Wortenia Senki (LN) - Volume 4 - Chapter 5

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Chapter 5: A New Battlefield 

“...What am I to do...?” 

Princess Lupis turned her gaze outside the window of her room in the capital of Pireas. She was dressed in a pure white dress with a deep cleavage, which accentuated her feminine beauty. Her ladylike grace was such that one wouldn’t believe that just a few days earlier, she was the same princess general who strode through the battlefield in full armor. 

However, the sorrow in her eyes deprived her beauty of any brightness. A deep sigh escaped her lips. Outside the window, the tumult of the cheering townsfolk reached as far as the castle. They all rejoiced, filled with hope at the end of the rebellion and the beginning of Princess Lupis’s rule. 

With Helena’s sword claiming the lives of General Albrecht and his family, Rhoadseria’s civil war ended. Having joined the rebels halfway through the conflict, General Albrecht was killed, and the true ringleader, Duke Gelhart survived. There were certainly some parts to the story Princess Lupis wasn’t quite satisfied with. 

But she couldn’t deny that with Albrecht’s death, Rhoadseria managed to preserve its dignity. All that mattered for the majority of the citizens was that the villain of the conflict was brought to justice by their new queen, and that the fighting had come to an end. 

A month had passed since the rebellion ended. But rather than being as hopeful as the people around her, Princess Lupis’s heart was tormented by anxiety. 

“Father... am I truly a rightful ruler for this country...? Am I truly, when every action that man takes makes me waver so much...?” Lupis asked her father, time and time again. 

A dead man, however, couldn’t offer her any answers. She asked her father, knowing he couldn’t answer. That alone displayed how wrought with concern her heart was. 

Another sigh escaped her lips. 

“Your Highness...” Meltina watched her sorrowfully. 

With Lupis’s coming coronation, Meltina would be inaugurated as captain of the royal guard. Normally, she would have to attend to the duties of that role, but she remained at Lupis’s side all the same. She served as her aide, doubling as her personal secretary and escort, and so taking over the role of captain of the royal guard wasn’t all that difficult for her. 

But right now, Meltina cared more for Lupis’s anxieties and how to dispel them even a little bit. 

Sentencing Sir Mikhail to house arrest was a painful blow, indeed... I’m not sure that I alone can support her... But... 

In terms of smarts, Meltina wasn’t much different from Mikhail, but he was ten years her elder, and that wasn’t an age difference one could simply disregard. Meltina was quite the prominent knight, but Mikhail also had more influence over the knights, too. 

The civil war ended, and Lupis was about to be made into Rhoadseria’s new sovereign. But that didn’t mean the foundation of her administration was solidified. She needed trustworthy people to make her rule firm. But Mikhail was under indefinite house arrest in his estate in the capital. 

When the rebellion came to a close, Duke Gelhart abided by his promise and released Mikhail from his custody. Lupis and Meltina had considered returning him to his former station, of course, but those around them didn’t approve of that. 

Ryoma hadn’t done anything wrong in particular here. Mikhail’s punishment was postponed to begin with, anyway. He was only spared with the expectation that his future accomplishments would offset his failures. But he failed a second time, breaking orders and acting on his own authority in an impatient scramble to gain merit. 

Try as they might to protect him, Lupis and Meltina couldn’t spare Mikhail from Count Bergstone and the rest of the neutral faction’s questioning. 

“Meltina, is it really impossible to reinstate Mikhail...?” Lupis asked for what was probably the dozenth time. “We can demote him if need be, but perhaps we should undo his house arrest...” 

It had been half a month since Mikhail was sentenced to house arrest, and she’d asked that question time and again since. Meltina held back a sigh as she shook her head silently. 

“Even your word cannot allow it... I would personally love to do so, of course, but...” 

Meltina truly wished to grant Lupis’s desire here. She doubted his being here would help that much to solving any problems, but he could at least serve as emotional support for Lupis. To that end, Meltina wanted him restored to his position just the same. 

But that wasn’t something she could approve of given the circumstances. In truth, Princess Lupis’s actions here were quite problematic. As trusted of a knight as he may be, she couldn’t allow him to evade punishment after failing twice. 

His first blunder of falling for Kael’s ploy may have been pardoned yet. But his second failure was a fatal one. Worse yet, in so doing he broke away from their original plan and consequently cost them their chance to crush Duke Gelhart. 

Some among the top brass even called for him to be executed. So lifting his house arrest was impossible, even with Princess Lupis’s authority. The foundation of her administration wasn’t solid yet, so she couldn’t afford to do anything that would shake the validity of her rule. 

“Yes... You’re right... I’m sorry, Meltina. I shouldn’t have said that...” 

Lupis understood that perfectly well. The problem was that even if her mind understood that, her emotions weren’t satisfied with this situation. Meltina sighed internally. 

“But enough about Mikhail for now... What of that other matter I mentioned?” Lupis asked Meltina, actively trying to shift her emotions. 

Mikhail wasn’t her only problem, after all. 

“You mean Ryoma Mikoshiba...? Well, it isn’t going well... We could easily make him a knight on a commanding officer’s level, but when it comes to a posting that would truly suit his achievements...” 

“I see...” Lupis frowned at Meltina’s answer. 

The problem at hand was how they were to handle Ryoma going forward. Princess Lupis has already helped him with his initial problem. Using the kingdom as her backing, she proved his innocence. But following that, he planned to leave the country. 

Soon after the rebellion ended, Lupis used her position as princess to send messengers to the many guilds’ offices, so they could clarify his situation. With that, Ryoma Mikoshiba and his allies were admitted to not be guilty. Their only complaint was that there was no evidence of foul play on the side of Wallace Heinkel, guildmaster of the town of Pherzaad. It was seen as a procedural error, and he wasn’t punished in any way. With Kael dying in battle against Ryoma, finding a testimony that would prove it was difficult. 

The other guildmasters weren’t keen on condemning one of their own without any evidence. There was no way of punishing him in reality. Still, Ryoma’s innocence was proven, and so Lupis had completed her promise. 

And that was why Ryoma and his allies had no reason to stay in the kingdom for long, and they could leave the country at any time. No one would have the right to stop them, either. And yet, Ryoma was still in the castle, here in the city of Pireas. 

