Rakuin no Monshou:Volume3 Chapter1
Chapter 1: Imperial Capital Departure
A sparrow wandered astray over the stone pavings.
It cocked its head once, twice, perplexed by a feeling of estrangement and then flapped its wings in a fluster.
Immediately following, a gust of wind rushed past as a gigantic shadow soared overhead. At a glance, it might be seen as a living creature. Its long neck, a ferocious face baring its fangs, and its large wings spread at its sides—a wyvern.
Alas, things like winged dragons did not inhabit this continent. Its howl, shrill as the creaking of metal, sounded from the humming of its ether engine, and its skin was the weightless metal, dragonstone, lightly painted over in bronze. Namely, this was the Mephius Empire’s airship.
These man-made wyverns carrying pilots in their bosoms took off from the ground in succession.
Orba looked up to watch them, his hand forming a visor over his eyes.
Flying front was the man named Neil Thompson, and simply being fairly skilled made him stand out greatly above the rest. Neil beautifully tilted the ship’s wings to a turn as the other ships frantically chased after it, like chicks straying from its mother.
But the one Orba hurled words of anger towards amongst them following their momentary return was Neil.
“This is no place to make a show of your theatrics! Pay more attention to the others! You won’t be able to do anything by yourself on the battlefield. Now, have another go.”
Pressed on by Orba—or to them, the first crown prince of the Imperial Dynasty of Mephius, Gil Mephius—the pilots hurriedly launched off to the skies in their ships once more.
“You don’t have to be so snappy, do you? I think they’re doing on the better side.”
Orba roughly shook off Shique who came snuggling onto his shoulder.
“It doesn’t matter how well they do for ‘slaves’. You think I can be satisfied with such a level?”
The parade ground near the Imperial Guards’ barracks, a small-scale gladiator arena was rebuilt. Small as it may be called, its extensive interior housed an airship runway and to add, was situated beside the dragons’ stable.
“But you know, Orba,” the bronzen faced Gowen spoke, “it’s not even been a month since you started the airship unit. There’s not much you can do even if you’re running out of patience.”
“I wouldn’t have expected to hear that from you. You’re the one who sent me out to kill in under two weeks of teaching me how to hold a sword.”
“There’s no meaning in using slaves as a comparison, is there?” Gowen replied, directing Orba’s words back at him. “There are different circumstances now compared to then. You can’t buy however much of them as you want.”
Even if these former slaves didn’t fall behind soldiers in terms of individual skill, they had trouble cooperating in numbers. And it was because it was Gowen, who was retraining the infantry comprising of the swords slaves from scratch, saying this that these words held persuasive power.
Orba said no more. His face twisted slightly in pain as he moved to cross his arms. His right arm was dressed in bandages and stood hanging.
—Roughly half a month had passed since the disturbance caused by Zaat Quark’s rebellion. Injured from the series of battles during the gladiator’s tournament and to further add, being shot by Zaat Quark, his body naturally had yet to recover. However one week prior, Orba was summoned by the emperor and ordered to head for the southern city of Apta—the land taken in the ten year strife with Garbera and the very fortress city his brother Roan had been drafted to. There was no time for him to allow his body to rest. Just when Shique and Gowen thought he was holing himself up in his room buried under a mountain of books, they’d find him zealously directing the Imperial Guard’s training like so.
“Ah, there you go, quiet again.” Shique shrugged his shoulders in jest. “We get indescribably uneasy when you turn silent. I can’t help thinking that you might be getting weird thoughts again.”
At that time, a lively voice sounded.
“A wonderful sight, isn’t it!”
When he heard this voice which was out of place in this brutish location, Orba’s face tensed for some reason.
Gowen and Shique were slightly amused at seeing this and shifted their gaze taking a smile.
“It pains me to say that it is not anything much for a proper lady to see.”
The one they laid sight on was Garbera’s third princess, Vileena Owell, accompanied by her maid Theresia. Her platinum hair shone a transparent white under the morning sun. She had been forced into the women’s chambers since her coming to Mephius, but with her efforts flying the airship together with the prince during Zaat’s rebellion, she seemed to have been given a relative amount of freedom as of late. Two days ago after mentioning how the Imperial Guards were doing air training at breakfast, she had exclaimed ‘I simply must watch’.
The young girl’s eyes squinted as they followed the airships’ movements, and her cheeks flushed lightly.
She’s an unusual princess.
Orba strongly reaffirmed this thought.
After the mission at Apta ended, they would formally become married—as Emperor Guhl had declared, but that was ultimately only said to Gil and not openly announced. With the progress in discussions over the wedding obscure, Vileena was as she had always been, in an insecure position.
“His Highness is a perfectionist after all,” Shique commented, intentionally returning to the previous conversation. “He tells them ‘fly shoulder to shoulder with the Garberan airship platoon’ within under a month of training.”
—say that, he tried to refute, but before he could continue...
