A civil war. In the end, the princes’ political conflict descended into the worst possible scenario. No one thought that things would reach this stage; from the nobles in the outskirt regions far detached from the power struggle, to even the nobles in the Capital that were engaged in this violent shadow war.
However, there was just one person who anticipated this turn of events. At present, that person was elegantly drinking a cup of black tea in Forrest territory.
“I was right in the end, wasn't I?”
“… what dark magic is this?”
Milton said as he watched Princess Leila form a detestable smile.
At first, Milton talked to Princess Leila with the proper respect and mannerisms for treating a superior when he had discovered her identity. But after some time had passed since they began living together, Princess Leila implicitly allowed Milton to speak more casually. Her supposed pretext was that in order to ensure her identity remained hidden, Milton needed to mind how natural he sounded when he spoke to her in front of others.
Whatever the case was, Princess Leila had continued to patiently reside at the Forrest Estate, passing the time day by day. She seemed so carefree that Milton once asked if she really had the liberty to be passing her time like this. Her response was…
[The seeds have already been spread, Count. Now is a time to wait patiently for the right moment.]
[You speak as a mastermind would; as if you know all that will happen from this point on.]
[Yes, I am something along those lines.]
Milton laughed as he felt that she was bluffing.
[You don’t seem to believe me.]
[Ah, I may have let that slip.]
[Very much so. I suppose there’s no convincing you, but if you continue providing your services just a little longer… Soon, the First Prince and his faction will be the ones to seize the royal prerogative in the Capital. That future is near – the victor will likely be decided within the month.]
[Will it really now…]
Milton did not believe her. There was no way that the stalemate between two princes as they fought over many years would collapse so suddenly.
Princess Leila smiled at Milton.
[Shall we place a bet? 500 gold.]
[I mean, I shall partake in this bet.]
Before a month passed, news came from the Capital: the First Prince exposed the military corruption in the Second Prince’s faction, and the strength of the Second Prince's forces was reduced by more than half.
[Was I not correct?]
[…How on earth?]
[I made preparations for this beforehand. I secretly leaked information regarding the faction of the Second Prince's weaknesses to the First’s faction.]
[…Are you conning me?]
[Oh my, are you going back on your word after you lost?]
Milton formed an icy expression at her words. She continued to smile teasingly.
[Or shall we play another round? According to my calculations, I do believe that the Second Prince will feign a declaration of surrender to the First Prince, then, he'll retreat to the North where he has strong backing. There, he will begin a civil war.]
[A civil war? How preposterous… if anything, the First Prince would not let the Second Prince make his way to the North scot-free, would he?]
[It will all unfold as I say. Shall we make a bet once more if you still don't believe me? How about 5000 gold this time?]
[Very well. Let's see what happens.]
Milton was full of confidence. He didn’t think for a second that the First Prince was stupid enough to let his brother go to the North – and even if it did happen, he certainly didn’t think that the Second Prince was a villain so blinded by power that he would start a civil war.
The results of this bet were out now. The First Prince was stupid, and the Second Prince was a villain blinded by the pursuit of power.
Princess Leila took a sip of her black tea while Milton maintained a deadpan expression.
“That will be 5500 gold altogether. Making money is light work, wouldn’t you agree?”
‘Does this girl start every day thinking of how to make my blood boil?’
Milton could not refute Princess Leila’s incessant teasing, because everything she said was right.
‘Perhaps that 92 Intelligence and 91 Politics weren’t just for show.’
He was not convinced there was no point in doubting her abilities.
‘Though her personality is a different story.’
At any rate, Milton could no longer pass off her words as nonsense.
“What do you think will happen from now on?”
“Oh? Did you want to hear it for free?”
“You’re staying for free at my… never mind, you're not.”
The fact that Princess Leila had invested a considerable fortune did not change. Milton sighed.
“What is it you desire?”
“Hmm… let's keep it on credit, for now.”
“On credit, you say?”
“Yes – I speculate that keeping you indebted may prove to be more useful down the line, Count Forrest.”
Milton received an unpleasant pang, but he did not pursue the matter further as he believed that hearing Princess Leila’s insight came first.
“Firstly, the royal palace will soon issue an order of subjugation.”
“I can see that they would.”
Milton could see that much on his own. The Second Prince was on the brink of causing a civil war with the rationale that he would advocate for Republicanism. Though his motivations for doing so were yet unknown, at face value this was a suicidal move. Republicanism was deemed to be a dangerous ideology by not only the Lester Kingdom, but all the kingdoms on the continent. As long as he submitted this as his justification for war, the First Prince could officially carry out an order of subjugation. Besides the Central Army at the Capital, the feudal nobles in the outer regions would certainly receive this order as well.
Everything up to here was within Milton’s predictions – but what he did not foresee at all were Princess Leila’s next words.
“Count Forrest, you must find a way to be excluded from this mobilization order at all costs. If possible, it would prove to be beneficial if all the nobles of the South that you have contact with could preserve their strength.”
Milton frowned and paused in thought for a while, before asking.
“This escapes my understanding. Why are you saying that we should stay clean of this matter?”
No matter which way he looked at it, Milton could not think of a good reason to stay out of this war.
In the first place, this war could only be won from the side of the First Prince. The First Prince had become the righteous the moment the Second Prince brought Republicanism into this conflict. The feudal nobles that were maintaining neutrality, including his own forces – and on top of that, a considerable number of the nobles that had originally taken the Second Prince’s side – would see no other path but to turn to the First Prince. The concept of Republicanism was absolute heresy to a kingdom that operated on the basis of a class system.
