The eastern end of the Great Plateau is dotted with hills that look like islands floating on flat land, called remnant hills, and castles have been built on these hills to serve as defence bases.
A season has already passed since the Rindarl armies moved back from their front lines. We occupied these abandoned castles and were using them as our frontline bases. Even though it was difficult to mount an attack during winter, a month has passed since the snow thawed.
Marquis Lorenzorell had left the defence of these strongholds to the Jugfena troops that Ergnard had brought with him and brought back the main troops of the Royal Army, which had been assigned to protect the strongholds, back to Jugfena Fortress.
It was a bad decision to leave the frontline empty under these circumstances, but I couldn’t take Eric any further out, and I also don’t know what kind of accident would occur if I continued to deploy a demoralised army.
“Maintaining the frontline is also nothing to scoff at. It’s not worth it to further extend out lines to try and make Densel a vassal state.”
Marquis Lorenzorell, who had been watching the situation in the frontline, grumbled as soon as he returned. The meeting was held immediately after the march, so he was probably tired and irritated, but he was also probably frustrated at Rindarl since they wouldn’t surrender, and we didn’t know what they were thinking.
It seemed that during the eight months that they had occupied the bases, they had made a lot of changes to the facilities such as the base and the roads, in order to make life more comfortable for the soldiers.
The situation was such that it was impossible to return the land to Rindarl as it is, and the restoration of the land couldn’t be included in the peace agreement. It’s the theory that it’s unfortunate for the enemy country to have to develop their infrastructure while also fighting a war. As a result, we are currently experiencing the mysterious phenomenon of the nation expanding, even though we didn’t want it to.
“The economic effect of researching the new weapons we have seized should be enough to make up for the losses, though.”
“That’s the thoughts of a military person who has no citizens, Wiegraf. You can’t directly increase livelihood by increasing the variety of weapons you have. The citizens won’t be satisfied if we don’t have any war trophies.”
I touched the metal cylinder in front of me that was about 120 centimetres long.
It was a gun. It was apparently stored in the abandoned base on the frontline.
It looked very different from the one that was used in the battle that had earned me an Earl rank. That one was a thin metal cylinder about 180 centimetres long and had something like step ladders attached to it, but this one looked like a gun. I even felt a chill at the fact that it had become much smaller and more manoeuvrable.
“Well, we have no rights to interfere with the national interest, so we have to leave that to the Commanding General… But still… Since the battle at the Great Plateau, it had already changed to this form at the time of the last simultaneous defence battles, but this seems to have been modified further.”
“… It’s this stone.”
A white stone that had been cut into a hexagonal shape was attached to the side of the handle, where it connected to the handle through a small hole in the cylinder. The mechanism seemed to function as the trigger of the gun, and when the latch is removed, the stone returns inside the gun with great force.
“Hmm. It seems to be used to ignite the gunpowder. It looks like a luminescent light made of hardened phosphorescent moth scales…”
“The phosphorescent moth’s luminescent light is only made to glow. They can’t create fire.”
The Commanding General and I nodded at Wiegraf’s words.
“This is probably the reason why we seized them so easily. The mechanism probably works really well, but we can’t use it without knowing the principle behind it.”
“So, we can use these short-barrelled arrows if we can come up with another mechanism to light them and rebuild it. Even though I brought up the mechanism, we can’t use the big cylinder as reference.”
Apparently, they called this gun a short-barrelled arrow in Arxia. There was a cannon-like weapon called the ‘big cylinder’ several hundred years ago, which was simply a huge cylinder in which explosive barrels and stones were thrown into and launched.
The technology to make the exploding barrels have been lost, and most people didn’t know what it was, or had forgotten about it, until the short-barrelled arrow came along.
“It’s no use thinking about it now.”
“Don’t say that, Earl Kaldia. This is really a great weapon depending on how you use it. I want to popularise it throughout the kingdom armies as soon as possible.”
I quietly turned away from Marquis Lorenzorell whose eyes were sparkling as he said that. This man has a personal interest in all things related to warfare.
“But what’s more important right now is the imperial decree the Baron Dorvadine will be giving.”
This is the event that I came here for in the first place. Eric will act as proxy for the King to deliver his message about allowing the Royal Army to fight, and he will also give a speech to encourage them. Even though it’s called a ceremony, it isn’t a big deal.
But the problem was Eric.
Eric came out of the medical office and spoke to me. I lowered the frontline report I was reading while waiting for him.
“Baron Dorvadine. I would like to thank you on behalf of my foster father for your kindness towards the soldiers today.”
Eric grimaced as I stood up and thanked him. But he probably thought that it was a bad idea if my voice was heard in the medical office, so he urged me to move to a new location by jerking his chin down the corridor.
When we turned around the corner and approached the stairs, he finally turned his head towards me as if he thought we had placed enough distance between us and the medical office.
“I don’t know how many times I have to repeat this, but I won’t fulfil my duties as His Majesty’s proxy. I will return to the capital and petition His Majesty the King and my father to immediately call for a ceasefire.”
“――― Please reconsider. If you don’t deliver those words, then the Royal Army won’t be able to do anything against the slave soldiers, who are treated as the enemy soldiers’ allies. The enemy will surely use the slave soldiers as shields and go on the offensive, and then the Arxian army will…”
“You’re too repetitive. My answer is the same; withdraw. If we retreat the soldiers back to Jugfena Fortress, then we can fight any opponent under the stance of preventing them from entering our nation, right?”
Eric and I have been having the exact same conversation for the past few days.
――― This was Eric’s new ‘problem’.
“It’s against the teachings of Xia to take land and property by force. And yet, how is it like in the frontline? You are not only driving back the enemy but have also taken the lands of Planates and Densel under your control, and are working hard to defend that land without thinking about how exhausting it is on the soldiers!”
