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Belta Castle, in the middle of an audience.
The generals were arrayed, while the defeated general Ghamzeh was prostrating himself, rubbing his face against the floor.
All the responsibility was on him, who had command and conducted the operation. There had been a chance to halt the operation: the news that Yalder’s division had been relocated. He ought to have temporarily stopped the march and performed a detailed reconnaissance.
Ghamzeh’s regret was bottomless. Everything had come to naught. After this, Diener would no doubt have complete hegemony.
“I, the lousy Ghamzeh, have faulted, despite being entrusted with soldiers from the Princess. I have no excuses. I am prepared to accept any condemnation. As well as to maintain discipline, please inflict punishment on this worthless me.”
“You are mistaken, Ghamzeh. The one who ordered you to carry out the mission was I. You and your men have fought bravely for me. I would like you to lend me your strength from hereon as well. Please do not be rash; the battle will yet continue.”
“Princess. Morale cannot be preserved in that case. In times like this especially, it is vital to not let a fault go unpunished. I beg of you, please give me judgement. Sympathy is unnecessary.”
Objected Ghamzeh, the words almost bursting out of him. He was prepared to absolve the Belta faction’s mismanagement via his death.
Understanding that, Diener came to his aid. He was doing this as an investment.
Ghamzeh himself was clearly not a fool. He had connections in the Royal Capital Area and had talent able to draft plans. This time ended in a failure, but in a sense, they were successful in driving a wedge into Canaan, since hereafter, the Kingdom’s Army now had to also allocate defence forces to Cyrus.
“Sir Ghamzeh. It’s folly to throw away your life after only one defeat. There is only one victory in this war: When we liberate the Royal Capital and overthrow the despotic government. Your strength is still very much necessary. I, Diener, respectfully request of you, please, for the sake of the Liberation Army, lend us your power.”
Diener took the hand of Ghamzeh, who still had his head down, and made him rise to his feet. It was all an act. But, to appeal to those around them that there were no hostile feelings between factions, it was a necessary act.
With this, Ghamzeh would for the time being become docile. During this lull, Diener planned on crushing the Belta faction.
That faction, comprised of former men of the Kingdom, was throwing their weight around, acting as they pleased, and they had forgotten for what reason they were in this liberation war. The project for the southern part of the Kingdom was happening at the same time, and they needed to speed it along. What was important was that everyone’s wills were united with Altura’s. These were Diener’s true feelings, who had once part of the Salvador faction. On the dawn where they salvaged the monarchy, they needed to press forward a host of reforms, and that wouldn’t go smoothly unless everyone was united.
“Still, to have laid its hands on so many of our like-minded brethren, what is that Death God? Voleur, Borjek, Hastie. Everyone of them had been brave men. For them to have been killed so easily, even now I can’t believe it.”
“Lieutenant Colonel of the Kingdom’s Army, Schera Zade. A female officer not even 20 leading a cavalry unit of the former Third Army. According to surrendered officers, she originally grew up in a farming village and personally applied for enlistment. She is a pitiful human who has fallen off the path she ought to have walked. She knows not justice and merely drowns herself in killing. Parts of her may deserve our sympathy, but we cannot overlook anymore of her transgressions.”
Diener calmly recited her background, but inwardly, he was seething in boiling rage. She was a human Diener knew in detail. He intended to kill her in the next battle without fail. That prowess of hers was certainly a threat, but after all, she was an incompetent girl who knew nothing except offense.
If they laid a trap and surrounded her, they could absolutely kill her. He had heard exhaustively from her former adjutant, Vander, that she wasn’t knowledgeable about the art of war. After he killed Schera, he would tear her body limb from limb, and then his rage would finally settle, maybe.
A carefully thought out, scrupulous plan should not be defeated by an individual’s reckless bravery. He would absolutely not recognize such a thing.
“……A simple soldier born in a farming village promoted to Lieutenant Colonel within a few years? Despite being a woman, to have that degree of prowess on her. Truly hard to believe. I can only bow my head to her fame as a Death God.”
Behrouz muttered while stroking his white facial hair.
“……Please leave the matter about the Death God to me. I will wait for an opening and carry out the bitterness of our killed comrades. Please allow me to show you. Sir Ghamzeh, at that time, please by all means give me your ‘cooperation.’”
“……Understood, Sir Diener. I, Ghamzeh, will devote myself to the Liberation Army hereon as well.”
Ghamzeh had been silent for a short while, but he finally lowered his head deeply and agreed.
“Thank you, Ghamzeh. I will be relying on you from here on. ……Diener. How ought we progress from here?”
