“We must push them back!”
“Why stop there?! They must surrender, completely and unequivocally!”
I was seated at the head of a long, oval table. At the other end, Queen Katalina looked around the room with a pained expression. Between the two of us, various nobility stretched down the length of the table, seated in two neatly-curved rows.
After the events in Hohenheim, I found a healer to check up on Ludmila, but he saw virtually nothing wrong with her body. Sure enough, Ludmila was back on her feet after she woke up. And then, we made our way back to the royal castle, located next to Faulkner.
Roderick had arrived with a large group of castle guards. They would handle defending the city of Hohenheim for the time being, while another crew of magic tool specialists started making preparations for a large barrier to be deployed.
Still worried about Ludmila, I ordered her to rest more. In the meantime, Katalina called a meeting with the regional lords to discuss the invaders from the north.
Naturally, the position of the Chancellor held with it the responsibility of keeping the kingdom’s defense. However, I couldn’t have felt more out of place, given my utter lack of experience in the role. Not to mention, Katalina did not have the military experience that her brother and father possessed, both of whom had passed away.
For that reason, the nobility in the room divided into a heated argument, with one side advocating to merely drive the invaders out, while the other side claimed that domination was the only way forward.
I stared blankly as a few familiar faces jumped in with the verbal sparring required to take control of the situation. Though things were playing out civilly, the tension in the air between those giddy to fight, such as Marquis Deggendorf, and the more passive nobles, like Earl Warrington, seemed like sparks of magic were imminent.
And several of the other nobles, like the newly-promoted Earl Lingonberle, were caught in the middle of it. He could thank his daughter’s achievement in the tournament for boosting their family’s weight in the discussions, but he was still a bit hesitant to stand his ground.
“Those were merely surprise attacks, born from stolen technology. We can simply arm ourselves with the same, with magic stones of superior quality than that which was stolen!”
“What of the genius inventor who the Purnesians call ‘Lamps Magellan’? We have reports that his intellect may even eclipse that of our own Inventor Queen!”
“Certainly, the sheer number that they were able to manufacture in such a short time is worrisome, but were they not merely crude imitations?”
“Still, arming low-level commoners with such toys! That puts the average soldier in danger! We cannot allow them to keep such power!”
Katalina and I stared at each other from across the table. While the arguments made sense on both sides, our heads were starting to swim from all the details. Finally, a more-experienced person took the lead.
“Gentlemen! I hear your concerns, but that does not justify using brute force to dominate our enemies. That is not who we are as a kingdom. Because we have wronged them in the past, isn’t that exactly the reason for us to recognize their anger and reach out to them properly?”
Duchess Reichenstein’s booming question silenced the room momentarily. Given her experience, she had grasped the nature of Purnesia’s attack and thought of the best method to defuse the anger that fueled the invasion.
However, another voice sharply rebuked that.
“Duchess! Have they not shown an utter disregard for amicable relations? Why should we be the one to extend a peace offering when they have gone so far? Their eyes seethe with hatred. And having experienced them firsthand, you still believe that peace without bloodshed is possible?”
Eryn’s sharp retort countered Cornelius’s words. I couldn’t blame her. When she first heard that Cornelius and I had been forced to face an entire army alone, her first thought was to race to us and go on a rampage. That was likely why she had been so merciless when it came to her words. Just like the time when Oswald sent his forces to tear down her domain, Eryn held nothing back when it came to defending what was hers.
And yet again, when word of fighting broke out in Hohenheim, she feared the worst since I had traveled there to fetch Ludmila. The first thing she did when I returned to the capital was to check that we had been unharmed. The worried expression upon her face was everything I needed to know in regards to how she cared for me, and for Ludmila also.
Because of that, I remained silent. I had never been one for bloodshed and conquering. I preferred the fluffy, comfortable life with occasional moments of adventure to break the rhythm. What Cornelius said also made sense, given the history of how the Purnesians had been isolated and abandoned. However, the looks of disregard for their own lives as they attacked me hung heavily on my mind.
Furthermore, I knew just how dangerous Katalina’s inventions could be in the wrong hands. They had already upheaved the normal strategies of combat in this world. And if another genius had obtained the blueprints for her guns, there was no telling what else could be crafted in the future.
“Chancellor! Queen! Please give us your answer!”
The members of nobility stared at us, as if judging whether we would make the proper decision. For many of them, they held experience far beyond us in the matter, but it was up to us as the leaders to convince them if we were worthy of their guidance.
Given the atmosphere, there was no doubt that we would have to declare war, but how far we should go was still up in the air. For the moment, I gave Katalina a nod, signaling to her secretly to bring the gavel down. Her voice rang out clearly to everyone.
“Members of nobility. I hear your concerns. From where I stand, the Empire of Purnesia has gravely wronged us. Their personal grudges are the very reason for their aggression, but that does not excuse the deaths that have occurred. We will fight back with our full force.”
The various nobility nodded with agreement. While they could give their opinion beforehand, they could not openly declare war before their queen had done so. The tension lessened throughout the room with the first hurdle cleared.
