One month after the Kingdom's Army and the Imperial Army fought at Madros.
In Madros Castle's audience room, the lord of the castle and commander of the Fifth Army, Kerry, and an uninvited guest were sitting across a round table from each other.
Behind Kerry were waiting bodyguards fortified with heavy armor, and if the man in front of them had any strange behavior, they could immediately be take preparations for battle.
With only one youthful officer accompanying beside him, the man's smile didn't change even while basking in the animosity from the surroundings.
Kerry lightly cleared his throat, and then addressed the man in his usual tone.
"Yo. I want to say well done coming here, but sorry, you and I are mutual enemies now. Is it okay for you to come to this castle even knowing that?"
'Don't complain if I have your head cut off without talking to you,' spit out Kerry while putting his cup to his lips.
That man, with the name of Diener, replied in a calm tone.
"How cold. I have come to this castle as a man who loves peace. I hope Your Excellency can understand."
"Leave out that mimicry of yours. Don't make fun of me so much got it? My intelligence unit has their hands on what you're plotting under there. Aren't you quite the low-life sleazebag, spewing poison everywhere. The face of a beast would be more appropriate for you than anyone."
Kerry unpleasantly said. The Madros intelligence unit had their spies in not just the Empire, but also the Kingdom and the Liberation Army. For the sake of sniffing out impending crises beforehand of course. There was no positive proof, but reports said that there was an extremely high possibility that the talked about Tenang Atrocity had been orchestrated by the hands of the Liberation Army.
Countries or armies would always have a dirty side they wouldn't reveal. They wouldn't be able to mobilize or kill people if they tried to stay pure.
"Only what they find convenient will enter the ears of the populace. No matter if the Kingdom stands for justice, after all this, no one would believe it, and no one would even laugh at the idea of the Liberation Army disguising themselves as the Kingdom's Army and pillaging."
Informed Diener, his expression tender, but his eyes weren't smiling. If he made a single mistake, he wouldn't have a head.
Prepared for that, Diener had come along to Madros.
"It's as you say. No matter how the Kingdom denies anything, it'll only be excuses at this point. However, if it's just vilifying the Kingdom, I can do that whenever I like. Sorry, but I'm busy; I ain't got the time to go along with your jokes and the naivety of that foolish woman who can't tell reality from her dreams. If you've got actual business, hurry up and say it."
Kerry violently struck his cup on the table and glared at Diener with a gaze full of killing intent. Diener lightly shrugged his shoulders and began quietly talking.
"It is a simple matter. Until we capture the Royal Capital, I would like you to not move the Fifth Army from Madros."
"Are you even listening to yourself? What comes outta the mouth can't be taken back."
When Kerry raised his right fist, the bodyguards unsheathed their swords. There would probably be two corpses made in this room when that hand was swung down.
"Of course. Presently, the Liberation Army's fighting power, generously speaking, is 150,000. Though our morale is high, to be attacked from three directions, the north, south, and then the Canaan area, would be, as one would expect, quite arduous. I don't believe you would move, considering how prudent you are, but you abandoning Madros and turning all your forces towards us would be unstoppable, even for us."
".....And your reason for explicitly telling me this? You intend to threaten me?"
"The instant you move your forces from Madros, the Imperial Army will launch a general offensive at this area. This is precise information gotten from Prince Alan. I also do not wish for further intervention from the Empire. Consequently, I have come to nail them down. I cannot let your troops move from here."
Stated Diener while lightly tapping his finger on the tabletop.
"We have the crown prince Alexander here as a hostage. If they come invade again, he'll lose his life."
"The Emperor Alf is not so half-hearted to prioritize a prince's life over expansion of his dominion. Accepting negotiations is also just to buy time to put military preparations in order."
Said Diener mixing fact with truth. Diener was currently watching whether the Emperor would prioritize Alexander's life.
He understood that the Empire didn't simply say yes in the negotiations because once they accepted one proposal, the demands would escalate to no end. Naturally, the hostage wouldn't be released.
