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Having successfully evading the enemy pursuit corps, Noel and the others turned back to Carness. Grohl was safe, but his spirits had been thoroughly crushed, and he could not stand tall as he once had.
His two most trusted major generals had betrayed him, and Amil had thoroughly crushed him, so Cynthia thought that it was inevitable. She couldn’t allow the current state of affairs to continue to keep him down, though.
On the other hand, Noel was irritatingly lively. She had been completely exhausted, but after heading back for only an hour, she had returned to her usual state of affairs.
“You’ve… already recovered? Even though you looked so tired just earlier.”
“Yup. Meeting up really wore me out, but if I rest a bit, it’s all good!”
“But, while a short rest is fine, this situation is the worst. We don’t have a single good report. We have no idea how many allies we even have left.”
“Shouldn’t you take a bit of a break, too, Cynthia? You’re making a face like your happiness is running away.”
“It feels more like it’s already run off.”
If she understood the situation, even Noel would be in a bad mood, I bet.
The only good news is that Madress has barely managed to remain under Coimbran control. Perius had been worried about another uprising and so had succeeded in holding out. A situation like this had barely even been put on the table, and so bad news had piled up like a mountain. In the first place, those lords supported by Wilm and Gaddis all simultaneously rebelled, shameless enough to simply drop their Coimbran scales, and raise the Baharan tri-sabre. Next, Gemb and all the other provinces had joined the war on the side of Bahar. Gemb and Giv had arrayed their soldiers in preparation to capture the northern regions of Coimbra. The Reibeldam navy was approaching from the southern sea, apparently with Leue in tow. They had all arranged to attack as one so that no matter how proud a fortress Madress turned out to be, it would fall.
“Noel… can you hear me out for a bit?”
“Sure, what is it?”
“I’d like to tell you everything that I know so far.”
Cynthia explained it all without holding back. After which she wanted to discuss what they would do from there on out. The soldiers at rest didn’t expect much from the crisis either, and all of their faces looked frightened. That aside, with the news they gathered, they marked down the strong positions of the rebels, and the positions of the other provinces on the map, and their faces became downcast, with one exception.
Noel’s positive tones resounded with force, “I get it. I’ve pretty much figured it out!”
Taken aback, Cynthia proffered up the main question, “So then what should we…”
“Mnn, we’ll stab them in the chest! Also, I want a lot, so is there any water left?”
Noel’s request for a refill came after she downed all of her water in one go. Beside her, Riglette tutted as if she wasn’t involved, and went to go draw the water.
Originally, Sir Riglette should be punished, but…
Cynthia was, for the moment, tolerating the decision. There was a voice inside her head telling her that Riglette should be punished, but Cynthia had other priorities for the moment, so she had made sure to calm herself. Most importantly, Noel had no intentions of doing anything like that, which made it even more difficult. It also wasn’t a situation in which Grohl could pass judgment, either. Cynthia thought it would probably be better if she examined things after their current problems had been resolved.
I’ll bring it up if we survive this.
“With things how they are, it makes me really want to drink(alcohol), but since Cynthia would get mad at me as always, I’ll hold back.”
Noel turned her eyes to the flask at Barbas’ waist. It did appear that some wine was in it, and she began to meaningfully giggle at him. Cynthia had no confidence that she was really the brave warrior who had been spreading death on the battlefield not long ago. It might have been a dream, but Cynthia was still alive somehow.
“Noel, did you properly listen to what I was saying? Do you really understand just what kind of situation we’ve found ourselves in?”
“Yup, I made sure to listen, so I know. Isn’t it fine to ignore the rebelling lords? The ones who’ll turn traitor are the ones that will easily flip right back as soon as the situation changes. The main Baharan force is much more of a danger than those wishy washy guys.”
After a yawn, Noel ran her gaze over the map. While she was doing so, Riglette offered her a flask, and Noel began drinking it, though this time, she clearly wanted it to last. It looked like she was just messing around, but she did seem to properly think things through.
