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The Girl Who Bore the Flame Ring (Web Novel) - Interlude 1: The Young Wolf’s Ambition, and the Old Emperor’s Dream

Interlude 1: The Young Wolf’s Ambition, and the Old Emperor’s Dream

This chapter is updated by Wuxia.Blog

Gemb was a province north of Coimbra in the northwestern portion of the Libelikan continent. To its west was the ocean, and to its east was Bahar, which was located centrally. Though its soil was never going to be called rich, it had firm roots in an preunification civilization, allowing for its industry and artwork to be sold for a high price. It had once been the hegemonic power in the northwest, but despite all its might, it had fallen to the steady advance of the Horsheido empire. Having staunchly resisted to the bitter end, the political purging had been particularly severe, and a deep resentment for the Horsheido empire remained nestled in the hearts of the people. Bergis, upon completing the unification, appointed a relative of the former king of Gemb to the position of Viceroy, and showed him great generosity. Naturally, both the carrot and the stick were used effectively. Half of the heartlands of Gemb were separated from it, renamed as Longstorm province, and harsh annual reparations were imposed. A member of the Waldek family took charge of the newly minted Longstorm province, and set about keeping a close eye on Gemb. The annual reparations had halved over time, but even after one hundred years, the attention of their overlords had not waned.

There was only one reason why Bergis had found them to be so dangerous: he genuinely feared their military mindset and capabilities. Be it nobles, or farmers, the people of Gemb trained in their martial tradition from childhood. The fundamental philosophy of the Gemb military was to kill the enemy that opposed them, and if that was impossible, to cripple him for later battles. Their light infantry bore armour distinct from the other provinces, and they favoured spears with long, single edged blades which they used to win skirmishes in their rough mountains, and vast forests. On the open field, their extreme conditioning allowed them to move rapidly and ensnare the enemy.

The viceroy of Gemb, Siden Chiros, called out to the retainers he had gathered with a stern expression, “There was nobody else I could call on such short notice. Today’s matter is of the disturbances caused by Coimbra-Baharan relations. Yesterday we received emissaries from both provinces. I’m sure everyone has guessed what this is basically about, but… just show them Haksek.

“Yes sir. Please look this way.”

The aging Haksek placed two letters on the table.

“It’s a simple matter. Both sides want our backing in the event of a war.

“Let’s take a look.”

The retainers confirmed the details of the letters. Each had been hand written by Grohl and Amil respectively, so the situation had become quite delicate. The letter from Coimbra denounced Amil, and declared that before long, all those who sided with Bahar would be executed as traitors. Grohl sought the assistance of Gemb’s military when that time was to come. The letter from Bahar was a similar affair, but as Amil was in the advantageous position and had time to maneuvre, it did not bear the same sense of urgency. With honeyed words, he claimed that he had not supported the brigands, and the retainers made sure to screen the two letters carefully. Even still, Amil had offered them favourable treatment when he was to become emperor.

“The truth of the Coimbran rebellion has nothing to do with us. There is only one essential point: which side will benefit us the most. For this reason, I require the utmost of consideration.”

“Are we to weigh the benefits of Coimbra and Bahar?”

“Victory will likely be swift if we side with Bahar, for Coimbra is still in turmoil over the recent rebellion. No, before it even comes to a battle, Grohl might bend the knee… but that would be too easy.”

In a Coimbra-Baharan war, the surrounding territories would be dragged into the conflict: Gemb, Giv, and Hormuth to the north; as well as Ribeldam to the south. It seemed as though the reigning emperor Befnam had sent imperial envoys to each province telling them that it was unnecessary to become involved because both parties were family, but there was no way they would honestly follow such a suggestion. Furthermore, Ribeldam would surely support Bahar for the benefits they could gain. Knowing that, Grohl made sure to despatch envoys to Gemb. From what Siden could tell, both Giv and Hormuth were intentionally waiting to see how things would unfold. Their viceroys both sought a policy of peace at any price, and had always been transparent that anything was acceptable so long as their own provinces were safe.

“Precisely. It is important that we benefit from the fighting if we get involved. If we are to fulfill our old ambitions, we must bring this empire to ruin. We must ensure this war occurs.”

One of the retainers’ eyes opened wide at the old man’s words, and he exclaimed, “In that case, Lord Haksek, are you saying we should side with Coimbra? I don’t believe those to be the words of the wise Lord Haksek!”

At present there was little chance of a Coimbran victory. Furthermore, it could be considered nothing but treason to set troops upon another province within the same empire. There was the risk of being destroyed if unskillfully involved. Nobody knew why Emperor Befnam was allowing a civil war to brew, but even still, it was extremely dangerous to support Coimbra.

