Another two days had passed and the soldiers of the duke that occupied Wildnorth Town started making their move. The town gates were opened wide and about a hundred light cavalry scouts poured out of it and split into groups of ten before they spread out in all directions. Following, that, 500 or so leather armored riders arranged in four neat rows rode out of the town gradually and behind them were three companies of foot soldiers with the first company being sword and shield infantry, the second being pike infantry and the third being longbowmen.
After the three companies left the town gates, they were followed by about 50 four-wheeled horse carriages which carried various goods like tents and some other supplies. The group of carriages also seemed to be ferrying a company's worth of soldiers. Apart from two soldiers driving each carriage, around 8 more could be seen seated within them.
After the convoy exited the gates, a company of pike cavalry troops followed behind. What made Lorist wonder, however, was that the company of pike cavalry troops didn't seem as disciplined and orderly as the leather armor-wearing cavalry company that came before. The soldiers were not in proper formation and they were even chatting and laughing out loud on their mounts.
The town gates finally closed up after the cavalry company exited the town. A row of soldiers carrying blow horns showed up at the walls of the town and started blowing the tune of deployment. A few men within the last pike cavalry company seemed to turn back and curse at the soldiers at the walls before they followed the troops that were marching in front of them.
About an hour after the deployment of the troops, the town gates of Wildnorth Town remained tightly shut and the security on the walls seemed rather thorough. Lorist lightly leaped off the tree he had been on and said to Reidy, who was holding the horses and waiting for him further ahead, "Let's go back to our camp."
The two of them only mounted their horses after they left the forest grounds. Before they traveled far, they saw 6 riders rushing in their direction from a mound nearby. Upon seeing Lorist and Reidy, the riders raised their pikes and shouted, "Slay them!"
At that moment, tens of other riders revealed themselves from beyond the mound. At the sight of those new riders, Lorist smiled: the 6 riders were actually running away from the mercenaries he had hired. However, Lorist didn't expect that the mercenaries would be so aggressive and would start hunting down the duke's men at an area that is not even 500 meters away from Wildnorth Town.
Six javelins flew through the air and slaughtered the 6 bloodthirsty light cavalry scouts in cold blood. The mercenaries who chased them from behind got off their horses and saluted Lorist before they returned to staring at the dead scouts with a yearning gaze.
"Reidy, go and check what the corpses have on them..." Lorist was a little bothered why the mercenaries stared at the corpses with such hungry gazes.
Reidy returned quickly while holding the reins of 6 horses and retrieved 6 longswords and a few throwing axes and flails as well as 6 money pouches that seemed to be filled to the brim.
Upon opening up one of the money pouches, tens of silver coins as well as more than 10 imperial gold coins could be seen within. There were 2 to 3 gold Fordes within each pouch. After a moment of thought, Lorist finally came to a realization: the folk of Wildnorth Town were actually rather wealthy, but had nowhere better to spend their money on. That was why their money only piled up within their households. Now that the duke had massacred all the citizens within the town and took control of it, the soldiers naturally ransacked every building they could find and each of them earned quite a bit from the spoils. No wonder the soldiers that left in the morning didn't look too enthusiastic about being sent to battle as they were hoping they would be able to spend their newfound wealth as soon as possible. It was quite possible that after being deployed, they might not survive long enough to be able to enjoy their spoils.
That also explained why the mercenaries were so persistent on chasing down those scouts. Perhaps in the eyes of those poor mercenaries, each of the duke's soldiers was nothing more than a moving coin chest. Lorist smiled and felt quite confident that he would be able to defeat the duke's troops this time around.
"Which mercenary crew are you lot from?" Lorist asked.
"Milord, we are from the Nightbat Mercenary Crew," replied the leader of the group. Given that he recognized Lorist as the rich person that hired their crew as well as having witnessed the scene of him killing off the six soldiers with the javelins, the mercenary had no choice but to admit that even he wouldn't necessarily be able to take that javelin head-on given the force at which it was thrown.
"You did rather well. I'll leave the corpses here for you to handle," Lorist said as he continued to ride away with Reidy.
Even though Reidy took the money pouches, mounts and weapons of the dead soldiers, the mercenaries were still rather happy as the armor, boots and other accessories on the bodies were still untouched and they were worth quite a good sum. Other than that, the bodies might also be hiding other surprises waiting to be discovered such as rings or necklaces. The heads of the six bodies could also be exchanged for one imperial gold coin each as per Lorist's promise.
Lorist was currently heading towards the camp at a small hill within the forest. That was the location where he was ambushed after his first visit to Wildnorth Town during which he retrieved Belnick. The reason he chose that place was so that he could isolate the troops that were just deployed from the town with the rest that were guarding it.
That place was also the midway point between Wildnorth Town and Maplewoods Bastide and it was well hidden thanks to the small forest around it as well as the hills in the area. Even if Lorist were to intercept the messengers that passed through the area and be discovered in the process, it would take well over 20 minutes for reinforcements to be sent over and that was more than enough time for Lorist and his men to make it to safety.
Waxima came over as Lorist got off his horse. Upon seeing the relatively empty camp of the mercenaries, he asked, "Where is everybody?"
