The moment Claude brought up the end of the royal family, the atmosphere in the tent stiffened. Blancarte merely smiled at him without speaking whereas Eiblont turned to look at Claude, then at Blancarte, completely at loss. Claude glared tightly at the prime minister's face to watch for any subtle changes.
Some unknown amount of time later which seemed neither long nor short, Blancarte placed his finally empty glass on the table right before Eiblont was about to yell from the stiff atmosphere. "One more, please."
The tension was deflated in an instant the moment the prime minister spoke. Claude quietly opened the bottle and filled the glass.
Blancarte raised it again and slowly sampled the wine while Claude poured himself one glass as well before putting the half-empty bottle in front of Eiblont so he may have some himself. Eiblont didn't fill it in his glass, but drank directly from the bottle itself.
This time around, Blancarte didn't wait to finish his wine. He took a few sips and turned to Claude. "What do you think will happen once the Stellin royal family and Aueras is gone?"
Claude shook his head. "I don't care about the end result. No matter what chaos the kingdom devolves into, it has nothing to do with me, because we would've returned to the region. We can't be bothered with what happened here."
"Actually, it's not hard to predict what will happen--" Blancarte smiled. "--First, your region's army will be considered the invader thanks to your occupation of the royal capital and extermination of the royal family. The nobles in the kingdom will then give up on all internal conflict and unite into a single entity before rallying for the rest of the populace to exterminate the invaders for the crimes against the kingdom and the royal family.
"You will defeat the nobles' army, but the subjects of the kingdom will consider you a traitor to the kingdom rather than the hero that helped unite Eastern Freia now. You will be blamed for sending the kingdom down another bloody storm. Even if you are able to use force to stop the citizens' protests, you won't be able to stay in Eastern Freia for long as you only have two corps of forces. There's no way you can maintain control over so much land.
"With the kind of reputation you'll have, I can't imagine how you'll gain the people's mandate to rule such a large kingdom. With Thundercrash and Monolith, the most you'll be able to control is the kingdom's original territory, not to mention having to stamp out rebellions. What about the Great Plains of Canas, Askilin, Rimodra, Nasri and Sidins? Are you going to give up on them? What's the point of your victories in the Second Great Eastern Freian War then?
"Ever since the First Great Eastern Freian War, Aueras has never had the time to recover. We went from one conflict to another, from the colonial conflict to the civil war and the coup against the second prince, the war of debt and then the second great war. The subjects of the kingdom have grown weary of these harsh times and crave a peaceful and stable life. Nobody wants to keep fighting forever.
"That's why His Majesty has already shown great courtesy without sending any troops to stop your march to the royal capital. His Majesty believes that the region wouldn't ruin the hard-fought peace we now have. If you really used a small misunderstanding as an excuse to start a war and destroy this peace, I believe the region will only earn the disappointment and ire of the kingdom's subjects and resist you of their own accord.
"Currently, the royal capital is defenceless to you. You can definitely barge in, kill, plunder, burn and rape as you please. You can even repeat the atrocities of the Union's army and plunge the citizens of the capital into a world of despair and suffering. If this is your wish, congratulations. It will soon be fulfilled. The king, the court ministers, me included, and the citizens of the royal capital can do nought but endure your whims."
"Ugh!" Eiblont jumped from his chair. "Lord Prime Minister, Thundercrash isn't the kingdom's enemy. Don't even compare us to the Union's army. We will definitely not commit such acts against the kingdom. We are proud soldiers of the autonomous region, not criminals."
Claude could only shake his head in disappointment. Eiblont's political acuity was pitifully horrendous. Couldn't he tell that Blancarte was merely spewing pointless scare-tactic drivel in response to Claude's threat?
"Since the royal capital is undefended, I trust that our entry will not meet any resistance. It is a good thing, then. Our mission will be completed swiftly. We will transport our representatives and 30 million crowns back to the region," Claude said, "If our representatives didn't come to any harm and our money is untouched, then I will believe that this was in fact a misunderstanding, and that His Majesty truly worried for our safety and took them and the money into the palace. I'm sure the mistakes we made in between will be tolerated, right, my respected Prime Minister?"
Blancarte's smile bittered visibly as he avoided Claude's gaze by raising his glass and drinking frantically, before he forced a smile. "Actually, that night really was a rushed mess. The guards we sent there to help were in a rush to carry out the queen's orders without properly informing your men, causing some of your representatives to get into conflict with us. There are a few who ended up hurt, but I promise they aren't in any mortal danger."
Claude humphed coldly and put his glass on the table a little harshly. "Let us talk openly about what happened that night then. As for what excuse you're using, we know better than that, so don't bring it up. I only want to know how many of us were hurt and how many are still imprisoned in your dungeons.
"You don't have to tell me that now, but we'll soon find out about the truth anyway once we enter the city tomorrow. Don't blame us for retaliating without giving you notice in that case, because you were the one who lied to us by omission."
"Lord Militant, we have a saying here on Freia. 'The servant does not speak of the master's mistakes'. Surely, you've heard of it," Blancarte said sincerely, "It means that as a servant myself, I cannot criticise my master's wrongs. Instead, I should deal with the mistake itself and control the damage the best I can to limit its consequences. That is the true duty of a servant.
"Both of us know how this came to pass. The letter His Majesty wrote you was indeed an excuse, but there wasn't a choice. The one who committed the mistake was Her Majesty, His Majesty's wife and mother to His Highness the prince. She is also pregnant at the moment and can't take too much shock.
