Chapter 124

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“Icarus!”

Icarus halted, turned towards the speaker and smiled.

“Thank you for calling me, Princess.”

Charles’s heels clattered against the floor as she ran to Icarus and clasped their hands together.

“Oh, it’s nothing. You’ve been very helpful.”

“Not at all—that’s why I’m here.”

“I really appreciate it.” Charles smiled. “Would you like to be briefed on the situation?”

“No, I’m already aware.”

“You mean—”

“Do not be concerned.” Icarus shot Charles a bright, enthusiastic grin. “I have prepared countermeasures.”

“So—”

“What good can a new graduate do?”

“What did you just say, Baron Ashbal?” Charles glared at the man.

“She’s a child with no real-world experience,” he shouted, rising to his feet angrily. “Also, how much would a commoner know about our family?”

“Baron Ashbal!”

“I’m just getting started! I don’t even know if Icarus is a man or a woman?”

“What does it matter? Are you saying this is a job for men only, Baron Ashbal?”

“I am.”

“What disrespect is this, Baron Ashbal!?” Cox stepped forward with a furious grimace on his face. “The Young Lady, too, is a woman!”

“Count Cox…” Baron Ashbal was clearly relaxed, despite the difference in their rank. “It’s not just me—have you seen the other vassals?”

“What?” He paused and looked around.

Just as he said, every face wore the same expression: dissatisfaction.

“I’m not qualified to be a legislator, but I will be candid.” Baron Ashbal peeked in the same direction as Charles before continuing. “Young Lady… You were a snob when it came to family matters before, no? It was only after the Lord was gone that you came here and threw some random things at us—why, may I ask?”

“What in the name of God is that rubbish? Don’t you understand that the Young Lady remained outside to gather allies while the Lord tended to our internal affairs? Are you so blind to her efforts?”

“Efforts that yield no results are wasted time.”

“What?”

“At the end of the day, not one family has come to our aid! What contribution did your so-called Princess make to the family?!”

“Ashbal!”

“I’m right here, Count Cox! I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pontiers declare bankruptcy tomorrow! I won’t tolerate being ruled by an incompetent and a woman!”

“You!” Cox stomped towards Baron Ashbal, hand raised to slap him.

“Stop, please.”

Cox froze.

“Please, stop. Surely you understand that division plays right into their hands?”

“Young Lady.”

“Does anyone else share Baron Ashbal’s views?”

None of the vassals spoke, but Charles didn’t need an answer. Their facial expressions said everything.

“If that is what all of you believe, then I will withdraw from the front lines.”

“Young Lady!”

“I appreciate your thoughts, Count Cox—but I accept that I’m a burden. I never want my family to turn on itself because of me.”

“Then—” Charles shook her head sadly, forcing Cox to bite his words back. He’d never seen her face so saddened. “Damn it…”

“Then that’s it.” Charles turned around with a tiny smile.

“Wait, just a moment.”

“Icarus.”

“Trust me, Young Lady.” Icarus grinned at her and then turned back to the meeting. “Did you say your name was Baron Ashbal?”

“Yes.” He scowled.

“I overheard you. Not everything, but enough.”

“What are you—”

“‘Efforts that yield no results are wasted time.’ That’s correct. In regular, peaceful times, that effort would become a priceless, unrepeatable experience, and would become the foundation for the future. However, it is wholly inappropriate during a territorial war. Losing means losing everything.”

“You seem to have an idea.” Baron Ashbal smiled cynically at her.

“Young Lady Charles, therefore, deserves praise. She has gathered more reliable allies than anyone else.”

Baron Ashbal frowned, confused. Icarus boldly cocked a thumb—backwards.

“That’s right: us.”

“That’s ridi—”

“We can produce enough food to feed 70% of the region’s population. In other words, if you disregard the civilian population and focus on maintaining the soldiers and defenses, you can hold for much longer.”

“What are you saying, Icarus—!” The vassals stared at Icarus, shocked.

“However… nobody wants that. War is a costly thing. As prestigious merchants, that is a situation I would avoid putting the Crombells in at all costs.”

“You want us to abandon our—”

“No! The pieces are falling into place—they have the advantage whether we feed our people or not. They may even seek a single, decisive battle to finish the war without affecting the people.”

A Pontier messenger burst through the door carrying a red flag on their back.

“We have a problem!”

“What’s happening?” Cox asked.

“Marquis Crombell is amassing an army in front of Aiden Gorge! Numbers are estimated at over 30,000!”

“Thirty—!”

Marquis Crombell had around 50,000 soldiers. At any one moment, 10,000 soldiers were stationed at headquarters; 30,000 troops was roughly what they could deploy at any moment.

“Why…”

The vassals looked towards Icarus, who just smiled.

“It matters not if we accept or reject their offers.”

“Wait, what?”

“If we take the lead, they’ll wipe out our army with overwhelming force. Even if they don’t, we’ll be forced to drag all of our forces together.”

“What do they gain by concentrating our forces? Aiden Gorge is a natural fortress, as you said. There’s nowhere better to defend, food issues aside. Why would they attack there?”

“That’s only true if it’s really a head-on confrontation. However, they’re after something else.”

“What are you getting at?”

“Their true objective is!” Icarus unfurled an enormous map over the meeting table. “A two-front operation.”

The vassals stared blankly at the bright red markings on the map.

“That’s ridiculous!” Baron Ashbal quivered with irritation. “Whether they want to or not, the Dennis River is impossible to navigate! Even skilled knights would be swept aw—”

“Compose yourself. I know of several approaches they could take.” Icarus stepped forward with confidence and boldly claimed a seat at the table. “Now then, shall we discuss?”

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