“Those Who Were Moving Towards Conclusion.”
At this point, with rumors spread far and wide, Rion became the center of attention of not just the Gran Flamm Kingdom, but even the surrounding countries. After all, he was the person who had single-handedly invaded the Kingdom of Merica, during the most recent war, and earned the huge achievement of capturing Princess Olivia, the War Goddess, in the process. And if that alone was not enough, he rebelled against his country once he returned from the battle
One could only wonder what his next move would be. So, for all the countries concerned, whether they were directly involved or not, he was a subject of great interest. Depending on his actions, the situation on the continent could change massively.
However, unlike his key status in the world implied, the person himself was currently absentmindedly watching things outside his window.
「Do you feel more important when looking at people from up high?」
Ariel asked a question from somewhere behind him.
「Do you, Ari?」
「Thoughts of that nature passed through my mind when I was a child.」
Ariel spoke about the fact that looking at people from a high place could give an impression that all of them belonged to the watcher, that they were creatures of the watcher's world. She had felt something similar, but it had been akin to a child watching over its toys, without a lust for power.
「Is that so… I don’t feel anything like that. Watching those people go about their life makes me… happy.」
Rion said this while continuing to watch the world outside. Ariel softly hugged his back. She was just happy about his answer.
「You have to treasure those feelings. Do not force yourself to hate people.」
Ariel could see through him without difficulty. Many people had died as a result of the war with Merica. Rion couldn't shake the feeling that it might have been his fault. That his heterochromia did indeed bring about disasters and that had been just the of those.
「…Those around me suffer ill fate, always and without fault. Merican envoy had a slip of tongue just the other day. Do you know how they call me? A child that brings calamity.」
「You saved so many people. If you truly bring calamity, it is only on your enemies.」
「It would be nice if that were to be true.」
「It is true. Thanks to you, the life in Bandeaux became better. Not a single person here would call you as those Mericans did.」
「Nevertheless, in the end, I got even the citizens of this land involved in this mess.」
This time, the situation has escalated too much. Rion felt that were he to fail, a war was more likely than not. And that would turn all his achievements here to nothing.
「You have involved nobody yet. We still have peace.」
「If things stay as they are, the Kingdom might act rashly out of impatience.」
「But you know how to prevent that, right?」
「…We will die if I fail. And our pledge of vengeance would remain unfulfilled.」
He could see a way of exploiting the current state of things for the sake of their revenge. The strength of Merica could be borrowed to ruin Gran Flamm completely. The chance of success was high and this made the opportunity as good as they came. Yet going down that path would turn the people of his fief into collateral damage.
Rion couldn't bear doing such a thing, and the dilemma was gnawing at him.
「It will be for the sake of those that we treasure. For that, it will be fine to abandon the quest for vengeance.」
「Impossible, I have to kill Lord Vincent’s enemies. For my sake, and for yours, Ari.」
「…Rion is mistaken.」
「For me, Rion is more important than older brother ever was. I prioritized my feelings for Rion, even though I knew older brother might end up indicted as a result. Because of my desire, I also ended up being brother's enemy.」
Ariel had openly acknowledged her chastisements of Maria, and that small misstep was spun into high treason. But she had been aware of that possibility before she had admitted her part. Ariel and Vincent had both realized that the Investigation Bureau had been using the two of them in order to get to the commoner students.
However, Ariel hadn't shouldered all those sins just to save those lowborn. She had also expected that she would cease to be Arnold’s fiance as a result and might end up free to go with Rion.
「…Just like I am one for letting Lord Vincent die. Exactly why I have to make up for it.」
Even after learning of Ariel's impure motives, Rion would not condemn her for them. He might be lamenting his failure of saving Vincent, but he was still happy about being able to marry Ariel. He had also fulfilled his desires through his lord's death.
「I wonder, would it not be nicer if you made up for that by saving people instead?」
「Just do what you really want, my husband. I do not mind abandoning the quest for vengeance if that will save people we both cherish. I do not mind throwing my life away for that.」
「…I want you to live. Above all else.」
「Rion, you are the world to me. If I lose my world, lose you, I cannot continue living. We swore to each other, if we are going to die, we shall do it together.」
Rion turned around and embraced his wife. Their faces naturally moved close to each other, their lips… went nowhere because Rion asked a question.
「…Do you need something?」
The presence that Rion felt ruined the special mood. The person questioned reluctantly emerged from the shadows of the doorway.
「…Nothing important, in hindsight.」
「So why are you here? Peeping is quite a bad hobby, you know.」
「…Can I ask one thing?」
Sol didn’t rise Rion’s provocation and just calmly replied with a question.
「What are you planning to do from now on?」
「…I will probably go to the capital. I hoped for that guy's experience to count for something, but as expected there’s no brain in his head.」
「Ah, forget it. Anyhow, the capital could not figure out the truth. And since they failed, I'll have to tell them myself.」
「If you go to the capital, you’ll be killed.」
「You were eavesdropping, right? I don’t fear death. And my wife approves.」
「….Is that so. Alright.」
Having heard Rion’s reply, Sol left the room in a hurry. His chest felt too heavy, he couldn’t continue the conversation anymore.
