It didn’t take long for Cornelius’s words to be proven correct. Several days after Cornelius, Marquis Appius visited the royal palace.
This also caused a stir within the palace. After all, Marquis Appius was the designated supreme commander of the lords’ army, which had the goal to suppress the rebellious slaves, and as such he should be the busiest person right now. For him to go out of his way to leave Luoma, where the lords’ army was currently stationed, and come to the capital clearly pointed at his business being anything but trivial.
Tension hung in the audience hall among the chief vassals who wondered whether it was about the slowness of the lords’ army movements, or some other kind of disaster altogether.
Marquis Appius expressed his gratitude and gave his greetings to King Warius, just to immediately broach the main topic.
“I have come visiting you, Your Majesty, as I have a request to make.”
It was such a grave request that he had left behind his army that had just recently departed. King Warius braced himself so as to be ready for any unreasonable demands that might be thrown at him, but the request Marquis Appius made caused the king’s resolve to be easily swept away.
“I would like your permission to step down from my post as supreme commander and to withdraw from the lords’ army!”
This didn’t only take King Warius by surprise, but also all present vassals. Currently they were at a stage where they had finally managed to gather all the scattered lords and send forth the punitive force. No one had expected that Marquis Appius, the one assigned to the prestigious post of supreme commander, would start talking about wanting to step down on his own accord and return to his own territory.
It took King Warius all his effort to squeeze out this question. Marquis Appius left it unanswered for a short moment to add some emphasis to his coming answer, and then stated, “I have heard that the troops of the rebellious slaves took Marven the other day.”
Having the fresh wound of his country’s failure touched upon, King Warius grimaced. However, without being concerned about that, Marquis Appius continued, “If we are talking about Copper Mine Marven, it is located deep within our Kingdom, and a place that had its defenses bolstered by the royal army. The slaves made even such place surrender. That means no one can guarantee that their hands will not reach for my territory next. Under such circumstances, I cannot fight free of worry. I have been told that the slaves have fortunately retreated from the river. Thus I wish to request permission to temporarily return to my own territory in order to fortify its defenses!”
Marquis Appius’ request was reasonable. The territory of Marquis Appius housed a metropolis with a population of over 10,000 people, but even for that city, the number of stationed city defenders amounted to a mere 200-300. Moreover, despite the low number, the marquis had drawn some soldiers from their post for the sake of the slave subjugation, causing the defenses to become short-handed. If the slaves, who had taken Marven with its protection of 500 royal army soldiers, were to attack such thinly protected place, the city would be helpless.
For the lords, their own territories took the first and foremost priority. Even if they might have participated in the lords’ army to obtain rewards, it’d be intolerable for them if their territories got devastated in the meantime. Wanting to leave the battle formation to fortify their territories’ defenses might be only natural.
However, this didn’t mean that they’d be simply allowed to withdraw their troops from the lords’ army. Above all, Marquis Appius was the supreme commander of the lords’ army. If the supreme commander were to step down from his post and pull out of the army, it’d doubtlessly cause unrest among the other lords.
If he was nothing but some puny landed nobility, King Warius might have been able to chase him out of the palace with his thunderous roaring. But, Marquis Appius was a highly-regarded, powerful noble. Furthermore, he had such a plethora of military achievements and enjoyed such a deep trust among the other lords that the king had entrusted the command of the lords’ army to him. Thus, King Warius couldn’t outright reject the petition of a man who was so important to the Kingdom.
King Warius entreated him with a coaxing voice, “Can’t I have you reconsider, Marquis Appius? Those slaves have already left our country. At this point it’d pose no problem even if you don’t return to your territory.”
Due to Marquis Appius answering, “You are very right, Your Majesty,” to that, happiness bloomed on the king’s face. But, Marquis Appius further added, “――But, the soldiers of the rebellious slaves, who took Marven, are still going strong. There is no guarantee that they will not invade our country once more.”
