After returning to her room, Neia collapsed into her chair.
“Thank you for your hard work, Baraja-sama.”
The person who addressed her was a woman who seemed kindly enough, if a little gloomy.
She seemed to be in her twenties, and her distinguishing features were a pair of ample breasteses that drew men’s eyes and a head of short hair. Apparently, it had once been long, but it had been cut short in a prison camp.
She was part of the support team which Neia had established. Neia’s supporters wanted to name themselves, and so they called themselves the Sorcerer King Rescue Unit.
Their job was to help manage increasingly busy daily life.
While it had only been half a month since they had first met, this woman had become irreplaceable to Neia. That was because she had completed her assigned tasks -- cleaning, laundry, cooking and various other tasks -- with consummate perfection.
“Ahh, thank you.”
Neia wiped her face with the cloth the woman had offered her, and the cool sensation felt very comfortable on her burning face.
Neia went “whew” in a way that seemed very reminiscent of a middle-aged man before laying the towel on the table and turning to the woman who immediately reclaimed it.
“Ah, while I’ve been saying it all this time, please don’t call me -sama. After all, I’m not that special.”
“What are you saying? You speak for His Majesty in this country and act on his behalf. Not addressing you as -sama would be rude.”
The fact that a woman older than herself was saying this bothered Neia.
This was a problem only experienced by those who were not used to a superior position.
Speaking of which, Neia was not an orator or anything. Rather, she was wondering how she had ended up in that position.
Neia felt that CZ -- who was staring blankly while lying down casually on a sofa -- fit the description better.
Originally, -- the Sorcerer King’s greatness should have been obvious to everyone from an objective point of view -- she was simply stating the obvious, not arguing on his behalf, and she had not intended to begin preaching any form of organized belief or opinion.
While Neia had started doing that of her own accord, she had never expected things to turn out like this.
“I’ll take my leave, then. Also, Beldran Moro-shi wishes to meet you.”
“I understand. Can you help me call him in? Thank you for your hard work today.”
The woman who managed Neia’s daily life bowed to her, and then left the room. A man entered, as though to swap places with her. The woman was averse to men and feared them, and she felt uncomfortable when she was in the same location as men. Therefore, she had chosen to excuse herself .
“Baraja-sama, I apologize for disturbing you while you are resting. May I ask for some of your time?”
He had the stout body of a man in his forties, but the part about him that stood out most was his thinning hair
The Moro family had a tradition of buttling for notable noble houses, and in the past he too had worked as a butler. That was why he served as a secretary in the support team, in order to make full use of his skills.
Neia had been very lucky to meet someone like him when she had first founded the group. If she had not met him, her hair would have gone white at an early age.
“No, it’s fine. What is it?”
“Thank you for granting your servant a few minutes of your time allowing me to submit a report. I wish to say that the membership of our organization is now in excess of 30’000.”
“Ah, that’s wonderful! To think we’d gain so many people who understand His Majesty’s greatness! No, that’s only to be expected. His Majesty truly is an amazing person, after all!”
CZ nodded and went “Mhm.”
The organization now had more members than the population of a small city. Of the 3’500’000-odd residents of the Northern Holy KIngdom, around 1% of them now belonged to the group.
“Our supporters have expressed a desire for a symbol of some sort to show their membership in the group.”
“I see… indeed… That… makes sense.”
“Indeed. Some wearable item to indicate their membership is essential in order to foster a sense of reassurance and belonging.
Mhm, Neia nodded. They would be very happy to have some symbol of solidarity-- something related to the Sorcerer King. Neia wanted one too.
“Please use the best possible means at your disposal. However, I do not wish us to give preferential treatment based on cash donations and the like.”
Neia picked up on something that even her acute hearing could not fully parse.
“CZ-sempai, what did you say?” Neia asked.
“...Really? Still, if I make a mistake when speaking about His Majesty, you must tell me.”
Neia turned her gaze back to Beldran. Recently, there were more and more people who remained unshaken even when she looked at them, and it made Neia very happy.
“We’ll push it towards the production stage. Now then… can you tell me about the rest of my schedule?”
