By the time Lorist arrived at Firmrock Castle with Jim and Patt, it was already around 5 in the morning.
A huge camp outside Firmrock Castle was lit brightly with torches and loud chatters could be heard from afar.
Upon receiving the notification of the guards, Butler Boris and Old Man Balk rushed out to receive the trio.
"What's the situation of the walls like?" Lorist asked.
Balk replied, "Milord, currently it's still fine. Ever since the Kenmays Family attacked twice and failed yesterday, they've stopped attempting and set up their camp roughly 1 kilokemeter from the walls which they completed by yesterday evening. Last night was rather peaceful as well as there weren't any warnings from our lookouts at the walls."
A kilokemeter was a unit of length used in the Grindia Continent. In the old legends, the fairies were said to have used a unit of length called a 'marke', which denoted the distance between two horsemen in a fairy light cavalry unit. But when the Magic Civilization rose, marke was changed to be called kemeter by the magi and 1000 kemeters was equal to 1 kilokemeter. After 2000 years however, even though the units of measurement from that time still remained in use, the contraction of the unit names, meter and kilometer, have gotten more popular overtime and are used in most cases.
Lorist sighed in relief and asked, "Why does it look so busy within the camp?"
Boris said, "Milord, we're making wooden sheds."
"Yesterday, the longbowmen of the Kenmays Family had caused a lot of casualties on the forces stationed at the outer wall. So, Grandmaster Ciroba came up with a plan to build a shed on top of the walls that will shield our forces from the long distance parabolic shots of the bowmen. If they attempt to wreck our sheds by shooting straight, their firing range will be far shorter and they will have to enter our firing range, which means we will be able to retaliate with our ballistas as well as use our walls as cover since we won't have to worry about arrows falling from above us," said Old Man Balk.
"Grandmaster Ciroba? Can his plan be trusted?" Lorist asked suspiciously.
The two other men laughed out loud before Boris said, "Milord, we only chose to use it after we discussed it with the rest and found no problems with the plan."
"Then, what if the enemy uses fire arrows to set the wooden sheds on fire? How would we retaliate if the smoke clouds our vision?" Lorist asked.
"That won't be an issue. After we finish the sheds, we will cover them with a layer of green clay to make them resistant to fire arrows. Another benefit of that is that our forces will still be able to fight under the shelter of the sheds when snow starts to fall," explained Balk.
"Then that's fine. Resume your work. I'll go check out the outer walls for myself," said Lorist as he continued to ride his horse towards the walls.
Ovidis was currently leaning on the walls of his room sound asleep while equipped with full armor. Nevertheless, he remained on alert and opened his eyes wide the moment Lorist entered.
"Feel free to rest up, you don't have to pay me any heed," said Lorist as he patted twice on Ovidis's shoulder. "It must've been tiring."
"Milord, I'm fine. I already slept for two hours just now. I only came back to take a slight nap after patrolling for a while and finding nothing wrong..." said Ovidis as he forcefully opened wide his bloodshot eyes.
Lorist didn't press the issue and asked, "What's the rough estimate of the casualties?"
"Milord, the Kenmays Family's two longbowmen squads are too powerful. They attacked the troops we stationed at the outer wall from 300 meters away, causing the arrows to practically fall like raindrops. Our soldiers had nowhere to hide at all and cover was useless against arrows falling from above. Within only 15 minutes, 1 whole squad was wiped out. Only 27 died from being shot at their vitals while the others were out of commission. That was when I sent another squad equipped with shields to save the rest and 30 more got hurt as a result. It was fortunate that we were equipped with metal armor. Otherwise, the casualties would have been worse..."
Ovidis continued to describe the situation of the battle yesterday. "After we retreated to the inner wall, the Kenmays Family's forces took the opportunity to occupy the outer one and were flabbergasted by the metal gates beyond it and could do naught but slash at it with their swords. From the turrets, we used the ballistas to retaliate. Given the density of enemies at the outer wall, one ballista bolt easily killed up to three enemies and within moments, they crumbled and made their retreat.
"But, that Viscount Kenmays acted both stupidly and cruelly at the same time. He actually beheaded a few of the soldiers who retreated and forced the rest to mount a second attack. That time, they brought their siege ladders to the outer wall and were prepared to use them to climb up to the second one. However, I brought tens of other soldiers to guard it and killed every enemy that managed to make their way up while mowing down their numbers with our ballistas at the same time. Even though the second attack lasted longer than the first, they retreated in the end nonetheless. There were around 260 corpses at the outer wall. Including the injured soldiers who managed to retreat, I estimate their casualties to be around 4 to 5 hundred people.
