Within the wide tent, everyone present was listening to Lorist speak as he pointed towards the beastskin map of the Northern Highlands.
"So far this is the situation of the Northlands. Given that Duke Loggins covets the riches of our family but lacks the military force to take it, he has rallied up the various nobles of the land and managed to gather a force of 50000 plus men to attack Firmrock Castle. So far, the soldiers have been there for about one month and has attacked our castle three times, sustaining heavy losses without any substantial gains in the process. The nobles who lost much of their soldiers are already quite frustrated and it seems that they're even trying to avoid attacking the castle by using a ballot method to decide which one would be the next to send their forces ahead..."
Everyone within the tent laughed out heartily at that comment.
Lorist stopped laughing as he continued, "We have already contacted Knight Josk who is defending Firmrock Castle and he said that we shouldn't need to worry about those shambled and disgruntled nobles and that even if they had another 100 years to prepare, they wouldn't be able to take down Firmrock Castle. He's also really glad that our convoy has already arrived at the Northlands and expressed his anticipation finally meet the rest of us.
"Right now, we are at the western part of the Northlands and it will take us 5 days to travel to the family dominion on horseback. If we're traveling on foot, I believe the time required will be longer than that and given the scale of the convoy and the supplies it is transporting, it will still take us more or less one month to arrive. On the way, I've decided to conquer this place over here..." Lorist said as he pointed to a point on the map. "Count Spenseid's dominion. It is half a day of travel on horseback from Firmrock Castle and it's a great transit point for the convoy members, vagabonds and supplies.
"What troubles me is how erratically Count Spenseid has been behaving. To be honest, they've been rather good neighbors to our family. Even though our relationship was not too amiable, our two families have always maintained an unspoken mutual respect. I don't understand why this time the count has so passionately responded to the duke's call to arms and was even the first one to lead his forces to attack our castle. This really just came out of the blue..."
Lorist scratched his head and continued, "Well, we don't really need to know the reason anyway. Since he's willing to become the enemy of the Norton Family, then he must be prepared to receive our retribution as well. I have already ordered Yuriy to attack his bastide and start scouting the land around it. Pog..."
Potterfang stood up and said, "Milord, I'm awaiting your orders."
"Set out later with your heavy-armored infantry and head to Count Spenseid's dominion to take charge of the castle and start setting up a camp there. The supplies of the convoy and the vagabonds will head there later and you are tasked to maintain order and security there."
"Freiyar, Malek, your garrison legion shall ensure the safety of the convoy and the vagabonds as they travel towards the count's dominion. Terman's knight brigade will also be there to be the main force to respond to any emergency situations. If anything happens, Freiyar will be in charge with Terman and Malek being his aides, understood?"
"Yes, milord. We understand," said the three of them in unison as they stood up and saluted.
Lorist continued to give his orders. "The camp over here and the transportation of the people and supplies will be managed chiefly by Charade with their safety being put in the care of the guard division. Dulles's carroballista unit, Pete's mounted archers and Loze's three heavy-armored cavalry regiments will be led by me personally. We will sweep the whole of the southern area of the Northlands and suck the rich lands of the duke dry. I want to let him understand the consequences of offending the Norton Family. Finally, we will gather up at Count Spenseid's dominion before we give the idiots attacking Firmrock Castle a huge surprise and taste of our family's military might.
"Pete, you shall lead the mounted archers to blockade the area from Bing Mountain to Somm River so that word of our attack against the southern area of the Northlands doesn't spread to the soldiers that have gathered up before Firmrock Castle. I will order Yuriy's light cavalry scouts to cooperate with you on that matter as well."
"Loze, you will bring two of the heavy-armored cavalry regiments over to the Hendliff Suspension Bridge's crossing point where Freist Castle is located and force the soldiers defending it to turtle up within the castle. Originally, that area is defended by four regiments of the Northland Army numbering around 10000 soldiers. However, the duke has mobilized around two regiments of 5000 men with him to attack Firmrock Castle, leaving only 5000 plus men facing off against two regiments of our own heavy-armored cavalrymen. You can try to bait them out and eliminate them, but do not besiege the castle under any circumstances. I don't want our soldiers to be sacrificed for no good reason, understood?"
