By the time the company leader left the hut of the widow, countless twinkling stars could be seen in the night sky. Having taken a nap with the widow in his arms for the whole afternoon, enjoyed a meal she carefully prepared and being seduced into bed by her, the company leader spent quite an amount of effort during the intercourse with the catlike woman and ended up asleep from exhaustion while basking in the afterglow.
Feeling refreshed after stretching his body, the company leader checked his surroundings out and noticed that the soldiers that should have been standing guard outside his door were not there. After a while, he remembered that he had asked them to scram and thought, so those bastards actually went to slack off after that...
"They better not let me find them... Otherwise, I'll definitely give them a good whipping..." mumbled the company leader, before he noticed that his surroundings were abnormally quiet. While it wasn't weird for the villagers to go to sleep early, the army camp should still be generating quite a bit of buzz. Why, then, was it so quiet?
However, when he saw the silhouettes of soldiers walking about in the distance, he regained his calm and believed that he had merely overslept and that the time was probably around 3 or 4 in the morning.
Even so, there was a slight stench of blood wafting around in the air. The company leader pinched his nose and felt like scolding someone. The mercenaries who were trying to cross the border must have been beheaded given the smell... Curses, couldn't they kill those men at the spot where the tree is outside the village?
When he saw the extra tens of tents at one corner of the village, the company leader recalled that those belonged to the guards of the viscount who had fallen off his horse. Seeing the campsite that was illuminated by a bonfire with people going in and out of it, the company leader thought that a herbalist from Vanades City must have already been invited over to give treatment to the viscount and felt that he should go over there to pay a visit.
Before he entered the campsite, a guard came out from it and said respectfully, "Sir, the viscount invites you inside to have a chat."
Not suspecting a thing, the company leader walked inside and asked, "I see that the Lord Viscount is conscious now. He shouldn't be too badly injured, right? If he can still move, I believe you lot should go to Vanades City now. That place is far better for the Lord Viscount to recover than this small village."
The guard merely nodded in agreement as he led the company leader to the entrance of Lorist's tent.
Pushing the folds of the tent and entering it, the company leader was stunned by what he saw. The viscount whom he thought would be lying in bed and moaning in pain was actually sitting right in front of him and smiling like a fox towards him.
When he looked around, the company leader saw two people who were dressed like mercenaries wolfing down food at a corner within the tent. The one on the left was even eating as another guard helped him to remove his armor and bandaged him up.
Huh, these two look rather familiar... All of a sudden, the company leader suddenly realized that those two were the mercenaries he had captured just that afternoon.
"Tsk!" The company leader grunted as he drew his sword and generated a silver-colored blade glow and said, "You... Who the heck are you?"
"Shut up and just sit there obediently. I have something to ask you later," Lorist said as a murderous glint flashed past his eyes, causing the company leader to feel immense dread that made his arms and legs wobble and shiver as if he, a small ant, had appeared before a great dragon and could not muster the slightest will to resist.
"Continue your story, Reidy," Lorist said he he turned to his disciple who was still eating.
"Milord," Reidy said before he swallowed the piece of meat in his mouth. "The fatty is so troubled that he already ran out of ideas. The rest didn't know what to do either. That's when I suggested that I would make my way back to you for instructions. So, four days ago, I brought Jim and tens of other guards to cross Egret Lake and reached the forest nearby here by using the small path along the swamp. Yesterday, we thought we would be able to arrive at the main route to Vanades City by crossing the hilly area before traveling straight to the Northlands. However, we did not expect to encounter a group of bandits hiding within that forest and our battle alerted the nearby patrol troops. The bandits escaped swiftly but as we were not familiar with the terrain, we ended up being captured..."
"You're really lucky to have bumped into us. Otherwise, your head would've been hung up at the tree over there already," Lorist said. After that, he waved to the company leader and beckoned him to get closer. "You, come here."
The sword-wielding company leader was shivering all over. "You... Don't you fear that I will alert the so-soldiers in the camp...? At th-that time... You wo-won't be able to escape even if you try..."
"Go ahead then. Call out to them as loudly as you can. As for all 427 soldiers within the camp, hmmm, that's roughly a company, isn't it... Well, if you can wake them, then I'll kneel and start praying to you right this instant," Lorist said.
"Pfft!" Reidy and Jim broke into laughter immediately with Jim even spitting out a whole mouthful of ale.
"Im-impossible..." The company leader quickly recalled the stench of blood within the air and experienced complete despair. If the ones he thought were decapitated were sitting there dining as if nothing happened, then who were the ones who were killed? As for the ones he saw in the distance making their patrols, he only caught a glimpse of their silhouettes and didn't get close enough to recognize who they were. Thinking back at the 100 plus men of the viscount's escort...
