156. Chapter 156 – Imperial Capital
In front of the Imperial Capital, Varigend, a city that made even Walm feel nostalgic, a troublesome thing called ingrained habit, emerged from the sea of thoughts, which had been polluted by the battlefield experience. What could be used for defense? Would the design, would the materials, be good enough? He couldn’t help but be amazed at himself, who unconsciously began to evaluate the walls.
The walls surrounding the city were constructed in a distorted trapezoidal shape. Speaking of its characteristic, it was formed in a reminiscent of an irregular lattice. It resembled a partition separating the contents of a box, one might say.
“The wall, maybe, was it expanded year after year…?”
Friug answered Walm’s muttering, which could be taken as a question to himself.
“Since just a few years ago. Speaking of the old parts, even those of the Varigend Fortress era are still present here and there.”
“Varigend Fortress, the predecessor of the Higherk Empire, huh? The old people often told me about it.”
Walm was neither a scholar nor a history specialist, but when he was young, he was enlightened about the origins of the country by the elders of the village. What could one say, after all, old people just loved younglings and old stories. Of course, endless traditions and historical stories were close to torture for ordinary children. Most children would always try to escape by any means from the evil’s clutches, and in this case, Walm was offered to the elders as a talking point.
That said, now, Walm was grateful for it. The wisdom of the predecessors was precious. You couldn’t get it when you wanted it, and you could easily lose it.
Thus, Walm searched for a vague distant memory and thought of it.
A fortress built near the confluence of the Ganau River, a tributary from the Liberitoa Trade Federation that crossed the Highserk Empire, was the beginning of Varigend, the Imperial City.
A small feudal lord, the predecessor of the Highserk Empire, led his forces to defeat the powerful monsters infesting the confluence of the rivers. By building Varigend Fortress on a rocky hill overlooking the Ganau River, the habitat of the monsters, his forces managed to control the key points of water traffic and succeeded in seizing a small but rare agricultural area. Heavy items, such as stones and wood, were transported using the river.
Due to its very strategic position, the Fortress was occasionally attacked by surrounding lords who allied themselves, even if they only ended up repulsed by the Fortress defense and Ganau River, which acted as a layer of natural fortress. Just like this, they continued to swallow up the hostile forces in the surrounding area with tactics and counterattacks. As time went on, its size continued to swell, taking in several small countries, and it began its path as an empire, the Highserk Empire. These were the footsteps of Highserk that Walm had heard.
“The east and north of the Imperial City have the oldest history. The structures in the southwest, on the other hand, are relatively new.”
Friug looked like he was opening a history course for free. Of course, Walm welcomed the impartation of knowledge.
“It’s probably also to cover the new weak point, but anyway, in order to extend the function as a city, the defensive walls were added.”
Walm shifted his gaze to the thing pointed by Friug’s finger. Although it had been renovated, the architectural style around the Imperial Castle, built on a rocky hill, conveyed a sense of antiquity. The western and southern areas, which function had been strengthened by the expansion of the city, were protected by side defense towers and sturdy gate towers lined up at regular intervals. One tower had several embrasures, and one could see the concept that the lines of fire crossed.
There was no need to think about where such a solid Imperial Capital was attacked during the Great Outbreak. It was obvious. Walls and city were as if butter cut out with a dagger. Walm had already experienced a similar phenomenon in the Labyrinth City. Dragon Breath. An attack that only the dragon that stood at the top of the ecosystem could use, but it was powerful enough, fit to be owned by the Living Natural Disaster. Even the breath of the Undead Dragon could reduce a city to rubble and kill all the people. It wasn’t an exaggeration to say that the supreme blow that the dragon bearing the name “Emperor” could deliver, would turn everything in its path into nothingness.
The pierced ramparts were still in repair, so their defense function was being assisted by hastily constructed defense facilities inside and outside the pierced points. In the inner city, on the other hand, the restoration was clearly delayed. This was probably related to the priority of the defensive facilities, but the main factor was probably the decrease in the total number of inhabitants using the house.
“Let’s go into the city.”
Friug, who had shortened the distance by one step, called out.
Walm, whose eyes were fixed on the hollowed and vanished corner of the city, nodded slightly and drove the engraved horrors of calamity out of sight.
Even within the Imperial Capital, the symbol of the Empire, there was a calm and austere atmosphere, matured through history and traditions. As evidence of this, the sound of shoe soles hitting the stone pavement resounded in the quiet hallway. Fully armed guards greeted the visitors standing still, and the soldiers, passing each other, stopped their feet and saluted. Walm, who responded to them, sensed a nostalgic atmosphere.
