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Chapter 15: Return

Return

... As Lyle's main camp began its advance, Cartaffs had moved as well.

They shared a border, and that land had always been one with plenty of skirmishes to speak of.

When it came to invasion, Bahnseim showed a reaction at once.

At a stronghold in Bahnseim before the full-blown invasion of Cartaffs, a knight help his mouth open as he watched the scene from atop the fort.

"... That can't be. Why are there flags besides Cartaffs' raised!?"

The flags of Cartaffs' neighboring countries.

And before the army they had never seen before, the knight in charge of the fort sent a messenger towards Centralle at once.

"Request reinforcements from Centralle. This fort won't hold for long!"

While the messenger hurriedly raced off, the armies glared at one another across a river.

But even if the unprepared Bahnseim tried to gather hands, what they could amass was ten thousand at most.

"While they're making a mess of the east, the queen of Cartaffs makes her move... but even if the east has fallen, there are still several hundreds of thousands of troops stationed in the south and west. Centralle still stands; we still have power to spare!"

The commander who said it so the surroundings knights and soldiers could hear was trying to put them at ease with his words.

But a messenger raced in to the fort protected the north. Carrying news that Faunbeux had moved, and the Margrave of Resno had turned coat. That in the south, the countries centered around Djanpear were moving...

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... From atop her horse, Ludmilla looked at the fort across the river.

Many times had she launched an attack on that fort, at times taking and protecting it herself. Shached back and forth, it was something of a symbol between Cartaffs and Bahnseim.

"Now then, I think it's about time the messenger arrived."

The Valkyrie to her side called over.

"Was there any meaning in purposely delaying your advance? You don't seem very motivated about all this."

Ludmilla looked at the Valkyrie as she giggled to herself.

"It goes without saying that it's better to win without fighting. If I let myself be fashionably late, on top of them learning reinforcements weren't going to come, the information would have spread of the attack on Bahnseim from all fronts. The enemy morale will plummet."

The Valkyrie faced forwards.

"If you're late to meet up, are you fine with using that as your excuse?"

Ludmilla wore a white, expensive-looking fur over the leather army that covered her entire body. Over her shoulder she leaned her long-sword, still in its sheath.

"The north is the closest to Centralle. I'd rather refrain from diminishing my troops in a desire to be first. And the time we meet up is important. If we're the first to crumble, it will affect the morale of our alliance."

Acting as she sought profit for herself, Ludmilla grinned as she watched the approaching envoy of Bahnseim they'd sent over for negotiations...

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... On the western front, having safely crossed through Margrave Resno's territory, the armies centered around Faunbeux had begun their march.

The area's barons, viscounts and varied feudal nobles gathered their vassals, showing preparations for a struggle to the bitter end, but no one had expected the Margrave tasked with protecting the border to let Faunbeux through without a fight.

Their preparations didn't make it in time, and before they could meet up, many of them were crushed individually.

Faunbeux enthusiastically used this chance to reclaim the land the Walt House once shaved away from them, while Varius Resno infiltrated the new land he was to be granted and confirmed the territory.

He occupied the mansion of one of the barons, letting the Resno army use it as a stronghold.

The baron dragged out before him was bound with rope, lain down on his side.

"Margrave!? Do you understand!? This is a clear act of betrayal, is it not!"

Varius looked at the man before his eyes.

"The first to betray was the monarchy. Not only my heir, demanding I send his daughter and my grandson as well... your family taken hostage, did you think nothing of it!?"

The baron glared at him.

"It's the way of the noble! It's not as if it never happened before! Yet led by feelings for your kin, you've turned coat on your country!"

Varius was unshaken.

"Who in their right mind would pledge devotion to a state without authority. The current Bahnseim does not have worth in serving, is all there is to it. You all have misread the flow of the times."

And one of his men ran over.

"Varius-sama, the search of the mansion has been completed. As prior investigation has shown, he was already surrounded by lovers. There were children, and there doesn't seem to be a doubt they're the children of that baron."

Varius looked down over the baron.

"... Knowing your family wouldn't come back alive, you prepared another heir for yourself. You sold your family, did you?"

The baron made a bit of a maddened smile.

"And what of it? Passing down our blood is our obligation. I knew the people taken as hostages wouldn't be safe. But... what of it!? If it's for the peace of the house, I'll but them off even if family they be. That's the way of the nobles"

Varius recalled the cages of his son, and his daughter-in-law and grandchild.

"Hmm. But your baron house ends here. I'll say you died in battle with honor. If your family is still alive, we'll look after them. I have nothing but pity for the family you discarded."

As the baron was carried off, Varius covered his face with his left hand.

"Varius-sama."

