Oukoku e Tsuzuku Michi Chapter 337
Smoke bursts from the barrels of ten cannons, propelling shells which obliterate the target watchtowers into tiny pieces.
In succession, another ten cannons unleash their loads.
「First squad, 3 hits! Second squad, 5 hits!」
Once the report comes in, cheers erupt from the second squad while the first squad lets out a frustrated groan.
「Alcohol will be added to today’s meal for the second squad!」
After Celia shouts, the second squad’s cheering gets louder.
Happening in front of our eyes is the training of my army.
A large scale training session is being held at the request of Leopolt and Myla.
「I say request, but they even had the daily schedule prepared so they really only asked for me to press the stamp of approval.」
Now that I think back, it was actually Celia who did the final seal. I didn’t do anything.
「Get into anti-cavalry formation. Now switch. Get into attack formation.」
There was a vigorous shuffling of infantry holding spears, bowguns and swords.
「Too slow. Reduce the time by 30 seconds more.」
Leopolt commands with his usual unchanging expression.
My soldiers compared to those of other feudal lords have plenty of battle experience from fighting so frequently, yet daily training is indispensable.
It is especially important to give the cannoneers an opportunity to practice.
There is a risk of a few cannons breaking down during testing and gunpowder isn’t cheap.
Even so, it’s imperative they shoot their cannons to get familiar with them, else they may hesitate during actual combat.
The cavalry’s war cries match the volume of the deafening booms of the cannons as they rush forward.
Without losing speed, they would run past targets created from cloth and wood while piercing them with their spears.
It may appear like a spectacle at a long distance, but upon closer inspection several cavalry have either failed to pull their spears back out or have collided into the targets and fell off their horses.
「The idiots who fell off will continue practicing until the day is over!」
After Myla shouts, there was an intersection of screams and sneering.
「Wahahahaha! I’ll send you flying!」
Irijina is practicing her combat moves against heavy cavalry.
She’s whipping around a training spear with a rounded tip…… is everything going to be okay?
「Change course to the right and advance, maintain formation.」
The bow cavalry are moving according to Luna’s instructions.
They have mastered the use of horses and bows through their daily life activities and hunting so they don’t need to do much additional training.
What they need to practice is their collective action in a proper formation.
Their eagerness to hunt is very obvious when they happen to spot a fox or deer during a march.
「Pochi, turn right.」
There was a single rider among the cavalry who stood out.
It was Pipi riding the giant lizard. She’s really out of place.
「It’s excessively strange for her to be surprisingly fast.」
Pochi crawls around on all fours even quicker than the horses.
Meanwhile, the horses are frightened by the beast and keeping a distance, causing the formation to be distorted.
I guess it’s not really possible for a lizard to mix in with the cavalry.
Hm? She stopped all of a sudden…… oh, Messerschmitt fell off.
That dog is really useless.
He’s being carried in Pochi’s mouth and looks really sleepy.
「Look at that bone-headed face. He looks exactly like Tristan.」
「…… um, that’s not very appropriate now, is it?」
Tristan lets out a long sigh beside me.
「I’m actually motivated during the times I’m not feeling lazy though. More importantly, is it okay for ‘that’?」
Tristan gives a subtle glance to the side. He’s obviously referring to the information officer Mirkura.
「Monitoring the army is part of His Majesty’s orders. You are not allowed to interfere.」
The small Mirkura tries her best to stand up straight, and she’s been taking notes on something for a while now.
「The number of cannons, the skill of our bow cavalry, everything will be exposed. Are you fine with that?」
She’ll eventually find out about it during her stay in the mansion.
I know it’s not something which should be leaked, but it would arouse more suspicion if we try to hide it.
「Well the important thing is how we use them so I guess it doesn’t matter if they know how many we have.」
Tristan doesn’t seem too concerned.
「Where do you normally keep the cannons?」
「The weapons storage in the third building is a semi-basement so we put them in there. We can’t have spies messing around with the cannons so we have them under tight security.」
Mirkura nods and writes in her notepad.
「……that doesn’t mean you have to tell her yourself.」
Did Tristan say something?
「A lot of horses here are nice and big. Did you breed them within the territory?」
「Well, we have a horny horse who has year-round mating seasons, and he only knows how to mate during the times we’re not at war so plenty of mares ended up getting pregnant. Most of the horses are that guy’s children who have grown up.」
I kick Schwartz’s belly when I make the comment and he lets out a snort.
Don’t be saying “like you’re one to talk”, I’ll kick you over.
