The day after the veteran general Sharov died in jail. There were many people secretly mourning in Royal Capital Blanca. Rumors had spread that the attempted coup d'etat incident was a fabrication of the Prime Minister's, and everyone sympathized with the wiped out Bazarov family. Voices of dissent were raised not only among the populace, but even amongst the soldiers.
The character known as Prime Minister Farzam had no popularity in any case. Among the people, he was regarded as the ringleader behind all the exploitation; among the soldiers, he was reviled as the main cause of their insufficient wages; among the military officers, he was made fun of as the someone who proudly rose to his position only through flattery; among the civil officials, they hated the way he wielded his power as much as they hated serpents. Even Barbora who had a favorable relationship with Farzam innerly looked down on him.
Although the people's evaluations of Farzam weren't wrong, in the first place, the greatest cause was also King Kristoff not concerning himself with politics.
The King did nothing but seclude himself in the royal palace, having women waiting upon him and drowning in sensual pleasures, and if he felt like it, he would offer a prayer to the Star God for his eldest son who had left the world at a young age.
This man no longer had any interest in what would become of the Kingdom. There was not a trace left now of his triumphant face when he had won the succession struggle and took the throne.
"Your Majesty, please excuse me for interrupting your pleasure. This is Farzam."
Farzam respectfully greeted Kristoff, who with clothes disordered and face pale languidly propped himself up. Next to him lay two concubines, wearing only thin lingerie on their bodies and looking up at Kristoff with bewitching gazes.
After important matters had been sanctioned, Prime Minister Farzam, the only man given approval to enter Kristoff's private room, would thus came to report. Judgement of right from wrong was entirely done by Farzam, and the King only received the after reports. The basis for that judgement was only whether or not it benefitted him. The Prime Minister in essence held the highest authority in the Kingdom.
"......Farzam huh? What do you want at this hour?"
It was already afternoon, but Kristoff had no feeling of time. He signaled to his concubines, making them prepare drinks. The dim room became almost chokingly saturated with the smell of spirits and the stink of a man and woman's intercourse.
Farzam proudly began to speak while smiling.
"Sir. Sharov, the man behind the rebellion, has died in jail, so I have come to report."
"......I see. So Sharov died huh. The man once even called the cornerstone of the Kingdom."
The gaze of Kristoff's lifeless eyes wandered. His concubine passed him a glass with alcohol in it, but he didn't react.
"Your Majesty, what is the matter? Are you not feeling well?"
Not moving and still sitting on the bed, he gripped the glass. He showed no signs of saying anything.
Judging that he was acting as usual, Farzam continued to report on another matter.
".......About negotiations with the Empire, I have requested mediation from the Star Church. A pastor I am well acquainted with is proceeding to the Empire as an emissary. Likely, negotiations for an armistice will be settled in the not too far future."
"Also, I have given General Barbora, newly appointed to commander of the First Army, orders to recapture Belta. With the Empire's first attack foiled right now, the rebel army will absolutely collapse if we inflict a decisive blow here. Soon, days of peace will visit the Kingdom, no doubt about it."
Now that his greatest political adversary, Sharov, had been eliminated, Farzam had nothing to fear. Due to the activities of the Death God he had heard about, the Empire had self-destructed on their own. After that only remained crushing the eyesore rebel army. For that sake, he had reinforced Canaan with an elite unit of 50,000. A large force of 150,000 was now gathered in Canaan.
He had also sent messenger to the Fifth Army in Madros in the North and the Second Army in the South, telling them to head towards Belta. There was no way the ragtag rebel army could handle a large offensive from three directions.
"......Farzam. It's thanks to you that I was installed to this position. I am incompetent, and a human with no redeeming features whatsoever except being born as a member of the royal family. I don't have a single part of me that would win against my dead older brother. Even I understand that. It was thanks to your efforts that I could acquire the throne. I'm grateful from the bottom of my heart."
Said Kristoff smiling like a reptile.
"......Your Majesty, what are you saying? Without Your Majesty, the Kingdom—-"
Farzam was perturbed at these unexpected words. He hastily went to say flattery, but Kristoff interrupted him in a strong tone.