That was because Lupis insisted that he stay until her coronation. 

“The knights are not seeing it favorably... Both the commoner and noble-born knights regard the idea negatively...” 


“Giving a person who isn’t even a citizen of the kingdom an important post in national defense is probably unacceptable to too many people... At least, so I’d assume, but it’s reasoning that’s hard to refute. Still, letting a man of his caliber into the knights would result in one important post being manned. He’d only stand in the way of those aiming to climb up the ranks, so that’s probably part of the reason they’re refusing...” 

Lupis’s expression clouded over at Meltina’s explanation. Lupis feared Ryoma greatly, and that fear surged up all the more fiercely. At this moment, when she was before her coronation despite having been in a position of total inferiority, she was more terrified than ever before. 

“Were it up to me, I would have that man serve as knight by your side, Your Highness... But that man has no respect or loyalty towards you or Rhoadseria. He only acts in the service of his own ends... I’ve observed him over the last few months, and that is my impression of him. If nothing else, I think having him serve as a knight for the royal house is dangerous... But all the same...” 

She held Ryoma Mikoshiba’s abilities in high regard, and even those who were against his appointment agreed with that. In terms of skill alone, he was more than good enough to serve as a knight, or even more than that. 

But the fact he wasn’t trustworthy lowered their overall appraisal of him. Knights were the sword and shield of the kingdom, a crucial fighting force to ensure the ruler can keep the country under his control. But what if that force were controlled by someone who cannot be trusted? They’d simply relapse to the way things were during General Albrecht’s tenure. The king would become a puppet to the military and the country would be cast into disorder. 

Lupis needed to rearrange how the country worked from now on, and to that end, a person who cannot be trusted could not be promoted to the rank of knight. This was both her opinion, and the opinion of all of Rhoadseria’s leading figures. 

“But... The one thing we can’t let him do is leave the country like this!” Lupis raised her shaking voice in denial. “We absolutely can’t...! If he takes the side of another country...” 

In the end, this was what her fear boiled down to. He couldn’t be trusted to an important position under her, but at the same time letting him out of Rhoadseria was dangerous. 

“I know... And I agree with you, Your Highness...” Meltina parted her lips with hesitation. “But I believe that if this is the case, we must... Hmm...” 

Lupis deftly picked up on what Meltina was trying to say. 

“No... That alone is something I can’t approve of.” She shook her head in denial, which made Meltina fall quiet. 

Silence settled over the two. The measure Meltina didn’t quite put into words was one which the other leading figures of Rhoadseria had already proposed before. 


Indeed, if they killed Ryoma, they wouldn’t have to worry about him joining another country and would be able to sleep soundly at night. 

That much is obvious... But he hasn’t turned against us yet, and he’s kept his promise to me. So can I really reward him for that not with gratitude, but with his death? And besides... 

Lupis was kind, for better and for worse. But most of all, she was intelligent enough. If she were foolish, she would simply fulfill her promise to Ryoma and send him on his way. If she were a viler person, she would have disregarded it and ordered his assassination. 

Her intelligence prevented her from sending him away from the country, but her being kind forbade her from having him assassinated. And at the same time, they couldn’t let this vagabond be appointed to the position of a knight. 

But there was another reason Princess Lupis didn’t choose the option of assassination. A reason she kept hidden in her heart at all costs... 

If we choose to have him assassinated, can our knights truly kill him? What if... What if they fail, and he realizes I was the one who ordered it...? 

Of course, the kingdom’s army put together would easily defeat Ryoma Mikoshiba as an individual. One man can’t stand up to a country. But he could escape. If one were to think of it rationally, the probability of him successfully escaping was below one in ten thousand. 

But it wasn’t zero. 

And she could feel Ryoma Mikoshiba had something that would reel that probability in. Same as how he made Lupis the queen of this country... 

That man... He’d never forgive me... 

That fear bound Lupis’s heart like a chain. 

“My apologies, Your Highness... Sir Sudou wishes to speak with you. Should I show him in?” 

The silence hanging between Lupis and Meltina was disturbed by a maid knocking on the door. Meltina confirmed that Lupis nodded in affirmation. 

“Let him through.” Meltina said. 

The door then opened, and Sudou entered, clad in a noble’s tunic. 

“My apologies, Your Highness... Oh? You look quite concerned,” Sudou said upon entering. “That simply won’t do... You’ll cloud over your fair face. It may be presumptuous of me, but I could give you my counsel, should you wish for it, Your Highness... No, pardon. Your Majesty.” 

He never was one for manners, but this time he went too far. 

“How dare you speak to Her Highness so rudely?!” Meltina drew her sword. 

Few people would blame her for her short temper given the situation. Sudou’s attitude was far too impolite to be used before royalty. 

“Put your sword away, Meltina... Sudou. You should learn some proper etiquette. I’ll overlook it this time, but next time you won’t be so lucky,” Lupis said menacingly. 

Sudou bowed his head respectfully at her words, though both of them understood it was only for form’s sake. 

“Fine... So, to what do I owe your visit? I’m quite busy, so do make it brief.” 

Lupis granted Sudou permission to take a seat, and cut straight to the heart of the matter. 

“Not to worry, I won’t take much of your time. I simply thought you seemed to be troubled over dealing with the aftermath of the war and thought I could do away with some of your concerns, assuming you would grant me the time to do so.” 

Lupis exchanged a glance with Meltina. She didn’t quite understand what Sudou was saying. Meltina was caught off guard too, however, and couldn’t find the right words. 

“I see... That’s very encouraging...” Lupis said suspiciously. “But do you even know what’s bothering me, Sudou?” 

“Certainly. Or rather, I’m sure any person with a bit of observation would come to this conclusion... You’re worried over how to deal with Ryoma Mikoshiba, yes?” 

Lupis desperately suppressed the shudder that ran through her. As the ruler of a kingdom, she couldn’t make her anxieties so clear. 

Don’t, Lupis! You can’t let this man see through you. Calm down... Stay calm! 

“Whatever do you mean, Sudou?” Lupis cocked her head questioningly, as if asking why he would say that. 