Mirkura was initially going around to Celia, Leopolt and Myla to get comments, but ended up coming back to me. So that must mean she wants to become my woman.
「No, it’s because you’re the most willing to talk about everything. Aah……Myla-san is definitely going to get angry at me later.」
It can’t be helped. Mirkura looks so cute when she’s taking notes so seriously.
「Can I ask a question of you?」
「If it’s something I can answer, then sure.」
Mirkura looks up at me with a curious face.
「Could you tell me your name?」
Her face warps slightly.
「It’s Mirkura, just like I said in the beginning.」
I jump off Schwartz and approach Mirkura.
「Not your family name, I want to know your given name.」
「I will also be addressing you as Lord Hardlett. There’s no problem referring to each other by our surnames.」
I get even closer to her.
「Aren’t we friends? We’ll deepen our relationship if we call each other by name.」
The nearby soldiers start whispering.
「As expected the feudal lord-aama has laid his hands on her……」
「Yeah, this is the feudal lord. It doesn’t matter that she’s an officer from the capital.」
「So the feudal lord’s thing went in that small body…… is she okay?」
Mirkura furrows her brow.
「You’re going to cause unwanted misunderstanding so please don’t say those strange things!」
She’s cute when she’s angry too.
「Then tell me your name.」
「I refuse! Now I’m going back to my room to organize my documents!」
She ran away.
「Tristan, I’m gonna give you some work.」
「I have a bad feeling about this, but let’s hear it.」
It’s an important job, failure is not allowed.
「Identify her name. The faster the better.」
「……I really don’t have anymore words.」
Tristan sighs and then goes to work…… it was rather easy to find out her name.
A Few Days Later.
When we’re sitting happily in a circle after breakfast, Mirkura drops by the living room.
I return the greeting and offer her tea, which she declines.
Is it because Myla and Celia are giving her an irritated look?
「I want to take a look at the security within the territory today, is that okay? These are the king’s orders, but I thought I would confirm.」
「I appreciate you doing your job. My lord is still eating so could you talk about work later?」
Although Nonna is polite on the surface, she is basically declaring for her to go away this instant.
Somewhat predicting such a response, Mirkura gives an ambiguous nod to Nonna and waits for my answer.
The pressure from Myla and Celia mounts, turning the mood tense.
「This meat soup is so good! I love it when it’s piping hot! Oops, spilled a little!」
Something is going on between Irijina and Casie, which I keep my distance from.
I’m obviously on the side of my family, however I don’t want to be cruel to Mirkura.
Let’s soothe the atmosphere a bit here.
「I don’t mind you looking. We’re close, aren’t we―― Peticheri.」
Celia and the girls look up in confusion when Mirkura shrieks.
「What’s that all of a sudden?」
「Wahahaha! I guess I have to wipe up the soup I spilled!」
（Aaah, don’t wipe my head with such a dirty cloth!）
The source of that voice was Mirkura―― no, it was Peticheri.
Her real name is Peticheri Mirkura, which is a cute and appropriate name.
「W-where did you get my name…… I kept my personal information secret as an information officer!」
「Is that so? Well, learning your name is not a big deal.」
According to Tristan, Rebecca was glad to tell him.
「So it’s fine if I call her Peticheri from now on, right?」
「Of course not!」
Why is she turning so red? She’s looking exactly like her name, like a tiny little cherry.
「Peticheri…… I see. Got it, Peticheri-dono then.」
Everytime Myla repeated her name, Peticheri’s face turns one shade redder.
「Peticheri-san is it? I think it’s a nice name.」
Celia also praises the girl with a beaming smile.
「Ara, how adorable.」
「It’s a wonderful name.」
「Ufufu, I’ll keep it in mind.」
「This meat is so tasty.」
The name seems popular with Mel, Maria, and Melissa too.
Claudia only has the meat in her eyes.
「Grrrr…… I’ll excuse myself now!」
Yet for some reason Peticheri runs out of the room with tears in her eyes.
Crap, did I upset her?
I quickly chase after her.
「Wait, why is she mad?」
「Isn’t it obvious!? You were humiliating her…… mocking her, right!?」
What does she mean mocking? I only called her by name.
Did she think I purposely called her name to sneer at her?
If so, then that’s sad. As a man, I have to make it up to her.
「You’re still saying that!?」
I embrace the girl as she turns around.
While she resists, our great difference in height and strength make her flailing mere entertainment at best.
「I addressed you by name because I wanted us to get along better.」
「Let go of me, I’m supposed to be keeping watch over you! You are not allowed to do any harm to me!」
The girl struggles fiercely in my arms. If I let her go now, things will only get more awkward between us.