"Your will is my command, milord. I won't disappoint you," Fiercetiger Loze said as he stood up straight.
"The remaining heavy-armored cavalry regiment and the carroballista unit will be commanded by me personally. Coupled with another squad of guards, we will begin our attack against the dominion of the duke himself. I want to move everything from riches, food, weapons and equipment, carriages, Northlander Horses and various kinds of livestock to farmers, work smiths and artisans to our own dominion. Confiscate the riches of the nobles and we will also expropriate all the goods of merchants for half of the market price. Charade, you will also need to prepare a small convoy to ship all our loot from there," Lorist said as he made the decision to deprive the duke's dominion of every resource he could get his hands on.
"Milord, please wait. You seem to have forgotten that there is a unit of the duke's army stationed there. I'm a little curious why all 5000 soldiers of the Northland Army would be stationed at the manor at the duke's dominion's border? The two other bastides and seven towns within the dominion are each only defended by a squad of Northland Army soldiers. Even the duke's own manor is policed by a mere company of men. Could it be that there is a trap waiting for us there instead?" Potterfang asked.
Lorist laughed out and tapped on the spot Potterfang mentioned before saying, "It's my fault for not explaining it properly to you. In actuality, this unit here no longer obeys the duke's orders. The leader of this unit is Knight Hennard. You guys should know that he has been captured by me before. Due to the duke's insane outburst and accusation of Hennard for not shipping the riches they obtained after the massacre of Wildnorth Town back, he attributed the fault of the loss to the two knights. Even though knight Chevany died in battle, Duke Loggins still resorted to exiling the knight's family members and tossed his corpse into the wilderness. This action caused some soldiers of the Northland army to revolt.
"Additionally, the duke even wanted to get Hennard back by paying a reward fee for a convict instead of the full price of a knight's ransom. I couldn't stand the obscenity of the duke's actions, so I released Knight Hennard and the other Silver ranked knights. According to some reports, when Knight Hennard returned to the dominion, he relied on the other Silver ranked knights to contact the subordinates of Knight Chevany who were not happy with how their dead leader was treated and proceeded to take over two regiments of soldiers on his own and conquered this manor for themselves and began to ignore the orders of the duke completely. The duke couldn't do anything about that situation either and was forced to accept the status quo.
Even though they're still technically part of the Northland Army, Duke Loggins no longer holds any power over them. Otherwise, he wouldn't use the soldiers he stationed at the Hendliff Suspension Bridge and Freist Castle to attack Firmrock Castle. I plan to visit this conquered bastide tomorrow and meet Knight Hennard to try to convince him to just sit by and allow our forces to roam through the dominion without resistance. If he doesn't know what's good for him, I'm pretty sure our forces will be able to wipe his men out completely in an open field battle."
Potterfang nodded and said, "Alright, if that's the case, I no longer have anything to worry about. I pray that your plan will run smoothly."
"Okay, that will be all. Let's all make our respective preparations to make the flag of the Norton Family known across the Northlands and show the Northlanders how the Roaring Raging Bear vents its anger..."
"Yes, milord!" shouted the rest within the tent energetically before they left.
Cherry Blossom Ridge was the name of a manor which was located at a place of impeccable scenery. It was said that the third Duke of the Northlands had built the manor there to be used as a vacation house because he loved the view of the cherry blossom trees. However, at this moment, two groups of soldiers were in confrontation with each other at that location.
Upon seeing Lorist emerge from the midst of his force, Knight Hennard said in a surprised voice, "Why have you come over here? Isn't the duke attacking Firmrock Castle?"
Lorist laughed and said, "I'm here to see you, my old friend. Well, the other reason is that I'm here to attack the duke's dominion. However, I'm a little concerned by your troops which are stationed here. If you can pretend that you don't know what is going on outside your territory, then I will be relieved. Tell me, Knight Hennard, what conditions do you have so that you will not interfere with my forces?"
Without answering Lorist's question, Knight Hennard said, "Lord Baron Norton, you should refer to me as Baron Shazin. Last year, I inherited the barony of my father and he has already retired from the position as well."
