Most recently, the court council, which was held in the audience hall of Holmea’s royal palace, was always wrapped up in an atmosphere of weird tension. The reason sat on the throne which was located at the deepest part of the hall – King Warius.
At this point the king was no more than a mere shadow of his former self, feebly sunken into his massive chair. He even looked as though he had significantly aged over the last few days.
The other day the king had fainted, just to regain consciousness in little to no time. However, no sooner than waking up, the king’s body had started to spasm heavily while a cryptic, strange voice kept escaping his lips. Because of that, the court physician had no choice but to forcibly put the king to sleep through a medical decoction.
However, despite the king showing such heavy symptoms, the court physician couldn’t find anything to be wrong with the king’s body during his examination, and diagnosed it to be a reaction from the king getting too high strung.
It was very likely that King Warius suffered from conversion disorder ― commonly referred to as hysteria. The one identifying it as such was Dr. Stefan, a leading researcher of medical history. What became the basis for his theory were the notes left behind in the court physician’s diary. According to those, King Warius would faint and suffer fits, if placed under extremely stressful situations, since his early childhood. However, those symptoms settled down when the king reached adulthood.
But, thanks to the series of aggressions, beginning with the Divine Son of Destruction’s attack on Copper Mine Marven, Dr. Stefan theorized that King Warius experienced extreme stress which might have led to the conversion disorder, which had died down, reviving once more. According to Dr. Stefan, it was unclear whether King Warius truly suffered from confusion disorder.
Either way, King Warius’s sudden decline wasn’t only noted down in the physician’s diary, but also became quite clear if you strung together the very few remaining, valuable historical documents of Holmea’s closing years such as private messages between ministers and logs of the palace’s chamberlains. And many of those records feared it as the curse of the Divine Son of Destruction.
One day yet another inoffensive and peaceful court council was held so as to not excite King Warius. But suddenly an unexpected visitor arrived at the audience hall. What announced his visit was a loud commotion audible from the entrance area of the audience hall.
Causing such a noise at a time when the court council, the institution deciding important policies for the nation, was in session counted as unforgivable act of rudeness. No sooner than the chief vassals started to knit their eyebrows, wondering who’d dare to cause such a ruckus, a man entered the hall without prior notice, accompanied by a clattering of metal grazing against metal. He could be estimated to be in the latter half of his twenties. His amber hair was cut short, and a beard grew on his jaw. All in all, he was a considerably handsome man.
“Father!” Shouting that, the man ran up to the throne with a rattling of his armor, an unblemished, clean piece of metal decked out with golden and silver decorations. “When I heard that you collapsed, I, Alexius, couldn’t stay still any longer, and immediately made my way here!”
This man was called Alexius Warius Holmeanis. The only son of King Warius, and first heir to the throne.
King Warius was powerlessly sunken into his throne, but he reacted to Alexius’s voice. He sluggishly raised his face, and as soon as he saw his son’s face, relief spread on his face and he unsteadily got up from the bulky chair.
“…O-O-Ohh, Alexius! My son!” King Warius tried to walk up to his son while croaking with a hoarse voice, but his legs got tangled, and in no time, he was close to falling over.
Alexius ran up to him, spread his arms, and caught his father’s body.
“My son, Alexius, what a pleasure it is to see that you came back safe and sound. What a pleasure it is…!”
“Father, please have peace of mind. Now that I have come here, you do not need to worry about anything any longer!” With those words, Alexius lent his father a hand, helping him to sit back down on his throne. And as if to support his weakened father, he planted himself next to the throne.
At a first glance, this whole scene looked deeply emotional, as if a worried, faithful son had rushed over as soon as he learned of his father’s suffering, but the vassals couldn’t hide their bewilderment as they witnessed all of it.
Before long, one of them mustered his courage, and asked, “With all due respect, please allow me to ask you, Your Highness, why did you come to the palace?”
In response Alexius snorted lightly as if belittling the vassal for asking something so stupid.
“My father collapsed. It’s only natural for me to worry about him and hurry over here as quickly as possible, isn’t it?”
“No, that is not what I meant――,” after faltering a bit, the vassal continued, “――as far as I remember, Your Highness has been entrusted with the defense of the eastern border, or am I mistaken?”
Unlike his father, King Warius, Alexius had been blessed with a robust physique, and with his temperament being rather violent, he could be described as a natural soldier. Currently he should be staying at the eastern border as general of the troops stationed there. King Warius hadn’t ordered Alexius’s return to the capital either. And yet, why was he here despite all that?
Alexius answered those doubts in the following manner: “Father is Holmea’s king. Isn’t father’s suffering the suffering of all Holmea!? No matter where I might have been appointed to, isn’t it my duty as his son to rush over at once!?”
Far from being intimidated, Alexius proudly declared this while thrusting out his chest and raising his head high, resulting in the thoughtful vassals and military officers to furrow their eyebrows.
