Chapter 58: The Hildes Republic (2)

Different from usual, Marquis Marius seemed rather prickly, but Siegfried responded without so much as raising an eyebrow.

“Did you come looking for me with the suspicion that I influenced His Highness Byron into launching an attack on the Capital?”

 Siegfried was one step in front of Marquis Marius.

“……”

With the words taken right out of Marquis Marius’ mouth, he simply kept his mouth shut. 

“I know what you're suspicious about. And as a Marquis that tends to the state’s affairs, I believe that your suspicions are entirely valid.”

“Thank you for your understanding.”

“But to lay those doubts to rest, hasn't His Highness Byron committed to marrying Roxanne, the eldest daughter of His Excellency Bahasten – our nation’s Fuhrer? Do you still not trust us?”

“Well, that’s…”

With the Hildes Republic consenting to this diplomatic marriage, doubting them was impossible – never mind denying them. The moment the prince had advocated for Republicanism, it was no different than cutting off their diplomatic ties with all the kingdoms. Whether they liked it or not, an ally like the Hildes Republic was urgently needed. If anything, they should be grateful to the Republic for proposing this royal marriage. Things had already moved past the point of denying their aid.

“Mm… my apologies. This was my lapse in judgment.”

Though he had determinedly sought Siegfried out to closely question him, Marquis Marius was the one apologizing after thinking over the situation.

Siegfried laughed.

“As I said before, Marquis, I understand your perspective. There really is no need to apologize. I only ask that you act as the bridge to a closer relationship between our nations in the future. Would that be too much to ask?”

Marquis Marius sighed.

“I will do all that is within my power.”

In the end, Marquis Marius withdrew without saying a single word he had come to say.

As he withdrew, Siegfried had the hints of a smile on his face.

“The more one thinks of themselves as competent, the easier it is to predict their actions.”

***

As the Northern company of 30,000 elite troops set off southward to their destination of the capital Lorentia, the Lester Kingdom fell into a state of panic. With the kingdom’s military strength hitting rock bottom after the decisive defeat of the First Prince’s royalist army, the march of the 30,000 Northern soldiers was nothing short of a calamity.

King August immediately called an emergency meeting to devise a counterplan, but only two-thirds of the summoned nobles appeared at the meeting. Of the nobles that did not show up, a considerable number had been killed in action as part of the First Prince’s subjugation army or packed their bags and fled to other lands upon hearing of the North’s advance. On top of that, it was not like the nobles that were participating had the will to fight.

“…and so, I do believe the right path forward is to transfer the royal prerogative to the Second Prince and end things in relative peace, Your Majesty.”

“Your Majesty, if we officially recognize some territories of the Central region – along with the North – as the Second Prince’s lands, there still remains a possibility of convincing him.”

“Hang on, then who will convince the Central nobles to hand over their lands?”

“This crisis will convince them. They must cooperate. And if they don’t, then by force we will…”

“That plan will divide this country into two. Rather, allowing the Second to inherit the crown will be…”

“Ahem! The Second Prince proclaimed his support for Republicanism. There are whispers that he has gone so far as to wed into the Hildes Republic. How would anyone acknowledge his royal right?!”

Watching his vassals engage in a heated argument in the royal hall, King August was trembling as he clenched his fists.

‘Does the Lester Kingdom end with me?’

Not a single noble gathered in this hall pondered how to stop the Northern troops led by the Second Prince. They only considered how best they could surrender to preserve their own wealth and power, to the point where they were blatantly claiming that the crown must be handed over, despite the king of the nation being right before them. More than being unsettled, the king was brimming with rage – but he could not punish these nobles. That needed to wait until all this was over.

‘Is there truly no way out?’

King August was neither skilled at running state affairs, nor assessing and responding to the tides of war. The abilities he developed as a king were his skill in dividing the nobles so as to strengthen his grip on the throne, and his knack for politics consisted of eliminating his political enemies through backend conspiracies. In essence, his political prowess only amounted to behind-the-back methods that could not be carried out in the open. In a crisis that threatened the nation such as this, there was next to nothing he could do.

“Why has Skyt not shown himself?”

King August demanded, unable to spot the First Prince who had thrown away a colossal force of 80,000 men.

If the First Prince had not failed in his subjugation in the first place, or even retreated a little quicker so they had a more complete force to defend with, they would not be in this crisis that threatened their very existence. Yet the prince did not come to this meeting to take responsibility for his failures.

