–Third Person POV–
Goldonia Capital. Royal Palace.
「Your Majesty, it looks like the strife in the south was finally settled by Lord Hardlett’s personal decision.」
One of the ministers bows deeply.
「I have already learned of the news. I do not desire to start nor prolong any foreign wars either. This is good.」
The minister continues to speak emphatically.
「But the war was only stopped because of an unforeseen disaster. Moreover, Lord Hardlett is treating the territory he cut out as his own! As a noble who was graciously bestowed the title of Margrave by Your Majesty-……」
The King deliberately makes noise as he sets his cup on the table.
The minister stops mid-sentence.
「I have already heard. So what are you trying to say? Are you telling me to punish Hardlett?」
Judging the King was not too enthused about the idea, the minister felt slightly let down.
His body starts quivering from the strained tension in the air.
（I thought I would be fortunate enough to get the King to bite knowing he is so wary about traitors…… but now he can’t put it off for later!）
There were many chief vassals around him.
It would be immediately well-known if he were to defame Margrave Hardlett.
If it ends here with a vain attempt, he knew that the man feared as the war demon would be waiting to take revenge.
「It doesn’t matter if he’s some hero of war or some unrivaled general, making light of the King’s authority should not be forgiven. He should be punished in some way.」
The King leans his body forward and smiles slightly.
「So, what do you have in mind?」
Seeing the King smile was enough for the minister to talk more freely.
「The Margrave possesses vast and bountiful land. If we take a large portion of it and designate it as territory of the King, then distribute it among the loyal retainers, it would heighten the King’s authority.」
Erich couldn’t help but want to make a retort, though holds back when he sees the King’s expression.
The King’s smile was definitely not one of praise towards the man in front of him.
「Umumu…… by the way, I have an allegory for you.」
Faced with the King’s sudden change in topic, the minister cuts his word short feeling perplexed.
「There was a certain thief. This thief was well-hidden but was also afraid knowing there was a possibility of being caught at any time.」
「What should this individual do to feel more at ease? Would it be sufficient to dig a hole and continue hiding?」
The minister felt the question had an unknown meaning, but he couldn’t just ignore the King, so he wracked his brain for an answer.
「That fellow would be found out eventually by continuing to hide. It would be better to lay the blame on another wrongdoer……」
After saying that much, the minister’s words taper off and he starts to sweat profusely.
「What’s wrong? Finish what you were about to say. ……or shall I finish it for you?」
The King reaches his hand behind him.
In no time, he was handed a stack of paper from behind the throne by Rebecca, the chief information officer.
The King flips through the pages before glaring at the minister.
「What if there was an individual who paid 30 gold to the tax collector so he would not report the development of a new manor…… who then, feeling the presence of a pending investigation, presented already known information to create a more prominent criminal. What of this individual?」
Those were the thoughts going through everyone’s head at that moment.
「Take this traitor away!」
The minister just looks down as he gets dragged away without putting up any resistance.
After trying to use the King’s suspicion to his advantage and having it backfire on him, he knew any explanation he gave wouldn’t help save him.
「Information officers, what a great cause.」
「I am grateful for your kind words.」
Rebecca bows once to the King and once again retreats behind the throne.
Eliminating an insolent person was supposed to be an act to clear the heart, but everyone’s expressions don’t become much brighter.
「Hardlett is short-tempered and quick to resort to violence. However he isn’t the kind of man to hide the things he does.」
Rebecca nods at the King’s words but laughs wryly on the inside.
She had enough stories that would anger the King.
However that would make the King doubt her again.
（For now……it is correct to stay silent and not say anything.）
And then they were all dismissed.
「Military Commissioner, what do you think of this?」
「There are still roots of corruption within our country. We must thoroughly eradicate them.」
Erich talks with one of his close new nobles after leaving the throne room.
The civil officials part of Kenneth’s faction and those not part of either faction are pretty much talked about the same thing.
The two of them enter Erich’s office and the door closes behind them.
They got away from the eyes and ears of all the others.
「Military Commissioner, what do you think?」
「…… it was just deception to hide 300 gold that he failed to collect. And he also didn’t declare the amount of increase. If he judges the minister based on something as little as that, we’ll have no more people left to get rid of.」
「That man isn’t fond of anybody who is sly or cunning though……」
「He was a person who was relatively good at his job. Besides, he was a coward who has balls the size of small beans. If you just threaten him indirectly, he wouldn’t try something like that a second time. ……the King should have known that when assigning him as a minister too.」
「It seems the King’s way of thinking as changed from how it was previously.」
Erich nods silently.
