Chapter 45 – The Capital of a New Empire

That was easily the most embarrassing boat ride Julius had ever been on and he had to be rescued by his older sister twice in his life. Granted, she’d been great at intimidating his friends into line on those rides, so there was at least a positive there. The ferry ride, on the other hand, was just crap.

He didn’t even know what was worse: Cyrus having so much fun teasing him about his ‘dreamy romance’ or Mira actually thinking his “dream dates” were romantic and continually pressing him for more details.

At least he had a distraction come up as soon as they finally arrived at Capitalia, the ferry landing at a surprisingly large dock on the riverbank. Seemed the river widened around this point into more of a lake, though there was something a little more important at the moment catching his attention.

“…Where’s Seona?” Julius asked while he looked around the ferry right after they docked. The other passengers had all disembarked already, so it wasn’t like there was somewhere she could be hiding. “Didn’t she get on the ferry with us?” 

“Hm? Of course she did, she’s…somewhere here.” Cyrus muttered as he searched too, crouching down to look under the benches. 

“If she’s not here, then it’s because she didn’t want to come. Are you going to get over here, or what?” Jofrid asked, tapping her foot impatiently against the dock as she waited for them to join her.

“Seona would have said something if that was the case…did she get lost?” Julius started to walk around for any sign of her, looking around the bustling dock with a worried frown. 

“Are you serious? There was only one ship. How would she have gotten lost?” 

“Or perhaps she was never real to begin with.” Silence fell over the group as they all stared back at Cyrus. “Perhaps she was simply your guardian angel who stayed until you arrived at your destination~.” 

“…If she did get lost, we probably don’t need to worry. Seona is pretty strong,” Mira pointed out, completely ignoring Cyrus. As he deserved.

“I know she is, but I can’t help but worry.” And before he could continue searching around the docks, Julius felt an armored hand clap down on his shoulder. 

“An’ just what exactly are ya worried about?” came a familiar and cheerful orcish voice, “C’mon, tell yer old pal what’s got the dragonslayer shaking in ‘is boots.” 

“Hello Lion-Bane,” Julius replied flatly, glancing up at the grinning face of the blonde orc. Who seemed to have gotten a replacement for that tusk he broke, based on the new gold one she had poking up from her lips. “I didn’t expect you to be this far from the frontline.”

“Ha! Well ain’t that a way ta greet somebody!” She laughed again, letting go of his shoulder and putting her hands on her hips, letting him get a better look at her. Well, more specifically, a better look at the gilded armor she was wearing, all fancy with lion-head pauldrons and designs tracing across the breastplate. If it didn’t come with a lion-head helmet too, Julius was going to be disappointed.

“Well hello mademoiselle~!” Cyrus no. And yet, despite his thoughts, Cyrus still moved right in front of Julius, grinning up at Leok. “Would you be the lovely general my dear friend told me could break me in half~?”

“Aw, thanks fer that, Dragonslayer! High praise comin’ from ya!” She grinned over at him, then raised an eyebrow at Cyrus. “So you’d be that garish guy, yeah?”

“Gerrish, yes~. And who do I have the honor of addressing~?”

“Leok Lion-Bane, frontline general’a Overboss Three-God’s armies and Boss of the Beast-Bane tribe. Nice ta finally meet ya, Cyrus Lust-Singer, support man for the hero tribe and wanderin’ bard who’s absolute shit at keepin’ a low profile.”

Cyrus just smiled. “What can I say~? I’m a very active, distinctive man~.”

And Leok actually snorted, before glancing over at Mira. “Heya Mira. Found yer dad?” Eh?

Mira grinned back. “Yup. That’s one mission accomplished on the family front. And luckily, he’s just an idiot instead of an asshole.”

“Ah…hm.” Cyrus shifted a little, clearly not sure whether that was positive or negative, while Leok huffed in amusement.