The daring enemy forces had pulled off the astounding plan of invading deep behind enemy lines and taking a single town from their enemy, and it was said that they had easily returned to their own territory after shaking off the kingdom’s pursuers. As long as those forces remained unchecked, no one would be able to guarantee that they wouldn’t pull off the same at some point.
King Warius groaned and sank into silence as he was unable to come up with something on the spot.
If I approve of Marquis Appius breaking away from the battle formation at this point, I must decide on a new supreme commander for the lords’ army. When it comes to appointing a supreme commander who won’t cause any hard feelings on top of considering the friendships and power relations among the lords, it’s going to turn into a highly troublesome matter. Moreover, if the 1,000 soldiers of Marquis Appius, which have formed the core of the lords’ army, are gone, I will be forced to consider how to fill that gap. If I take all that into account, I might as well consider the plans for the subjugation of the rebellious slaves having mostly returned to the drawing board.
“Your Majesty! Please show your generosity and benevolence, and grant your permission!”
Due to Marquis Appius pressing him for a decision, King Warius gritted his teeth, before pressing through his faintly opened lips, “…I understand. You have my permission.”
“I have expected nothing less of you, Your Majesty! You have my deepest gratitude for displaying an openhearted, lenient mind!”
After stating his thanks in an exaggerated manner, Marquis Appius quickly left the audience hall. King Warius could do no more than watch his back leave.
However, this wasn’t the end of it.
On the next day, two other lords requested permission to withdraw from the army, following Marquis Appius’s lead. With the king having granted Marquis Appius’s leave, it had become impossible for him to deny their appeal. King Warius had no choice but to acknowledge their break-away while looking like an incarnation of rage.
But, on the day after that, four lords arrived, requesting an audience with King Warius. In front of the lords timidly requesting permission to leave the battle formation, King Warius finally exploded.
“Each and every of you does as you please! If all of you want to hurry back home that much, then feel free to do so!” King Warius jumped up from his throne and screamed while wildly swinging his king’s staff.
The four lords, who made the request, got scared by his threatening behavior, and scurried out of the audience hall. The king’s ranting and raving continued even after the four had left.
“Those! Those slaves who mock and scorn me! Those blasted cowards who call themselves lords! Each and every of them is defying me!!”
He didn’t know how many more lords would show up to request permission to pull their troops out of the lords’ army. But even without any further losses, six lords had already withdrawn from the battle formation after Marquis Appius, the former supreme commander. Moreover, every single of them was an influential noble. At this point it’d be no exaggeration to say that the lords’ army had collapsed.
King Warius stomped his feet in frustration.
“I won’t count on anyone anymore! Now that it has come to this, I’ll slaughter the slaves with my own hands at the head of the royal army! Dispatch my order to all royal army soldiers across the Kingdom! Gather under my banner! We’re going to annihilate the rebellious slaves!”
The faces of all present vassals turned pale due to the king’s reckless statement that didn’t spare a single thought on the consequences. In exchange for assigning the subjugation of the revolting slaves to the lords’ army, the majority of the royal army had been deployed near the eastern border in preparation for an attack by Romania. Naturally the eastern defense would be gone if the royal army moved out in order to suppress the slaves.
“Please stop, Your Majesty! The royal army has been moved to the east in preparation for Romania!”
“Indeed! According to rumors, Romania is going to take a town after the slaves have taken one. And, staying true to this agreement, the slaves forced a town into surrender. Hence Romania is going to attack us next!”
“Please desist from moving the royal army out of the east now that Romania is about to attack us! This would completely play into Romania’s hands!
The vassals, who usually refrained from commenting as they feared King Warius’s temper, appealed together. And even King Warius could understand their remonstrations. He firmly forced his rage down, but even so, he couldn’t suppress his furious emotions enough to stop his hands from trembling.
“…W-What are you telling me to do then?”
Upon the king’s question, the vassals looked at each other. And the oldest among them answered, “We think we ought to patiently endure for now while waiting for another chance…”
Waiting for another chance – or in short, they didn’t have a smart solution at hand.
