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Tension ran through the tent when Alexius suddenly bared his anger. On the other hand, Baron Kantbias, the one on the receiving end, couldn’t quite grasp just what might have been so irritating about his own statement. But, he could still tell that Alexius’s anger was anything but normal.
“Baron Kantbias, what did you say just now…?” Alexius exerted himself to pretend calmness, but he couldn’t conceal the rage oozing out of his voice.
While feeling scared by the magnitude of Alexius’s anger which he couldn’t fathom, the baron answered, “A-As I said, battle is not just about clashing army against army…”
“Not that! The one afterwards!!”
Baron Kantbias reflexively gasped from Alexius’s rebuke. However, he quickly replied while squeezing out his breath, “It is a king’s way of fighting to overwhelm an enemy by using dignity…”
Alexius grinned broadly at that reply. However, it wasn’t a smile of forgiveness. His anger and hatred had merely taken shape in the form of such a smile.
“I see, so that’s how it is…!” Alexius muttered while apparently coming to terms with something as the only one in the tent.
A king’s way of fighting. That was a phrase Darius had used when asked by King Warius whether his son would make for a fine marshal during the victory party of Alexius’s first campaign. And those were the very words which had turned Alexius’s adoration of Darius, the man called Holmea’s strongest general, into pure hatred.
Just like a ferocious beast smacking its lips in front of its prey, Alexius hissed, “Which reminds me, your flag depicts a yellow wildcat on indigo blue ground, doesn’t it…? Ooh! I wonder why, but I know a flag that resembles it quite closely.”
Just as Alexius had stated, the battle flag of Baron Kantbias showed the profile of a wildcat woven onto a deep blue fabric with yellow threads. And the prince was right once more in pointing out that another flag existed which resembled the motif of the baron’s flag quite closely.
“Right. If I recall correctly, that flag used a golden lion on black ground…”
The blood drained from Baron Kantbias so quickly and decisively that it seemed as if you could actually hear it flow.
A golden lion on black ground – that was Darius’s flag. As the prince had guessed, the baron had deliberately chosen a motif that imitated Darius’s flag in the hope to get a share of the general’s power.
In the very next moment, Alexius exploded, “You swine! So there are still some morons left who believe in that senile fart! Then it means this has to be a scheme to trip me up in order to cover up the incompetence of that senile fool who got defeated by the likes of slaves!”
Those were outrageous and false accusations. But, Baron Kantbias didn’t even have the leeway to explain himself when faced with Alexius’s terrifyingly menacing glare.
“I’ll punish you for that rudeness! Feel grateful since I shall offer your head to God as a prayer for victory!”
Not meaning that as a joke or threat, Alexius placed a hand on his sword’s hilt and was about to draw his sword at any second.
“Your Highness! Please calm yourself!” It was Hiakis who stopped the prince from going through with it. “It is an ill omen to spill the blood of your ally right before a battle! Moreover, if you use his head for praying to God, it will be as if God is desiring the blood of our allies. So please stop it!”
Hiakis’s argument was sound. And as might be expected, even Alexius had no choice but to restrain himself because of it. Another reason was to be found in the prince’s inability to slight the words of Hiakis who served as the actual commander of the 「Black Wall」.
Back when he formed the 「Black Wall」 as the strongest army corps of Holmea, Darius implemented various changes that made the 「Black Wall」 stand out from the other army corps, such as a higher salary for its members and a monopoly on being allowed to wear all black. All of these measures served the purpose of planting a powerful sense of belonging and superiority in the soldiers. Influenced by that, the soldiers started to prefer victory as 「Black Wall」 over individual achievements. This formed them into an army corps that possessed a mighty power of unity and teamwork, which was unprecedented in this era where individual prowess was extolled and respected.
But, at the same time, it caused the soldiers of the 「Black Wall」 to look down upon other soldiers, and even generals at times, as they were filled with a powerful conceit over being chosen elites. Because of that, the 「Black Wall」 became a closely-knitted band of tricky, willful folks who were hard to handle for any commander with only their family name as backing, although anyone had no choice but to admit the strength of the 「Black Wall」.