「I didn’t mean to mock your name. I truly think it’s a cute and beautiful name. I mean it.」
「Y-you’re squeezing too hard! Stupid muscle head…… urggh……」
Her resistance doesn’t stop and my embrace only gets tighter.
「I know you will inevitably butt heads with everyone because of your job. However I want you to know Rafen is not full of enemies. I’m on my family’s side…… but not your enemy.」
「I get it…… can’t breathe…… aaggh……」
Her struggling weakens. Oh, it’s working.
「I want to get to know you better. I’m really really fond of women…… it’s going to be hard for me if I’m hated by a nice girl like you.」
She pretty much stops moving and leans against me.
One more push.
「I will help as much as I can with your investigation too, so let’s get along. Maybe we can go one round to make amends――」
She doesn’t have any reaction so I look down to check on her.
I hugged her too tight and ended up strangling her. I was too engrossed with persuading her that I used too much strength.
After confirming she’s still breathing, I make sure no one is around me and take her to the bedroom.
–Third Person POV–
Farm Village Near Vandola.
In a certain village close to the capital city Vandola, a village which can be said to exist only to send wheat to the capital, there are almost 10 000 soldiers from both sides crowding around the perimeter.
「Her Majesty Wilhelmina has arrived!」
The feudal lord who governs the village was also thrown outside and a dozen people or so were in his mansion…… Wilhelmina, Zaphnes, and the upper echelon of Vandolea have gathered there.
This small village close to the current frontlines has become the stage where the negotiations for peace will occur.
「It is a pleasure to meet every one of you from Vandolea.」
Wilhelmina curtsies politely in front of Vandolea’s leaders.
Her attitude showed no trace of intimidation from holding an advantageous state in battle, nor did it seem pointed enough to affect any particularly keen individuals.
It was clear to everyone that she was not used to being here based on her tight expression and how she occasionally tried to relieve her stress by taking deep breaths.
「This way please.」
One of the ministers points her to a seat when Wilhelmina had trouble deciding where to sit.
She clears her throat in an attempt to smooth over her flustered response and then takes her seat.
Sitting silently beside her is a large man dressed in formal uniform and on the other side is an effeminate man sitting with a composed look.
「I am the representative of Vandolea―― currently your nation and ours are in an unfortunate situation. While the blame is solely on your side, we are not here to denounce you but to have a meaningful discussion.」
Wilhelmina quickly takes the hand offered by Vandolea’s representative.
Seeing that happen, one would never imagine Wilhelmina to be the aggressor.
「Hey, is that really the ruler of Altair? She’s not a fake?」
「It’s been confirmed. She is without a doubt queen Wilhelmina……」
Those present from Vandolea whisper among themselves.
「Then let us agree to peace right away!」
「Your Majesty, you must first present the conditions.」
The effeminate man politely advises Wilhelmina and then the negotiation with Vandolea begins.
「To display so openly how badly peace is wanted, that puts us at an advantage……」
「What a complete amateur.」
Diplomatic negotiations are about hiding one’s true intentions while getting the opponent to compromise as much as possible.
Wilhelmina’s one sentence made it clear her side is looking for peace no matter what. That meant Vandolea could be more demanding in their offers.
「Errr…… I understand. What should I do then……」
「Be firm and decisive as a queen.」
The large man――Zaphnes, gives advice to Wilhelmina.
「I prepared quite a few guards to be cautious knowing that the representative will be coming……」
「From what it looks like, they might not have thought things through too much.」
Normally, the supreme leaders of two nations at war with each other would not meet in person to conduct peace talks.
Even if the discussion was to be held, they would limit themselves to showing up for the final greeting.
For something like that to be desired from the beginning, they were obviously worried about assassination attempts, but the Vandolea side relaxes slightly after seeing Wilhelmina’s attitude.
After that, Wilhelmina would panic as the negotiation heats up, and she would be openly overjoyed when one condition was agreed upon…… repeatedly displaying actions overflowing with human weakness.
「Dear me, the reactions of Her Majesty the Queen were so refreshing.」
「I-is that so? I’ve only just become queen. Ehe……」
She smiles despite the sarcastic comment.
“Puppet” was the word which popped up in the minds of the Vandolea side.
They did not think she was capable of usurping the throne in Polpo or overthrowing the regime in Altair or pushing themselves to this point.
In the case she did do those things, the discussion would move to who was controlling her behind the scenes.
The candidates for that are the two individuals sitting beside her.
Zaphnes, who was staying silent and occasionally offered some advice, only appeared to be Wilhelmina’s aid.
