It’s Ko-Fi’s Supporters’ chapter (113/121), enjoy~
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There was a talk on the Central Continent when he acceded to the throne of the small country of Baum.
Yet they have never seen him. A king who hid his hideous face behind a mask. He hides his face so that other countries will not be jealous of his good looks. A heavenly being who is as young and ageless as the “Long-Eared Tribe.” Many strange rumors circulate, but none of them are credible.
“It’s a good opportunity. Let’s take this opportunity to see the face of His Majesty the Black Dragon King.”
Ranquill gets up from his seat and steps out of the tent.
The sky was maliciously blue, and the intense sunlight steamed over the ground, baking his skin.
“It’s an abomination. If it rains too much, the land swells, and crops don’t grow; if it doesn’t rain, the land doesn’t fertilize, and crops don’t grow. It’s as if the sun-drenched land needs to be fed with human blood.”
Making shadows with his hands on his face, Ranquill looks up at the sky and whines as he stares at the sun.
“General Ranquill, a group from the small country of Baum has arrived.”
Nodding at the bureaucrat’s words, Ranquill shifted his gaze to where the dust was rising.
A group of cavalrymen was approaching with a cloud of dust characteristic of desert areas.
Leading the group was a medium-sized horse-drawn carriage decorated with glittering jewelry. The carriage had no walls, perhaps to improve ventilation, and the ceiling was supported by pillars extending from the four corners.
Behind the carriage were knights in black armor.
“I had heard through the wind that the “Raven Army” ― after the death of their master, the fourth prince of the Great Grantz Empire, had left Grantz and taken refuge in the small country of Baum.”
Ranquill nodded in agreement. The black-uniformed army was marching without any disorder among men and horses, and it was a sight to behold. Above all, they were able to make their opponents wilt. Ranquill could see that the slaves, whose armaments were not in the right shape, were feeling a bit intimidated. And it was obvious at a glance that at least a few of them had undergone rigorous training. The intimidating atmosphere was something that did not exist in Lichtine at the moment.
“The black color is a symbol of bad luck and defeat for our army.”
No matter which way he goes, he is reminded of the defeat he suffered two years ago. The humiliating past casts a shadow over Ranquill’s expression. For him, too, black is proof of a defeat that cannot be wiped away.
Soon, the carriage stops in front of Ranquill, and the masked man gets out.
The first thing that surprised him was not only the strange mask but also his youth.
What peeked out from the lower half of the mask was a face that still had the appearance of a child. His height was also short compared to his surroundings, so he must have been around 14 to 16 years old.
(And he has black hair… I guess I’m unlucky at all.)
For a moment, the soft face of the fourth prince passed through his mind.
The possibility that it might be him came to his mind, but it fizzled out in an instant.
The reason is that he is not the same age as the masked man in front of him. Despite the difference, people are creatures that grow up.
It would have been understandable two years ago, but the man who has landed in front of him does not seem to have aged. Above all, the color of his eyes, which had sunk deep into his mask, shone with a golden light, and he had no choice but to deny it.
The other eye seems to be black, but the fourth prince had both eyes jet black.
Behind him was a female soldier without one arm ― Ranquill looked on with a perplexed look.
(Isn’t that the military envoy from earlier…?)
The stagnant eyes were staring at Ranquill ― a gaze that could curse him to death at any moment.
“Luca, don’t be so threatening.”
“Hmph, because a man of stature only glares at me.”
The woman called Luca hid behind the masked man, biting her thumbnail.
Ranquill was bewildered by the appearance of these strange people, but he instantly changed his mind.
“I have the rank of marquis of the Principality of Lichtine. I am Ranquill Caligula Gilberist, commander-in-chief of this army. Forgive my rudeness in inviting His Majesty the King of Baum to such a place.”
The masked man simply nodded quietly as Ranquill offered his condescending offer.
“The second king of the small country of Baum, the Black Dragon King,” the masked man said.