That was why, even if Milton did not play an unnecessarily active part in the war, he thought it would be wise to play it safe and fulfill his duties as they came, and that would be enough. In any case, as it was not like he had plans to enter the Capital’s political arena, he simply needed to play just enough of a role that he would not be brought to the attention of the First Prince. Rather, if he obstinately refused to participate in this easy of a war, Milton would be burning his bridges for his withdrawal from the fight when the First Prince ascended onto the throne. In the worst-case scenario, contrived slander could go around that Milton Forrest was a Republican sympathizer.
For these reasons, all he could think of were reasons he should participate in the war. Yet Princess Leila was advising him that he should not – and he knew that she was not one to spout nonsense. Nonetheless, Milton still did not understand why.
Princess Leila's expression turned grave.
“Why do you think the Second Prince is suddenly advocating for Republicanism?”
Nothing came to mind.
In all honesty, the first thing that came to Milton’s mind when he heard that the Second Prince was suddenly turning to Republicanism was that he was a lunatic, and not much else. It seemed like the erratic action of a desperate man on the last precipice. But now that he thought about it closely, it was admittedly strange.
‘Why Republicanism, out of all things? What benefit would he reap from doing that? …Ah!’
A fleeting scenario brushed by his mind.
“Surely not… no matter what the circumstances are…”
“It seems you have realized.”
Milton was in disbelief.
“Does the Second Prince mean to request for support from the Republics?”
He was in front of Princess Leila, but he could not stop himself from cursing. No matter how hellbent he was on acquiring power, how could the Second Prince invite foreign influences into his own country? In the event he did seize all the power there was, did he truly think that it would be his own? The Republics would not spill their own blood to help someone else’s cause. Even if they were to participate in the war, they would demand the price of blood to be shouldered entirely by the faultless people of the kingdom.
“What could that mongrel possibly be thinking of?”
“Thinking, you say? If my memory serves me correctly, he’s not a man who knows how to think.”
“A kingdom’s prince does not think?”
“You wouldn’t know since you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him. That’s simply how he is.”
Milton was stricken with astonishment. Princess Leila sighed as she watched him.
“He has no interest in the future of the nation. He will only be at ease if the world revolves around him, no matter what that costs. No amount of blood spilled by the kingdom’s subjects or decaying of national strength is too great a price if it allows him to seize power.”
“Hearing what you have to say – he seems like a real son of a bitch.”
“An apt judgment.”
Milton could only sigh when he suddenly had a lightbulb moment.
“Princess Leila – you had anticipated this civil war, correct?”
“And you also anticipated that the Second Prince would collude with the Republicans.”
“What is it that you wish to say?”
“For the completion of your objective, would I be correct to assume that you stayed silent regarding, or even encouraged, this country’s descent into civil war – well knowing that the blood of guiltless people will be spilt?”
Princess Leila coolly kept her silence at Milton’s interrogation.
Milton patiently watched her, awaiting an answer. She finally responded to his unending gaze.
“What if I did?”
“Then you are indeed no different than the First or Second Princes.”
Princess Leila furrowed her eyebrows at his comments. It seemed that what Milton said was the greatest of insults to her.
“Please, give me an answer. If it is not the honest truth, then I’m afraid I cannot continue to ride the same boat as you.”
Princess Leila felt the real resolve embedded in Milton’s words, and sighed.
“You are half correct – and also half wrong.”
“Would you care to explain?”
“Amongst the forces of the North that were supporting the Second Prince, there were already ones that were colluding with the Republicans. I did not play a part in this.”
“Wait… the nobles of the North border with the Republic, right? What do you mean that they were colluding, Your Highness?”
“It is the truth. They have been illegally trading with the Hildess Republic and secretly growing richer. This has been their standard practice for a while. Of course, the Second Prince was aware it.”
“Then, do you mean to say that the Second Priices’s faction knew of this and turned a blind eye?”
“Yes, because it brought gold. The profits they earned through black market trading proved to be a substantial source of funds for the Second Prince’s faction.”
“How could this be…”
The powers that be which backed the Second Prince were mostly knights and military authorities. Such forces consumed capital but would not produce any in return. Yet Milton had never heard of the Second Prince’s faction losing out in the financial arena against the First Prince – and now it turned out it was because the Northern nobles created a source of income through illegal trading with a Republic.
‘I suppose it’s true that committing evil is the easiest path to riches.’
Taking part in illegal transnational trade without tariffs and whatnot would have meant the sum they made would have been nothing to scoff at.
“Does that mean the Second Prince already had connections with the Republicans?”
“Indeed. I had planted some eyes within those circles to monitor the situation, and aimed to capitalize on the Second Prince’s weaknesses should the opportunity ever present itself.”
“If that was the case, why did this civil war arise? If you could control this situation with your planted men…”
“The people I planted in the North have not managed to land pivotal roles in their operations. If my influence in the North was strong enough to control the overall circumstances, I would not have permitted a civil war to arise in the first place.”
Princess Leila sighed and continued.
“If things unfold as planned, not long after the commencement of the civil war, the Second Prince will be purged by some ‘well-meaning’ nobles in the North.”
“Are these ‘well-meaning’ nobles under your wing, Princess?”
”I daresay more than half of them are unaware.”
It implied that even now, she was pulling the strings as a strictly unknown mastermind.Previous Chapter Next Chapter