Asked Altura, and Diener answered without missing a beat.
“Sir-. We will soon be visited by the harsh winter. We will prepare our forces during that time, and first, let us reconstruct the lives of the civilians. The good news is that the enemy general Sharov will persist in being on the defense. It is hard to believe that he will launch an attack on us. If for example he does come, it will be a simple matter to stop him in his tracks. The snow is the strongest bulwark for us. Right now, we should gather those who agree in our cause, train the troops, and spread the word of our great cause widely to the world.”
As the saying goes: “Rich country, strong army.” Currently, the Liberation Army’s plan was to devote themselves to that. Having exhausted much of their war potential, gathering strength took utmost priority.
“In that case, you are saying that we will wait until the advent of spring to aim for the Royal Capital?”
“Yes. We will move out after that. The Empire, who has been bestowing upon us their support, is attempting to capture Madros Fortress in the Kingdom’s northwest. Even with winter here, they will grant the Kingdom’s Army no reprieve.”
Prince Alan nodded at those words. The man closest to the throne, Prince Alexander, was on an expedition accompanied by 100,000 soldiers.
Alexander had invaded, leading the Fifth Army Corps and taking along the Seventh Army Corps that was defending Wealth Fortress in the Empire’s northeast. He was Alan’s older brother, and a fine man in the eyes of his father, the Emperor. He could handle everything flawlessly and was skillful in grasping a man’s true nature. Once this campaign succeeded, his position and status would probably become unshakeable. For Alan right now though, this matter wasn’t of much concern.
“Since my older brother, Alexander, is leading them, they will capture Madros without fail. If they posture to attack the Royal Capital, the defense of Canaan should also become thinner. It would be to our advantage to gather strength and wait for a good opportunity I believe.”
Hearing Alan’s words, Altura encouragingly nodded. When she looked at Behrouz for affirmation, he too didn’t have an objection it seemed.
“The plan is decided. Everyone, I would like you all to strive to do your very best and work for the realization of our dreams. I will also devote everything I have.”
“Sir-, please leave it to me!”
Everyone left. After ascertaining that Altura and Alan were starting to have an intimite sounding conversation, Diener also departed for his own room.
There were so many things he needed to do. The more time there was, the easier he could carry out his schemes. The next time they attacked Canaan, it would surely fall.
But, because their opponent was Sharov, they would probably be drawn into a long battle with many sacrifices. That composed and reliable man must first be taken out of the equation. That man had the conceit and belief that if he bunkered down, he could defend the strategic position of Canaan against anything. And, he would be correct.
For the Liberation Army, it would be expedient if they could lure out the thoughtless Kingdom’s Army and crush them.
(……It’s about time Field Marshal Sharov ought to retire. Apologies to the general Behrouz, but I’ve not the luxury to entertain his personal feelings.)
He had already sown the seeds for that very purpose. The only thing left was to induce them to bud. This kind of machination was Diener’s specialty. Diener’s lips curled, and he began writing a detailed, secret message to give instructions to his agents.
Having successfully defended Cyrus, Schera’s Cavalry and Yalder’s United Legion was headed for the Kingdom’s northwest under Sharov’s orders.
In the Kingdom’s northwest, Madros Fortress was the foremost frontline with the Empire. To their west was Wealth Fortress under Empire dominion, and the two had a long-standing history of conflict.
As for Canaan, Sharov had set up in Roshanak Fortress, Barbora was on front line security, and Laus was moved to defense of Cyrus Fortress.
As he had no plans to launch an offense in the winter season, surplus soldiers were sent back to the Royal Capital. There were soldiers gathering fatigue and dissatisfaction.
Barbora called for an offensive in the winter season, but Sharov had rejected it, saying the risk was too high. In the winter, even the transport of supplies would be difficult.
Incidentally, Yalder had earned spectacular contributions, having repulsed the enemy’s surprise attack unit, crossed the ridge, defeated the rear guard, and struck the enemy main camp from the side, but unfortunately, he was not approved to be reinstated to General. Sharov’s report to the King was dismissed, and Yalder was given a directive that he would be reinstated depending on his future activity. Yalder was once again dispirited, but he roused himself, saying that he’d overcome this adversity, and pumped himself up alone.
Similarly, Schera’s promotion was also thrown out the window. Thinking that a promotion to Colonel was indeed going too far, she was told, “Later.”
The man who expressed that worry was Prime Minister Farzam. He felt apprehensions at a person he had never met before climbing the ranks amidst resounding applause. It was likely that the birth of a hero would threaten his own position.
Schera herself didn’t mind at all, and she indulged in a meal as always. From the start, an immediate meal was much more important than promotion.