At that moment, King Warius heard something snap within himself.
“Cursed Divine Son of Destruction! You shitty Divine Son of Destruction! You blasted piece of shiiiiiit!!” King Warius screamed shrilly.
The appearance of the skinny king hysterically squealing while swinging his limbs completely lacked any semblance of a ruler.
He looks just like a monkey, was the impression the vassals embraced deep in their hearts. Doubts whether this was supposed to be the king of the major power Holmea crossed their minds, but they still had no choice but to keep their heads low until King Warius’s temper would abate.
However, suddenly the king’s strange voice cut off. The vassals raised their heads, wondering whether his rage had finally passed, just to get startled.
King Warius had frozen on the spot with his king’s staff still raised overhead. Upon a closer look, they could see that his face was deathly pale and his eyes unfocused.
As if having waited for someone to call out, King Warius’s body started to shake violently. And then it fell backwards as though being dragged down by the weight of the staff.
“Your Majesty! Someone call the court physician! Your Majesty! Your Majestyyyy!”
Surrounded by his vassals and chamberlains who had rushed over in panic, King Warius’s body was furiously convulsing with the whites of his eyes showing and white foam spewing out of his mouth.
Having visited Darius’s mansion in the capital, Ponpius sat opposite of the mansion’s owner with a small table between them while hissing with a voice full of bitterness, “Is the Divine Son of Destruction a Fullberg Imp…!?”
A Fullberg Imp was a monster appearing in folklore that was passed down all over the West. It was said this imp, which held a small torch and specialized on mimicking voices, deceived travelers at night by using its torch and voice to lure them towards cliffs or swamps to kill its targets.
Just like a traveler that got deceived by a Fullberg Imp, Holmea seemed to have entered a marshland and got fully stuck in a swamp before realizing what was happening.
“Still, just the matter with the copper hurts. It hurts way too much…”
Exactly because Ponpius had dabbled in all kinds of diplomatic dealings as former prime minister, he comprehended the worst part about the recent course of events for Holmea.
It was unnecessary for him to even consider just how much being the prime minister of Holmea had helped him in the past in obtaining advantageous terms during negotiations with other countries. Moreover, at times when he had to send bribes to important figures of other countries, any local merchant would willingly lend him the necessary funds without asking for collateral or reasons. When forming agreements with other countries, saying “On the dignity of Holmea” had usually served as a clincher to get things done.
All of these things worked because Holmea was a major country with the reputation of being a leading power in the West.
However, the same wouldn’t work in the future anymore.
Now, if the name of Holmea would be brought up during negotiations, it’d result in getting retorted with “Weren’t you unable to prepare the copper you had promised Jeboa?”
The incident this time had stained Holmea with the stigma of being a third-rate country that couldn’t protect its promises. The only way to clear that stigma and repair the country’s dignity would have been to crush the Divine Son of Destruction who was the mastermind behind this. Moreover, as fast as possible and as cruelly as possible. By doing that, Holmea’s dignity might have come out even stronger than before.
But, now even that was not an option anymore.
“If the secret agreement between Romania and the Divine Son of Destruction as it’s mentioned in the rumors is true, the next one to attack us will be Romania. Under these circumstances, we can’t move the royal army at all, huh?” Ponpius sighed, his shoulders dropping.
“It just means us and Romania were led around by the nose by the Divine Son of Destruction.”
Afterwards Ponpius bowed his head towards his old friend, “I’m sorry, Darius.”
“I had taken your story about the leader of the revolting slaves becoming a serious threat for Holmea with a grain of salt. ――But, this has fully opened my eyes. We must defeat that guy! If we don’t get rid of him one way or another, Holmea is doomed to perish!”
Darius accepted Ponpius’s apology with a calm nod.
Rather than regretting the past or blaming each other, we must get ready to confront the Divine Son of Destruction.
And being well aware of that, Ponpius immediately switched his thinking, and asked Darius, “Now then, Darius, what is your prediction of the Divine Son of Destruction’s next move? Is he going to try take the west of our country in a pincer attack with Romania?”
