Chapter 215 - The Swirl of a Civil War (2)
The Lairon Religious Kingdom...
As a religious kingdom, Lairon was a kingdom built upon the foundation of a religion. It was in the middle of the Central Continent, and there was one reason why Lairon could endure having borders with four countries.
They were strong. Lairon was one of the strongest kingdoms in the central region, even if they weren't comparable to the northern powers. The source of their power which managed to counter four kingdoms was a third force, which was neither magic nor swordsmanship.
It was the only Sacred Order on the continent. They were a group which resolved to recover all the remains left behind of the gods from the Age of Mythology.
The king, or to be precise, Pope Benedict I, had been the first to wield a god's power by absorbing the god's remains. He then brought abundance to dry land and gave a mysterious power to those who submitted to the name of Lairon.
In the Dark Ages after the Age of Mythology, there had been a resurgence of interest in 'gods' and 'paladins.'
"In ancient records, they were praised as holy ones who healed the wounded and fought against injustice. They were adults who directly embodied righteousness." As Marquis Piris spoke, a bit of contempt filled his voice while they walked through the corridor. "It is all nonsense."
The paladins were deceitful and more eager to exploit than help people. The cardinals toured the countries once a year asking for 'donations,' and the current pope was truly arrogant. In addition to those, the church had built a facility to brainwash children, and all those who rebelled against the regime were labeled as heretics.
At their essence, they were ruthless people who pretended to be merciful.
'Their exterior appearance is duplicitous.' There was no saying more appropriate to describe the Lairon Kingdom.
Piris looked back at the party following him, and his face darkened before he added, "That isn't all. The letter was sent with Marquis Baek's son because there is an 'opportunity' that will assure the Lairon Kingdom's intervention."
"What do you mean by opportunity...?"
"I will tell you about it in the room."
After saying so, the marquis entered a secret passage as Meltor's presence had to be hidden until the civil war began in earnest.
All of Meltor's troops were concealed in the coastal caves, and the supplies which could last 1,000 people for a month were thoroughly camouflaged. They were convinced they had the advantage as long as they weren't caught.
After a while, the marquis beckoned at the end of the secret passage, "Come on, everyone. Five people can talk leisurely in this room."
It was as he said. After passing the threshold of a damp cave, the four guests were greeted by warm air and antique furniture. White Tower Master Orta, the general commander of the expedition army, sat down first. Beside Orta was Theodore, Viscount Carter, and then Vince.
A light filled the eyes of the marquis when he saw this. 'Hoh?'
It was because he couldn't find any dissatisfaction on the faces of the other two, despite the second-ranked person being less than 30 years old. In other words, it was a complete acknowledgment of Theodore's status.
However, like any crafty noble, the marquis didn't reveal his inner thoughts. Instead, he boiled the tea in the kettle and thanked the party who had come this far. After that, he continued speaking about Lairon again, "Around two months ago, an emissary came from Lairon."
The emissary from the Lairon Kingdom had been a cardinal who called himself Antonio, and he had entered Prince Elsid's palace boldly. Despite the security of the knights, he had appeared before the prince.
[It is nice to meet you, Prince Elsid. I am a faithful servant of Lairon, Cardinal Antonio.]
The cardinals, along with the crusaders, were known as Lairon's spear and shield. A crusader would wield the power of god with their swords and shields, while the cardinals would create miracles by reciting special chants like magic.
Surprised by the visit, Elsid had asked what Antonio wanted.
[Lairon told us that you will have to serve him if you want to be successful.]
[...What are you trying to say, Cardinal Antonio?]
[It isn't a big deal, Your Highness. Just build a temple worshipping Lairon, then send 100 nobles who will learn our teachings and preach it directly to your kingdom. If you do that, Your Highness will have no problem obtaining the crown.]
Understandably, the prince had gotten furious.
[How ridiculous! How dare you make fun of me with that crafty tongue?! Lairon is your god, not the Soldun Kingdom's god! If you are going to speak like that, go away!]
The cardinals were famous for their fanaticism which wouldn't tolerate any insults, but Antion's response had been calm. He had smiled nastily and disappeared from Elsid's presence just as suddenly as he had appeared. His expression had shown that Elsid would regret that day's decision.
The marquis explained up to there and sighed with a tired face. Anger boiled inside him as he thought about it again. Antonio had snuck into the palace and then threatened the prince. The Lairon Kingdom might be strong, but Soldun wasn't a weak kingdom. Antonio's words weren't a proposal or advice but an insult.
"Still," Orta muttered after listening to the story. "It is unprecedented. If we refuse the impossible conditions, they will go to the other side. We are heretics who rejected god's grace."
"...Is that a justification for war?" Theodore asked.
Orta nodded while sipping his tea. "It might not be normal, but this time there is a power in the kingdom that agrees with them. The nobles have probably accepted Antonio's proposal."
"Then won't it just end up being a tributary of the Lairon Kingdom?"
"They would rather be a snake's head than a dragon's tail. That is the case with Duke Cornwall."
Were Orta's words wrong? The marquis sighed heavily. "That is accurate. Duke Cornwall is from a family that has been doing independent work since the past. He is a person who wants to surpass the title of duke."