“There is always a beginning to everything. Air training in particular comes with accidents. If you do not pay careful attention to the pilots’ condition, the ship’s maintenance and such, then your platoon will assuredly be destroyed before you can achieve its desired growth, your Highness.”
With regard to airships, Vileena was an expert. She spoke proudly in a sharp tone with her childish face.
“But there also isn’t much time left until departure.”
Orba averted his gaze from Vileena who tried to confront him directly.
“Is it not all right if you also perform them in Apta, your Highness?” Shique said. “It’s as if you believe, Ax might try to commence war the very day we arrive in Apta.”
Zaat’s rebellion had been quelled by Orba’s hand, but because it happened during the founding festival where a good number of envoys had been invited, news of it reached the surrounding countries. Furthermore, there were reports of suspicious activity from the Taúlia province located southwest to Mephius around the same time.
Taúlia bordered the Aptan region. It was probable, Taúlia’s governing general, Ax Bazgan, would target the moment Apta was returned by Garbera and advance his army there.
However, with Zaat’s rebellion, Guhl Mephius was in a precarious situation where he could not trust his retainers, even those serving him longest. For that reason, Guhl had appointed his born son, Gil, to be the commander of Apta’s troops, deeming it inappropriate to divide his troops to fend off invasion.
“It’ll only be trouble if I don’t get them ready as soon as possible. I’ve realised since Zaat’s incident. No matter how peacefully we may have joined with Garbera, the flames of dissent are always at our feet even within our country’s borders. There’s no harm in being too prepared.”
“Speaking of Zaat Quark, I have not seen Ineli since the incident. Have you met with her since then, prince?”
The unexpected name left Orba half startled. “No.” He shook his head. Vileena angrily knit her eyebrows.
“Please also pay some attention to things outside of military affairs. Being taken prisoner by Zaat surely must have given her a fright. Is she not shutting herself in her room? I have been meaning to visit her, but what say you we go together?”
“Well, that is…”
Orba wasn’t sure what to say. As Vileena had mentioned, Ineli was taken prisoner by Zaat in the midst of the uproar. And in front Orba and Vileena who went to save her, she had a gun thrust at her. But what went through Orba’s mind now wasn’t that, but the scene he had seen at the party during the founding festival; the one where Ineli and Vileena glared at one another by the fountain.
The Garberan princess seemed to have already long forgotten their discord, but as for Ineli, he didn’t believe she would be as forgiving. Rather, judging from her personality, being saved by the Vileena she hated and so detested, she would have felt it humiliating.
“I think it’s best if you don’t.”
“Why do you say so?”
“Well, the thing is, if she’s received a shock from that incident, it’s best to gently leave it alone. If either I or the princess go see her, it might bring back the memories and do more harm than good.”
“See, princess? It’s as I told you.” Theresia said. “I am of the same opinion of as His Highness. It’s best to quietly leave Ineli alone precisely if you’re worried about her.”
“What is this. The prince, and Theresia as well, are treating my feelings as if they were an oblivious child’s.”
Her face quickly fell into a sulk and she stomped her small feet against the ground. In fact, it was because it was exactly as she said that Orba was lost for words. She was overall a quick-witted princess albeit young, but when it came to the subtleties in personal relations, she was poorly informed.
Orba unintentionally sent a look over to Theresia.
It must be tough.
The princess’ maid was momentarily surprised, then slightly turned her eyes down and chuckled in agreement.
Orba was also surprised. He had expressed his sentiments towards Theresia, but it was as ‘Orba’. Not the crown prince. That was probably why Theresia had also been surprised.
“Now,” Orba spoke up in an attempt to try to smooth things over. “I will, then, patiently wait out the airship unit’s results. I, am going to check out the dragon’s situ—”
Orba turned to look at the dragon’s stable by the parade ground, but right at that moment, he saw several figures heading this way. In front, skipping her way towards them, was a petite girl. Coming up to Orba, Lannie Lorgo stopped and tugging her skirt, made a bow.
“Fare greetings, your Imperial Highness.”
She was daughter of Mephius’ general, Odyne Lorgo, and thirteen years old. Though a young girl, she had saddled on top a dragon’s back during the founding festival and carried out the coming-of-age ceremony.
“Hurry and come over. Oh Romus, even though you’re not afraid of dragons, you’re helplessly shy around people.”
She loudly called over the young boy timidly toddling behind. As always, his greetings in front of the prince were soft.
“Really, you’re spineless.”
“No, it’s not that he’s spineless, but that milady here is strong,” Orba jested. “Your courage is promising. However, the dragons’ stable isn’t suitable as a playground.”
“Oh my. It’s not that we are strolling around here for no apparent reason, prince,” Lannie responded disapprovingly in a lady-like manner. “Romus has been coming here everyday and as his senior I’ve gotten concerned for him.”
“Oh? Is Romus aspiring to be a dragoon?”
“He is not, your highness. Romus, you’re really here for the dragon, aren’t you? It’s not that you’re longing to become a dragoon, right?”