Of course, from Sudou’s perspective, her acting was on par with third rate theater. 

“My... So I was wrong... Then I apologize to have taken up this moment of your precious time.” 

Sudou said and rose to his feet. 

Lupis and Meltina went pale. 

“Wait, Sir Sudou...” Meltina aptly stopped Sudou. “Her Highness has given up time out of her busy schedule to hear what you have to say. How dare you leave of your own accord?!” 

Meltina’s wit was like a child’s prank to Sudou. 

“Pardon? But if Her Highness’ concerns don’t have to do with Ryoma Mikoshiba and his treatment... Then my being here is meaningless. I can’t take any more of her precious time. I will have to beg your pardon, in that case.” 

On the surface, his words seemed quite modest, but a single look at Sudou’s eyes made it clear this wasn’t his true intent. He was teasing Lupis and Meltina. Lupis was quite interested in what he had to say, as it could lead to her finding a way out of this stalemate. But she couldn’t let slip the fact that she was wavering over how to answer the question of Ryoma Mikoshiba’s treatment. 

“That’s right... Sudou, I’ll hear you out, since I’ve already given up some of my time for you. Speak,” Lupis ordered Sudou, putting up airs to the best of her ability. 

“I see. Well, since I’m already here...” 

Sudou decided now was the right time and sat back down on the sofa, sneering as he parted his lips to speak. 

“Well, I think it’s quite clear that the question of how to handle Ryoma Mikoshiba is a complicated one given the situation. Were he loyal to the kingdom, you could make him a knight, but he’s a mercenary, so that complicates things. But that said, letting him leave the country is a risk on its own, since he might join another country’s side, just as he joined yours... There’s no telling when he might turn against Rhoadseria.” 

As he spoke, the two’s eyes widened with surprise. He had guessed at their concerns with pinpoint precision. 

“You can’t make him a knight, but you can’t send him away either. But you can’t have him killed, too... Killing a man with so many merits to his name may help you for a time, but would spell trouble in the future.” 

Sudou cut off his words, and examined Lupis’s expression with an upturned gaze. 

Hmm... It really is too much for her, just as I thought. Well, a man who can fight Shardina equally is indeed beyond this woman’s ability to control... However... 

Sudou’s eyes coldly gauged Lupis’s abilities. 

“Hmm... And? How do you intend to resolve that?” Lupis said, feigning disinterest. 

She knew there was little point to hiding it, but clung to it. 

“You cannot make him a knight, and you cannot let him leave for another country.” Sudou smiled. “Then simply make him a noble.” 

Lupis was dumbstruck by his words, as was Meltina, who was standing at her side. 

“Impossible...” Meltina was struggling to even put what he just said into words. “What are you saying, fool? Make a commoner... A vagabond mercenary... into a noble?” 

Sudou nodded. 

“Do you take us for fools?!” Meltina’s shout echoed in the room. “We can’t possibly do that! No... Even if we could, the nobles would never accept that! Who would acknowledge a commoner being made noble?! Making him a knight is more realistic than that!” 

Lupis could only nod in agreement. 

“And what of his territory?! Do you intend to give him one of the royal house’s territories?!” 

Nobles needed territory to govern. Of course, it was possible to give some of the land under the royal house’s direct control and the ones obtained in the civil war. But that would mean the royal house wouldn’t grow stronger that way. Lupis intended to use the civil war as a chance to unify the country entirely under her sovereignty, and she needed land to do that. 

With more land under its control, the royal house would grow financially and in terms of population. It would give it the strength to fight back with the knights by its side should the nobles unite against it again. 

But between those aspirations and the nobles’ sentiments toward commoners, making Ryoma a new noble was impossible. 

Sudou had already predicted these apprehensions. He took out a map from his pocket and spread it over the table. 

“What’s this? A map of the western continent’s eastern side?” Lupis asked. 

Sudou nodded and placed his finger on a single point on the map. 

“Let us make Sir Mikoshiba governor of this territory. What say you? If it’s here, it won’t take away from the royal house’s territories, and none of the nobles should object... On top of that, there’s a low chance of a rebellion breaking out there. As for his title... Hmm. How about we give him the lowest title possible and make him a baron? Though in terms of the size of his territory, he’d probably need to be a duke, but the place being what it is...” 

Sudou’s proposal left Lupis and Meltina without words. The territory he specified was a massive strip of land, approximately an eighth of Rhoadseria’s total territory. Giving so much land to a commoner who was just made noble would be insanity in any other situation. But like Sudou said, there was no chance of the nobles objecting to this. After all, absolutely no one was interested in governing this land... 

“The Wortenia peninsula...” The words slithered from Lupis’s lips. 

The wheel of fate once again began to turn for Ryoma Mikoshiba...

Lying on his bed in Pireas’s castle, Ryoma stared up into thin air. 

So this is how it ends, huh... Guess I ended up being naive after all... 

Princess Lupis’s stiff facial expression surfaced in Ryoma’s mind. 

That morning, he was summoned for an audience with Princess Lupis. There, he was bestowed the title of baron and the right to govern over the Wortenia peninsula. This was something Ryoma didn’t anticipate whatsoever. He was, in fact, on the cusp of proposing to the Malfist sisters that they pack up and leave the country already. 

All the same, he didn’t refuse the reward. And that was because Ryoma had realized it. The fear hidden behind Lupis’s eyes... 

If Ryoma were to refuse the reward, Meltina would immediately order the room’s guards to attack him. They feared Ryoma that much. And having picked up on that, Ryoma avoided giving an immediate answer. His first priority was to figure out just what the catch here was. 

Even if I can’t say no, there are ways of dealing with this... First, I need to figure out what their angle is. 

Ryoma suppressed the doubts rising up in him, and expressed his gratitude to Princess Lupis. He had to do so, if he was to leave the audience alive... 

The Wortenia peninsula, eh...? That’s quite the funny trick that little bitch pulled on me... 

Recalling the events of that morning, Ryoma cursed Lupis in his heart. There was no one in this room but him. He drove even the Malfist sisters, who were always waiting on him, out of the room, and took the time to contemplate things. 