"Well, milord..." Waxima replied, "Early this morning, the Pentasword Mercenary Crew set out on their patrols and happened to bump into tens of the duke's scouts. They managed to take them all down with 7 of them getting injured in the process and discovered that the scouts all carried huge sums of money on their persons. When they came back and told the rest about it, the mercenaries all went out on a hunt for more enemy scouts."
"Sigh, nothing moves the hearts of people more efficiently than money. If I were to order them to rush at the vanguard of a charge, they would all scramble to be placed at the back of the formation. However, now that money is in the equation, they rushed forward without even thinking twice," Lorist said as he sighed.
"Milord, mercenaries are fickle people who can't be trusted: they only care about their own lives and interests and don't hold loyalty and honor in high regard. We shouldn't have hired them in the first place," Waxima said. As a knight, he was naturally quite prejudiced against mercenaries.
Lorist shooked his head and said, "The disparity between our forces and the duke's is truly too large. With these mercenaries, we can at least make up for the staggering difference in numbers. Even though they're a rowdy and unorganized bunch, they are still pretty useful against the reconnaissance troops of the enemy. Also, the experience and ability each of their men far exceeds that of our own soldiers. For now, we have not choice but to rely on their help to be able to stand a chance against the duke's army. By the way, did Paulobins leave as well?"
"Yes, milord. He is currently monitoring the soldiers the duke deployed and he will return after they finish setting up their camp," replied Waxima.
"The duke's men finally emerged from the town. It has already been five days since they occupied it. Now that they've shown themselves, we just have to find the right chance to strike. I really don't know how much longer this conflict will last though," Lorist said as he sat down within his tent.
"Milord, we will definitely be victorious over the duke's army," Waxima assured.
The attack the duke's men launched on Maplewoods Bastide went on with a fair share of trouble.
On the first day, the soldiers left Wildnorth Town at nine in the morning and only arrived at the bastide after two hours of marching before they began to set up their camp after having their afternoon meals. One Silver ranked knight who was sent to the bastide to shout for the Nortons to surrender. However, he was killed on horseback near the drawbridge from an arrow fired by Josk who was standing atop the castle walls, thus painting the duke's campaign with an ominous start. Now that the enemy soldiers knew that the Gold ranked marksman was within the bastide they were about to besiege, all of them prayed to the war god so that they wouldn't be the ones to die from the marksman's terrifying arrow.
During the night, only 14 of the scouts returned and they reported to their commander, Knight Chevany, that the other scouts have all fallen under the attacks of the Norton Family's light cavalry troops. Chevany furrowed his brow and wondered how the Nortons managed to get so many light cavalry troops to the point that they were able to cause more than 80 of his scouts to be wiped out. It was not until one of the scouts reported that even though the light cavalry troops were wearing leather armor bearing the insignia of the Norton Family, their behavior somewhat resembled that of mercenaries, that Chevany understood the situation and conjectured that the young family leader of the Nortons must have hired mercenaries to do battle for him. That theory wasn't too far fetched either since he had also gained the hidden personal sum of gold belonging to Viscount Kenmays.
On the second day, Chevany split his soldiers into two divisions: one company of leather armored cavalrymen led by ten Silver ranked knights was sent to sweep the surrounding area for enemy troops, especially the mercenaries that the Nortons hired. The other division was to be commanded by him to attack Maplewoods Bastide.
However, even after one whole afternoon of searching, the leather armored company didn't find a trace of the mercenaries. That was due to the fact that they traveled in a huge unit: no mercenary would be stupid enough to run straight into the group and most would sneak around and observe them from afar. In the end, the company rested by a stream for two hours only to discover when they were regrouping that tens of their own comrades have vanished. Judging from the trail, they appeared to have been forcefully abducted by the enemy. The Silver ranked knight who led the group was infuriated and he rallied his men to follow the trail, only to stop when they noticed that they had almost been lured into the Blackmud Marsh. Had the other Silver ranked knights not noticed that fact, the consequences of venturing into the marsh would have been unimaginable.
On the other hand, the group that attacked the bastide didn't fare too well either. Back then, Knight Chevany had ordered for the three ballistas to be brought out. Even he didn't expect that the town would've been able to procure three of those war machines which he found convenient to use during the siege as an added support to their assault. Little did he know that before the ballistas even fired a bolt, one of them was destroyed by an arrow shot by Josk from the walls of the castle. Fortunately for Chevany, the other two ballistas were retrieved rather swiftly and didn't suffer the same fate of destruction.
Greatly enraged, the knight commander ordered his longbowmen company to rain arrows on the castle. Naturally, the Norton troops were ready for that and they brought out their wooden boards and quickly set up a few parapets. Josk also took the chance to shoot from the cover of the parapets at the soldiers beyond the wall. After a long while, he managed to take out 53 foes while he didn't even get so much as a scratch.
Having had five days to prepare from the safety of Wildnorth Town, Chevany had already tasked someone to prepare some siege engines for his perusal, such as two mobile bridges and one mini battering ram, all of which were disassembled and shipped over the night before with their assembly being completed just that morning. The mobile bridges we actually flat pushcarts with a long wooden gangplank installed on it which could be extended outwards. Upon being pushed to the edge of the moat, the gangplanks could be extended to reach the other end of it so that soldiers could cross it and start attacking the main gates.