Alexius, the sole prince of Holmea’s royal family, was no exception to that. Although he was flaunting to be ever-victorious, his military achievements were limited to a few border skirmishes and the mop-up of rioters within the Kingdom. As such, Alexius could only command the wild horse called 「Black Wall」 somewhat because Hiakis was supporting him.
The prince took a deep breath, just to spit the air out right away. After repeating that several times, he managed to somewhat quell his anger, before croaking at Baron Kantbias, “In deference to Hiakis, I shall spare your life. ――But, never show yourself in front of me again! You are not needed to appear on the battlefield during this subjugation either! I order thee to protect the supply unit. Carry out thine mission at once!”
Being kept away from the battlefield despite having joined an expedition was a disgrace for any warrior in a society for military prowess was valued above all. Even while biting down on his lips to the extent of blood flowing, Baron Kantbias deeply lowered his head at Alexius and left the tent.
Right afterwards, Alexius declared to the remaining lords and officers, “Listen! I’ll take down those revolting slaves with our whole army! This is already set in stone!”
And then he drew his sword and stabbed it into the table as if to affix the map on it.
“Bear in mind, I shall execute anyone objecting to this as a rebel, no matter who it is!”
At that point, no one could voice a different opinion anymore.
As soon as Alexius left the tent after announcing that he’d take a rest, the lords also swarmed out in groups. After a short time, only officers of the 「Black Wall」 were left inside the tent.
Once they silently nodded at each other, they all focused their eyes on Hiakis. While feeling the stares of his colleagues on himself, Hiakis sighed.
“…It resulted in His Excellency’s idea not coming to pass, but it cannot be helped.”
In this place dominated by members of the 「Black Wall」, only one man could be meant with His Excellency. General Darius ― the one who had founded the 「Black Wall」, fought through countless battlefields with them, and obtained victory for them. And even the earlier exchange of Hiakis with Baron Kantbias had been completely pre-arranged by Darius through a secret message that informed them to avoid a decisive battle in that location.
In the end, Darius’s intervention failed, but no disappointment was to be found on the face of the officers present here. Rather, an atmosphere of having desired that outcome was even circulating among them.
And as if to prove that this was no mere illusion either, one of them asked, “Still, isn’t His Excellency overestimating the slave a bit too much? I mean, we’re the 『Black Wall』!”
His words were brimming with the unshakable belief that he was part of the 「Black Wall」, Holmea’s mightiest force. None of the other officers spoke up to declare their approval to his statement, but if you looked at their faces, there could be no doubt that all of them were in agreement.
Seeing them like that, Hiakis chided, “…Don’t look down on your enemy. Our enemy is a tactician who led His Excellency around by the nose.”
Due to that, the officer, who had spoken up previously, objected, “That’s the point here. Although it’s true that His Excellency was defeated, didn’t he lead nothing but inexperienced baby chicks into battle at that time!? I heard some of them ran away as soon as the enemy pushed back a bit.”
His words were teeming with an emotion close to hatred as he considered the soldiers from back then to be utter cowards. Starting with that, the other officers also raised their voices in anger.
“When I heard about that, I felt a dire urge to slaughter all of those losers!”
“We’d have never allowed for such a disgrace to befall His Excellency…!”
“Kadomos and Judius were pathetic as well! For them to thank His Excellency for his kind teachings by messing up like that was preposterous!”
Gradually, the officers’ voices started to be blended not only by anger, but even resentment. Those officers, who formed the core of nowadays’ 「Black Wall」, had entered the royal army because they idolized Darius, who was still marshal back then. All of them had been selected by that very marshal for their abilities. Logically, they went through joys and sorrows together as they survived countless battlefields under Darius’s command, sharing all the victories, on top of feeling deeply indebted towards Darius for having been chosen as members of the highly-respected 「Black Wall」. At this point, their feelings had already reached the stage of reverence.
Hiakis reprimanded his comrade who kept criticizing the soldiers, who ran away, for their cowardice and worthlessness.