“Now, now, please calm down. We don’t need to stand in the line of fire at all. We also don’t need to inform either friend or foe about our intentions. That is how we strategise.”

“It is as Lord Haksek says. This time, we will work in the shadows.”

“I-in that case, I am greatly relieved.”

“However, that means that Grohl must not become scared before the war. For this reason, I believe we should provide the disadvantaged Grohl with some minor presents.”

A young retainer pointed out his doubt, “Nevertheless, if we do that, Bahar’s administration will not look favourably on us. Sooner or later, rumors of our support will surely be leaked.”

“What of it? Are you not a man of Gemb? Are you not proud of our military tradition? Words without proof are something to ignore.”

Siden had calmly reproved him, for the young retainers had half forgotten their pride as Gembians. Their fangs had grown brittle during the days of peace. They had heard tales from their parents of the monstrous soldiers of the Sun Emperor Bergis, so it was not unreasonable to be afraid, but not even Siden knew to what extent those stories were true. Of course, Gemb was now under the jurisdiction of the empire, so there was some truth to the matter.

I won’t be content under their rule forever. Gemb must be ruled by Gembites, as it should be.

Siden lowered his breath, and continued to earnestly sharpen his blade. He was sure that some day soon, they would take back their freedom and earn their independence. They would recapture the stolen lands that had been renamed Longstorm. That had been his both father, and his grandfather’s legacy and dying wish. Until that time, no matter how much blood had to be spilled, he would continue onward. For this goal, he endured humiliation, gained strength, gathered information, and searched for opportunities. He did not know if the coming insurrection would be the chance he needed, so he needed to calmly assess the situation. Failure was not an option.

“Sir Siden, would it be acceptable to send a delegation with supplies to Coimbra, and, say, a hand written letter to Bahar? We should send someone while Bahar is still arrogant.”

“Will you go Haksek?”

“Leave it to me. Bahar is likely not going to use conventional methods. That is why I will pay them a visit, and bear the message.”

“Okay, we’ll entrust all matters of Bahar to you. Shall we send a young man to Coimbra? Kai, step forth!”

“Yes sir!”

A young man who had been waiting near the back drew closer to Siden, and he crossed both of his arms before his chest in a bow which followed the Gembi tradition. Nodding with satisfaction at Kai’s ambitious expression, Siden gave him his orders.

“You are to be entrusted with an important task, so listen carefully. We will have you lead the mission bringing supplies to Coimbra. Send an emissary to Grohl and have him explain what we discussed earlier. This is important: remain in Coimbra for some time.”

“Y-yes sir.”

Kai looked like he was having a hard time understanding. It seemed he was inexperienced and so did not fully grasp the task. Haksek knit his eyebrows.

“Mr. Kai, do you not understand what you should do?”

“Sir, under the pretense of fostering better relations, I should investigate their internal affairs. That being said, I don’t know what, specifically, I need to do!”

“Then I shall explain, so listen well. See, hear, and record every little detail while you are there, and, without leaking our information, report it all to Sir Siden. I shall prepare a spy through whom you will communicate.”

“If that’s it, it’s simple, but why are soldiers needed? Wouldn’t I be enough alone?”

Kai folded his arms whilst humming and hawing. Though there was still some childishness to his face, his right cheek had a long scar running down it. He lacked in wit, but was a man who had already killed countless bandits.

“Mr. Kai, it wouldn’t be a ‘collaboration’ otherwise. It is extremely important that we not only send them supplies, but also real soldiers. That way, the Coimbran leadership will be willing to go to war. That way they will believe that we will back them in the battles with Bahar.”

“Ah, Aaah. I see. I get it. I don’t get it.”

“Haksek, it will take some effort, but I will properly explain it to him. The task is important, and we will never succeed if he doesn’t understand simply because he is inexperienced.”

“Understood. But, my head might hurt a bit.”

Haksek sighed.

“Kai, make sure you put your heart and soul into learning what you’re ostensibly there to do. It’s like when your opponents are bandits, you cannot attract too much attention. You don’t need to draw your sword until absolutely necessary. Do you understand?”

Siden sought confirmation, and Kai nodded deeply, but he could still see a cloudiness in his eyes. It seemed that he hadn’t fully understood it after all. He was one of the five best swordsmen in Gemb, but his lack of intelligence was his weakness. In spite of that, he had been chosen due to his extensive combat experience, for that was what his mission required. If he couldn’t do that much, there was no hope for him at all, and on this mission, it would be easy to get rid of him too.