"......So that's how it is. I understand what you're saying. But, your demand is completely rejected. Get out now that you know. You're an eyesore."
"That is unfortunate. However, I was glad to have been able to have a direct conversation with Your Excellency. If an opportunity arises, let us meet again. It surely will not be too far in the future."
"Hmph, I have no desire to meet with you. Hey, the guest is leaving. Show him out!"
Kerry stood up, indicating there would be no further conversation, and left behind the room. Diener and the officer accompanying him, Vander, were pushed by the soldiers and high-handedly made to exit the room.
"......Sir Diener. That became quite unpleasant."
Vander addressed his superior while straddling his horse. Negotiations had broken down with the worst possible result, he judged.
"I'm having a hard time understanding what was so unpleasant. Weren't the negotiations a resounding success? In the first place, I had achieved my goal of being able to meet Sir Kerry at this point in time."
"That man will absolutely not move from here. More than his loyalty to the Kingdom, he only thinks about how to protect the Madros territory. That's what makes that guy tick. Even though he put an end to my negotiations, that hasn't changed."
"If you understand that, then why would come directly, Sir Diener?"
"Preparations for after liberating the Royal Capital. I need him to defend against the Empire's expansion hereafter as well. Madros is an outpost region against the Empire, and the only ones who can accomplish that duty are those Madrosians. For that reason, this time's negotiation required us to meet face to face. After liberating the Royal CapitaI, I don't want be under a puppet regime, even if we were to be independent."
Diener stated his own thinking in a plain tone. The current monarchy had already fallen in his mind.
The aftermath was what was crucial. The Empire would doubtlessly come to interfere with the new political power. That was Emperor Alf's aim. For Diener, he had to keep Empire intervention to a minimum.
To begin with, the Empire tripping up this time had been an event beyond his expectations. It was unacceptable for the Kingdom to have a momentous comeback, but it was a blessing in disguise that the Empire's might had been curbed temporarily. Above that also, it was a godsend that the crown prince himself had been seized.
That was same as having the strongest card against the Empire for negotiations. The Imperial Army couldn't move with this.
At the same time, the Kingdom's victory invited unrest among the feudal lords who were currently on the fence, which made Diener's active projects more turbulent. The feudal lords didn't think the Kingdom would hold on like this, but it was also hard to believe that the Liberation Army would gain victory without problems. They once again drew inside their turtle shells, thinking that it would be best to wait and see.
In the southeast buffer zone with the Union were the Kingdom's Army, the Liberation Army, and the Union confronting each other, and they had fallen into a stalemate where no one could move.
For now, the only thing the Liberation Army could pursue would be to crush the main force of the Kingdom's Army, capture Canaan, and break into the Royal Capital. That was the only option.
If the flow of battle went in their favor at this point in time, all the people waiting-and-seeing would all come under the Liberation Army's umbrella.
The key to this Liberation War would be the next battle. Likely, it would happen in-between Canaan and Belta, an engagement that would decide everything.
"......Vander. The next battle, is now something we must not lose. Serve with everything you have, with that in mind. The successes you earn will absolutely be rewarded."
Diener was buying Vander's abilities. Diener had been the cause for Field Marshal Sharov being dismissed, and he was the one who devised the attempted coup d'etat affair. Obviously, it was all a ruse; Sharov had no intention of rebelling. They had sowed discord into Prime Minister Farzam, and forcibly turned mere smoke into a raging fire.
"—-Sir, I know my duty!"
"I will head back to Belta from here and begin preparations before the battle. You take the funds and go provision some Cologne cows as arranged. They'll be our trump card in the next battle. Gather as many as you can. 1,000 at the minimum. Don't worry about their quality.
"Understood. ......However, just how will you use cows raised for their meat?"
"I'll be treating the soldiers to high-grade beef. Leave it at that for now. Soon, you'll understand."
Responded Diener, his mouth corners raising, and he began to gallop his horse. His guards too, with a slight delay, hurriedly followed after him.
The Cologne cow was a large cow that grew sharp horns and lived only in the North of the continent. It may seem like a docile beast at a glance, but once it sensed it would be in danger, it has a furious disposition where it would continue to chase its adversary no matter where it went.
