Safir Dalmanac Fostier took pride in the fact that he was a high general and vainly believed that he had the ability to back it up.
He had simply not felt the need to show off his abilities until now, but he was more than capable of getting things done when he wanted to——or so he thought.
Yet, he was honest enough to secretly admit that 'there are still people who are better at warfare than me.'
In all honesty, Safir's military records could not be called befitting of his station even sycophantically and he would have never held the office of high general if not for the noble cause granted to him by his lineage.
Safir understood all of this, if subconsciously. He would still stubbornly deny it if someone singled him out and told him he was 'useless on the battlefield,' of course.
Besides, it wasn't as if the other high generals could be said to be talented either. Rain and Ralphus were the exceptions to the case. Well, in addition to those two, Ganoa, who had betrayed them in the previous war, had occasionally distinguished himself in war as well, but his methods for victory had generally been so underhanded that only King Douglas saw any merit in them.
In any event, Safir was neither particularly weak nor particularly incompetent in comparison to his former colleagues. He would be evaluated as just barely average among the nobles. And so, these truths did not really trigger any feelings of inferiority in Safir.
Besides, Safir did not think to 'step back to safety' just because he internally accepted the fact that he was 'weak at warfare.'
If he was bad at war, then he simply had to entrust the job to someone who was good at it. After all, that was what authority and economic wealth was for, was it not?
The treasures in the castle storehouse had been whisked clean away, but that wealth had originally belonged to someone else and his personal fortune still remained intact.
In addition, his former comrades would offer him funds even if he didn't do anything anyway. They were all considering what would come next after the princess was overthrown.
Safir, who now sat at the head of all the nobles, had taken measures to bring down the iron hammer of justice (or so he believed) on Rain and his group, who had stolen away the princess.
In other words, he had exercised his authority to headhunt a man who seemed to be good at war from among his comrades.
That man was a man named Ludic.
This forty-year-old moody and nervous-looking man was the 'man to use in war' whom Safir had found.
Ludic had served as a centurion during the war against their once longtime enemy, Lunan, and had consistently delivered results whenever he had been deployed.
He was a noble and he was good at war——Ludic had stood out from his peers when Safir had combed through his allies.
Safir had wasted no time inviting him to the castle and making Ludic his retainer. If Ludic achieved good results in war, it would translate to Safir's accomplishments as Ludic's liege.
Safir had done well for himself up until that point, but the same could not be said for his actions afterward.
Safir allowed himself to relax after a job well done and, thinking his upcoming battles were already as good as won, indulged himself in celebratory banquets every day and night since.
Long story short, he was busy fooling around.
On the other hand, Ludic, who had been promoted from a centurion to a brigadier, was naturally overjoyed. His family ranked among the middle ranks of Sunkwoll nobility, and he hadn't expected to have been able to advance further in life than he already had.
And yet, he was now a brigadier……which meant that he was technically a general and that the seat of high general would be within his reach after one more step. Ludic wasn't a particularly ambitious man, but he was still happy to be able to go far in life.
His beautiful wife and two beloved children had been overjoyed as well.
Thus, Ludic, the new brigadier, was incredibly eager to reorganize the army.
——Or he had been at first, at least.
Ludic's enthusiasm had declined day by day ever since he took up his new post. He had been endowed with a little bit (though, only a little) of common sense even as a noble, and he could not understand why his superiors, starting with Safir, indulged only in their festivities nonstop.
Safir had been more useless than a scrawny horse. Ludic's superiors had pushed all of the menial tasks on to him while all they did was horse around.
By the time that Ludic had managed to reorganize the noble armies that had gathered from various territories across the kingdom, he received word of Chandrys' invasion from a fast horse.
He had been shocked upon receiving the report.
He had not thought in his wildest dreams that Chandrys would invade even despite the discourtesy that had been shown to them the other day.
Incidentally, Rain's group had known about the invasion long before the enemy had broken through the border, but Ludic only learned of it after the fact.
They were much too ill-prepared, even after taking into consideration the fact that Folnier hadn't sent them a messenger with a declaration of war. It showed just how much the nobles had been slacking off.
In any case, at this time, Ludic was the only person in Safir's faction who had an accurate grasp on just how grave the situation truly was.
"Is His Majesty present?!"
Ludic asked the guards as he jogged through the corridor with bloodshot eyes.
The two guards who had been diligently performing their duties in front of Safir's bedchambers exchanged looks as they said,
"he is, but now isn't the best time."