Using his finger to point at another direction, he said, "That is where my dominion is at."
Surprised, Lorist said, "Oh, congratulations, Lord Baron Shazin."
"Well, you can call me Hennard like usual. That's what I like my friends to call me."
"Hehe, then please call me Locke as well, friend."
Lorist gave it some thought before he asked, "Why didn't you bring your troops back to your dominion?"
"I can't, the dominion is too barren to be able to support all 5000 of my men. In actuality, this place used to be within the territory of my family as well. However, the third Duke of the Northlands liked the scenery of the cherry blossoms here and forcefully took half of my family's dominion, forcing us to become a vassal family for them. Now that I have my men stationed here, isn't that the same as having taken my family dominion back?" Hennard said.
"Then what do you think of my proposal just now, Hennard?" Lorist asked.
Revealing a sly smile, Hennard said, "Locke, you've brought up a tough call for me to make. After all, no matter what, I'm still a retainer of the Lord Duke. The men I have under me are also the soldiers of the duke's Northland Army. If I sit still and allow you to ravage the duke's dominion, how would I uphold my honor as a knight?"
Lorist furrowed his brow and said, "Are you saying you want to engage in a battle with me?"
Shaking his head, Hennard said, "I'm not stupid. Look at your men's equipment and the leather armor my soldiers are wearing. I'm not a big fan of smashing an egg against a rock. How about this, I'm sure you wouldn't want to fight against us either, right? Just accept three conditions of mine and we'll think of a way to prevent conflict between us."
"Tell me those conditions of yours then."
"First, don't touch this manor as well as Evanson Town nearby here. My men rely on these two places for sustenance."
"Agreed," Lorist said as he nodded.
"Second, I want to send some of my men along with you on your operation. They want to move their family members back to my dominion so that my soldiers can truly become part of the Shazin Family's forces."
Lorist pondered for a bit and said, "You're saying that the duke is threatening you with the lives of the family members of your soldiers?"
Hennard nodded and replied, "After I inherited the land and title of my father, I wrote the duke a letter to inform him that I was no longer his family knight but a vassal noble of his now. However, the duke didn't want to recognize the legitimacy of my birthright and didn't want to give me a certificate of verification and said that if the soldiers 'leap' to my side, he would punish their family members. That's why we're currently at a stalemate."
If a family knight of another family was granted a title by his own family, then he would no longer remain a family knight and his status would change into that of a vassal noble instead. In Hennard's situation, as he had inherited the noble title and land of his father, he no longer had to unconditionally obey the orders of the duke. Hennard's father actually made the decision to pass down his title to his son so that he wouldn't be labeled a rebellious knight by the duke, allowing Hennard to resign himself and become a vassal noble instead.
'Leaping' was a term for a knight who left his dominion lord to become a wandering or freelance knight due to disagreements in policy. Becoming a vassal noble to leave the position of a family knight could also be considered leaping.
"Then, didn't the duke ever think of sending his soldiers to attack you?" Lorist asked curiously.
"Of course he did, but he couldn't do it. My men are still technically part of the Northland Army and nobody would be able to fight against their own. Even if Duke Loggins gave that order, nobody in his army would bother to obey it. That's why he diverted his attention against your Norton Family. Why aren't you worried about the situation at Firmrock Castle and came here to attack the duke's dominion instead?" Hennard asked Lorist.
"Hehe, I'm sure you've seen the defensive fortifications at Firmrock Castle yourself. Do you seriously think that the duke's soldiers and the personal forces and farmer soldiers of the noble families he rallied up would be able to pose so much as a threat to us?"
"You do have a point. So, do you accept that condition of mine?"
"Sure thing. You can send your men to escort their family members back," Lorist said. "What's your third condition?"
"I want to send a regiment of soldiers to join your men and disguise themselves as soldiers of the same unit so that I can launch a joint assault on the dominion as well. I want half of the loot we get," Hennard requested audaciously.
"Buzz of. You'll get ten percent at most," Lorist bargained.