“The… situation will probably continue to worsen. As the days go by, we’ll protect the viceroy while we head back to Madress. The highways and side roads near Carness are blockaded to fence in the rebels, but they probably can’t do that forever. We’ll have to slip into the darkness, and make an opening through which we can get to Madress.”
“It’d be bad if we lost Madress. We’ll have to fight our hardest to keep it, but if we want to win from here on out, we can’t completely avoid combat.”
Noel pointed to the Rhine highway that led to Madress. She pointed to a narrow pass through the mountains.
“I… don’t think it’s possible, but, do you really think you can win again?”
“I doubt anyone would fight to lose. If they give up they just hurry up and run away, well, people who want to die are a different matter.”
“No, she’s right. No matter how much of a fiend you are, captain, that’s a bit difficult. The enemy is over fifty thousand strong, and the most we could defeat would be about ten thousand. I don’t know if we should even fight with how beaten up we are.”
Barbas had butted in, but Noel wasn’t having any of it.
“The Baharan military can’t maintain its massive army forever, so it doesn’t matter how many military bases they’ve taken. It’s fine if we can take them back, after all. Even in the worst case scenario of Madress falling, as long as we live, we can keep fighting. The expanses of the Coimbran province are now our fortress and our battleground.”
“As expected of the captain. You’re always looking ahead.”
“It can’t be helped if you want to mope, so I’ll always continue to fight. What has been taken can always be retaken. It’s as simple as that.”
Noel spread out the map with both hands, knocking over the little flags that marked the military outposts.
“Hmph, it won’t be that simple. Our opponent isn’t an idiot. They are surely researching us thoroughly.”
Noel nodded to Riglette’s mocking comment without objection.
“That’s why we have to search for a way to win. Now, let’s all think!”
“And even if you say that, I’m a bit bad with my head. That’s Haksek’s specialty, though. Well, I can tell that attacking from the front is a terrible plan.”
“It’s not a problem if you pump out lots of plans that’ll get us kicked around like attackin’ the massive army from the front. That’s why we hid some stuff in the mines.”
They all wracked their brains. Even the openly sarcastic Riglette started troubling over it. Cynthia didn’t know what had happened, but her relationship with Noel had probably gotten better.
Wait… it’s not the time to be thinking about that.
Deciding that it also wasn’t the time to argue with herself, Cynthia decided to forcefully take Noel back.
“I’m sorry… but let’s put polishing up a plan for recovering from this hopeless situation on hold for a moment. Accompanying the viceroy back to Madress is our uppermost priority. That place is our lifeline, we have to return at once.”
“Yup, okay. Then we’re parting here… I hope we can meet safely again.”
Noel’s grumblings had seemed slightly lonely, and Cynthia expressed her doubt with a scowl as it sounded like Noel wasn’t going to come.
“What are you saying? This isn’t a matter for other people, you’re coming too. If you’re stranded in a place like this, the only thing you’ll do for sure is die. There’s no reason to stay.”
“Didn’t you say it earlier, Cynthia? The blockade can’t last forever. That’s why we shouldn’t threaten the enemy. If they underestimate us too much, they’ll get burned. If that happens even once, they’ll surely start being cautious.”
A ferocious smile floated across Noel’s face, wiping away her previous childishly carefree expression.
“Wait. In that case, my men will by time by our lord’s side. How many times have I been rescued by you? Well, it’s my turn for that now. I am prepared to face my death!”
“I’m sorry, but that’s no good.”
Noel rejected her proposal, and it felt like she wouldn’t accept any objections, but Cynthia wasn’t going to give in either. She couldn’t accept herself as a knight if she wasn’t able to serve her lord like Dirk or Noel.
“You rescued us. That’s enough. Leave the rest to me this time. The great Dirk has died, and if you die too, I won’t be able to continue on as a knight!”
Cynthia menacingly struck the desk with great force, but Noel didn’t budge, her ferocious expression once again returning to normal.