“Ha! Good ta hear then. Glad yer action can live up ta yer bold-tongue.” Then her smile seemed to fade as her eyes flicked towards Jofrid. “Gore-Tooth, we’re good ‘ere. Go talk ta yer brother.” Brother?

Jofrid snapped to a salute, nodding at Leok. “Understood, general.” And then walked right off without another word.

“Hmph. Ya seriously give me the creeps, gal. Try calmin’ it down sometime,” Leok said, staring at Jofrid as she walked away.

Julius raised an eyebrow. “Uh…why wait until she was heading out to say that?”

“She can still hear me fine, as I’m sure ya noticed. I just don’t like her lookin’ at me.”

“And why’s that?”

Leok snorted, still staring at Jofrid’s back as she got further and further away until she glanced back at Julius. “I dunno if ya noticed, and it sounds like ya didn’t, but that gal’s the type ta be perfectly fine and friendly one moment, like the two’a ya are genuine pals, but then tear out yer throat with her teeth the instant someone gives the order.”

“…I…didn’t get that impression.” Julius glanced where Jofrid walked off with a small frown. “Maybe a little terse, but she didn’t seem that bad.”

“Sure she don’t. But there’s a reason we call ‘er Gore-Tooth. But on’a lighter subject–” Leok abruptly grinned again. “–ya ready ta meet the Overboss?”

“…Pretty sure I don’t have an option there.” 

“That ya don’t!” Once again clapping a hand on his shoulder, Leok led Julius away. “Nice job on the beard, Overboss’ll probably like it.” 

“Thanks, I guess,” Julius said as he tried to keep up with the orcish general’s quick pace.

“And what of you miss? Do you like a beard, or perhaps you prefer a more cleaner shaven look~?” Cyrus, stop.

“Pops.” 

“Ha, yer better off barking up an actual tree, Lust-Singer. Got no interest in ya.” 

“Ah, c’est la vie. I imagine you’re more interested in the physical type then, mon amie forte?”

“Not sure what yer sayin’, but yeah, yer on the right road there. Definitely prefer someone who could kick my ass ta some fancy singer, no offense.”

“None taken! So, would my friend here be of interest to you then?” Cyrus no, why. Julius immediately glared at Cyrus, but the bardic dick just grinned back at him.

“Ha! Ah, he would, but nope. Overboss has a claim on ‘im, and I’m not about ta get in between that. Though if the Overboss wanted me ta join up with her harem-”

“So how’s the war going?” Julius interrupted, really desperately trying not to think of what Leok in Claire’s “harem” would look like.

“Eh, pretty decent. The Timberlands in general really ain’t set ta fight against any outside forces like us, either despite or because of all the invasions they go through, so we’ve just been occupyin’ towns and institutin’ the Overboss’s new laws. We got some warnin’s from those wood elf villages, so the general order is just leave ‘em be so long as they’re only defendin’ themselves. We avoid their territory, they don’t start shit, all good, but if they actively attack us, our transports, or our civs, we hit ‘em back. But they’ve been smart enough ta stay in their turf and not start shit, so no real fightin’ yet.” She really didn’t need to sound disappointed there.

“Well…that’s good, at least.” 

“Speak for yourself, I haven’t worked up a decent sweat since Overboss called me back here.” 

“…I’m glad our fight was that fun for you?” 

“Hm? Oh, I wasn’t talking about that.” 

Julius had a bad feeling about this, and yet… “I thought you said you haven’t had any real fighting yet?” 

“Yeah, but I was talkin’ about sex. Met this real fun couple that kept me company~.” And there it was.

Julius sighed. “Right, should’ve expected that.”

“Any details you’re willing to share~?”

POPS!

As Leok’s laughter echoed in his ear and Cyrus awkwardly apologized, all while Mira glared at the bardic dumbass, Julius just decided to take a look around. Partially out of curiosity for what kind of city Claire would build, but mostly so he had some way of distracting himself on the way up to her castle.

