The Winning Horse
… A village a little ways from the main road was astir from early in the morning.
The adults holed themselves in their homes with their farming tools, praying that nothing would happen.
The scene a young boy who’d taken flight from the village witnessed wasn’t that of any army he’d ever seen before.
“What the hell’s that…”
It was as if a fortress was moving. Around it the soldiers preceded without rest in the direction of Centralle, the cool morning air a little different than usual.
His mouth held open at the sight of the great army he’d never seen before, the boy looked up at the blue haired man standing atop the fortress. Atop the ramparts fluttered white flag with a blue circle in its center. Around the circle sprawled ornaments of gray, and it was obvious it was the flag under which the army marched.
But he had never seen that flag before.
Until his family came to drag him back into the house, the boy watched the sight in awe…
Looking over the soldiers proceeding down the road, I felt the cool morning air on my Skin.
“The air’s no good. When the soil’s dry the dust clouds are terrible. But even so, when it rains it robs our stamina away.”
Looking around from the roof of the fortress, I could see white smoke rising from nearby. It did seem there was some village around somewhere.
We had entered the area under the Bahnseim House’s direct control, and continued on with our march. There was no resistance you could call resistance, and there weren’t any signs of forces leaving Centralle.
Invaded by surrounding countries, there was no way they wouldn’t be able to gather the troops. It was more than clear we were trying to tempt the capital.
But even so, in order to fight Celes, we’d have to aim for the city regardless.
To the roof rose Vera in an overcoat.
“Is it really alright for our leader to go out without any guards?”
As she said that and stepped onto the roof, the wind blew to shake her black hair. Her angel wings flowed in the breeze. Containing them in her hands, she looked towards the smokestacks visible from the roof.
Watching the white smoke rise from the chimneys, she nodded a few times before turning her face to face me.
“I heard the others were heading for Centralle as well. There’s no doubt that’ll be the site of the decisive battle, right? They won’t try to take us out one by one?”
In regards to her worry, I shook my head.
“That’s not going to happen. I’ve considered the possibility they’d leave Centralle open to target one of our forces. It’s unthinkable they’d leave themselves short-staffed for defense, and if it’s Celes, she’ll make Centralle the battlefield.”
“It doesn’t seem you’re saying that because you understand your sister’s personalities.”
Observing that my expression wasn’t the best, Vera hit me with her honest impression. So with a slight laugh I explained it to her.
“She’ll definitely sit and wait. Based on how she went about it, she could send dead men in the truest sense of the term to aim for one of our crucial points, but she won’t do it because that’s a pain.”
Rather than a pain, the current Celes didn’t give a damn about winning or losing. As long as she could live a life of luxury, she didn’t care how many of those below her died off.
No, she would even watch it and laugh.
“You can win, right?”
On Vera’s question, I looked straight ahead.
“We’ll win the war. There’s no doubt about it. We’ve made enough preparations for that. And with the armies we’ve taken in, we’ve gained even more leisure.”
There were many feudal lords who’d offered their assistance. On the other hands, while there were Lords who said they wouldn’t cooperate, there were many cases where their populace did join our side.
If it could get them out of the current Centralle… the current Bahnseim they’d help out. Or perhaps they were cooperating with our forces who held the food stock they needed to survive.
“The war, huh? Then what about the most important part?”
She was likely indicating the direct confrontation with Celes. I nodded.
“That’s precisely why we’ve launched this offensive. Sorry, but I’ve no intent to start a fight even if I can’t win. I decided to march because our current war potential was as complete as we could make it.”
That was true.
With Novem at the lead, my comrades who had travelled with me as adventurers. And Gracia, Elza, Ludmilla… our war potential was in order. If it were one on one, the probability of my loss was high, but that just means we won’t bring in a one-on-one battle.
“It doesn’t matter if she’s my sister or a little girl. We’ll surround her and beat her down.”
Vera showed a shrug of her shoulders.
“That’s the worst line I’ve heard all day, but that’s the safest option. I’m relieved you won’t show your feelings like sibling relations or your pride as a man.”
Vera seemed to approve of my decision. But as an individual, I have to say it was quite a deplorable thing. Because I couldn’t win against my little sister, I was going to be ganging up on her with my numerous girlfriends. That’s practically what I was saying.
“Personally, I’d liked to have been able to solve this on my own.”
To speak to my personal opinion, with my own hands… my hands alone, I wanted to stop Celes. But ability-wise that was impossible.
“If you say something like that and lose, I’ll curse you for the rest of my life. Discarding a winnable battle from personal sentiment is what an idiot does. Well, I don’t hate that sort of thing either.”