（Right now, the King is imprisoning capable people for insignificant crimes and deceptions. Even though clean and upright nobles are about as rare as unavaricious merchants.）
「Rudny and Aragg from our faction have also been imprisoned. The reason being they were involved in the evaluation of military personnel and hastened the promotion of their own family…… they were suspected of doing so.」
「That’s inexcusable. But that’s all they did. I’m looking at all the commanders in charge of several thousands of soldiers. ……I’m sure these guys are at best commanders of only a few hundred, where the matter can be settled just by summoning them and scolding them a little.」
「On the other hand, the same thing is frequently occurring with the government affairs commissioner…… no, Kenneth’s faction.」
The man corrected himself when he saw Erich react to that official title.
「They have a core of civil officials after all. Bribery and concealment of assets is tied more with their jobs. I can see him worrying about it now.」
The subordinate laughs sheepishly as well and quickly sighs.
「But you cannot have frequent tattling. It will eventually spread to everyone.」
Many stories depict how the royal nobles would bring down their rivals for personal advancement.
But the practice has become so widespread recently that it’s become popular for people within the same faction to do it to each other.
「I hear the information officers are running around and being mobilized to confirm the most trivial rumors.」
「It may not simply be as it’s always been…… the talks being about my side or Kenneth’s side or staying neutral.」
Erich looks out the window recently modified to have two layers.
On the surface, it was to prevent top secret information from leaking to spies of other countries.
But in reality, it was to stop information officers from putting their ears to the window and listening in.
「Now I feel like doing whatever I want in my territory like him. Gathering a bunch of beautiful women and having an orgy every night, huh……」
「If you do something like that so suddenly, you might be suspected of starting a rebellion.」
Erich’s long sigh could once again be heard.
After the King was finished with his duties, he took his seat to eat his meal.
He always ate alone if he didn’t have to eat with others but it’s been different recently.
「Rosario, all your favorites have been prepared today. Please eat to your heart’s content.」
「My humble thanks, Your Majesty.」
Rosario: The sole woman who has earned the King’s favor and has the privilege of staying by his side.
A lover would not normally be allowed to do any of the following, but this woman would always accompany the King in his personal affairs, from dining to bathing, and even to bed.
The King holds out a hand to stop a servant from dividing the dishes, personally placing the plate of food in front of the girl.
The servants look at each other in amazement as the King did something a manservant would normally do, but don’t say anything.
「Thank you, Your Majesty.」
As Rosario reached for the soup, the bowl slipped out of her hand and the contents spilled everywhere.
The spoon rattled and rolled on the table and the King’s clothes were splashed by the hot liquids.
When the woman bowed her head deeply, the servants standing by scrunch their shoulders to brace themselves for the inevitable angry shout.
After all, it wouldn’t be strange to get the death sentence on the spot if any of the servants did the same thing.
However, the King did the opposite as his expression softened and he spoke in a gentle voice.
「What a hopeless woman. Did you get burned?」
「No, how can I ever apologize…… ah.」
The King brings Rosario in for an embrace and then pats her head.
「It can’t be helped, you’re clumsy and not very bright. You’re a woman who can’t do anything without me. There, there, I won’t get angry no matter what foolish things you do. All you have to do is obey me. I will make you happy without fail.」
「What an honor, Your Majesty. I’m a stupid and foolish woman, but I hope you’ll keep me by your side forever.」
There really was nothing being projected from the eyes of Rosario, who closes them as she gets hugged by the King.
Near White City. Imperial Army Camp. Advent of Winter.
The snow would not stop coming down once it started to fall.
It would gradually pile up and dye everything white.
The Imperial commanders tentatively face each other with a sour expression.
「I heard the Federation winters were cold, but not to this extent.」
「The military slaves are effectively rendered useless. Being partially naked, they’re not able to move well due to the cold.」
「Not just that, soldiers from the main army are catching colds and becoming sick one after the other.」
They had information about the cold Federation winters.
Therefore, the Empire’s home country provided enough of the mostly unnecessary pelts for the regular soldiers and even prepared the wood to be used for campfires.
However that would mean the provincial guards, not to mention the military slaves, would have to endure the harsh weather.