Schera was right now eating sausage with onions, and well-boiled vegetables like carrots. There was a stupidly large amount of edible grass, so Schera’s face twisted as she dealt with them. Katarina was in a good mood and seemed to really enjoy eating them, so she transferred the grass on her own plate to Katarina’s. She definitely didn’t like grass-type foods, and she also didn’t really like bitter foods.
—-Northwest of the Kingdom, Madros Area Headquarters, Madros Castle.
“Well well, if it isn’t a Former Candidate for Field Marshal, His Former Excellency, Former-General Yalder. So you were still doggedly living! Man that stubbornness is going to make you go bald! Hahaha-!”
Coming out to meet the arrived Yalder was the boorishly laughing commandant of the Fifth Army, Lieutenant General Kerry Madros.
While patting his completely bald head, he bade the indignant Yalder to sit.
Violently sitting in a seat, Yalder shouted without reserve, loudly in a voice that would even reach the heavens.
“I don’t want to be told about going bald by you, you filthy baldy!”
“It’s easier to put on a helmet like this ya know. The time when you’ll understand will come sooner or later. That’s if you can keep that head of yours on! Wahahahaha-!!”
Kerry laughed, and the officers inside the room also laughed. They were all brave men that Kerry had expectations for, and they were overflowing with spirit to fight to the end. The Fifth Army was a heterogeneous army united by inhabitants of the Madros Area. They would never submit to the Empire.
“You-you ingrates-! You would even insult me! Even though I expressly came here as reinforcements, what treatment is this-! My god everyone’s making fun of me!”
Yalder slammed the desk. His face was becoming as red as a lobster.
“Man, calm down Yalder. We’re the same rank now, so can’t we have a more casual talk? General and Lieutenant General are pretty much the same thing. The two don’t really matter to me. Don’t you think so? C’mon, drink, drink.”
Kerry poured alcohol while patting Yalder’s shoulder. The cold of the northwest was fierce, and the alcohol would offer some warmth.
Snow hadn’t yet fallen, but it was cold enough to pierce the skin. Normally, one wouldn’t think of starting a war during this time.
Yalder downed the drink. He took a deep inhale, and then exhaled, making himself calm down. He had known this man quite awhile. Kerry made fun of people and had an extremely displeasing character. Even so, he was greatly popular amongst the soldiers and excelled in valor–truly a disagreeable man.
“…….Ah screw this. I’m moving to the main topic. How far have those guys from the Empire come?”
“Hm? Ahh, the retards of the Empire huh. Even though it’s now this damn cold winter, those guys ain’t gonna pull back. We fought, intending to hold out until the winter, all for nothing. The cause of all this is thanks to that shithead that moved David’s Army Corps.”
The Fourth Army, which had been led by the now deceased David, and Kerry’s Fifth Army had maintained resistance in this area. Thanks to the fool of the Royal Capital recklessly moving them, they were in this state. If they naively secluded themselves in their new fortresses that should have been a bulwark against the Imperial Army, they would probably be soundly annihilated. Kerry had readily abandoned the now-useless, recently-completed First Fort, and he brought them into a war of attrition while evacuating the civilians. He began conducting guerrilla warfare, using every advantage and means he had, to interfere with the enemy’s supply train. To that effect, they had halted the enemy’s advance and were successful in holding out until winter.
“…….Kerry. About Sir David, unfortunately at Belta…”
“Ahhh, I know. He wasn’t a very careful man, but man he had an eye for liquor. The liquors he chose were really delicious. Only shame there is. Yeah, truly regrettable.”
There was no reason why David, boastful of his family lineage, and Kerry, whose birthplace was in the backwater Madros Area, would get along well. That being said, the two never got into any mutual conflict, and they had a relationship where to the best of their ability they tried not to interfere with each other. The liquor David had sent to him as courtesy had been unexpectedly delicious.
“……Is the story about Prince Alexander being the Supreme Commander of the Imperial Army true?”
“Yeh, he’s probably earning points to secure the throne. Those guys’ enthusiasm is the real deal. The bastards from the Wealth family also came to invade us with steam coming out of their noses. It’s irritating like you wouldn’t believe.”
Lieutenant General Gustav Wealth was the commander of the Seventh Army Corps from the Wealth Area in Empire territory. He was a sworn enemy that Kerry had a grudge against extending back to his ancestors.
Kerry, to protect the Madros Area, and Gustav, to protect the Wealth Area, had a relationship where they mutually killed and were killed.
They had a bloodstained, inseparable relationship that had been going on from 200 years past. This fate was also the foremost reason why Kerry and his company would not surrender to the Imperial Army.
