The Meal After a Game of Shogi
I departed the following morning, leading 20 members from the security squad and the Scarlet Phoenix.
Undead were currently heading south from the Giant Forest, Rudoa, turning any nearby cities into a hellish landscape as they rushed straight for the center of the capital.
If the empire’s top brass were upstanding, they would never make the foolish mistake of scattering their forces here. They should have already gathered all forces in the city directly in front of the capital, Sutherland. The Adventurer’s Guild officially announced the undead would arrive in Sutherland in 30 days, and it’ll only take 5 days to reach Sutherland from here, so we should make it with plenty of time to spare.
For a few days, we only saw peddlers and travelers, but soon we began noticing seemingly battalion-like groups of people.
Currently, as we were resting our horses in the plaza, an army dozens of times larger than ours marched past our eyes.
“Amazing~” Satella said.
“Yeah,” Carla said while gaping at the large battalion that had yet to pause before turning to ask Aquido, “Which battalion are they from?”
“They’re Count Hartwig’s army. His family is one of the 10 most powerful military families.”
“Then what about the people in the back waving that flag with two crossed swords?”
“【Villainy】. They’re mercenaries that’ll pick a fight at the drop of a hat even in the empire. The fact that they’re employed by Count Hartwig probably won’t change that.”
Count Hartwig……That gorilla of a person. I’ve acquainted with him through Millard’s master family, the McBurns, or perhaps I should say he’s my agricultural business partner.
He’s a man of integrity—definitely not a bad person—but as someone on the more logical side, I’m not very good with muscle heads like him. After all, he basically doesn’t even listen to what other people are saying.
It’ll be annoying if he finds me, so I’ll stay in the carriage. Thinking that, I began to enter the carriage, when a man with short, black hair who was probably a mercenary noticed us and broke away from the flow, approaching us on horseback.
“Yo, aren’t you guys The Fools?” he said as the other battalions began focusing on us.
“Sorry, Grey,” Aquido said, bowing to me as onlookers sneered and disdained us.
“Why are you apologizing?” I asked. “I thought you didn’t regret it?”
“That’s still true, but……”
“Then there’s no need to be embarrassed. They’ve got no balls; they’re just spreading some gossip, after all. Let them say what they want.”
Zem, the vice-leader, burst out in laughter as the other members nodded and smiled in agreement.
“What do you mean they have no balls?” The Eight-Headed Dragon asked blankly.
Satella knit her eyebrows, chiding, “Grey-sama, that’s very crude.”
“I’ll try to be more careful.”
During this dangerous atmosphere, a man dismounted his horse while glaring at us and began to grip his blade, when……
The short-haired man’s eyes rolled back, and he collapsed. Behind him stood a black-haired, middle-aged man with a medium stature and a beard.
At the same time, a giant man with blonde hair and scars all over his bodies pushed through the crowd and appeared before us.
The soldiers and mercenaries all squared up immediately.
“Oh, it’s Sir Grey. Long time no see,” the wild-looking blonde giant laughed as he repeatedly slapped my back.
“Hey, Count Hartwig, I’ve explained this hundreds of times, but I’ve got no peerage and have no plans on acquiring one in the future. Please just call me Grey.”
“But that McBurn doesn’t think that way; he’s running about trying to get you to marry his beloved daughter.”
“There’s not a chance, I tell you.”
That’s right. Margrave McBurn has recently been trying to set me up with his 12-year-old daughter; he wants me as his son-in-law.
Frankly, I’m not into kids, and marrying a 12-year-old is just too much for me.
“Guhahaa! That McBurn! Take that. Well how about it, whattya say we play a quick game at the next inn?”
Shogi and Chess were a few of the games that Sagami Co. sells. And in just a few years, it rapidly gained popularity with nobles, and quite a few have already become quite knowledgeable. I even gifted Count Hartwig a shogi set when we first met, but it seems like he’s completely hooked now.
“I don’t mind, but no taking back moves,” I said.
This person is a real sore loser. I pointed it out once before, but he made me play with him until the sun started rising.
In the end, he made me play 5 games today before finally letting me free, and I’m now cooking some food for him.
“Wow, so this is Wind Cow meat?”
“That’s right,” a servant said. “The Wind Cows that master brings us is delectable. We can get milk and cheese from them, and their cheeks have got that melt-in-your-mouth flavor.”
Through Margrave McBurn’s introduction, I’ve even gifted Count Hartwig 10 wind cows.
“It’s good that your animals are growing up nicely,” I said.
I’ve got an inseparable, albeit slightly unwanted, relationship with both of them, so when Count Hartwig had been going through some financial troubles, Margrave McBurn had suggested that I give him some Wind Cows to raise. Naturally, I had given him a document detailing any relevant data for rearing Wind Cows as well. I’m a mere merchant without any peerage, and trouble always seems to come when I’m managing some large-scale agricultural business. That’s why it was vital to create connections with powerful nobles with plenty of land to spare.
“We won’t ever forget this debt. Ever. One day we’ll definitely pay you back.”
“Don’t worry about it; I was able to gather some valuable data as well,” I said before jumping into the main topic. “So, are there a lot of undead?”
“That’s what I hear,” Count Hartwig said. “There even seems to be a dragon among the undead, and General Lamperts, lauded as one of the most courageous generals, died in battle.”
“An undead dragon, huh. That’s certainly a bit troublesome.”
Well, in the worst case my magic should be able to exterminate an undead dragon that’s lost all ability to think—it shouldn’t pose a problem.
“By the way, I hear you’ve employed the Scarlet Phoenix.”
“Yeah,” I shrugged.
“Don’t make that face. It ain’t like I’m rebuking you or anything. Just, be careful.”
“You shoulda heard about what they did.”
“Are you talking about when they severely injured that shameless noble who wanted to use his own citizens as a shield to escape, and used that noble as bait to let the citizens escape?”
“Yeah, the shameless noble,” Count Hartwig said. “He left his own citizens to die, after all. Still, it ain’t very surprising for a war commander to choose that path, although that McBurn was quite enraged.”
“I can see that, knowing his personality.”
“Ah, but on the other hand, it’s true that they capitulated with almost no blood shed, hastening the enemy’s advance.”
“They’re hated… is what you want to say?”
“Yes, because a considerable amount of their comrades died in that battle.”
“But they were able to save that many more citizens in return,” I shot back.
During this incident, Margrave McBurn used the fact that he risked his life to save the citizens to demand that the Scarlet Phoenix be exempt from the nobles’ rage. As a result, they were allowed to take a hiatus for a year.
Well, that’s what he passed it off as, but the real reason they were exempted was because the nobles in command on that battlefield had lost their nerves, used their citizens as a shield to try to escape, and desperately wanted to keep this fact from the citizens of the empire.
“I ain’t sayin’ that what the Scarlet Phoenix did was wrong,” Count Hartwig said. “Just that there’s some leftover resentment.”
It’s certainly a deep-rooted problem. But in the first place, even just planning to abandon the very people you’re supposed to protect makes you a failure as a general.
“I’ll be sure to remember that,” I said.
I gave him a deep nod before digging into the meat.
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