Eric shouted as if he was going to strike me. It was a little different from the outburst he had thrown at me at the Academy; it was an outburst of righteousness. His face was flushed with anger, purely out of concern for others, and I couldn’t see the slightest hint of self-denial or self-loathing that he had shown in the past.
… The impact of the traumatised soldiers had on him was greater than we had anticipated.
We knew that he was sensitive to the psychological traumas, but no one imagined that he would leap past refusing to care for the soldiers and onto rejecting the war itself, which was the cause for their trauma.
“Baron Dorvadine, you also understand that abandoning the land that we have occupied and pulling back our frontlines would hinder the peace negotiations, don’t you?”
“Pfft, what are you talking about? You know this don’t you? You know that we don’t need that for peace negotiations. Didn’t Rindarl demand that the First Prince receive better treatment?”
That is something that everyone involved in this war has thought about at one time or another. That’s why I didn’t know how to reply to him.
“I’m going to bring Prince Albert back from the monastery, and then back to the Academy. I’ll also get Alfred’s Crown Prince title revoked, and then the cause of this war will disappear. It’s foolish to use the lives of the citizens for such a pointless conflict… Woah?!”
I dragged Eric into a nearby room before he could rant any further in the corridor.
It wasn’t good for him to say anything more than that even if he is a member of the Archduke’s house. It was clearly an insult to the Upper House of Lords ――― the highest-decision-making body in this kingdom. Even if he is from the Archduke’s house, he was born from the mistress, so if he were to say those words out loud, then he wouldn’t be able to take them back.
“What are you… Argg!”
“Calm down a little. You know the repercussions of saying that His Majesty the King’s decision is ‘foolish’ in a place like that, and that information gets around?”
I shut his mouth with my hands since I knew it was disrespectful, and whispered for him to calm down. I made him change his tone of voice to a normal one and forced his attention from the injured soldiers and onto me. Hopefully, this will cool his head a little.
Eric widened his eyes at my words and then slowly nodded his head. The moment I let go off his mouth, he quickly moved to the side to distance himself from me.
“I’m sorry for being rough with you.”
“No… It’s alright. I was, uh… I was careless.”
Eric turned pale and slumped into a nearby chair. His inflated emotions punctured like a deflated balloon, and he seemed to have lost the figure he was supposed to maintain.
When Eric had calmed down enough, I pulled out a chair and sat down.
This is a good opportunity, although it was a sudden one. I had to convince Eric in one or two days.
“I understand what you are thinking, Baron Dorvadine. If there’s one thing I’d like to say, then it’s that everyone, including me, agrees with you.”
“However, you can’t do that. If you are a member of the Archduke Doravadine’s House, then you must stand here as a politician and not a knight.”
When I told him this in a slightly strong tone, Eric looked dubious for a moment, but then his expression immediately became tense, and he bit his lip… I wanted to sigh. Judging from his reaction, he understood this somehow even without being told.
“… You knew, didn’t you? That’s why you brought me here.”
I didn’t answer his question. I didn’t know how Eric would react once he saw the wounded soldiers. The only reason he was sent to comfort the soldiers was because we thought that seeing the injured soldiers in person would make him a little enthusiastic while delivering the King’s orders and while encouraging the soldiers.
Rather than being enthusiastic about that, he reacted the opposite. ――― He was more on the side of the knights and soldiers, while retaining his perspective as a politician. It hurt him too much to see the citizens get hurt on the battlefield, that he didn’t think about the national interest as a politician and can only proclaim powerless words.
“You will never stand on the battlefield; you weren’t born to be a knight. It’s improper for you to think like a knight.”
Those who stand on the battlefield need to be prepared to risk their lives and the lives of their comrades on the battlefield.
Politicians also need to be prepared. They need to be prepared to use someone else’s life to protect their own and those of their citizens. I am able to be in both positions because, unlike Eric, I am replaceable.
“… Even soldiers are afraid of death. So, only those prepared to die will stand on the battlefield. Those who lose heart will withdraw from the battlefield. It would be an insult to ask them to flee the battle when they haven’t lost heart yet. Baron Doravadine, you came all the way here and still you want to insult those who fight for their lives with swords? Can you face Sieghart again after you run back to the capital?”
If Eric goes back to the capital, then, as he mentioned earlier, the Arxian army will retreat to Jugfena Fortress without being able to do anything against the Rindarl army who are advancing with slaves as their shields. They will abandon all that they’ve gained from the previous battles… No matter how you look at it, it’s a clear defeat. The honour and power of Marquis Lorenzorell, the commanding general, will drop to the ground.
Eric’s expression distorted as soon as I mentioned Seighart’s name. He looked very young as if he was trying to hold back tears.
――― 13 years old is still a very young age, if I look at it from the view of a woman in my previous life. Well, I’m also the same age as him though. However, thirteen is the age of a pre-adult in this world. It means that you are treated almost the same as an adult.
Perhaps that was why I didn’t feel much pain even though I was aware that I was mentally overwhelmed.
“Do your duty.”
… It is also annoying to leave Eric alone when he’s behaving like a child.
It was sad to think that this was probably the way he learned to plead to the woman who took his mother’s place, but he and I aren’t close enough for me to sympathise with him.
“You should have made up your mind a little before you came here.”
It was foolish to try and improve his mood when there are only the two of us here. I spoke as if I was trying to hit him with words. Eric’s expression twisted to the point where tears were almost falling from his eyes, but he didn’t take his gaze off me until the very end.
This may have been the first time we’ve looked each other in the eyes for this long and talked.
“… Okay, I got it. I’m… I’m sorry for what I’ve done.”