Clang! The sword of the company leader fell to the ground. He proceeded to ask with a voice filled with despair, "Is there a chance for me to be spared?"
"That will depend on your behavior," Lorist said as he looked at the company leader. "I'll be honest and tell you this: the convoy that is stranded at the border actually belongs to my family. My purpose is to travel there and meet up with them. So, I want to use the small path branching from the fork nearby to reach Egret Lake. If you help me arrive at my destination safely, I promise that I will let you go in the name of my family."
The company leader shook his head and said, "It's pointless. Even if you release me, I wouldn't be able to avoid certain death anyway. Losing a company of men is already punishable by death and there is no chance that the duke will spare me or my family..."
"Well, then it's even more straightforward. You can follow me across the lake and when we reach the Andinaq Kingdom, I'll give you 100 gold Fordes. You can take on a new identity and begin your life anew there. If they don't find you here, they'll think that something bad befell you to cause you to go missing in action. That way, Duke Madras will not act against your family either," Lorist advised.
After thinking for a few moments, the company leader said, "I want to bring a person with me."
Lorist smiled and asked, "Is it that young widow you were with?"
The company leader nodded.
"Alright, it's a deal. I thought that a brute like you wouldn't be so sentimental, it truly is worthy of praise. In the name of the Norton Family, I pledge that as long as you help me get across Egret Lake, I will definitely fulfill my due obligations to you."
As the first light of dawn seeped in from the ends of the horizon, Lorist and his men disguised themselves as the garrison soldiers of the Madras Duchy by donning their equipment and headed to the fork. When they arrived, they got into a neat formation.
The garrison squad leader stationed there walked over in a hurry and asked with a surprised tone, "Huh? Company Leader Bose, why are you here? Isn't it a little early for you to switch with us for your shift? There should be two more days left, right?"
"Gah, I don't even want to talk about it... These bastards here harmed two women within the village and caused quite the commotion. I brought them out on patrol duty as an excuse to toss them here so that the villagers don't find them for now. Quickly gather up and tell your soldiers to keep quiet about this when they get back. Just say that you were sent on patrol duty instead of being switched out for your shift," said Bose the company leader in an annoyed voice.
"Understood," said the squad leader as he rushed back excitedly to rally up his men as he thought, hurray! Nobody would want to stay at the middle of nowhere here where we won't be able to even enjoy ourselves! That group over there actually got into trouble by messing with some women and came here to hide it out... Who knows how long they will have to stay here? Hmph, they're getting what they deserve!
Quickly, the squad of garrison troops stationed there gathered and got into their formations. After taking the roster, the squad leader returned and said, "Reporting to the company leader: the 7th Squad of the garrison soldiers has gathered with all 104 members present!"
However, the company leader merely said, "My work here is done."
What did that mean? Before he comprehended the meaning behind those words, the squad leader heard a loud "Fire!"
Arrows fell like rain on the defenseless squad of soldiers, causing cries of agony to ring out incessantly.
"You..." cried the squad leader in shock before he felt a cold, searing pain that caused his body to shiver uncontrollably.
"Apologies, I'm merely doing this for the sake of my own life. I had no choice..." said the company leader. The savage face of the company leader would be the last thing the squad leader saw before his untimely death.
"Double check if they're really dead by giving each of them a stab. Toss the corpses into the entrenchment over there so that they won't be discovered too quickly," instructed Lorist.
"The next patrol over here is at 8 tonight and even if they discover this, they will have to report it to me back at the village. After discovering the situation there, it will be another two hours before word of this can reach the main troop. That's why, we have the whole morning for us to make our haste. However, the fork up front is stationed with a company of garrison soldiers who are in charge of patrolling the lake. I can get them to open the gates of their camp, but after that will be up to you. Also, you promised me that you will not let them discover that I helped you out on this," said the company leader as he told Lorist about the situation while using the map as reference.
Lorist nodded and said, "Don't worry, I will make sure that any garrison soldier that sees you doesn't live to tell about it."
Receiving the map the company leader handed him, Lorist told Patt and Pete, "The moment the gates are open, start killing right away when they still don't have a grasp on the situation. After conquering the campsite, use the logs of the fence of the camp and make them into rafts. Additionally, assume a defensive position at the hill between the campsite and the lake just in case reinforcements arrive. That's all. We will depart immediately."
By the time they arrived at the camp near the lake, it was already the afternoon. The four guards at the gates recognized Bose and thought that he was there to deliver supplies given the five large carriages that he brought with him. Without making any report, they opened the gates only to have their throats slit by Reidy and the others.
Pete and Patt led the 100 plus mounted archers into the camp and got into position at the very middle of it before they started shooting their arrows in every direction, causing one garrison soldier after another to fall to the ground. Sounds of slaughter and demise intertwined within the camp.
