035 The burning capital? (1) p.2

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50 years ago, there had been a great war.

It happened on the far borders, in a land called Alpes Roune, known by locals as Erebus Rohtlehrgen. It was a war fought between the Kingdom of Arquell and the Federation of Sankt Gallen over the vast mineral riches lying unclaimed in the earth there.

Due to frequent disputes between the countries, the borders in that area had become vaguely defined around the foothills. Sankt Gallen had planned to formalise their direct control over the area and built a fortress on their side. This became the impetus for the war, in which a certain noble participated.

The third son of a Marquis, George Lavallee. Known presently as the one and only Marquis Lavallee.

Back in those days, he harbored great ambitions and believed fervently in the values of chivalry. He aimed to distinguish himself in war as well as to repel the barbarians from the east. Joining up with his elder brother’s army, he envisioned himself returning home crowned in glorious victory.

He was not being overly optimistic. In fact, prevailing sentiment at the time was that the Kingdom was likely to win. The provocative act from Sankt Gallen was initiated by an overly ambitious Count guarding the border, and it was plain as day that it was an impulsive decision without complete preparation. When the imperial court in Broussonne issued a war decree, the ambassador from the Federation hurriedly sent an apology only to be made into a laughing-stock by court officials.

Everyone in the Kingdom strongly believed that the enemy’s armies were full of weak recruits in comparison to the Kingdom’s elite, hardened soldiers ready to defeat the aggressors.

However, their expectations for victory were mercilessly crushed underfoot.

It became the largest defeat in history for the Kingdom of Arquell.

As a result of the Kingdom being slow to mobilize, Sankt Gallen, who were at a numerical disadvantage, decided to carry out a preemptive night assault. By some whim of fate, the surprise attackers managed to sneak past patrols and land a direct hit on the Arquellian camp.

In an unfortunate coincidence, a war council consisting of high-ranking nobles was in the middle of a meeting in the camp. The Arquellian soldiers were confused and disoriented by the unexpected attack, and the desperate invaders fought fiercely. They were too complacent and now, they paid the price for bringing internal politics onto the battlefield.

All the commanders were killed, and the Kingdom’s armies were left without experienced leadership. Unable to retaliate, the Kingdom’s troops were forced into a rout, with the Federation in hot pursuit.

According to an observing military advisor from the neighbouring Kingdom of Marbhea, the Kingdom of Arquell was little more than fish in a barrel at Alpes Roune. Their officers were giving directions to the Arquellian army and inadvertently got caught in the crossfire. The officer in question had given his statement as he was being treated for a torn tendon at a field hospital.

In the end, they had to sign a humiliating peace treaty and erase Alpes Roune from their kingdom’s map. This led to the end of many years of vague border lines in the area. Conversely, the border-counts from the Sankt Gallen Federation regained half of the western territories. However, the losses sustained in this war by the Kingdom of Arquell were not limited to territory. Many nobles who took part in the campaign, including the high-ranking nobles that went to the front lines either died or lost their heirs. Naturally, there were voices advocating a campaign in revenge, but who would lead the war of reclamation? Thusly began the political infighting for leadership.

Having had his brother die right before his eyes and suffering grievous wounds in battle, Lavallee returned to his country only to witness such meaningless bickering.

Many of their leaders were greedily wringing the land dry and enriching only themselves. However,  they failed to realise the dangers of their decisions and fought each other for personal gain.

The young Lavallee wondered how they could be so blind. The Federation could still use the momentum generated in the surprise attack and strike west into Broussonne. There was also the possibility that the cunning Marbheans might take advantage of the situation and snatch away yet more territory from the failing Kingdom of Arquell.

In the end, Sankt Gallen feared that pushing further into Arquell would leave their rear lines unguarded and stripped the border count that acted without orders of his title. Marbhea wanted to maintain a balance of power in the region and decided to facilitate peace talks. Even so, these events were the silver lining. Not only did they lose Alpes Roune, the kingdom had to pay war reparations.

On the other hand, the nobles that did not go into frontlines were only concerned with their own positions and safety.

If nothing was done, the kingdom would be swallowed by infighting and intrigue.

With this in mind, George Henry Lavallee was reborn from a mere noble scion into a loyal patriot. Or, as some would say, a brilliant strategist and unparalleled schemer.

He began with setting up his second elder brother and the fourth son, his younger brother. The original successor of his father, his eldest brother, died in battle. The fourth son intended to take advantage of the situation and murder their father’s successor, he told the second son. He carefully pretended to be in pain over his war injuries and convinced his second elder brother to kill the fourth son. As soon as the deed was done, he immediately reported it to his father with witnesses in tow. He told him that the second son had sinister ambitions and murdered the fourth son who was born from the first wife. The very next day, his father ordered his second son to kill himself in order to preserve the outward appearance of the family.

As planned, George became the next successor of the Lavallee family. Henceforth, with the authority of his rank and all the energy of youth, he worked to improve the internal system of the kingdom.

He never took important positions such as prime minister or any other high-profile role. He preferred to help others into those appointments and gain their favour so that he remained outside the spotlight. He exercised his talents to their fullest extent behind the curtains and implemented many new policies, including expanding the royal guards, strengthening diplomatic relations with the religious authority in the region, the Omnian Empire, redeveloping the western borders, and strengthening the forts on their eastern borders. He even established the system that allowed children to study in Sankt Gallen, their sworn enemy, under the guise of reconciliations. At the same time, he eliminated domestically influential nobles and built up the centralist faction.

Everything he did was for the future of the kingdom. For his glorious motherland, his beautiful country… It was all to ensure everlasting prosperity for the Kingdom of Arquell, the land of art and beauty.

After a momentary pause to reflect, Marquis Lavallee returned to reality. The meeting of the centralist faction was still ongoing.

(How clumsy of me. Could it be my age… To think that even I would be lost in pointless thoughts.)

Naturally, he hid all his emotions. He could not afford to appear to be in a decline or the fools here would force him into submission.

“Very well, then. Shall we skip the chat over tea and move on to the main subject?”

The nobles stirred slightly. It was because Lavallee considered their relentless criticism as merely a “chat over tea”. Surely, the members who wanted to take the opportunity to bring Lavallee down would be in objection, but the old man still had enough authority to do as he wished.

They could only listen to the so-called main subject that Lavallee spoke of. Pleased with the nobles’ reactions, Lavallee continued.

“It is about Tullius Oubeniel, the Viscount that cornered the previous Count Cartan in yesterday’s trial...”

“Cornered Count Cartan?”

Count Langoune interrupted. He was implicitly hinting that there was another person who had been on the back foot. Lavallee paid him no heed and resumed speaking.

“...that young man is unfortunately maligned by rumor, but he does appear to be a person of gift. He also showed a remarkable talent when he spoke in court...”

“Deceitful speech is a talent for the ‘slave murderer’?”

Count Mearbahn’s scorn was obvious. It seemed like he was trying to demean Tullius so as to vent his frustrations over how Lavallee dismissed his failure.

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