“Ho-how did you…?” Charles mumbled in a trembling voice.
A prince charming couldn’t have shown up at a better time than Joshua had.
Charles’s knights were the first ones to respond.
They hastily got off their horses and shouted, “Yo-Your Majesty!”
Their loud voices echoed throughout the area.
“Oh, fuck! He really is the Emperor!”
“What are you all doing?! Kneel!”
Even if Joshua hadn’t been the Emperor of Avalon, his name alone was legendary within the Empire—in fact, the entire continent. Everyone would put their thumbs up to praise him.
There was only one Sky and six Stars on the continent right now. Joshua Sanders was one of them; he was called the Martial God Sky.
“Everyone draw your swords! Loyalty!”
The knights saluted first, but even the soldiers who weren’t familiar with salutations eventually saluted as well because the overwhelming pressure radiating from Joshua dragged an indescribably sense of respect out of them.
The soldiers and knights in the faraway Castle Valder were unsettled.
“What the hell are you trying to do, Lady Charles?!” Count Valder roared.
Charles, a close friend of Joshua Sanders, was also confused.
“…If this world was fiction, the author would be damned,” she mumbled.
“Hmm?” Joshua tilted his head.
Charles gaped at him. “How can you appear at the perfect moment every time? You’re acting too much like a protagonist.”
“You don’t seem to be in crisis at all…” Joshua looked away from Iceline and turned to Charles. “Do you need my help right now?”
“Hmm…” Joshua examined his surroundings. “Things don’t really look good right now. This place is clearly about to become a battlefield.”
“Even if that’s true, I can’t receive your—no, Your Majesty’s help anymore.” Charles shook her head determinedly.
“If you’re doing this because you don’t want to burden me…”
“It’s not that. If I can’t overcome this kind of crisis on my own, this vicious cycle will never end.”
“Then are you certain of your victory?”
Charles put her hands on her waist and smiled, her full silver armor sparkling under the sunlight. “Come on, I’m the Steel Empress of Avalon.”
“Haha.” Joshua chuckled quietly.
Even Iceline, who approached Charles, smiled faintly.
“Still, it feels bad to just walk away like this,” Joshua mumbled.
Before Charles could question what he was doing, Joshua marvelously floated into the sky even though he wasn’t a mage.
“Everyone, listen!” he shouted using mana. “I am Joshua Sanders, the Emperor of Avalon!”
“This feudal conflict shall be concluded between two legitimate leaders. If this feudal conflict causes the entire southern region to turn into a battlefield… I will execute the people responsible myself.”
Everyone in Castle Valder was thrown into chaos. His surreal appearance, the ability to freely float in the sky… anyone would recognize Joshua.
“It hasn’t been a year since the civil war ended, so I forbid any form of armed conflict taking place. The leaders from the two sides shall resolve this matter on their own.”
After Joshua finished speaking, he began to land on the ground, but he came to a halt with an uncharacteristic, mischievous smile.
“Keep in mind that Lady Charles is my fiancée.”
It didn’t take long for the people’s confusion to turn into shock that rolled over them like a typhoon. Charles was no exception.
“Fi-fi-fiancée?!” she shouted.
Joshua shrugged. “This’ll keep them in check.”
“W-Wa-Wait a moment!” Charles stuttered helplessly for a long moment, her neck reddening in embarrassment.
Everyone near her was staring at her right now.
Charles rounded on Joshua as he landed. “I-It’s not good to lie like that. What would the people think of their Emperor?”
“Do you really think I’m the type of person who would care about that?” Joshua asked.
“Besides, there is something called a ‘white lie'. I did it for the people, so who can blame me?”
Charle’s eyes immediately narrowed. “What? Then everything was a lie?”
“Phew, forget it. I expected too much from you.”
“…Hey, you must have forgotten then I’m the emperor,” Joshua complained.
Charles pouted. “You said to treat you like a friend earlier.”
Joshua instantly shut his mouth.
“Since you’ve helped me, can I ask for your help one more time?” Charles asked with a little smile.
“What is it?”
“Lend me Icarus. Thanks to you, I think this long battle of nerves will become even longer.”
“You weren’t even making a request,” he replied, but grinned immediately. “Borrow her as long as you need.”
* * *
Right after Joshua and Iceline left for the palace, a table was set to talk about how to resolve the conflict since no one in the south would dare to defy the Emperor’s orders.
“Long time no see, Count Valder.”
“Lady Charles…!” Valder gritted his teeth.
The situation couldn’t have taken a worse turn. The appearance of the Emperor alone was enough to wreck all his plans, making Valder as frustrated as hell.
‘Shall I flip this table over and start fighting?’?Valder wondered. However, that thought only lasted for a few seconds; he couldn’t even think about defying that monstrous emperor.
“You don’t look too good, hahaha!” Charles covered her mouth and gloated.