"He's only just gotten up."
Even Ludic, who hardly ever raised his voice, could not help but thunder.
He released all of his pent-up dissatisfaction at the two guards who stumbled back in surprise.
"What time do you think it is?! It's already noon. It's not the time to be sleeping in without a care in the world! I'm here because of a state emergency! Stop grumbling at me about trivial matters and announce my arrival!"
He pushed aside the guards, who were both blabbering something about how they couldn't do that even if he was a brigadier, and put his hands on the door.
It wasn't the time to hold back anymore.
He pulled open the door with brute strength.
The middle-aged knight's lean figure was instantly assaulted with a humid heat and the thick stench of sweat.
Safir was lying down stark naked on top of a vast, canopied bed that was so large that one could have held a ball on it. He was in a great mood as he flirted with three young women who were serving him.
Astonishingly, the self-made king had yet to notice that Ludic was there. He fingered the white bodies that he held in both his arms with an oily and sweaty face that displayed his lust for all to see.
But, the women who had served Safir through the night had obviously noticed Ludic's presence and were trying to hide their bodies under the blankets in a panic.
"Hey now! Why are you hiding, hmm? You girls better hurry up and do what I say."
"But Y, Your Majesty! Over there……"
"Over there? What's over there? There now, stop being silly and do what I ordered you to do."
Blood rushed into Ludic's head upon hearing their foolish conversation.
He slammed the door shut as hard as he could and yelled loudly in rebuke.
Safir finally looked to the door with a strange yelp. At first, he confirmed who it was with lethargic eyes and then grew angry upon learning it was Ludic.
"H, how dare you?! I'll have you decapitated for spying on your liege lord's pleasures."
"Sunkwoll is about to fall!!"
Ludic interrupted Safir, his liege, despite that doing so was something that would normally have never been allowed. His words acted as a lance to seal away Safir's complaints.
He reported on the situation without a moment's delay as soon as Safir was startled into silence.
Safir of course, but even the girls who were huddling close together grew pale as they heard Ludic's report.
Upon a closer look, all three girls looked similar and had similar physiques. They all had long, uncurled blonde hair and large eyes set into their slender faces.
Ludic felt like they reminded him of someone, and then the answer to his question reflexively flashed into his mind.
Indeed, all three girls looked like Princess Shelfa.
However, they were only similar enough that Ludic would say that they might look similar only if he absolutely had to, and on further inspection the difference between the girls and Princess Shelfa was like the difference between candlelight and the sun.
It wasn't only because of their respective beauties, but likely because a certain "something" that exuded from within Shelfa made her definitively different from the three girls before him.
Ludic had only caught a glimpse of the princess just moments before she absconded, but the difference between her and the three girls was all too clear to him.
He can't help but want her even if he knows he can't have her……is that how it is?
Ludic concluded, feeling all the more disgusted about it.
All things regardless, isn't he much too obsessed with the princess? It's like his soul was stolen away by her unrivaled beauty. A king shouldn't be having his heart stolen by mere women!
Ludic could have still understood it if Safir had wanted the princess in order to justify his authority as a king.
It would have been the type of political maneuver that happened in any country. However, no matter how he looked at it, Ludic felt like his young lord was putting politics second and only wanted the princess to satisfy his own lust.
In short, Safir wanted to do the things he was doing to those girls to the actual princess.
That was what Safir probably wanted deep down, despite what he usually broadcasted as his public stance. Safir finally broke out of his stupor while Ludic was quickly thinking through all of this while stacking on a large chunk of demerits against his liege in his mind.
The first thing out of his mouth was,
"wh, why is Chandrys doing this?"
"……Wouldn't you have a better idea than me, Your Majesty?"
A stunning volume of spit flew out of his mouth. Safir continued,
"I only tried to restrain them a bit to investigate them!
"Is that really something to get angry enough about to invade another country?! Who'd go that far, normally? How can she be so petty for someone who calls herself an empress?!"
Would you have simply smiled and forgiven her if you were in her shoes?!
Ludic held back what he truly wanted to say and indifferently continued,
"there's no point in worrying about that at this point. Right now, our first priority should be to think about how we can win."
"C, can we win?!"
Safir looked imploringly at Ludic.
However, that question was one that Ludic had wanted to ask for himself.
Besides, isn't it much too cowardly for a liege to be trembling stark naked like this?