In that case, the easy guess would be the other man who proactively pushed the negotiation forward.
「I see, so you absolutely won’t yield on this condition…… fumu. I see.」
「Yes, on the other hand this condition is not important to us. We can compromise.」
Both the Vandolea side and the effeminate man have profound expressions on their faces, and it was likely Vandolea who truly felt like bursting out in laughter.
（This man is incompetent.）
All those who were seated held such a belief.
「Fumu, this is tough. I guess we can allow that.」
「We can’t back down so easily. If that condition is not swallowed, we can’t come to an agreement no matter what.」
He acts like a big deal but has a narrow field of vision and lacks creativity.
He tries to advance strict negotiations but actually focuses on trivial conditions and completely concedes on all the important points.
The negotiator on Vandolea’s side instantly realized that as well, taking advantage by leading the effeminate man around by the nose.
「Amazing. I’m really glad to have you here.」
「Hahaha, anything for Your Majesty.」
Wilhelmina’s cheering also served to put their side at a disadvantage.
It revealed which points they valued the most.
Furthermore, Wilhelmina turned red and looked feverish whenever her eyes met with the negotiating effeminate man.
Everybody could tell she didn’t view him as simply her subordinate.
「I see…… she appointed this idiot based on her romantic feelings.」
「That large man must be a bodyguard and caretaker who doesn’t understand complicated things.」
（This is ugly.）
That thought could not be voiced out loud but everyone on Vandolea’s side were thinking the same.
Having anticipated an intense back-and-forth negotiation with an arrogant invader, those on Vandolea’s side were a bit let down.
However, it was a happy miscalculation.
Negotiations went unusually smooth between two warring countries.
All of a sudden, Wilhelmina stands up and walks to the window.
Everyone’s eyes were drawn to her.
「I’m sorry. I saw a parent and a child albino fox and couldn’t help it……」
It was at that moment…… the moment she shyly stuck her tongue out.
A loud explosion and the accompanying impact assaulted the participants of the meeting.
Thick clouds of rising smoke obstructed their sight.
「W-what was that!? What happened!?」
「The representative! Protect the representative!!」
The once peaceful atmosphere instantly becomes hectic and people start shouting.
With the window opened, vision gradually returns to normal.
At the same time, soldiers hurry through.
Countless bodies were―― not littering the space.
「Is the representative safe!?」
「Y-yeah. He only has a cut on his forehead. It’s nothing serious,」
「There’s no fire?」
Something undoubtedly blew up, but it wasn’t incredibly powerful and only a few people suffered minor scratches.
「N…… no way……」
There was one man who wasn’t so lucky.
Wilhelmina walks unsteadily towards that man.
He must have been close to the explosion. The effeminate man who was negotiating up until this point fell over covered in blood.
His legs were on the verge of being torn apart, his stomach looked like it burst from the inside and his guts were spilling out.
Wilhelmina clings to the man who could no longer speak.
Her dress gets wet from the blood.
「Your Majesty Wilhelmina, are you hurt……」
「Marco! Don’t die Marco! I don’t want thiiiiiis!!」
Not responding to Vandolea, Wilhelmina wails loudly as she clutches to the bloody man.
「……it doesn’t look like he was behind the schemes.」
The rest of the upper echelon also agree with what the representative said.
It was clear to them that Wilhelmina could not have possibly devised such plans based on her appearance, nor can she have carried it out to begin with.
「Your Majesty, it’s dangerous here. Let us retreat quickly.」
She vigorously shakes her head when Zaphnes tries to pull her hand.
「C-call a doctor! Marco is…… Marco is……!」
Not saying anything else, Zaphnes looks over at the individuals from Vandolea.
「Get a doctor here. Even if it’s just for form’s sake.」
All those who saw what happened to him knew he could no longer be saved.
Naturally, peace negotiations would be suspended, but in order to confirm the explosion was caused by the intervention of an unrelated third party and to discover the truth, it was decided that both sides will be under a ceasefire agreement until the next negotiation.
Wilhelmina signs the temporary agreement document with tears still streaming down her face.
「This meeting ended in a truly detestable way…… but at the very least we have reached an agreement to ceasefire. I hope we can find our real enemy by the next time we talk.」
Vandolea’s representative comments tentatively.
The sobbing Wilhelmina shakes the hand of the representative with a trembling hand.
Vandolea was the one who was invaded, yet it was their soldiers who seemed at a loss for what to say.
Wilhelmina should have been the primary suspect, except her behavior made people rule her out.