“Listen, Cynthia, isn’t your job to protect the viceroy? And your exhausted men won’t be able to buy much time at all, so leaving it to the ones who have the energy is the best option. The truth is, I have been ‘thinking’ a bit.”
Cynthia vehemently objected. It was true that her men wouldn’t be useful for a little while, so it was doubtful that they could even stand up to another onslaught of the Black Sun Cavalry. They were men who had already known despair.
“A-are you saying that you’re going to abandon me again?”
“That’s overstating things. Aren’t we just parting ways for a bit? It’ll be fine, we’ll meet again soon.”
“But having protected the viceroy and escorted him out, shouldn’t you be happy to have been saved, this time? Honestly, I’d like to get saved for once~ ehe,” and, patting Cynthia on the shoulder, with a, “Don’t worry, it’s just a joke,” Noel turned to prepare for battle.
Having attained victory at the battle of the Trais river, the Baharan army marched along the highway to Carness, removing all obstacles in their path, digging up the pallasades, cutting the black chords, and occasionally filling in pit traps. Each one specifically targeted cavalry, and so the Black Sun Cavalry was extremely irritated, and had to be escorted by an engineering corps. They had been advancing at full speed in hopes of ending the conflict in a single decisive battle, but it had unfortunately been impossible. The main reason for this was the companions from operation dawn. Twenty of them, close enough that they had felt like siblings, had already died. Several of the corpses had already been found, and it was easy to tell what had happened to them. The men were expert swordsmen, possessing strength far beyond the normal realm, and the problem was that they had too much confidence in their own strength; a problem that didn’t plague Rebecca.
“Ahh!! This is infuriating!! While you’re mucking about, that bastard Grohl is getting away! Gaah, just hurry it up you dullards!”
Rebecca, second in command of the Black Sun Cavalry, kicked around the nearby engineers. She was going easy on them, of course, but to the engineers, it was not to be taken lightly. Screaming, they fled to another location.
“You shits, fucking wait! Are you going to abandon your duty!?”
Just as she was about to chase after them, another of the Black Sun Cavalry returned with news of the search for their companions.
“Rebecca, sir, we’ve found our missing brothers.”
“Really!? Are they okay!?”
“No, unfortunately, they’ve all died. According to the report, they were killed by a unit bearing a twin hammer banner!”
“Shit, it’s that fiend Noel again!? Damn!”
“I’m very sorry!”
“I’ll get revenge for this!”
Tears were shed by the men of the Black Sun Cavalry. Rebecca felt tears of her own welling up surprisingly quickly, but she fought them down. It wasn’t the time for crying. She had to defeat her enemy to rid herself of regrets. Just how much pain could such sticks and strings, and makeshift rubbish cause? Rebecca smashed the palisade with her longsword countless times; countless times.
“I’ll never forgive her! I don’t know about fiends or whatever she is, but I’ll tear her limb from limb!”
“Rebecca, sir, Noel’s twin hammer banner is currently flying over Carness. Let’s kill her with our own hands and give rest to the souls of our fallen brethren!”
“Of course! We’ll make her regret looking down on the Black Sun Cavalry!”
They were indignant as Falid returned from scouting ahead. His spear was stained with blood. He had been mopping up the stragglers of the retreating Coimbrans.
“There’s something off about Carness. The flags are there, but there wasn’t a single enemy soldier in sight. They might be planning something.”
“If it’s a trap then we’ll smash it, right brother! We are cavalry, but we’re the best even as infantry. The horses are just how we get around!”
Falid looked surprised by Rebecca’s shout.
“Oi, think about it for a bit. About why we haven’t seen anyone.”
“If we have time to think about it, shouldn’t we just take the place and find out!?”
Just then, they heard the sounds of an enemy attack. It only went as far as a hail of arrows, but it forced them to stop clearing a path. Enemy soldiers concealed in the forest would sporadically harass them, but they were never spotted no matter how much they were chased. They most likely shot their arrows from the treetops and immediately left. Minimal in damage though it was, it was maximally infuriating. If they sent men out to exterminate them, it would slow progress even more.
