Why did Paulobins return at a time like this? Shouldn't he be spying on the duke's army with Josk? Don't tell me something else happened over there? Lorist had tons of questions as he headed to the front of the troops.
"Milord, I don't know if this is good or bad news. After that incident, Sir Josk didn't know what to do next either and could only order me to come back to make a report and await your decision," Paulobins said with a pale face.
"What in the world happened?" Lorist asked.
"It's like this. Yesterday evening at around 7 o'clock, Wildnorth Town was bustling with noise and many soldiers wearing the attire of the duke's army went inside the town from their camp. Sir Josk secretly sent some men to sneak near the town and after a while, they came back and reported that the people of the town were having a celebratory feast for the entitlement of the four great families as barons. We were all really mad and wanted to cause some trouble so that they wouldn't be able to successfully carry out their ceremony..."
Paulobins looked to the sky as he reminisced and said, "After that, Sir Josk once again brought a few of us to sneak to the enemy's camp. However, the lax security there greatly surprised us as even the soldiers stationed up at the tower outposts focused their attention on what was happening within the town, allowing us to swiftly make our way to the barricade surrounding the camp without too much trouble. Originally, we wanted to set their tents on fire, but Sir Josk stopped us and said that he felt that something was off. So, he ordered us to be patient until we could ascertain what was going on...
"After we passed through the gap in the barricades, we saw that in the middle of the empty space were the people of Wildnorth Town gathered around a huge bonfire while consuming wine and meats. After a while, two metal-armored knights showed up and some citizens of the town dressed in luxurious robes went to greet him. The knight with the long goatee said something as he smiled, which caused the people of the town to all kneel down. After that, the knight said something so terrifying that caused the townsfolk to stand there stunned and unable to move. Another knight who was nearby drew his sword and instantly pierced it into the chest of an old man from the town...
"As we witnessed that from afar, we also stood there completely flabbergasted. We heard a blaring of a horn before fully-armed soldiers emerged from the tents nearby and started slaughtering the citizens of the town. It was a complete massacre and the unarmed townsfolk could do nothing to retaliate at all; even those who had kneeled down to beg for mercy were not spared. Sir Josk said that there were at least 2000 or so townsfolk who had participated in the ceremony and all of them were male. However, not a single one of them were spared, even the elderly and the children were killed off. There was so much blood that it even flowed out of the camp. In the end, around 600 of them gathered up and started fighting back with some flaming sticks that they got from the bonfire. But they only managed to set a few of the tents in the army camp on fire before they were all culled by the Silver ranked knights...
"Quickly following that, the men of Duke Loggins split up into two groups and one of them to launched an attack on Wildnorth Town. It didn't take long for them to bust open the town gates and rush inside to kill, causing cries of terror and agony to resound from within the town. At that time, we were all stunned beyond recognition and didn't know how it came to end like that... In the end, Sir Josk snapped us out of our stupor and led us away from the enemy camp. The next morning, we went back and saw that some of the duke's soldiers had dug a huge pit to toss the bodies of the townsfolk into which they set on fire before they packed up their camp and moved into the town. A little while later, a few other soldiers emerged from the town and started digging another huge pit for even more bodies that were to be burned. Sir Josk with his good eyesight recognized that most of the bodies were that of the elderly and children of the town...
"Milord, right now, the soldiers of the duke have occupied WIldnorth Town completely and Sir Josk doesn't know what he should do next, so he sent me back here to seek your advice," said Paulobins as he finished reporting the incident that happened a few days prior. Perhaps he still hadn't snapped out of the shock from witnessing the massacre firsthand as he had shivered all the while he recalled the incident.
Lorist placed his cape on Paulobins, who didn't know what to say to express his gratitude and merely clasped tightly on the cape.
Raising his head, Lorist looked at the direction of Wildnorth Town and saw two greyish-white pillars of smoke rise up into the sky. Even though hearing about the massacre of the town has greatly shocked Lorist, he couldn't help but feel a trace of happiness from the depths of his heart. Betraying the Norton Family, openly resisting with an army, conspiring with Duke Loggins and allowing the enemy to enter the dominion of the family; the Wildnorth Town had already went beyond all lines of tolerance for any noble family and their untimely demise could be said to be well deserved and not worth anyone's sympathy.
