129. [Chapter 6] Chapter of the Battlefield – Epilogue
A boy with a chubby face, blonde hair, and blue eyes raised both his hands as he looked at Pygni. That innocent face and expression seemed to say, ‘I spent my days happily without any incident!’
The Kingdom of Lome was defeated in the war, but formally, there was a festival for the King’s return. Even though the city area was crowded due to the festival, the mood within the palace was not good. Not only had Pygni lost more than half of his army, but he had also suffered a defeat.
On top of that, there was an even more serious incident. The fact that the King of the nobles, whose pride and reputation were more important than anything, had bent the knee and lowered his head caused them much anger. Since even the alliance with the Holy Kingdom was severed, they feared the mad Pope’s retaliation. They were afraid of the retribution of other nations, and for selfish reasons, the palace was overflowing with people claiming that it was ‘for the benefit of the people’ and ‘for the benefit of the nation’ as their excuses. To them, now that a legitimate reason to dethrone Pygni was presented…they were most likely vying to swarm him with all their might.
In this dangerous atmosphere, Grapefruit maintained an innocent face without any blemish. Noticing this, Pygni’s own face, overflowing with caution, twitched. Pygni scanned the area with a frown and looked toward the knights on guard and Oskal.
Oskal made a bitter face and raised his hand. Even without any orders, the knights seemed to react reflexively as they put their backs toward Pygni and raised their shields, surrounding Pygni and his son. They blocked them from everyone’s view. Once they were shielded, Pygni lifted and hugged Grapefruit before rubbing his cheeks.
“My cute little prince, how are you so energetic? Seeing you so spirited, unlike those elder statesmen and nobles, it fills Poppa with energy!”
Only, their voices weren’t shielded, and he spoke as if he wanted the nobles and elder statesmen to hear.
“Hehe! Daddy, did you come back safely? Nothing happened?”
“Hm? Ah, of course! I’m fit as a fiddle, without a single injury! Did our prince get hurt anywhere?”
Seeing him nod lively, Pygni felt relieved. The Devil of Lania had kept his promise.
“Yea? Then, our little prince, can you go to your room for a bit?”
“Daddy has something to do.”
Pygni turned to Luis. He had been made the royal archer for the feat of having protected the Demon Lord and was hired as a subordinate of Oskal. He had come to the Hero’s Party to rise up in the world, but he had gotten this status after the death of all of his companions. So, he felt a bit uneasy standing in such a different place than the languishing faces of Peter or Aris before their deaths.
“Luis, take Grapefruit up to his room.”
After Luis left with Grapefruit, Pygni started to move. From this point on, he would have to face those nobles and elder statesmen.
“…Your Majesty? Do you think this makes any sense? For you to bend the knee! Although Your Majesty’s life is important, a King has to retain his pride and reputation… Such a humiliating act…!”
Without any expression, Pygni replied to the elder statesman’s complaint, “I apologize for that.”
“Pride and reputation, or whatever… That was the best I could do to prevent the fall of the Kingdom of Lome.”
“Aside from that humiliation, a vassal state to monsters? Does that make any sense? Just what was Your Majesty thinking? If we do that, what will our ally, the Holy Kingdom, think? If His Highness, the Pope, finds out…he’ll come pointing fingers, saying that we broke the Continental Law!”
Pygni nodded as the fat noble spoke with a frown.
“I shall tell you about all that at a later time.”
‘Hah, wasn’t it the Holy Kingdom that treated us more like a vassal than an ally? Besides, the one who broke the Continental Law first was the Holy Kingdom. Are they condemning me with such obvious things as excuses?’
“Also, the Hero’s Party died? Not only did you cancel our alliance one-sidedly, you even executed the Hero’s companions without consulting the Pope? Does that make any sense? This is nothing less than declaring war against the Holy Kingdom!”
“Or do you perhaps think we can win against the Holy Kingdom? That great nation of faith…? It’s too much for someone like us who couldn’t even overcome Hell! We should lower our heads in apology and cancel our negotiations with the Demons!”
The nobles and the elder statesmen berated Pygni and looked at him with mockery. They were trying to fortify their authority by pressing responsibility onto him, the one sitting on the throne. This was a standard approach the corrupt politicians used to acquire more power for themselves and to gain more leverage. They wanted the nation’s authority for their own benefit.
Pygni looked at them and scratched his cheek.
‘What nonsense. Why do they think I one-sidedly canceled the alliance and executed the Hero? How will someone that couldn’t even beat the Demon Kingdom win against the Holy Kingdom…? They’re just speaking nothing but nonsense! To think these guys were the ones ruling the Kingdom of Lome before…! Hah…’
“These guys sure are harsh.”