One of his subordinates showed worry, so Varius spoke.

"... Even when all he said was correct, here I am worrying for the safety of my son. It's nothing more than a faint hope, but if he is still alive... no, I'm scared to find out. What state my son is in."

His subordinate knight looked down as well.

Celes the terrible. A woman who'd calmly lay hands on even those who adored her.

Varius spoke so his men.

"For now, we'll move on. If we're late to meet up, there's a possibility that will be used as a reason to reduce our territory. Let's hurry to suppress our next target."

As the man left the room, his subordinates abided by his orders...

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... The South.

After Djanpear provoked Bahnseim, it immediately fled into the mountains and tempted them to follow.

They made it look as if they could only fight on their specialized battlefield. The surrounding countries had moved, and now that they knew they were being attacked from all four directions, Bahnseim's side was showing something close to impatience.

They likely wanted to defeat Djanpear at once to offer relief to the other fronts.

"We're being made light of."

Djanpear's king Jules had a white cloth draped over the shoulder of his armor, that continued to wrap around his waist. It was adorned with gold, and stood out considerably.

"Your majesty, are we simply to keep attracting the southern soldiers in like this?"

"That's the plan. They have the advantage on flat land. Well, I do plan to attack if they show their backs, but... the enemy may crumble before they get the change."

The feudal nobles of the south, upon hearing of the continent's movements, were quite compelled to consider an occupational change.

And in truth, even if they fought, Jules could see Bahnseim losing its motivation. He touched a hand to his chin.

"Now then, around how far has our favorite little leader gotten?"

As Jules said that, the Valkyrie nearby answered.

"The area under the capital's direct control is already before his eyes. He is in the middle of exchanging blows with the final feudal lord on his path."

Jules, upon hearing that.

"The east already lost before, and he absorbed in their soldiers. They can't put up any resistancy resistance, huh. In that case, we've got to properly nail down the southern soldiers."

He said.

(If possible, I'd like to subdue the southern lords and race to his aid to sell a favor. If I do, that one won't have trouble finding marriage. I can't leave her in the country, and she's nothing but trouble, so I have to somehow push her onto... I mean entrust her to good hands. Ludmilla-dono seemed worried as well, so I've got to make a move myself.)

Jules thought over how to force his problematic half-sister onto the leader as he thought over his next plan...

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... An army of approximately a hundred and ninety thousand stood before the area under direct royal control, surrounding the city of the last feudal lord.

It was Lyle's main force, but for now it wasn't showing any movement.

From the pleasant advance they had experienced to that point, out of breath... they were not. They took some rest as they carried negotiations with the other parties.

The ones charged with it were Baldoir and Maksim.

An envoy from the count had come, sweating with an indescribable expression as he explained the present situation.

Within the tent, the envoy stood before the two as he looked as if he were desperately giving an excuse.

"W-we're quite confused, and we've no idea what happened... i-it's true we were pointing our spears your way, but blue beads of light suddenly started falling and we regained our sanity, or how should I put it..."

Before Lyle left.

He had undone Celes' charm on the area. For that sake, the belligerent Count House had suddenly grown half-hearted.

Baldoir spoke with sympathy for his plight.

"Why not take some time to calm down? We can't carry out any decent negotiations when you're in such a state. I recommend you return and get your feelings in order."

The envoy addressed him.

"H-however! There's no way we can calm down with such a great army before us. Voices of anxiety are already raising from within..."

Maksim crossed his arms.

"That's your circumstance, and no business of us. Once your internal administration has calmed down, get your policies in order and we can start up negotiation once more. Well, we need to establish a definite period. For now, come again after a week's gone by."

Seeing the envoy's shoulders dropped, it hurt their hearts. Once they had sent him back, the two men breathed out their sighs. Baldoir wiped his sweat.

"With this, we can buy some time and get off without having to work towards public order."

Maksim shared his sentiment.

"If we rush in at once, it will be a pain to manage. And we can't advance while Lyle-dono isn't here. It would be troublesome if the soldiers ran amok inside the city."

The two of them were doing what they could to conceal Lyle's absence, sending back the messenger and earning some time.

Baldoir raised his face.

"... We've somehow made it possible for Lyle-sama's return."

He said quite sorrowfully...

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In the ancestors' memories within the Jewel, I had seen the mansion a number of times.

But seeing it in reality brought out yet another emotion.

"The details have changed here and there. I guess time flows for mansions as well."

There was a stone statue in the center of the fountain just beyond the gate. But the statue's shape was different to the one I had seen in the Jewel.

Novem to my side spoke without a change in expression.

