On the night of the 11th of the 11th month, Year 594, Claude, Birkin, and Eiblont stormed the theatre's headquarters with their troops.
Bolonik and Skri, who had been imprisoned there for half a month, finally regained their freedom. They sat in Bolonik's office, waiting for the other three's arrival.
The decree brought by the ambassadors came as quite a shock for Bolonik. It was plain for him to see on the desk, and after reading its contents, his heart grew cold and face stiffened. He knew well that if he allowed the decree to come to pass, the past few years of their efforts in the colonies would've gone to waste.
But after Claude and the others entered the office and closed the door, Bolonik spoke in a cold and dissatisfied tone, "So it all went according to your guesses. You're happy now, right? So when are you going to declare independence and claim the throne, Your Majesty Claude?"
Skri, Birkin and Eiblont didn't say a word and turned to Claude. The action against the ambassadors was all his plan. Eiblont wasn't addressing the matter directly and Birkin was too far away, so he couldn't make it in time. While Skri was in the know, he chose to stand with Bolonik to welcome the ambassadors so as to keep the plan a secret, only to be imprisoned for those two weeks.
Claude only managed to excuse himself from attending the ambassadors' welcome ceremony by citing trouble at Blackstone Factory. Otherwise, he would've been imprisoned like the other two and that wouldn't bide well for their plans.
Even though being imprisoned didn't mean he lost all ability to resist, any act of resistance by him and his men would've been considered in the light of a coup instead of him coming to the rescue of the colonies' populace by stopping the ambassadors from stealing their gold reserves in the bank.
Bolonik was clearly displeased with the developments. Now, Claude had captured the ambassadors and dragged the other four generals down with him, all for what? So he could be king of the colonies?
Claude shrugged nonchalantly. "To be honest, I didn't do much. According to my plan, we would've needed another seven days for the ambassadors to incite the displeasure of all the citizens in the colonies. That would be the best time to deal with them. We'll make the populace aware of the ambassadors' bad intentions, greed and how sinister they are so they can finally see the true attitude our new king has against the colonies.
"I didn't think these dogs' noses would be that sharp to be able to pick up on the scent of our bank two days after taking power. I can only say that they've let the money blind them to the point that they didn't know they've entered the angry mob's sights. Even though this wasn't part of my plan, the colonies' citizens are now riled up. If we let this continue, it'll go out of control. That's why I had to arrest them.
"And don't joke around with me. I'm not trying to commit treason. Why would I declare independence? The centre of the world is located on Freia, not Nubissia. Even though the territories here are large, me declaring myself king here wouldn't be that much different from the nikancha founding their own nation. I wouldn't want to be laughed at for trying to play make-believe king."
Bolonik almost did a double-take.
"You're not trying to declare independence or forge a throne, are you? You've never considered betraying the kingdom?"
"Of course not," Claude declared unhesitantly, "I'm an Aueran. This is still the territory of the Kingdom of Aueras."
"T-then... why did you have to capture the ambassadors? You could've tried to talk it out properly..." Bolonik's mood improved at a notable rate.
Claude shook his head speechlessly. It was probably a difference in their life experiences. Even though Bolonik was a full 20 years older than Claude, he was quite naive when it came to certain matters. He was quite the loyalist to the throne. No matter how badly he was treated, he would take it without complaint until his loyalty killed him.
He was also a commoner, so he was never nurtured to scheme and plot for higher ambitions like the nobles were. He had never experienced it, nor had he seen it happen. He trusted in the inherent good of man, and that Stellin XI was only temporarily misguided. Since the ambassadors' word represented the king's, he would have no choice but to follow it. Eventually, he thought, the colonies would return to the right path. He didn't really care about his own power and position either.
Claude, however, was no Bolonik. He was not a Freian native, but a transmigrator from the modern world long rid of kings and monarchs with unquestioned power. He didn't have the slightest shred of admiration for the long bloodlines of the noble houses, for history and their portrayal in modern media had long taught him of their shameless darkness. Even though he was now an honorary viscount himself, he didn't really take his status to heart.
"I'm going to send the marine tribe and the ambassadors to Loki Mountains since we're really short on manpower there. I also ordered the garrison force at Port Cobius to capture the naval officers that came in the ambassadors' flotilla of seven ships for them to mine gold for a few years."
