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Chapter 10: Margrave

Margrave

... The Margrave of Resno.

The feudal lord left to the border with Faunbeux, and a single feudal lord who had grown quite busy alongside the worsening relations with Faunbeux.

The lord had the border left to him, but it's not as if he was protecting it alone. He had the cooperation of surrounding lords in defending the border, but at present, he was isolated.

Centralle had sent a demand for hostages.

The current head, [Varius Resno] had his long, gray hair tied to the back. He didn't usually tie it, but reading the letter from the surrounding lords, and from his son sent to Centralle, [Balfelt Resno], he was making a sour face as if he wanted to chew that letter to bits.

"That girly of the Walt House. She deceived my son."

With status high as Margrave, it wouldn't be strange to hold an estate in Centrale. He had sent a representative to manage it, and naturally enough, Varius sent his heir Balfelt.

Then the Walt House's Celes got engaged to the crown prince, and the gears began turning strange. No, they had been strange before that.

Balfelt had stated it wasn't a good plan to have Varius leave the territory, and gone to the mansion in Centralle of his own will.

And when the hostage matter came up, he volunteered as one gleefully.

Up to that point, a part of Varius had thought there was no helping it. But from Balfelt, he received word he wanted to offer up his wife and son... to Varius, that would mean sending off his grandson.

The surrounding lords also voiced their desire for him to send them over.

"Is the Resno House charged with Faunbeux's border really that untrustworthy!?"

As he crushed the letter in his hands, the Knight behind him in service to the house opened his mouth.

"Varius-sama, at this rate, we'll be surrounded by Faunbeux and the other lords. I do think it painful, but you have to take some measures."

Varius was aware of the abnormalities of Centralle. But most Barons and Viscouts without the level of power as Margrave had sent hostages to Centralle as a means of securing their safety.

Centralle's army was one thing, but it was mainly an act in fear of the Walt House's army.

With Centralle going strange, the Feudal Lords didn't keep still. They marched to Centralle to remonstrate them, and many lords had ended up charmed.

At present, Varius had a number of choices.

"... If I send my daughter-in-law and grandson to Centralle, they'll only become that little girl's toys. But if I change sides to Faunbeux..."

The knight carried on his words.

"Then this land will become the battlefield of Bahnseim and Faunbeux. The safest option available is to send the hostages, and adopt in an heir from a relative. With that, you can match the pace of the lords around you, and stand against Faunbeux."

Varius lowered his fist onto his table. The letter it clenched was crumpled, and torn by the impact.

"A relative? Oh, as if there's a decent one of the lot! Each and every one of them is after the position of Margrave. And besides them, there are only the ones who come asking to borrow money. If they were decent, I wouldn't be so troubled! I've no intent to concede my status to any besides my grandson!"

The knight's eyes narrowed.

"... I understand you dote on your grandson. But now is not the time to say such a thing. It won't be a direct line, but at least the blood of the Resno shall remain."

Varius was soft on his grandson, and had decided he would only ever hand his status over to him. But looking around, it was also true there were no kin worthy of being Margrave. The knight seemed to believe as long as you trained them a few years, they'd be at least useful enough to succeed.

"... Let me think about it. They've already taken my precious son away. This matter is to be put on hold."

Varius sunk deeply into his seat, and covered his face with both hands...

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"Hmm, so besides the eldest son, all the Margrave's children married into other houses?"

On route to Faunbeux, the five of us dropped by the marketplace of a passing town to gather information. Those of the surrounding towns and villages made the trek to sell goods at the market, and as we purchased food, we spoke with a talkative aunty.

When I refused the change for the meal, her tongue began sliding quite jovially.

The well-built aunty left the store to a man (perhaps her husband?) and told us various things.

"Our lord over here has some business relations with him. See, the Margrave's place is the border, right? A little while back, they sent away the princess, so he had his work cut out for him, but his sons were also proficient. They were on favorable terms before things got hectic, so he had sent his sons off to be married."

According to her, when they were on favorable terms with Faunbeux, his second and third son were sent in as grooms.

