Twelve days later, Second Highness Auguslo brought a regiment of soldiers to that unnamed mound.
The corpse of the grandiosely dressed Count Aslan was laid before him. If one paid closer attention to it, one would realize that the head was separated from the rest of the body. The corpse had been left as it was for ten days; naturally it had begun to smell.
The Second Highness waved one hand repeatedly in front of his nose in a futile attempt to disperse the odor, before he said, "Alright. Carry it away."
Even though his voice was soft, the ones present at the scene understood the Second Highness's temperament well. They could tell that the Second Highness was at his boiling point. His rage was ready to explode at any moment.
Two guards lightly moved the corpse of Count Aslan and brought it out of the large tent.
"Marquis Reid, tell us the results of your investigation," instructed the Second Highness.
"Yes, Your Highness," said Marquis Reid. He stood up and stopped at the center of the tent with a large stack of beastskin documents in his arms.
Marquis Reid was one of the first to arrive at the scene. He was in charge of accommodating deserters, investigating the reasons for defeats, and burying the corpses of the dead.
He flipped open his documents, and began his report. "This time around, Count Aslan mobilized three regiments of troops, numbering 7500 soldiers in total, on this long-distance excursion of his own accord. He reported it as a long-distance training drill.. In actuality, he had intended to catch up to Count Norton's troupe to avenge his little brother, Viscount Aslan.
"However, it ended in the most tragic manner possible: with Count Aslan's death. More than 1600 casualties were suffered by the cavalry regiment; 800 are dead, and another 600 are missing in action. There are also another 200 or so deserters from that battle who later returned to us. Additionally, they lost most of their mounts as well.
"The two infantry regiments with 5000 soldiers suffered around 1400 casualties, with another 2000 or so missing, and a further 1500 who fled the battlefield, and have mostly returned. It's worth noting that they were only faced with the 500 men brought along by Count Norton. The battle commanded by Count Aslan can be considered to be a tragic loss indeed."
Thump! The Second Highness threw his fist on the table and said, "7500 soldiers... Let's forget about the fact that Count Aslan acted on his own accord for now. They only faced an enemy of 500; they outnumbered their enemy 15 to 1! And yet, they still lost. Is that an indication of the incompetence of the Royal Family's Local Defense Force? How will I be able to reunite the empire with troops like these?! Is this really my army?! They're nothing but helpless sheep!"
The tent was completely quiet. Everyone within had their heads lowered while they listened to Second Highness Auguslo's complaints.
After venting his anger for a good while, he finally calmed down.
He said to Marquis Reid, "Please continue. Let others hear how in the world this battle was lost so that they may learn from this incident."
"Understood," Marquis Reid said as he flipped open another file, "According to my investigations, when Count Aslan heard that Count Norton would be leaving the imperial capital, he brought three regiments of troops to set up an ambush further ahead. But he didn't expect that Count Norton would suddenly change course and head to Dasanba Town to take a boat towards Domesger City."
"Based on the testimonies of the two company leaders from the cavalry regiment that had escaped, it is confirmed that the order Count Aslan gave them was to hold Count Norton's troupe back until the count himself caught up with the other two infantry regiments. Only after that would they launch the main attack.
"From a tactical perspective, Count Aslan's subordinates were rather serious and didn't have any intention of underestimating the enemy. However, Count Aslan feared that he might alert Count Norton to his intentions, so he didn't send anyone to keep an eye on the latter's forces. It was a grave mistake that caused him to be unaware of Count Norton's detour, causing his efforts of mobilizing his three regiments to hide there in ambush to go to waste.
"When he realized that Count Norton had traveled by the river, there was already a distance between them that would take two days of travel to make up. Count Aslan was forced to order his cavalry regiment to go to obstruct them ahead of the rest of the troops. This is one of the more traditional military approaches."
"But Count Norton was incredibly alert. The moment he discovered the cavalry regiment, he ordered his troops to back up onto a mound nearby. We can still see the many defensive fortifications the Norton Family forces made over here. However, he didn't think that the cavalry regiment wouldn't attack him and instead set up camp beneath the mound since they were only sent there to stall him.
"According to the cavalrymen that fled the battlefield, they set up five camps. Each contained one company of 500 men. Apart from the side of the mound with a cliff, they set up camps all around it to semi-circular formation, and sent out smaller groups to patrol the perimeter to ensure that the Norton Family forces wouldn't launch a surprise attack at night.
"The cavalry regiment was correct to take those actions. But they didn't expect the Norton Family forces to use that unguarded cliff to descend and sneak into their campgrounds, take out their patrol troops, and launch their attack during dawn on the two flanking camps before eliminating those in the middle. The resting soldiers were caught completely off-guard and couldn't resist at all. In the end, the cavalry regiment, without any mounts, eventually crumbled.
"After defeating the cavalry regiment, Count Norton did not let up just there. He used the time when Count Aslan was traveling to the mound with his infantry regiments to head to Jillin Harbor and the nearby dominions to purchase up to a thousand cows and mules to deal with the infantry regiments when they arrive."