Ludic scowled and deliberately said his next words in a stronger tone.
"I wouldn't know that. Still, in any case, I plan on doing everything we can. ——But, please have these women restrained before we discuss this any further. It'd cause trouble if the masses knew about the invasion. Even if the news will get out eventually, it's better to hold it off for as long as we can."
"Urk…… These girls here?"
Safir cast a stubborn side-eye at the girls. They were holding each other and quivering upon hearing the brigadier's unexpected words. They implored Safir with their eyes. Safir continued,
"I had to search through all of my comrades within the nobility before I finally found girls who looked like——ah, no, never mind. In, in any event, I'm quite fond of these girls."
"Your Majesty! What you need right now isn't women but a war council!"
Ludic raised his voice. He continued,
"I will offer you any beauty you desire once your imperial reign as stabilized, Your Majesty. Please be patient until then."
"Any beauty I desire……even Princess Shelfa herself?"
Safir readily disclosed his true feelings.
Hell if I cared!
Ludic wanted to say but managed to keep silent.
The truth of the matter was that, in order for him to have the princess, they would have to defeat not only Chandrys but Rain's group as well.
Even if they ignored the possibility of reaching a mutual agreement and tried to power through them, it was currently a near-impossible feat.
However, Safir should have been aware of this as well.
——And yet, as soon as Ludic gave his consent, Safir immediately looked relaxed and was suddenly in high spirits.
"I see! Then we'll hold a war council at once. ——But first, I need to have these girls moved to another room. Now, girls, I'll make sure to let you out later, so just bear with it for now."
Ludic stopped Safir in a hurry before the latter could call out loudly to the guards outside.
"Your Majesty, you must first have these women put on some clothes!"
"Y, you're right. Oh, and I still need to get dressed as well. Hahaha……haha."
Safir laughed wryly in an attempt to hide his feelings and restlessly began to clothe himself. Ludic had no intention of seeing his master's naked body or to watching the women put on clothes so he silently turned his back to them.
And then, he softly let out a sigh.
The final pillar of support for a knight fighting on the battlefield was not his family, but none other than the liege he served. It had to do with a knight's pride.
Will I be able to look up to this person as my liege and fight for him until my very last breath?
"By the way, Ludic."
Safir spoke while Ludic had his back turned to him in distress. He continued,
"how have things been after you became a brigadier……no, a general? Is everyone obeying your orders?"
"……It's been difficult. I was originally merely a viscount. There are many nobles serving under me, and they haven't taken too kindly to me."
"What, a viscount you say? I see, is that what it was……? Hmph, then for the time being, I'll raise your standing to that of an earl. Make sure you keep working hard!"
Safir had finished putting on white riding pants by then and had recovered much of his composure.
In addition, he had also regained the air of arrogance he always wore. A smug smile alighted his visage.
Ludic reflexively said his thanks and was suddenly struck by the impulse to laugh out loud.
Psychologically, he's just a selfish child.
He doesn't understand how the world works, or how people work. And he doesn't even try to learn.
Evidently, Rain had recently welcomed an aged hero that he had only met once or twice before as his aide all of a sudden. He apparently made other such exceptional promotions quite often.
But, as frustrating as it was, the value of Rain and Safir's actions were completely different even if the actions in question had been the same. Ludic didn't want to appreciate his enemy, but the facts were the facts.
Rain already had the qualities of a general in his person. On top of that, he also had the insight to judge people's talents and the generosity to act on it.
That was why he had the ability to make such exceptional promotions and had actually exercised it.
However, Safir was a different story.
He had simply brought out a bigger bait in order to make Ludic work the way he wanted him to.
He did not seriously acknowledge or respect Ludic's abilities. Ludic seems like someone who's skilled at war, so I'll make use of him. I don't care about what happens next. That was what Safir probably thought.
He thought that the world revolved around money and status and that he could move the world as he wished as long as he had both.
But then, he would never be able to earn true respect from sensible retainers.
Although he was a noble, Ludic had interacted to some extent with the knights under him who were common-born. The popularity that he gained in doing so was what had led to his past results in war. Additionally, he personally did not lead a particularly luxurious lifestyle.
Rather, from his fellow nobles' point of view, he lived a frightfully modest life.
That was probably why——he felt antipathy at Safir's truly noble-like manner of handling things.
He was deeply disappointed instead of happy despite the fact that Safir had raised his rank in court.