83. Negotiation (1)
Tom was in deep contemplation. His mind had been in chaos ever since he had returned to the inn. Akareal had committed a taboo in order to save him, and the children that he had believed were dead all this time were actually still alive.
His conversation with them had revealed a lot.
‘Brother Thoma ended up being falsely accused of being addicted to narcotics and of heresy. When the other monks that we believed in betrayed him, we were abandoned.’
’They didn’t pay their taxes. As a result, we were all going to be deployed to the front lines as meatshields for the Hero’s Allied Army. But, all of a sudden, we were put on standby. Instead of being deployed to the Hero’s Allied Army, we were taken in as Miss Akareal’s assistants.’
‘One of the Holy Knights of the Holy Empire must have helped smuggle us out in secret. If it wasn’t for them… we’d have become one of the sacrifices for Pope Salem.’
‘Smuggled?’ Tom had asked. ‘Who…?’
‘The Captain of the Holy Knights named Helpharon,’ they had answered. ‘They say that he secretly diverted us away. I remember that Miss Akareal once told us to remember the name of our savior back when we were young.’
Tom knew of the Captain of the Holy Knights. Helpharon was the closest person to the Pope of the Holy Empire and was one of the perpetrators that had charged Tom with his crimes.
‘Why would such a person smuggle the children out against the orders of the Pope? Why? For what reason? Wasn’t he loyal to the Pope? Even if he wasn’t loyal, the risk of protecting the children by smuggling them out was too great to justify. It was obvious that he would have been caught and executed if he had made the slightest mistake in covering up his tracks. So why did he commit such an act…? Was it to betray the Pope?’
But that wouldn’t make sense, either. Because if that had been the reason, then there was no reason for him to still be at the man’s side all these years later.
Tom shook his head. Nothing was making sense and his thoughts were growing more and more chaotic.
“…Eh? Where did you go this late at night?”
Suddenly, Ellin climbed up to the second floor and was now preparing to enter the room that had been assigned to them. Her black hair was damp and her pale face was rosy as though she had just gone for a bath before sleeping. She looked at Tom and tilted her head quizzically.
But that curious look turned into one of suspicion a few moments later.
“W-what…? Why the sigh…? Why are you sighing with such pity?!”
“… Rather than pitying you, I’m envious. There doesn’t seem to be a single thought or concern in your head. It must be nice.”
“You… are trying to insult me secretly, right?”
Ellin frowned and looked at Tom. He had had a different aura about him a moment ago. His always-smiling face had been expressionless, to the point that she could almost call it cold. And his eyes had been trembling with conflict. She had been dumbly staring at his face because it had been the first time that she had ever seen such an expression on him.
It made her think that something was wrong and that he was trying to hide it now.
“Uh… did something happen? You look exhausted and―”
Even before she could finish her question, Tom leaned his head on her shoulder.
Ellin grew stiff like a marionette in an instant and she moved her head stiffly to try and look at what Tom was doing.
“Yes, I’m very tired. If I had known that things were going to turn out like this, I think I’d have been more comfortable fighting a Hero instead.”
Ellin didn’t know what to say. Tom’s unexpected actions and how close he was to her now made it extremely difficult for her to think.
“I-if you have a problem, I’ll listen to it, but it’s a bit early in our relationship for this kind of thing, don’t you think? I-it’s also in the middle of the night, and there are no humans… but i-isn’t this too forward?”
As Ellin stumbled on her words, Tom continued talking without even looking up at her.
“Am I doing alright?”
“… Did something happen?”
She couldn’t hear Tom’s answer. Ellin was so flustered that she couldn’t figure out what to do. Suddenly, she recalled what Lily did in situations like these and raised her hand to place it softly on the top of his head. She softly brushed his hair and replied.
“Yes, you’re doing well.”
“ Everything is going to be okay. The others might not know, but I do. You’re trying your best. Even if I don’t know what you’re scheming… I can tell when I’m by your side that, right now, you’re trying your best!”
“… Is that right…?”
Tom quietly closed his eyes as he continued to lean on her shoulder. All the chaotic thoughts in his mind gradually faded away beneath her soft touch. After a while, all of his fatigue disappeared under the comforting sensation.
“Yes, that’s right. So, there’s no need to be worried―”
She looked down at him to continue trying to cheer him up, but what she saw caused her to cut herself off.
“Huh? Are you sleeping?”
Ellin stared dumbly at Tom, who had quietly fallen asleep with his head still leaning on her shoulder.
She blushed and gained a flustered expression.
“… What am I supposed to do when you fall asleep like this…?”