It was brief, but Ranquill sensed the weight of the king’s name and was struck by an unknowable pressure.
(Does he play on the name of the Ancient King…?)
The “world” was once created by a single god.
However, the god lamented that the “world” was a failure, created five alter egos of his own, and disappeared, leaving them to rule the “world. This was the birth of the “Five Great Heavenly Kings”-the beginning of the “age of the gods.
(But how could he call himself the “Black Dragon King” in a country where the “Spirit King” resides…?)
He knows that it is not a grievous offense in a complicated and intertwined history.
Ranquill knew that if he were to call himself that, he would be better suited than the “Spirit King.”
Even so, the name “Black Dragon King” is far too heavy for a single person to bear.
(Is he so confident, or is he bluffing…?)
That will be clear when they speak. Even if he does not speak his mind, he will not be able to hide his feelings from the world. No matter what the situation is, they will seep out. A single small movement can change the atmosphere.
“The sun is shining brightly today, so I have set up a small meeting for us to discuss the situation.”
“Come this way,” Ranquill led the way to a simple tent that he had ordered his staff to prepare.
Once inside, a cool breeze caressed their cheeks. Using precious ice at the four corners of the room, slaves were incessantly fanning the space with huge fans.
Ranquill sat on a chair, and the masked king sat opposite him. Behind him, a woman called Luca stands close enough to stick around.
“I have prepared some wine for you. Let us also prepare water for your men who are waiting outside.”
Ranquill claps his hands, and slaves bring in water and liquor. But the masked king did not touch any of it when it was placed in front of him, staring at Ranquill with his eerily shining golden eyes.
“The Principality of Lichtine must withdraw its troops from this place at once.”
Through the wine that the slave poured into a silver cup, Ranquill looked at the masked king, his face tinted purple.
He seemed to have made an abrupt start and then gave the order to retreat without a second thought.
Ranquill was tempted to ask if anyone would say, “Yes, I see,” and retreat after being told that. However, Ranquill did not show his inner unhappiness on his face, and his mouth formed an arc as he tasted the wine.
“As soon as my lord, Karl Olk Lichtine, returns, we will withdraw from this place.”
“What are you going to do when that promise is violated?”
“We haven’t exchanged any formal written agreement. It is only an oral agreement. I don’t know what the future holds, so there may be a few skirmishes.”
Ranquilll’s eyes sharpened, and his words were mixed with provocation.
“Then let us hasten that future a little.”
“What do you mean?”
“I declare that this land will be dyed red with your soldiers.”
The masked king’s intimidation grew as he lightly tapped the desk with the back of his fist.
Ranquill shuddered at the presence he had felt somewhere before. It was two years ago when he confronted the fourth prince, and he felt the same way at that time.
But he was dead.
He concluded that earlier as well. But what was the reason for the chill running down his back?
“General Ranquill, Karl-sama has returned.”
A soldier who opened the entrance to the tent and peeked in said. Inwardly, Ranquill clicked his tongue and was about to open his mouth, but the masked king quickly interrupted him with a voice full of gravity.
“Just as well, I shall ask your Lord to make a decision.”
The masked man spoke without a pause, and Ranquill could only nod his head with a superficial air of nonchalance.
“Alright. Bring Karl-sama here.”
Not long after Ranquill’s words, Karl arrived looking puzzled. He must have sensed the heavy atmosphere in the tent. Karl’s eyes were shifting as if he was recoiling from the situation.
(This vice is the main reason why Karl-sama’s growth has been hindered… and why he has not been able to gain the trust of the noble lords.)
Karl is quick to reveal his upset and shrivel up when unexpected events occur. If he had possessed even a little bit of the guts of his predecessor, he could have removed the distrust held by the noble lords, and the Principality of Lichtine would have behaved stoutly even in the face of famine.
“Karl-sama, this is His Majesty the King of the small country of Baum.”