Though, honestly, Capitalia looked a whole lot like what he’d actually expect a darklander city to look like.

The streets had that same straight, planned out quality that Plachor had and, also like Plachor, the majority of the buildings were tall and dark, all about three-stories, though they varied quite a bit on what the first floors were. It looked like most of the places consisted of storefronts and residences, with whatever business the people ran on the lower floor while their homes were on the top ones. Some buildings did just seem to be for residences though, and a lot of them were decorated with symbols and markings that Julius vaguely recognized as referencing different gods.

There were also plenty of guards of various races in black helmets and red tabards around, doing whatever city guards did–based on what Julius saw from Queenshill, those jobs usually just involved catching stray cats and dogs, along with arresting the occasional pickpocket or drunk. None of them really caught his eye, though he did find it kind of interesting that the lamias in their ranks covered their tails in either leather armor or some type of folding, interlocked platemail.

What actually was a little eye-catching were the various skulls decorating both the lampposts and some of the houses around, though they seemed a whole lot less threatening when Julius actually got close enough to see they were all either made of metal or ceramics. Still, kinda crazy to use fake skulls in decorations, but, then again, maybe darklanders liked that kind of thing? There were a few dark-robed people around with bones decorating their clothes, so hm.

What was ultimately the most eye-catching thing around though was, of course, Castle Valondrac, the absolutely massive palace set up in what he was pretty sure was the center of the city and which they were heading right towards. Well, in its direction. It would be pretty long walk to even reach the walls surrounding the castle.

And, of course, that meant listening to a whole lot of teasing and bickering the entire time over. Really, Julius almost felt like kneeling down and praying once they actually got the huge gates of the castle.

“Look alive, Dragonslayer.” Patting him on the back hard enough to make him stumble a few steps forward, Leok grinned as the portcullis opened, pulling up into the top of the gateway. 

Barely stopping himself from falling, Julius immediately straightened up once he spotted three familiar figures on the other side, standing with one–Claire–in the center and two flanking her–Ariel and Autumn on her left and right, respectively–further down the bridge that spanned between the walls and the castle proper. He had to fight to keep a blush from his face as he began to walk steadily forward, trying his damnedest to make sure he kept his composure.

As he walked, he began to take in the sight of Claire in an elegant dress. It was a deep purple sleeveless dress–the kind that was probably usually paired with a jacket–that flowed down to the paved floor of the bridge, one that buttoned up her chest and ended with high collar up top, while her skirts shifted from purple to an equally deep red as they reached her feet. She also wore purple, elbow-length gloves–which left her shoulders bare and let Julius see the white, black, and red markings twisting around her left arm like a coiled spring–and her hair was actually braided, keeping it out of her lovely face, her scar showing prominently over her right eye. She looked gorgeous.

And before he knew it, Julius was standing in front of her. She was still very tall. Kinda felt right though, looking up at her…Which he could never mention to anyone, ever, because no one would ever let him hear the end of it.

“…H-Hello, Sir Julius Goldforge.” Claire gave him an awkward, almost shy smile. “Welcome to Castle Valondrac. Welcome to my dominion.”

“…Thank you, Lady Valondrac.” Did he kneel? Did he bow? Shit, was he sweating? He wasn’t sure what to do there at all, but then his hand was raising, palm up. “I’m very glad to be here.”

She blushed. Her dark skin barely showed the red on her cheeks but it was still so obvious there and she looked so cute. “I-I’m…I-I am glad you’re here.” 

Claire put her hand in his, surprisingly delicately. The glove felt soft but her hand was firm under it. She felt warm, in a way she hadn’t in all his dreams.

His throat felt dry, but he brought her hand to his lips and kissed her there. Proper, like a noble, his other hand held behind his back. He felt like he needed to keep it there, to give it somewhere to be instead of just fidgeting awkwardly at his side.

After a second, he straightened again, trying to ignore how warm his face felt. He didn’t let go of her hand, and she didn’t pull it away, staring right at him. “Oh. You have more scars.”

