As expected, the people of Danke village had a great feast prepared for us.
A number of their sheep were slaughtered and the meat roasted.
And it was served with forest mushrooms that had been gathered.
They even had some treasured aged wine, which they shared with us generously.
They also grew their own vegetables, which were delicious. And since they were served by the young women of the village, it felt like we were in heaven.
When I said this, Toshizou answered,
“Is heaven even a good place for you, Demon King?”
“Well, I do not know. But it’s true that I will likely go to hell when I die.”
“You have lied, misled, cheated and schemed, among other great sins.”
“Indeed. And so I pray that hell at least has food as good as this.”
I said while taking a bite of the roasted mutton. There was no harsh smell, and it was mixed with a sauce that had fruit in it. It was delicious.
“The Saint said that you meant to stay here for a few days. Did one of the girls here catch your eye?”
“I wouldn’t say that. What about you?”
“What a foolish question.”
He said while taking another sip of his drink. Then he looked at one of the serving girls. Her face reddened.
“You are a vigorous old man.”
“And you are as lousy as ever.”
I agreed, and we both laughed.
The feast continued late into the night, but as I was tired, I decided to retire early. And so I stayed in a guest room in the chief’s house.
Jeanne came into the bed too, and immediately fell asleep. I didn’t feel like waking her up, and so I closed my eyes.
The next morning, I woke up before the chickens. The area was shrouded in mist, but I was able to head to the place I had met the old man without getting lost.
Just as the sun started to rise, I found the tree stump. The old man was there.
He was sitting down and sleeping.
It was still early morning, but he had arrived before me.
It was embarrassing to arrive later than your teacher. As I stood there with a feeling of shame, the elder of the mist spoke.
“It seems that you feel regret before I could even tell you that you are late. In that case, you should be on time tomorrow.”
He said, and then left.
And so I returned to Danke village, where the villagers treated us well. I spent the time playing Go with Toshizou, and throwing frisbees with Jeanne.
And I slept early that day. When I awoke, it was in the middle of the night. I would head towards the stump before the morning.
It was difficult walking down the dark path in the night, but as I didn’t want anyone to notice me, I relied on a small light like that of a firefly, and walked towards the stump. The elder was sitting on it.
He laughed. Of course, he would not teach me. And so I returned to the village. After that, I went to bed even earlier, and woke up in the evening.
And after making my excuses to Toshizou and Jeanne, I headed to the stump before the sun went down.
This time, the elder was not there. As I had finally succeeded in arriving before him, I waited in the darkness for him to come.
At midnight, I heard the sounds of feet over leaves. It was the elder.
He looked surprised when he saw me.
“Oh, to see you here before me. It’s important to remain humble. As promised, I will entrust to you the strategy of champions.”
He then took out a single book from his robes. It was a great, leather bound tome.
I accepted it gratefully. But said that I wanted to learn from him directly.
“That would not be bad, but I feel that it would be pointless, given what you already know.”
“Surely not. You exceed me in that regard, elder of the mist.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that. In less than a year, you went from being the weakest Demon King to the strongest in this area. You even killed a dragon by skewering it. Surely you are already a master with strategy.”
“A lot of that was with luck.”
“Strategy is often about using chance to your advantage and making the most of it.”
“I see. What meaningful words.”
“People who love history often talk about what would have happened if a hero was born in a different place, or earlier. How would history have changed? But it is nonsense. The era and place of birth was their fate, and is necessary.”
“And was our meeting fate as well?”
“Indeed. It is fate. So was your birth in Ashtaroth castle, and my giving you the book.”
“I hope that I will be able to meet your expectations.”
“There is no need for that. Just live as you are. You were born under the star fate. You will expand your power and fight other powerful Demon Kings. I don’t know if you will defeat them all and become a Great Demon King, but there is one thing that I can say for certain.”
“What is it?”
“It is that I am hungry. As I attempted to arrive before you, I have not eaten breakfast yet.”
The elder said with a laugh.
And so I offered him a sandwich that one of the girls from the village had made.
“You are a perceptive man. You brought enough for both of us.”
“I also have this.”
I gave him some whiskey.
“Your attentiveness is perfect. A necessary quality in a good general. Being able to read a person’s heart will help you on the battlefield.”
And so the elder ate the sandwich and drank.
He did not drink like an old man. Once he had become a little drunk, he began to talk about the rudiments of strategy, wonderful feats, and its relation to politics.
His words had a depth to them, and I knew that they would be for my benefit.
And so I listened to him with deep interest. But at some point, I noticed something. I remembered that I had not asked the elder his name.
He had called himself the elder of the mist, but that was clearly not his actual name.
We had talked so much about strategy now, so surely he should be able to tell me his name. When I asked him, he replied,
“A long, long time ago. There was a man called Hannibal who lived in the Mediterranean in another world. At twenty-six, he became the Carthaginian general, and before anyone knew it, stormed the Iberian Peninsula, crossed the Pyrenees mountains and entered Gallia.”
I was overwhelmed by what I was hearing.
“He left his roman pursuers in the dust, crossed the Alps, and ambushed Rome. With just thirty thousand men.”
Surely that was not possible. I would not say that. Because I had an idea of who the old man was now.
“After that, this man known as Hannibal continued to fight in enemy territory, and won victories against the giant that was Rome. The Battle of Ticinus, the Battle of Trebia, the Battle of Trasimene, and in the Battle of Cannae, he defeated most of the Roman generals.”
Hannibal, child of war. Even I knew his name. He was a first-rate strategist. All his men worshipped him, and shuddered at his greatness.
I was like that as well. And said so honestly.
The old man laughed.
“But afterward, he was defeated by a youth called Scipio.”
He said in a regretful tone.
“General Hannibal won with strategy, and overwhelmed his enemies. But he wasn’t interested in politics. And he couldn’t cooperate with Rome. Otherwise, perhaps Rome would still belong to the Carthaginians.”
“I said it before, but there is no ‘perhaps’ in history. Hannibal may have been good with strategy, but it wasn’t the case with politics. That is all.”
“It’s the same in this world as well. I am still bad with politics. And so I gave you that book, so I will have a Demon King student who is good with both strategy and politics.”
“So you admit that you are General Hannibal?”
“Aye, there is no reason to hide it.”
He said. And then I looked at the cover of the book.
It read, ‘Hannibal’s Military History.’ Of course, the author was the old man in front of me, Hannibal Barca.
“A book that can match Caesar’s ‘Gallic War.’ And there is only one copy in the world. I would like you to read, understand, and use it.”
He said, and then turned away.
Please serve me and put that genius to use. I suppose it was too much to ask.
I had guessed that servitude was not what he wished for, and so I did not ask him. Even though I would come to regret the decision years later.
It was the greatest misfortune for Demon King Ashtaroth.
That’s what a historian who wrote about me would say.