"Consequently, though you decided to implicate and kill my loyal retainer Sharov, though you decide to endlessly wallow in your own profit, I will permit it. I don't mind if you use my name and wield my authority as you please. I permit you to."
"......Y, Your Majesty?"
"—-But, when something happens, the only thing I won't permit is abandoning me. You and I share a fate. Only you surviving and living, I won't have it. When my Kingdom crumbles, I'll have you die with me-"
Throwing aside the glass, Kristoff roughly tossed letters from out of his breast pocket. Those, were confidential messages that Farzam had secretly sent to influential nobility in the Union. Letters absolutely not to be seen by the King. They were something that should not have existed.
They were insurance in case the Kingdom was defeated by the rebel army. They were proof of betrayal, and by all rights it wouldn't have been strange for him to be immediately granted death.
"T, those are-!?"
"An insolent spy that had creeped into my bedroom so kindly left them here. Wasn't he your subordinate? If he was of the rebel army, I would probably no longer have my life. ......It seems you have no popularity even among the subordinates under your supervision. But, I don't care. I permit you to. I saw nothing."
Said Kristoff as he tore and threw away the secret messages. With a desperate look, Farzam tried to explain.
"Y, Your Majesty. You are mistaken. I work only for—-"
"I don't need your excuses. You're dismissed. Exterminate the rebel army immediately and bring Altura's head before me. I put my expectations in you, Prime Minister Farzam."
Simply said Kristoff, and he collapsed on the bed with a weary expression. Beside him lay down the concubines, joining him.
Having lost his bearings, Farzam left the King's bedroom, his complexion pale.
"Ridiculous-! How did those secret messages get in His Majesty's hands-!? Just who-!?"
Farzam's intelligence unit that he had raised was comprised of starving and dying orphans who he had rigorously trained and brainwashed so they would absolutely obey his orders.
Consequently, it was entirely improbable for them to betray. He had driven into them that if he gave them the order to die, they would carry it out.
(But, I can only think that there is a traitor on the inside. ......Maybe I need to investigate.)
The ones who did the work in the shadows so that Kristoff could take the throne had been Farzam's intelligence unit. They broadcasted a scandal of Kristoff's older brother, seized the weaknesses of the influential, assassinated, threatened, kidnapped, anything they could do they did.
Many agents had died along the way, but Farzam had thus ascended to Prime Minister, and Kristoff had ascended to the throne.
His agents would die for their benefactor who had gathered them. They were probably delighted in hell too, thought Farzam from his heart.
(......Hmph, what drivel. He sure acts haughty for a mere puppet. Well fine, I won't lose. I won't ever let go of this power. This country is mine. I won't hand it over to anyone. Like hell I'd hand it over-"
Having risen to Prime Minister from a mere retainer, Farzam's attachment and his desire for political power was almost unnaturally strong, and the sole thing that could stop him, the King, was utterly apathetic towards politics. And that's what had been rapidly eating away at the mighty Kingdom.
The infamy of these two would be left behind to posterity as Feebleminded Kristoff, and Sycophant Farzam.
Having finished their escort duty, Schera's party had departed from the Royal Capital and temporarily stopped by at Cyrus Fortress before heading to Canaan. It was to link up with Katarina and the others who had finished training. These new recruits, who had even been unsteady on their horses, had now become able to fairly manage their horses.
Though Katarina, who was in charge of their training, wasn't satisfied at all.
"Hey you conscript-! How many times do I have to tell you 'don't be manipulated by your horse' before you understand!? What's packed into that head of yours!? Shall I'll try opening it up-?!"
"P, please excuse me, First Lieutenant!! W, wahh-!"
The instant the new recruit looked away, he fell off his horse and became muddied. Katarina's face turned red, and she tightened the grip on her cane.
".......If you don't get my words, I can only drill it into your body. Like a horse, I'll discipline you until you break."
She took out a whip from her waist. After flexibly waving it around, she menacingly whipped the ground. The new recruit's face changed from pale to white. The other soldiers watching acted like they didn't see anything.
Schera, showing up at the training grounds, spoke up to the trainer who was swinging around a whip with a dangerous smile floating on her face.
"Katarina. Well done training them. How are these reservists I wonder. They seem decently enthusiastic."
