< Running Away from the Hero! Side Stories – A certain imperial princess’s reminiscence (14) >
Side Story – A certain Imperial Princess’s reminiscence (14)
The first emotion I felt after receiving the report was sheer dumbfoundedness. “It’s… already finished?!”
“Apparently so, Your Highness.”
“Already? Finished?! Seriously?”
“Y-yes. I heard that Sir Ast played a significant role in it…”
Even Reia was making a very, very, sour face during her report.
If I’m being honest, I didn’t have high hopes for Ast taking care of this situation. All I did was hand him over to the military bigwigs and magicians as a sacrificial lamb so that they could vent some stress.
But to think that he actually resolved it…
Could it be that the military’s brass was incompetent? Or maybe Ast was just too capable?
I couldn’t figure this one out at all.
“What a conundrum.”
“Indeed it is, Your Highness. A conundrum.”
Even Reia could tell that there were so many suspicious aspects to this situation.
Despite the geniuses of the empire working together, they couldn’t come up with a solution to this problem. But Ast alone managed to deal with it during one single meeting?
Honestly, it’d be more convincing to say that this whole thing was staged, that everything unfolded according to the plan.
Meaning, stories of Ast being a spy from another kingdom or even a villainous organisation would have sounded more convincing.
But for that spy nonsense to be true, the worth of this new strategy was just too great.
I mean, this strategy was so good that even the empire’s magicians had to rack their brains to come up with a way to defend against it.
So good, in fact, that the army even said the only way to prevent this attack was to patrol the airspace 24-hours a day with several Griffon, Drake, and Wyvern Knight Orders.
In such a scenario, a knight order would have to be constantly deployed to one military base at a bare minimum to take into account necessary breaks for the knights in question.
However, these weren’t some regular knights but the most valuable combat force of them all, the aerial knights!
Unsurprisingly, the military had to shelve this idea since it was impossible to put to practice.
Here was a problem that the empire’s geniuses of magic theory and military operations couldn’t deal with. Was there a reason for a ‘spy’ to find a solution to such a problem, then?
“Reia. Contact the military and tell them to reward Ast with a medal or plaque of appreciation at the very least.”
Our opponent was Ast.
Ast the crazed dog who was gradually spreading his infamy within the imperial court.
That’s why I decided that, instead of racking my brain agonising over this, it’d be better to test Ast at least once.
And the result of this test was…
“Kuwaaaaahk! Mister Chief Magician! How could you do this to me?!”
…I decided that he couldn’t be a spy.
“Y-your Highness, Sir Ast seems to have gone completely insane…? What should I do, ma’am?”
“Reia, Ast was already insane, to begin with. You know, don’t you? His emotions have gone a little out of control right now. Leave him be for the time being.”
The sight of Ast desperately hugging the plaque while shedding a flood of tears went beyond the realm of ‘insanity’ and straight into ‘freakish’.
“Soooob, waaaaah… Mister Chief… How could you stab me in the back like this… I trusted you!!!”
What if this was all an act? In that case, it’d be only polite for anyone to fall for it.
I was born in the imperial court filled with nefarious schemes running amok. I had to bear witness to countless many instances of falsehoods and pretences as a result.
The only person of the imperial court who didn’t lie or put on a facade was probably Reia and nobody else.
Ah, wait. In a way, Ast was qualified to be included in that category, too.
Only he’d be ballsy enough to behave like a lunatic in front of me without a single hint of worry, after all.
Still, that did help me figure out instinctively who was putting on a facade and who was lying to me.
When rookies lie, they often display a noticeable tick.
When mid-tiers lie, they often obsess over the idea of a perfect lie, which makes them easily noticeable, instead.
But when masters lie, they lie to themselves first before spewing their lies. Since they believed it to be the truth, their lies would often go undetected.
And Ast was currently displaying a figure of a man who exceeded the level of regular emotions and let his actual soul wallow in despair.