「But the military slaves can’t even move a muscle, let alone fight, and deaths are starting to occur among those with weaker bodies.」
「Furthermore, the soldiers are starting to get burned…… frostbitten as referred to by the prisoners of war…… more and more of them are suffering this condition.」
Bearing all the silent pressure, one man steps forward.
「Your Excellency Zaphnes, I understand that we are one step away from capturing White City, but at this rate, we can’t fight decently. Let us temporarily retreat to the south and wait for winter to pass before trying to conquer again……」
Zaphnes bellows angrily.
「The northern and eastern parts of the Federation, which fall out of our reach, are recovering their military strength moment by moment! If we wait until spring, they’ll be fully prepared to fight us! Can we still conquer White City then!?」
「That’s true, but-……」
The staff officers and commanders were at their wits’ ends.
They finally could no longer breakthrough the defences of White City despite their incessant attacks.
Adding the cold on top of that fact, it didn’t look possible to bring down White City.
However there was logic behind what Zaphnes said too.
The reason the Empire was able to fight with such an overwhelming advantage is because they were riding the momentum from the victory of the first battle.
If the Federation calms down and cooperates with each other, they could make a rally despite fighting in their own backyard not too long ago.
（The enemy is at an advantage if we give them time……）
（And the further we get into winter, the more advantageous the enemy is……）
「I understand what all of you are saying, but relenting our attacks would be what our enemies want. We will proceed with the next attack as planned!」
They knew they couldn’t fight well.
But it was clear that things would get worse as more time passed.
They couldn’t ease up on their offensive.
「Get ready to chargeeeee!!」
「You guys, stand up already! You can at least keep warm by moving around!」
The commanders shouted and forced the shivering military slaves to line up.
But there was one group who would not move despite hearing the fierce orders.
That group was the soldiers camped on top of the hill, where it was most exposed to the strong winds.
「You bums, you all know that insubordination gets the death penalty! Stop shivering and stand up!」
The commander soon realized that he couldn’t hear the sound of their teeth rattling.
「They’re not shivering. Then hurry and-……」
He approaches them with his whip raised…… then falls to the ground.
「A-all of them are dead? ……how sad……」
The poor military slaves were cowering from the wind together in a hole while hugging each other’s shoulders, but ended up dying from the coldness.
Incident-filled Journey. ???
「It’s so tiring, it’s so cramped!!」
「Everyone, I’m really sorry……」
Inside a covered wagon heading east towards a field of snow, one fat madam was spread out like the character ‘大’ and complaining about her fatigue in a loud voice.
They walked quite a distance on their own before getting on the carriage, but that was the same for all the other passengers.
The attendant holding a baby was frantically apologizing.
「Well, she certainly gets in the way……」
「And also the carriage has gotten slower since you two got on. How heavy can you be?」
Being at the peak of weariness, the madam fell asleep on the spot.
The rudely extended limbs took up a huge area in the narrow carriage, making the other passengers furrow their eyebrows.
「Madam! Don’t you think you can be more considerate…… aah!」
The attendant tries to shake the madam but the lady lets out a massive farting sound and the horrible stench quickly fills the carriage.
The expressions of the other passengers become even more grim.
「……I’m very sorry about this.」
「Normally she would already be thrown out a long time ago……」
One of the men approaches the snoring madam slowly.
「She seems to be a little useful though.」
Another man takes off his outer garment and gets closer to the madam.
The other passengers also surround the madam and extend their arms.
And so the madam and the female attendant were…… not viciously raped.
「It’s so warm.」
「Yeah, I don’t even need to wear my outer garment.」
「Steam is being emitted from all over her body.」
「If we think of this ragged carriage turning into a high-class carriage with a heater, then we can put up with most things.」
The carriage might have a cover to act as a windbreaker, but they would normally still have to endure the biting cold of the winter.
General practice dictates that the passengers huddle together in the carriage headed to the vast lands to try and somehow survive the harsh weather.
Except now, the inside of the carriage felt like the beginning of spring, though the warmth came with a slightly damp feeling.
In the center of all that enveloping warmth is the fat madam, who was sleeping while dripping with sweat.
「Madam, the unnecessary fat you accumulated on a daily basis is being useful.」
「I-it’s so hot…… I can’t stop sweating…… buhiii……」
The two girls and the one baby head east.
They were making their way to the man they love.