“…”

“…W-Well, I have much to show you, and much to talk about, Sir Goldforge.” Moving to his side, Claire offered her arm. Hooking his arm into hers, Julius began to walk with her. 

And as he did, it became painfully obvious both Ariel–who was in full arachne form now and standing taller than all of them–and Autumn–who was actually wearing a short dress instead of just leaves–were glaring at him as they walked past. Well, at least he wasn’t blushing anymore. Still, it was awkward feeling their eyes on him.

That being said, walking next to Claire was pleasant. Huh…now that he thought about it, this really was their first proper meeting. Every other time was in a dream. Or that first time where she’d wanted to kill him, but that didn’t really count.

It was different. Very different from the dreams. He could feel some form of her during their dream meetings, sure, but now there was this pleasant sense of warmth. 

And he was starting to realize he needed to say something because they were just walking in silence. Really, anything could work, but as he tried to think of what to say, his mind felt blank and he felt his throat become even drier than before. Well, now that he thought about it, saying something like how the weather was nice probably wouldn’t work. So now he actually had to think. And yet, words wouldn’t come.

“I see that your time here has made it difficult for you to groom,” Claire commented as she looked down at him. Now that she mentioned it, aside from the beard he’d begun to grow, his hair, which he normally kept swept back, had fallen forward. At this point, his bangs were actually visible to him thanks to his hair being longer.

“Yeah.” No, wait, say more. “Yeah, uh…I guess so. I wasn’t really focusing on it. On my looks. Yeah.”

She nodded, staring straight forward as the double doors into her castle opened without prompting. “…You look very good.”

“Ah. Thank you.” Compliment back. “You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.” Too much, way too much.

He could actually feel her arm tense in his as she stiffened. “…Th-Thank you.”

Right. Going well? Going well. He was doing alright so far, definitely. And he was in the castle now. Nice, good, definitely good. Entrance looked good, entry…area thing looked good, lots of reds and blacks in the decorations and the floor tiles, lots of fancy symbols, definitely looked nice.

Julius had absolutely no idea where he was or where he was walking, but Claire was clearly leading the way so he was honestly fine with just doing whatever she had planned. Whatever those plans were.

And that’s when Julius realized the two of them were walking alone. He could vaguely hear her generals talking with Cyrus and Mira, but their voices were getting further away, going somewhere different while he and Claire walked through the entry hall and to a flight of stairs. It looked like they were going up. 

“I, um…You must have been traveling for quite some time, so I had my chefs prepare something delicious. A meal for, er…F-For the two of us. Though I hope you don’t mind if we head to my private study to eat. I thought it would be nice,” she explained, her hand fidgeting as it held his arm. 

“No I don’t. Mind. I mean, I don’t mind if we go there.” And suddenly, Julius was blessed as he heard Claire giggle. 

“Hahah…Hm…” She paused slightly on the stairs, then kept walking again, leading him onto some type of walkway. “If I may ask, I was informed you were with a Dullahan. But I didn’t see them with you…May I ask what happened there?” Huh…she sounded kinda nervous there.

“I’m not sure, actually,” he admitted, “We got separated at the dock. Actually, if it’s possible, could you send someone to try and find her?” 

“…That shouldn’t be too difficult. I’ll send someone after I get a description of her.” 

“Oh, in that case-…” Wait. “…Sorry, I’m not really used to stuff like…this, but I should be focusing on us, right?” 

And once again, Julius was blessed by the sound of her giggling. 

“Don’t worry about it. Seriously, don’t, it’s okay.” She took a breath, giggling again slightly and suddenly sounding more relaxed, a little more like their conversations before. “I know you get worried about your friends, and I’m guessing this dullahan became your friend quick, since they were the first person you met here and all, and a friend is certainly a good thing to find out here.” …Was it just him, or was she really emphasizing the word “friend” there?