“W-what’s that to do with you.”
Romus’ face reddened. There was one other coming from the dragon stable’s direction. The dragon trainer Hou Ran was assigned as part of the prince’s Imperial Battalion. It seemed she was looking over the dragoon’s training. Even if she wasn’t, she was usually here at the stable caring for the dragons all day.
“There’s no need to worry about Romus.”
Ran said outright, as if she had heard the conversation from start to end.
“He’s gotten even more used to dragons than Orba. In another half year, he might be able to hear and understand their ‘voice’. There’s little to no chance he will get attacked even at the dragon’s stable.”
Theresia breathed a gasp of wonder. She found not only Ran’s nomadic appearance unusual, but also the combination of her proportional body, dark skin, and pale hair to be strangely alluring.
“If that’s what you say, I’m sure that’s how it is. How is the dragoons’ condition? And have you sorted the dragons we will take with us to Apta?”
“I can somehow manage if I’m with them. As long as they’re within my eye’s reach. No one here has even a fragment of Romus’ talent. More than sorting the dragons Orba will need to sort the soldiers.”
“Also, aren’t the dragons we’re bring with us a bit too many to not be using the carrier? With the numbers Orba’s said, it’s more than I can manage.”
“Not using the carrier?”
Shique raised his voice in alarm.
“Why? Marching to Apta in file will take a week. Transporting the dragons and weapons would also be more convenient with a carrier.”
“Because I want to be seen off and cheered by the people.”
Orba’s response was blunt. It was times like these his behaviour denoted a reluctance to voice his thoughts any further. Because Shique and Gowen understood this, they made no further protest, bearing a look that said here we go again.
“Orba, is it.”
But Princess Vileena’s attention seemed to be hung on something else. The thought “oh crap” could be read on the prince’s face.
“A considerable amount of trust sure is placed on that swordsman. It was also the case at the founding festival, but it seems he has been tasked with several important duties this time as well.”
“Ah, yeah. He’s...handy.”
Orba gibbered, stealthily sneaking a glare at Ran’s direction. Vileena became slightly indignant.
“However, he appeared to have been injured a good deal from the arena. Although, you yourself have also suffered injuries, how about you heed your subjects a bit more.”
“Uh, yeah, you’re right.”
“Despite how strong a person you yourself may be, that is not always the case for others. Above all, prince, your numbers mustn’t diminish anymore. If you don’t allow them a word and only have them quietly obey you, no matter how fine a swordsman Orba is, even he will eventually...”
At that moment, Ran snorted. For an instant, everyone was bewildered by the almost outright scorn. Who this was directed towards they did not know.
“Orba seems to be rather favoured by the princess.”
Her lips swerved into a thin, open smile, and then she turned her back, promptly returning to the dragon’s housing. Romus hurriedly chased after her, and Lannie subsequently followed in a dash. Orba and everyone else saw them off, stupefied.
“That young lady,” Theresia spoke shortly after adding in a cough, “isn’t she somewhat lacking in her manners? To act like that when the crown prince and Princess Vileena are present...”
“Ah. I’m truly ashamed. I apologize on behalf of my daughter’s discourtesy.”
The adopted father Gowen lowered his greying head. It was Orba’s first time seeing him bow down his large frame.
But Theresia also wasn’t truly angry. As evidence of that,
“That young lady,” she said once more, leaving a pause as if add weight, “Is she Sir Orba’s lover?”
“A-Absurd. —Why would you think that?”
“It is no such thing as absurd. I only felt that was how it was.”
“And I’m asking, why?”
“Now why, I wonder. I instead find the prince’s manner of disarray strangely odd. This might even be a harbinger of love for Sir Orba.”
Absurd! Orba muttered once more, facing away. He had known Hou Ran for over two years, but never noticed any attraction towards her. It might have been because he hadn’t, or that he shouldn’t have had any, that having this suddenly pointed out disturbed him.
For some time after, Orba and the others inattentively watched over the airship unit’s training. Shortly before the hour of noon, Vileena excused herself and Theresia from the platform. The princess would also be accompanying them to Apta. They had said there was still packing to be done.
When Orba finally thought he could take a breath of air, he overheard some unexpected words from Shique.
“The princess isn’t in too high of spirits is she.”
“Really? I don’t see any big difference from usual. If that’s her in low spirits, then the usual Vileena will be a far tougher opponent than Ryucown and Pashir.”
“Orba...right, you don’t understand the subtleties of women.”
“Does a misogynist have any right to say that?”
“It’s not that I hate them because I don’t understand them. It’s because I understand them too much that I hate them.”
Back in the days when he was a gladiator, Shique was exceptionally popular with women. There were many noblewomen piling up large sums of gold before the slave merchant Tarkas to be his patron. And to each and every one of them, Shique refused and snorted at them.