"Come on, don't be so stingy. The 5000 plus men of mine who defend this place only have their bare necessities satisfied and don't have any additional benefits at all. No matter what, I have to consider the future of my subordinates, right? You can't swallow up all the benefits for yourself you know. If you consider me a friend, you should leave some for me," Hennard reasoned.
"I have more than ten times the number of subordinates you have. At most, I'll give you 20 percent of the cut. If you're not satisfied with that, it's better if we just fight it out," Lorist said.
Hennard revealed a look of surprise and said, "You're just bluffing... I don't believe you have so many men..."
However, as he noticed Lorist's gloomy expression, he agreed reluctantly and said, "Fine, 20 percent it is. I agree. However, I have one final request."
Angered, Lorist said, "Is there even an end to your requests? I'm sure it'll be much simpler if we just fought it out."
Hennard hurriedly waved his hands and said, "This is a personal request of mine. It's fine if you don't agree to it..."
"Fine, let's hear it," Lorist said in annoyance, before he saw Hennard fidgeting around in an embarrassed manner.
"Um, ahem... Locke... I was wondering if you'll be okay with sending Mina, Honey, Glise and Molina back to me... I've been missing them for the past half year..."
"Wait, who are those people you just mentioned? How would I know who they are? I don't recognize any of those names..." Lorist said in confusion.
"Well... Back during that night when I was caught by you at Wildnorth Town, they were the four women who were in the room with me. I really fancy them a lot... You must've kept them for yourself to warm your bed, right? Can you return them to me?" Hennard explained.
Thinking hard to recall that moment, Lorist did in fact remember seeing a few women during the night of Hennard's capture. Shaking his head, he said, "I didn't take them as my concubines. They must be with the other women we rescued from Wildnorth Town. I even ensured that they wouldn't be bothered by anyone else. However, I am quite curious how you're able to take fancy to them even though you killed their fathers and brothers. Aren't you afraid that they would kill you in your sleep for revenge?"
Hennard clicked his tongue and said, "I wasn't the one who wanted to kill their family members. It's the duke's orders and it has nothing to do with me. In fact, it was me who protected them from being ravaged by the other soldiers and it was them who wanted to thank me for my benevolence with their own bodies. I'm quite glad that you didn't lay a hand on them, Locke. You're really the best brother one could ever ask for. So, when can you send them back to me?"
"You can go pick them up yourself as long as they're willing to follow you back. If they don't consent, you can't forcefully bring them back either. I'm sure you understand that nothing good will come from doing everything by force. Also, if you don't resist my forces as a vassal noble of the duke, aren't you worried about what others might think about this?" Lorist asked.
"That's a small issue. Just watch and learn," said Hennard as he turned his horse around and rode back to his camp before blowing the horn signal for battle preparation. He then drew his sword, pointed it at Lorist and announced loudly that he was going to declare war on them for the sake of the duke's honor.
However, when Hennard was charging forward on horseback, his mount fell head first and 'injured' its rider, causing Hennard to be brought back into his manor by his subordinates to defend it and 'recover'.
Lorist and the soldiers of his heavy-armored cavalry merely stared in stupor as Hennard played out the battle scene he wrote and directed himself, including his glorious fall in battle and retreat into the manor.
"Is this really okay?! What the heck was that?!" Lorist exclaimed.
An excerpt from the War Chronicles of the Continent, Northlands chapter:
On the 11th day of the 4th month on Year 1768 of the Grindian Calendar, the new lord and leader of the Norton Family, Norton Lorist, led his men to attack the dominion of the Duke of the Northlands. The leader of the 5000 Northland Army troops, Gold ranked Knight Hennard, charged into battle gloriously to resist the enemy attack. In the midst of battle, Knight Hennard's mount lost control and caused him to fall off it. Despite being badly injured from the fall, the brave knight persisted and continued to fight until he was forcefully dragged back into the manor by his own subordinates, causing him to have no other choice but to defend the manor without being able to continue resisting the enemy forces. As a result, the Norton forces swept past the dominion of Duke Loggins and demolished the prosperous lands that the Loggins Family had spent so long to build up and nurture. That event would eventually be known to historians as 'The Plundering of the Southern Northlands'.