But when the situation changed, his heir, his son had entered Centralle, it seems.

"Our lord over here sent his wife and kid off at once, though. Not much to say about that. Well, he surrounded himself with lovers soon after, so I guess that's all they were to him, but the Margrave declined sending any additional hostages, I heard. Because of that, there's a tense air going on in the country. Quite troublesome."

After having his son taken hostage, he was requested to offer that son's wife and child...

"That must've been hell. So among this area's feudal lords, have all the others besides the Margrave sent their hostages?"

The Aunty looked up a bit.

"Let's see. Yeah, a few months back. No reason not to. That Margrave really ought to consider other's feelings a bit. If he gets Centralle's eyes on him, then even the Walt House will make its way here. Before Centralle runs out of patience and sends a force to meet them, they should just send themselves to Centralle."

The Walt House... no longer a famed name of Bahnseim, it was a symbol of fear. From the Jewel, I heard Milleia-san's voice.

[Well, to the people, the feelings of lords aren't quite relevant. Personally, I think the form of one hesitating to send hostages regardless the cost is quite favorable, you know.]

The Third laughed.

[What's favorable for me is how we're Bahnseim's enemy, and he's in a convenient position. But if he were a little smaller in scale, and it was a territory where the people had more chances to meet the lord, perhaps they would be more sympathetic of him.]

The Fifth spoke listlessly.

[Only if he was a good lord to the people, right? Even if they sympathize, they'll still tell him to send them in the end. Because everyone values themselves.]

The Seventh listened to the Fifth's opinion.

[How cold. But I won't deny it. Now then, let's leave our personal impressions at that... Lyle, looks like you've something to do before entering Faunbeux.]

I gripped the Jewel, and after signaling my affirmation, I smiled, and gave the aunty my thanks. While I was at it, I handed over more change.

"Thank you, I've heard quite an interesting tale. Here's thanks."

There, the aunty spoke.

"Shop with us again. I'll throw in a discount."

As we stood and left, she saw us off with a smile.

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Entering an inn of the town, we washed off the fatigue of our travels.

Gathering in my room, Monica prepared herb tea and snacks for everyone, and got the preparations together.

As Shannon reached a hand to the sweets, Monica.

"If you eat that, you'll have to brush your teeth again."

Shannon puffed her cheeks.

"But I just did it after I got out of the bath, so isn't it fine!"

Monica scoffed.

"Of course it isn't. If you're fine with getting a cavity, and having your beloved sister lecture you, then go right ahead."

Clara took a treat in hand.

"Is it really an issue? Just brush again."

Aria on the other hand.

"I do it before I go to bed, so there's no problem for me. Ah, this is good."

Monica lifted a twin tail up with one hand, as she put her opposite hand on her hip.

"I, Monica, personally prepared those sweets. There's no way they'd be bad. Matching the Chicken Dickwad's tastes, they're the ultimate..."

The explanation was getting long, so I took one in my hand, and brought it to my mouth. A crisp texture, and a cream and jam with some acidity to it. Bite-sized, and tasty. Perfect affinity with herbal tea.

But...

"I preferred the one from last time."

When I said that, she immediately left the room, so I hurriedly called to stop her.

"oy, what about the meeting?"

"Don't stop me! Preparing the sweets you desire is my duty! If you say the sweet you ate before was better, then this Monica need only borrow the inn's kitchen and cook it up!"

Reaching a hand for her third sweet, Shannon lay on the sofa stomach-first, and kicked her legs.

"Didn't you bring cooking tools along? Why not just do it here?"

Clara refuted Shannon's words.

"I'd rather you not. The smell will just make me needlessly hungrier."

There were various problems that came with cooking in the same room, and with a grasp on all that, Monica was trying to head for the kitchen.

Aria chewed on a sweet in her mouth as she spoke.

"More importantly, let's get to the talks already. This time we're requesting the Margrave's assistance, right? Will we negotiate so he doesn't have to hand over the hostages?"

Aria was right. If we wanted to get him on our side, it was true we had to do something about the hostages. But we didn't know what was on his mind yet.