Beside the throne, Oskal whispered into Pygni’s ear. Pygni tapped the armrest as he fell into thought, rolling his eyes.
“Mmm…it must be the same as when we were suffering under the Pope? Ungh…it’s frustrating. Oskal, how do you think the treatment of our subjects has been since I rose to the throne?”
“…Why are you asking this so suddenly?”
“I’m just asking how my subjects viewed me before the invasion of the Demon Kingdom.”
“Well, that is…”
A wise ruler. Although he was a bastard born from a whore, he occupied the throne through rebellion. Still, he was known all around as a wise king who had cultivated the Kingdom of Lome despite expectations of him running the kingdom into the ground. His base of support among the nobles might be low, but through his diligent efforts in expelling the rebels, his subjects praised him. In that aspect, it might not be an exaggeration to say that his subjects had a higher opinion of him than the residents of the Kingdom of Aylans had for King Paulie. When Oskal voiced his thoughts, Pygni asked him another question.
He was asking for the public’s opinion of him after his defeat.
“…I’m not sure. I have just returned today, so I do not know. Only, even though the large majority of the subjects have lost their fathers and sons due to the draft, it doesn’t seem like the people blame you. Due to the returning soldiers’ accounts, they view it as you throwing away your pride and reputation in order to save them. I’d imagine that your subjects will praise you even now as a wise king.”
“I see. A wise king… I’m not all that nice, though.”
Pygni looked over the elder statesmen and the nobles.
“The title of a wise king is not bad, but…it might be better to become a bit like the Pope. Yes, it might be fun to be named a tyrant for a change. Besides, all the opposing factions have gathered here, and I even managed to get sturdy backing from the Demons.”
Oskal looked at him strangely, but Pygni ignored him and shouted toward the crowd.
“Now, I, the current King, Pygni, shall speak to you regarding these matters!”
The elder statesmen and the nobles frowned. It seemed that Pygni still believed he had maintained his authority.
“First, regarding my disregard for the pride of a king and kneeling with my head lowered, it is not enough for me to apologize even a hundred times. On that point… I shall apologize to you all.”
Pygni lowered his head toward them. The crowd looked wide-eyed at his action, but their lips curled at the thought that his tail was now between his legs.
“Secondly, the vassalization of our kingdom under the Demon Kingdom was by my intention. I believe that it was the best option for future development and security of our kingdom…”
The crowd frowned once again. Not giving them a chance to rebuke, Pygni continued to speak with his head lowered.
“…Also, regarding the violation of the Continental Law, it was something that the Holy Kingdom committed first. Following that violation, I canceled our alliance with them. Lastly! For killing the Hero’s party…”
Pygni lifted his head. He had a joyous smile while gazing at the elder statesmen and the nobles.
“Yes. As you have all said, I seek war with the Holy Kingdom.”
The faces of the nobles froze at his declaration.
“I, Pygni, have said so. From this point on, I shall declare war against the Holy Kingdom.”
It was a formal war declaration. The crowd, hearing this, turned pale. Since he had said it so openly, it would obviously enter the ears of the Holy Kingdom. Soon, a war with the presumed rulers of the continent would begin. It was not even a month after the first war had ended.
“Y-your Majesty! Just what…!”
“Take back those words!”
“Your Majesty, it’s still not too late! Say your words were a mistake…!”
“If I retract my words now, you will all dethrone me, and bend your knees and lower your heads to entertain the Holy Kingdom. Then, we shall become a vassal before selling ourselves as a slave state.” Pygni looked toward the crowd and laughed. “Aren’t you all truly the insects that know no pride or honor…?”
The eyes of the elder statesmen and the nobles twitched. On the other side, Oskal gripped his forehead and shook his head. His master had caused another huge incident.
“…Did Your Majesty just insult us?!”
“You already have no room to speak at this point, Your Majesty!”
“Hah, who is the one sitting on the throne? Isn’t it the seat of the highest authority of this land? What is there that I can and can’t declare?”
The elder statesmen and nobles gnashed their teeth.
“…This responsibility, are you prepared to bear it? Does Your Majesty truly believe you can stand against all of us?”
“Hah? Your outburst seems more dangerous than mine, elder statesman?”
When Pygni responded with mockery, the elder statesman’s veins popped.
“This insult, I shall repay it in full! Your Majesty, I shall…!”
“Oskal, kill that man.”
Finally, Oskal moved from his position. He grabbed the head of the fleeing elder statesmen and slammed it into the ground. The head burst like a watermelon, and blood sprayed all over the throne room. Oskal found himself surprised by his unconscious movement.