"Eh, ah! Colonel! Y, you have returned?"
Quickly hiding the whip, Katarina saluted. Having suddenly thought of a good idea, Schera, while licking a hard candy, suggested,
"You rather fit the part. If you want, you should lead the cavalry instead of me. I don't know war tactics well after all. How about it I wonder, Katarina. I think it's a good idea."
Schera *pon pon* patted Katarina's shoulders. Not joking around, Schera was wickedly serious. If Katarina said yes, she would actually be the commander probably. She promptly refused.
"Y, you joke! This cavalry owes its existence to the Colonel! It is extremely unfit for the likes of me!"
"Quite adept at flattery, Katarina. Suit yourself. By the way, what happened to /that/ I wonder."
"S, sir, those are also growing well! They sprouted the other day!"
"I see. Then I'll go check. Good work training for such a long time, First Lieutenant Katarina."
Schera threw away her scythe and walked in the direction of the castle's courtyard. Katarina thought to prop the scythe up on the wall, taking it in her hands, but its weight was more than she imagined, and she couldn't lift it. She lost her balance, and the scythe loudly hit the ground. The surrounding soldiers curiously observed her at the sound.
"Kuhh- I knew it was heavy-! But if I don't easily swing this around, I can't become like the Colonel."
The Colonel's physical strength was indeed fearsome, thought Katarina to herself. She pushed up her glasses, and nodded many times.
"U, um, shall I help you?"
"H, hey, that's the Colonel's scythe—-"
The new recruit from earlier, unable to stay idle, approached. It seemed he misunderstood that Katarina was weak. The other soldiers tried to stop him, but their warnings didn't reach the new recruit's ears.
With a mischievous and cruel smile, Katarina ordered the new recruit.
"Good. Carry the Colonel's scythe back to the barracks. Do it by yourself. You'll go without food until you're finished carrying it. By all means, if you find it impossible, come crying to me."
"Understood! Even a child could do something like that!"
"......I see. I look forward to it."
The new recruit proudly drew near the scythe after subtly insulting Katarina. Able to imagine the outcome, Katarina lightly sighed and headed to the barracks afterwards.
The new recruit... would come crying to her three hours later.
Cyrus Fortress Courtyard. Several fields were plowed squarely in a corner. There, was planted the seed of the Wealth Potato that Schera had brought home from the Empire as a spoil of war. Taste aside, it grew quickly, was strong against disease, and could be cultivated without regard to environment. Even in this mountainous area of Cyrus, it was sprouting favorably.
"......Sprouts are coming out. This many. I'm really looking forward for them to grow up."
Stooped over, Schera was gazing zealously at the small sprouts. A soldier coming to water them called out to her.
"Welcome back, Colonel. If you want, do you want to try planting one too, Colonel? It is kinda noisy over there with everyone trying to plant all the remaining ones so."
"......But, I, farmwork—-"
A hazy memory flashed in the back of Schera's mind for only a second. A poor lifestyle, an all-consuming hellfire, a brandished naked sword, scattering fresh blood, the smell of impending death, a brigand with a vulgar smile, Death's scythe on her thin neck.
Then what? She...
A nearly heinous sense of hunger assailed Schera. She frantically endured while trying not to let it show on her face.
"C'mon, it is just burying a seed potato. .......Hey, are you okay, Colonel? Your complexion—-"
".......I'm fine. I'll also go try planting some then. Be careful so I don't accidentally eat one."
"Haha-, it is not like you will get poisoned eating it, but please do not eat them if you can help it! If you persevere, one will multiply to dozens afterwards, and we will take them home!"
"Indeed, I'll be patient as much as I can."
Joked the soldier, and Schera lightly brushed her hands and stood up. She threw the last vegetable from the pouch at her waist into her mouth. At first, it had a dull, flour-y taste, but it gradually exuded a sweetness. It seemed to be a fruit pretending to be a vegetable. A dried apple. Since it was dried, so she couldn't judge if it had been red or green. It didn't look to good, but the more she chewed it, the more delicious it became. Schera chewed the dried apple slice to her heart's content.
Her sense of hunger abated a little.
"Hey hey, say what you like, but you're crowding them too much. Do it more like this, evenly."