“Yes, Baraja-sama. About two hours later, the supporters will be organizing a “Sorcerer King Thanksgiving” activity, and you are scheduled to take part and speak of His Majesty’s great deeds.”
Neia felt quite excited. Having discovered that the Sorcerer King was justice, she felt a sense of camaraderie and closeness to the supporters who could understand how she felt, and she very much enjoyed talking to people who shared her views.
“Also, there are people who would like you to witness the fruits of their training. Given that you are very busy, should I reject them?”
Neia had recently founded an honor guard unit and was currently putting them through intense training. Both Neia and CZ had taken part in that training.
To Neia, who felt that weakness would only be a burden to the Sorcerer King, working hard to become strong was second nature. If Neia’s participation could liven up the mood and motivate them, then she had to join them.
“No, I’d like to be there with them.”
“I am certain they will be delighted… and while that summary of events was quite basic, that is all I have to report to you. As for how long it will take to gather the supporters… preparation time will take about an hour, so please rest at ease until then.”
Beldran bowed his head and left the room, and after watching him leave, Neia got up from her chair and walked over to the sofa where CZ was. Then she lay down beside CZ and tightly embraced her, like she was trying to squish her with her body.
“...Good girl, good girl.”
CZ was shorter than herself, but she patted Neia’s back in a soothing manner, like a mother would for her child.
“When will we be able to go look for His Majesty… it’s been a month since then…”
The people searching the eastern region of the Holy Kingdom had not found the Sorcerer King, and while there was a non-zero possibility that they might have missed him, it was almost a foregone conclusion that he had fallen into the land of the demihumans, the Abelion Hills. Therefore they had to make ample preparations, but doing so was simply taking too long.
Of the 3’000 Zern who had betrayed Jaldabaoth, 2’800 of them had gone with their prince to the Sorcerous Kingdom, while the remaining 200 or so had gone to the hills to collect information, but they had not found anything so far.
“...You must not fail.”
“I know! But, but…”
Neia hugged CZ tighter. She took a deep breath of the scent -- like that of black tea -- which came from her.
CZ’s mere presence was enough to wipe away Neia’s uneasiness.
That was because her existence was the proof that the Sorcerer King was alive.
“..It’ll be fine. Ainz-sama is generous.”
“Ah, that’s right, CZ-sempai.”
“...Therefore, you should get more supporters and work out a search plan that cannot fail.”
“Ah, that’s right, CZ-sempai.”
“...That way, Ainz-sama will be happy.”
“Ah, that’s right, CZ-sempai.”
“...Neia. I like you. Now that I’ve gotten used to it, your face is quite cute.”
“...Quite cute… Speaking of which, you must be really bored because you can’t go outside, CZ-sempai. Shall the two of us go somewhere together next time?”
CZ’s extraordinary beauty -- it was practically sculpted -- attracted a lot of attention, but if people knew her true identity as a maid demon, the looks directed at her would become ones of fear and caution. Many of them would have exaggerated delusions like “She’s going to steal my soul!”, which stemmed from the stories where demons transformed into beautiful women to claim souls as part of a deal. However, Neia felt that demons had a right to choose their partners. For starters, being that she was a subordinate of the most merciful Sorcerer King, this difficulty 150 maid demon would not possibly desire the souls of the people around her, let alone want to charm theirs away..
Even so, there had been troublesome things which they could not avoid, and Neia -- as a squire of the Sorcerer King -- would not be able to face him if she ended up causing trouble for CZ, his subordinate. Of course, Neia also understood that CZ was so powerful that she would not be harmed.
For that reason she spent much of her time in here, but now that there were more people in their organization, it ought to be alright to bring her where the supporters gathered.
“...Alright, we’ll go together as a kind of practice.”
“Alright, let’s get ready, then. Although, those maid clothes are a little eye-catching… could you change into something more ordinary?”
“...The doctor… ahem. No problem. Lend me clothes. I’ll leave the coordination to you.”
“...I’m sorry, but I didn’t have anyone I could go out with and I had no interest in clothes at all, so I’m not confident of being able to pick out clothes for you.”
