BBYW Vol. 2 Chapter 7 (WN)
Chapter 7 – Wine flows smoothly, meeting flows not
“…but that’s enough jokes. We should start talking seriously now.”
Echidna clasped her hands loudly, changing the air in the room.
The maids and butlers set drinks and snacks on the tables, then promptly made their exit. The conversation that was going to follow was not for their ears.
“I-I beg your pardon~~!!”
The maid who served Sharon too bolted out of the room. Sharon looked at her leave, a gaze of longing in her eyes…then proceeded to fill the glass herself. Apparently, not drinking was not an option.
“So, what is it that you want to talk about so seriously?”
Valon, no longer raising a ruckus about his little sister, had sat back down and calmly started the conversation. He was the oldest among us four, so I was sincerely grateful that he took the helm.
“Are you listening? Sharon Utgard.”
Sharon continued drinking without a care, prompting Valon to raise his eyebrows.
Incidentally, she was the youngest among us: Sharon was still 16. She had not enrolled in the academy and received her education in her home province instead.
She was not a special case, though: House Utgard was famously isolated and its contact with other territories was rather limited. Its members rarely left the province outside of special events, like that day’s crowning ceremony.
(This unique air she has comes from how little she knows of the world, I guess. And she looked so stern during the ceremony…)
In the ceremony she completely had the fierce aura of a military commander, intimidating all nobles in the surroundings, but now — probably also thanks to the wine — her appearance fit her age much more.
(That’s not the drinking pace of a 16 year old girl, though.)
I contemplated the 12 empty bottles on her table.
“Well, first of all…I would like to hear your opinions about what will become of this country.”
I feared the conversation wasn’t going to proceed, but Echidna ignored Sharon and offered a topic of discussion.
Valon nodded and answered first.
“Hmm…I see. The conflict between the various factions in the court is only going to intensify, I’m sure.”
“I feel the same. Prince Sulley…no, His Majesty was born from the Queen, so there is more than enough just cause to inherit the throne, but the rumors about him being an illegitimate son are pretty heavy,”
The scandalous words uttered by the former king before passing out — denouncing Sulley as a bastard son — still shook the royal court.
At present, the court was split into several competing factions.
The royal faction, intending to support Sulley and maintain the king’s authority.
The chancellor faction, with Duke Rosais and his vassals at the center.
The pacifist faction, which abhorred chaos and wanted to avoid any conflict with the provincial nobles.
The noble faction, which wanted to prop Sulley as a puppet king and gain the actual control over the kingdom. This faction was mainly formed by the nobles hostile to Duke Rosais, and wanted to drive him out of the court more than anything else. Their final aim was to gain absolute power over the kingdom, thus whittling down the authority and influence of our provincial houses, so they deserved special attention.
Lastly, the neutral faction, which stayed out of all conflicts at court. As Sulley’s status as legitimate heir was still in question, they kept their distance from the royal family, as much as they were allowed to. Their connections with provincial nobles were spotty too.
“I have to admit that Duke Rosais is exemplary, as a noble. But not even he could stop water leaking out of a ruptured dam. In the best case scenario all the conflicts continue underground, in the worst a civil war splits the kingdom in two. In either case, we provincial nobles will have to make our decision about what role to take.”
To continue serving this country or seek a new, independent path. Taking over the central province and gaining control over the whole kingdom was an option as well.
“That’s how you see it too, then…pretty troublesome.”
“…is the south planning to rebel against the royal family?”
Sharon, who had not stopped drinking for a moment, questioned Echidna.
(Huh, so she was listening then…)
She finally joined the conversation, leaving me mildly surprised.
“Of course not. House Thunderbird’s forces are based on our fleet,, we couldn’t win against the royal house even if we tried. We aren’t sure, however, that the royals will be as good a customer as they’ve been until now.”
For House Thunderbird, which prospered thanks to maritime trade, the royal house — or any other noble family, for that matter — were nothing more than business partners. In spirit, they were merchants rather than nobles.
“Blood flows only when money does too. If the new royal house brings the economy down, we’ll have to reconsider how to deal with them.”
“Heh, I only hear greed speaking.”
“Oh, does mighty House Sphinx opine otherwise? Would you swear loyalty to a royal house lacking in authority?”
Valon snorted at Echidna’s question.
“Who cares about the royal family? There are other, true enemies we should worry about. No matter what confusion happens in the center, what we must do is subdue the enemy before us. That is the duty of a guardian warrior of this kingdom.”
“I feel the same, in principle. As long as there are enemies before us, we should focus on them.”
I agreed with Valon’s opinion, though what our words implied was probably very different.
“As long as there are enemies, hmm. That’s just like you, Dyn.”
Echidna correctly guessed the true meaning of my words and nodded.
I have never told her of my ambitions, but during the time we spent together, she surely noticed how I wished to make House Maxwell independent.
“The policies of House Utgard are not for me to speak of.”
Sharon downed another glass and spoke.
“Because I’m a soldier, not a warrior. I have no beliefs, I will cut down anyone I am ordered to. I am not in the position to decide whether House Utgard will oppose the royal house or not.”
“Really? Even as the next Margrave, you don’t have any opinions?”
“The number two’s opinion is worthless. The leader’s opinion is enough, no matter the case.”
However — added Sharon, before emptying another glass.
“I don’t want to fight against someone who serves wine as good as this. If House Thunderbird chooses to fight against the royal family, I will personally be on your side. I promise.”
“Oh my, what wonderful words. I have some rare wine from the east, I’ll give it to you as a souvenir to bring home.”
“I love you…marry me.”
Sharon took Echidna’s hand and made her proposal — seriously or in jest, I had no idea. I looked at Echidna, clearly taken aback by the sudden development, then turned around and sighed.
(Four Houses…even if our positions are similar, the way we think is really different. Doesn’t feel like we’d ever be able to unite and fight against the royal house together, huh?)
Echidna probably gathered us together in order to confirm that, too.
(I never planned to borrow anyone’s strength in the first place…but it’s probably best to think of the other Margrave houses as possible enemies, when we finally open hostilities against the royal family.)
The south’s House Thunderbird valued its interests above all. If we can offer them enough profit, they should not stand against us.
The west’s House Sphinx will never have enough leftover forces to send against us, as long as the “Accursed Armies” of the desert exist.
(That leaves only House Utgard.)
I glanced at Sharon.
If the empire falls, House Utgard — which, like our House Maxwell, sees it as an enemy — will be able to move more freely. When that happens, what will be their next move?
The house of this girl passionately gushing about wine was a possible enemy as dangerous as the royal house.
(I have to thank Echidna, for making me realise how steep a path my ambition is taking me to.)
Strangely enough, however, I didn’t feel discouraged at all.
The path was harsh and far — but it also made things more exciting.
“Let me have a glass too. This wine will taste even better hot, can you warm it up for me?”
“Ooh, good idea. Me too!”
I called a servant and handed them my glass.
I looked at the girl before me, with sparkles in her eyes, and wondered if she was really going to be an enemy in the future.