Its meat was delicious, and coupled with its difficulty to capture, it was sold at high prices in the markets. Hunters would go out and hunt for Cologne cows, but there were frequent occurrences of them having the tables turned and being killed.
Having been promoted to Colonel and appointed to a certain duty, Schera leisurely marched, taking along 100 riders-while sucking on a long and thin carrot stick in her mouth. Occasionally, she would throw one in front of her horse, giving him something instead of feed. At any rate, there was more than enough of the vegetable sticks crammed into the pouch at her waist. Presenting several sticks wouldn't be much of a deal.
"Colonel, you seem to be in a good mood."
"Mmnn, because I got this bag of vegetables before we departed. As congratulations for being promoted to Colonel. I'm glad I was promoted."
Some children had come up to the hero, Schera, and asked her what she wanted as a gift. Hence when she responded that anything would be fine as long as she could eat it, she got this bag of vegetables the next day. Schera accepted it, more delighted than when she got some medal or a letter of commendation with its fastidious language.
"Good for you. Please allow us the privilege of congratulating your promotion afterwards."
"Don't push yourselves. That aside, you want one too?"
"Thank you very much I gratefully accept!"
Schera threw him a green stick, and the rider jumped at it, ecstatic. Schera began crunching another one, while thinking that he was like a trained dog.
Incidentally, Katarina, who was promoted to First Lieutenant, was away currently on a different duty. She was in charge of training the newly assigned soldiers who would replace the riders that had died in battle. Schera's Cavalry had been allotted 3,000 riders. Yalder had boasted that if they gave her 10,000 cavalry, the head of the rebel army's leader would be as good as theirs, but as there were still some doubts left about her leadership ability, despite her individual prowess being recognized, she was not permitted any further increases. Not intending to give Schera, whose birthplace was dubious, any more responsibility, Prime Minister Farzam's opinion also played a big role.
Yalder had been reinstated to General, but at the same time, Barbora was also promoted from Lieutenant General to General.
As Barbora's authority was greater since he had command over Canaan's defense, Yalder couldn't persist in forcing his opinion.
The two were famous for being like cats and dogs, but having his desire for promotion satiated, Barbora had more or less regained his rationality, and even when confronted by Yalder, he did not display any of his earlier hostility. Yalder had also survived through harsh ordeals and seemed to have matured as a human being, gaining the qualities of self-control and patience.
That being said though, that was just a story about the two Generals. The criticism and pressure towards Schera, the youngest ever to rise to Colonel in the Kingdom's history, were exceedingly strong, and she was now showered in endless amounts of gazes, viscous with jealousy, envy, fear, and hatred.
The especially strong ones came from the Major Generals, since the next time Schera was promoted, they would be of the same rank. The fear of being caught up with and then overtaken by a person of commoner descent was extremely nerve-wracking. To them, having their positions superseded by this kind of human that they utterly looked down upon was unbearable.
The chief of which was Barbora's trusted confidant for many years, Major General Octavio, and the next one was Major General Borbon. They repeatedly slandered Schera whenever something came up, and it wasn't rare for them to be yelled at by an enraged Yalder. Barbora pretended like it had nothing to do with him as one would expect, but even he ended up making an expression that said he was fed up with them.
Humans who had no interest in promotions like Major General Larus were honestly scarce in the Kingdom.
Hence, having been freed from the gazes of her rotten colleagues, Schera was extremely cheerful, and in the bright early afternoon, was leisurely travelling with her horse while humming.
"Colonel, a party of cavalry and carriage is coming from the front. Their flag is the First Army's."
"Alright, all members form ranks-! We will welcome His Excellency, Field Marshal Sharov!! Do not be discourteous-!"
At Schera's command, the cavalrymen split into two files and readied to welcome the Field Marshal's column of riders. Schera stood in their center and greeted the procession from the front.
