TN: Apologies for going missing for a month. I had three projects thrust at me all of a sudden, and they all wanted deliverables by Christmas. THEN I had to help my dad move house, which happened to be somewhere with bad 3G reception. As for the licensing, I’m taking down the first volume and continuing translations for now.
Right behind the beheaded nobles, ten-odd dark figured men stood. Their faces were wrapped in black cloth, and they were wearing shinobi-like black garmints. In their hands they held bloodied swords, obviously being the ones who did away with the nobles’ heads. The sudden entry of the men and their equally sudden violence took everyone’s breath away. Only Hakuya and I still had the same expressions.
“Your Highness! Get behind me!”
Liscia and Aisha tried to cover me and stood in front of me with their swords drawn, but I gently laid my hand on their shoulders.
“It’s all right, they’re my ‘underlings'”
“Underlings … eh …?”
As Liscia became confused, one of the men stepped up close. Unlike the other men who were wearing impersonal shinobi clothes, this one was wearing an impressive set of metallic black armor. He was nearly two meters tall and had a muscled physique that can even be seen through his armor. Looking from the neck down he looked exactly like “The Dark Knight”, but his face was covered by a black tiger mask. Black Tiger Mask knelt before me and bowed his head.
“Mission accomplished, Milord”
Black Tiger Mask reported in a heavy voice matching his appearance.
“Huh!? That voice … hnng”
Liscia was about to say something, but I gripped her shoulder tight with my hand. She looked towards me but she seems to have noticed something. She silently sheathed her sword. Looking at Excel, she had her eyes wide open, but I’m sure she gets what was going on. She then closed her eyes. Then I patted the shoulder of Aisha, who was still on high alert.
“Aisha, you put your sword down, too”
“B, but …”
“His name is Kagetora. Leader of the intelligence force under my direct comand, the Black Cats”
As I said that, the Black Cats members raised their swords in front of themselves in synchrony. Having been made a fool of by Imperial intelligence at the Amidonian capital Vannes, I recently organized this unit to specialize in intelligence work directly under me to counter them. To be more accurate, I took the few intelligence operatives Hakuya had, increased their numbers, made an elite troop out of them, put Kagetora who had excellent command capability as leader in charge, and reformed them to be a unit under my direct supervision.
They are a unit with many secrets. Nobody knew who their members really were, and it’s a mystery how they were able to work in harmony, even though they were only instituted the other day. Particularly puzzling is the true identity of Kagetora. Seeing how he handles this mysterious unit like his own hands and feet, he gave the impression of a long-serving general, but did a person like this even exist in Elfrieden? Who is it? Nobody knew who he really was.
“… Say, Soma. Is Kagetora …”
“Nobody knows who he really is. Capisce?”
“Ah, okay …”
Liscia vigorously nodded with an expression that says “I can’t say anything.” Immediately, I then ordered Kagetora and the rest of the Black Cats.
“After you’ve done tidying up the nobles’ bodies, contact the soldiers stationed near their residences. Have them break in and seize the evidence. Suppress any resistance.”
“As you will”
The Black Cats took off right after they put the nobles’ bodies away. Kagetora was the last to leave the plaza after giving Liscia one last look. Having seen them off, Liscia sent a harsh look at me and said
“… You are going to explain what this is all about, right”
“Yes, but … where should I start?”
“First … Tell me why did you kill the nobles”
“Yes, I suppose I should start there …”
I unhurriedly explained the reason for the killings.
◇ ◇ ◇
“About the reason why I killed those twelve houses, that’s because they had connections with Amidonia as well. It had been investigated and confirmed by Hakuya and Georg.”
“You mean they’re colluding with Amidonia?”
“That’s not quite right. I said ‘as well’. They had connections with Amidonia, as well as the corrupt nobles, and also with our side ‘as well’.”
“Eh? What’s that supposed to mean …”
“It means they’re fence-sitters. Going with the one who seems to be winning.”
Those nobles had always shown that they intend to stick with the winning side and avoid trouble. If they’re just that, I can’t tell them apart from the nobles who were just waiting and seeing during the war with the Three Dukes, but it’s a different matter once they have connections with foreign powers. When the Kingdom was lethargic they toadied up to Amidonia, when the Three Dukes declared war they went to Georg, and now they came to me.