The red sunlight of dusk poured in from the window, painting Ryoma red. His expression was as cold as ice, but his eyes burned with dark flames of anger. 

He was enraged at being bitterly betrayed by a person he trusted. He kept his heart in check, but hatred for Lupis kept bubbling up within him, alongside self-deprecation. He couldn’t help but be mad at himself for being dumb enough to believe someone as stupid as her. 

Those two emotions mixed together, raging inside Ryoma’s heart. How easy it would be if he could simply put those emotions into voice and scream. But Ryoma couldn’t afford to let those feelings show. At least for now... After all, the owner of this castle, and the future queen of this country, had betrayed him. 

The walls have ears, after all... I can’t be too cautious here... And there’s no telling if there are any peepholes into this room. It’d be bad news if they notice I’m displeased here. And this situation is far worse compared to when I killed that geezer, Gaius... 

The cold facts surfaced in Ryoma’s mind one after another. Escaping the O’ltormea Empire was hard, but he’d had a lot of things go in his favor. This time wasn’t like that, though. The conditions were all too different. There was no realistic way for him to escape. 

For starters, my face and name are too well known... And even if I escape this place, Lupis will just reach for the guild, and that’ll screw me over in its own way... If nothing else, I won’t be able to take any work through the guild. 

Lupis’s letter was what made the guild pardon Ryoma’s group, proving their innocence. But put another way, if Lupis were to say ‘I know nothing of this letter’ or ‘I was asked to write a fallacious letter,’ everything could be turned on its head. Any innocence they gained through Lupis’s words could lose its credibility with a single contrasting testimony from her. 

Shit... The royals having all this power just complicates everything... 

Recalling how he rejoiced at having their innocence proven made him sick to his stomach. Maybe that was his just desserts for looking down on the authority of royalty. For better or worse, the strength of a country is vast. It was a power that could just as well allow one to say the sky is green and that grass is blue. 

I should have just bailed from this country as soon as I could... But no, that wouldn’t have been possible. They have knights watching over me 24/7, ready to kill me if I even try to escape... Dammit! I really am one oblivious idiot... I shouldn’t have swallowed Lupis’s stupid words. “I want you to see the moment I’m coronated,” she said! That cheeky, condescending bitch... 

He’d intended to leave the country as soon as the rebellion ended, and that was why Ryoma took every means possible to win. He avoided making any needless connections with the nobles, and admonished anything that went against Lupis’s will without any hesitation. He literally cared nothing for how he looked to everyone around him. 

But the debt for those actions was now hanging over him, and it was a heavy debt indeed. It had now been over a month since the civil war came to an end, and Ryoma remained in the castle even with his vindication to the guild complete. That was all because Queen Lupis pressed him to do so. 

Ryoma’s first hint was just a sign of anxiety, of fear at having to carry the responsibilities of a country. With Mikhail, her confidant, now forced to house arrest, Ryoma thought his staying in the country might alleviate some of her stress. And that small hint of sympathy had come back to bite him viciously. 

It’s been over a month since the rebellion ended... And now I’m entirely on the back foot. 

Ryoma spent most of this month in his room in the castle. He’d feast himself on lavish food, and then work up a sweat by practicing martial arts against Lione or the Malfist sisters. If he was truly left with too much free time, he’d talk to Boltz or Gennou about some trifling topic or another. 

Those were the first days he’d spent since being summoned to this world when his heart was truly at peace. 

But all of that was based on his planning to eventually leave the country. Had Ryoma taken into account he would have to stay in Rhoadseria, he wouldn’t have spent those days so idly. 

Right now, Ryoma needed silence to confront his own heart. Ryoma silently but surely analyzed the situation. 

I never thought she’d break her promise... No, I deliberately ignored that possibility... I guess I underestimated her... Or put another way, overestimated her kindness... 

He could faintly tell that she was scared of him, and that was part of why Ryoma didn’t intend to stay. But that wasn’t enough to do away with Lupis’s fear. 

The Wortenia peninsula... Honestly speaking, it’s one hell of a promotion. But I don’t see Lupis doing that for me right now... After all, making a commoner into a noble would cause a lot of resistance. And Lupis’s right to the throne is unstable, so there’s no way she’d make me a noble now... Unless there was a catch. 

Ryoma was given a noble title and territory. Normally, this would be a great honor, but Ryoma wasn’t foolish enough to simply accept it at face value. Without any warning, Queen Lupis went against her promise and pushed a title and territory onto him. Had she truly wanted Ryoma Mikoshiba to lend her his strength, she wouldn’t have gone about it like this. 

It would have been reasonable to tell him directly that she wanted his strength going forward. But between his own situation, the kingdom of Rhoadseria’s current status and Queen Lupis’s attitude and the way she looked at him, Ryoma could piece together her true intent. 

I get it... She wants to keep me pinned down, to seal me. 

It made no sense for someone who was so afraid of him to make him a noble. In which case, if she were to make him a noble, it was likely she’d place some kind of limitation on him. 

The first thing that comes to mind is the Wortenia peninsula itself... There’s a good chance the place itself is problematic, somehow. Like, it could be bordering another country, so it’s in constant strife, or something like that... But since they want to push it onto me, I can’t just say no. I’ll need a reason to refuse... A legitimate reason... So how do I find one? 

He’d need a very good reason to refuse a title and plot of land given to him by a queen in a way that wouldn’t tarnish her honor. Refusing for no reason would drag her name through the mud. Naturally, Ryoma didn’t care in the slightest for Lupis’s dignity at this point, but what would happen if he did that anyway? Lupis would simply have him killed out of spite. 

Whether he accepted the offer or rejected it, all that awaited Ryoma would be hell. 

“In the end, I’m just... weak.” Words of self-derision escaped Ryoma’s lips. 

Ryoma was being crushed by the overwhelming authority of a country. He could beat her as an individual, but he couldn’t defy her orders. Even if he were to try, it wouldn’t do him any good. And that just meant Ryoma was weaker than Lupis. 

What was he to do, then? 

The only thing that can match a country... is another country. 

An idea popped up in Ryoma’s mind. 

“You seem concerned, milord.” Someone’s voice drew Ryoma from his thoughts. 

