Crowd—there was no one who didn't know that name. Amazement and doubts filled their faces. The surname was slightly different, but his identity was obvious.
He was the empire's 1st Sword, Andras' strongest swordsman. They didn't know how it happened, but Crowd von Russel had become Andras' 19th emperor.
"...I don't remember seeing his body in the Nadun Mountains."
"Yes, but being coronated in a few days...?"
"It is a ridiculous replacement."
Among the buzz of the people's chatter, the white-masked Orta muttered in a quiet voice, "It isn't impossible if he used force. Now that almost all of the Seven Swords are dead, there is no power in Andras that can stop him."
It was as Orta said. The swordsman Crowd was the best swordsman of this age, so he could take over the throne with force. He wouldn't raise an eyebrow even if all of Belfort's army went against him. Crowd was literally the strongest person in Andras. In a nation which had been founded upon the idea that a strong man stood on top, it was highly probable that Crowd had become emperor of Andras with his own power.
"I also agree with White Tower Master's words," the king sitting on the throne, Kurt III, agreed with Orta's opinion. "Until now, the monster called Invidia had worn the emperor's mask, so he didn't dare try. It was how the imperial bloodline was maintained in a single family up until now. But after Invidia died in the last battle, there is no obstacle in the way of Crowd's rule."
"Additionally, the national ideal of the Andras Empire is to follow the strong, so there wouldn't be an uprising."
"That's right. From this point on, we must recognize him as the emperor of Andras and evaluate his letter based on the appropriate standards."
The 1st Sword of the Seven Swords was a great position, but it was incomparable to the emperor's authority. The value of this letter was the same. The letter written by Crowd von Russel and Crowd von Andras was like the difference between heaven and earth.
Kurt looked at the letter in his hand and continued speaking, "Crowd, the emperor of Andras, has asked for a ceasefire in order to negotiate terms."
"Ceasefire... to end the war?"
A ceasefire and ending the war... The meaning was similar, yet significantly different.
Kurt nodded at Orta's words and read the letter again to deduce the author's intent. "Perhaps it is a preliminary negotiation. If we don't agree, he knows they have no chance of winning if we keep fighting."
The empire had already been defeated—Kurt firmly asserted this. "Crowd might've survived, but there is no way that Andras can win when the empire's Seven Swords are almost collapsed. By ascending the throne, the queen chess piece has become the king. He is in a position where he can't freely move. He has lost his ability to act as a trump card and doesn't have the power to reverse the situation anymore."
"They are fair words."
The emperor was the strongest sword master, but an emperor had two important roles.
It might be possible if half of the empire's Seven Swords were alive to support him. However, without a rook, bishop, or knight, the movements of a king were severely limited. Moreover, unlike a queen, Crowd already knew that the Andras Empire was completely defeated.
Thus, he had asked for a momentary ceasefire in order to present some conditions.
"From here on, I'll read out the contents." This was the main point. Kurt held the letter and started reading it. "I hope that Andras and Meltor will move their armies away from the forefront and discuss the end of the war in the northern part of the Sipoto Plains, which is the midpoint between the two places. I, Crowd, will come directly as the representative of Andras. I will acknowledge our defeat in this war and make a few promises first."
Kurt raised an eyebrow at the next words but continued reading the letter.
- - - -
One. The Andras Empire promises to give up the name of the empire. I will build an autonomous nation where people of ethnic minorities, who want freedom, can live.
Two. The Andras Empire will hand over 30% of the territory close to the border of the Meltor Kingdom and permanently give up the right to occupy them. The choice of territory is entirely up to Meltor.
Three. I will establish a semi-permanent non-aggression treaty between Andras and Meltor, as well as designate a safe zone where we can trade regularly. I hope to promote a friendship between the two nations. All tariffs incurred in the trade zone for the next 10 years will be borne by Andras.
- - - -
"...Now, anyone here can negotiate these terms."
After Kurt was done, the expressions of the people present changed.
As if to represent them, Orta opened his mouth, "The conditions are bad. No, it is hard to negotiate any further. Andras was able to dominate the Northern Continent because of their territory and population. Now they are giving up both things. They do actually mean to end the conflict in the Northern Continent."
There were those who would want to keep fighting, but the people gathered here weren't stupid. Even if they continued the war to subjugate Andras, it was impossible to tightly control the vast land. It was a different story if they could take over 30% with peaceful bargaining. That would be enough to make up for the power Meltor had lost in the war.
Andras would become an autonomous state and trade zone...?
That was nothing more than a roundabout declaration of surrender, cutting off their hands and feet. Andras might survive the end of this war, but they would never beat Meltor again. That's why the facial expressions of those present were strange.
"By the way, there is one unrelated condition," Kurt spoke again and turned to Theodore. "Emperor Crowd has demanded that Theodore take part in the negotiation. He has a story to share with you, regardless of whether you are the leader or just part of the group. Perhaps it is something related to the former emperor, Invidia. What do you want to do?"
"I..." Theodore was troubled for a moment.
It was true that he was curious about the information Crowd had. The information was obviously closely related to Invidia. If Invidia had truly wanted to kill him, even Crowd would've died in the Nadun Mountains. It now seemed necessary to grasp why Crowd had become the emperor.