“Ah, what a pain! They’ve been launching nothing but fucking cowardly attacks for a while now! I’ll fucking slaughter them!”
Rebecca stomped on a fallen arrow countless times in anger; countless times. Watching it, Falid grabbed her by the chest. It was true that the Black Sun Cavalry were strong, but they got angry too quickly, almost like animals. Training them required the installation of a suitable amount of fear.
“Cool your head, Rebecca! I’ll ask you one more time, so try and think about why the enemy would act like that. You are second in command, and that means more than just having control of your body, you need to use your head!”
Falid glared harshly at her, and Rebecca paled, starting to cry a little.
“I, I don’t know! I’m an idiot, so I don’t know! That Noel has pegged us as fools!”
“Yeah, that’s right, but why is she provoking us like that? Think. I for one, completely expect it to be a trap. A trap that lures you in out of anger.”
“It’s a trap?”
“That’s how it is. Make sure you learn from this.”
Falid let go of her, and gently patted Rebecca’s hair as she hung her head. Both the carrot and the stick were required to most effectively train an animal. It was how he had once been trained in church, so there was no doubt about it. Falid was only doing the same to them.
“My my, it was a splendid lesson, as expected of the one Lord Amil is interested in. Fuehehe, that’s just how I like it.”
Happily clapping his hands, Mills made his appearance, leaning out the window of a war wagon as it slowed.
“If it isn’t Lord Mills? I’ve shown you something unsightly.”
“Not at all, not at all. I appreciate you giving the warning instead of making me. So you think it’s dangerous to carelessly attack Carness, do you? It might muddy even your Black Sun Cavalry’s sterling reputation, but it could give my war wagons a chance to shine.”
“So it’s a trap, after all.”
“We don’t have definitive proof, though. I came to see what had been so persistently enticing you, and well there’s no doubt about it, is there? You said it was Noel, right? That fiend seems to be inviting you to what she no doubt plans to be a horrible fate. We may be following in the footsteps of our great Sun Emperor Bergis, but we can’t be too careful. We can’t get caught in a trap laid by that monkey, can we?”
Mills exited his war wagon and drummed his swagger stick on the ground.
“What do you suggest we do, Lord Mills? I don’t think that we can simply ignore Carness.”
“Of course, it is just as you say, Sir Falid! We can’t leave Carness alone to be a thorn in our side. It even flies the flag of the fiend. Facing guerilla tactics like this before even arriving at a stronghold of a grand opponent is surely draining on morale.”
Mill’s twirled his stick, laughing loudly, snapping a piece off the broken palacade.
“But… and this is a but, if we attack without thinking, it will be the pinnacle of foolishness to become a repeat of what happened to Count Berotte. So what do you say we should do? Fuehehe, I consulted with Lord Amil and we’re going to use a disposable horse.”
“A disposable horse?”
“Yes, we’ll send a bunch who can all die without issue. People who can only help Bahar by no longer eating any food. They keep eating up the rations, so it’s best to get rid of them anyway. Fuehehe, if they heard this, they’d probably try to stab us, eh? Fuehehe!”
Falid made sure to conceal his emotions as he observed Mills laugh loudly away. The mild mannered man was highly intelligent and would be useful. He had the level headedness that was required of a staff officer. Something he couldn’t chose about the man was how he took the initiative, and there was a possibility that he would one day become a hinderance to Amil. Poisonous plants could be made into powerful medicine, but its nature would always remain the same.
“As expected of you, staff officer Mills, I’m impressed by your splendid plan.”
“Fuehehe, you flatter me. I know, I think I shall prepare some high quality wine for our victory celebration. I would be honoured if you could join me.”
Thinking that he’d need to make sure to be cleaning up at the front when that happened, Falid gave a full faced smile as he provided the polite response, “I thank you.”
They had fully cleared the obstacles by the next day, and the Baharan army closed in on Carness.
“Forward, forward! We’re taking the rebel Carness in one go!”
