Romania’s army had been crushed at the Labian’s ferry landing. Receiving those auspicious news, King Warius broke into cheers for the first time in a long time. Moreover, the one having suffered the defeat was Romania, their long-standing, bitterly detested archenemy. Nothing else would be able to give the king a pleasure as intense as this.
“Marvelous, Alexius! As your father, I am tremendously proud of you, my son, for achieving such a grand meritorious deed!” The king sang his praises so triumphantly as if it had been his accomplishment.
In front of him knelt Alexius with his head lowered after having returned to the capital ahead of his troops, accompanied by just a tiny retinue.
“It is nothing worthy of your praise, Father! After all, we are talking about that senile, old fool Doldea who did not manage to cross the river once even thirty years ago. He is no enemy of mine!”
King Warius smiled broadly at his son’s assertive, honeyed words. And then, while still in a good mood, he showered the small, old man now standing next to Alexius with commendations, holding back nothing.
“Nothing less of you, Lord Ponpius! I had never known that our Great Prime Minister was a man of such wit and wisdom!”
The bald man ― Ponpius ― deeply bowed in response to the king’s praise, “All I did was to provide a suggestion. Your Majesty’s discernment to accept it and His Highness Alexius’s skill to put it into practice were the two major components that lead it to its success,” humbled Ponpius himself.
This old man was the very person who had proposed the plan, which led to the chain of events at the Labian.
“But, I still cannot believe that the vile and sly Doldea would fall for a plan as simple as this.”
It was only reasonable for King Warius to harbor doubts. Ever since the failure thirty years ago, King Doldea had repeatedly admonished himself whenever he grew impudent while subjugating all the surrounding, smaller countries. Nowadays he was known as a cunning, old wolf in the West. It was hard to imagine for a man of such caliber to fall for their plan so splendidly.
“That is owed to King Doldea having been driven by impatience,” answered Ponpius the king’s implicit question, “King Doldea had ordered this army on a western expedition as he expected us to withdraw the army from the east in order to fight the revolting slaves of Bolnis. However, when he actually arrived at the Labian’s ferry point, he found our kingdom’s army awaiting him while fully prepared.”
Ponpius could guess the emotions of King Doldea back when he saw masses of spears and flags stabbing into the sky at Fort Loylops and Barrier Fort Masalkar.
“King Doldea had gone to war while labeling this as his 『last western expedition』. He would find it difficult to pull back without crossing swords even once. Having said that, it was obvious to anyone that he would lose many soldiers if he attacked head on. Retreat and yet unable to retreat, attack and yet unable to attack; King Doldea was at a loss. No doubt, he must have felt like a lost wanderer who had dropped into a lightless cave.” And then Ponpius revealed a wicked smile, “However, he then discovered the possibility of our soldiers deceiving Romania about their numbers through the usage of a scheme.”
Noticing the birds gathering around the flags and spears at the fortress, King Doldea judged them to be dummy soldiers. But, this was the direct result of the soldiers having scattered bread crumbs to lure the birds while deliberately staying away themselves.
“It was the sole ray of hope piercing through the darkness of the cave. Could King Doldea ignore this chance after having lost his way in the darkness? Most certainly not. It was set in stone that he would try to make sure of that dazzling light.”
And what King Doldea grabbed with the hand he had extended half in doubt was a draft of wind in the shape of good news stating that Loylops had fallen into Lobnas’s hands.
“A ray of hope and a draft of wind leading the path out of the cave. Having writhed in agony as he was stuck in the pitch-black cave until then, King Doldea became impatient, trying to escape that place as fast as possible, but that caused him to fail noticing the slight feeling of discomfort he should have perceived if he had remained calm. ――And thus the miserable King Doldea,” Ponpius pointed at his feet, “didn’t notice the hole leading straight to Genobanda that had opened up at his feet, falling into it.”
The audience hall had become deadly silent, everyone spellbound by Ponpius’s explanation. Within that serene quiet, Ponpius slowly opened his hands, almost as if he was trying to show the expanse of something grand, while continuing, “Pretending to go along with the expectations of your opponent, and then turn the tables on them at the very last moment. This is the very definition of a clever military scheme.”
Sighs of admirations could be heard from all over the audience hall. It wasn’t limited to the retainers either. Even King Warius nodded over and over again, showing his rapture.
“I see, indeed. Indeed! Lord Ponpius, I knew of your clout when it comes to diplomacy and politics, but not in my wildest dreams had I expected that you could come up with such an elaborate strategy. This is exactly what you would expect of a tactician. You, Lord Ponpius, are Holmea’s finest tactician!” King Warius exclaimed in admiration.
The present retainers followed their king’s lead, all extolling, “Truly, it is just as you say, Your Majesty.”