“Then again, it isn’t really that complicated. She probably knows about the rumours of ongoing tension between Garbera and Ende. Of course, she’s not a princess that wouldn’t grieve knowing of her home’s hardships.”
“It’s hard to say Garbera has fully recovered from Ryucown’s previous rebellion,” Gowen agreed. “It’s the same for Mephius, but at the least, we were able to stop it before it occurred. To others, you could even say it’s been put out. But they experienced betrayal from one of their most famed generals. It’s certain to have a lasting effect.”
“I could care less about other countries’ troubles,” Orba promptly parted the remark. He then called captain Neil back, bringing the training to an end. A separate unit was scheduled for training hereafter. With Pashir included, they consisted of the slaves from the recent rebellion whom Orba had added to his forces. Having once taken advantage of the opportunity provided by Zaat and attempting a rebellion, he could not just appoint them as regular soldiers and thus had designated them war slaves under the Imperial Guard’s command.
Orba had no business here. He had already earned the resentment of the slaves by having obstructed the rebellion and had no intention of possibly aggravating them further by remaining to watch.
On this note, he entrusted their training to Gowen. A man originally a supervisor over sword slaves and versed in drills.
“I’ll leave the rest to you.”
Orba double-timed out of the parade ground.
Shique, who had stayed behind, took notice of Gowen’s sudden masked snicker.
“What’s the matter?”
“No, it’s just how he said ‘I’ll leave the rest to you.’ That damn little squirt’s position has sure changed in under two years.”
“And he’s gotten frightfully used to it too.”
“The weird one isn’t only him, but me who’s also grown used to these positions.”
“Yeah.” Shique strangely broke into a grin. “I’m no longer surprised by anything he says or does. If I don’t get used to that, it’ll only ruin my health.”
As Shique gave his agreement with a smile, Gowen watched Orba’s retreating figure in the distance.
“It would be good if it was only a problem of getting used to. Lately, he’s been devoting himself too much to being the crown prince.”
That single phrase, heard by no one, disappeared into the blowing sand and wind.
Solon saw the coming of noon.
‘Emperor Guhl Mephius has stopped smiling.’ Orba had lost count how many times he had heard these murmurings inside the palace.
The former emperor often joked in front of his retainers and filled the halls with his jovial voice—he’d heard. Orba himself had only met him a handful of times since pretending to be his actual son, so he didn’t know of this ‘former’ emperor.
Most notably, the emperor didn’t so much as chuckle after Zaat’s rebellion. His lips swerved into frowns, and he constantly rested his face against his hands in ill humour.
I get chills every time he looks at me.
These whispers he had also heard countlessly.
The emperor worked endlessly towards increasing the imperial family’s—or more precisely, the emperor’s—authority.
“There is no longer anyone who can make a single objection to His Majesty.”
Fedom had muttered shortly before with a near trembling face.
“If these were vassals such as Colyne satisfied with readily following orders, that might be good in itself...however, for prideful nobles like myself who harbour the slightest thought for Mephius’ future, should even that pride be considered a nuisance that we may be dismissed by the emperor, we might as well be dead.”
There’s Simon Rodloom.
Orba first conjured that name. At the time of the festival when Orba joined the emperor for breakfast, he had stated his own opinions without fear of the emperor. Whatmore, it was directly after Zaat had been confined.
If it’s that man, wouldn’t he fearlessly oppose the emperor without thought of personal gain or self-protection when necessary?
Orba twisted his lips, taken by these mysterious thoughts. He would have never believed himself to recognise a Mephian noble even a little bit as a person back when he was a gladiator.
Currently, directly in front of Orba, his head bowed continuing his prayers with his eyes fixed on no particular point, was that very emperor, Guhl Mephius.
At the Black Tower, centre of the imperial capital of Solon.
The soldiers assigned as lookouts recognised Orba and gave a bow. They were his guide and proceeded towards the tower’s underground. They passed by numerous people. They were half bare men carrying excavated rocks and rubble. Most were slaves or criminals.
In this underground was a certain Dragon God Mausoleum, currently in the midst of construction. While the Dragon God’s Temple was being built in a location closer to the palace, the entirety of the mausoleum would be transferred here.
The emperor was ahead at their place of destination. He stood before an enormous carving depicting the Dragon God’s form. This was the place they held the rituals to pray for abundant harvests directly before the festival had begun. This painting would also eventually be carved out and be established within the temple.
Orba politely gave words of greeting, but the emperor replied with only a grunt and nod, and occupied himself in issuing orders to the surrounding people.
He waited for a time—a long time.
Ten minutes must have passed, when the emperor stepped forth from the row of people. Orba once again lowered his head.
“I will set out the day after tomorrow.”
The emperor passed by him showing no signs of stopping, but then suddenly halted and peered into Orba’s face.
“You’re growing more and more to resemble your mother.”
“Ha, hahah. I-Is that so?”
Even the famed gladiator found himself dripping in cold sweat. Then the emperor resumed walking again and Orba followed behind.