Now, how will the two princes fall? It’d be best if they could fall on each others’ swords.

In order to compare the two, Siden first needed to understand the current situation. Calmly observing made it clear that Bahar held the advantage. That was why they had recently been sending many messengers with an emphasis on facilitating friendly relations; however, at the current rate, Bahar would win without issue, and Amil would peacefully and uneventfully rise to the throne. That being the case, if against all odds, Grohl could manage to win, that would be interesting. The continent would fall into ruin, so, for the purpose of ascertaining the truth of the situation, Siden had sent the delegation to reinforce Coimbra. He had decided that it was the best time to find out.

“Anyway, this only matters if it does become a war. It won’t be a problem if the other provinces fall to ruin. It’s best to let the members of the glorious Empire of the Sun fight it out, and kill themselves.”

Siden flexed his neck, and downed his wine in a single gulp.

In the Horsheido Empire’s capital city of Firuth.

Libelika’s southeastern region was under the direct control of the emperor. The capital was surrounded by a ring of highly defencible forts. The city had been built on fertile soil, and it was easily the most prosperous region in the entire empire. All things on the continent gathered in the capital. It started with treasures of gold and gems, but also came to include a great variety of commercial goods, fine arts, and even people. The nobles there took pride in where they lived, and, reveling in the power of the empire of the sun, used its affluence to push the limits of their luxury; a lifestyle which was paid for by the plebeians of the other provinces. Emperor Befnam believed that such was the right of the victor, and that in conjunction with taking the power of his enemies, it sent a powerful message. Firuth palace had been built without regard for the cost in gold, silver, or gems. In his most opulent audience hall, Emperor Befnam happily raised a glass.

“I’ve just met with a messenger from Coimbra, and it seems that the situation has gotten interesting, but what has pleased you so?”

“Ah, yes, there is something more that pleases me, I suppose. It is from what that messenger said; I got a strong feeling from that.”

“What they sought at that time?”

“War. I can feel Grohl’s impatience, wrath, and envy as if it is in my very hand. Haha, aiming for my position, two brothers will have blood from blood in this war. There is nothing as amusing as watching that from on high. It is truly a case of history repeating itself.”

The third emperor Befnam had taken the throne after a fierce conflict over the succession. The 2nd emperor, who was his father, had given up the ghost without naming a successor, and there were still many who believed he had done so intentionally. Befnam’s father was renowned as an emperor who had poured his heart and soul into maintaining peace in the empire, but he had been a man of whom it was difficult to claim humanity. Behind the facade of a moderate emperor, he had been a man who enjoyed killing, half in jest. Expecting the brutal bloodbath of a succession he would leave behind, he had likely chortled as he died. There had only been one of his many sons to answer his prayers and live up to his expectations: Befnam. All of the sons had proclaimed themselves worthy of the throne, but just as things appeared to be on the verge of civil war, Befnam had lured out his older brothers from the palace and slaughtered them all, leaving himself, having unsheathed the sword of his madness, to take the throne, triumphant.

“But, your Highness, do you not also agree that Amil is fit to rule?”

“That is exactly the case; however, he must seize the Empire with his own two hands. It doesn’t matter if Grohl wins, either. I would gladly hand him the throne.”

“I… do not think that… that ruler of Coimbra has it in him to be the emperor. I am sorry to say that he is not of the correct caliber.”

“Haha, I’ve seen the limits of what he can do until now, and he probably doesn’t have what it takes. The way I see it, Grohl has next to no chance of defeating Amil, but we cannot know a man’s destiny until the very end.”

Grohl had sent his letters to every state, calling them to arms over Amil’s transgressions, but there would likely be only two sympathetic provinces to his cause: Gemb and Giv. The matter of the rebellion aside, nothing changed the fact that Amil was the leading contender for the throne. Furthermore, in the event of Amil taking the throne, Grohl would most certainly become the target of a purge, so there was no way that supporters would suddenly surface.

“Your Majesty, I speak in fear. What will become of a war between two provinces of this Empire of the Sun? I think it is best to intervene quickly, and confine the viceroy of Coimbra to house arrest.”

Prime minister Ernarz was already under the patronage of Amil as he had been guaranteed he would maintain his position once Amil had taken the throne; therefore, it would be most convenient for him to remove Grohl as early as possible. Befnam knew this, but had no real intentions of punishing him. Grohl’s thoughtlessness and loss of the initiative were simply as they were, in fact, Amil was also fairly slow. Had Befnam been in Amil’s position, Grohl would have already lost his life. It was because of such consistency that he had been able to settle into his place as emperor. Befnam saw this as an opportunity to measure Amil’s wisdom and resolve.