He had searched for Rion to admonish him for excessive recklessness in handling the situation, and had come here with that in mind. And then he had accidentally heard an unexpected conversation.
Rion had resolved himself to sacrifice his life in order to save other people. Hearing this, Sol realized just how foolish he had been. He should’ve noticed that side of him long ago. That although his words may say the opposite, Rion had been acting with his people all this time.
Sol couldn’t accept that he had mistaken Rion’s real intention for something else. Now, unable to serve Rion, even as the youngster prepared himself to save others, he loathed himself.
Sol finally came to terms with the fact that he felt the same the Bandeaux leaders did. He wanted to be acknowledged by Rion, but could only curse his own powerlessness in that regard.
Far away from the Bandeaux, in the capital, there was another person seeking acknowledgment from Rion. It was the Crown Prince, Arnold. But, of course, the precise nature of this desire differed from that shared by the others. He, a future king of this land, wanted to be acknowledged by Rion as his lord.
Arnold himself wasn’t all that confident that he would be able to fulfill this dream. But he knew he wouldn’t be able to reach his goal by doing nothing. So, currently, had been working hard to dispel the notion that Rion had rebelled.
「We must send our army right away. My position on this will not change.」
「Even though we lack sufficient information? If we do such a thing, the trust of other landed nobles in the Crown would be shaken.」
「No matter how you think about it, highness, there is no doubt that Viscount Frey rebelled.」
「Is there not? On what evidence? There are no observable efforts to fortify his territory. No attempts to turn away our envoys. Even the merchants are free to come and go from the territory as they please, are they not? The only people making a noise about a “rebellion” are those residing in this castle.」
「Those merchants came from the Kingdom of Merica. Not a single merchant of our country has taken a step into that territory since this matter started.」
「I am sure the fact we, unlike Merica, prohibit our merchants from going there has nothing to do with the fact. Incidentally, our merchants are rather worried. In the current situation, only their foreign competition profits from trade through Bandeaux. Some of the trading houses actually wonder who the real ally of Merica is.」
「Preposterous! What is your highness saying?」
「Are you not even aware of this? Is our Intelligence Bureau really in good shape?」
The Crown Prince was attacking the head of Intelligence Bureau, James, using Rion’s way of provoking his opponents. He had already lost count of how many times had this kind of exchange taken place. All the recent conferences followed the same script — James was pushing for military intervention and Arnold opposed any such move.
Thus far, the Crown Prince was winning the argument. The traffic between Bandeaux and the rest of the kingdom, that had stopped for a moment after the rumors of rebellion, had already recovered. According to the statements of the travelers, there was no war tension in Bandeaux at all. Some of them were openly wondering just what the kingdom was making all this fuss about.
This peaceful image was being spread on purpose, of course. Rion was moving his resources in order to control the situation. Resist specialized not only in information gathering, but also in its dissemination, and control.
The Crown Marshall intervened in the conversation at this point.
「…Yes, Lord Marshall?」
Arnold started to feel nervous. The fact that Marshall of the Crown picked this moment to join the conversation raised the possibility that he was conspiring with James after all. As far as the Prince was concerned, this was the worst case scenario.
「If Viscount Frey is a loyal subject of this kingdom, why does he refuse to come to capital? Why is he sheltering captured Merican princess in his lands?」
「Refuses? I have not heard him refuse. I heard him ask to be given time to take care of his duties as a feudal lord.」
「Am I really supposed to believe that, highness?」
「Tell me, Marshall, why would you not? Is it not true that he had been fighting a battle that in normal circumstances, should never be his concern? Did he not achieve all he was asked for, and more? Did he not distinguish himself beyond compare in the process? There is no reason to ever doubt his loyalty towards the Crown.」
No one present could object to this. Especially the Marshall, who commanded the Army.
「…What about the matter of Princess Olivia, highness?」
「Honestly, I thought it strange too and had it thoroughly investigated. And to my great surprise, while some soldiers did confirm that Viscount Frey captured the Princess, other denied that this ever happened. Very odd. What is happening to our army, Lord Marshall?」
What Arnold said was true. Some of the soldiers felt indebted to Rion and were trying to cover up for him by giving false testimonies.
Arnold was not blind to the fact and decided to use that discrepancy to his own advantage.
「The kingdom of Merica told us that he took her as a prisoner. This makes it pretty certain that the princess was captured, does it not, highness?」
「Why did they say nothing more on the subject, then? Or are there negotiations underway I know nothing about?」
No such negotiations were taking place and Arnold was certain of that.
「Would they not be conducted at Bandeaux, highness?」
「An assumption based on assumption that cousin Olivia is there. And it does not answer my question.」
The Crown Prince, after being on a receiving end of a barrage of questions, went on the offensive. The Crown Marshall was now being cornered by Arnold.
「…If Merica takes Bandeaux, whatever we try to do will come too late.」
「And therefore, in order not to let that happen, we should refrain from rash actions that would undermine Viscount Frey's loyalty to the kingdom, should we not?」
「He may have already betrayed us.」
「Yet another guess, Marshall. We are getting nowhere like this. But since you are so insistent, do answer one question. Do you think you can win that war?」
「When you set out against Viscount Frey, are you fully confident that you will win?」
「…I do not understand?」
The Marshall did not expect Arnold to ask such a question and he could find no immediate answer. And the Prince picked this moment to land the finishing blow.