Gaddis’ men were the assault force after having surrendered to Bahar. Bearing Coimbran flags as they advanced on the fortress, Gaddis gave the order to attack. At present he was acting as second in command to the provisional viceroy Wilm. He couldn’t accept a position below Wilm given they had the same rank, but also couldn’t go against Amil’s decision directly. All he could do was silently nod.
But if I can lead the attack successfully, I can catch up to Wilm. Even overtaking him won’t be impossible. The fight starts now.
Every day had been hectic before the betrayal, but he had to be complacent before things truly began. In fact, he was greatly relieved that he had been able to change to the winning side. The troops felt so too, and each man’s spirit was raised along with the others’. He could see that the morale had soared higher than ever before.
“This is a battle to conquer the rebels! We have made the correct choice. Feel no shame, for we are justified! We must remove the enemies of His Majesty!”
After encouraging his troops, he drew near to the sturdy gate. Having not been counterattacked, he had drawn the conclusion that the enemy had fled. That said, there were probably still a few inside. If not, they would have attempted to fight back with arrows. Going by the flags, the commander was that upstart Noel, but it seemed that she had already put them up and ran.
Putting up her own banners and running away, as expected of a lowborn. Not a scrap of knightly pride. As I thought, Grohl has no eye for people.
Noel had gone from tramp to commander of one hundred with a little bit of luck. Unlike Wilm, who already hated her, Gaddis didn’t care much, but the story was different if she was going to get in his way. He would have to crush him after showing him the difference that experience made. Unfortunately, now was not the time for that.
“We know best that there is no fiend of Coimbra. Fear not! Attack!”
They successfully battered down the gate without resistance. There was no need to use the siege ladders or catapults. There wasn’t a trace of a Coimbran soldier inside the fortress either.
No battle is this easy. I ought to thank that Noel.
As one would expect, killing former allies would garner some resistance, but given the current situation, Gaddis was able to heave a sigh of relief. If it did have to happen, his men would probably turn their swords on their former fellows, though, as would he. As long as they weren’t close friends or relatives, the only thing in common was a shared province of birth. As a gathering of strangers, comradeship in the military existed because it had to.
“Lord Gaddis, as expected, there isn’t an enemy in sight, but a good amount of provisions remain!”
“If they didn’t have time to gather up all their supplies, they must have been in quite the rush.”
“Okay, send everyone to gather up the supplies, if we present it to Lord Amil, he might remember us one day. Also, continue the search of the fortress, particularly focus on finding any hidden soldiers as we don’t know where they might be hiding! They might have information, so capture as many alive as you can!”
“Hmph, so much for the fiend of Coimbra. Grohl was quick to praise her, but she’s just a girl after all. It’s tomfoolery for her to even be a commander!”
Gaddis sat down near the entrance as he muttered his abuse. He was worried that the troops that didn’t enter might be ambushed, but he turned his thoughts to the rulership of Coimbra once the war was won. Naturally his thoughts were of his own safety. The only reason he had gone into the castle was so that he could avoid being seen as a coward.
“Woah, oi look at this. It’s real gold.”
“There’s loads of food, too, and wine.”
“There’s something else here too, some kind of ore? What is this?”
“Don’t worry about it. More importantly, you should be searching for something valuable. Lord Gaddis will overlook it if a little goes missing. He’s been in a good mood recently since he’ll become the next viceroy.”
“Seriously!? Then we’d better hurry!”
Gold and supplies were scattered here and there inside the fortress. Assuming that it had been spread about in the chaos of a hasty retreat, the soldiers weren’t particularly suspicious about it. In actuality, there were mysterious bags evenly distributed in between the scattered gold and supplies. Ensuring that all of Gaddis’ men had entered the fortress, a hidden member of the White Ant Bloc gave his signal. As he did, the concealed men simultaneously released fire arrows into the fortress, and repelled down the walls to escape as quickly as possible without checking to see if the arrows had an effect.
“Oi… doesn’t it kinda stink?”
“Isn’t that just smoke?”