When I called Monica back to my side, she delightedly approached. Standing behind and to the side of the sofa behind me, with a solid, imposing expression.

"I do think we must get into contact. But one wrong step, and we'll be restrained and bound for Centralle. So it all starts with rumors. And from there, we start our move."

Clara looked at me with an expression that seemed to ask, 'Again?'

"Lyle-san, you plan on fooling our negotiation partners again?"

Within the Jewel, inaudible as he was, the Third tried to unravel the misunderstanding. He surely hated his favorite Clara sending such eyes of doubt my way.

[That's wrong. That's wrong, Clara-chan! We'll only spread and publicize the truth of what happens to the hostages sent! Sent off to that Celes, there's no way they're unharmed!]

Aria was the same. She looked at me.

"You always turn to those sorts of means."

The one wounded by those words was the Fifth.

[... N-no. This is just a fundamental, and manipulating information is a vital point. It isn't a bad means.]

These guys are hopeless, the moment their favorite girls chastise them, they grow weak at the knees. I'm sure the First would've said not to think of anything, just march in and negotiate, drafting up a plan much more to Aria's tastes. Then what of the Second? I'm sure he'd proceed with caution.

The Fourth would... and the Sixth...

Milleia-san spoke.

[This is why kids who don't appreciate it are no good. Just look at Shannon, she's not even trying to understand the situation, and she hasn't given the slightest objection to Lyle's plan.]

Is that really something to brag about? As I thought that, Shannon nodded.

"You're always so petty."

She said. Within the Jewel, the Seventh burst into laughter, but after several volleys of fire, it went quiet.

"I'm sorry, but I've no plans to change our course. Let's gather information, and think up his character, as we decide a detailed plan. If possible it would help if some are sent from Centralle to collect the hostages."

It sounded plenty possible Centralle would send a squadron for them. It would be most convenient if he was dealing with them when we came in.

Aria looked at me, put an elbow on the sofa's armrest, and put her face on her hand.

"What are you planning this time? Even if you win against the squad that comes for them, there's no meaning in that. On the contrary, they may start sending actual forces. Or could it be another dirty scheme of yours?"

Because I did this and that regularly, it seems she believed I favored dirty schemes. But that wasn't quite right. We would lose if we fought upfront, so we could only rely on such tricks.

It's not my fault. It's the fault of the all-too-great war potential difference between we and Bahnseim.

"No, this time isn't that dirty. It's actually quite honest."

Clara showed some interest.

"How rare. So what's this honest plan of yours?"

I spoke full of confidence.

"Yeah, the truth is I think I'm going to go off and kidnap the Margrave's son's wife and child. And then comes the negotiations!"

Besides the sleepy Shannon. Aria, and Clara were staring at me. Monica said something like, 'you're too vile, damn chicken. But I'll still follow you. For that is my aesthetic!' from behind me.

"... Eh? I-I mean! Wouldn't that make it much easier to negotiate with the Margrave!? As things are, we won't even be able to properly meet him, and it's dubious whether or not they'll listen to what we have to... h-huh? What's with everyone?"

The Third reacted to their reactions.

[Huh? I thought it was quite nice?]

The Fifth agreed.

[Not bad for something Lyle came up with?]

The revived Seventh.

[Did he phrase it wrong? We're saving the blood relatives being carted off from those dogs of Centralle! See, doesn't that have a nice ring to it?]

Milleia-san giggled.

[Even if it sounds decent, he'd be doing the same. But Lyle sure has grown. Kidn... rescuing the Margrave's grandson, and using the... favor to negotiate.]

I stood and explained, but those two pairs of eyes only grew colder.

"What's so bad about it!?"

Shannon looked at me.

"It's so wrong, they don't know exactly what part of it to scold you about. Or rather, you're definitely threatening him, aren't you? How should I put it... cowardly?"

Being called a coward, the words that came up in my head were, 'Coward is a compliment where I come from!'

... It seems I've been dyed in the ancestor's colors in various bad ways. Mainly the Third, and the Fifth, and the Seventh... ah, quite a thick lot, and what's more, only the relatively scheming ones are left.