"Despite that, the viscount was still intent on having them continue the assault yesterday, causing some of his own men to grow desperate and draw their swords towards their own allies. The situation only managed to settle down after they argued for a long while before the viscount yielded and ordered his men to set up camp. I have asked Old Man Balk to bring the laborers to collect the corpses of their dead soldiers. Originally, I was going to bury it somewhere, but the messenger that came later that night requested for us to return their bodies. So I had some men strip them clean before I gave the bodies back to save us the trouble of burying them..."
Lorist was completely speechless. As expected of the former bandit Ovidis. Stripping corpses of all their belongings was already second nature to him.
"How did the defense unit fare during the two attacks?" Lorist asked.
Ovidis smiled and said, "They were fine for the most part. During the first attack. we were all within the turrets so they couldn't reach us. On the second attack the defense unit soldiers I brought with me had the protection of the wall and were wearing metal armor while we attacked enemies who were climbing upwards towards us. As the enemy soldiers had to watch out for ballista fire, they didn't pose much of a threat for us. The two longbowmen squads only fired back at us after their own men retreated from their line of fire, but we were already prepared for that. Everyone of us brought our own shields before we set out and laid them on the walls to block the incoming arrows; apart from an idiot who got shot by exposing his leg, most of us were unhurt."
Old Man Balk had led his laborers up to the walls. The wooden sheds he had wanted to build were rather simple. First, a wooden pillar had to be built every three meters on the wall with a rectangular support structure installed on top of it. Following that, a wooden board was laid in a downward-slanting angle. Finally, the laborers had to use safety ropes to ensure that they don't fall when they apply the thick layer of green clay onto every one of the wooden boards.
Lorist went to take a look at the sheds from one of the turrets and noticed that they did not obscure the aim of the ballistas at all. After that, he went to the roof of the turret, which was at the higher part of the wall and noticed that the were laborers building sheds which were more slanted on the higher inner wall than the ones below. Balk said, "The upper sheds have to be able to withstand snowfall during winter, so we have to make them slant more steeply to allow the piled up snow to slide off more easily. While the lower sheds would be easy to clean, the ones up here is much harder to reach, hence the steeper slant."
Lorist nodded and headed for the direction of the father-son arbalists.
A few arrows were stuck on the ballista the two were working on. They were most probably fired by the Kenmays Family's longbowmen squads during the second assault when their comrades retreated.
"What's wrong with this ballista?" Lorist asked.
"Oh, milord. This unit is almost completely ruined. Look, these arrows were manufactured during the time of the former empire and they are used to specifically wreck defense machinery like these. The arrowheads are all squared like a little shovel and are much heavier than normal ones. When these arrows are fired in an arc, their heavier weight allows them to gain more momentum as they land. Look at this ballista: after being hit by only four of these arrows, cracks can already be seen all over it. While it may still be able to fire a few more bolts, every shot represents a risk of it exploding apart splintering apart in small fragments that would harm the operators..." replied Grandmaster Fellin.
"Oh..." Lorist said as he sighed. All 14 ballistas on the outer wall had been ruined without even having the chance to fire a single bolt. Even though they were merely simplified versions, it was still a rather substantial loss.
The 1000 or so laborers worked at fast speeds to construct the sheds and managed to finish up by the time the morning sun was at its brightest. The reason for the quick completion was that the outer wall was only around 80 meters long and the materials that only had to be assembled had already been gathered at the camp outside the walls.
The forces of the Kenmays Family also noticed the situation and sent out their longbowmen squads hurriedly. When they were around 300 meters away from the walls, the longbowmen shot their arrows up high which curved and fell towards the walls from above. The first and second volleys of arrows all landed very densely on the wooden sheds. On the third volley, they started to employ fire arrows. However, given the thick layer of green clay on the wooden sheds, the fire on the arrows were extinguished the moment they penetrated the clay.
Not long after, a person wearing extremely intricate armor brought more than 10 of his attendants to approach the castle walls. After taking a good look, he went back and said something to the longbowmen squads before he returned to the camp without being able to do much.
Lorist thought, that must be Viscount Kenmays himself.
Given that their shots weren't effective, the two longbowmen squads returned with Viscount Kenmays to their camp. Old Man Balk instructed the laborers to also apply a layer of green clay onto the wooden pillars and supports that held the sheds up before asking them to collect the arrows that were stuck onto the sheds and re-applying green clay to cover up the holes the arrows made.
That whole day, Viscount Kenmays didn't order any attack at all while their camp seemed to be rather busy and chaotic.
During the evening, Paulobins and Shadekampf arrived at Firmrock Castle with a company of family soldiers. Lorist finally relaxed and believed that the castle would definitely be strong enough to resist the enemies now.
That night, the Kenmays Family showed no signs of attacking either.