CZ gently patted Neia’s shoulders. While she looked emotionless at a glance, Neia could understand her maternal warmth. After that, CZ pointed her thumb at herself.
“...Leave it to me.”
The discovery that CZ’s tastes were unexpectedly good would be a matter for later.
Caspond’s workload had increased dramatically after the recapture of Kalinsha. The people who were rescued needed to be incorporated into the organization, the amount of information which needed to be processed had increased greatly, and both verification and assignment work was very time consuming.
During this busy period, only one paladin was stationed by Caspond’s side for his safety.
While this might have been skimping on security, one could not use a skilled paladin -- they could read, write, do accounts, conduct religious rites, and keep the peace -- as a mere bodyguard. In that respect, it would have been most efficient to assign the otherwise retarded Remedios to him, but after considering her mental faculties, he decided to have her train with other paladins.
When Neia and CZ had recovered Kelart Custodio’s head, her autistic screeching caused such a disturbance that it was a wonder nobody had died as a result. While she had calmed down eventually, they still had to handle her with care.
In truth, nobody could do anything by themselves. He had to be grateful to his maker. As he further devoted himself to said maker, Caspond threw himself into his work, his pen flashing over the pages.
While it was practice for the future, this work was still very annoying. His paladin aide either could not read the mood or he was indeed very bothered, but he spoke to Caspond, who was trying to bury his aggravation in the depths of his heart.
“--Prince Caspond-denka, is it really alright to let the Neia Baraja situation continue as it is?”
Caspond understood the meaning of that question, and he smiled tiredly without taking his eyes off his documents.
“It can’t be helped, so don’t bother. Also, Prince will do.”
“Thank you very much, however, what do you mean, it can’t be helped?”
The paladin did not seem to understand, so Caspond lifted his head from his books and looked him in the eye.
“What do you think would happen if we did anything to her, like say, pressuring her to stop?”
“I don’t think anything would happen, my Prince. All she is doing is causing unrest in the nation.”
“I see, so you -- while I’m not sure if this is appropriate -- haven’t heard her speak, then? ...I guess, but I think I’ve seen another version of what she’s talking about elsewhere. Now, my first question… has she lied?”
Caspond watched the paladin search his memory before answering:
“She is not… well, it would be better if she was lying. Next, anyone with a modicum of intellect can check what she has said and find that almost all of it is justified. The Sorcerer King did free them, as a hero who single handedly took back a city, too.”
He took a drink of water from the glass on the table to wet his throat before continuing.
“And then, Neia Baraja is a hero who helped liberate Kalinsha. We lauded her for that. As for the maid demon -- we introduced her as a minion of the Sorcerer King. That led to a sky-high opinion of the Sorcerer King, and so we had to go a little overboard in praising her. Also, her equipment befits a hero.”
The sight of Neia carrying the marvellous bow which the Sorcerer King had loaned her and wearing the Grand King Buser’s armor was nothing less than heroic.
“Now, let’s go back to your suggestion just now. If we try to silence her, how will the world view us? Do you not think they would see us as trying to shut a hero up because what she’s saying isn’t good for the royal family? That sort of thing.”
The paladin tried to stammer out a denial, but his face already said that he understood better than his words could. He knew what would happen.
“On one hand, you have a hero whose star is rising, and on the other you have the royal family which is on the decline. Who do you think the people will believe?”
“--My Prince! Please don’t say that!”
“I apologize… but more to the point, what do you think the Sorcerer King’s maid demon will do if we try to interfere with Neia Baraja?”
The paladin’s face went stiff, and a ghastly look came to Caspond’s face.
“Hehe. The fact that she’s protected by that maid demon means she’s the strongest in this city, you know? Trying to directly silence her is extremely dangerous, so we’ll have to leave things as they are. I understand your concerns, but every move available to us is a bad one.”
There was a knocking on the door, and one of the soldiers from the outside entered.
“Prince-denka, the Vice Captain-sama wishes to speak with you.”
“He may enter.”
Perhaps he had heard Caspond’s voice, but Gustav rushed in from where he had been waiting outside. The slight panting in his breath showed that he had come here in a hurry.