“Then once they ensured their own safety, they would rile up dissent behind the shadows. The way it works is that people with insecurities make easy pawns for them. They’d gain profit by providing goods and people to the rebel side, and if the rebels weakened they’d crush them themselves to gain merit. If suspicious eyes trained in on them they’d instigate malcontents somewhere else to turn those eyes away from them. … They’ve been doing that again and again during your father’s reign.”
“No way …”
“And what’s more dangerous about them is that they don’t do it directly by themselves and act like loyal retainers when we’re strong, making them hard to convict. They do their job properly when we’re on the rise, after all. Rulers who believe in their political power, who are gentle and trusting toward their retainers are the ones who’d fall for their tricks, thinking ‘I’ll be fine if I just established a stable administration. There’s no need to antagonize our own allies'”
“But … you killed them all, didn’t you?”
“… I am under no illusion that my rule will be a stable one. In fact, I believe I’ll be standing at the crossroads of fate someday. At that time, fence-sitters like those are going to be harmful, I’m sure. If they hurt people I care about, like you, Aisha, or Juna, it’ll be too late to say ‘I should’ve killed them when I had the chance’. If that happens, I’ll probably go crazy. Which is why I chose to nip it in the bud now.”
Machiavelly said that the affairs of the world are governed by fortune that men with their wisdom cannot direct them and that no one can help them, but nevertheless, that fortune is the arbiter of one half of our actions, leaving us to direct the other half, perhaps a little less 1. A person’s fortunes depend on whether or not their actions fit the period, but that can only be seen only once it’s over. However, by preparing for a sudden turn of events beforehand, one can avert the flow into something more manageable.
The important thing is to not be optimistic about the situation and be decisive in striking everything there is to strike when one can strike (in the words of Machiavelli, “fortune is a woman, and if you wish to keep her under it is necessary to beat and ill-use her”. A feminist would fly into a rage hearing this). That was why, even though I hesitated, I resolved to strike at the heads of the twelve noble houses.
After hearing me talk, Liscia finally nodded.
“I understand what you’re thinking. What are you going to do with the Lords Saracen and Javana who were made to leave their seats?”
“About that, please allow me to explain”
Then Hakuya stepped forward.
“The previous Lords Saracen and Javana used to work with the other twelve houses, but with their deaths those relations were cut off. The current heads, Lord Piltory is a good young man who excels at the pen and the sword, and Lord Owen is a sober and honest hot-blooded man. They will serve His highness without any double-dealing. I thought we can see that by how they acted when they were dragged away from the plaza”
“… so you’re carefully picking who to execute”
“It is as you say. The people executed were those who are not without fault. We should be breaking into their residences gathering evidence as we speak. It’s not commendable of us to subvert the order of evidence and execution, but I hope you’ll understand.”
Having said that, Hakuya bowed. That was probably his way of following up on me just now. He was taking care to not let my relationship with Liscia and the others become strange by conveying that I didn’t execute the twelve nobles out of mere suspicion. Liscia seemed to understand as well and did not ask any further. Really … such a reliable retainer and (future) wife.
“I understand about the twelve, but what if the other two Lords also tried to curry favor with you?”
“In that case, I had plans to provoke those two to anger. Well, if they did try that to His Highness, we can’t really trust them afterwards, though”
“You even thought that far, huh …”
Liscia looked at me with an appalled look 2. Well, uh, all that about reading people’s hearts are Hakuya’s area of responsibility you know. I’m not that kind of an evil character … maybe. Seeing me look away, Liscia breathed a sigh.
“… So, what are you going to do with Carla and her father?”
“… I was getting to that part”
I stood in front of the bound Castor. Castor looked me straight in the face. There was not a hint of his earlier resistance in his eyes.
“Castor Vargas. Ever since you have disregarded the Final Counsel, you have effectively become a ‘traitor'”
“… I understand”
“What’s this? You’ve become unresistant all of a sudden”
“Not after seeing ‘that’. I can’t call you a greenhorn anymore now”
After showing how I dealt with the twelve nobles, their opinion of me seem to have changed. Castor bowed his head deeper than before, pressing his forehead against the ground.
“So please, let me bear all the crimes. Please at least save Carla”
“That’s not for you to decide”
I dismissed him with a cold tone.
“I will give my verdict. Your crime of treason is evident, but as Piltory and Owen said earlier, your services in defending this country for a hundred years shall be acknowledged. Also, your titles, lands, assets, and the Vargas house name had already been taken from you. Therefore I shall allow you to keep your life”
I indicated to Excel who was silently watching over the outcome.