But she’d definitely hate it if I was in that position, said Vera.
“If you don’t win there’s no tomorrow, so I won’t forgive it if you go easy. If things are to go on like this, there’s not a single good thing in letting your sister live. I’d feel more if you just ended it in an instant.”
This was likely Vera’s way of encouraging me.
“… That’s my intent. I’ve got promises to keep.”
As I gripped the Jewel, Vera looked between it and me.
“You could hear your ancestors’ voices, was it? They’re all gone? Come to think of it, I heard them before on the ship.”
“Ah, come to think of it, you did hear them.”
Thinking back to when she could have heard their voices, I ended up reminiscing.
“I never noticed they were your ancestors’ voices. So is it a promise to them?”
There was that too. But the number one was someone else.
“No, to someone like a brother to me? Though I’ve yet to recognize that.”
Letting go of the Jewel, I turned my eyes towards Centralle.
… Lyle’s army approached the capital.
There were streams of nobles who came to jump aboard the winning horse. Those aiming for their house’s revival. Those who’d taken flight from Centralle.
Those who wanted to be recognized as nobles.
They came to seek audiences with Lyle. But Lyle fundamentally didn’t want any more troops than he already had.
Dressing up simply being there as a favor was quite a difficult thing.
Within all of that, Ralph Circry had come into contact with his daughter Miranda.
Bringing his feet to a tent nearby the moving fortress, he had called Miranda out.
So disembarking the mechanical monstrosity, Miranda took along her guards to enter and greeted her father.
“It’s been a while, Miranda.”
“That’s right. Not since back at the storehouse, perhaps? Back when I was abandoned by a certain someone who bought a Hippogryph having mistaken it for a Gryphon.”
His expression unchanging under the girl’s sarcasm, Ralph thrust straight into his demands.
“I request safe haven for a group of imperial nobles who fled from Centralle. They’ve looked after me, but there are a number of houses among them who’ve looked after you as well. And they have their own troops. If you’ll add them to the lines, they’ll work to their utmost…”
But Miranda rejected the demand with a smile.
“At this point, we’ve no need for any soldiers who can’t put up a decent fight. We’d have our problems even if they were overflowing with battle experience. If there’s a problem with the chain of command, it’ll be the same for my personal unit as well. If you wish to push it through no matter what, I’ll station them as cannon fodder on the front most lines.”
His expression not crumbling under his daughter’s attitude, Ralph made a serious face.
“If you let them assist, there’s merit in it for you. You’re the one without any decent forces protecting your back. Even if you’re the leader’s woman, your position is weak. Even if you’re to raise a new country of your own, you’ll need experienced civil officials. Since they’re from Bahnseim, they’ll be useful to the leader. He can’t call in officials from a foreign land, can he?”
Meaning he would supply civil officials to strengthen Miranda’s standing. In all truth, it was Lyle’s weak point.
It was an extremely large merit to Miranda. Getting her hands on officials, if she cooperated them, she would become an existence Lyle couldn’t ignore.
In Lyle’s harem that largely consisted of those specialized to military might, it would be possible to take a step, even two ahead.
“Well then. That’s quite appealing. But no.”
Miranda still showed her rejection.
“… I thought you were smarter than that. You’ll prioritize your feelings to lose interest?”
Miranda spoke with a smile.
“Feelings? I’m not rejecting it because I hate you. I want civil officials so much I’d bark like a dog for them, and I want to be able to stand against Lianne. We’ll need officials in time to come. But calculating my own interest, I have determined them unnecessary.”
Seeing the slight twitch of Ralph’s brown, Miranda could sense that her father was confused.
“You don’t quite seem to understand what my interest is. My interest is Lyle’s best interest. So will any of this be to Lyle’s interest? If backing me were a bunch of officials who’d carry on with Bahnseim’s old ways… they’d just be trouble, wouldn’t they?”
What Lyle was aiming for was continental rule. For that sake, there were various parts of Bahnseim’s methods that wouldn’t work out.
And even if Lyle was capable of various things, he was still young. There was a possibility he’d be led by the nose by the nobles who’d lived their lives as civil officials.
There was no saying there were none who’d fool the papers to fill their pockets. And even if they came out, the fact that they were part of Miranda’s faction would make it hard for Lyle to do anything about it. In the worst case, there was a possibility they’d raise problems wherever she wasn’t looking.
Those circumstances were the greatest demerit.
“I won’t give preferential treatment just because it’s my house. In this important period of forming the basis, I don’t want to choose my officials based on connections. I want to go with emphasizing personality and ability.”