In fact, they felt sad enough to start thinking it was their own fault, having been the one responsible for arranging the meeting location and stationing the guards.
Nobody even thought of Marco as merely a loyal subordinate of hers.
「Sniff…… then if you would please do so.」
Wilhelmina boards the carriage returning to her own camp while being supported by Zaphnes.
「Who would have thought we would be comforting an invading king.」
The representative smiles wryly.
「You said it. But this is practically the same as peace and she probably won’t be attacking us anytime soon judging by how she is now.」
They couldn’t care less about whether Wilhelmina truly felt sad or not.
They would welcome anything as long as it leads to prosperity for the motherland.
「We can’t ignore the subversive activity though. Do we know any details?」
「Yes, there was gunpowder placed under the chair of that man named Marco…… it was probably put in porcelain.」
The subordinate continues.
「The size and impact of the explosion was small so the wooden floor was left almost unscathed…… I can’t think of it being powerful enough to damage anything besides the man it was closest to.」
The representative tilts his head.
「I don’t get it…… there’s no meaning in what they did. It actually makes us suspicious.」
「Is that their aim?」
The representative shakes his head.
「That would be pointless. We’re in the middle of war here. I could understand if they set it up so they can declare war on us, but they wouldn’t expose the king to more danger when they’ve already invaded their opponent.」
Nobody said anything for a short moment.
「So as expected, the natural thing to think about is a third party interfering because they don’t want us to make peace. Did you pat down the people who entered or exited during our negotiation?」
「Yessir, I have done it to all of them. There is a strict check before anyone enters the room. I don’t believe anybody had gunpowder……」
Security had to be stringent with two of the supreme leaders in the room.
「No, they might have sacrificed power so they could sneak it in easier. It’s not like a check was done on every hole of their bodies, and it’s not impossible for them to roll it under the chair after occupying our eyes.」
「Understood. Then I will do an investigation on all of their relatives and circle of friends.」
The subordinate takes his leave.
「In any case, it’s quite fortunate that our next negotiating partner will be that queen.」
The corners of the representative’s lips curl up as he grins, then he takes a seat and drinks some water.
Inside the carriage.
「It was good that his stomach burst open nicely, or it would have been troublesome if he survived. I think we should really have used one that’s a size bigger.」
Not a single tear dripped from Wilhelmina’s eyes at this point.
She had her legs crossed as she complained to Zaphnes.
「…… don’t be ridiculous. Anything thicker and it won’t fit.」
Gunpowder was taken into the meeting room―― to be more accurate, it was Vandolea who had the porcelain container with the gunpowder and also the ignition device.
Zaphnes did the transportation and even now his hips are slightly hovering in the air.
「Well enough about that. However even if Marco dying is fine, nobody on their side died.」
Wilhelmina doesn’t answer and hands a glass to Zaphnes.
「We can talk after a toast. I’ll be in trouble if I let you rest.」
Zaphnes and Wilhelmina both finish everything in their glasses in one gulp.
「Gehoh! Goho! What is that!? My stomach is burning!」
「…… don’t panic. It’s the cure for fire pox, drink it all.」
Zaphnes swallows the liquid he was about to spit back out and then comments in discontent.
「It’s that medicine? I don’t remember being infected――」
「You are. I am, you are, everybody in that room were.」
Zaphnes drops his glass in disbelief.
「Marco had the fire pox. It was at the stage before symptoms showed…… however it will spread if you directly touch his blood. It’s been thoroughly tested.」
Marco’s blood sprayed everywhere in the room after his leg and stomach blew up.
Not only that, Wilhelmina clinged to Marco after he died, getting his blood on her.
Then she made contact with the Vandolea leaders in that state.
「B-but why…… we’ve been isolating all the patients――」
「I put an infected patient’s blood in his food.」
Wilhelmina’s face warps from the bitter smell of the medicine as she returns the cup to its place.
「It’s a hard task to round up all the leaders and get rid of them at once, so I decided to use the fire pox disease.」
Wilhelmina continues in front of the frozen stiff Zaphnes.
「After that I just have to break down crying for one week. It will be my first time doing it and it actually consumes quite a bit of stamina…… also we can’t have the disease spreading within our camp so find a random spot to dump Marco’s body and burn it. I’ll prepare a similar looking one for the state funeral so you can kill that one.」
As soon as she finishes explaining, Wilhelmina opens the window of the carriage and begins to cry once again without the use of eye drops.
The escort soldiers who saw that tear-stained face swore their loyalty in sadness while the woman waved back with a smile and tears streaming down her cheeks.