"Y-you!" Bolonik yelled with a start, "Didn't say you weren't going to betray the kingdom? Why are you still committing treason?!"
"No, you're wrong--" Claude smiled. "--I'm merely expressing my opposition to Stellin XI, not committing treason. Naturally, if our king thinks I am, I have no choice in the matter. What can be done about it? Where's the king going to find a force to send to us? Does the kingdom have ships? An escort fleet? Can a corps even be sent here?
"Well, that's not really what we should be discussing now. We should ask our wise king whether he has any money left in the national treasury to afford a war with us across Tranquil Ocean. I hope our king doesn't forget the fact that we just wiped out 10 Shiksan standing corps and have 500 thousand-plus labourers. He had better consider how many corps he needs to deal with our 'treason'.
"Bonik, you're our friend. We all know you're a loyal general to the kingdom. We also don't want to betray the kingdom like you, but as the acting field marshal of the theatre, you need to know which liege is worth your loyalty. You've read the decree yourself and know that if that really comes to pass, the colonies will be covered eternally in darkness.
"We are not opposing the kingdom's rule. Instead, we are protecting the kingdom's territories on Nubissia, which the late king, Stellin X, had us develop. We must ensure their prosperity. That is the mission of those of us from Ranger, the mission Lord Militant Miselk gave us before he left. We can't allow Stellin XI's whims to ruin it all.
"Think about the five million citizens of the kingdom here. Compared to their happiness and bliss, satisfying the whims of an unhinged monarch is far less important. We shall change the colonies into an autonomous region. We are still Aueran territory, but we will no longer accept any decree from the mad king. When the next wise king ascends to the throne, we'll once more return to the rule of the royal capital."
Claude's intentions were clear. Being opposed to Stellin XI didn't mean full opposition to the kingdom. For now, the colonies would be autonomous until the next king ascends to the throne. If the next king shows himself to be a wise ruler, he would forgive the treasonous acts of Claude and the rest and retake the colonies under the kingdom's wing. But if he is the same as Stellin XI, the colonies could keep their autonomy.
After all, there's nothing the mainland can do about their autonomy. They wouldn't be able to afford the ships needed to transport troops over anyway, and they only had three main corps in the kingdom. Who else could they send to deal with the two corps of the autonomous region? Given Stellin XI's character, would he really put in the effort necessary to wipe out the autonomous region? It was almost impossible. He would rather spend his time attending balls and getting so drunk he was good as half-dead. At least, he wouldn't be a laughing stock in his drunken fantasies.
Bolonik's expression shifted to one end and to another. He knew Claude spoke the truth. Given the theatre's current might, there was no way the kingdom could even protest their decision. That was the difference between Claude and him. Claude would assert his might against unfair treatment, while all he would do was take all the shit thrown at him. Even though he wanted to loyally serve the kingdom, he couldn't do it because Stellin XI simply didn't care for the loyalty of a general so far away in the colonies.
"Sigh..." Bolonik turned to the door and started to leave. "I'll leave it to you, Claude. I'm going home."
Claude saluted him.
"Sure. Take a good rest. It must've been tough on the two of you. The locals are now gathering in Lanu and we're going to host an announcement ceremony for our self-governance. We'll need you to preside over it."
Bolonik stopped at the door without turning around before hesitantly nodding. He then pushed the door open and left headquarters with his newly formed guard escort.
"Claude, why didn't you claim a throne? I promise the three of us will be loyal. We're just waiting on a duke Title from you," Eiblont said with a chuckle. Skri and Birkin also looked expectantly at him.
Claude clicked his tongue and sat down on a chair before grabbing a glass of water. Eiblont moved quickly and said, "Please wait, I'll get you a nice bottle of wine. I know where Bonik keeps his stash."
When Eiblont returned and poured each of them a glass of fruit wine, Claude sipped it as he considered his response. "My father once told me this: one who wants to wear the crown has to be ready to bear its weight. I grew up in Whitestag back when it wasn't a city. There was a shrine of the earth goddess there with a pair of really beautiful crowns made of real gold and silver and embedded with many gems.