She pouted unhappily as she carried him over to the bed, but looking at his sleeping face, she couldn’t help but smile.
“… You worked hard.”
Late into the night, a good portion of the nobles gathered in the royal meeting room were at the end of their rope. They were moaning and groaning with anxiety, and looked seconds away from pulling their hair out.
King Paulie, sitting at the center of the table, was listening to their words with his eyes closed and his fingers clasped together.
“T-this doesn’t make any sense. Your majesty! Please consider it again! I feel that you may not understand the gravity of this situation!”
Most of the nobles nodded immediately in agreement. They were looking very dissatisfied with the decision that the king had made on this matter.
King Paulie turned to these people and spoke.
“Gravity…? What other matter have I taken more seriously than this one?”
“B-but an alliance with Demons? That’s too far! The other side are Demons! How could we… with those monsters…?”
The nobles were almost shaking in their boots at the prospect. A temporary alliance with Demons was unprecedented in history. Nobody but the drunkest of bar patrons had ever even considered it, and there were any number of reasons as to why. Demons and humans were so different that they couldn’t even communicate with each other properly, for one. On top of that, every other country would immediately point at their nation and call them all out as having sold their souls to the devils at the slightest of mistakes. All people everywhere would point and laugh and mock them.
As a result, the nobles wanted to stop this humiliation from ever entering the history books.
“R-regardless of how dire the situation may be, I don’t believe that we should be deciding like this!”
“Right! P-please learn a bit more about them first…!”
“I don’t understand why you are all putting up such staunch resistance. Nothing has been decided yet. A permanent alliance is just an option to consider for the future―one that is not going to be taken without a large amount of discussion beforehand. But we are not talking about that here. All that we are talking about now is a temporary alliance for the duration of the war. We need to set up diplomatic ties with their nation and learn more about them first before going any further than that.”
“D-diplomacy…? F-fine. We can allow something like diplomacy in that case, but a p-permanent alliance is too far! It is dangerous to even utter such words in the open regardless of whether you are seriously considering the idea or not!”
The nobles had decided to relent a step after hearing King Paulie’s thoughts. They had wanted to expel the demons entirely from their domain, but as King Paulie had proposed the idea of an alliance, they were forced to compromise.
“Diplomacy…? That is an interesting idea, but as we’re embroiled in a war with the Holy Kingdom, I don’t think it’ll be a simple matter at all. It is a very complicated situation.”
“What we need right now is their assistance.”
“What need do we have for the assistance of a country full of Demons? There is nothing to be gained from monsters that only know how to act like savages!”
“That’s right! For diplomacy to take place, it has to be beneficial for both sides! But the Demons fall far behind in everything! Their equipment, their magic, their knowledge, their culture―it’s all inferior! They are an existence that is too detached from humans like us to be of any use!”
King Paulie crossed his arms. The other party was an unknown for sure. It would be foolish to ally with them without looking deeper into them first.
“That is true, and it’s why I proposed to form a temporary alliance only, for now.”
The nobles looked unconvinced. So King Paulie explained his intentions.
“What you said is true. There is nothing we can gain from them. Their techniques, magical knowledge, and even their finances won’t be worth anything. But there’s one thing that you’re all overlooking. Forming a diplomatic relationship with these creatures can give us one, very important thing. Manpower! That is what we have to obtain.”
An army made of demons. That was what the Kingdom of Aylans desired. An army that they could fight alongside in their war with the powerful Holy Kingdom.
The nobles that seemed to read his intentions spoke up.
“You’re referring to their army? How powerful would an army made of demons be? Bringing worthless grunts that don’t even understand battle tactics is going to be a disaster! They’ll attack allies and enemies alike!”
King Paulie brushed his chin and turned to Count Shabel.
“Count Shabel, what did you think of their army?”
Count Shabel closed his eyes and spoke quietly.
“The enemy might have been exhausted at the time, but the ones that eliminated ‘God’s Paddle’ were the forces from the Demon Kingdom. And they did it with minimal casualties. Like an Ogre slaughtering Goblins, it was ruthless. If we made an enemy of them… our Kingdom of Aylans would be destroyed. Of that, I have no doubt. They are a fearsome existence as enemies, but as allies…”
Count Shabel spoke, turning to the other nobles.
“We would definitely be able to stop the attacks from the Holy Kingdom completely and force them into signing a truce. But if we really pushed it, I believe we would be able to launch our own attacks into the territories of the Holy Kingdom, together, and take the fight to them―perhaps even stripping some of their territories.”
“… As he said.”