“I-it’s not my imagination, somethin’s on fire! Put it out already!”
Within a few minutes, the entirety of the fortress was enveloped. The blaze roared through the interior. The violent flames spread themselves across the supplies, strengthened by oil that was hidden throughout. When the combustion stones that had been evenly distributed throughout the fortress exploded, they mercilessly poured flames upon their victims.
Pandemonium erupted inside the fortress, and the only escape was the front gate, and the soldiers desperately shoved eachother out of the way to flee, but the panicked men could not act calmly. Men were trampled, men were attacked by their fellows in the confusion, men buried themselves in the soil to escape, and men died of asphyxiation in the flames. The halls were filled with the stench of burnt human flesh. In that time, Carness was fully engulfed in the fire. The fiendish twin hammer banner flew over a fortress of red flames, amidst the screams of burning men. An image of purgatory burned itself strongly into the minds of the Baharan soldiers watching.
When the flames finally fizzled out, only five hundred men remained of Gaddis’ men, the unit having taken over four thousand casualties. It was a tragedy that could be labeled as annihilation. The first to escape, Gaddis had somehow survived, but his right leg had been severely wounded by the falling rubble.
“Uwaa, it really burned, didn’t it. The plan was a great success!”
“Hehe, it seems to have gone well. If it’s like that they might not have rescued even a single man from inside.”
“Well, that’s true. Hmmm, still, what a view, eh? A bright red sun and a bright red castle. It truly was a mysterious scene. Won’t you watch it too, Riglette?” asked Noel as she happily watched from atop a tall tree.
Barbas was next to her, and Riglette was sulking at the base as she couldn’t climb trees.
“Hmph, I’m fine, thank you. Didn’t you know? Fools and monkeys like high places, you know. It’s a place that suits you well.”
“Again with that fuckin’ shit!”
“Then shouldn’t you be up here too, Riglette~? Well, you’d have to climb it, though!”
Riglette’s face went bright red in irritation, further fueled by the fact that she really couldn’t climb it, which robbed her of any retort.
“Haha, woah! Still, the captain said it pretty well.”
“Ahaha, she matches now. Well then, it’s about time for everyone to get back, so let’s make preparations to escape!”
Noel jumped down from her tree and began making preparations to escape. Then, once the men of the White Ant Bloc charged with starting the fire had returned, they set out. Noel had devoted the majority of her trump card, the combustion stones, to the fire plan at Carness, but after seeing the effect, she decided she wouldn’t need to use the lines she had rehearsed to convince the reluctant Barbas of the plan. It was a plot to use those who carelessly entered to lower both the enemy morale and their speed of advance.
Noel’s plan had been a success. From then on out, the Baharan army would have to take great care even when clearing out an unresisting outpost as they didn’t know where the hands of the fiend reached. They wouldn’t want to wake another scene of purgatory again. The fiend baked with military outposts, and so even the traitorous feudal lords made sure to be dubious and thorough in their searches. The Baharan advantage didn’t disappear, but as Noel had slowed down their advance just as much as she’d hoped.
The ghost of the fiend would haunt all the soldiers present, Baharan and traitorous Coimbran alike, for a long time to come. Groundless rumors such as, “Noel the fiend will appear when least expected, and strike her foes to purgatory,” and, “Traitors will surely die one day under the curse,” began to spread like wildfire. It wasn’t a direct result of Noel’s schemes, but a consequence of Riglette’s manipulation of prisoners of war. Wilm, and the other Baharan commanders tried to calm the situation to no avail. The credibility required to combat such a rumor had increased. Furthermore, there were many eyewitnesses to corroborate the stories. One of the consequences of this was Noel’s name gaining even more recognition.
The real Noel didn’t care about being known as a fiend or anything like that. She had no intentions of doing anything bad. That aside, she didn’t have any intentions of stopping, either. Laughing about how it couldn’t be helped, Noel made herself a demon mask, and wearing the angular white mask that was so eery it would cause people to scream if they saw it at night, she went to tease Riglette. It too was preeminently successful.
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