Of course, Walm in the past was nothing than a mere foot soldier, and was on the side of those bowing their heads and saluting. When he was appointed as a Wartime Battalion Commander, he wasted no time, perhaps the situation also played a big factor, but his bows and salutes vanished without a trace. Now, he was on the side that also received the salute, though, he couldn’t help feeling itchy, but he understood, they were just performing their duties as soldiers.
Hypothetically, if you led a small group on the battlefield, you could reduce it to the bare necessities, but the location did matter after all. In any case, the place where Walm was now, was the central command center, the heart of the Highserk Empire’s military, and was staffed by the generals who acted as brains. So of course, a certain amount of rigor and decorum was expected.
The Central Army had lost many personnel and generals due to the interdiction operation and the battle to defend the Imperial Capital. Subsequently, the survivors from various units were withdrawn to rebuild many parts of the city.
Unlike the young soldiers who were suddenly mobilized to the front line due to the expansion of border, the Four-Country Alliance War, and also the Great Outbreak, the soldiers stationed at headquarters were all experienced soldiers. For better or worse, the remnants of the Highserk Empire’s heyday still remained. Their eyes were filled with a strong will, and their well-trained bodies and demeanor attested to their combat record.
Walm couldn’t just focus on the other soldiers, because one of the generals of this headquarters had been waiting for his arrival.
Guided by Friug, Walm went deeper and deeper, and before a certain room, the short march stopped.
“Please, wait a moment.”
Leaving these words behind, Friug disappeared into the room.
A few words were exchanged through the door, and after that, Friug asked Walm into the room.
It was a plain room.
In the room Walm entered were only Friug and a person who appeared to be a soldier under the direct command of a general.
“Captain Walm, please follow me.”
The soldier opened the door leading to the back.
Walm looked around the room.
At first glance, he saw a man among the jumbled piles of papers. The man who should be had absolutely nothing to do with paperwork. A fearless man, unsuited to be in a place like here.
“It’s been a long time. I’ve heard of your achievements many times, but it’s been since Aidenberg that I meet you in person.”
“I’m glad, Battalion Commander Jaff is still alive.”
The Commander of a Cavalry Battalion, Jaff, who was known as the sword of the deceased War God and the sharp tip of the empire, was in front of Walm.
It wasn’t until the Battle of Aidenberg, when Walm was sent into the enemy’s main line, that Walm clearly stood side by side with him on the battlefield. At that time, Walm was physically and mentally exhausted. Even Walm, who was accustomed to running around, nearly spat out whines and blood.
“How are you? Well and kicking? I’m not trying to be a pessimist loser, but I’m a little envious of those who passed away first.”
“…What are you trying to say?”
Jaff took a deliberate glance at the paperwork and began to explain.
“As you can see, the Empire looks like this. You’ve probably seen everything from the south. We’ve secured rivers and land transportation routes, but we’re all busy just connecting various places… Expendable human resources are running low. It’s been a year and a half now that we’ve been working hard to get back on our feet, but that damned dragon really did us good. Thanks to that, I’ve been forced to pretend as a civil officer like this.”
It was a pessimistic look that one wouldn’t expect from a fierce general who ran freely across the battlefield. It was unclear whether the paper-stained room caused him to be like this, or whether Walm’s unknown year and a half changed his mind, or both.
Not that Walm was any better. He was a pessimistic person himself, if he had to say.
“And yet, the Empire still standing.”
“That’s right. We, the Highserk Empire, still standing. We have to make an effort to keep standing… And yet, as soon as we met again, I’m only just complaining. Want some?”
With a wry smile, Jaff retrieved rum and a glass from the drawer and placed it on the desk. It was the familiar Archipelago rum. Since the Mithril mine had started the mining operation, the Empire and the Archipelago had only strengthened their ties. Rum was one of the products as a result of this newly tied knot. Long ago, Walm would have drunk the whole bottle with ease, but now that was no longer the case.
“Thank you, but I’m abstaining from drinking.”
Jaff’s eyes widened as if he had seen a ghost.
“What’s wrong? Are you going to become a priest after you quit being a soldier?”
“Haha, that’s not a bad idea. You might be surprised, but I drank a lifetime’s worth when I was away from here.”
Walm was telling the truth. Depending on how one perceived it, it could become a form of returning a joke to a joke.