“Castor’s person shall be entrusted to Lady Excel, but he is not to set foot in the former Vargas Duchy. This includes contacting the successor of House Vargas, Carl, and his mother Accella. Excel, this happened because of what your son in law had perpetrated, see it done properly.”
“… yes! I will accept this judgement.”
Even as she teared up, Excel gave a solid response. I saw her mouth silently moving, saying “thank you very much”. I paid it no mind and then stood in front of Carla, who gave me a weak look.
“Carla, you are guilty of the same crime. However, you do not have Castor’s ‘Hundred years of service’ on your behalf. There is nothing to reduce your penalty with”
“P, please wait! In that case then kill me! I was the one who ordered the Air Force to point their blades at the King! So let me instead of Carla …”
I roared at Castor who was pressing his head on the ground again, and ordered the guards to take him away. He shouted “take me instead of her!” all the way out, but I had no obligation to listen. Once the grounds had gone quiet, I continued.
“Your crimes of treason are evident, but it wouldn’t be proper to let the main perpetrator live while killing his daughter. For that reason your life will be spared, but you will henceforth live as a slave. The owner will be … me.”
Carla weakly nodded, being ordered to become my slave. Excel seemed like she wanted to say something, but she held it in. Hakuya closed his eyes, Aisha nervously observed the air around the place, and finally, Liscia made no movements, watching my deeds in silence.
“I will give you your instructions in due time, but there’s one order I want to give you.”
“… by your will.”
I stepped down to Carla who had her head down, whispering into her ear a ‘certain order’ that only she could hear.
As soon as I did, Carla’s eyes opened wide.
◇ ◇ ◇
I couldn’t believe my ears. King Soma whispered the order into my ear.
I was surprised. I looked wide eyed at King Soma who nodded.
(Not now, of course, but should I ever become a tyrant, it will be your job to put an end to me. With your valor, it should be an easy task to kill me should it not?)
Kill me if I ever became a tyrant … what is he saying all of a sudden!?
(Why … are you telling me this …?)
(Because Liscia and the others could never have done it)
Soma awkwardly smiled as he said so.
(There’s come to be a lot of people I care about around me before I knew it. Just the other day, I gained other fianceés besides Liscia. Including Aisha over there)
(Well … congratulations?)
(Thanks. That in itself is not a problem, but … I fear that someday I would abuse my power and fall into tyranny. I worry whether Liscia and the others would stop me if that happened)
(Liscia would, I believe. She’s an earnest person)
(I wonder about that? She would remonstrate me for debauchery or massacring common civilians, but what about when I had justification like just now? I don’t think enforcement is such a big problem every once in a while, but the more you do it the more it becomes an irrecoverable situation. If that happens, would Liscia be able to cast me away?)
… that … would probably be impossible.
(It’s not my place to say, but … Liscia is head over heels for you. I think she is ready to follow along even should you fall down to hell.)
She’s an earnest, wholehearted girl. She will likely sacrifice herself for Soma to the end. Soma also nodded.
(See? Aisha is likely the same way … and I’m not too sure about Juna. Anyway, there are a lot of people around me who would go through sorrow with me. So you, Carla, before the people I care about fall into sorrow with me, it will be your job to put a stop to me.)
(… but I’m a slave. If I killed my master, the collar will kill me.)
(Yes. Therefore you should be resolved to die along with me when you do so.)
How easily he says such outrageous things. He was telling me to become the killing blade if he became a tyrant that must be stopped even at the cost of his life, and not only did he order me to kill him, he also told me to die. This was the reason he set me aside as his slave, to become the detterence to prevent him from becoming a tyrant.
(Really … you never go easy, do you)
(I only go easy on people important to me)
(It’s your own self, you know. Still, I understand what you’re saying)
Just like before the battle with Amidonia, I thought he had too little respect for his own self. He should treat himself better … then people wouldn’t be so worried for him. Liscia, you’ve fallen for a troublesome person. … I suppose I should be the one to keep my dear friend’s love away from a sad future. I fixed my posture and made a deep bow.
“I understand and accept your command. Until that day, as I wish for it to never come, I shall devote myself in service to you.”
Soma nodded in satisfaction to my reply.
“Currently, I do not have work for a slave in the castle yet, so for the time being … go and listen well to the chamberlain ‘senpai’ over there”
As he said that, he looked away in an obvious way. Liscia looked aghast from the depths of her heart. … eh?