The rider running at the head of the party proclaimed in a loud voice,
"Black flag with a white crow coat of arms, the brave and prestigious Colonel Schera I suppose! We are cavalry of the First Army attached to Canaan! Please take over the duty of escorting His Excellency Field Marshal Sharov!"
"Understood! I swear by this emblem that we will see the Field Marshal to the Royal Capital without fail!
Schera saluted, making a conscious effort to be as dignified as possible. Staff Officer Sidamo had really chewed her out earlier. "As a commander, you must put on airs," he had said. She really didn't know how to wear air, but it would be fine if she just appeared commanding, she guessed.
"Please see to it-! We must urgently return to Canaan's defense! Well then, please excuse us!"
After reporting only what was necessary, he turned his horse around, and the cavalry unit began racing away. The gist of the duty was extremely simple: escort Field Marshal Sharov, who was deprived of his military authority, to the Royal Capital. The reason why it took one month until the escort was because as his final service, Sharov had decided to curb the unrest in Canaan. There had been the possibility that soldiers who had sworn loyalty to Sharov would spontaneously blow up in frenzy, so they could not immediately deport him. The likelihood had been so great that Major General Larus and others had publicly declared that they would follow Sharov if he revolted. Thinking he must stop them, Sharov had personally set out to persuade them, and was somehow successful in getting them to understand.
Because Sharov, so deeply loyal to the Kingdom, had persuaded the soldiers seething with righteous indignation, he was stripped of his peerage and rank, and it seemed he would be executed on top of that.
Not understanding the logic of the world, Schera tilted her head. She had Katarina explain it to her, but as she thought, she couldn't understand. If they were going to annihilate the rebel army, she thought it would be more efficient to maintain Sharov's standing; however, she wasn't particularly interested in the matter, so she didn't put up a troublesome pretense of opposition. She couldn't help it, since she felt hungry when she thought about something she didn't care about. Eat, sleep, and fight. She wasn't very interested in anything else.
From the carriage came out Sharov restrained on both arms by guards, and he performed a salute with slow movements.
"Good work carrying out your duty. This would make for a good story, to be seen off by the heroic and illustrious Colonel Schera."
"It is an honor! This unworthy Schera has the privilege to devote her body and soul to escort Your Excellency to Royal Capital Blanca!"
Schera nimbly dismounted, straightened her back, and saluted. Because it was an unused to posture, her shoulders were stiff. Her stomach was also empty.
Incidentally, 'unworthy' was something she heard was good to append before one's own name when speaking to a dignitary. If she did that, it was putting on "air." It was one of the words Staff Officer Sidamo taught her. She was also told not to use it too often.
"Hahaha-, there's probably no officer more unsuited to respectful language than you. It absolutely doesn't fit. It's truly disappointing that there was no chance for us to fight together. Even myself has wanted to see with these eyes, that prowess deserving of 'Death God.'"
"—-Sir-, this petty official also thinks it disappointing!"
"Well then, I'm relying on you on this journey, Colonel Schera."
While rubbing his facial hair, Sharov gently smiled. Schera had considered presenting a vegetable from the pouch at her waist, but the horses were greedily looking towards her, so she put it in her mouth instead.
En route to the Royal Capital.
—-A party had appeared, brought along by the Bazarov family's youngest daughter, but there weren't any particular problems, and the escort duty had proceeded.
Because Schera decided for everyone to take a meal break, she had given Sharov the chance to talk to his granddaughter. There were some that thought it was out of Schera's goodwill, but she was actually hungry.
"......Anna... don't be rash. If the Colonel was 'on duty,' you would've already lost your head. Grief, what a small mercy."
"Grandfather, Sir Sharov. Come escape with us. If you go to the Royal Capital now, you will be killed. Those guys do not intent on listening to you. They intent on executing you with no right to trial. Even Father, even Mother, everyone has been brought there!"
Sharov's granddaughter, Anna Bazarov, raised her voice.
Schera acted like she didn't hear, and began wolfing down her boxed lunch. Only when she was eating a meal did she have to give her undivided attention. The other cavalrymen too began animatedly eating, making a din.