"... It was destroyed when Maizel-sama and Clair-sama were having a lover's tiff. They did piece it back together, but Maizel-sama said he had grown tired of it."

A lover's tiff... it does seem my father had a Walt House-esque side to him as well.

Looking around, I could see the servants collapsing at the knees, covering their faces with their hands. Those that had taken up their weapons in an attempt to sever their own lives were surrounded and suppressed by the knights we'd brought along.

I had come to the Walt House in the country's south west.

We had infiltrated in small numbers, but through the guidance of the Walt House knights and soldiers we'd brought along, we got in quite easily.

And from there, I used the Jewel to dispel Celes' curse.

Aria and Miranda came up to me.

"Lyle, we've brought him over."

"The Walt House's stewards sure are extreme. He'd already begun writing a will, you know. Should I say he's quick to recover, or impulsive."

I stood before the steward of the mansion.

"... What happened to old man Zell's hut?"

The steward kept his head down.

"My deepest apologies, young master... My deepest..."

Shannon behind me pulled on my clothes.

"Lyle, now's no good. It seems he's really in despair. Let him have some rest."

Thinking she was exactly right, I spoke up.

"I give no permission for suicide. That's an order. And I've no particular intent to punish. I'll station guards, but you should rest a while for the day."

As I walked off, Eva and May looked over the mansion.

"Doesn't really give the liberated feeling. It's just really sad, or rather, it feels as if we've done a bad thing."

"More importantly, I'm more worried about that one. Look, he's coming!"

The one charging at us was a single night. The structure of his face could be classified as beautiful; a baby-faced knight one might think of as cute.

"Get out of here! Washout of the Walt House!!"

With a bloodcurdling expression, he pulled the sword at his waist and cut at me. The guard knight who hurriedly leapt out was cut, and Eva and May leapt out before me.

I nudged them aside, and pulled the Katana at my waist. The rare metal Katana that had finally been successfully tempered let off a pale light.

As I cut with the momentum built up as I pulled it from its sheath, I cut through the knight, sword and all.

As I wiped off the blood on the blade, I looked at my foe.

"I don't recognize him."

One of the mansion's knight let out a weak voice.

"... H-he was Celes-sama's favorite knight. Ever since Celes-sama left for the capital, he was left aside. He spent every day mumbling to himself."

He had likely sworn loyalty to Celes from the depths of his heart. Not under her curse, a true pledge of faith.

"So there are those sort as well. Understood. Treat the guard knight. And collect all their weapons. If they oppose, I mind it not if you retaliate."

As I issued orders, I headed for the place I had accepted the Jewel.

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"... Zell, I'm back. I'm sorry. I... didn't make it in time."

Where not even the burn marks remained, the lot the hut once stood was the only place the grass didn't grow.

It was here that I once received the Jewel.

If old man Zell wasn't there, I'm sure I wouldn't be here now.

Eva approached us.

"Lyle, I've brought them. Zell-san's family."

Turning, I looked at Zell's family. His grandson had grown, while his son and daughter were in good years. I could even see a great grandchild. I gave a simple explanation and offered my thanks to the family.

Right after that, Gracia returned. It seems she had bought what I'd asked her to.

"This is all I could get. Well, given the season perhaps it can't be helped."

Taking the bouquet of flower, I placed it where the hut once stood.

Elza looked around.

"It really was in quite the hidden place."

Clara looked at me.

"So you wanted to show it to us? Is that how it is?"

I shook my head at her and denied it.

"That's not it. I wanted to show it to him. That I'm alright. Truth be told, I wanted to become a first-rate adventurer and repay the favor. But I didn't make it in time..."

Monica didn't use her usual joking tone.

"So he's your life's savior? Then he is our savior as well. I'm surprised he managed to maintain his mind and live in this mansion of madness. I'm sure he went through much pain."

There, old Zell's son spoke.

"When the adventurers' guild betrayed and ran amok within the territory, my father was injured. I heard it was right before he was to rise from a soldier to a knight. The house's head was absent, and it seems he fought to protect it no matter what, but... he was unable to answer the head's expectations, and it seems he regretted for the rest of his days."

I never knew old Zell had such a past.

But I knew why the Seventh kept him by his side.

"No, my grandfather was thankful of old Zell. His expectations were more than answered. And I owe your father my life. If anything troubles you, say it to me. I'll at least protect his family for him."

The son shook his head.

"Those words would have been enough for my father. And we have a house and some assets. The previous generation's head was quite kind to us."

I thought over the Seventh's mindfulness.

"I see. Then if anything happens, come over."

Saying that, I turned to where the hut used to be once more.

In a small voice.

"... I wasn't able to become a first-rate adventurer, but I hope you'll forgive me for that."