One of the First Prince’s vassals cautiously chimed in.

“As I am aware, His Highness the prince is being treated in his residence for a wound that is exacerbating.”

No one believed his feeble excuse. There was no one who hadn’t heard that the First Prince was spending all day drinking and playing around with women like the defeatist he was, wretched and pitiful after failing in his invasion.

“How could the greatest cause of this state of affairs not attend this meeting? Isn't this rather irresponsible?”

“Indeed. His Highness the First Prince must take responsibility for giving rise to this national crisis.”

“Let us send some men to bring him in at once. In fact, I’ll go get him myself.”

The large majority of the nobles insisted that the prince needed to make amends for his sins. The nobles that were part of the First Prince’s faction could only remain in silence with bowed heads. It was true that their strength had greatly shrunk from the prince’s failure to put down this rebellion. With all the voices they had, there was not a single line they could say in objection.

It was then that a single man entered the royal hall. Though it had been a while since this meeting had been convened, this man’s entrance brought instance silence to the rowdy conference hall. His presence simply carried that much gravity.

“Your Majesty, I, your loyal subject Sean Palan, have come in response to your summons. I must apologize for my belated entrance, for there were some matters to attend to.”

“Ah… Duke Palan. I thank the gods that you are with us.”

King August’s overcast face brightened up for the first time since this meeting commenced.

The Lester Kingdom’s only Master: his existence was King August’s last hope.

After paying his respects to the king, Duke Palan scanned his surroundings. No one dared to meet eyes with him, bowing their heads hastily when he turned towards them. The Duke clicked his tongue.

‘They have the gall to call themselves nobles…’

He asked them first.

“I have joined the meeting a tad late… may someone please enlighten me on what discussion has been shared?”

The nobles eyed each other warily before a few opened up, choosing their words carefully.

“The Northern army has much power, and the Capital is currently lacking in strength. If possible, we are leaning towards the path of making amends and creating an amicable relationship forward. It does appear to be the best option.”

“Indeed. After all, His Highness Prince Byron was originally a well-acquainted heir to the throne of our Lester Kingdom. It has been suggested that permitting him to succeed the throne, thus preserving the kingdom, is the most realistic way forward.”

“Furthermore, the North could be acknowledged as an independent nation-”

“Enough.”

Duke Palan cut them off. He openly sneered at them.

“I believe that’s enough barking from the dogs. Is there anyone here who can speak the language of man?”

The nobles turned bright red with humiliation. Although he was this nation’s one and only Duke, this was still a serious insult. For nobles that maintained their honor like it was their life, this was something that simply could not stand.

However…

 “What is the matter? By all means, challenge me to a duel of honor if you have a complaint. I'm short on time, so let's take care of it all today." 

No one came forward. Perhaps they concluded their lives were more precious than their honor, unlike what they spouted on the regular.

After shutting them up, Duke Palan turned back towards King August.

“Your Majesty, Prince Byron has dared to turn towards Republicanism and raise the banner of revolt in our nation. We absolutely must not make peace or delegate the crown.”

King August was reinvigorated at his words – but his feelings and reality were starkly different.

“At present, my traitor of a son is leading an army of 30,000 to the Capital. We scarcely have 5000 men after mustering all the troops.”

30,000 versus 5000. The Second Prince had six times the number of men they had. Even if a Master such as Duke Palan were to enter battle, he would not be able to bridge this gap.

But the Duke assured the anxious king with an expression flowing with confidence.

“5000 will be enough. If Your Majesty were to delegate full authority to me, your loyal vassal, I will drive out the treasonous rebels without fail.”

These were the words that King August was most looking forward to hearing.

“Truly, will that be possible?”

“Yes. I only ask for all authority to be delegated to me.”

“To you, good man? I will most certainly give to you full powers over the army-”

“I talk not only of the right of command. I will require you to entrust me with the treatment protocol for prisoners of war, as well as the authority to dispense rewards and punishments as I see fit after the war – everything.”

King August’s eyes widened.

“Even the power to reward and punish wartime conduct? Why would that…?”

At the king’s query, Duke Palan gazed at the nobles around him one by one.

“It is to remove the parasites that attempt to benefit off the war we wage when none of them contributed. Such worms have a tendency to deteriorate the men’s morale.”

In other words, this was so he could keep the other nobles in check and stop them from intervening in his command of their own accord. The other nobles were once again humiliated, but as expected, could not object. And King August’s decision was…

“I see. I will delegate to you all the authority that you desire.”