Ryoma rose from his bed swiftly and glared at the voice’s owner. 

“How did you get in here, Gennou?” 

“From that door over yonder...” Gennou replied calmly. “I suppose I did neglect to knock first.” 

“What’s the big idea? I didn’t call for you.” 

“Come now, no need to be like that, milord.” Shrugging away Ryoma’s words, Gennou sat on a chair. “I’ve taken the liberty of confirming the situation for myself. The Wortenia peninsula... You’ve had quite the troublesome plot of land forced upon you...” 

“How do you know that?” Ryoma’s eyes narrowed. 

He hadn’t even told the sisters about it, and yet this old man knew. 

“The cloak and dagger are my livelihood, milord. Seeking out information like this is child’s play for me.” 

“Yeah... I suppose that’s right.” Ryoma nodded. 

They were a clan of shinobi. Spying out information was second nature to them. 

“Do not dwell on it... The twin lasses asked this of me. Said that your demeanor today is odd, they did, and asked that Sakuya and I look into it.” 

“The twins asked you to do that?” 

Gennou nodded deeply. In all likelihood, the Malfist sisters had picked up on the change in Ryoma’s expression and asked Gennou for help. Their attention and consideration were praiseworthy. 

“Then you understand the situation?” Ryoma asked, sighing all the while. 

“Aye...” Gennou stroked his mustache. “’Tis a bothersome conundrum, indeed. But in a way, it is also a stroke of luck.” 

“Luck? You call this luck?!” Ryoma raised his voice despite himself. 

Lupis’s plot here was obvious, and he was anxious about the land he was being forced to accept. Every single factor in this entire business was shrouded in uncertainty. But Gennou shook his head silently. 

“Milord... Take Lupis up on her offer, ulterior motives and all. And then use it to build up your strength.” 

Ryoma couldn’t easily accept Gennou’s words. He himself considered that idea, but there was one factor Ryoma had absolutely no control over on his own. 

“Do you not trust us?” Gennou’s words cut to the heart of the matter, as if he’d read Ryoma’s feelings from his expression. “Our wills are already decided. Lione and Boltz, and of course the lasses and us...” 

With those words, the room’s door swung open, and Lione, Boltz, Sakuya and the twins entered the room. 

“Ya heard him... Why didn’t you ask me to come along, boy?” 

“We’ll follow you through thick and thin, lad!” 

Like Gennou said, it seemed that they had already steeled their collective resolve. Ryoma felt his expression slacken. 

“I mean, I can’t promise anything... I’m just a commoner who doesn’t have the first idea about how to govern a province.” 

Gennou nodded silently. They still believed in Ryoma Mikoshiba in spite of that. 

“Still! To think she’s treating ya like this after all the help you gave her...” Lione said, reflecting the thoughts of everyone present. “I swear, nobles are all a bunch of real shitheads!” 

They then all huddled around the table, beginning to plan their next step. The highest priority at the moment was the answer to Lupis tomorrow. The deadline was tomorrow at noon. Until then, Ryoma would need to decide if he were to accept the title and land. They would probably need to stay up all night to come up with a countermeasure. 

“I guess she has her position to consider,” Ryoma said with a certain coldness to his voice. 

He could afford to let his anger show a little more. 

“Doesn’t it piss ya off?” Lione turned a probing glance at Ryoma. 

“Well, yeah... I was pissed at first. But if they’re going to be like this, I don’t have to show them any mercy, either,” Ryoma smirked. 

The moment Lione saw that smile, she felt something cold slither down her spine. That was a demon’s smile. A smile of malice and hatred... Born of a deep darkness, full of ambition. 

I get where you’re coming from, Lupis... But you betrayed me... So I’ll make sure you pay the price! And then... 

In this world, only the strong survived. And countries were one of the strongest forces in this world. One could be as skilled and witty as they wished, but there was no opposing the might of a country. Only a country could defeat another country, but making another country like the ones that already exist in this world would be meaningless. 

Ryoma’s image of what an ideal country would be was still hazy, and its form was far from fleshed out. 

But with these guys by my side... 

On that night, the lantern lighting up the room wasn’t put out until the break of dawn.

“And that’s all... Do you understand, Your Highness?” Sudou asked Princess Shardina, who sat in the chair opposite his. 

The place was Shardina’s office in O’ltormea’s capital. Placed on her desk was Sudou’s interim report detailing his infiltration of Rhoadseria. 

“I see, so everything is going smoothly overall for now... There have been quite a few unpredictable factors, but it looks like weakening Rhoadseria won’t be a problem... Did anything stand out to you in this conversation, Saitou?” 

Shardina turned to Saitou, who stood at her side. 

“Well, thanks to Mr. Sudou we managed to move along with minimal revisions to the plan. Had Duke Gelhart died, Princess Radine, whom he backed, would also be disposed of as a rebel. So the fact that you managed to get out of that situation with both of them alive... I can only applaud you, as always. Gelhart aside, Radine was one marionette that cost us a good deal of money.” 

“No, no, it wasn’t all my efforts.” Sudou smiled at the praise he’d just received. “That princess... Well, I suppose she’s a queen now. It all comes down to her being foolish. As close an aide as he may be, placing that much value on the life of a single knight is truly an act of stupidity.” 

Sudou spoke modestly, but his eyes glinted with confidence at the effectiveness of his ploys. Perhaps this was a show of that particular form of restraint so characteristic of the Japanese, even if it was only a surface-level facade. 

Shardina knew full well that Sudou was a confident and haughty man. His arrogant attitude right now stood as a symbol of that. 

“She’s intelligent enough, but lacking in decisiveness... Put simply, she’s a kind, foolish person.” 

Sudou’s appraisal of Lupis was merciless. He scorned her from the bottom of his heart. 

“Yes, I’ve looked over the report... Really, what was she thinking...? Though I suppose the enemy being foolish is good for us.” Shardina shrugged with a smirk. “Though if she becomes too stupid, facing her would become boring.” 

Sudou nodded at Shardina’s words, while Saitou grimaced before parting his lips to speak. 

“I would think an opponent that resists too much is troublesome in its own way, no?” 