Of course, Valder scowled. “How… in the world did you make His Majesty take your side?”
“You don’t know? Everyone’s heard the rumor.”
“…Well, I’ve heard the rumor of you confessing your love to His Majesty and getting turned down for good.” Valder grinned.
Charles raised one of her long eyebrows. “…It’s hard to let that comment slide.”
“So you’re saying I’m wrong?”
“Yes, that’s right.” Charles nodded.
“Then the rumor must be false.”
“Yes, it’s a false rumor. Haven’t you heard what His Majesty said earlier? I’m his fi-an-cée,” Charles said, emphasizing each syllable. “What are you going to do, Count Valder?”
“You really aren’t going to fight His Majesty’s fiancée until the end, are you?”
Valder trembled. “I never heard anything about His Majesty having a fiancée! Besides, do you think—!”
“Are you saying that His Majesty is a liar?” Charles interrupted.
“N-no, I’m not…”
Charles’s smile deepened. “It looks like that’s what you’re saying. Shall I head to the Imperial Palace and report this?”
Since things turned out this way and she had learned that the greatest victory attainable was to win a war without spilling blood, she decided to act shameless. Besides, the southern people had been suffering for too long. When the last feudal conflict was about to end, a civil war had broken out across the whole Empire. Taxes had increased drastically, and all young men had been dragged into the battlefield, causing a serious imbalance in the gender ratio of the southern region. Even in the Pontier Duchy alone, the gender ratio was one to nine, the one being men and the nine being women.
‘I can’t make them suffer more,’ Charles resolved.
“Let’s end this with a knight’s tournament,” she proposed.
“A kn-knight’s tournament?”
“It’s not bad for you either,” Charles said with a sly smile. “I heard your knight’s order is one of the top ten knight’s orders in the continent.”
If a knight’s order was considered the top ten in Avalon, the Empire of Knights, then it was safe to assume that it was one of the best on the continent. It was possible because of Count Valder’s tremendous funds; his family produced half of the grains consumed in the entire Avalon Empire.
In contrast, the Pontiers’ knights were in a pathetic state. Charles might have been able to rebuild her family and merchant group with money, but training knights required time and nothing could get around that. In addition, it wasn’t easy to find a talented and loyal knight with the right mindset.
“Hehehe. Are you serious, Lady Charles?” Valder asked.
“I look like the one at a disadvantage, right? In return, I would like to add a condition.”
“A condition?” Valder repeated.
“A maximum of one hundred knights will be allowed to participate in the tournament, but my family doesn’t exactly have a knight order right now. Therefore, I want both of us to be able to receive outside help.”
“Outside help…? Are you saying you’re going to hire mercenaries?” 𝘭𝑖𝑏𝘳ℯ𝑎𝑑.𝒸ℴ𝘮
“I might recruit free knights.” Charles shrugged.
Valder eyed Charles suspiciously for a moment. “You aren’t going to ask for His Majesty’s help this time too… right?” he reluctantly asked.
“His Majesty and the Imperial Knights aren’t going to take part in this tournament at all. Of course, those Imperial Knights won’t even join in on this one feudal fight in the first place. Will you take this offer now?”
Despite everything, Valder couldn’t answer easily, so Charles added a term that he would definitely not be able to refuse.
“If you win, I’ll give you full ownership of the Pontier Merchant Group, not just co-ownership.”
There were only two of them in this room, but Valder couldn’t help looking around for a moment.
“What…?” he murmured.
“You don’t have to share the merchant group with the other five lords that oppose me becoming the Duchess of Pontier. You can take the entire merchant group for yourself,” Charles explained. “Besides, you’re the most powerful one among the five, right? Make a public announcement that I, Lady Charles, proposed a knight’s tournament for the seat of the next Pontier Merchant Group’s leader and chose you as my opponent. I’ll write a contract here if you can’t trust me.”
Charles was certain that Valder was going to take the deal since he was the man who had tried to start the feudal conflict. She knew he could not be satisfied with what he had right now.
Just as Charles expected, Valder answered, “…Then write one.”
“Sure. Since we’re going to write a whole contract about this, let’s write in the details of the tournament and seal the document as the heads of our families. The loser will relinquish everything they have.”
“Huh? Relinquish everything?”
“You’re trying to take your opponent’s assets, but you weren’t going to risk losing yours?” Charles asked sarcastically.
“…Hmm. What do you want from me, Lady Charles?”
“Well, not much. About 90% of the grain produced in your land…” Charles trailed off with a cheerful voice.
“…I want the Pontier Merchant Group to have the exclusive sale rights over that grain.”
Valder finally settled down. The offer was reasonable enough. Besides, he already thought of the Pontier Merchant Group as his own.
“…Good,” he agreed. “The tournament will take place one week from today in the Golden Plain of Valder.”
Charles beamed. “I like the sound of that, Count Valder.”