Marquis Reid then took out a few more documents. "These are the testimonies of one regiment captain and a few other company leaders. They said that by the time they arrived here, it was already the afternoon. They did meet a few of the deserters and already knew about the defeat of the cavalry regiment. At that time, Count Aslan was in a rather sour mood. He ordered the deserters to be given 50 canes because he thought that they were the main reason for the defeat of the regiment."
"At that time, everyone including Count Aslan believed that the Norton Family forces had already escaped. They set up camp without paying much attention to their defenses, only to suffer an ambush by Count Norton in the middle of the night.
"This time around, Count Norton had the cows and mules they purchased doused with oil and covered their eyes up with grass. Additionally, he had short swords and daggers fastened to the bodies of the animals before setting them aflame and sending them into Count Aslan's camp. The infantry troops that were stunned awake were shocked to be greeted with the sight of flaming bulls and mules running wildly towards them. They instantly crumbled.
"Initially, Count Aslan had wanted to gather what remained of his troops to form a defensive line, but Count Norton didn't give him any chance to do so during the assault. One of the escaped soldiers mentioned seeing Count Norton himself rush over and behead Count Aslan after trading only two blows. After which the soldiers Count Aslan had gathered either kneeled and begged for mercy, or ran for their lives.
"I have to say, I am impressed. Count Norton's use of those flaming animals to crush a camp 5000 soldiers is a stroke of genius. He managed to gain victory with the smallest possible casualties. After that, he brought the head of Count Aslan with him but didn't enter Jillin Harbor. Instead, he got onto a ship at the coast around ten kilometers away from Jillin Harbor. He left Count Aslan's head on a branch somewhere near the beach.
"When the First Reserve Legion, stationed at Jillin Harbor, received news of the battle and sent out a regiment of troops to the coast, it was already too late. Count Norton and his men had long set sail. According to some of the tracks left at the coast, I believe the missing soldiers from the cavalry and infantry regiments must've become captives of Count Norton, and are being transported to Silowas Island."
After finishing his report, Marquis Reid placed the stack of documents in his hands on the table right in front of the Second Highness, and headed back to his seat.
The Second Highness proceeded to inspect the documents. Marquis Reid's work was very thorough; not only did he get the testimonies of the soldiers who had been fortunate enough to survive, he even drew a map that detailed the terrain of the mound and marked locations where the Norton Family forces and the cavalry regiment were stationed, as well as the route the Nortons took to breach the five camps of the cavalry regiment. Count Aslan's and his two infantry regiments' route was also shown on it. The map allowed one to grasp the situation clearly at a glance.
Having seen the documents, the Second Highness stayed silent and tapped the table with his finger repeatedly.
Everyone within the tent felt as if their hearts were beating according to the rhythm of the Second Highness's finger tapping. They all understood that the tapping meant that the Second Highness had already made his decision and no one would be able to change his mind.
The tapping sound sped up gradually, until it suddenly stopped. The tent was permeated by a still air of quietness. The others waited with puffed out chests and solemn expressions.
"Yes, Your Highness... What is your will?" asked the handsome man that appeared before Second Highness Auguslo.
As the vice captain of the Second Highness's personal guard, he would follow his lord along every time there was an excursion.
"Bring one group of the guards back to the imperial capital and pass on my orders. Have the Royal Local Defense Force's First Legion send out a regiment of troops with you as the commander to thrash the Aslan Family dominion and completely exterminate their family. The men of the Aslan Family shall be sent to join the suicide corps and given a chance to atone for their crimes with their achievements. The women shall serve as prostitutes for the soldiers at the military brothels," announced the Second Highness coldly.
The people within the tent broke into chatter. They were all shocked at the Second Highness's ruthless decision, despite the fact that Count Aslan used to be one of the most-favored generals of the Second Highness.
Quite a number of nobles stood up and begged for mercy on the Aslan Family's behalf.
"Sit back down!" roared Second Highness Auguslo all of a sudden, "Viscount Aslan had committed serious transgressions. He was a tax collection officer I had appointed, and yet he kept me in the dark about his corruption. He had been executed before my eyes, so I pitied him and decided to put the matter behind me. Who would have known that a general like his elder brother, Count Aslan, would mobilize the troops to exact his personal vengeance and cause us to suffer so many casualties... Is he treating my soldiers as those of his family?!"
"These actions are the reason why I have stripped Count Aslan of his title and taken back his county. I will not allow something like this to happen again. Do you guys have anything to say about it?" asked the Second Highness domineeringly, "If he had won that battle, I probably wouldn't have held him responsible. But look at this... What kind of battle is this? 7500 men, all from my main army, defeated by a mere 500 of the Norton Family! This is the epitome of incompetence and idiocy! Perhaps I should even thank Count Norton! He was the one who spared me the future failures of Count Aslan in the war to reunite the empire..."
"Davey, I have given you the role of eradicating the Aslan Family because the kingdom's treasury is in a financial pinch and is unable to provide funds to replenish the Second Legion that Count Aslan has irrevocably crippled. Go carry out your mission. After that, you will take Count Aslan's place as commander of the legion and reorganize it. I will send you more men and horses from the reserve legion to make up for the ones we lost.