“You mean him... Yes... I swear! That man always finds a way of meddling in our plans. I’m getting sick of him!” Recalling that largish, mature-faced man, Shardina shook her head in annoyance. 

She could hardly be faulted for it. That man was the one topic she wished would never be brought up before her. 

“Judging by Mr. Sudou’s report, that man was mixed up in this whole incident by coincidence...” Saitou said. “He didn’t take part in it with the intent of meddling in the Empire’s plans...” 

“And that’s what irritates me all the more!” Shardina raised her voice. “I was wondering where he’d run off to, only to find out he’s taking part in the Rhoadserian civil war! And by coincidence, at that! He almost tore our plans into shambles without even knowing it! What is that man, some kind of curse cast against us?!” 

“Perhaps you could call it fate...” Sudou said with a meaningful smile. “The man who killed Gaius ended up getting in the way of the plan Gaius proposed...” 

“Fate, eh...” Shardina heaved a sigh. 

The Rhoadserian Civil War was part of O’ltormea’s plan to conquer the eastern regions, originally planned by the late Gaius. The Empire governed over the central regions of the western continent, and the north was under the control of the Kingdom of Helnesgoula. The west was under the control of the Holy Qwiltantia Empire. Currently, O’ltormea was plotting to invade the east while facing pressure from the two other countries. 

This three-way war had lasted for some twenty years by now, and when two countries broke into a state of war, the remaining one would surely profit. That much was obvious to all, and so the tension between the three knew no end. They glared at each other from across their border, vigilantly waiting for an opening to present itself. It was obvious that a third country could possibly interfere. 

And so Gaius, who was court thaumaturgist and a strategist for the empire, proposed a certain plot to break through this situation. Neither of the two other countries had the power to defeat O’ltormea, but allying with one of them to attack the other wasn’t realistic. The three countries had long-standing grudges and complicated webs of vested interests to hold any chance of an alliance back. 

And so, Gaius turned his gaze to the eastern regions of the continent. Whoever invaded and conquered the east would gain a lead in national power over the other two countries. So Gaius used his intelligence network to set his sights on the eastern regions. The southern regions were hotly contested, and divided between fifteen small countries. Those countries’ soldiers were well-trained and organized thanks to constant, repeating skirmishes. 

But compared to that, the eastern regions were ruled by the three countries of Myest, Rhoadseria and Xarooda. All three had long rules, but relatively little experience in war. 

To top it off, the class system was especially harsh in those countries, and the nobles’ influence reached far. They tended to exploit the commoners. This meant that upon occupying their lands, a tax reduction would be all that would be necessary to satisfy the commoners. 

Gaius’s plan was immediately approved and ordered by the emperor. And the first step toward it was this strategy employed against Rhoadseria, which bordered on Xarooda. The fact they didn’t begin immediately acting against their direct number, Xarooda, was a stroke of brilliance on Gaius’s behalf. 

Each of the three eastern countries’ strength was insignificant compared to O’ltormea, but if they were to join forces, even the empire wouldn’t be able to easily beat them. And so, to keep the countries divided, they decided to spark the rebellion in Rhoadseria. 

“It was two years ago that Sudou found Radine on Gaius’s order,” Shardina said. “We then gradually weakened the last king, Pharst II, with poison, making it seem like he was dying out of illness. And then that man showed up, just as we were ready... Thanks to him, Gaius died and this plot was nearly driven into the ground... I suppose you could call that fate...” 

Gaius summoning Ryoma Mikoshiba threw all their plans out of order. 

“Indeed...” Saitou nodded deeply. 

“And? What became of him?” 

“Ryoma Mikoshiba, yes... That man is a real tricky one... Looking at it from just the conclusion, you could say everything turned out as we planned, but...” Sudou’s words trailed off. 

His expression made it clear he was doubting the choices he made. 

“What? You forced the Wortenia peninsula onto him, right?” 

“I did... That much went as I intended, but that man... He began bringing up extra conditions at the eleventh hour.” 

“What do you mean?” Shardina asked with surprise. “He received the title of baron and the land of the Wortenia peninsula... What other conditions did he attach?” 

“That was another display of his abilities.” Sudou nodded with a serious expression. “The way he spoke truly gouged at her weaknesses, leaving Lupis with no choice but to agree...” 

And with that introduction, Sudou began relaying what happened during that fateful audience...

That day, Ryoma had promptly accepted the summons he’d received to Lupis’s audience chamber. 

“Quite early, aren’t you, Mikoshiba... Do you have your answer?” Lupis asked, her expression stiff. 

“Yes, Your Majesty... I was quite happy to receive your offer, and if it were possible, I’d be happy to oblige, but...” 

Ryoma’s words trailed off, and he directed his gaze at Lupis. His eyes didn’t contain a trace of the rage they had yesterday, instead filled with pure respect for the queen. 

“Should I take it that you refuse, Mikoshiba?” Lupis’s voice grew low and cold. 

A queen had offered to make a commoner into a noble. He should be groveling on the ground in gratitude, but the man before her was implying he wanted to refuse. She said nothing, but her attitude made her heart clear to Ryoma. 

Hmph... Stupid bitch. 

Ryoma held back the desire to curse at her and continued his words, feigning sorrow. 

“No, perish the thought... I’m quite overcome by your generosity, Your Majesty, but...” 

“But what?” 

“Before I can accept your gracious proposal, I’d like to confirm a few things with you... And until I can hear your answers, I’m afraid I can’t very well make a decision...” 

Ryoma’s evasive words flared up Lupis’s irritation. 

“Your Majesty...” Meltina, who stood next to the throne, whispered into Lupis’s ears. “I think you should at least hear what this man has to say... It would be better than him dancing around the issue like this...” 

“Very well... What do you wish to know, Mikoshiba?” 

Ryoma bowed his head with dignified gratitude at having received permission. 

“I’d like to verify something first... How aware are you of the current condition of the Wortenia peninsula?” 

“What do you mean?” Lupis’s expression clouded over. 

Meltina, who stood beside her, grimaced as well. 

“Of course, I can’t claim I know very much about it myself, but this Wortenia peninsula... is a rather problematic region.” 

