Legg gave it some thought.
"What are you suggesting, more specifically?"
"Both our sides will send a representative into battle," Arikos said, "If we win, then the barbarians are obligated to serve the empire with all they have and pledge the emperor their eternal loyalty. Should that happen, we'll make sure the barbarians will have a province to live in."
"You want us to subjugate ourselves?" Legg said, his eyes narrow.
"Yes," Arikos nodded.
"What if we win?" Legg asked, suppressing his rage.
"We will give a province to you unconditionally, and you will only have to help us with limited resources. How much you are expected to contribute can be discussed at a later date."
"So we'll have support your war win or lose? And you call us shameless."
"True, but win or lose, you'll still get a province," Arikos countered, "Don't forget. No matter the terms, our empire stands to lose. Don't you think it's a little excessive to ask for something without giving anything in return?"
Legg glanced at Leguna.
"Can you really ensure we get a province? An envoy band like you?"
While Leguna didn't know Arikos's plan, he decided it would be best to play along. He felt the man was hiding something from him, but he didn't think his mentor would harm him, even if Kurdak had warned him to be weary of the man.
Legg considered it for a moment.
"Fine. Who will represent you?"
"Oh?" Arikos chirped.
"I'm a barbarian, but I understand there will always be someone stronger. Other things aside, you have two saint-rankers, the Galestorm Swordsaint and Wandering Lance. I may not fear them, but I cannot match them. If you're going to send them out to fight, then I might as well call this off now and start marching south immediately."
"So who would you prefer?" Arikos asked.
"Our duel shouldn't be a match of mere cultivation. A good match tests the person's ability, not his cultivation, so someone who can do that. Your second prince -- Alissanda, was it? -- would be a good opponent."
"A shame then, but His Highness Alissanda is preoccupied with the war," Arikos said.
Leguna poked his head around to try to get Legg's attention. But Legg ignored him.
"If not him, how about that tournament of yours' champion, Annelotte? I really wanted to fight her. I regret not having gotten the chance."
"Uhmm..." A rather weird expression surfaced on Arikos' face. "--Annelotte is also occupied with something important, we cannot take her away from that."
"Too bad. I wanted to prove once and for all impetus is superior to magic..."
"Hey! Don't say it like you'd definitely defeat her! You don't know how scary she is!" Leguna complained.
"I won't know until I fight her, either way," Legg commented, "How about you? You have 18 strata. I'm sure you'd be a great opponent."
"Forget it!" Arikos shouted, "I'm not your match."
"Hey! I'm the leader of this envoy! Why do you keep ignoring me?!" Leguna finally broke, "You haven't considered fighting me at all!"
"You?" Legg asked, as if a mouse had just asked to fight an elephant, "You don't even have 16 strata yet. Ii don't like bullying the weak."
"Rank isn't everything!" Leguna shouted, his fad tomato red, "I killed two high-orders -- a knight and a magus -- when I was still a mid-order!"
"That's not bad, I admit, but that you brag about it so often shows how weak you are. Only the weak boast about their achievements because they cannot speak with their actions."
"You're weak! Your whole family is weak!" Leguna barked, at the point of losing it, "You lost to me during the tournament, how dare you call me weak!"
"Ha! I let you win!" Legg said, almost bursting out laughing.
"Ptooey! If you're not happy with your loss, then fight me again!"
Legg's face became serious in an instand,
Legg turned to Arikos.
"You agree to this?"
"If Sir Leguna is willing, we will gladly accept," Arikos said.
Legg looked at Leguna and said with a look of shame.
"I used to admire you."
"You hid your power, so I thought you probably used a secret technique to seal part of your impetus like I did. Turns out you only had the barest little more strength than you used back then. I'm disappointed."
"If you dare fight in the night, you won't be!"
Leguna was suddenly very unhappy with the limitation his gifts had. He was only barely equal to a high-order assassin in the daytime when they were at their weakest.
"Oh? Then I refuse to fight at night."
"There is more at stake than just my pride. I will not play games with the lives of my people. I will fight for every advantage in their favour I can."
"So you're trying to take advantage of us again! Just go ahead and admit you can't win if we fight at night!"
"How about this," Arikos broke in, playing the diplomat again, "Let's fight half an hour before sundown. You'll both have a chance to fight it out at your strongest. If you can't beat Leguna in half an hour, then as night comes his growing strength will be the deciding factor."
The barbarian thought again, as unbarbarianly as it was, then nodded.
"Fine, you'll only complain if I don't at least give you the chance to use your full strength. I don't trust the empire to stay true to its word if I don't, either."
"I agree," Leguna said.
The party settled the rules, then turned to negotiating what a win or a loss for each side would mean.
The talk took up most of the day. As they neared the end, Leguna noticed that Arikos appeared more and more proficient in negotiations. That made him wary. Arikos had obviously prepared quite a lot before they came. What did he stand to gain by pretending to be laid back in front of him?
Leguna went silent and let Arikos handle the negotiations. In the end, Leguna could be certain that the duel definitely wasn't a spontaneous idea by Arikos. It was premeditated and a tactic he had planned for thoroughly.
Leguna felt even more bad vibes about it, but he didn't confront Arikos about it. Instead, he signed the agreement they came to as representative of the envoys.
Late in the night, Arikos read the letter in hand and muttered, "These savages really do have simple minds."
"Uncle, I have something to ask you," Leguna asked from outside after he knocked.
"Come in. It's unlocked."
Leguna entered and noticed the letter in the man's hand. Seeing no attempt to hide it, he directly asked, "What are you plotting this time?"
"Plotting? I'm not plotting anything!" he said, feigning ignorance.
"Then can you explain the duel to me?" Leguna kept his anger in check. "I recall that our orders were to stop the barbarians from invading southward no matter the cost. I don't recall we were allowed to give any concessions, especially a whole province."
"That was the old orders." Arikos smiled and handed the letter over. "Look, this is His Imperial Majesty's order. A decree of this level has greater priority than our original imperative."
Leguna looked the letter through and came to understand that Larwin believed that while killing Legg could decrease the barbarians' motivation to go south, there were negatives as well.
It was only a temporary measure, so there was no way to resolve the barbarian problem properly. Additionally, given the state of the war between the two empires, who knew how much longer it would continue. Even if they could delay the barbarian invasion for a year or two, it would still happen after a new barbarian king was chosen.
Additionally, killing the king would no doubt blow up the hatred the barbarians had towards them. It wasn't a wise move to make in the long term.
And Marolyt had been constantly pressuring the imperial family in Melindor to not let Leguna take the risk of assassinating the barbarian king. It was something that might cost him his life. As for why Marolyt did so, only he knew. Perhaps he was facing pressures himself from a certain someone.
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