A nobleman who wanted to be king, even if it was only in name, and a kingdom that wanted a puppet who would follow their will...
The interests of these two forces added up.
Duke Cornwall was the head of the faction opposing Prince Elsid, so a direct or indirect purge couldn't be helped after obtaining the kingship. The duke thought this was a great opportunity for a revolution, even if it dragged the Lairon Kingdom into it.
However, Theodore had one more question. "That reminds me, where is Lord Baek? I heard he became a marquis..."
"Oh, he is-no, wait a minute." After that, Marquis Piris got up and pulled down a map hanging on the back wall.
It was a strategic map detailing every estate and troop in the Soldun Kingdom. The map was spread wide open, as if all the details had already been completed.
Then he pointed to a part on the open map. "Marquis Baek has received the Atron Estate. It is necessary to have his force at the border of the area containing the nobles faction. His main family remains in Piris, but the main troops have moved to Atron with Marquis Baek."
Orta was looking at the map when he suddenly reached out and pointed to a red part. "What is this estate in red on the map?"
"It is Marquis Fergana. Ah, do you know about Marquis Fergana?"
Not just Orta but Theodore, Viscount Carter, and Vince had also heard the name. It was the name of one of the the Soldun Kingdom's two masters-7th Circle magician, Marquis Fergana. Vince snapped out angrily, "Does this mean that a 7th Circle magician has gone against his country and joined the nobles? I can't understand it."
"Marquis Fergana's only daughter has married Duke Cornwall."
It couldn't be helped if it involved blood relationships. Vince was convinced by this and stepped back.
However, Carter came forward this time. "What about Earl Mersen? If Soldun's other master has joined the nobles, then this fight will be difficult."
"Ah, Earl Mersen has declared neutrality."
Did it make sense to stay neutral in a civil war which would decide the future of the kingdom? The group of people gazed at Marquis Piris with confusion. However, he just shrugged. "He doesn't have time to worry about the regime change. He can't leave his territory because he is defending against raids from the southern barbarians."
If this was true, it could be either luck or misfortune. With Marquis Fergana and the unknown crusader, the enemies had two masters. If Earl Mersen had joined them, there would be three. On the prince's side, there was only one master available, so there would have been no hope of winning if reinforcements hadn't come.
With the addition of Theodore and Orta, Prince Elsid's side now had three masters, putting Duke Cornwall at a disadvantage. At that moment, Theodore felt Orta's gaze on him.
'...Hah, I see.'
Theodore immediately recognized the meaning of Orta's gaze and paused his thoughts momentarily. Meltor had two masters present on their side... Should this information be disclosed to Marquis Piris?
Orta left it up to the person involved to decide if the information should be revealed. Theodore thought about it before shaking his head slightly. 'I will hide it for now.'
No matter how thorough Marquis Piris was, there was no certainty that the enemy's eyes couldn't reach them.
Wasn't there a saying that if we wanted to fool the enemy, we should first fool our friends? Therefore, Theodore decided to hide his combat power. Orta and Baek Jongmyung could equal the two masters on the other side, so it was more efficient for Theodore to move separately.
Orta nodded, then he turned back to Marquis Piris and said, "At this point, the explanation is enough."
They had heard everything they needed to know. Orta then placed several models on the map. There were different models based on infantry, cavalry, and magicians. Each of them was of a different size which represented the number of troops, and Orta placed the models down based on the explanation he had just heard.
"From now on, let us discuss the movement of the troops."
It was the start of the strategic meeting.
* * *
In conclusion, Theodore's role was no different from what had been discussed before leaving Meltor. He would move separately from the regular troops. After consuming the Aiolos Pouch, Theodore had become better at using space magic. It might not be as fast as Orta, but Theodore could still move at an amazing speed.
He also had more firepower than Orta. As Theodore combined both firepower and mobility, he was closer to an army than an individual. When it came to war, he was many times stronger than other 7th Circle magicians or sword masters.
The problem was that he had to go 'alone' in order to exert his power.
"Theo," Sylvia called out. She was the first person to understand this problem. "We can't help you?"
"I'm not making a fuss. Tell me honestly. At the moment, we will just be a burden to Theo if we move together, right?"
It was a cool reflection. Theodore looked into Sylvia's blue eyes instead of denying her words.
After all, it was just as she had said. As a 7th Circle master who had awakened his Sorcery and pioneered a new territory, Theodore could tell that the rest of the unit would just be a burden in a fight between masters. They would be even more of a burden when it came to a guerrilla war.
The amount of magic power consumed for space movement would increase, and the time needed for the hit and run would increase greatly as well.
"...I see." Sylvia looked down at the unspoken agreement. "But those people would be able to keep up with you."
'Those people?' Theodore tilted his head to one side, but Sylvia didn't explain it. No, she didn't want to explain it. She didn't want to show him her jealous self.
She realized she needed more power to be on par with her rivals who had red and blue hair. Ripples started to form inside the quiet Sylvia. She struggled with the emotions boiling inside her before barely managing to speak.
"It is just this time. Next time, I won't let you go alone."