“My... Is it?” Lupis asked, giving the impression that this was the first she’d heard of it. 

She wasn’t foolish enough to answer Ryoma’s question honestly, but then again, Ryoma fully assumed she would play dumb here. 

“Unfortunately, yes... Upon receiving your proposal, I looked into the place as quickly as I could, but...” Ryoma turned a probing glance at Lupis. “The Wortenia peninsula is located on the northernmost tip of Rhoadseria, and it’s roughly one-eighth the total size of the kingdom... As territories go, its size is excessive... But there are quite a few issues here...” 

Ryoma then began listing the peninsula’s problems, as follows. 

First, it was used as a no-man’s land where Rhoadseria’s criminals were exiled. As such, it had absolutely zero citizens to claim taxes from. 

Second, the Wortenia peninsula was a breeding ground for multiple strains of powerful monsters, making it extremely hard for ordinary people to live there. 

Third, there were constant rumors of tribes of demi-humans living in the peninsula, who were antagonistic to humans. 

Fourth, its coastal regions served as a stronghold for pirates. 

Fifth, it bordered the neighboring country of Xarooda, which made it a site of incessant skirmishes. 

Those were the five problems Ryoma mentioned. Each of them was a difficult issue that was quite hard to resolve, with the first and the second being particularly fatal. It meant that Lupis wanted to grant him a land where he couldn’t collect any taxes. 

Considering a noble’s income came from the taxes he gathered from his people, it was clear just how much of a raw deal this was. This land wasn’t really part of Rhoadseria’s territory to begin with. On paper, the Wortenia peninsula was part of the kingdom of Rhoadseria, but it didn’t rule over it in practice. It had no citizens, after all, so there was no one to govern over. 

When Ryoma learned about it after a night of scanning over documents from the library, his expression was like that of an enraged demon. This was, in a way, tangible proof of Lupis’s malice. Ryoma didn’t display those emotions in front of her, though. The time to display his anger and hatred would come when he became stronger than her. 

“I see. I’d expect as much from you, Sir Mikoshiba...” Meltina said in place of Lupis, who had fallen silent. “You’ve done well to grasp the peninsula’s circumstances so quickly. So... You intend to use that as a reason to refuse Her Majesty’s offer? To betray her expectations?!” Meltina then raised her voice. “Sir Mikoshiba, you’ve earned great merit to your name by defeating Duke Gelhart and slaying General Albrecht. And so, Her Majesty broke the kingdom’s customs to make you a noble as a reward... True, the Wortenia peninsula cannot be called bountiful, but it is still part of Rhoadseria’s territory! Vast enough to match the royal family’s territory! Discarding it would be a wasted opportunity! Do you not agree?” 

“I see... So you’re saying Her Majesty kindly bequeathed the Wortenia peninsula to me, so I would develop it into habitable land?” 

“Precisely! True, it is a difficult land, but a man of your resourcefulness can surely succeed in this task... What say you?” 

That was quite the clever little way of putting it, considering it came from Meltina. They were only granting this difficult land to Ryoma because they believed in his skill. It was an attempt to stroke Ryoma’s ego. He wasn’t falling for it, though. 

“Should I interpret what Lady Meltina just said to be Her Majesty’s intentions?” Ryoma moved his gaze from Meltina to Lupis, sitting on her throne. 

Lupis responded with a curt, silent nod. She couldn’t, under any circumstances, tell him to his face that she was sending him to a backwater region to keep him contained there. 

“Oh, I see...! Then that makes my request much easier, Your Majesty.” 

“...What do you mean?” Lupis’s expression twitched. “You only said you wanted to confirm my intentions.” 

She thought Ryoma’s wish here was to hear her intentions, but of course, Ryoma didn’t want anything so simple as that. Everything so far was just him laying the groundwork, so he would be able to corner Lupis and Meltina... 

“Not at all, Your Majesty! My request is a fairly simple one... But I was quite hesitant to speak it before confirming your wishes... But if you truly wish for me to develop the Wortenia peninsula...” 

“What... is it?” The two of them had a bad feeling about what Ryoma was about to say. 

“Well, you see... I’d like for you to lend me funds to develop the peninsula... But with the sum being as high as it is, I couldn’t bring myself to ask without making absolutely sure what your intentions were... But, since you place so much trust in me, Your Majesty, I’m quite honored. I’ll have to exert my best efforts and answer your high expectations of me!” 

Ryoma bowed his head before Lupis earnestly. 

“Wait! You want us to provide you with funds? What are you saying?!” Meltina raised her voice angrily. “The Wortenia peninsula is your territory! Why should the royal house provide you with funds for it?!” 

Ryoma’s expression, however, didn’t budge. 

“Huh? That’s quite an odd thing to say. I was under the impression that Her Majesty was aware of the peninsula’s condition, and asked me to develop it into a flourishing territory.” 

“Exactly! And that’s why you need to develop it using your own resourcefulness!” 

Meltina’s claims here would normally be reasonable, but in this particular case they were lacking in legitimacy. 

“But as you know, I’m a commoner. I don’t have any fortune or assets to my name. I’m sure you both understand this, yes?” 

Ryoma lied brazenly, keeping the fact that the fortune he’d stolen from Azoth the slave merchant had remained untouched to himself. 

“We do, but...” 

“And since I don’t have any money, I’d need someone to provide me with funds so I can meet Her Majesty’s expectations... But no merchant on the continent would lend me money to develop that peninsula.” 

Merchants loathed risks. Of course, if one were to present enough merit to offset that risk, things were different, but a peninsula infested with demi-humans and monsters wouldn’t offer anything of the sort. No merchant would back something that risky. 

“Then you should use your own wit to...” Meltina hung on desperately. 

Losing this argument would make everything come to nothing. They would fail to contain Ryoma, and Lupis would suffer a blow to her dignity. That was the one thing they had to avoid. 

“Of course! I intend to do my utmost, but I am not a god! I can’t develop that land without any funds...! Which I’m sure Her Majesty, with her wisdom and sagacity, understands perfectly well?” 