“Forgive me, Your Highness Prince Caspond!”
Gustav’s work took him further afield than Caspond, and it was also more challenging, so he very rarely came here. That was why Caspond knew that this was a sticky situation. If he had come here in person, he had brought with him a difficult situation that he could not deal with alone.
“I tell you every time, don’t worry about it. Also, you don’t need to bow if we’re the only one’s around. Since you’re in such a rush, it must be quite urgent, right?”
“Yes! Our scouts report a 50’000-strong army flying the flag of the Southern Nobles heading for this city!”
“I see… don’t tell me the South has already overcome Jaldabaoth’s forces? In any event, prepare for battle, because we do not know if the Southern armies are being controlled by Jaldabaoth. Be careful. I’ll leave it to you.”
“Do not attack before the enemy makes a move under any circumstances. If they want to talk, bring them here. After that--” Caspond turned to the paladin. “You will be in charge of welcoming them. If they’re what I think they are, there ought to be several high-ranking nobles present. Prepare refreshments and wine to make them happy.”
Both men replied, “Yes sir!” and then left the room. As Caspond watched them leave, he muttered to himself.
“Alright… is it time?”
“Well, you’re a sight for sore eyes, Marquis Bodipo, Count Cohen, Count Domingues, Count, Granero, Count Randalse and Viscount Santz.”
“Oh, think nothing of it, I’m glad to see you’re well, my Prince.”
“Indeed! Indeed! We were so worried about you, your Highness!”
After a toast, Caspond and the Southern nobles drank to their respective safety and exchanged greetings over and over again.
The nobles described the situation and spoke of their travails. Caspond listened attentively, because doing so showed how hard they had worked -- how much they had given up for the sake of the Holy Kingdom.
Count Cohen, who had been speaking for a very long time, suddenly seemed to have noticed something and asked a question.
“--Oya, Prince-denka. Is it me, or do you seem slightly different now?”
“Ahh, but of course. I trust you know how Jaldabaoth invaded the North? My domains changed greatly as a result. In addition, I feel the parts you have not seen have changed even more… do you not think I have become thinner?”
Caspond indicated his belly. “Well, that does seem to be the case”, everyone cheerfully replied. At the same time, there was a keen glint in the nobles’ eyes.”
Caspond did not miss that. He instantly realised that they were comparing Caspond’s previous value to his present worth.
While they had concealed that quickly enough, he understood that the evaluation was still in progress.
Now he hoped that they would think that nothing had changed, in the hopes that they would not interfere with the royal family after the war.
“...Still, I, Caspond, am deeply grateful that you gentlemen have set out to save the Holy Kingdom.”
“What are you saying? Your Highness, as noblemen, it is only natural that we should marshal our forces and set out for the sake of the royal family. Or no, anyone who is physically able and does not join a battle concerning the survival of the Holy Kingdom cannot even be considered a nobleman!”
The nobles each nodded and made noises of acknowledgement. In other words, the noblemen who had not come here were the political enemies of the ones who were present.
Unfortunately, Caspond did not know which noble houses were not getting on with each other. That probably meant he was not sufficiently learned.
While he wanted to avoid being labelled as biased here, he would need to give them preferential treatment or face rather dire consequences. Everyone hated a bat who flitted around trying to get in everyone’s good graces.
“Gentlemen, your loyalty to the royal family needs to be trumpeted far and wide. I feel it needs to be a matter of historical record.
While it was only for a moment, the one who seemed the happiest about that was Marquis Bodipo, the oldest person present, whose blonde hair was flecked with white.
Now that he had power and position, he probably wanted prestige on top of that. The others would probably prefer to be rewarded instead. Of course, it was only natural for them to expect a certain reward now that they had mobilized their forces.
The Marquis muttered some polite words of refusal -- more of a courtesy than anything -- even as he tried to ingratiate himself with the prince. During this time, Viscount Santz -- who looked quite ill at ease -- seized on the right moment to interrupt the conversation and hesitantly asked a question.
“My prince, I have a question I would like to ask you. What is the present condition of Her Majesty? I hear she has passed away…”
“That is a fact.”