“Yeah, Seona was really helpful after…Uh, actually, why don’t I save that story for dinner?” He tried to grin. “A little gory story would go good with it, right?” Wait, shit-

Okay, she giggled again, crisis averted. Or maybe crisis growing because she was giggling a lot- “We’re both really nervous about this huh?” Mouth, no, why, why this betrayal?!

“Hah…yeaaaah, that’s an understatement…” Claire suddenly let go of his arm and rolled her shoulders, grimacing, then took his arm in hers again. “I was feeling tense.” Ah. Well that explained that. “…I’m trying to think of a topic, but my mind has gone completely blank and I keep thinking about that time I tried to kill you.”

“…Well, um…it was one time, and all of our talks after that went a lot better.”

“I punched you in the face and screamed at you because your martyrdom thing freaked me out.”

Oh. Right. That happened. “And I forgive you for both of those. Let’s just say more of our talks ended positively than negatively and take it as an overall win.”

Claire snorted, which somehow sounded even cuter than her giggle. “Wow, you’re really optimistic for a cynic.”

He blinked. “…I don’t think I’m a cynic.”

“Really? I’m fairly certain that ‘I’m doomed to die, might as well go for it’ thing counts as cynicism.”

“Aren’t most martyr’s idealists? Cynics don’t really go for the whole ‘die for a cause’ thing.”

“Ah, but you didn’t go for it, remember? You resigned yourself to it, so there’s an obvious difference here. Besides, I’m an absolute idealist and I’d never martyr myself for anything.” She smirked. “Causes are a dime a dozen but a life like mine is invaluable~.”

“Well, you’re definitely right about the latter.”

Claire actually stumbled slightly, before straightening and acting like it never happened, her face already turning red again. “…I-It’s good that you recognize reality then.”

“Like the reality that you’re beautiful, gorgeous, and wonderful?”

And that got her to stumble again. “…Y-You’re doing that on purpose.”

“So you could say I’m trying to get you to fall for me?”

And that got her to stop walking completely, staring at Julius’s grinning face with a completely blank expression before her composure cracked and she outright cackled, suddenly wrapping her arms around him and leaning on him for support as she just kept on laughing. 

And as her laughter continued, all the tension left Julius’ body, and he hugged her back as he began to laugh. 

“Ah, I don’t know what I was worried about,” Claire said once her laughter subsided, only to lean down toward Julius and catch his lips with hers. 

After a few moments, their lips parted and she smiled down at him. 

“Much better than our first, no?” 

“U-Uh…Yes.” 

“Ha. Well come along now, we don’t want our meals to get cold.”  Guiding him along, Claire soon brought Julius to a pair of doors, which were carved with a depiction of what Julius assumed were her three matrons–it depicted three simple figures in white, red, and black, with the red one in the center, the white one leaning to the left and the black one leaning to the right–with a well-dressed butler wearing a wooden mask standing by it. 

“Sir Julius Goldforge, I presume?” the butler asked as he bowed. 

“Oh, yeah. Nice to meet you…?” 

“Dapper, good sir,” he answered, still bowing, “I am Lord Valondrac’s head butler.” 

“And a fine one at that,” Claire said with a smile, “I trust everything is ready for us?” 

“Of course. I ensured your meals were made to utter perfection.” Dapper opened the doors for the two, then bowed again as he let them pass through. 

Once inside, Julius found himself in clean study that had what he assumed was her desk in the center of the room. It looked like it had been moved, since there was a space along the wall between two bookshelves that looked like a spot for a table. Someone had stuck a tall lamp there, apparently to keep it from being too obvious they rearranged the room, but it wasn’t exactly hiding anything. Hell, the lamp was off-center so it looked even weirder.

Meanwhile, on the table itself, someone–probably Claire’s servants and oh yeah, he was together with someone who actually had servants–had laid out a fancy tablecloth over it and set out plates and silverware for both of them, along with a few candles to add mood.