King August rose from his throne, approached Duke Palan, and gave him his ceremonial sword.

“From this moment forth, I delegate to Duke Sean Palan all the authorities for this war, and delegate to him the further power of judgment for wartime conduct in the postwar period. Duke Palan will lead the soldiers and put down the North’s treasonous rebellion at once.”

“I humbly receive the decree of Your Majesty.”

With that, the one and only Master of the Lester Kingdom, Duke Palan, departed to suppress the rebels of the North with 5000 troops under his command.

No one knew at the time why Duke Palan requested for not only full wartime authority but the legal powers to process wartime conduct afterward. And no one knew from whose mind this plan was hatched.

***

“Duke Palan is mobilizing?”

Of course, the Second Prince had also heard about Duke Palan entering the war. After leaving the Northern region, the Second Prince’s army had garnered a series of one-sided victories as they made their way southward without a hitch. Most of the lords that were responsible for slowing their advance surrendered, or otherwise could not put up an adequate resistance. Despite this, what had kept them on guard was the presence of Duke Sean Palan in the Capital.

“So he joined the fight at last. Though we did expect it…”

The words Marquis Marius sighed out also reflected the other Northern nobles’ sentiments. A significant factor allowing the Strabus Kingdom to recently flip its circumstances on its head after being beaten so one-sidedly was the participation of their Masters. Although it was not like they were facing three Masters deployed at once, as was the case with the Strabus Kingdom, the presence of a Master was nevertheless not to be taken lightly.

“How large are their forces?”

“Word is that they number 5000 men.”

“5000? Are you sure?”

The prince did a double-take on his messenger’s report.

“There’s no mistaking it, Your Highness. This report is consistent across all the spies and long-distance reconnoiters we have planted in the Capital.”

“5000… it’s not insignificant.”

The force of 30,000 they set off with suffered almost no losses as they continued their way down to the Capital, due to many of the nobles in the outer regions surrendering. Instead, this number had increased. This was because the lords that surrendered were half-intimidated into providing support in the form of additional troops. Though it was going to be difficult to utilize them properly due to their unfamiliarity with a different command system, the new addition of 8000 men would prove useful for assisting in the supply line from the rear – or as arrow fodder pincushions on the front lines.

Now that they totaled 38,000 troops, they actually numbered seven times the enemy.

“Master he may be, but we should match up to Duke Palan with this much, can't we?”

Marquis Marius answered from the prince’s side.

“There is no doubt that we can contend him. Yet…”

“Yet what is the matter?”

“Duke Palan should also be aware of that fact. His aim for a conventional victory despite this means he has something in mind, or is simply that confident.”

“Mmm…”

The prince nodded, recognizing that his uncle had a point.

In truth, the First and Second Princes were not all that different in terms of competence. They were both sorely incompetent compared to how prideful they were, and were easily swung this way and that by influencers around them. If there was one aspect that made the Second Prince ever so slightly better than the First, it was that he was a more worrying man. Because he worried, he had doubts even when matters appeared to be settled, and that worry occasionally lent itself to prudence. Though it was certainly not a great difference, the Second Prince was marginally better than the First in this respect. It was worth mentioning, however, that the First Prince’s advantage over the Second was that his wife was sharp.

Marquis Marius continued.

“Your Highness, another way to see it is that Duke Palan’s departure from the Capital is an opportunity for us.”

“What do you mean?”

“We do not necessarily need to win against Duke Palan. Our objective is ultimately to capture the Capital.”

The Second Prince looked enticed by the Marquis’s words.

“Do you have an idea?”

“Please, if I may lean over…”

Marquis Marius whispered something into the prince’s ear, and he brightly laughed.

“You are my uncle indeed. An excellent idea.”

“Your praise is too much, Your Highness.”

Marquis Marius responded modestly, though his expression was one of confidence. Truth be told, the Marquis felt a sense of inferiority at the fact that Duke Palan was able to reach the status he did and shine so brightly entirely with his own strength. Though Palan was indeed a Master, Marius did not like that a Margrave such as himself – that had protected the Northern border as entrusted to his House since his ancestors – could not receive the position of Duke while this man could.

‘Duke Palan. I will show you that no matter how strong you are, there is a limit to what one can achieve alone.’

A desire to prove that his resourcefulness surpassed Duke Palan’s strength blazed forth.

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