If a person could put on an act where their soul was wailing out in sorrow, then well, that person would surely claim to be the greatest scammer in the entire world.
“Your Highness, this… This is verging on the realm of frightening. P-please, do something.”
“You’re supposed to be a swordmaster, so stop getting scared of things like this, Reia.”
We’ve been watching this scene for around ten minutes already, but Ast displayed not one hint of stopping his sorrowful wailing any time soon.
No, wait. His sobbing had gotten even worse instead, evolving into something frightening enough to scare a bona fide swordmaster.
At this rate, another weird rumour might start within the imperial court. Before that happens, I better put a stop to his shenanigans. “Ast, if you don’t put a lid on it, I’m going to upgrade your title to the viscount.”
“Do you wish to kill me that badly, Your Highness?!”
A hollow chuckle leaked out of my mouth on its own after I saw how he jumped back up to his feet while freaking out.
A normal person would’ve been ready to put their life on the line for the sake of upgrading their title, yet this man…
This fool started making a face of a dying man as soon as I threatened him with a better noble title.
Still, it seemed that I’d stumbled onto another good threat besides the one about us getting engaged, so there’s that.
“In any case, Ast? You’ve done well to resolve that situation.”
“But, nothing’s been resolved for me, Your Highness.”
“That’s your problem.” I sipped my still-hot tea and stared at Ast. He started making a face with no hidden intentions while staring at me. “And what’s the meaning of that disgusted expression of yours, Ast?”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Your Highness. It seems that I couldn’t control my expression at all just now.”
“…At least you didn’t try to deny it.”
“I wouldn’t dare to lie to Your Highness who’s as great as the sky, after all.”
Reia was quietly muttering, ‘It’d been better if he denied it, though…’ right next to me. Honestly, I was in agreement with her, too.
This fool, were his balls cast out of solid iron or something?
He didn’t even hesitate to insult the imperial family member, yet he deeply hated the idea of being granted nobility?
“Our itinerary has gotten so much simpler, all thanks to you, Ast. We now have the luxury of free time on our hands,” I said.
“Wait, you couldn’t possibly be saying that I should take responsibility for making you bored since I was the culprit in the first place?”
“I am not that incorrigible, though?!”
“…Ah, is that so?”
“Ast looking at me like that is one thing, but Reia, why are you staring at me like that, too?!”
When I furrowed my brow a little, Reia fake-coughed softly and hurriedly avoided meeting my gaze.
As for Ast…
“Your Highness, Dame Reia’s expression was seemingly saying, ‘Ah, is that so? I had no idea, my lady’, or somewhere there about…”
“Sir Ast?! There is absolutely no need for you to explain that to her highness!” Reia’s scary glare was oh-so nicely explaining that to Ast.
She tried to block Ast’s mouth physically, but he nimbly dodged that and continued to explain how disappointed Reia was with my conduct. However, I completely ignored the two and shifted my attention over to the intel provided by the intelligence division.
“Hmm… Hoh-oh… Heh-eh?”
I made Ast join this military division so he could do some ‘work’ for me there. Whatever the case might be, however, it was still acknowledged as a totally separate entity on its own right from the rest of the military.
When considering his age or speciality, this certainly was a rather destructive job posting but well, that’s how us the imperial family operated, anyway.
This move allowed me to peek at the information from various sources collected by an independent entity that not even the commander of the imperial forces could easily interfere with.
The report contained information on military exercises of other kingdoms, border skirmishes of varying scales, as well as movements of monsters.
But what grabbed my attention the most was a story coming from two minor kingdoms located in the centre of the continent.
“Did something happen, Your Highness?”
“Ng. For the sake of peace, two minor kingdoms found near the centre of the continent were trying to form an alliance by marrying off their prince and princess, or so it says.”
“That sounds like wonderful news, Your Highness,” said Ast.
“Wow, you said something that doesn’t suit you at all, Sir Ast,” Reia retorted.