Even though Lorist wanted to laugh out loud in happiness, he resisted that urge. While the list of problems he had decreased by one and even though he hated every one of the Wildnorth Town folk to the bone, given that he had grown up in a relatively peaceful era in his previous life, he would never have been able to kill the elderly and the children of the town even though they were relatives of the enemy.
The family leaders of the four great families were truly spoiled under Norton rule. Did they think that other nobles would be so easy to negotiate with like the Norton Family? The great families of Wildnorth Town had aided the duke so that they would be able to become landed nobles. But they must've forgotten that it was extremely rare for commoners to be elevated to the status of nobility. Having not seen the truth of the outside world, the people of the town actually believed in the false promises of the duke and didn't know that rebelling against one's dominion lord was a huge taboo in the eyes of nobles. The massacre could only be blamed on their own foolishness and were the consequence of their rebellion.
To Lorist, Paulobins's report on the massacre of the town was indeed a piece of good news and the duke's men had actually helped him solve one of his problems. Otherwise, Lorist would still have to wonder how to deal with the town who exploited their own noncombatants for defense; he couldn't kill them outright as that would affect his reputation given that many people at the Maplewoods Bastide had familial relations with the folk at Wildnorth Town. Then again, he couldn't just let them be as they would propagate their hatred for the Norton Family in the following generations to come and allow the town to become a hidden landmine within the Norton Family dominion that would become a huge source of uncertainty that could severely undermine the security of the dominion.
Even though Lorist felt that half his burdens had lifted, he still didn't understand why the men of the duke did something that irrational like massacring the folk of Wildnorth Town. Not only did they remove a formidable ally, that also put themselves in a precarious situation in the dominion of the Norton Family. Lorist had already intuited numerous methods he could use to overcome the men of Duke Loggins now that Wildnorth Town was out of the picture.
Don't tell me that the duke's men thought that their victory was secured the moment they made their way into our dominion? Otherwise, why would they decide to wipe out the people of Wildnorth Town who had conspired with them in the first place? If that were really the case, Lorist couldn't wait to give Duke Loggins a lesson he would never forget.
From Lorist's point of view, that massacre brought the Norton Family many advantages. If that hadn't happened, the rebellious soldiers of Wildnorth Town would be able to act as a firm supporting force for the duke's men and manage their supply lines and even guide the duke's soldiers to attack the more weakly defended places of the Norton Family. For example, Lorist was worried that the security of the Maplewoods Bastide would be compromised from within due to the people who were related to the Wildnorth Town residents causing sabotage.
After the massacre, there was little doubt that the rest within Maplewoods Bastide would hate the duke without question and resist his forces all the way. Also, given the things that happened to Wildnorth Town, they would understand that rebelling against the Nortons would only lead to their demise anyway. Given all that, there was little possibility that the duke would be able to take over the bastide within a short period of time. And the longer Lorist would be able to resist the enemy, the more chances he had to secure his victory.
From a military standpoint, the duke would actually disadvantage himself if he killed all the townsfolk who were originally willing to help him. That was the most frustrating part that Lorist didn't understand. Why didn't the duke placate the people of Wildnorth Town temporarily? The least the townsfolk could do with their 1000 or so men would be to defend Wildnorth Town itself and manage the logistics and supplies of the duke's army, allowing all 4000 men of the duke to attack the Norton Family without having to worry about their rearguard. Now that the townsfolk had been completely eliminated, at least 1000 of the duke's soldiers would have to be stationed at the town just to protect it, leaving only 3000 plus to attack the Norton Family. And if the assault on the Maplewoods Bastide span a long period of time, more men would have to be allocated to handle the logistics. At that time, Lorist would definitely jump at the chance to wipe out the defenseless supply transporters.
The more Lorist continued to think about it, the more excited he got. At that time, he felt rather confident that he would be able to beat the duke's army as opposed to the 'cross the bridge when he came to it' mentality he held earlier in the morning. He looked forward to his arrival at the bastide dearly.
It has already been 3 days since Lorist arrived at the bastide, but he didn't receive any news from Josk about any attacks breaking out. Lorist didn't understand what the duke's men were delaying for. Don't tell me that they plan to secure the place and wait for more reinforcements to come? That way, the family will be in real trouble and we must be prepared to face long days of war and conflict.
Just as he was about to head to Wildnorth Town himself to take a look, a guard came in from outside and reported, "Milord, Hausky has returned."