‘Ah shit, even if I am a knight following the master’s orders, to move at once like a puppet…’
Oskal laughed bitterly by the fact that he had acted without a shred of hesitation. He had now come to follow Pygni’s orders to such an absolute degree at this point.
The rest of the crowd retreated and distanced themselves from Oskal.
“Then, I shall answer the question asked of me.” Pygni carefully turned to the crowd and replied while licking his lips, “Can I stand against you all? I can. Won’t it be the end if I just kill you all right here?”
“W-what are you saying, Your Majesty?”
“A-are you trying to abuse your powers?”
“Y-your Majesty, calm yourself! If you kill us now, the state will be plunged into chaos!”
“Are you truly going to walk the path of a tyrant!?”
“The recently deceased elder statesman has just answered that question. He said this humiliation shall be repaid and asked whether I can stand against you all. Doesn’t this mean…that you all are scheming a rebellion?”
“…T-that’s forced logic…!”
The group tried to refute Pygni, but he gave them no chance.
“You’re all truly audacious. To think you would plot a rebellion right before the current king.”
The group trembled under his casual tone.
“I do not wish to see blood, nor do I wish to kill my opponents like the Pope.”
At the mention of the Pope, the nobles’ eyes grew wide as saucers. Pope Salem had instigated a mass slaughter to diminish the opposing factions, regardless of an Archbishop or a Cardinal. The sheer terror of that incident silenced the group.
Pygni, now steeped in madness, pointed his finger toward them, then at the ground.
“If you wish to live…bend the knee, and lower your heads. Pledge loyalty, or be declared rebels.”
His intentions were clear as day: anyone who did not bend the knee would be expressly dealt with as rebels. The group exchanged glances among each other.
Pygni, noticing their hesitation and reluctance, shouted, “Knights! A group of rebels has gathered!”
With those words, the knights reached for their swords.
“I ask you all! Will you slay my enemies, dirtying your hands in my stead!?”
“With our honor as knights, we shall follow Your Majesty-!”
The knights simultaneously gripped their swords with both hands and glared at the group. They only needed a single word to kill them all, like a wolf hunting a herd of sheep.
The elder statesmen and the nobles turned around and tried to leave the throne room, but Oskal blocked their path. There stood a lion at the rear and a pack of wolves in the front, sparing no way for the powerless sheep to live. Only…
“Kneel! And obey Pygni! The sovereign of Lome!”
Pygni yelled toward the group with a low and chilling voice, causing them all to tremble. They fell on their knees and lowered their heads. Although they felt humiliated, the image of the elder statesman dying by Oskal a moment ago was still fresh in their minds. Thus, fear overcame the insult and humiliation. It was now hard for them to even think of rebelling against their king. Seeing their feeble form, Pygni smiled.
“Good. Oskal, your friend, Salem’s, methods are useful at times. Of course, the side effect is severe, though.”
Oskal burst into laughter. A tyrant. He now understood what he meant.
“…You have acted in quite a showy fashion.”
Tom, who had returned to the Demon Lord’s castle, perused the documents regarding the Kingdom of Lome. It detailed how Pygni had declared war against the Holy Kingdom only a few days after the war with Hell ended and how he had solidified his position, entering into an era of an absolute ruler.
Thankfully, he had no reason to bear responsibility for the defeat of this war. Still, the rebelling faction would expand with this incident.
‘But, as the main nobles with authority have bent the knee…the rebellion should not last long.’
The discontent with Pygni would linger for a long while, and whenever given opportunity, the hidden faction would move to kill him. It could be that this faction might appear during the worst moment of the storm, causing great chaos within the Kingdom of Lome. Of course, the one that had to neutralize this chaos…
“…Is he implying that it’s my role?”
Tom burst into laughter while reading the letter. He finally understood what Pygni had meant by his question. The answer would not only apply to the current king, Pygni, but it was also a contract that would protect him from any hostile enemy as long as their vassal relations remained. Those words meant that it would apply to the next king in line, Grapefruit, as well. Perhaps, Pygni had considered it to such a thorough extent.
‘…Did he solidify his position in case Oskal is no longer there?’
“Haha! He got one on me! Is this his petty revenge on me for making him bend the knee and lower his head?”
Oskal was also quite old. Once Grapefruit took the throne, Oskal would no longer be there to hold the fort. Pygni must have caused this incident by taking everything into consideration. Thus, Hell was now forced into being the guardian of the king of Lome.
“However, it’s not really a bad feeling. Just a bit annoying.”
Tom faintly smiled and threw the letter into the trash. He only had to do one thing now. The Kingdom of Aylans and a supporting faction had already gathered, and now the Kingdom of Lome was at his side. All that was left was to strike the Holy Kingdom.
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