"Myself hasn't done anything bad, so why must I escape? Escaping would naturally be recognized as having something to be guilty about. Even if there were, for myself, the Field Marshal, to put on such a cowardly display is unacceptable. I have to directly meet with His Majesty and prove myself's innocence."
"Listen well, Anna. You continue as you are, and go to the Union. Details are written in this letter. There are many of myself's friends over there. They'll surely treat you well."
"If Sir Grandfather will not go, then I will also go to the Royal Capital!"
"You cannot take part in this old man's selfishness. I wanted to do the same for the others to the best of my ability, but.... I fear that all of my relatives have been captured."
"Why, why is Sir Grandfather, who works himself to the bone, being treated like a criminal-!?"
Anna covered her face with both hands. Tears spilled out from them.
"In this world, there are many things which do not have a clear explanation. Even myself, now at this age, am learning. ......Though it seems the price I paid was a bit high..."
Sharov sighed with a weary expression.
"But-! That is ridiculous! I cannot accept it-!"
"This talk is over, Anna. You cannot presume upon the Colonel's kindness forever. Go live in good health. We are always praying for your happiness."
Sharov sent a signal with his eyes, and the soldiers that had come along with Anna tightly held both her arms and dragged her away.
They were soldiers who had sworn loyalty to the Bazarov family, and they had more fealty than anyone. They would work for the Bazarov family to the end. It was a shame he couldn't reward their fidelity, Sharov thought.
There was some resistance from Anna, but perhaps she gave up before long, she began crying with stifled sounds. What would happen to her from now on, Schera was not in a position to know. Maybe she would be captured on the way and die. Maybe she would safely escape to the Union. Or maybe, she would apply herself to the Liberation Army, but that would only be until she was killed by Schera's hands.
Schera threw the last piece of meat into her mouth, cleaned off the grease on her mouth, and breathed a satisfied sigh.
Sharov spoke up to apologize to Schera.
"Sorry, Colonel. For my relative's unsightly—-"
"This petty official was having a meal, and knows nothing. If the Field Marshal is ready, perhaps he would like to depart soon?"
"......mmm, I leave it to you."
"Schera's Cavalry will depart-! Begin the march!! Destination, Royal Capital Blanca!"
"Begin the march-! Raise the flag-!"
Schera began speeding up her horse with her scythe postured on her shoulder. While carrying a falsely accused sinner, Death's procession earnestly advanced to the Royal Capital.
After arriving at the Royal Capital, Schera was immediately ordered to head to Canaan, and wound up departing with no time to rest. Schera, who was looking forward to the Royal Capital's treats, complied with a sour expression, after clicking her tongue. It seemed she was never lucky in the Royal Capital, and she sighed all the while.
When they were about to separate, Sharov took Schera's hands and said, "I leave the Kingdom to you," quietly, but powerfully. When Schera lightly nodded, Sharov nodded many times, his body shivering with regret. Eventually, he was violently taken away by the Royal Capital soldiers who had grown tired of waiting.
Schera merely watched, expressionless. She didn't harbor any particularly strong emotions.
Before long, she took a vegetable out from the bag, held it in her mouth, and walked to join her comrades.
Sharov was entirely deprived of his peerage, territory, and rank, and above that, was accused for the crime of attempted rebellion, and imprisoned. He was not given a single opportunity to vindicate himself by the Kingdom.
After a week, Sharov died in prison. He had personally chosen a death not fit for a man of military, it was said, but it was gossiped among the people of the Kingdom that he was poisoned at the hands of Farzam. That there were more people who believed the latter was an indication of Prime Minister Farzam's low popularity.
Once even called a symbol of the Yuze Royal Family, the Bazarov lineage was wiped out. As for the family members, the men of age were given the capital punishment, those not of age and the females were dropped to commoner status, and this rebellion was temporarily settled.
However, this attempted coup d'etat ended up planting suspicion in the military officers towards the Kingdom and the Prime Minister, and the seam between them widened day by day. Also, it could be called ironic that the internal insurrectionists that had been suppressed by Sharov's military fame began to move again.