To the company of garrison soldiers camped over there, their main duty was to patrol the bank of the lake as well as the small path that led to Lichtana Citadel and take care of the illegal entrants into the duchy as per the orders of the duke. They were never prepared for such a large scale assault and some of the soldiers were even unaware of what was happening even at the moment of their deaths.
Lorist led Jim and Reidy on horseback and rushed straight into the camp and began to slash at the tents with their pikes just in case they missed out any soldiers who were hiding within.
As for the company leader and the few squad leaders who were in charge of the camp, they were nailed to the ground without being able to react by Lorist's javelins the moment they emerged from their tents.
Given that the campsite wasn't that huge, it didn't take long for the sweeping operation to be completed.
Patt came over with a serious expression as he reported, "Milord, there are a total of 308 corpses of the garrison soldiers within this camp. One squad is still missing."
Lorist furrowed his brow and looked at Company Leader Bose who was standing by his side.
After giving it some thought, the company leader said, "Perhaps they went on a patrol already. However, I have no idea whether they went to the bank of the lake or the small path heading to the citadel..."
Before he finished his sentence, Jim called out and pointed into the distance, "Over there..."
Lorist turned his head to look and saw a hill in the distance where a squad of garrison soldiers could be seen heading towards the camp. However, they stopped all of a sudden, probably because they were able to see the corpses within the camp given their higher vantage point and didn't know what to do next.
"Pete, bring your mounted archers to exterminate them quickly. Try your best to not let too many escape," Lorist ordered.
With but a whistle, the mounted archers rushed towards that hill under Pete's lead.
"I'm going too," Jim said before he and his guards mounted their horses and gave chase.
"Alright. Reidy, Patt, use these horses to uproot the logs used for the fence of the camp. We need to work fast." Lorist then instructed the remaining mounted archers to tie a rope to each wooden log and fasten the other end to a horse before prodding the horse forward to pull the log from the ground.
"Wait, milord," Company Leader Bose said as he stepped forward to stop Lorist.
"Hmm? What's wrong?" Lorist asked.
"Milord, the part of the logs that are embedded in the ground is not needed. The upper parts of the log have already long dried up but the ones beneath the ground are still moist. If you make a raft with the whole thing, it would be hard to get an even buoyancy. It's better if the moist parts of the logs are cut off first so that the rafts can be more balanced and able to sustain heavier weights..." explained the company leader.
Lorist understood immediately and said, "Cut off the lower parts of the logs as he just said."
"Milord, please give me a sword. I'd like to help out too. Also, the wooden warehouse can also be dismantled to be made into a raft," said the company leader.
"Return his sword to him," Lorist told Reidy.
Bose drew his sword and circulated his Battle Force to generate a blade glow which he used to hack at the wooden logs. By the time he cut off the 4th log, the blade glow dissipated and the longsword was stuck in the middle of the log.
"Not bad, it seems that using Battle Force for logging is rather fast," Lorist said. "Patt, have the Silver ranked troops focus on chopping off the logs. Reidy, bring some men to dismantle the warehouse."
By the time the warehouse was mostly dismantled, Jim and Pete returned.
"Milord, more than ten managed to escape into the forests and we didn't continue to pursue them," Pete reported.
"How are the casualties?"
"There are none. The moment they saw us approach, they ran immediately. Given that they were near the lake, there wasn't anywhere else to run to and more than half jumped into the lake in desperation only to be shot to death by our arrows. However, a lucky few managed to sneak into the forests. As we didn't have any way to cross the swamp, we could only watch them run from afar..."
"Sir," Company Leader Bose said as he approached while wiping off some sweat. "It will take around one hour to travel from here to Lichtana Citadel on horseback. Assuming the escaped soldiers take two hours to get there, the reinforcements will arrive here one hour after that. We have three hours of time left at most."
"Alright. Everyone, make the best use of your time. Have the horses pull the logs which have their bottoms severed straight to the lake bank and construct the rafts there. Reidy and Jim, search the camp again to find more materials we can use to make the rafts with," Lorist said as he clapped his hands a few times.
Five huge rafts were constructed in total with each being able to hold one carriage on it. The rest of the horses including those found within the camp were rushed into the lake so that they would swim across to the other side.
The 100 plus men on their respective rafts pushed against the bank with their oars and gradually paddled their way to the other side.
As the skies turned darker, a thin layer of mist blanketed the lake. Occasionally, sounds of horses neighing could be heard amidst the silent sound of the paddling oars pushing against the water of the lake.
The distance between both banks of the lake was about 500 meters. Just as the five rafts passed the midsection of the lake, sounds of soldiers and horses arriving at the bank behind them could be heard.
Well, they sure did take their time, Lorist thought as he laughed out loud. They quickly arrived on the opposite bank and were about to rejoin with their stranded comrades. The next step Lorist had to take was to figure out how to get them back home.