King Paulie looked surprised at Count Shabel rating them much higher than expected. The other nobles, on the other hand, simply shook their heads in disagreement.
King Paulie did not enjoy war, but if they were able to obtain an absolute ‘victory’ over the Holy Kingdom, the influence of the Kingdom of Aylans would be greatly enhanced.
The Holy Kingdom stood at the center of the continent as the most powerful nation. If they were forced to sign a truce after losing some of their lands, the Kingdom of Aylans would gain a level of influence that the other nations would fear. Regardless of whether they allied themselves with Demons, no one would dare to mock them openly.
‘… In that case, it would be a good result.’
Mockery and insults might come about, but the Kingdom of Aylans would be in a much more secure position.
However, the thoughts of the nobles were different. They thought that if they allied with the Demons, it might give the other nations the casus belli to invade as well―perhaps even on the Holy Kingdom’s side. In the worst case, this alliance could make them an enemy of the entire continent.
“We cannot make a decision after a mere Count’s words! That is a foolish endeavor!”
“There are already witness accounts from the hundreds of soldiers he brought back with him. Don’t underestimate the sheer magnitude of the calamity that the Holy Kingdom suffered through. Some say that there were only a hundred survivors on their side by the end. Can any of you bring such a result with a mere four thousand men against the Holy Kingdom?”
The others moaned at King Paulie’s rebuke. There was nobody on the whole continent that could boast such military might.
“This alliance could also allow us to keep an eye on them. The demons are strong, don’t you think? How strong? I don’t know, but we can find out in a safe way by observing how they fight against the Holy Kingdom, alongside us. Don’t they say that an enemy of my enemy is my friend? You don’t have to believe that humans and demons are going to come together and hold hands and get along peacefully forever in order to see value in this idea.”
“T-that is true, however…”
“The other nations might use this as an excuse for their own means.”
“That’s right! What if they use this as an excuse to help the Holy Kingdom…!”
King Paulie replied after hearing the concerns of the nobles and recalling all the things that Pope Salem has done in the past.
“One who has openly broken the thousand-year-old tradition of the Continental Law or one who has entered the war using this violation as a justification and holding fast to its tradition. Which do you think history will see as the ones who were right?”
“If we win against the Holy Kingdom, even if we did participate in a war, our cause will have been just.”
He wasn’t wrong. Regardless of how the details of the war turned out in the end, it would be seen as a good result if the Holy Kingdom was defeated. The other kingdoms also wished for this and that the influence of the Holy Kingdom would diminish. There was nothing for them to lose in helping a terrorizing existence become weakened.
And as the end result would be tied to Aylan’s Kingdom, this would be a good opportunity to increase the prosperity of the nation.
“More than anything, weren’t the Demons nothing more than a tool for ‘pocket change’?”
“Even if our subjects were blind to it, every one of the upper nobles, kings, and emperors knows that they were used as an excuse to increase profits. Demon Subjugation is a powerful excuse to collect more taxes.”
King Paulie continued glaring at the nobles.
“That was something that I truly disliked. Gathering funds to kill the Demons, gathering personal soldiers, then offering those funds and manpower to another nation!”
“We forcibly gathered taxes from our subjects to appease the Holy Kingdom, but no more. If we temporarily ally with the Demons and gain a victory resulting in a non-aggression pact with them…the threat of Demon attacks will decrease. If that happens, military spending will also decrease and we will become the safest nation against Demon attacks. The subjects will also be able to live without this fear. Are there any objections?”
The nobles looked at each other, painfully. The majority began to agree with King Paulie and Count Shabel’s opinions. However, there was another concern.
“What will you do if… the Demons try to break their contract and invade us?”
Count Shabel replied to that question.
“They have claimed themselves as a ‘nation’. That means that the ‘Continental Law’ applies to them as well. It might not be rational for a Demon to follow the Continental Laws created by Humans on their own, but they would have to if they wanted to build a successful relationship with us. If they are really acting with such things on their mind, I can’t imagine them taking an action like that so soon.”
King Paulie nodded in agreement.
“Also, it is still only a temporary alliance in the end. Our alliance with them will expire once the war against the Holy Kingdom ends, resulting in a non-aggression pact. Any other diplomatic exchanges with them will be decided after everything is over. Is there anyone else with a different opinion?”
The nobles looked as though they wanted to say something, but they couldn’t think of any other excuse to stop the king. King Paulie took their silence as an opportunity to speak again.
“Then it’s decided. We will meet with the Apostle and begin our diplomatic discussions with them.”
— Ω —