Startled by Caspond’s frank and direct answer, Viscount Santz asked another question.
“Then, then where does Her Majesty’s body lie?”
“...It was in a hideous state, so we had to cremate it. Originally, we were planning to use a [Preservation] spell on it and give her a state funeral after driving off Jaldabaoth…”
Caspond shook his head with a pained look on his face, as though he could not bear to continue.
“Also, we confirmed the death of the high priestess, Kelart Custodio.”
During this silence, Caspond used the time to take a drink.
Calca’s substitute was right before their eyes. However, there was no simple way to find someone to replace the high priestess Kelart Custodio, who stood at the apex of all divine magic casters. Therefore, they were carefully considering how best to use Kelart’s death.
After seeing they had not reacted even after he had taken two drinks of wine, Caspond gave them another tidbit of information.
“Her remains were also in terrible condition, so they were cremated as well.”
The nobles frowned. Had they felt something from the deaths of two of the Holy Kingdom’s top individuals? Perhaps they had finally realised that this was a battle where their lives were on the line and losing meant death. They were probably frightened by the realisation that they would not be ransomed even if they were taken prisoner.
“How about the captain of the paladins, Custodio-dono?”
“Do you want to speak to her? Can it wait?”
“Oya, so she’s still alive? Meanwhile, Her Majesty and the high priestess-sama are both dead...”
Count Randalse had a neatly groomed goatee. When he delivered those words in a sarcastic tone of voice, the others smiled mockingly, as if to follow suit. Caspond opened the door and ordered the paladin outside to summon Remedios.
Just as the wine in the bottle was about to run dry, Remedios reached their room.
Just as Count Randalse was about to speak, he took a look at Remedios and his eyes went wide.
“What!? Is she Captain Remedios, leader of the paladin corps!?”
The mockery in his tone had been replaced by shock. Every noble in the Holy Kingdom knew what Remedios looked like. Count Randalse was no exception either, hence his surprise. She looked tremendously different from how he remembered her.
Right now, Remedios Custodio looked like a walking corpse.
Her eyes were deeply sunken and her cheeks were haggard. However, a brilliant light shone in her pupils.
“You called me here right? Who else would I be?”
“What! The… the nerve…”
Count Randalse’s voice trailed off, and he stared intently at Remedios.
Right now, Remedios looked very frightening. The fact that nobody knew what she wanted or what she would do made others uneasy. That was why Caspond did not keep Remedios by his side. It was also why he took care not to let Remedios know anything about Neia.
“What is it?”
Everyone in this country knew that Remedios Custodio was the strongest paladin of this nation. In terms of sheer brute force, she was the foremost being in this nation.
What use was authority against violence that was on the verge of running wild? The most solid armor of the aristocracy was like paper to her. In the past, there were people beside her who held her reins, so she was in a state of mind where she could endure being badmouthed. However, it was a different matter now.
The nobles all understood this, so they said nothing. Remedios snorted as she saw them, and then shrugged.
“...May I leave now, Your Highness? It seems there was no reason to call for me.”
“Ahh. Thank you for coming.”
After Remedios left, the nobles finally allowed themselves to look unhappy.
“Can you permit her to show such disrespect to His Highness?”
“Even if she is the captain of the paladin corps, that attitude is intolerable. Can we allow someone without any loyalty to the royal family to remain as captain?”
Caspond raised a hand to quell the venting of their spleens.
“We are at war now. Her talents are still useful. Let us leave her disposition to the future Holy King.”
Quite a few people had been upset by Remedios’ attitude. Some of them were hiding their fear of her with anger, but others had ulterior motives. Caspond knew this, and he smiled coldly in his heart.
Remedios had once been the mailed fist of the previous Holy King and a powerful weapon. Surely someone out there would not want to leave that weapon to the next Holy King. Or rather, all of them might be thinking that for all he knew.
“Ohhh! Your Highness is correct! This is wartime! However, we won’t keep fighting the demihumans forever!”
“The Count is right! I believe our envoy already mentioned that we managed to come here because we defeated the demihuman forces. Your Highness! We ought to sustain the momentum and mount a pursuit!”