“Uh-huh! Let me tell you something, you won’t find a more peace-loving pacifist than me in this whole world! Dame Reia, do you even know what it feels like to watch your carefully cultivated fields going up in flames?! If it wasn’t for that event, I would’ve remained as a regular farmer and not had such a hard time like this!”
Ast would’ve usually smiled and brushed her remark aside or come up with a cheeky counter of his own. But at least this time, he was getting angry for real.
Reia looked flustered by his reaction judging from how quickly she apologised, but it wasn’t enough to quell Ast’s rage.
It seemed that the event of his farm burning down became his lifelong trauma.
“Do you know how it feels to watch the crops you spent a whole dang year cultivating go up in flames?!”
“M-my apologies… I’m sorry that I don’t know what it’s like! I never farmed before, so I don’t know!”
At this rate, even Reia might develop a trauma or two. I should stop this nonsense right now. “Excuse me, Viscount Ast?”
“…It’s baron, Your Highness! Baron! No, wait! A baron who’s about to become a commoner!”
On one side, Ast was glaring at me while looking pale as a sheet. On the other side, Reia was gradually regaining her calm.
“Hah-ah… Why are none of my direct subordinates normal?”
For some reason, I felt this stinging glare on my skin, but I didn’t spare much thought to that.
“Your Highness. When you were talking about the attempted alliance earlier, were you trying to imply that it didn’t succeed?”
“Ng, that’s exactly it.”
The one who couldn’t endure the silence and asked me first was Ast.
“You really do have quick wits, Ast. Although the kingdom initially tried to hide it, the truth was that the princess was assassinated.”
“Oh my goodness!” Reia gasped.
“It must be pandemonium over there, then,” said Ast.
“Yup, it sure is.”
Although Ast summarised that situation rather succinctly, according to the intelligence division, the positions of the two kingdoms were very complicated right now.
While the prince was travelling from his kingdom for the engagement, the princess was assassinated. Not only that, all personnel who could’ve served as witnesses were slaughtered, as well.
Except for the princess that died a clean death, others were left in such a gruesome state that their remains couldn’t even be properly identified.
Not a single clue about the assassins could be found.
As this engagement was already a source of internal political strife, it’d be safe to assume that the forces from the princess’s kingdom that opposed the marriage were responsible for this act.
“And on top of that, even the prince himself got assassinated later, too.”
Clap, clap, clap…
Ast making a stunned face began clapping his hands. “That’s like pouring oil into a raging inferno, then.”
“As a result, their situation worsened to the point where a war can break out at any second now.”
The intelligence division’s report stated that the royal courts of each kingdom had already lost control of their own incensed nobles by now.
“It seems that war is imminent, then. Ah, aaah… those poor peasants and farmers,” Ast sorrowfully muttered.
“You don’t feel sorry for the dead prince and princess?”
“But, Your Highness, isn’t that the fate of the royalty? If your political life works out, then you will be in the lap of luxury for life. But if it doesn’t, then you get banished in the blink of an eye or worse, lose your life.”
“S-Sir Ast?!” Reia gasped again.
“You actually said that straight to the face of an imperial, I see.” I was left almost speechless at how brazen he was. “Alright, fine. Oh, dear Sir Ast who pities the poor farmers. Tell me, how do you think this situation will play out?”
Even if the scale of the operation was small, the one who sent this info through to me was the head of an independent military division.
Since that person allowed this info to reach me, a rather annoying task of giving my opinion on the matter would surely follow.
Well, it wasn’t like they would seriously consider my opinion on the matter just because I gave them one, but still.
“Hmm… This bit about minor kingdoms in the centre of the continent is bothering me, Your Highness. Can you tell me the names of the kingdoms in question?”
“One’s the Madesen Kingdom, while the other one is Halkas.”
“Smack dab in the middle, is it… Not only that, two kingdoms known to be the weakest of them all, too.”