“It is not only your face. There are many who say you’ve changed into a different person, and it’s them following with such compliments as saying you’ve inherited my blood that irks me so.”
“I only received advice from my men.”
Behind and in front of them were Imperial Guards directly under the emperor assigned guard, but they kept their distance. Within the naturally chilly cave workings, the surroundings fell into an eerie silence as the voices and figures of the slaves grew further.
“Was that also the same with regards to Zaat? You happened to get advice from someone? Surely it wasn’t from me. I wasn’t given a single notice.”
“Yes. N-no, I mean—the one who planned it was me. Only, I was somewhat uneasy over my own thoughts and went to Fedom to receive his wisdom. However, I had consulted him without mentioning Zaat’s name, nor informing him of the situation’s urgency, merely as an assumption,” Orba quickly replied.
“And whose suggestion was it to purposely aim at the time of Zaat’s rebellion? Had I been immediately notified, I could have quietly subdued Zaat without the ambassadors and guests from abroad noticing.”
The emperor stopped walking. There was no path ahead, only a cliff looming 50 metres tall. The dim light of a single candle placed on the walls flickered over the shadow cast on the emperor’s face.
“I do not plan to excuse myself for my actions. I wanted...an accomplishment that would make me be recognized by many. I didn’t consider the lives of the soldiers and ambassadors—It was thoughtless of me. I beg your forgiveness.”
“That’s wrong, isn’t it?”
The emperor flatly concluded. He refaced Orba, who took a deep gulp.
“No, it is wrong. You don’t trust in me.”
“You only wanted an accomplishment? If there is a part of you that has changed, it’s how you would even dare mouth such as insolent excuse towards me above all.”
The recesses of his eyes reflected the colour of the flames and seemed to wrap around his body and soul like a snake. Orba said nothing, only shamefully lowering his head.”
“I see. So a dragon’s child is a dragon. For we imperials who succeed the blood of the Dragon God Mephius, it may be that even you cannot forever stay a dragonling.”
The word’s echo held neither conceit nor scorn. The emperor walked towards Orba who continued facing down.
“However, it seems you take much more strongly after your mother than I. It’s not only your face but your character. In the end, you stray from the Mephius imperial customs and are unable to open your heart to me; you’ve inherited that frail trait.”
After gazing into his face one last time, he passed his shoulder.
“Very well. If you’ve begun to sprout a dragon’s wings, then I’ll have you match up to that expectation and keep Ax Bazgan in place. After two weeks, Oubary’s forces shall join yours. If it’s to protect the fortress alone, those forces should be more than sufficient.”
At that moment, a single hot flame lit within Orba’s chilled heart.
Amongst the forces Orba was bringing to Apta, there would also be fifty men borrowed from Oubary’s Black Helmet Division. Oubary himself would be dispatched to the southeastern parts of Mephius along with his 500 men. Several days after Zaat’s rebellion, slaves revolted in the southeastern Kiluro, and he had been tasked with suppressing them.
During the uproar at the Grand Stadium, Oubary had disappeared quite quickly, resulting in doubts and animosity from the emperor and statesmen. It had, therefore, become hard for him to stay in Solon and he also likely wanted to use this to wipe clean his bad name.
“Use them as you please. You may wield your powers as commander to your heart’s content. In return, I won’t have any complaint no matter the circumstance. Either way, you consider me beneath your notice. Any worry would be meaningless.”
The emperor receded away from Orba into the distance along with his ringing echo, this time it being rich in ridicule. Orba breathed a sigh of relief, grateful he had somehow managed to end this without his identity being exposed. At the same time, an unfamiliar feeling passed him.
Are all fathers meant to be like this? That they hate and deplore their own sons—or is it because they are nobles that they’re so strange.
Orba held no memories of his father. However, he did know the faces of everyone in his home village. There was a mountain of adults that looked after him like a father. There were those who severely scolded his troublemaker self, and then also those who laughed, telling him how they were also the same in the past. Back during those days, Orba thought they were all annoying, but now having lost even that, he found the memories even a little nostalgic.
Urged by the heated flame lit within him, Orba suddenly called out to the emperor.
Turning around, his face displayed a candid annoyance. Orba slowly raised his downturned eyes.
“If I may ‘use them as I please’, then I take it you don’t mind if I use those forces to take Ax’s head.”
“And on the break of that dawn that I may also have the fortress city Taúlia Ax occupies.”
A still, heavy silence weighed on Orba’s shoulders.
Some tens of seconds later,
The emperor shouted as loud as permitted him. And then he burst into a welling laughter.
“You nitwit, I said you could do as you pleased. Go ahead! I’d like to see this dunce of a dragonling that can barely flap his wings try!”
Because of standing rumours that the emperor had stopped smiling, even the distant imperial soldiers had come running in surprise at the sound of his bursting laughter. Stopping them with the rise of his hand, the emperor gave a further sneer and departed.