"We're making a potato field inside a fortress; that'll only make the military police mad. Shouldn't we make it as small as we can?"
"Hmf, and just what's wrong with a self-sufficient fortress? If they have complaints, I'll kick 'em around. C'mon, spread them out! The earth's nutrients won't spread to all of them!"
"Jeez, don't go too far or you'll bring trouble for the Colonel, wait, C, Colonel!?"
"S, salute Colonel Schera-!!"
"Welcome back, Colonel Schera!"
A youthful man, noticing Schera, hastily stood up and saluted. The surrounding men covered in mud followed suit.
They raised their voices, and welcomed their superior officer's return.
"At ease. Continue your work. Actually, I thought you'd allow me to plant potatoes too."
Schera pointed at the wooden box with seed potatoes inside. There were still a few dozen left.
"Sounds great! With the Colonel's divine protection, they'll to grow up properly I bet!"
"After we harvest them, let's call them 'Death Potatoes' and sell them to the guys in other units."
Joked in a low voice a young man while cheerfully whistling.
"The Colonel can hear you, you big retard-!!"
.The youthful man pushed that carefree man. Laughs leaked out from the surrounding men. When the youthful man glared at them, they frantically shut their mouths.
"I said 'at ease' right? So don't worry about it."
More importantly, Schera urged him to hurry and hand over a seed.
"Hehe-, then Colonel, please take this."
"Thank you very much. ......Like this I wonder."
Schera was handed a seed potato from the young man and buried it in a small hole in the field. The soldiers gently covered it with soil.
Elated, Schera steadily planted the seed potatoes, and an hour later, had used up everything in the wooden box.
"Fuu, well done, Colonel. We're done with the seed potatoes now. They'll be fine if we reliable take care of the field afterwards. From what I heard though, these potatoes will grow fine even if we leave them alone."
"......I see, it was very interesting. It might not be bad to grow one's own food."
"I'll say. But the fun part is after a few months. Cooking something you grew yourself, and then eating it with gusto together with everyone. That is when it feels most worth it."
While excitingly smiling, the youthful man actively shook off the mud on his hands.
"Well, that's if they aren't all taken away by the higher-ups. Really, there's nothing good about being a farmer."
The young man gave a bitter smile while scratching his own head. The crops they raised themselves would all be theirs-there was no such happiness.
No matter how much they produced, their crops would be taken away as tax. After the terrible harvests, they would all be taken away during tax collection time. The reason the man enlisted was because of food troubles. If someone didn't earn money, his family couldn't live.
For the peasants of the Kingdom, it wouldn't be an exaggeration to call these few years hell. Even so, that they somehow hadn't starved to death was because everyone had their secret fields. As this final amount of food was given with priority to the workers, there wasn't anything given to the useless.
It was very much like Schera's former condition.
"These are our spoils of war, so they're all ours. We just have to take care that the military police don't take them."
Muttered one soldier while glaring at the military policemen peeking over at them. Later, there was the danger of having their field dug up and cleared.
"......I see. I know, let's make a notice so no one will dig it up."
Using a nearby piece of scrap wood, Schera created a simple sign. The cavalry members were watching, interested.
"Colonel, what will you carve?"
"That it's our field, and in a way that even idiots will understand, I think."
Schera took out a small sickle from her waist and carefully etched on the wood. After several minutes, she stood the signboard ostentatiously in front of the field.
[Field of Schera's Cavalry. Damage it and I will kill you.
Colonel Schera Zade]
"—-How is it I wonder?"
Schera turned around to the soldiers while putting away the sickle. She took the opportunity to viciously smile and murderously glare at the military policemen. Their faces paled, and terrified, they dashed away like escaping rabbits.
"I think it is great! Very much like the Colonel. It is super easy to understand, and yeah, truly fine."
"Certainly. There won't be any idiots who'll meddle with it. Whether it be bugs, birds, or sticky-fingered, evil military policemen, they'll restrain themselves for sure I think."
Said the man, laughing as he looked back at the place where the military policemen were.
After the men busily cleaned up, saluted, and left, Schera sat down in front of the field.
The sun set, and not losing interest, Schera earnestly continued to gaze there at the earth's surface, until Katarina would come to call her.