“Huh… why is such a man in this place?”
Being surprised is not the way to move on. Feeling slightly irritated, Ranquill tried to explain the situation briefly, but it was the masked king who took the initiative.
“Karl-dono, it seems that your negotiations with the Great Grantz Empire have failed.”
Karl stiffened at the abrupt suggestion, and Ranquill turned his hate-filled eyes toward the masked king.
“The only way out of a maze with no way out, a road with no way ahead, is by violent means. Which will your country choose, to destroy it or to change it?”
A wry smile appeared on the mouth of the masked king as he looked at the two men who made no answer.
“The hungry beast’s choice is always plundered. Whenever the hungry beast chooses to plunder, it does so with a reason of its own: to take back the land that was stolen from it by the Grantz. The northern part of the country is undergoing Grantz’s migration policy. Steel, timber, water, food, and plenty of supplies are being brought in. Enough to sustain a herd of starving beasts.”
“Even so… isn’t that irrelevant to the small country of Baum?”
“That’s not quite the case.”
The “Black Dragon King” let out a sigh of exasperation, propped his elbows on the desk, folded his hands, and rested his chin on them.
“As a result of the Great Grantz’ immigration policy, many of the Grantz’ people have found a home in the northern part of the country. They are the subjects of the “Spirit King Temple.” For the small country of Baum, which worships the “Spirit King,” we cannot just stand by and watch them get hurt.”
“What, then, do you propose to stop 30,000 starving beasts with a mere 3,000 emaciated sheep?”
“It is an ancient tradition ― to measure the strength of one’s survival instincts by the struggle. If you wish, I will test you here in this land.”
The “Black Dragon King” turns his golden eyes straight at them with an emotionless voice.
An unidentifiable fear creeps up Ranquill’s spine, and he breaks out in an endless stream of cold sweat.
Karl, too, shrank back and let his gaze wander down to his feet.
The “Black Dragon King” smiled wryly at the sight of them. Then the strange tension disappeared.
“But we cannot let the famine in the Principality of Lichtine go unnoticed. There are people who worship the “Spirit King” among the people of Lichtine.”
“I don’t know what you were trying to say earlier. What are you trying to do?”
When Ranquill asked, the “Black Dragon King” stood up and looked down at them.
“I give you mercy. Mercy to you who have been overcome by hardship.”
The words of the “Black Dragon King” never stop.
“The only water source is an oasis, but it cannot be distributed to all the people. Then, there is a choice: plunder from other countries, or free the dammed Zahle River.”
That’s what Ranquill had in mind. But with the Nidavellir faction thriving, it is no match to cross the border wall. That was why he had planned to attack Grantz.
“If you know that much, then you know why I’m here, don’t you?”
“Of course. So I will use my military might to free the dammed Zahle River.”
“…I find it hard to believe. Above all, it would not give you what you want.”
“Of course, I’m not saying it’s for free. I’d like to take a mine or two.”
“…That would be fine with me.”
Originally, they had planned to give it away if the negotiations with Grantz had been successful. The loss of it would not be a blow, but it would not be a commensurate condition for a country that is starving for water and dying.
Ranquill tried to see through the hidden plot, but the “Black Dragon King” would not give him the time to think about it.
“If so, we have a deal. We will exchange a formal written contract later.”
“The long wall between Lichtine and Steichen is a fortress of iron walls. Our country has crossed blades with Steichen many times, but to this day, we have never crossed the wall. I see that the “Black Dragon King” has about 3,000 soldiers under his command, which is indeed too reckless, don’t you think?”
“Then lend me 10,000 men from your country. Not slaves, but a regular army.”
“Only 10,000 ― 13,000 when combined with the 3,000 you brought with you ― and that’s not going to be enough to bring them down. If it were possible, we would not be in this place now.”
“Marquis Ranquill, a head-on attack is not the only way.”
The “Black Dragon King” laughed as he put his hand on his mask.