was a pleasure that dominated the heart of man. And like a narcotic, it ate away at the heart. 

“I will not let things end here!” 

Black flames of deluded conviction burned in General Albrecht.

As the sun approached its zenith, sunlight washed over the land. The highways were clear of people due to the chaos of the war. Albrecht’s men kept driving their horses forward, rushing down the road. They were a group of armored knights on horseback, protecting several carriages. Their total numbers reached two hundred. 

One row of knights, riding ahead of everyone else, then caught sight of a forested area ahead. 

“Finally, we’ve made it here...” General Albrecht spat out tiredly. “Are there any signs of pursuers?” 

“No, sir... None so far. I think that after coming this far, we can assume we are safe. Upon crossing this forest, it will be a short distance to the Tarjan border.” 

“Just a little longer...” General Albrecht smiled at those words. 

He then turned a concerned look at the carriage behind them. Kael, too, looked in that direction. 

“The two have been quite patient.” 

“Mmm...” Albrecht sighed in response. “Yes, they have... But I’m sure they’re approaching the limit of their patience. It seems my wife has lost her appetite, and isn’t willing to drink water, either. She says it makes her nauseous... My daughter is in a similar state... Their endurance is running out.” 

It had been two days since they escaped Heraklion. The carriage shook and jolted as it moved, and it was taking its toll on General Albrecht’s wife and daughter. This was no sightseeing tour, after all. They fled Heraklion with their lives on the line, and it was a source of significant stress for these sheltered women. Still, they didn’t say a word of complaint as they were jolted by the carriage. They understood Albrecht’s position. 

“Kael. I say we find a convenient place to set up camp, and stop to rest early. What say you?” 

The sun was still out, but General Albrecht asked to set up camp early. His face was full of concern and affection for his wife’s and daughter’s health and wellbeing. 

He could sense the two were approaching their limits. And he couldn’t afford for them to die here. His wife was needed to mediate his way into Tarja’s nobility, and he needed his daughter to get married to save his position. 

“That’s a sound decision, milord... I’m sure the ladies are quite tired. I’ll have the knights set up camp once we enter the forest.” 

Kael seemed to be well aware of the women’s condition. They weren’t far from Tarja’s border, and they hadn’t run into any enemies since they escaped Heraklion. 

It should be fine... We’ve escaped the enemy’s pursuit... They likely sent their men in the opposite direction. What matters now is to make sure the ladies stay in good health... Their lives are our lives. 

Carelessness and self-interest. Those two traits sealed their fate. Because they failed to notice the blade of vengeance, gradually bearing down on them... 

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