In the little remaining time before his departure, Orba was drowned in the flood of documents, books, and papers delivered to his room.
These documents listed the names of the commanding officers and captains amongst the soldiers accompanying him. Amongst the members of the Black Helmet Division was Bane’s name. He was someone Orba had incidentally requested when speaking with the assistant commander of the Black Helmet Division over the party’s formation. At that time, the date for Oubary’s main forces to set out was also drawing near, and any conflicting opinions being a waste of time may have been why it was easily agreed to.
In terms of ability, Bane was nothing much. Over the course of six years, his position had stopped at captain, meaning he most likely earned barely any achievements in the ten year war. But for Orba, there was a reason for his irrepressible want for him.
And amongst the war slaves, Pashir’s name was of course present. In the days following the founding festival’s ‘Clovis’ Dragon Extermination’ Orba had not met him once, but according to Gowen’s testimony, he was obediently undergoing practice and drills at the time being. Also present, as the war slaves’ steward, was the name of Mira, who’d also attended the sword slaves at Solon’s grand stadium.
The rest he roughly glanced over. At the end of the list were the names of aspiring applicants that either wanted to join Orba’s forces or take on administrative roles in Apta. The majority were of noble descent; names of poor nobles or late sons of prestiged houses.
“Even though they’re the same nobles, they seem to each have their own circumstances.”
The chamberlain, Dinn, brought over a fresh batch of books to him.
“My arms are already swollen.” The boy winced from looking at the mountain of books stacked high in the room.
“Don’t tell me you plan on training even me and sending me out to the battlefield.”
“You said it.”
Orba took a newly delivered book into his hand and flipped through its pages. It contained mostly the histories of countries neighbouring Mephius and compiled summaries of their current state and situation.
After what happened with Noue and Zaat, Orba fully realised he had absolutely no knowledge on these matters. Information was crucial in battles. He had experienced this first hand in his childhood days, and since then Orba always wanted to gather as much information on hand as possible. Of course, storing up information alone wasn’t enough, but having information provided from others’ thoughts and perspectives would affect the very breadth of his thinking.
“What about that? There’s little of the vital information.”
“Do you mean of the current state of Taúlia and the western provinces? I’ve also been looking for them in as many ways as possible. What currently exist are only second hand copies based on a few books originating from countries to the northern coast. I admit even these books are outdated.”
“Mephian trade with the western world—in other words, the Tauran provinces—is banned. The former Zer Tauran was a country raised by the Bazgans, once Mephian vassals. Even now after Zer Tauran’s collapse, the Bazgan House continues to skirmish with us, and the other provinces are also ruled by Zer Tauran's successors.”
“But even then...no, it’s for this reason that he should at least send tens or even a hundred spies over.”
“Please say that directly to His Majesty. I have nothing to do with it.”
“If speaking directly with him would have had any effect, I would’ve learned everything I needed to from the start.”
Orba further flipped through the pages.
Feeling an inconsistency, he stopped his hands.
It wasn’t about how the emperor hadn’t handed him information on the west.
“Trade with the west is banned? How many years ago was this?”
“More than years, it should be decades, or even over a century. I don’t believe we ever signed a ceasefire or peace treaty since the Zer Tauran days.”
Closing the book, Orba stretched his legs over the table. “Here you go again,” Dinn reprimanded but Orba did not budge. Once he started thinking, he would not break from the forest of thoughts until he came up with his own solution.
Dinn had grown used to it.
“Come along now, prince. Before you turn silent from your thoughts, please state what foods you would prefer. The palace master chef should take even more time, and I’ll have you know I won’t take ‘Anything’s fine’ for an answer!”
Dinn could do nothing but perform his own duties to his best.
The Solon west gates bustled with crowds coming to see off Prince Gil and his troops.
The group of cavaliers moving headfirst waved their spearflags while responding to the people’s cheers with waves of their hands.
Amongst those selected within the Imperial Guards was Shique. With vexingly good looks for a man, the refreshing figure of him mounted on his horse had particularly fanned the women and children’s heated cries.
As the dragoons under Oubary and the artillerymen under Odyne Lorgo went, the carriage carrying Princess Vileena came into sight along with the clattering sounds of its wheels. The joyous cheers as Vileena smiled and waved her hands out the window were noticeably high.
And as a new group of horsemen appeared behind as if guarding her rear, the streets were filled with a series of stirs different from previous ones.
Saddled on his gallant white horse, was Mephius’ crown prince Gil Mephius. His silver armour lavishly reflected the sun’s rays as if emitting a powerful radiance. And contrastively to his side was a black horse. Mounted was the iron masked gladiator. The pair was sent a frenzied applause.
“Look, it’s the ‘Clovis’, Orba!”
The combination of the young prince who rescued the country from a rebellion and his faithful masked warrior was a story worth passing down and heightened their popularity amongst the people.