Noon on the next day, three groups of soldiers numbering hundreds of troops arrived at the front of Firmrock Castle and set up camp near the Kenmays Family's army camp. Balk recognize one of the insignias which was used by one of the groups and said that it belonged to an old landed noble family of the Northlands, Count Spenseid. Before the Second Prince entitled the new landed noble families in the Northlands, the Spenseid Family could be considered as the nearest neighbors of the Nortons.
Butler Boris recognized the other two insignias on the flags of the other two groups. Those families were just like the Kenmays Family which were given a dominion at the Northlands by the Second Prince. One of the insignias that depicted a pegasus was rumored to belong to a traveling knight who had sided with the Second Prince during the power struggle within the empire. He was said to have performed really well during his days of the conflict when he led his knight brigade and had even saved the Second Prince's life once. After the internal struggle ended, he presented the riches he had earned to the Second Prince and got enfeoffed a barony by the him.
The other insignia depicted a golden three-petaled flower. Butler Boris laughed out as he saw it as the head of that family used to be an honorary noble whose beautiful wife ended up having an affair with the Second Prince. To 'repay' him for his 'contribution', the Second Prince gave him a piece of land in the Northlands but requested for his wife to remain at the Royal Capital.
Everyone laughed out loud that instant. According to Boris, that story was quite well-known in the capital and many even thought that trading a wife for a hereditary noble title and dominion was quite a good deal. That was when a sudden surge of nobles brought their female siblings, daughters and wives to meet the Second Prince, causing the atmosphere of the royal palace to be a total mess.
During noon on the next day, another four families brought hundreds of soldiers to the battlefield. Among them, three were hereditary nobles of the Northlands with the other remaining one being a new landed noble.
Lorist was quite troubled as he thought, does the Kenmays Family intend to form an alliance to go against my family? Given that the soldiers the 7 families brought are less than 2000 people, what good would that do? Don't tell me that they intend to use the nobles' troops as fodder to take the brunt of our retaliation?
While Lorist was still brainstorming about the situation, he saw another large convoy with many carriages and roughly 2000 people. However, he wasn't able to clearly see their flag.
What was surprising was that the convoy did not set up camp near the Kenmayses and instead chose another spot further away. The three camps looked like vertices of a triangle on the map.
Even though Lorist found the presence of the third group of people to be odd, Jim instead said happily, "Alright! Now we can finally have some fun!"
"What do you mean, Jim?" Lorist asked.
"Milord, those people are the Warzone Merchants. They are a neutral force that doesn't participate in conflicts and only appear near battlefields to sell products like food, provisions and equipment. Naturally, the price will be higher than the usual market rate. They also purchase loot from the winner's side as well. The camp they set up also provide numerous services in the form of food establishments, brothels as well as casinos. No matter which side one belongs to, as long as one abides by their rules, one can go enjoy their offerings without worry. Also, look at that Bloodmoon flag. It belongs to one of the three most famous mercenaries in the Iblia Kingdom, the Bloodmoon Mercenary Crew and they are on par with the Feathersoar Mercenary Crew. Then again, now that the Feathersoars are no more, there are only two famous mercenary crews left in the kingdom.
"Milord, you might have noticed that the Bloodmoon flag is being flown the highest. That indicates that the safety and security of the Warzone Merchants camp is being managed by the Bloodmoon Mercenary Crew and any side that attacks the camp will incur their wrath and retribution. The Bloodmoon Mercenary Crew also conducts a lot of business there and I've heard that they own a huge share of the Warzone Merchants organization. Four other flags of other mercenary crews can be seen beneath the Bloodmoon flag and those represent mercenary crews that can be hired by either side to fight in battles. Let me see, there's the Razorpike Mercenary Crew, the Nightbat Mercenary Crew, the Cromwell Mercenary Crew and the Pentasword Mercenary Crew. Ah, many of my acquaintances are there," said Jim excitedly.
"Are those mercenary crews powerful?" Lorist asked.
"They're about the same as us, just with more numbers among their ranks. The four crews combined have around 700 people. If Hausky and I had more than 100 people under us, we could've formed a crew ourselves as well. It's too bad that Hausky only wants to recruit trustworthy and dependable comrades, so we could only form a mercenary squad with 60 plus people," Jim replied.
Lorist gave it some thought and asked, "Do you think that Viscount Kenmays will hire them to attack our castle?"
Jim shook his head and said, "Even if he wanted to, the crews would definitely not agree to it. Attacking this castle is akin to committing suicide and not one of the leaders of the crews are idiotic enough to let their men sacrifice themselves for naught. The most he can do is to employ the crews to manage their supply lines or monitor our movements."
"Alright then, you should go there and see if you can get any information on what the Kenmays Family was planning during the past few days when they didn't attack us. I believe that some of their men will be there to relax as well, so I'm sure you can get them to spill their beans by treating them to a few glasses of alcohol," instructed Lorist.