What Ponpius feared the most was the western territories of the Kingdom being chipped away while the reliable royal army couldn’t leave the east because of Romania. Now that the lords’ army had collapsed, the lords were secluding themselves in their own territories. As such he was afraid that the Divine Son of Destruction would defeat them one by one, usurping their territories.
“No, that won’t happen.” But, Darius instantly rejected Ponpius’s worries. “Certainly, right now might be the perfect opportunity to grab some of our domain’s western territories. ――But, that guy shirks a direct confrontation to such an extent that you could actually describe him as a coward.”
Darius had single-mindedly continued to investigate the Divine Son of Destruction over the last five years. Among the reports delivered to him, following story could be found:
When those, who had become highly motivated and drunken by their victory in the “Decisive Battle over Bolnis,” started to suggest an invasion into Holmea as next step, the Divine Son of Destruction told them:
『Making an enemy obey through virtue is the best option. Making an enemy fall prostrate through threats is an excellent option. And, defeating an enemy through military force is the worst option of all』
When Darius had heard this, he had shuddered. It was a truth he had finally obtained himself after struggling through many life-threatening situations and experiencing countless battles. As far as he had heard, the Divine Son of Destruction Soma Kisaki was a youth who had just recently turned 20 years old. When he was around that age, Darius’s head was full of defeating enemies on the battlefield and flaunting his own strength. Taking that into account, he couldn’t believe this to be the state of mind a spunky, energetic youngster would be able to reach after being for around 20 years in this world.
Rather, it was the mature expertise of a schemer who had gone through countless hardships entailed by battles.
However, what he felt from the Divine Son of Destruction at the same time was the enthusiasm of youth. If not for that, he’d have never talked about the pipe dream of a country where all races could live equally in this world where the human race was exercising its authority and might on a grand scale.
Darius sensed something being out of place from the state of Souma which he had learned through hearsay, as if only knowledge that had reached an extreme perfection through the passage of many, many years had been inserted into the head of a spunky, reckless youth.
That alone terrified Darius. After all, it was as though a youth was wielding a famous sword that had been improved to perfection.
“How is the Divine Son of Destruction going to move then?”
Darius came to his senses due to Ponpius’s question interrupting his train of thoughts, and stated his own conjecture.
“He’ll likely hole up in Bolnis once more.”
What the Divine Son of Destruction fears above all right now is Holmea and Romania joining hands. At present both countries perceive each other as fated enemies who cannot be allowed to exist, so it’s unlikely for that to happen. But, one cannot deny the possibility of Holmea allying itself with Romania, if it’s cornered to such an extent that it becomes willing to make some sacrifices. Also, the agreement that they would attack towns in alternation is a manifestation of the Divine Son of Destruction’s will to cut his ties with Romania by repaying the debt of gratitude for Romania having sponsored the funds five years ago. As such he’d probably be troubled, if he can’t have Holmea continue as a wall against Romania.
“He likely plans to have Holmea and Romania duke it out while bringing up his own army, storing provisions, and improving his armaments in the meantime. And then, the next time he comes out of Bolnis, he’ll have obtained enough power to overwhelm our Holmea.”
In the past Darius had evaluated the Solbiant Plains to become a granary that could feed a million soldiers. However, that had been an exaggeration to persuade others. But, now that he looked at the crop income of the Solbiant Plains after they were reclaimed by the Divine Son of Destruction, he had become unable to still call it an exaggeration. And, if the Divine Son of Destruction were to truly attack while accompanied by a million soldiers, not only Holmea, but even Romania would be forced to surrender without putting up a fight.
Something like that mustn’t ever happen. We cannot allow it to happen.
“At last that guy crawled out of his nest! At long last, that guy – that monster has reared its head! As if I’d allow it to crawl back into its nest…!!” Darius tightly clenched his fists in silence for a while, but eventually he breathed out, and snarled to Ponpius with a serious look, “Ponpius, I’d like you to lend me your strength.”