“Thanks to that, they got beaten up pretty good by the others around them rather often in the past.”
“Is there any advantage of two such kingdoms joining hands, Your Highness?”
“As they are two weak kingdoms, they generously spread around bribes in several places to survive. Their military might is poor, so they chose diplomacy as a means to their continued existence.”
When I told him the information I knew, Ast began making a rather serious face. “Your Highness? This incident… might balloon into something a bit more troublesome.”
“Even though their military is so weak that a single division of ours can easily wipe them out?”
“If it’s only those two kingdoms bickering, then yes, it’d end after a little bit of back-and-forth. However… if not, this matter can potentially become something a bit larger.”
“Can you be more specific?”
“Well, how about a continent-wide war where the majority of this continent’s kingdoms has to participate?”
They were talking about two minor kingdoms in the centre of the continent here. Small, trifling nations with territories and armies so pitifully small that they could be overrun in a single day.
But because of those two small kingdoms, a war spanning the entire continent might break out?
“It’s just a maybe, Your Highness. But, if this war devolves into a fight of one’s pride, then I’d wager that all the friendly nations of those two kingdoms will join the war.”
“Will that really happen, though? If pride is enough to instigate a continental war, then well, it should’ve started back when your old kingdom was destroyed.”
“That one didn’t have a suitable pretext, Your Highness. A stupid feudal lord from my old kingdom invaded first, after all. But in this case, both sides can easily manufacture pretexts for their own convenience.”
“Indeed, since both the prince and princess lost their lives in very questionable circumstances, after all.”
There was no tangible information on the assassins. All that’s left behind in their wake were the cold corpses of a prince and a princess.
“Even so, a continent-wide war? The scale you speak of is just too big.”
“It’s just my opinion on the matter, Your Highness. I mean, I’m your butler and all, so shouldn’t my thoughts match the grand-sounding job title?”
“What’s your take on this, Reia?”
“Uh… mm… well…”
I turned my head slightly and glanced at Reia, only for her to start panicking and stare openly at Ast. She then said, “I, I also think what Sir Ast is saying is correct, my lady!”
“And what was Ast talking about, then?”
“Uhm, a continent-wide war?”
Ast chimed in. “Let’s be honest here, weren’t you trying to ride my coattail since you couldn’t think up of anything, Dame Reia?”
Reia clamped her mouth shut at Ast’s teasing. The sight of her shooting daggers at him was rather adorable to see.
“Reia, this is your new homework. You must organise your thoughts logically and present me with your opinion tomorrow.”
Since that’s the case, let me make her even more adorable.
“B-but, Your Highness?!”
“Ast isn’t my only direct subordinate, after all. Reia, you’re also one. No, wait. You have a bigger say in this since this matter involves military affairs.”
“Y-your Highness, I…”
The way she stared at me with just a hint of resentment was also rather adorable.
“I’m going to submit your thoughts to the army’s brass in your name, so you better not be sloppy with it, alright? If it’s not up to snuff, they’ll probably report it straight to Marquis Areis, too.”
“Y-yes, my lady…”
Just as Reia began to sniffle away quietly, Ast next to her began running his mouth to rub it in. Like a man dumping salt on his enemy’s wounds, his glib tongue digging mercilessly into her psychological wounds was something to behold, indeed.
Reia’s sniffles eventually turned into a full-on wail in the end.
“Alright, so. This… should do the trick, I guess?”
I finished my report while listening to the background music of Ast’s merciless taunting and Reia trying to fight back only to scream at his unexpected counter.
As for the content of my report, I simply added a few additional aspects to what Ast told me just now.
“Well, it seems passable.”
Our influence on the army was already negligible, to begin with. As such, even I failed to imagine the extent of devastating ripples that this little report, written without much care, would go on to cause.
That’s because… after half a year of warfare between Madesen and Helkas Kingdoms, a continent-wide war really did break out as predicted by this report.