"I'm sure you know what they use it for. Every 9th month during the harvest festival, the most handsome young lad and the prettiest lass of town would be picked to wear it along with their ceremonial gowns before parading and partying through the town for three whole days. I always hoped to one day be able to wear that crown and parade around the beautiful carriage like a king.
"My father knew I had that wish and brought me there. He got me that crown from the shrine and asked me whether I wanted to put it on, but there's a catch. I can only put it on only if I make sure to wear it for a whole hour. I even wanted to complain that one hour was too short, so I said yes immediately. I couldn't wait to wear it for three whole days like the prince of the festival.
"I immediately regretted it, because I didn't think it would be so heavy and uncomfortable to wear. Before ten minutes had passed, I cried and asked my father to take it off. You know there's a secret latch on the top of the crown that can only be unlocked with the help of someone else. But my father never took it off for me and watched me cry as he sipped his tea.
"I don't know how I survived that hour. All I could remember was the pain on my head. When my father finally removed it after an hour, I felt like a fish back in water and breathed in relief. My father then told me those words and explained it to me. There is nothing in this world you can obtain without effort or consequence. Before we want to take anything, we have to consider whether we're ready for the consequences of responsibility that the thing entails.
"The crown is a symbol of beauty and treasure, as well as power. The throne demands one be responsible for one's subjects. It's all too easy to become a misguided monarch like Stellin XI. But what's the point? It'll only lead to mass betrayal and rebellion as well as a bad mark in the history books. I don't want to become someone that's cursed by the people for the times to come.
"Now, we have nine colonies and a little more area than the kingdom's territory on the mainland. If we split it into prefectures like the kingdom, we can have some three to four prefectures for each colony, so we'd have more than 30 prefectures. On the mainland, our king has ravaged 27 prefectures and lost the 21 newly conquered ones. He also gave up on four border prefectures.
"Despite our territory being larger than the kingdom's, we only have around five million settlers here. The 27 prefectures on the mainland now have more than 20 million. Even with the kingdom's current ravaged state, as long as things stabilise over there and a new ruler rights the wrong of the past one, the kingdom can be restored in less than five years. That's the core of the kingdom's might. They are unlike us here at the colonies, where we have to start from scratch by developing the desolate and unpopulated rural areas.
"Under such circumstances, claiming kingship and declaring independence is a fool's errand. Even if we ignore the fact that three million of our subjects here just immigrated a few years ago and still have strong feelings about the mainland, let's assume a good king comes along and whips the kingdom back into proper shape and power in two decades. If we declared independence, we would've made ourselves a huge nemesis, so what's the point? At least, I can't see myself being a qualified king either.
"Additionally, think about it, the whole of Nubissia is covered with colonies of other Freian nations. We'd stand alone in the entire world if we founded our own nation. Every other country would turn against us. No kingdom, whether they have colonies or not, want the precedent of their overseas territories breaking away to form their own countries.
"But as an Aueran colony, even if we govern ourselves, the other nations will have to consider our kingdom's response before attacking us. But if we declare independence, that gets thrown out of the window. We defeated ten Shiksan corps, but how would we ever take the brunt of a united Freian colonial force?"
The other three never expected Claude would give them such a deep lecture out of nowhere. Skri gave it some thought and said with some repentance, "You're still the one who has the clearest head on his shoulders. You're always looking so far ahead. Actually, when I was imprisoned here, I was filled with frustration. I can't help but cut off all connection with the kingdom after I regain my freedom. We fought this war for so long and won, yet we're treated this way by that king! How could I have taken it sitting down?!"
Birkin and Eiblont both nodded in agreement.
Claude laughed out loud. "There's a saying I read in a book as a child: treat others how you want them to treat you. When a friend comes to visit, we must pay our own visit to their house to give the courtesy back. Now that I've sent the ambassadors and the marines to go mining, Stellin XI will definitely be waiting for an update so he can finally go on a spending spree.
"So, we have to notify him to stop waiting. The ambassadors won't be going back and I've ordered Thundercrash 1st Folk to retreat. Once we declare our self-governance, I'll have to trouble you, Eilon, to go to the mainland with Thundercrash and our fleet as escort. You said there were many refugees in the kingdom, right? Bringing them back here would be doing the kingdom a huge favour, I believe."