“Does he intend to end this with only a house arrest?”

“No, after it all ends, Grohl will suffer from a serious illness and pass away.”

“Oh? That was a bold comment.”

Ernarz you bastard, you’re already planning for when I’m gone, are you? You really are a skilled man of this world. If you weren’t like that, I suppose you wouldn’t be the prime minister though, would you?”

“At present, intervention is unnecessary. My decision remains unchanged.”

“Your Majesty! There is no need to pointlessly drain the empire’s power with a foolish civil war!”

“How verbose, Ernarz. Everyone agrees that Amil far surpasses Grohl. That is why he has that survivor of operation daybreak, Falid, and those ‘soldiers of the sun’ from operation dawn.”

“Then there is no need for a futile war. Please name Amil crowned prince soon. If this is overlooked, much blood will be spilled, and both Coimbra and Bahar will be devastated.”

Not caring at all about how much blood would be spilled, Befnam could not help but snort in laughter.

Ernarz was skilled at making a point, adjusting it, and exhausting it. Those who bought it had made him prime minister. There were other officials who surpassed him in their specialities, so it wasn’t a problem. The suffering of the people did not matter; what did matter was building a firm foundation for the country’s next epoch.

“It isn’t a problem at all if a few provinces are ruined. If Grohl, renowned for his incompetence, wants to become the next emperor, just let him get kicked around. Becoming the Emperor of Horsheido means ruling the continent. We need to know if Amil has what it takes.”

“Your Majesty…”

“For this purpose I will gladly sacrifice some lives. However much blood flows, it is good if those who rise above it survive. Is that not so?”

Ernarz reluctantly withdrew as Befnam leaned in with a smile. He was greatly frustrated that he could gain the support for Amil.

The people of the world likely think I am doting on Amil. Haha, how hilarious.

Befnam had already bought into Amil’s plan. It wasn’t that he hated Grohl, but there was no way that anyone other than Amil would come out on top. He had, after all, given Grohl the famously prosperous Coimbra to rule. He had no intentions of favouring either side. Until he finished what he needed to do, as long as the next generation maintained peace in the empire, it didn’t matter who became emperor. At present, he did not particularly favour anyone. He would abdicate when he could, and then devote all of his efforts to a single cause. If his plan went well, he could reclaim his throne with the thing of which first emperor Bergis had dreamed, yet never achieved: immortality. He wanted to realise that dream no matter what, and was already investing vast fortunes into it. To avoid shaking the foundations of the next epoch, all rebellion had to be nipped in the bud, but he did not see any signs of such a thing. Even Gemb, having once held a deep grudge, had fallen in line. The ferocious cavalry of Bahar had once been a worry, but could be controlled as it was in Amil’s hands. The empire’s grip on its power was firm.

Still, that foolish Grohl is extremely unfortunate. No one would have thought that the prosperity of Coimbra could suddenly wither away, but that may simply be the guidance of the Sun God.

Befnam did feel some slight sympathy for his elder son Grohl, though he could hardly remember his face after so long, which was likely for the best. All of his children, aside from Grohl and Amil, had already faded from his memory, and he could not even remember who they were. He had never felt any love or affection for any of his children. He plotted to quickly determine which one was superior by inciting a war of succession as his father had. The main difference being that Befnam would watch it play out from a safe place, and he was nothing but joyous for it. It was fine if a large amount of blood was spilled in the dispute. The more foolish blood spilled, the more the foolish masses would come to appreciate peace. For the winner, absolute power to rule was a necessity, so that he could know the joy of ruling the great Empire of the Sun for himself. The simple plebeians would forget themselves rather quickly if they weren’t reminded from time to time, so it was important to occasionally drain the blood a bit. It was a truth in dire need of recognition.

“Ernarz, may this glorious Empire of the Sun continue in its glory for eternity. The same to the blood of the Sun Emperor. We will continue on with the blood of the divided siblings as our nourishment. Do you not think this to be a lovely thing?”

Weaving in words of his own dream of immortality, Befnam had spoken with a look of ecstasy.

“Y-yes…”

“Will the next to sit on this throne be who we expect? Will it be Amil, with the will to bring down a bird in flight, or will it be that idiot Grohl, who has finally grown the backbone of an older brother? We shall find out before long. Ahhh, is it not something to look forward to?”

Ernarz’s face paled as he puzzled over his response. After only a single glance at him, Befnam burst out in hearty laughter; laughter that sounded every time he held an audience.

Author’s Note:

Noel has been sitting in a sunny place taking a rest.

“The protagonist better appear!” was what echoed through my mind.

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