Even if his father might be suffering, it wasn’t overly admirable for him to abandon his duty without permission to rush here. However, far from admonishing the prince for his behavior, the men, who had furrowed their eyebrows, glossed their discontent over, fixing their expressions at once.
This prince, who hated Darius as much as his father, had exiled the people close to Darius from the royal army one after the other as soon as Darius lost his standing, and appointed only those close to himself on the vacant positions. Hence, the members of the council didn’t know what fate might await them if they were to speak up thoughtlessly.
“Father! Please do not worry about anything! I shall show you how I scatter those filthy slaves and their ilk!”
“I see, I see, how reliable you are, my son.” Tears of gratitude welled up at the corners of King Warius’s eyes as he grabbed his son’s hand.
However, talk was cheap. The lords had secluded themselves in their own territories, fearing for their fiefs to become a second Marven, and the elites of the royal army were tied down at the eastern border to keep Romania in check. Under these circumstances, Holmea had no army to send towards the revolting slaves of Bolnis. For this very reason, many chief vassals and military commanders had no choice but to clench their teeth in frustration as they were unable to do anything, even after the country’s dignity had been deeply damaged.
One of the military officers got upset over the prince not understanding something so simple, and asked him while stifling the displeasure corrupting him, “Nothing less of you, Your Highness. Would you be so kind to tell us humble retainers how you are planning to defeat the revolting slaves?”
At that, Alexius puffed up with pride and declared with a broad grin, “Needless to say, with my 『Black Wall』!”
A commotion ran through the audience hall. The Black Wall was Holmea’s strongest army corps which Darius, once called the strongest general of Holmea, had formed with the goal of forming a powerful army that would be idolized by all of Holmea’s soldiers. Darius himself had narrowed down the elites, who had been chosen from among Holmea’s royal army with the only criterion being their individual abilities, through thorough training and trials, forming it into an army corps consisting of only the elites among the elites.
That corps, which had its members uniformly wear black armors, exhibited a matchless might in dense formations coupled with their reputation as Holmea’s undefeated Black Wall. The level of their power might be understandable from the words of the preceding king, who had reviewed the Black Wall for the first time right after the corps’s formation was finished, claiming that Romania would never overcome the 『Black Wall』, even if its troops managed to cross the Labian River.
“In the eyes of my 『Black Wall』, the likes of revolting slaves and sub-humans register as no more than a gathering of small bugs. I shall show you how my men blow away all of them in one breath!”
Just as Alexius was boasting, everyone present believed that the Black Wall would be able to pull that off. And in reality, the Black Wall had achieved actual results allowing anyone to harbor that impression.
But, at the same time, the officer, who had asked Alexius, was perplexed.
“Your Highness, you are certainly not planning to send the 『Black Wall』 to subjugate the revolting slaves, are you?”
It was only natural for that officer to be surprised. Because the Black Wall was known as Holmea’s strongest army corps, they had been stationed at the eastern border as the strongest bulwark against Romania. Under these circumstances, where Holmea didn’t know when Romania might come attacking, it’d be preposterous to remove the strongest bulwark from the eastern border without any plan.
But, after raising an unnatural laughter, Alexius bluntly said, “The likes of Romania’s Doldea is not worth fearing! More than one month has already passed since we’ve been staring at each other at the border, but Romania is scared of my 『Black Wall』, and thus doesn’t show even the slightest hint of an earnest attack. It looks like that geezer Doldea has been eroded by the poison of cowardice!”
All present vassals became pale when Alexius declared that it’d be no problem to withdraw the Black Wall from the border. If he said that King Doldea withheld invading as he feared the Black Wall, it was all the more reason to not remove the Black Wall from the eastern border. Just as the vassals were searching for the right, persuasive words that would be able to change Alexius’s mind, one person spoke up.
“Allow me to address you, Your Majesty, Your Highness.”
It was the former prime minister Ponpius.
“Your Highness Alexius, your insights stirred a deep admiration in me. Your resolute words and attitude are truly befitting of Holmea’s crown prince.”
Alexius became even prouder when receiving Ponpius’s compliment, a man who had been even hailed Grand Prime Minister.
However, “Be that as it may――,” continued Ponpius, “a timid old man like me would not be able to feel at ease when Your Highness and the 『Black Wall』 were gone from the eastern border while Romania is exhibiting its desire to invade.”
As all present vassals exhibited their silent approval to the words of the former Grand Prime Minister, even Alexius couldn’t insist on having his own way. Lowering the corners of his mouth into a pout as things weren’t developing as he had hoped for, Alexius clearly displayed his displeasure, but the one offering him salvation was yet again Ponpius.
“Accordingly, Your Highness, my humble self has come up with a nice plan…” Ponpius smiled broadly.