Gil had limited himself to releasing one hand from the reins and lightly raising it, but Orba, probably unable to withstand the storm of cheers, wildly waved both arms, and suddenly stood straight up with both feet on the stirrup while having his horse do a light jump. Because the response was tremendous, he got carried away and did it multiple times, and in the end was nearly about to slip off the stirrup and fall.
“You idiot!” The mounted Gil—of course, this was the real Orba—shouted at him with a flushed face. “Behave yourself.”
The scolded Orba—the Imperial Guard Kain, who could also be said to be Orba’s body double—dejectedly dropped his shoulders. The cheers completely turned into a downpour of laughter.
“Well, I guess this could also be a form of extravagant publicity as we set out.”
Above the ramparts enclosing the gates was also the figure of Fedom Aulin.
He was the lord of Birac, but ever since he had disguised Orba as the prince, he had yet to return to his land even once. Although his family had also come to Solon for the festival, even when it was time for his wife and children to go back, he had insisted on staying in Solon, saying ‘I still have work to be done’.
“The prince has raised his name from his campaign against Ryucown and the incident with Zaat.” A tall young man, who at a glance appeared to be a boarder, whispered to him from beside. “This trend will make a good impetus for the people. It also denotes the continuation of the imperial family’s dignity.”
“Hmph—There are other ways if they care about their dignity. Look at those troops. They appear to be keeping their interval, but in the end, they’re a poorly patched bunch. Former sword slaves acting as imperial guards, war slaves that had only recently attempted rebellion, and a mere hundred nominated soldiers; if an army from Taúlia truly marched in at full might, forget a month, it’s unlikely they’d even last three days.”
Fedom did not see eye to eye with the rumours regarding Ax Bazgan’s suspicious movements. If Emperor Guhl was fully certain that Ax would come attack Apta then he would have reinforced the army a bit more.
I can’t imagine he would let him die this openly without batting an eye.
Fedom bitterly clicked his tongue as he heard the yet unceasing cheers towards Prince Gil. What set him impatient now most above all was the piece of news that claimed Guhl’s second wife Melissa was pregnant. It was no more than a rumour whispered within the palace, but if it were to be true, then he would change his stance on how he viewed this treatment towards the prince.
Curse you, Guhl. Do you intend to distance the prince who has gained a rise in popularity from the centre of politics?
He was irritated. Fedom Aulin was the perpetrator who had concealed the death of the actual Gil Mephius and set up the former gladiator Orba as a substitute. Of course, this was a large crime that if discovered would sentence his entire family and all those serving him to death. He continued his days coming off nights of insufficient sleep rushed by an impatience to get things done even a day sooner.
However, because Fedom originally took the stance of the anti-imperial faction, he required a different faction that would support the prince. He would have to gather those discontented towards the current emperor and not towards the very system of imperials, and who dreamed of advancement through a new order established under Prince Gil—a strengthened rectification of the country’s foundation, so to speak—if he did not want to end up like Ryucown who invested his life into a futureless rebellion.
Now, when things were finally beginning to take shape after discreetly taking ventures, and on a few occasions with ones dire enough to chill him down to his marrow, that Prince Gil was to be sent far off to the outlands that was also as well the country’s borders.
Naturally, he was not going to give up from this. In Fedom’s eyes, it might even be a good thing if a battle occurred at Apta once. Were the emperor to hesitate sending reinforcements during the prince’s crisis, then that would serve a common cause that might make it possible to remove the emperor from his seat.
The two weeks before Oubary’s forces join them will be the determiner, will it.
Then Fedom’s concern was on Orba who was more than likely to go off acting on his own and completely disregard his distresses. Then again, there was the difference in strength of forces and to add, his own forces were a cobbled together band that he could scarcely hope to take command of, so he shouldn’t really be able to move about as he pleased.
“Still—that rascal, he parted with some strange words.”
Directly before he departed, Orba had made Fedom an odd request. His troops would continue moving towards Apta by foot, it seemed. ‘I’d like you to let our flagship Doom temporarily anchor in Birac,’ Orba said.
“I’ll also leave a few winged dragon officers along with it. You can just leave the ship as is. They’ll move the ship when I’ll need it.”
“Why would you again do something so tedious?”
“It’s the thing called preparation. Don’t worry, just because you won’t be there doesn’t mean I’ll stop being his body double. The real prince should be remaining in Solon either way. I don’t know who’s targeting him, but you might as well look after him.”
“You seem to have grown quite fond of this game of war, prince.”
Fedom was busy carrying out his own plans.
“Be sure not to let your schemes get the better of you. If all you’re going to do is fortify the fortress’ defences, I won’t say a word. But just you try running rampant with your arbitrary actions and exceeding my patience. At that time...”
“I get it, Lord Fedom Aulin.”
Orba smiled lightly. Fedom had, to be honest, felt a shudder from that smile.
He resembles him, he had thought.
Not the real Gil Mephius. Instead, that moment Fedom felt him the splitting image of the father, Guhl Mephius, despite his appearance being entirely the same as Gil.