“I hope our cuisine is to your liking, it is some of my personal favorite,” Claire said as she sat down on one side. 

“I’m sure it’ll be great,” Julius replied as he sat at the other side, opposite her. Before he could continue looking around the office, Dapper came up to them again, and produced a bottle of what he assumed was wine from…somewhere. Maybe his jacket?

“From the personal wine cellars of Lord Valondrac.” Uncorking the bottle, Dapper filled their glasses, before backing away and leaving the two. Even from where he was, Julius could tell the wine had a pleasant aroma. Holding her own glass, Claire raised it to Julius. 

“To us.” 

“To us.” Doing the same with his glass, Julius clinked it against hers and took a deep sip. He wasn’t exactly one for wine, but, for some reason, possibly just because he was with Claire, but the wine tasted incredible. Sort of…sweet and tangy? Sharp, maybe?

“Now then, I believe you had a story for me?” Oh, right, conversation. Not really the time to figure out adjectives for wine.

“Oh, yeah, well, after I arrived here-” Julius began as he went into all the events that’d transpired since he arrived. He did his best to tell what he could, skipping over some parts like his breakdown in the cave, and only really pausing when Dapper came in with the food, which happened to be right before he got into the whole mess with Cyrus and Mira back at that bar.

“Your meal, my lord and sir.” He set down the covered dishes in the center of the table, arranged in a fancy way, then bowed again. “Is that all, my lord?” 

“Yep yep, we’ll tell you if we need that second course. Thanks Dapper, I can take it from here,” Claire replied with a grin, which widened as her butler nodded and headed out of the room, closing the door behind him, “Now, Julius, I hope you’re ready for a real treat~!”

“With you? Always.” He smiled back as her cheeks turned a little red. 

A cheerful giggle slipped out of Claire’s mouth before she grabbed the top of the steel dish cover and, with a flourish, pulled it off, revealing their main dish and practically assaulting Julius with its mouth-watering scent. 

Seriously, he had to stop himself from drooling, the pork smelled just that good. And was it actually glistening?

“For our main meal tonight, I figured I’d serve us a scrumptious favorite of mine, honey-glazed hyboar with roasted radishes and neroic carrots! Plus a little fruit salad side dish if you’re feeling like that–Ah, wait, real quick, you don’t have any dietary restrictions, do you?”

“…Huh?” Julius blinked, glancing away from the glorious sight in front of him to the even more beautiful visage of his fiancée. “…..I love you.”

And she got even cuter there, blushing brightly. “A-Ah, uh…th-that…w-w-wasn’t my question. Um…Th-Thank you though.” She cleared her throat, her face still red. “Um…d-diet?”

“Uh, what?”

“D-Do you have, um, any things you can’t eat? Because of allergies or culture or something?”

“Oh. No, I’m pretty omnivorous. Well, I wouldn’t eat a sapient, but most other things are fair game.” He paused, thinking. “…Not a huge fan of lemons, now that I think about it. Had some bad ones when I was younger and they just soured me on the taste.”

“…Was that a joke?”

He grinned. “Could’ve been.”

“…Right. Well good to know I suppose. So you were telling me about your meeting with Mira?” 

“Heh, well, once we settled down at a bar-” After skipping over some details, such as the specifics of how Cyrus thought he was infertile, Julius continued the story. 

“Wait wait, so you let them beat you senseless day in and out to train?” 

“Well, yeah? That’s the method right?”

“…You’re supposed to rest up with a day between training.” 

“Oh… well I didn’t know that…” 

“…Are you a masochist?” 

“I thought that was how we were supposed to train!” 

“You’re not saying no.”

“I’m not!” 

“So you are one~?” 

“I. You. Hm.” 

Claire smirked. “So when you decided to try entering the lower church, did you really think there wouldn’t be a consequence or were you hoping you’d be punished-”

“The former, definitely the former.”