However, the terrain around the Maplewoods Bastide was rather hazardous as most of the land around the bastide aside from the two main walls were sloped and there was no way to launch a full-on attack from those sloped sides. Knight Chevany commanded his men to attack the main gates of the bastide three times already and lost up to 200 soldiers without achieving any significant results. The two mobile drawbridges and mini battering ram have also been set aflame with the help of incendiaries used by the Norton Family soldiers.
On the third day, Chevany did not continue his assaults on the bastide and instead sent a huge group of soldiers to fell some trees to start constructing more siege engines. In the afternoon, he received a report that the woodcutting soldiers were attacked and the casualties numbered below the hundreds. Having no other choice, Knight Chevany led a company of leather armored cavalrymen to guard the woodcutting soldiers and escorted them back to the camp when they were done.
After a whole day of work, just when the duke's soldiers were about to get a good night's rest, they were greeted by a surprise attack and lost another 100 or so of their own. That was mainly due to the separated attacks that were spread out throughout the night. The worst part of the attacks was that the wood that they had cut down during the day had been set aflame and rendered useless.
Knight Chevany was a resolute knight who followed his orders down to the last letter and he had promised his lord, Duke Loggins, that he would make the Norton Family submit and surrender. That was why he definitely wouldn't give up just because he suffered some initial setbacks. He believed that the fact that the Norton Family had to resort to guerilla tactics was due to them having been forced to their wits' ends and it represented their fears of being severely outmatched in terms of numbers to the point that they had to resort to underhanded methods like that to extend their numbered days.
That's why on the fourth day, Knight Chevany brought another group of soldiers to fell more trees and fortified the defenses of his camp when he returned before he was comfortable enough to relax and rest up.
However, not long after he laid down, he heard voices outside his tent calling out 'enemy attack' or something along those lines. Getting up from his bed and opening his tent, Knight Chevany thought, can you call this an enemy attack? He could see a flash from the distant walls of the bastide before a flaming arrow landed straight on the ground with an audible thump with the soldiers looking expectantly in the night sky while wondering where the next arrow would land.
This all stemmed from Josk's boredom which was in turn a result of the lack of attacks from the duke's men, causing him to have tons of unexpended energy which he didn't know how to use. Yesterday night when Lorist set the timber on fire, Josk was reminded that using his Battle Force and his specialized longbow, he could fire an arrow up to thousands of meters away. Naturally, the arrows were far from accurate and Josk himself wasn't aware of how much force the shots would possess. However, given that the camp of the duke's army was located around 1 kilometer from the bastide, Josk only needed to know the general location of the camp to be able to shoot some fire arrows there and if he was lucky, he might be able to set a couple of tents on fire as well. It was also quite a good idea to cause the enemy to be unable to rest well during the night, so Josk decided that he would fire ten fire arrows every night and see the extent of the damage he could cause.
By the time Josk finished firing, Knight Chevany could no longer go back to sleep peacefully as he had been left with a dull feeling of hopelessness that stemmed from things not going well for his expedition.
On the fifth day, the duke's men didn't attack the bastide either. Despite having dark eye circles from lack of rest, Knight Chevany mainly watched over the soldiers who were busy constructing siege engines.
On the sixth day, the construction of the siege engines continued. Due to the fact that the Northland Army was a proper army unit, the soldiers within weren't willing to use simple and improvised siege ladders. The siege engines they were trying to construct were basically siege towers that were equipped with gangplanks which could easily be laid onto castle walls to allow their men passage when the tower was close enough to the walls. Usually, soldiers would have to be stationed on top of the towers to defend it from enemy fire as it was pushed towards the walls before the gangplank could be lowered.
Knight Chevany was prepared to have four of those siege towers constructed as the castle walls had enough space for four of those at once. He believed that at least one of those towers would be able to successfully reach the walls and he would definitely be the first one to rush up to take care of that darned Gold ranked marksman that gave him so much trouble all this time.
That night, Josk fired 10 arrows at the same time to the enemy camp as usual.
On the 7th day, the construction of the siege towers were complete and the soldiers only went to rest after seeing all 10 of the arrows fall within their camps, feeling assured that there would be no more heading their way.
On the eighth day, Chevany decided to let his men take a good day's rest before tomorrow's full-scale attack on the bastide.
At the same time during the night, all the soldiers looked towards the sky and started counting.
"One arrow... two arrows... three arrows... four arrows... five arrows... six arrows... Here comes the seventh..."
Suddenly, Josk felt bored for no apparent reason. Seeing that the enemy had mostly finished the construction of their siege towers, he reasoned that they would be attacking the day after and thought that it was better for him to stop firing any more arrows and get some good rest for the ordeal that was to come the next day without bothering to complete his usual routine.
The soldiers in the enemy camp, however, continued to look up at the sky in stupor as they mumbled, "What about the 3 remaining arrows? Why hasn't he fired it yet? When are they going to come?" They continued to wait like that for two more hours...