“Did you forget His Excellency’s words!? He told us to not worry about what happens to him, no matter what he might have been told. He ordered us to simply devote our everything to Holmea!”
Those were the words written in a secret message delivered to the officers of the 「Black Wall」 immediately after Darius was ordered under house arrest. Even the officers, who got all-blooded on the spur of the moment, couldn’t help but to come to their senses when having the words of their respected Darius hurled at them.
Hiakis further emphasized to them, “Now listen closely! Right now, there is only one thing we ought to do for His Excellency! We will offer him the head of his archenemy, the 『Divine Son of Destruction』!”
None of the others objected to exacting revenge on the hateful foe who had put shame on General Darius. All of them nodded powerfully.
“All of you, bear in mind, our enemy is a tactician who tricked His Excellency. He might come at us with all sorts of plans. Make sure to not be careless in any way! And the ones commanded by him are an army corps of zoan, the supreme rulers of the plains! So tell me, how do we deal with their charge that capitalizes on their leg strength!?”
One of the officers stepped forward upon Hiakis’s question, hit his own breastplate, and boasted, “A charge by zoan is nothing to be afraid of! The defenses of our soldiers are impregnable! We will let them relive the tragedy that occurred to them on the Solbiant Plains more than thirty years ago!”
In response, Hiakis further asked, “Then, how do we deal with elven archers!?”
Another officer stepped forward and replied, “The shield wall formed by our soldiers doesn’t even allow a needle to pass through! It goes without saying that elven arrows will bounce off!”
“Then, how are we going to deal with dwarven spear users!?”
Yet another officer yelled, “Short bugs holding spears is the height of folly! Our spears shall skewer them from outside their spears’ range!”
“In that case, what about dinosaurians!?”
“Even dinosaurians aren’t invincible. If we keep them at a distance with spears and surround them, we’ll be able to finish them off eventually! As long as five men challenge one, three spears will kill the dinosaurian, even if two might die trying!”
Hiakis surveyed the faces of his comrades, and then declared assertively, “Listen! We will utterly crush the revolting slaves! And we shall let everyone in the West know that our 『Black Wall』 is the strongest army corps in existence!”
The officers cheered in chorus.
On the next day, the elites of the royal army under Prince Alexius’s command resumed their march towards the Conte’s bridgehead. It was said that Darius silently looked up to the ceiling when he received the notification in his mansion.
But, another person got even more shocked than Darius by this development.
“Eh? Holmea’s army is heading straight for us?”
At almost the same time as Darius, Souma became flabbergasted inside his tent, which had been set up in front of the fortress where you could hear the dwarves’ hammers working day and night, when he heard this piece of news from the zoan warrior in front of him.
“Eh? Why? What does that mean?”
Souma looked like he couldn’t understand what he had been told just now, but at the same time as comprehension gradually started to color his eyes, he felt a violent excitement well up inside his chest.
“Soma, just what’s wrong?”
Apparently not even registering Shyemul’s curious question, Souma ran up to the desk in the middle of the tent, and intently stared down at the map which showed the area around Conte’s bridgepoint.
“Why? What’s the idea here? Why!?!?”
Not caring a bit about everyone present showering him with odd looks, Souma loudly talked to himself while starting to furiously move around several of the figures placed on the map. He repeated the process of lining them up and moving them around several times, but at long last, his hands stopped moving.
“This is bad. What should I do…?” Souma groaned while propping himself up on the table with both hands.
Seeing him like that, Shyemul furrowed her eyebrows while asking, “Just what the heck is wrong, Soma?”
Finally Souma lifted his head, but his face was cramped up, twitching. Shyemul realized that his eyes were darting around as he was worried about the presence of other people, and thus chased the elven court ladies and the zoan messenger out of the tent.
Now that it was just the two of them, she asked him once more what was going on. At last Souma gloomily and unwillingly moved his lips, “What should I do, Shyemul?”, and after contorting his face, he continued, “We could actually lose the battle.”
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