Ryoma steered the conversation back to Lupis, who went pale at the sharpness of his gaze. She had pushed this entire business onto him while knowing full well how absurd it was. And now when it was clear he’d seen through it all, she had no more cards to play. In the end, Lupis could only mouth the words Ryoma wanted to hear. 

“How much?” 

“Your Majesty!” 

Lupis ignored Meltina’s exclamation. They weren’t the only ones present. The neutral faction’s nobles and knights serving as guards were here as well. She couldn’t afford to shame herself any more before their eyes. She needed to present herself as a wise ruler appointing a commoner to noble status. 

“I knew I could trust in your tolerance and wisdom, Your Majesty...! Well, I’ve only managed to come up with a rough, initial estimate so far, but when converted to coins, it comes down to one million golds at least!” 

When Sudou mentioned the amount Ryoma specified, Saitou exclaimed out loud. It was quite unusual, given how collected and polite he usually was. Shardina couldn’t fault him for it, though. She herself was awfully shocked. 

The cost of staying the night at an inn was between fifty coppers to one silver. A meal at an average eatery at town was between five to ten coppers. Of course, there were more expensive places one could go, but one silver was enough for most people to get through the day. 

If roughly compared to Japanese currency, a copper was like a 100 yen coin, a silver was a 10,000 yen bill and a gold was roughly one million yen. This very much placed the sum Ryoma requested into perspective; he had asked her for the equivalent of one trillion Japanese yen. 

“That’s absurd... They’d have to loan out almost all the assets the Kingdom of Rhoadseria has for that!” Saitou said. 

“Even the Empire would have trouble paying that much at once...” Shardina said with a stunned expression. 

That meant the sum wasn’t theoretically impossible, but no country in the western continent would agree to pay that much. Countries decided how to spend their income ahead of time. Officials needed to have their wages paid, the army had capital expenditures to consider, and plenty of other important matters could not be neglected. 

Any country that decided to pay that kind of sum would have to spend years scraping by its budget. Even the Empire would struggle to come up with the sum immediately. Rhoadseria, a country which couldn’t match it in either size or economy, wouldn’t be able to, either. 

“Quite so.” Sudou nodded. “However, if he were to seriously develop that peninsula, he would actually need to invest that much to pull it off. That much is true.” 

Forests would need to be cut down. Roads would have to be paved. Reserve soldiers needed to be hired and equipped in case of pirate or demi-human attacks. Not to mention costs for migrating citizens. All of those sucked up money like bottomless marshes, but if they truly intended to develop that accursed land, that much would be necessary. 

“That might be, but such a sum is...” Shardina said, and then exclaimed, “Ah! I see... So that was his angle!” 

“I see you’ve figured it out. As wise as ever, Your Highness.” Sudou smiled, narrowing his eyes. 

“He didn’t intend to have that much lent to him to begin with, did he...? He prepared some other conditions to compensate for being refused! Right?” 

Sudou nodded at Sardina, and took out a sheet of paper from his inner pocket. 

“What’s this?” 

“A list of the conditions Mr. Mikoshiba gave to Queen Lupis... From what I’ve seen, the contents are quite problematic... He’s effectively completely independent from the Kingdom of Rhoadseria.” 

The paper had a detailed list of clauses, and there were quite a few items listed there. Shardina scanned the page over from top to bottom, her grimace deepening the more she read. Ryoma essentially sought two things. 

The first was that legislation, military affairs, external affairs and economics would all be entrusted to him. And the second was an exemption from taxes and military service that nobles were supposed to provide to the kingdom. 

Were those terms to be accepted, he would be able to create a country which, while belonging to Rhoadseria on paper, would be completely beyond its control. In other words, while he was given only the title of baron, Ryoma Mikoshiba would be granted more power and authority over his territory than the ruler of the kingdom had. 

“And Queen Lupis... seriously accepted this...?” Shardina asked, her expression absolutely stunned. 

Sudou nodded silently. 

“I heard that woman was stupid, but this takes the cake. She let that viper have free rein...” 

“She was so blinded by the sheer sum he initially proposed she ended up accepting without properly thinking it through, it seems.” 

“But still, what a thing to do... And besides, this says he’s also demanding five thousand gold coins in development costs for the present time.” 

Lupis basically gave this menacing man carte blanche, with land to call his own and funds to build it up to boot. 

“Well, I do think that aside from the feeling of debt at refusing his request for funds, Lupis had her own thoughts on the matter. She likely rationalized that he wouldn’t be able to do that much with just five thousand golds. And no matter how many rights he’s given, that peninsula is an undeveloped frontier with no taxes to collect. Even that man can’t produce things out of the ether...” 

Five thousand gold coins was certainly a large sum of money, but it wasn’t enough to actually change that no-man’s land. However... 

“Saitou... Do you really think so?” 

Saitou fell silent at Shardina’s question. 

A land one couldn’t collect taxes from, swarming with monsters, with little to no assistance from Rhoadseria... Could he really do anything in those conditions? Saitou was hesitant to say that, though. He himself was terrified by something Ryoma Mikoshiba possessed. 

Shardina averted her gaze from Saitou. Everyone present harbored the same sense of dread. 

“Sudou... This little ploy of yours... won’t come back to haunt us, will it?” 

Sudou could only answer her with silence. He was the one who had pressed on Lupis’s anxieties and proposed she make Ryoma a noble, after all. This was a play to ensure they kept a grasp on Ryoma’s position. Shardina was just as anxious about the idea of Ryoma joining forces with another country, especially the countries to the north and west. But if their attempt to stop that were to only make things worse somehow... 

That fear had snared all three of them. 

“Fine... Sudou... You can’t let him out of your sight, though,” Shardina said briefly. 

Sudou nodded. 

“In that case, Your Highness... I will deliver my next report after we begin the invasion of Xarooda. Will that do?” 

“Yes... We strike next month, according to schedule... Sudou! Preparations are complete, yes?” 

“Rest assured.” Sudou and Saitou both nodded. “The civil war has kept the nobles and knights both quite shaken. We have plenty of chances to take advantage of... Rhoadseria won’t be sending any reinforcements to Xarooda.” 

At that moment, the Empire of O’ltormea was preparing to bare its sharp fangs. 

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