「Just some stray thoughts, my Lord Marshall. Sending the troops involved in the recent war seems ill-advised, Viscount Frey saved their lives, after all. They are unlikely to have sufficient morale and making them do such a thing seems… wrong.」
The Crown Marshall thought he knew why Rion had returned the troops that had survived invading Merica. He suspected it was an attempt to break the kingdom’s army from the inside. He was wrong, of course. From the beginning, Rion never had the intention to fight Gran Flamm. And even if he did, he would still let those soldiers return home. Keeping an army of dubious loyalty in one's backyard was a foolish endeavor.
Crown Marshall was visibly angered by Arnold's words, and that had shaken the participants of the conference. A lot of them had been supportive of military intervention thus far, but chiefly because they feared Rion's new strength. Hearing the Crown Prince question the odds of victory made them even more anxious.
And this started to change people's minds. This was a result of what Arnold's opponents forgot about, that he had been once called wise. And not entirely without reason.
The Prince always had in him the power to sway opinion with his words. And so it proved here, even if resolving the whole situation fully was an impossible task even for him.
「So in the end, we still need to talk with Viscount Frey.」
The Knight Commander, thus far observing the proceedings in silence, joined the discussion at last.
「We do, sir Frederick. Therefore I shall head to Bandeaux myself.」
Arnold's statement agitated the room. Everyone knew that the Prince’s relationship with Viscount Frey was far from good. Many of them were thinking that the Viscount’s actions in this incident were fueled by his grudge over the death of Vincent Woodville. And, to those people, Arnold going to Bandeaux was exactly like a moth flying into the flame.
「This incident is not serious enough to require your highness to go in person. Let me take on the duty instead.」
「You, sir Frederick?」
This time it was the Prince’s turn to be surprised.
「There will be no problems if I am absent from the capital for a prolonged period of time to hold talks with the Viscount. I am pretty much the ideal candidate for the task.」
Prince Arnold might’ve been surprised but what Frederick had said was correct. And at least half of the conference agreed with that too.
「In that case, Lord Commander, may we burden you with this duty?」
「It shall be done, Majesty.」
The King, who had kept his silence all this time, decided to close the subject with this. But then again, he and Frederick had decided on this course of action long ago.
「Then, that settles the matters for today. Good work, everyone.」
「「「We thank your majesty!」」」
There were still topics warranting discussion. However, now that the king had adjourned the meeting, they would be set aside for now.
「Arnold, stay for a moment longer. We have things to discuss.」
The Prince remain seated as ordered. The Knight Commander also remained in place, not moving from where he was. The King did not start speaking until all others left the room, the matters he wished to discuss were of private nature.
「How much do you know?」
「…About the war with Merica, father?」
「I see, so you do know. Tell me what you think happened.」
「I believe there are people who leaked confidential information to our enemies during the war. I now suspect both the Intelligence Bureau Head and the Crown Marshal.」
「Why do you think so?」
The king showed no signs of surprise. He had the same suspicions.
「I investigated the progress of the war, and the written reports were untrue. Since they co-signed those documents, I began to doubt them both.」
「Mhm. Why did you think of investigating in the first place?」
「At first, it was merely because of my impression of Rion as a person. I do not believe him to be the type who would entangle bystanders in private matters. I was so confident of this impression that I thought he would have a different reason for doing what he has done. The only thing that came to mind was the most recent event, the war with Merica Kingdom. Something must have happened during that time.」
「I see. You did well. Nevertheless…」
「…Is there a problem, father?」
「How did you plan to manage the fallout? The involved people are unlikely to be limited to the Crown Marshal and Intelligence Bureau Head, right?」
「That is true, father. However, I believe we must dispose of the two as fast as we can regardless. After that, we will manage somehow.」
「Somehow? You kept your pursuit of those two with such a reckless attitude?」
「I am not reckless, father. I have a simple, guaranteed to work method of handling the aftermath.」
「…Do you now? What would it be?」
The King couldn’t think of any such method despite trying hard. He was rather surprised that Arnold came up with an ingenious idea like that.
「We shall leave it to Rion, father. Rion is capable of managing both the Army and the Intelligence Bureau. After all, he already has experience in managing these two organizations.」
「…This… is the simple, guaranteed to work idea of yours?」
The King was dumbfounded by this unexpected answer. The Knight Commander at his side was as surprised. But Frederick was also somewhat happy.
「Think about it father. Rion would certainly be able to deal with any problems, and leaving it to him makes it simple.」
「…I did not expect to hear such an answer coming from you.」
「But, well… I guess you’re right. In the end, we may end up having to do just that. But we need to talk with the man first.」
「That is true.」
The Knight Commander left for Bandeaux on the same day. After all, it had been a course of action agreed with the King some time ago and all the preparation had been done.
The shocking incident, known in the future as the Bandeaux Rebellion, was about to reach its conclusion. At that point in time, nobody thought that it would bring another mayhem to the kingdom.