"I will accompany the group."
"Your Majesty, I will follow. Won't it make things more certain?" Veronica raised a hand after Theodore's reply.
It made sense. Crowd might've become the emperor, but there was the possibility that he was seeking Theodore's neck. However, he wouldn't be able to do anything against two 8th circle magicians moving together.
"Please do so," Kurt agreed with her and nodded. "The date for the signing of the new agreement is in a fortnight. You all can relax, while Theodore and Veronica will prepare as the heads of the group. White Tower Master, please assist them if they require it."
"Yes, Your Majesty."
"I hope that this agreement will bring peace to the Northern Continent. I am ashamed to rely on you again when you aren't in perfect condition. After this situation is over, I will provide proper compensation."
The meeting abruptly ended.
* * *
A fortnight... It was both a long and short period of time, but every moment was valuable to Theodore. He escaped from the palace grounds and moved to an area near the capital. It was the new Miller estate that he planned to visit. The guards were surprised by the unexpected teleportation, but their eyes widened after seeing his robe.
"No, who are you? Heok, that robe...?"
"A-Are you perhaps Prime Theodore—no, Marquis Miller?"
There was no need to respond with words. Theodore nodded, and they instantly saluted. It was a normal reaction. As Meltor's hero, Theodore was a person whose name was heard at any busy area in this kingdom. He didn't know it, but his popularity had long overtaken the king's.
"Oh, my. Who is this?" A woman embraced him as soon as he entered the drawing room. The warm and familiar smell disarmed all of Theodore's alertness. She could use perfume and cosmetics now that she was a senior noble, but his mother was still the same. Holding Theodore firmly in her arms, she then looked back.
"Honey! Leo! Theo has returned!"
"What?! Who came?"
"Brother! It really is Brother!"
His father had thinning hair, and his brother, Leonardo, was much bigger than before. His family gathered in an instant around Theodore. He was awkward after not seeing them for a long time, but his parents and brother talked without noticing.
There were stories about Theodore's achievements or earls he didn't know. Theodore made a surprised expression when he heard that Leonardo was better at the sword than at magic.
"Indeed. It is so cute how he plays with a wooden sword all day. What did the knight who taught him say? He said he wanted Leo to be his disciple."
"Wow, Leo. Don't you have amazing skills?" Theodore patted Leo's head, causing him to giggle.
Was it because he wasn't accustomed to being praised by his brother? Theodore watched him approvingly before secretly asking his parents for the authenticity of the story. If it was true that his brother had talent, then Theodore would recommend a proper teacher for him.
"Is there someone that you have in mind?"
"There are two possible people."
They were Randolph and Rebecca. One was a sword master, and the other was facing the wall to becoming a master. Both of them would be suitable to be Leonardo's teacher. However, Randolph had shown his skills in the war, so he was likely to become a high-ranking noble. Such a person couldn't become a tutor.
'I will ask Rebecca later.'
It might be different if she went up the master ranks like Randolph, but she couldn't stay beside Theodore with her current abilities. As such, it was more efficient to make her Leonardo's teacher and entrust her with protecting his family. Finally, Theodore stopped worrying. He wanted to enjoy this time with his family.
Then came the very next day. After breakfast with his family, Theodore returned to Mana-vil Capital. He walked around the infirmary looking for a certain name. Although he could ask the receptionist, Theodore didn't want to attract unnecessary attention.
Soon after, Theodore found what he was looking for.
"...I'm coming in." He entered without waiting for a reply.
His teacher, whom he hadn't seen in a few months, was lying on the bed. Vince Haidel, the war mage in red robes, looked haggard, but he welcomed Theodore with a large smile. "Ah, I was wondering who would be so impolite. I've heard all about your activities. You did really well."
"You don't have to feel sorry for me. I fought my best on the battlefield and got this result. Rather, I am proud that I survived the western front."
His words weren't wrong. It was a miracle that he had survived the onslaught of Invidia and the surviving Seven Swords.
Vince pointed to the empty left leg socket and said with a refreshed expression, "It is done. Vince Haidel will now live as a magician, not a war mage. I might be suited for it, but I didn't really like fighting. A small library room with a pen and parchment is good enough for me. The things you tell me are sufficient to last the rest of my life."
Thinking of the analysis of ancient languages to the reinterpretation of ancient civilizations, Vince laughed like he was really happy. His face sincerely showed that he didn't care about a lost leg. In the end, Theodore couldn't help laughing as well. The weight of the elixir in his pocket was unbearable. If he handed the elixir over now, Vince would wave his hand and tell him to use it for more important situations. Theodore Miller knew from a very long time ago that he was such a person.
'I don't know who was worried about whom.'
Theodore took off his robe and sat in the chair next to the bed. He forgot all the complicated stories and chatted with his teacher. This chat started at noon and continued until the sun went down.
"Why do you keep moving around?"
Until the day of the promised meeting, Theodore met and talked with people.
He went to see the injured elves, and he comforted Sylvia, who was saddened by her grandfather's death. Theodore also shared a cup with those who celebrated his victory and spoke with elders of the Magic Society.
Time passed by, and the promised day arrived.