Before long the troops exited the gate and the cheers gradually came to a halt.
Fedom also began to leave and quickly called out to the young man who stood at the same spot as him.
“What’s wrong, Hermann. Is there something you’re uneasy about?”
The magician servant gently turned his head.
The man’s face was expressionless, and Fedom had long been unable to read him. Though there were times he appeared a young man, depending on the angle of lighting, there were times he appeared to far exceed Fedom in age. Fedom perked his fleshy shoulders.
“We also have a mountain of preparations to do. Many of them will require your insight. For the time being, I won’t forgive you going off on your own.”
“I do understand, milord.”
Hermann lightly nodded, but, as he was about to make his leave, he cast his glance once more across the walls towards the road the prince and his troops departed on.
He murmured in a small voice inaudible to even Fedom.
“‘His’ fate is certainly to move largely riding the ‘gale’. That speed is faster than my eyes can grasp.”
How strange. The ‘gale’ is certainly blowing and I can unmistakably see its direction. But the destination of the crucial ‘he’—this single future step, is darkly shut. What could this possibly—?
In this time of the year, Solon’s skies were clear. The untempered sunlight shone on the prince and his party’s armour and the resulting row of bending lights faded into the distance. Not too long after, they could no longer be seen from even the tallest of Solon’s towers.
“Have they gone?”
As for Emperor Guhl, he had not even gone to see them off and spent the entire time in his personal room performing various miscellaneous tasks.
The one responding was the former council president, Simon Rodloom.
“The prince is certainly in high spirits. He has unmistakably put his all in adorning his men in uniform.”
“He’s still a child, that one.”
“I quite enjoy it. Rather, it is by outstripping those childish traits one by one that he can steadily climb the steps towards adulthood.”
“You are patient,” the emperor grunted. ”In politics and in parenting both. What will you do about the problem of Rodloom house’s successor?”
Simon smiled bashfully.
He had two daughters; both of which were already married. Normally one would have entered one of the two husbands into the family register, but Simon had yet to decide. He had no particular qualms about their pedigree or personality but…
“I’m afraid if I rush the decision, I’ll grow old all at once.”
“How like you, Simon.”
The emperor nodded in assent without so much a laugh.
Is His Majesty tired?
Sometimes his emotions were fierce, such that they were as glaring as the Dragon God’s vigour, and just as frequently, sometimes his responses were like a completely withered flame.
“Two days back, if I remember correctly,” the emperor spoke, taking the chance to close his eyes, “Princess Vileena petitioned for an audience. What reason do you think for?”
“What could it be?...The case between Ende and Garbera, perhaps?”
“That may be. However, she did not touch on it with a single word and expressed her intent to give a farewell greeting. At the end, she declared, ‘In the near future, my fathers will number two. May you watch over your health.’”
In the situation something were to happen to Garbera, how would the allied Mephius move? Thoughts within the imperial court in regards to that were quite varied. As for Vileena, she had likely said it with the implied meaning ‘should that time come I pray you will come to Garbera’s aid’.
“A princess, brave and able to take action. Thoughts wishing Gil had even a fragment of her capacity have also crossed my mind.”
“I will admit that Gil has grown in his own way. However, he cannot hope to carry the burden of the country as he is. To be a ruler is to sometimes see black as white; to listen to all things but also to not show hesitation against dissent; to speak one’s own words from the very start.”
“There is no one who can lead from the start. Not even the greatest of monarchs and heroes written down in history. I’m afraid to say, Your Majesty, it is not that I am patient, but that you are impatient.”
“I may not have been a good father. I shall also admit to that.”
The emperor said as if to put an end their conversation, perhaps finding it to have taken an unpleasant turn.
There was a mountain of things Simon wanted to discuss with the emperor that needed to be said directly. The case of the Dragon God Shrine was also one of them. But he realised that what stood before him was like a heavy leaden wall, that no matter what words he tried to put forth, they would only rebound.
Can you no longer believe in anyone, Guhl?
He called out to his old friend internally.
I see, to be a ruler is to live in solitude. As Simon looked along the deep wrinkles, so deep almost as if someone carved them into him, and his whitened hair and beard, he saw an aged emperor weary from a long period of solitude, but who was at the same time very stubborn and refusing to separate from his chair.
It might be that he’s afraid.
The flash of realisation suddenly hit him. This owed to the emperor’s current appearance, face down and attentively cleaning up the paperwork, being comparable to that of a small, frail old man.
Afraid of himself who has stopped being an emperor, and his own son who he has stopped loving, be he fool or not. Or perhaps—
There was no way Simon Rodloom could not be familiar with the fatigue of someone having engaged in the country’s politics for a long time. Simon believed this may have been a premonition of things to come.
Rule mustn’t continue to be entrusted to the hands of the weary. Old blood must eventually be replaced by new blood. Should that time be mistaken, the country will be eaten away by disease from within and before long, perish.
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