“Is that so? How enviable. And cigarettes?”
“I’ll have those.”
“That’s good. If you keep refusing, I may have to issue an order.”
It was just a hunch Walm felt, but Battalion Commander Jaff was probably half serious.
Lighting the cigarettes for the two of them, Walm sent the purple smoke into his lungs. The miscellaneous tastes were only a few, in short, it was delicious. It seemed that the leaves were well sealed in a container, so it was dry and of good quality. Then, a vague feeling of regret comes to his mind, and he wondered if perhaps he shouldn’t have refused the drink.
While enjoying the cigarettes, the trivial story continued. After enough time, Jaff got to the point.
“…On the way, as you might have heard from Company Commander Friug, Higherk Empire has formed an alliance with the Principality of Myard.”
“Yesterday’s enemy, could be today’s friend… huh…”
For those who were killing each other on the battlefield, this was abhorrent behavior. But, looking at the history of the northern countries, it wasn’t that uncommon. And even, in Walm’s previous world, it was common. So to him, such an idea didn’t sound so outlandish.
“Are you dissatisfied?”
“No, in Dandurg, people fought regardless of their country or affiliation. Now, I have no resistance against it.”
There was no mistake in interpreting the fact that you could only hold out your hand with your neighbors in front of monsters, not peace, but war. Ironically, that sounded much more convincing than some sweet words nonsense.
Jaff nodded in agreement and drank the slightly viscous contents of the glass.
The smell of alcohol mixed with a faint sweetness drifted in the closed room and stimulated Walm’s nostrils.
“Glad that you are a reasonable person. The situation in the northern countries has been unstable since ancient times. Collusion, estrangement, alliances. The list is endless. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this aspect is complicated and strange like a mystery.”
“I can’t say that it doesn’t exist, but I think it would be wrong to expect too much friendship between nations. Both, have their own great cause, which, after all, can’t be just given up.”
“How cold. I can’t believe you’re a former farmer.”
“Thank you for the compliment.”
“In any case, there were some backlash and opposition, but the two countries are now connected. For now, we’re using the scars left by the Flame Emperor Dragon――the Flame Emperor Dragon Corridor to exchange personnel and supplies with Myard… A lot of people fled there. Those from Myard, Highserk, Ferrius, and others. To hold them in Celta territory alone, the land and food are, as expected, far beyond capacity. Those who thought so passed through the corridor, and took root in the Highserk Empire, establishing ties with our people… Northern countries where countries and borders change frequently. I guess it’s a regional characteristic to obediently obey if you lose your “head”.”
“And it’s the war that creates the flexibility, it’s ironic.”
“The long-lasting war gave them a clear goal. Well, not like it’s someone else’s problem. However, the more people and goods flow, the more dangerous it becomes. There’s no end to the list of anxiety factors, like spies and traitors… Unfortunately, we need to expand. Well, there’s no way we can manage everything. But the current situation is that, there’s no choice but to accept them even after considering the danger… Let me say this again, even I, have to end up pretending to be a civil officer like this. Handling men and horses and battalions at the front lines, was much easier.”
“My sincere sympathy for you, sir.”
Walm gave his sincere sympathy to Jaff, the Battalion Commander.
“Though there might be a difference in degree, you already experienced that in Dandurg.”
Battalion Commander Jaff exhaled the purple smoke he had inhaled, and the smoke spread out as if to crawl on the ceiling.
“The corridor to Celta is crossed by a merchant caravan. Although the path has been made, it’s nothing more than dotted lines. To say that it’s safe, would be an exaggeration. Anyway, the next caravan will depart in six days. Until then, you should rest your body. I would love to have a long talk, but I’m busy even now. We’ll talk again after your eye treatment at Myard. These cigarettes are a parting gift.“
Battalion Commander Jaff placed a leather bag on the table. Walm took the contents without checking.
“I will gratefully accept it. Thank you very much. I look forward to seeing you again, sir.”
“You don’t have to be overly polite. When it’s too much, your words will only turn in the wrong direction, and it may lead to unpleasant results.”
Jaff’s face contorted in genuine disgust.
Walm replied with a smile.
“Well then, when we meet again, I’ll be looking forward to the cigarettes, I mean, parting gift again.”
“Hah, meeting with you again, huh…? You sure fast at switching your face. Well, if it’s just cigarettes, you shall have them.”
Jaff waved his hand to encourage Walm to leave.
Having finished his reciprocation, Walm quietly left the room.
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