"That is why His Majesty has to tolerate her mistake and suppress his anger while cleaning up after her mess. Just like a normal family, there are times when conflicts brew between a couple. Only, this time, the scale is much larger than usual.
"I understand that you're dissatisfied that His Majesty wasn't willing to give you any discount or favour for the enfeoffment, but what you don't understand is it isn't that both the king and I, the prime minister, don't wish to do so. We simply don't have that option.
"Do you know how many nobles were staunchly against the region enjoying the same benefits they did? That is all really huge pressure on us as well. We only managed to convince them to accept giving you the same rights to fiefs without offering you the same favourable conditions.
"In some sense, the enfeoffment policy has filled up the national and royal treasuries quite a lot. But by the time we finally settled all our debts, we didn't have much remaining.
"That amount isn't sufficient to support the revival plan for the kingdom. That's why we can only count on extracting the region's wealth in hopes we can solve our financial issues through granting you fiefs.
"Frankly speaking, this is the opportune time for the kingdom to recover. His Majesty intends to use the fief policy to decrease the old nobility's influence on the economy, government and military.
"By removing key members of old nobility from the military and taking proper control of the three corps, there's no need to worry about an internal revolt. The only thing we lack is capital for the revival of our economy.
"What we didn't expect was this would be seen by you and the others from the region as unfair and cause you to refuse the fiefs altogether. You even shook the royal capital by showing off the 30 million crowns in the plaza.
"While His Majesty and I do indeed desire this sum, we never had the intention of taking it for ourselves. However, the queen was furious at the slight inflicted upon her and also wanted to solve the kingdom's financial problems. So, she sent the palace guards on her own accord and committed that mistake."
"You, quiet," Claude said to Eiblont with a wave to stop him from speaking. He was almost tricked by the prime minister once more. Claude worried that he would enthusiastically give the prime minister his word and reassurance.
Seeing Eiblont shut his mouth with great difficulty, Claude turned back to Blancarte with his gaze sharpened. "Lord Prime Minister, as a soldier of the autonomous region, what I want to know is how serious the mistake committed by the queen was. How much damage did the guards she sent cause?
"I don't care about what you and His Majesty need to revive the economy, nor do I care to know how much these 30 million crowns mean to you. To me, it's plain and simple. As President Henderman said to the court, this is all a transaction. If the deal isn't reached, there will be no transaction.
"In a business transaction, two parties can merely leave if the prices are too unreasonable. It's a normal and voluntary act. Nobody is to blame anyone for it. But when we of the region wanted to deal with His Majesty, we thought the price too high and gave up, since negotiation wasn't an option. To show our sincerity, we even let you see the money we brought in anticipation for the deal.
"We didn't expect you would lust after it and capture our representatives and take our money, not to mention sealing our region's office. Is this something the king and queen should do? Without the region's military might, I don't doubt that our representatives would've been killed in the dungeons so you can enjoy our money without concern.
"Just now, you told me that sob story to try to get me to forgive you and understand your woes. But at the end of the day, you didn't answer the question I'm most concerned about. Let me say this again: get to the point. How do you want to resolve this?
"What I want to know first is how our representatives are doing. You have to give us an answer, whether they're dead or alive. Additionally, you will return our money without a penny less. It is the region's wealth, nobody else's. Also, we want to know whether the queen will be punished for her transgression, and how. Lastly, is His Majesty going to make up to us for this?"
Blancarte could no longer keep his smiling facade. Claude's critical questioning and complete stoicism towards his rhetoric uneased him greatly. However, he couldn't do anything about it. Since he came to receive them, he had prepared himself mentally that he wouldn't be able to avoid the crucial issue for long.
He lowered his brown-haired head.
"Regrettably, the palace guards acted brashly that night and got into a fight with your representatives. Both sides took up arms, but fortunately the conflict was stopped before it escalated to cause irreparable damage or death.
"Fortunately, only 47 of your representatives were hurt. They have received the best treatment and are stable. As for the staff and clan of guards of the region's office, they didn't join the fight because Lord Militant Bolonik stepped in to stop them. They have been disarmed and are now kept from leaving their camp."
Claude's lips curved into an insulting smile. "I don't understand, Prime Minister. Are our representatives hurt from the arrests or the torture that followed? How did nearly half of our hundred representatives get hurt? It's not right to call this a small conflict, right?
"If they got hurt during the initial conflict, there's no way Lord Militant Bolonik would stop the clan of guards from acting, or he wouldn't be fulfilling his duties properly and will have to be punished for it. The only way for so many of them to get hurt is after the guards were disarmed and arrested."
"Well... this was because your representatives said some really insinuating things about the king and queen, so they were given physical punishment by the angered palace guards... That's how so many ended up hurt..." Blancarte tried to explain it away pathetically.
"Hahahaha... Had it not been for the letter we sent later saying that without I, Eilon and Bick's signatures, nobody is authorised to touch that money, I trust that the region would've gained more than 60 new landed nobles by now, and the money would've entered your pockets, right?"
"I assure you it won't," Blancarte forcefully argued, "We really need the funds you brought for the revival plan, but we wouldn't dare take it unrightfully ourselves. This time, it's the queen who has committed this mistake and His Majesty is trying to make up for it.
"We don't wish for war to break out over this small misunderstanding and kill our chances of revival for good. We can even loan the money from you. We definitely wouldn't use underhanded methods to get the money."
"Then, how are you going to punish the queen for her transgressions?" Claude pressed.
Blancarte opened his mouth, but couldn't think of anything to say. He lowered his head and mumbled, "Well, you know, the queen is currently expecting her second child... There's nothing we can do to punish her..."