If Gustav were to take control of the Madros Area, he would surely take revenge for all that had happened. If their positions were reversed, Kerry would too. After all this, there would be no pretty settlement. It was kill or be killed. This would possibly continue until their foe’s city was destroyed. Before they were killed, they had to kill. That was the feudal lord’s duty.
The beginning of this hatred was said to have stemmed from surrendered Madrosian civilians being killed, or Madrosians killing surrendered Wealthian civilians–at this point, no one knew whose viewpoint was correct. No one even wanted to know. No matter how it turned out, the Madros family was with the Kingdom, and the Wealth family was with the Empire. That was it.
There was a habit of Madrosians tattooing a guardian beast on their breasts. Wealthians would carve a sacred bird on their shoulders. The irony was that these became symbols used to distinguish their ethnicity and ended up further fanning the flames of their mutual hostility.
“……Despite it almost being winter, they show no signs of withdrawing?? 100,000 is a huge army. It must be challenging just to maintain it.”
“Even so, they’re invading us with energy to spare. The Prince himself is leading them after all. That’s a place to make a name for yourself. They’re coming though we’re withdrawing while burning all the crops we’ve carefully raised. Goes without saying we ain’t even leaving a scrap for them to eat; we’re turning every piece into charcoal. Winter’s here, and after their supply line gets shaky lies our true victory. We’ll show those Imperial idiots hell.”
The Fifth Army had evacuated all the residents on the Imperial Army’s route of invasion, poisoned the wells, burned the fields, and killed the livestock. They would give not a thing to the Imperial soldiers. This methodology was shared not just by Kerry and the soldiers, but even down to the citizens themselves.
If they were caught, they would be savaged and killed. Precisely because they knew that ad nauseum, there was not a single person who said no to it.
Kerry drained the liquor in his glass and grasped it tightly. Yalder had also unintentionally strengthened his grip. He looked at the map spread out atop the desk and rubbed his jaw.
“Northwest from Madros is the Second Fort, to the west is the Third Fort, and to the Southwest is the Fourth Fort huh. The Second Fort is along the coast, and the Third is tightly surrounded by mountains. The Fourth then is Madros’s weakest spot–it’s on the plains and would be the easiest to fall. If it were me, I would target the Fourth Fort.”
Yalder prefered frontal attacks. Without any thought, he chose the Fort easiest to attack. If he had a large army and no worry for supply, he wouldn’t be mistaken. There was no need to go out of their way and attack a difficult location. There were times too when it would be necessary to prepare for losses and go for a head-on attack with just power.
Kerry asserted that the Fourth Fort would not be a problem. He had the resolve and confidence that they would defend it to the end.
“Accordingly, it was made the most robust. Man, it ain’t gonna fall that easily. I’ve personally taken command there after all. Yo Yalder. I plan on having you head to the Second Fort at the coastlands. Under it lies a path to the provisions storehouse. If that Fort falls, the Fifth Army and your own Legion will fall into a predicament. It’s a dangerous place though, how ‘bout it?”
Kerry pointed out the Second Fort build along the coast. It was a barrier built to obstruct the main road. But, it was difficult to call it sturdy, and if siege weapons were brought into the equation, it would be difficult to hold out.
“That’s basically giving me a great position. I, Yalder, and my glorious United Legion, will assuredly defend the Fort; allow us to show you. Also, I’ll make those guys in the Royal Capital recognize my activities this time for sure!”
While amusedly watching Yalder grinding his teeth and pumping himself up, Kerry smiled. He knew that Yalder wouldn’t agree with his plan, but they were old acquaintances, so he wouldn’t be rejected. Yalder would undoubtedly be enraged and hit him.
“Man, don’t be so hasty, Yalder. Let me finish. This is a duty that only you guys can do. A job I can only entrust to the demoted Lieutenant General Yalder and his defeated, miserable United Legion. Make suuure to listen with that pig brain of yours. I won’t forgive failure. A’right?”
“The heck you say? Making a grave face all of a sudden, are you insulting not just me but even my troops!? If it’s something stupid, I won’t forgive you!”
“Here’s the plan—-”
Lowering his voice, Kerry explained to Yalder. Before he finished speaking, Yalder flew into a rage and punched him with his right fist, and Kerry retaliated with a headbutt; the conference room became chaotic. The officers around only egged them on, showing no signs of stopping them, and the two Lieutenant Generals continued their fist fight, leaving as many bruises on each other’s faces as they could. The current situation was much like two drunkards brawling violently in a tavern. The horseplay continued until Sidamo, hearing of the ruckus, brought along guards to break them up.