All those present in the audience hall praised his plan, but far from feeling proud, Ponpius instead pressed onto King Warius with a bloodcurdling expression, “Your Majesty, this has reduced the danger of Romania. Now is the perfect time to strike down the western slave revolt. Please make your decision!”
The king was bewildered by Ponpius suggesting an attack on the slaves without leaving any time for a breather.
“H-Hmm. ――But, considering how short on hands we will be in the east, there is no guarantee that Romania wouldn’t attack once more.”
As a matter of fact, Romania had attacked them just as Holmea was about to focus its attention on the west after solidifying its eastern flank. It wouldn’t be strange if Romania were to attempt the same if they did the same once more.
Ponpius refuted those worries of King Warius, “It will take Romania’s army time to recover from the serious blow it suffered. Not to mention that this makes the second western expedition by King Doldea which ended in a crushing defeat. King Doldea will find it hard to order yet another attack on the west, and I am sure the lords would hesitate to support it, too.”
Seeing the king waver despite that, Ponpius put even more strength into his voice, and declared, “Right now, our Holmea is stuck between two threats, Romania in the east,” he raised his right hand, “and the revolting slaves in the west.” He raised his left hand,” If we ignore this, our country will be crushed from the east and west someday!”
He clapped his hands together in front of his chest.
“However, now that Romania has been beaten, we have the ideal opportunity to crush the western slaves with our entire might. We must not allow to let this chance escape!”
Although he was being overwhelmed by Ponpius’s fervor, King Warius still brought up an element of worry, “I’m well aware of that. But, wouldn’t it be hard to move the royal army westwards without Romania noticing?”
At present, what with the Holmean lords hiding out in their territories after having suffered a terrible shock from Marven’s fall, the only force available to be dispatched for the sake of subjugating the revolting slaves in the west was the royal army. However, when it came to a military might allowing to suppress the slaves in one go, most of the eastern border regiments would have to be pulled out. One couldn’t fully discard the possibility that Romania would reattempt its invasion, even after having suffered a serious blow, if this information reached their ears.
However, Ponpius laughed King Warius’s concerns away.
“Please, be as kind as boldly showing off to Romania how we move our soldiers instead, Your Majesty.”
“Won’t Romania attack us then?”
“They will not,” asserted Ponpius. “In the recent battle, Romania experienced a crushing defeat through a plan that lured them into attacking through a pretense of weakness. If we openly withdraw our soldiers at this point, Romania will jump at shadows, wondering whether we are trying to execute the same plan again, and find it hard to make a decision to attack.”
Many retainers audibly expressed their comprehension at that line of argumentation. And yet, King Warius was unable to come to a conclusion.
However, at that moment, a voice gave his back a push, “Father! I also approve of Lord Ponpius’s motion!”
It was a loud proclamation by Prince Alexius. He stood up with a clattering of his armor, and raised his voice so that not only his father, but everyone present in the audience hall would hear him.
“Right now, the spirit of our army, after having crushed our old enemy Romania, is soaring as though to pierce the heavens! As long as they carry such ardor, the likes of revolting slaves can be crushed underfoot like the bugs they are! Your Majesty, please order me, Alexius, to subjugate the slave by all means!”
King Warius was bewildered by Alexius’s fervor, but at once his eyes began to sparkle, and he nodded deeply, “Quite so. If it’s you, my son, I’m convinced that you’ll easily scatter those slaves for us.”
The king got up from his throne and hoisted his scepter high into the air.
“By the name of Warius Sadoma Holmeanis, king of Holmea, I order all lords and generals to subjugate the revolting slaves in the west once more!”
At once, the audience hall bustled with everyone present excitedly cheering.
“And, the supreme commander of the punitive force shall be my Prince Alexius!”
With the scepter pointed at him, Alexius knelt down on the spot, and accepted his royal assignment, “So mote it be! Without fail I shall bring you, my dear father, the head of the slave leader, the one called 『Divine Son of Destruction』!”
The king answered by calmly nodding, and then spread his arms, “Everyone, now is the time for you to show the might of Holmea alongside Alexius!”
Ponpius had excused himself from the audience hall, which had completely transformed from being a festive venue celebrating Holmea’s victory over Romania into a war council to plan the slave subjugation, and was now walking the halls of the palace by himself.
Just as he approached a hallway facing the palace’s courtyard, Ponpius abruptly halted his feet. Once he looked in the direction of the courtyard, he could take a peek at the cloudless, azure sky.
“Holmea’s finest tactician, huh…?”
The earlier praise by King Warius spilled out of Ponpius’s mouth as he gazed into the blue. A faint smile formed on his lips, “That’s Holmea’s mightiest general for you. There isn’t a trace of decay to be found in his resourcefulness.”