As Alexius walked through the hallways of the palace in a good mood after leaving the audience hall, he stopped when he was addressed from behind. Once he turned around, he spotted a girl standing behind him. She was in her mid-teens. Her body was clad in a dress as it was only allowed to be worn by Holmea’s high-ranking daughters. It was further adorned by golden and silver accessories while at the same time making sure to keep their amount moderate. Her hair, which had been cut at a length barely allowing it to cover her shoulders, had an amber color closely resembling that of Alexius. If one were to scrutinize her while looking for similarities, one would spot many other resemblances with Alexius even within her childish features.
Alexius mumbled under his breath, and faintly lifted an eyebrow.
This girl was the first princess of Holmea, Warina. She was a young princess who had only turned fifteen this year. When it came to princesses of the royal family, they’d have a fiancée decided for them at an age of twelve or thirteen, and once they reached the age of fifteen, it wouldn’t be strange for them to have been long married off to some foreign country or an influential noble within the country.
However, Warina had a weak constitution by nature, and on top of that, she was shunned for having a certain bad habit. As of yet, not a single fiancée had been found for her. And the biggest reason for her to be avoided like the plague by the nobles as a potential marriage partner was her relationship with Alexius.
For Alexius, Warina was his only, little sister. But, their relationship could be called anything but good. Or to speak the unvarnished truth, Alexius hated his sister.
This stemmed from their birth circumstances. While Alexius was a prince born by a mistress, Warina had been born by the late queen, making her Alexius’s half-sister.
Unusual for royalty of this time, King Warius, who had a simple nature, didn’t get blessed with a child by the queen, probably also owed to his constitution. Meanwhile Alexius was King Warius’s only child, albeit an illegitimate one, and thus garnered the favors and expectations of all retainers of Holmea as its next king.
At such a time, the queen finally came down with a child, causing Holmea’s palace to teem with anticipation over the birth of a legitimate child which they had almost given up on. But, at the same time people started to draw away from Alexius at almost inverse proportion to the excitement in the palace. Once the legitimate child was born, Alexius would be no more than an illegitimate child, and thus the people, who had buttered up to him so far, now distanced themselves from him.
However, the one born by the queen was Warina ― a princess who would never be approved any succession rights in Holmea. Moreover, the queen’s originally weak body had trouble recovering from the childbirth, and once she became bedridden, she passed away just like that without ever getting up again.
Everyone swarmed back to Alexius, but the heart of the young Alexius had already been hurt. And an intense hatred towards the newly-born Warina had nested itself deep inside Alexius without him being even aware of it himself.
Having lost her mother who would have originally protected her from harm, Princess Warina was plunged into a situation where she was shunned as a parasite of the palace by the next king, Alexius. No matter how often she tried to call out to him, Alexius never even tried to pay her any attention, but only today he was in a very good mood, and thus spoke the princess’s name with an unusually kind tone.
“What’s the matter, my little sister Warina?”
Alexius had the habit to add “my little sister” whenever he referred to Warina. It was most likely an unconscious reflex to inform himself and others that she was a woman who was younger than him, and held a lower position.
Warina, who had obviously been cowering, felt relieved by her brother’s gentle voice.
“I have called out to you, elder brother, because I have a request.”
It was unusual for his sister, who ordinarily secluded herself in her room that was located deep in the palace, to expressly come out to a place where the retainers were frequently coming and going. Guessing that it had to be a fairly important request, Alexius felt inclined to listen to her.
However, Alexius immediately regretted that carelessness.
“Would it be possible for you to recommend the reinstitution of Uncle Darius as general to father?”
Alexius flew into rage, “Why must I put in a good word for that senile, old fool?”
In the past, Alexius had been just another youth respecting Darius. However, his admiration turned into hatred during the banquet to celebrate the victory in Alexius’s first battle. He had heard that King Warius, who was in a great mood thanks to his son’s deeds of arms, got stimulated by his drunkenness to ask Darius the following: “Alexius has been blessed with the talent to lead, despite being my son. Do you think he could become the next marshal?”
After pondering for a short while, Darius answered, “His Highness Alexius must fight the battles of a ruler. It would be unthinkable for him to become the marshal.”
King Warius, who had cold water poured on his elated mood, asked Darius, “So, what’s necessary to become a marshal?”
Darius replied with a bitter smile, “I believe it is knowing the taste of mud better than anyone else.”
“Do you know the taste of mud then?”
“Quite so. ――To a detestable extent at that.”
This conversation took place during the auspicious drinking at the victory celebration, and thus ended at this point. However, someone unnecessarily brought the content of their talk to Alexius’s attention. Hearing about it, Alexius felt shocked, disappointed, and then angry.
He had been degraded as unfitting to become marshal by the very person he yearned for. Because of that, his admiration completely changed into hatred. Nowadays, all longing towards Darius withered away within Alexius, just to be replaced by a hatred that had grown worse than the one harbored by his father.
Warina’s face, which was white even under normal circumstances, became even paler due to the harsh reprimand by her hate-filled brother. While deliberately stomping past her as her small body trembled out of fear and sadness, Alexius spat out with unconcealed disdain, “You shitty bug princess…!”