“Exactly! We ought to destroy the demihumans in one fell swoop, so Your Highness’ achievements may reach more ears.”
“I see, I see. Then -- how’s Old Purple?”
The nobles looked at each other, and then Marquis Bodipo spoke on their behalf.
“He seems unwell, so he did not come here with us.”
The Marquis was the oldest person here, and so the person that he called “old” was an 80 year old individual who had been appointed one of the Nine Colors. As a great noble of the South with the rank of Marquis, he had been granted that color in recognition of his loyalty to the royal family and his achievements.
Not all the Nine Colors had earned their position because of their fighting strength. Much like Purple, some of them had gained their title because of some great contribution. For instance, there was a Duchess who had been appointed Blue due to her fame as a composite artist.
As he pondered Marquis Bodipo’s reply, he sensed for a moment that the other man was not hiding anything, and Caspond smiled coldly in his heart again. While he already knew this, he was simply confirming that reaction with his own eyes.
“...I see. It would seem that your opinions coincide with mine.” Caspond outlined his plan to ruin Jaldabaoth’s scheme by slaughtering the demihumans. “However, what will we do if Jaldabaoth shows up?”
“Is Jaldabaoth such a mighty demon? I hear even the Captain-dono could not protect Her Majesty.”
Count Granero had never faced Jaldabaoth before, which was why he was asking such a naive question. Caspond responded in a somber tone.
“He is extremely powerful. We asked the Sorcerer King to face him, and his battle with Jaldabaoth was truly intense.”
“The Sorcerer King? Do you mean that undead kin?”
It was only to be expected that they would exclaim in surprise.
“Oya? Did you not hear about that? I see…”
“So you called upon the help of another country’s army, my Prince? That is very bad!”
“Not an army. Just the Sorcerer King.”
The nobles froze with an”Eh?” on their lips. It took some time before they stirred again.
“The Sorcerer King? By himself? The one and only king, the one who stands at the pinnacle of his nation came over by himself?”
Caspond nodded in response to Count Randalse’s question.”
“How could that be, that’s impossible, right? There’s no way such a king would exist! Did he not bring his armies with him?”
It makes no sense at all, the gathered people muttered. Some wondered if this was some kind of scheme. However, Caspond shattered their speculations with his unyielding reply.
“Though you might say so, it is the truth. All we can do is accept it. In addition, if the Sorcerer King had brought his armies with him, then he would have used them the moment he lost his duel against Jaldabaoth.”
“He lost?... I don’t get it. They say he’s one of the undead, so could it be that even his brains rotted away? However… is this not very bad?”
“It is. However, one of the envoys who requested the Sorcerer King to come was Remedios. I believe handing her over to gain the forgiveness of the other party will be a necessity, as are other diplomatic measures.
“Will that settle matters? …Now that you mention it, the Sorcerous Kingdom is a nation within the borders of the Kingdom. In that case, they will not be able to cross the Kingdom’s borders to reach us… does that mean we must be on alert once the Kingdom is destroyed?”
They could not understand what was going on, and the nobles all clutched their heads. It was as though they were thinking about what to do if the sun rose in the west. Therefore, they decided to leave that aside for the time being.
“Well, let’s put that aside for now. What are your future plans, Your Highness?”
“I -- I would like to retake the capital. And i would like to do this as soon as possible.”
“In that case, we will surely aid you!”
“Your Highness will become the hero who saved this nation from Jaldabaoth!”
“The demihuman army which invaded our nation was 100’000 strong. They’ve been culled down to around 30’000 strong now, If we rally the people of this city and the soldiers we brought, we’ll be able to beat them easily!”
“Your Highness! The day will soon come when they call you Your Majesty!”
Caspond faced the flattering nobles and deliberately put an understanding look on his face.
“Umu. I will not forget to be grateful for the help all of you have given me.”
“What are you saying? We are only doing our duty to the Holy Kingdom and the royal family!”
In his heart, Caspond smiled in a completely different way.
“Very well. Then, gentlemen, let us make ready to take back the capital!”