Just as Kerry had anticipated. He gave Yalder’s body a glance, and it was full of wounds. As far as he could tell, they weren’t very serious. It goes without saying that Kerry was in a similar state.
—-Night, several days later.
Leaving behind the Second Fort with flames reaching to the sky, Schera leading her 2,000 cavalry was heading for the Imperial Army’s encampment.
On the soldiers’ horses were fastened the heads of 100 soldiers of the Kingdom. Furthermore, bound hand and foot with rope was the second son of the Madros family, Darus Madros.
He was gagged and his face swelled with bruises, and there were traces of having been a struggle. He would be an offering to the Imperial Army, a sacrifice.
“Katarina. Are we almost there I wonder.”
“Sir-. There are signs of scouts in the vicinity. It seems we were caught sight of.”
“Oh. According to plan then. Raise it.”
When she gave the instructions to the cavalry behind her, they tied a white cloth to their spears and raised it high.
It was the universal sign of surrender, a white flag. Schera’s Cavalry raised many of them conspicuously and continued to march.
Schera chewed on the head of a dried sardine, Madros’s local specialty. It was a food for the masses, and so they could take in precious salt, it was extremely salty. It wasn’t often eaten by itself, and it wasn’t intended to be. The correct way of eating it was to put it in a soup.
Schera’s face puckered in saltiness. Katarina extended a water flask, but Schera shook her head and declined.
She took out one more from a bag, and this time sucked on it from the tail. A bitter taste spread inside her mouth.
“I wonder if the Imperial Army has any delicious food. I’m pretty excited.”
“In this season, I believe you should not hold such high expectations. Likely—-”
Katarina was going to bring up Wealth’s local product, but infantry from the surrounding thickets jumped out menacingly, interrupting her.
They raised their torches and intimidatingly turned their pikes towards the cavalry. Schera instantly crushed the dried sardine. She crunched it into small pieces, the small bones making cracking sounds. After a bitter taste came out the salty taste, and Schera’s face crumbled in saltiness again.
“Halt-! Stop your horses-!!”
“Don’t move! Don’t you dare move! Any suspicious movements and we’ll kill you on the spot-!”
“Soldiers of the Kingdom huh!? Do you know what that white flag means!?”
While everyone shouted in loud voice, they intimidated Schera and her group. The cavalry showed no unrest, and they were waiting for their commander’s orders. Not even the horses made a sound. The Imperial soldiers observed this strange cavalry with suspicious glances. Normally, these types of people would be cowering in fear.
The patrol unit’s commander, after cleared his throat, addressed them in a bellowing voice.
“We are a patrol unit of the Keyland Empire’s Seventh Army Corps! On what business have you men come here!? Depending on your answer, we will launch an attack-! It would behoove you to answer carefully-!”
At that question, Schera had her horse take a step forward and replied quietly, but penetratingly.
“I am Lieutenant Colonel Schera Zade, cavalry affiliated with the Yuze Kingdom’s Special United Legion. To surrender to the Keyland Empire, we have set fire to the Second Fort and taken captive a man of the Madros family. I would like to meet with the commander of the Imperial Army. We have no place to return.”
At Schera’s signal, her cavalry flung the heads they were carrying. The Imperial soldiers picked them up to examine them.
Far in front of them, they could see a red light blotting the night sky. There were certainly flames rising from around the Second Fort.
When the commander of the patrol unit made sure of that, he glared at Schera while alert.
“……You’re not a Madrosian, are you?”
The people of Madros would never surrender. In other words, if they were Madrosians, he intended to kill them here. There were many of the Empire’s Seventh Army Corps that were born in the Wealth Area. This commander was a Wealthian.
“I was born in the Central Border Zone; what about it?”
“……No, I get it. However, it is not in my power to accept your capitulation. I will guide you from here to headquarters, and you should explain your circumstances there. Don’t have any strange intentions. We aren’t the only soldiers around here.”
“I appreciate it. Please guide us then.”
“This way. Follow me.”
At Schera’s prompt, the commander guided them and started walking. Spearmen and bowmen were in formation with weapons ready surrounding the cavalry. If there was any suspicious behavior, they would probably immediately fire their arrows and strike with their spears. The cavalrymen showed no fear, and silently followed Schera.
Unnoticed, the white flags had been replaced by black ones, with ominous birds depicted on them. Their prides probably couldn’t bear it; there was no defeat for Schera’s Cavalry. The Imperial soldiers didn’t notice at all.
Giving them a glance, Schera’s mouth warped in great amusement.
“—-I’m really looking forward to this.”
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