The busy-looking Hausky was dressed rather shabbily as he came in with a tired look. After saluting Lorist, he brought out a beastskin map and said, "Milord, I found the route the enemy used to enter the dominion..."
Opening the map, Lorist saw a curvy line drawn by Hausky using a charcoal block.
"It's here..." said Hausky as he pointed at the Bladedge Mountains. "We followed the trail left by the enemy's forces and arrived at the mountains where we found a cave through which we discovered a valley. After another half a day's travel, we discovered another dark tunnel which took us around one day to pass through. Beyond that, we found ourselves at the edge of the cliff that had multitudes of vines growing downwards and to the opposite of it was another cliff. The people of Wildnorth Town had managed to use the vines to make a suspension bridge that was around 200 meters in length and 1 meter in width. However, it was exceedingly stable and it could even allow passage for four-wheeled carriages.
"After crossing the bridge to the cliff on the other side, we found a path that lead to a huge beach where we rested. However, we were attacked during our rest but we managed to fend off our enemy while taking two of them alive. After questioning the prisoners, we found that they were the men of a nearby dominion lord, Maillard, who noticed Duke Loggins's men using this path and also wanted a piece of profit for themselves. Maillard sent up to 300 men to follow the duke's troops from a safe distance and the ones we defeated back then were part of their scouts. Thinking that we were only 2 to 3 mercenaries, they wanted to kill us for our spoils, but little did they know we had another 20 plus people resting at the beach not far away and ended up being wiped out by us instead."
As Hausky reported, he started to snicker. "Then again, we didn't fare too well either. After the scouts went back to make their report, the remainder of the 300 men came forward to seek vengeance for their dead comrades and among them included 3 Silver ranked knights. We could only retreat hurriedly while the enemy chased us frantically, causing us to lose 4 men of our own in the process. By the time we reached the suspension bridge, I opened a few oil jars and poured their contents all over the bridge as I crossed and set it on fire when all of us made it to the other side, burning it down completely. Fortunately for the enemy, half of their men managed to run back to their side of the cliff before the bridge collapsed completely, but only 1 Silver ranked knight among the 3 managed to escape the fate of falling to certain death. However, even he was set on fire and even if he didn't die from the burns, he would be severely injured. It truly is unfortunate for him to have been among the ones who were chasing us at the very front."
Lorist said delightedly, "So you're saying that the bridge is already burned down and the route is no longer usable?"
Hausky gave it some thought and replied, "That should be the case. The bridge was up to 200 meters long and there is virtually no way for anyone to cross the cliff other than using it. Well, unless they wait for another 4 years for the vines to grow back and make another bridge to cross with..."
"That's wonderful. Hausky, you have truly did a great deed for the Norton Family. Now, I no longer have to worry about Duke Loggins sending more reinforcements into our family dominion. As for his troops at Wildnorth Town, they have nowhere else they can escape to. Hahaha..." Lorist said as he patted on Hausky's shoulders heartily.
"Oh, Hausky, do you want anything as a reward for your accomplishment? If you want, I can even make you a family knight of our family and promote you immediately," Lorist said.
Hausky made a forced smile and said, "Milord, I think you should forget that thought. This achievement wasn't accomplished through my personal effort alone; my 24 other comrades also played a huge part with 4 of them even dying in the process. If I become your knight now, it would be like I've betrayed them instead. Another reason for my refusal is my age. I'm already 45 now and am far too old to be your knight. Having been a mercenary for 20 years already, I also feel rather worn out from all my ventures and feel like retiring sooner or later. Before, I dreamed of forming a mercenary crew which I will pass to Jim when I reach the age of 50. However, now that he has decided to follow you instead, I think I should forget that and start working for my retirement."
Lorist nodded and said, "Alright, Hausky. Even though I think you're young enough, I respect your decision on this matter. I will present every person who accompanied you with a reward of 10 gold Fordes and the families of your dead comrades will receive 20 gold Fordes each. What do you think?"
"Milord, thank you for your generosity and understanding," Hausky said as he bowed deeply.
"Also, after this conflict, I plan to build a few towns in the family dominion. If you're willing, you can bring your family members to live within the dominion and I will even let you be a garrison captain at one of the towns. As for your other mercenary comrades, if they want, they can join the forces of my family as well. I believe they will have bright futures there with us," Lorist said.
"Thank you for your kind intentions, milord. I will relay your offer to the rest," Hausky replied.