Her smirk just got wider. “Sooooo, if I offered to, say-”

“Claire, you are the loveliest person I have ever met and I absolutely love your personality, so if you start teasing me right now, things are going to get incredibly awkward for me.”

She raised an eyebrow, then paused as she caught his meaning. “…Hm. Hm…And, uh…what if I want that?”

Julius blinked. He stared at her as she grinned confidently back, only the fidgeting of her fingers on the table giving away any nervousness. And things did indeed become very awkward for him. 

“…W-Well-” Shit, did his voice just crack? He was forty-two, how the fuck did that happen?? He cleared his throat, trying to ignore…everything going on with his body. “…M-Maybe we should, uh…s-save that for after dinner. W-Wouldn’t want this good food to go to waste, right?”

“Ah, right right, yeah, that’s a very good point!” she agreed, glancing back down at her plate with a bright blush. “…But you’re, um…not opposed to the idea?”

“…I-If it’s…what I think you’re proposing, I-I’m definitely not. I’d be very into it, actually. Just…we’re not moving too fast, right?”

She suddenly snorted, giggling again as she grinned at him. “Julius, you asked me to marry you the first time we met. I think we’re a little past ‘moving fast’.”

“R-Right.” Okay, so…the topic was probably going to come up at some point. He’d honestly thought he would be sleeping alone in a guestroom or something, but if Claire wanted different… “A-After dinner, then?”

Claire just grinned back at him, sitting straight in her chair. “If you’d rather we skip dessert, sure~.”

“…Dessert would be good.” He took another sip of wine, trying to clear his dry throat.

“Ha! Ah, after dessert then~.” Yup, the wine was not helping with anything. “…So, Julius, what are your plans here?”

He paused, glancing back up at her. “To have a nice dinner?”

“No, no, your overall goal.” She set her silverware down, and locked her fingers together. “Would you follow me into war, or do you want to seek peace here?”

Julius blinked, because wow, this conversation came quicker than he expected. “…Oh. Um. Yes? I mean, I’m willing to…I’d…” Fuck, okay, this was harder than he thought. He didn’t want to go to war and fight all the people he cared about, but if it was against those fuckers that exiled him…No, he couldn’t just…stomp over people to get some kind of revenge. He wouldn’t. “…I would prefer it if we have peace.”

“That works then.”

…Okay, what? “Uh…it does?”

Claire grinned. “Of course it does. Did you think I haven’t been considering plans? Now, granted, my baseline plan hasn’t changed much. I still plan to march my forces into Naloriva and annex it entirely as a staging ground, but once I do, negotiating an overall peace with the rest of the Light Lands is something I’m quite willing to do.”

“…Uh…I feel like most of them will be upset at the ‘annexing Naloriva’ thing.”

“Then they should’ve thought of that before leaving it in a state of anarchy. The region has no central government, and I’m the only one that has been willing to step into that role. I may not have much of a claim for that throne, but if the people want me there, who am I to disagree?”

“…And they want you there?”

She grinned. “From the evidence I have, yes. Most of the diplomatic envoys I have sent have been quite successful.”

“Diplomatic envoys.”

“And their security teams.”

Julius paused. “…I don’t think most of them will buy that.” 

“Ah, but I have a hero vouching for me.” She held up a hand. “And before you say it, your exile, while supposedly sanctioned by the gods, is almost certainly illegal by any stretch of the imagination, based on the fact that you were not their citizen to exile, whereas I have no laws binding my actions.” Claire grinned. “So I am rather confident in my plans here.”

Well, huh. “…You know people don’t usually act the way you hope for them too, right? Especially when they think they have the backing of a god.”

Claire shrugged. “I have the backing of three. Peace may be difficult to achieve, but now it’s my goal. That means it’s what I will be working towards, and I am nothing if not determined to achieve my ambitions.”

Hm. Well, it looked like they had a plan. Nice to have dinner, and dessert, go so well.

As for the rest of the night, well, that went pretty well too.

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