“However, we must not make the same mistakes as our predecessors. We strike in retaliation, not to dominate. If they yield, I wish to honor that. Long have the Purnesians been known as great crafters and innovators. As an inventor myself, I would find it a waste to simply destroy talent which could instead be used to improve the world itself.”
With that, a smile curled upon Cornelius’s face. Though Eryn’s gaze remained fiery, she backed down from her stance for the time being.
“Now, for another matter to attend to – that of leading the army.” Katalina looked straight towards me. “Traditionally, it is the Chancellor who takes upon the head of the battlefield as the kingdom’s commander. However, circumstances as they are, I believe that is not within your best interest, is it not, Chancellor Evers?”
Prior to this meeting, Katalina warned me beforehand. A Chancellor that didn’t fight would not look favorable to the others. And certainly, I did not have the will to stand upon the battlefield, barking orders like some war figurehead.
“It is as you say, my Queen. I am but a humble chef, one that was bestowed with a measure of fighting ability. The battlefield isn’t my forte, so it would be best to hand that responsibility to Duchess Reichenstein, who possesses far more promise to lead our army.”
At that point, I received some sharp glares, an especially painful one from Eryn. Nonetheless, I continued.
“However, that does not mean that I cannot contribute to the war. My place is in the kitchen, but that is exactly where my talents would bring the most potential. This kingdom would benefit most from non-conventional tactics in such a race for innovative warfare.”
I motioned for the guards near the entrance to open the door. Behind them, a team of the castle’s chefs moved toward us, pushing a cart of various pastries and hand-held consumables.
“I present to you, ‘Stat-Boosting Rations’.”
The chefs handed out food to the nobility as I beckoned for them to sample it. Already familiar with my cuisine, they greedily took a few bites while wondering what my intention was. After a few minutes passed, the various lords stood up with an intense vigor, a sense of fullness and strength that they had not encountered before.
After my return from Sanshiro, I kept quiet about the mana-enhanced cooking that I had discovered. Of course, Katalina and some others knew, but it felt like a trick that I had to save for the proper occasion. And there was no better time to bring it out than now.
“Incredible! It feels like my very senses have been enhanced! Not to mention how the very essence of mana seems to flood into my body!”
“Given to the troops, they could fight well beyond their normal capability.”
The nobles marveled at how something so simple could tip the balance of power. Immediately, they turned to me for answers.
“Chancellor! What needs to be done to scale this for the entire army?!”
“Is this even something that can be imitated by others?”
Certainly, I was only one man. And there was no way for me to cook food for more than a few hundred troops, much less thousands. I had experimented with this cooking more since I returned to Sistina, but it was the efforts of Chrys who fleshed it out.
“For whatever reason, the samples made by me that are present here show a much greater effect on your fighting ability than if it were made by another chef. However, that doesn’t mean it cannot be imitated to some degree. My young apprentice has been able to draw out roughly 60% of this same potency, so I imagine that others can do around the same.”
The nobles turned to each other and nodded in agreement.
“Even that level of boost would be greatly beneficial. How much time do you need to train the best in the kingdom?” Their eyes were brimming with expectation at my answer.
I held up both my hands, fingers spread. “Ten days. That is likely what is needed to refine those who are experienced with mana cooking to specifically boost the properties of the correct ingredients.”
In actuality, Chrys had learned how to infuse the ingredients in the span of five days, but she had prior experience with it. Not to mention a great affinity with the mana signatures coming from different sources. Highly-trained chefs in Sistina could subconsciously do the same, but many of them probably didn’t tie that unique feeling to the process of enhancement itself.
Queen Katalina stood up from her chair, giving off a commanding aura as she spoke.
“Very well. Chancellor Evers will focus on instructing our most talented chefs available, whom we will gather in the castle. In the meantime, our armies will band together and march north, setting up a perimeter to push back against the Purnesian Army!”
Katalina looked around the room, focusing on Eryn. “Lady Faulkner, as your Valkyrie Knights have had the most success against their tactics, I turn to you to lead the center of the armies. Lord Lingonberle’s army will be joining you, since Lady Violet is your second-in-command.”
Her eyes darted to a few others. “Lord Deggendorf will lead those of the eastern region as those lands are already protected by a barrier. And Lord Warrington and Kaiserslautern, you shall join up with Lord Hohenheim and be his swords.”
Katalina stared at the kingdom map, pushing the little figurines representing the various regional lords into a perimeter around the battlefield. Each lord nodded in confirmation as they were given their deployment location.
Finally, her gaze darted back to Cornelius. “Duchess Reichenstein, with the surveillance abilities of your familiar, the Chancellor has a point. Having a wide scope of the battlefield will be to our advantage, so please demonstrate your capability to command. I leave the entire army of Sistina to you.”
Katalina ended with a slight tip of the head in acknowledgement. “Dismissed!”
“Yes, Your Majesty!”
The various regional lords saluted their queen before rising from their chairs to leave the room. Only Eryn, Cornelius and I stayed behind for the time being. Katalina wanted to talk to us alone afterward.