"Understood, Your Highness! Please be assured that I will definitely not let you down," said Davey before he bowed and left in high spirits.
"The rest of you can leave. Glacia, please stay back for a bit," said the Second Highness, waving his hand.
He patted on his forehead as if it was hurting really badly.
Once everyone had left the tent, only Lorist's elder cousin, Gold ranked knight Glacia, and Second Highness Auguslo remained. When Lorist arrived at the imperial capital, Glacia, who had been made the captain of the newly-formed knight brigade, had been training with her knights outside the city, so she had missed her chance to meet Lorist.
Glacia walked to the back of the Second Highness and began to massage his temples.
"Aug... You're worn out. You should take better care of your own body, you know..." she said.
As the Second Highness's lover, Glacia understood what he was worried about the most. However, it wasn't appropriate for her to say much given her status as one of the Norton Family. On the one hand, she had her cousin, Lorist, on the other, she had her lover, Auguslo. Her unique position put her in quite an awkward situation.
The Second Highness held the hand that was massaging him, and pulled the woman into his arms.
"Glacia, head to Silowas Island on my behalf and meet your cousin, Locke. Help me explain to him that this incident was definitely not what I had intended, and that Count Aslan acted on his own accord. Also, tell him about the judgment I passed on the Aslan Family. I hope that will be enough to quell his anger."
"My father's health is already at its limits, and when he passes away, we will have to begin the effort to reunite the empire. I hope that Locke can come over to give me a hand in that. After all, he's quite adept at coming up with unexpected tactics. I've realized that no one can compete with him in that regard. If he's not willing to do so, at least get him to promise that he will keep Duke Fisablen's army in check so that the old guy doesn't leave the grasslands to cause me trouble.
"Also, I'm sure you've heard Marquis Reid mention that it's possible that the missing soldiers have been captured by Locke and transported to Silowas Island. Help me see if we can get those soldiers back. Given the state of the treasury, we won't be able to afford their ransom, so I can only make it up to him after reuniting the empire...
Glacia stretched out her hand, and stroked the slender face of her lover.
"Alright, I will make my way to Jillin Harbor and get a ride to Silowas Island as soon as possible. I will do my best to do your bidding, so make sure you watch out for your own health as well," she said.
The decision to use the flaming animals to attack the camp was a result of a flash of inspiration from Lorist. Back then, he recalled one of the stories his grandfather from his past life told him. It was about the 'Fire Cattle Columns' tactic devised by Tian Dan during the Warring States period.
It was a shame that the cows and mules Lorist purchased for a high price didn't even amount to a thousand. It forced Lorist to pick out 500 war horses that were in better condition than the rest, and have the other horses made into fodder alongside the cows and mules.
Fortunately, when he arrived at the mound, Count Aslan believed that Lorist had escaped with his troops. It meant that he didn't pay attention to his camp's defenses and only set them up half-heartedly. As a result of the shabbiness of the defenses, the 2000 plus flaming animals simply crashed through in a frenzied stampede. They crippled the two 2500 soldier regiments almost instantly.
Lorist brought only 200 men with him to follow the animals into the camp. Apart from Lorist's killing of Count Aslan, the other soldiers didn't have to fight at all. Most of the two infantry regiments' casualties were caused by the stampeding animals. There were even five or six of the Norton family's soldiers who got injured when they tried to help the enemy soldiers out.
After obtaining victory, Lorist sent Els and the rest to book a few ships in advance at Jillin Harbor and have them stop at the coast around 10 kilometers away from the harbor. He would load up the 2000 prisoners there. Before leaving, Lorist realized that the head of Count Aslan was still hung at the front of his mount. He felt it wouldn't be of any use even if he took it with him, so he casually found a tree branch and impaled the head on it. It was left there just like that.
Upon returning to Silowas Island, Lorist found a plot of land there to build a graveyard for the soldiers who had bravely sacrificed themselves, and arranged for a burial ceremony to be carried out. Afterwards, he would have to wait for the ships from the Northlands to transport huge amounts of supplies over.
During the time Lorist was at the imperial capital, Charade -- with the aid of Old Hugo and Hector -- had already completed most of the development plan for Silowas Island. All that was left was for Lorist to approve the plan.
However, when Charade heard about Lorist's ploy involving the flaming animals, he was so pissed that he nagged Lorist about it non-stop. 2000 cows, mules and horses cost roughly 20000 gold Fordes. Charade criticized Lorist for acting like a spoiled rich kid by using 20000 gold Fordes to eliminate only 5000 enemies. It truly was wasteful beyond measure. He even mentioned that Lorist should've bribed the enemy soldiers with 4 gold Fordes per person. That way, they would no doubt tie Count Aslan up themselves and bring him before Lorist.
As Lorist was bickering with Charade about the matter while going through the development plan together, Jim entered the room and reported, "Milord, your elder cousin, Glacia, is here..."
 More information on Tian Dan can be found here.