Even if they were vital managerial positions, filling them with connections would be an extreme demerit to Lyle.
Naturally enough, Ralph was thinking to utilize Miranda’s position to hold a large civil officer faction. And Miranda had seen through it.
“If you don’t build a stronghold now, you’ll be an outcast for the rest of your life.”
Hearing Ralph’s words, Miranda laughed.
“If that’s to Lyle’s interest, I’m fine with that.”
Ralph glared at her, going into persuasion.
“There are times when problems rise from a lack of knowledge and experience. There’s no way the officials who’ve served the country of Bahnseim over its long history wouldn’t be of use.”
“That’s right. But you see… that country’s falling, isn’t it? You mean to say there’s a reason to religiously carry on that fallen country’s methods?”
“… You despise tradition?”
“I don’t hate it. But I won’t recommend the ones who barge in at the last minute demanding for all the good parts to be handed over. Well, since we’re blood relatives, I’ll at least mediate for you a bit. So choose… will you simply be thrown out like this, or will you have the Circry House remain as nobles, for argument’s sake.”
On Miranda’s words, once she thought that he had no more driftwood to cling to, Ralph stood.
“And where are you going?”
To her question, Ralph spoke back.
“You’re not the only one. Unreliable as she is, I’ll depend on Shannon. If that one’s also the leader’s woman, I can make a pedestal for her yet. Though she doesn’t have your level of talent.”
If Miranda was no good, he’d turn to Shannon. Miranda waved her hand.
“That so, well good luck father.”
She saw him off with a smile.
“Hah, day after day, why am I the one who has to deal with them? When I’m so busy, they act all posh and ask, how are you today… can’t they tell by looking? Read the mood for goddess’ sake.”
As we grew closer to Centralle, the folks who appeared before our army to curry favor with me increased. Mercenary brigades approached us as well, and even adventurers gathered.
Perhaps my position as a former adventurer had influenced it, but it seems they intended to emphasize that.
In my room, I draped the cover over myself as I sat on the bed, when Shannon entered the room.
“Hey, it’s dinner time, I’m telling you.”
As I stood I felt the cold on my skin. The mobile fortress had an iron workshop that used fire, so it was much warmer than it would be outside.
But even so I felt cold. I’d stayed too long in a warm place that my senses were going strange.
“Got it, I’m going now. Wait, what?”
Remembering something, I tried asking Shannon.
“Weren’t you called out today?”
It wasn’t to the same level as me, but there were many who requested meetings with my comrades as well. Even Aria was intruded on by those who’d once taken care of her, or those claiming to be her relatives.
Eva was the same. She wasn’t just the representative of the elves, she was called for as a representative of demi-humans in general.
Clara was mainly called upon from her scholar associates, and her birthplace of Arumsaas. In most cases, that was what was emphasized.
Within all that, because she had her sister Miranda, Shannon was a rare case where she was never asked for a meeting.
“… Oh, I was told this and that, but I didn’t really get it, so I told him, ‘pass’.”
Quite a fitting response from her.
“Don’t say anything to make them hate you. Try to let them down easily.”
“But that means you’re still refusing in the end.”
“Better than flipping them onto the other side. In the first place, for those that never read the times to this point, there’s no telling what they’re going to do, so it’s contrarily scary. And yet, they needlessly run their mouths… hah, it’s a waste of time. What’s with this racing to our aid. And yet they’ve no food stock of their own? That’s just plain extortion.”
I did understand that meetings were an important thing, but I couldn’t help but let out my complaints. And there really were many who spoke for lengths on things I could care less about.
It’s because they truly believed that helped appeal for their cases that made it so nasty. I could understand their desperation to jump aboard the winning horse, but…
“I can understand how royalty feels when people come to demand money from them. If we don’t restrict them, these requests are going to become something terrible… what’s wrong?”
Shannon didn’t have her usual energy. While she spoke normally, she looked a little sad or rather, worn out.
“What is there something you don’t like being served today? You’re not getting my dessert.”
As she looked into my face, she made a fed-up expression and shook her head to the side.
“Ignorance is a bliss. In exchange for that bliss, I’ll take your flan.”
“Hold it! Why do you always go for my flan? Stop it. Rather than mine, can’t you aim for someone else’s!?”
There, it seems Shannon seriously grew angry. With a serious expression.
“Hell no! With you it ends up as a joke, but if I go for anyone else’s, it won’t just end with war! I’m not having any of that. No matter how delicious it is, I’m not wagering my life on a flan!”
“And yet my flan’s all good!?”
After we shouted and made a racket, I got the feeling a little more energy had returned to Shannon’s expression…